A very rare sighting

14 04 2015

Being in the right place at the right time is a large part of the wildlife photography challenge. I was lucky enough to have all the variables come together recently, when, quite unexpectedly, an extremely rare black flamingo arrived in Cyprus. I happened to be on the island, with a couple days to spare to try and see this rarity, with my camera ready of course.

This special flamingo is not a different species, it is a greater flamingo like all his pals, but it is a melanistic form (Wikipedia: Melanism is a development of the dark-colored pigment melanin in the skin or its appendages and is the opposite of albinism) of a greater flamingo; the flamingo equivalent of a black panther. When I heard about this bird being sighted, I set off immediately to see if could capture an image or two of such a unique bird. Luck was on my side, and I managed to see and photograph the black flamingo, even if it was at a bit of a distance. This was a truly wonderful surprise, and turned out to be even more special by the fact that it disappeared by the next morning and I was unable to find it on my follow up visits. I do wonder where it will pop up next.

To join me on safari, click here!





The polar experience

15 05 2013

Seeing a polar bear is quite an ordeal.  Firstly, it means you are somewhere very cold, and I mean very cold!  Secondly, you join a privileged few to actually see one of these magnificent bears in the wild and finally, being in such a remote and seemingly inhospitable environment, you really get a feeling of the majesty of nature.  I was up in Canada on a photographic safari a few months ago, and had the great luck to see several different polar bears, as well as a few of the other brave residents of the far north.

 

The first thing that hits you when you set out on safari is of course the cold.  We were welcomed with a cool minus thirty degrees Celsius, topped off with winds blowing at around sixty kilometers per hour.  I can assure you, that is some pretty cold stuff!  Once you have accepted the conditions, and found a way to work with them, you realize the space that surrounds you.  Vast ice fields, seemingly endless, stretch off in all directions.  Seldom will you find yourself in so much space.  The great white plains of the Canadian arctic are something to behold.

It seems nearly impossible to find a white bear in amongst so much snow and ice, but with a bit of patience and some luck, they magically appear from their white world.  Being the super predator, they are generally quite relaxed with the safari vehicles, and allow you to follow them as far as they see fit.  What this translates to, is amazing photo opportunities!  We spent a total of six or seven hours in the company of these magnificent bears, freely taking as many images as we could.  The only limitation to the photography is how long you could stay outside for!  Even with all the gear, there is no real way of protecting your hands against such harsh conditions, which makes things quite a bit more interesting.

 

I have added a short video from the safari to show what it is all about!

To join me on safari, click here!





A taste of India

9 05 2013

The mysterious sub-continent of India has a lot to offer wildlife photographers, but like many, I went there really only hoping to see one thing – the magnificent Bengal tiger!  I was living out my dream to see one of these awesome predators recently on a photographic safari, and had more luck than I could have ever expected.

 

Things started off slowly with no tiger action on the first two drives, but they did give us a glimpse of the extreme beauty that the Indian landscape has to offer.  Wild peacocks, jungle fowl and treepie’s were out in full force adding colour to the bush that was drying up in the anticipation of summer.  Spotted deer (the tiger’s most common prey) and the unusual looking barking deer would pop up from time to time, giving our cameras practice runs for when they were aimed at the prized target.  The real excitement of the first two safaris however, was the anticipation of seeing a wild tiger. We searched through the thick forest vegetation, finding nothing but tracks (which were photographed of course); we waited at the popular waterholes with only the playful langur monkeys coming down to greet us; we would even stop and listen at random intervals for sounds that a tiger was near – all very exciting stuff.  As much as I enjoy the anticipation of seeing a tiger, it was dwarfed by the excitement, on our third drive, when we heard the gruff call of a tigress nearby.  The engines started up, and we raced off in the direction of that beautiful sound.  Two minutes later, I was clicking away furiously as my first wild tigress walked straight towards us.  We must have looked ridiculous – a vehicle where only smiles and cameras could be seen!  It was a truly fantastic sensation to be in the presence of such a marvelous animal.

 

We had the privilege of seeing six different tigers during the photo safari, all of which were relaxed with vehicle and very obliging to the cameras.

I have added a short video from the safari below, have a look and let me know what you think!

To join me on safari, click here!

 





Photographing the Northern Lights: Part 2

11 12 2012

After the excitement from the second night, I was keen to try photographing the Northern Lights again, which brings us to our final night.  We were lucky again with a perfectly clear evening, so the game was on. The Internet forecast for the lights once again left us with little hope, at a hard zero out of five possibility.  Playing the odds here would not be smart, but I figure you have to be in it to win, so I made plans for us to go twenty minutes out of town and into a pine forest, and see if we could get some magic there.

Arriving at our destination, a small, cozy log cabin standing alone in the forest, we searched around for some interesting foregrounds, should the lights forget to read the forecast and appear. We were now ready for the lights in all directions.  This having been done, we went back inside, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Just as we were getting ready to start packing up, I went outside for one last check.  I had been out every five minutes for over two hours to check if the lights would appear, and had no real expectations of seeing anything, but better to check and be sure.

Once my eyes re-adjusted to the darkness, I saw the smallest, thinnest sliver of green not far from the horizon, just over the pine trees. Almost excited, I began taking some images.  I set the camera to maximize the light and colour, and managed to get some images out that were decent given the near lack of the lights.  In a two-minute swish, everything changed.  The sky lit up a bright green, with purple, red and orange flames jutting out the side.  It was extraordinary!  The belt of green linked the opposite horizons, and turned the black, very cold night into a green, very cold night.  I was running around to all the foregrounds I had found earlier and was shooting away, having an absolute blast, forgetting about the conditions.

Real life soon caught up with me, and the brisk thirty below temperatures started taking their toll.  Unexpectedly, the camera was struggling before me.  The glass on the front lens kept frosting up, and the controls on the camera were lagging, seriously lagging.  It wasn’t long before the entire rig, camera, lens and tripod, started freezing solid.  This signaled the end of the session, which gave me a chance to head back into the cozy cabin, and regain some of the feeling in my fingers and toes.  You really learn to appreciate your digits after a couple hours out in the snow.

To join me on Safari, head to www.50safaris.com for full Safari info.

 





Photographing the Northern Lights: Part 1

5 12 2012

It is sometimes difficult to concentrate when you are experiencing a natural phenomenon for the first time, when it is absolutely breathtaking, and of course when it is 30 degrees below zero, but even more so, when it catches you completely by surprise.

I was leading a photographic safari in Canada recently; the main focus of which was to see and photograph polar bears.  I did have secret hopes though, of popping out at night, and trying my luck with the Northern Lights, a fantastic visual display that only occurs at a very high latitude (the Southern Lights only occur at a very low latitude, but are much the same thing).  The first evening we arrived was completely overcast with very low set clouds that didn’t look like they were going anywhere, so that was that.

The second night was clear and I was in with a shout.  I checked the Internet for the forecast on the lights (they can apparently do this), and it gave us a low probability, basically, a one out of five chance.  Not great, but being the eternal optimist, I set the camera up outside the lodge anyway, hoping for the best, and went off to dinner.

With a good steak in the belly, I went outside to check on proceedings. Nothing.  All I had managed to achieve was a really cold camera.  I picked it up to head back inside, and something unusual caught my eye, a big green cloud slowly moving through the night sky.  It was the lights!  I, like a champion, had been looking the wrong way.  In a mad panic, I took a photo with the first foreground I could find – the back of the local general goods store in town.  Not bad I thought, but now for the magic.  It was a split second after that that I realized I had no other plans.

I had seen a potential foreground when we arrived, and enquired hurriedly as to its exact location.  This set me off on a run to the other side of town.  To be fair, it only took me 15 minutes, not because of my incredible (lack of) fitness, but because the town is actually that small.   Finding what I was looking for, an Inukshuk (a contraption used by the Inuit people to navigate across water in misty conditions), I set up as quickly as possible, and started shooting.  The lights can stop at any second, so I was moving things along quickly to try get as many shots as possible. Once the camera was going it occurred to me that I was standing on the bay with the highest concentration of polar bears anywhere, at night, alone…  Not great.  I moved to a nearby building, leaving the camera on the bay to do the hard yards.

It must be said at this point, that I was wearing two layers of thermal underwear, a full ski-suit with a jersey underneath, a balaclava, a face mask, two beanies, two pairs of thermal socks with my trusty Sorrell boots and three pairs of gloves (it was minus thirty to be fair), and I had run the length of town.  The sweat that had been expressed during the run was now starting to freeze.  This nullified all the clothing I had on, and it was time to head back.  I braved the polar bear infested shoreline, picked up my camera/icicle and started the slow jog back to the lodge.  Midway along the main road in town, I looked up and saw a couple of locals (in jeans and a single jacket) having a drink on the balcony of the bar, (you read it right, not a bar, the bar), and they stopped mid conversation to take in the tourist dressed for an arctic blizzard with camera-on-tripod-over-the-shoulder jogging up the main road near midnight.  I laughed at what I must have looked like, but took comfort in the fact that between the balaclava and the face mask, they would not be able to name and shame me in the morning.

To join me on Safari, head to www.50safaris.com for full Safari info.





That awkward moment

27 03 2012

Sometimes, being the boss doesn’t always pan out the way you thought it would. Out on safari, a young male leopard was going about his business, marking territory and the like. Before I even got settled in the sighting, a larger, more dominant male came running down the trail, calling as he ran. Turns out, this was his territory that the young intruder was brazenly marking as his own. This was a mistake.
The incensed large male gave chase, looking for a fight.
The younger male knew he was taking a chance, and fled. He didn’t run cowering with his tail between his legs – he legged it so quickly he literally disappeared! I had no idea where he went, and neither did the large male!
This seemed to infuriate the territorial male even more, and he moved quickly around the area where he had last seen him, nose to the ground, calling every thirty seconds or so, providing me with some rather different images. He was in the mood for a fight, and didn’t let up. This was almost his downfall…

He was so engaged with the intruder, that he sacrificed his usual stealth and quiet for a very public showing of his alpha male status. These public announcements were not only heard and felt by the long gone male, but also by a lioness, who was now watching the top of leopard world run around in circles.
The situation the large male leopard found himself in now was quite different – he was the one on the receiving end of the pecking order.

The lioness charged in and the cameras clicked solidly. Her running paws kicked up some leaves that got the leopards attention. He looked confused for a split second – his opponent had just grown remarkably quickly! He put two and two together and made a break for the safety of the nearest tree. The lioness, who had the element of surprise coupled with a serious weight advantage, (lioness ±180kg vs. ±100kg leopard) got a little distracted in her charge and seemed to miss the leopards break away. (You need to have a look at the images here, fourth last image). Perhaps she was looking for the other leopard he was ‘fighting’ with, or maybe a food source – either way, he make a clean getaway. She did return shortly afterwards though to make sure he knew who really was the boss!
This was a unique chance to see the top two cats at the same time.

When the lioness left the skirmish, I followed her with a hunch. She came and went alone, and on the same path. Where had she come from, and why was she going back the same way? When she crossed the river, she showed me exactly what was going on. She had been suckling very small cubs! The lioness’ den site was right next to the show grounds of the large male leopard. She had left the cubs, (a little too well hidden for photographs in a hole in the river bank), and made her way to make sure the leopard left the area as soon as he was brave enough to descend the tree. This, I am sure, he did!





50 Photographic Safaris

20 03 2012

The good times have arrived! 50 Photographic Safaris has officially been launched, and the opening safaris are awesome! This is an opportunity to snap away all year long, all around the world! This dream-come-true job will take me to all the hottest wildlife destinations around the globe, starting with the greatest of them all – the great migration!
I will be leading a group of 6 keen photographers through the mass of animals trying to cross the Mara River in Kenya! The mad action on the plains of Kenya should produce hundreds of amazing images, which I will share on the blog – of course!
Other safaris lined up for this year are a trip to sunny South Africa, to do the predators of the Sabi Sands, and another life long dream – the Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda! I cannot wait to bring you these images!
All the safaris are sold on a first come first serve basis, so if you are keen to join, just visit the website, http://www.50safaris.com, and send through a booking request form to see if there is still space!

I have put together a video of the Classic South African Safari to whet your appetite!