Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Personal Choices of 2011

It has been a truly amazing and rewarding year here at Leopard Hills, there have been lots of great opportunities to shoot and here are a couple of my personal choices.

This shot has to be my personal highlight due the fact that the Half Collared Kingfisher is such a rare find and this was my first clear sighting, then to have the bird fly towards me and capture the shot..very very lucky. A high shutter speed of 1\2000 was needed to achieve sharpness in the head and eye while capturing motion in the blurred wing movement!

This Pangolin spotlit scene is a close 2nd, the rarity of a sighting and then to have the secretive animal co-operating with his posture was extremely lucky. Slow shutter of 1/20, manual exposure.

Another night time spotlit scene, perfect angle and pose of this young male leopard high up a Marula tree.

I really enjoyed the playful pre hunting pose of this dancing Painted Dog, the intent in the eyes, cocked ears and the puff of dust kicked up in early morning light make the image for me.
This one brutally captures the ultimate predator and his prey up close and personally. Canon 580 EX fill flash used to bring out the detail in the shadows during bright mid day shooting.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Extraordinary maternal moment

We have all seen breathtaking documentary footage of a lioness gently carrying her cub in her mouth and been touched by the tenderness with which she handles the tiny fur balls!

Every ranger and wildlife enthusiast dreams of witnessing this moment for themselves, I waited many years for all the elements to fall into place and finally had my breath taken away last week.

Having been very close to seeing this behaviour a few times I know that a good deal of luck needs to be on your side. The den site is usually secluded and quite inaccessible (which may be a thicket, a reed-bed, a cave or some other sheltered area) away from the rest of the pride.

This particular lioness chose a rocky area in a dry river bed to hide the little ones and we were able to drive in the sand to access the area. We had just seen her tracks going back and forth and then finally followed her one day and found the cubs which we could just hear initially and had no view. Then one morning they hobbled out and treated us to our first view, we estimated 3-4 weeks old, one of the little ones decided the safest place was on mom’s back. 

The cubs themselves are born blind and their eyes do not open until roughly a week after birth. They weigh 1–2 kg at birth and are almost helpless, beginning to crawl a day or 2 after birth and walking around 3 weeks of age. Notice the black spots of fur on this one which they lose after about 5-6 weeks.

Now the lioness could move her cubs to a new den site several times in their first few weeks, carrying them one by one by the nape of the neck, to prevent scent from building up at a single den site and thus avoiding the attention of predators that may harm the cubs.

The following day we moved into the area this is exactly what happened, we arrived just as the lioness had returned from her night time hunt, she then began calling them and they popped out of their rocky hiding place. Ever so gently she picked one up in her mouth and strode off carrying it away into a totally inaccessible drainage line and we haven’t been able to view them since. A privilege to have shared this unique moment with my guest Ken who has been on safari for decades and has never come close to witnessing such a special sight!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ladies Dispute Territory!

We were following the Tlangisa female (2 yrs old) strolling along in her new territory and she was scent marking vigorously! Then suddenly out of nowhere came the Metsi female, her older step sister (5 yrs) who is territorial on the western side of Tlangisa.

Metsi followed her for about 5 minutes, stalking and crouching and marking on top of Tlangisa's scent without her even knowing...we thought a possible clash was imminent! Tlangisa eventually saw her and ran in the opposite direction, avoiding the conflict and confirming that Metsi is on top for now. Metsi seems to be increasing her territory in a south eastern direction and it will be interesting to see if Tlangisa moves north or stands her ground. EXCITING times!!!

Metsi does have two 11 month old male cubs to look after so needs as much space as possible, Tlangisa is very strong for her age but possibly lacks confidence that only comes with experience!

Poor light for photography but great behavioural stuff, enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Little Aerial Acrobats

I found a pair of Little Bee Eaters on a very overcast morning yesterday so the light wasn't great but I decided to spend some time trying to capture them in flight, not the easiest of tasks as I discovered. High shutterspeeds, ISO and lots of patience required to capture these lightning fast little guys. They have a few favoured perches that they like to use and the trick is to anticipate where they are gonna land...this branch allowed me a few shots!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Miniature Mapogo, future kings!

A few days ago we were kindly notified by another ranger that a lioness and 2 tiny little cubs were briefly seen crossing the river bed close to our lodge. We jumped in the Land Rover straight away to try and find them but all we saw were the miniature tracks heading along the river into thick bush! We tried fruitlessly for 2 days searching the thick bush after game drive time for these little ones, suspecting the mother might have a den site there and pop out.

Eventually our perseverence paid off one afternoon and there they were lying in the river bed, the little 4 week old cubs were very nervous and we waited very patiently for them to show themselves. We kept very quiet and gave them alot of space with just the one vehicle in the thick riverine bush. The next day they had disappeared...probably up a nearby koppie to her den site for safety, we were treated to a brief and very rarely observed moment in the life of a denning lioness and her cubs.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lioness attempting to catch warthogs

We were unexpectedly treated on Saturday afternoon...

It was quite a hot day and we found this lioness lying up in the shade fast asleep in an open area close to the lodge. I started chatting about lion behaviour and how unlikely it was that she would move until it cooled down but ever hopeful we waited and spoke about the lion dynamics here in the Western Sands while resting in the shade ourselves.

Then suddenly out of the blue she jumped up and started moving towards a nearby waterhole, for a drink we thought...meanwhile she had actually spotted some warthog wallowing  in the mud!

She walked right past us in the open, eyes focused on the warthogs only using a small guarri bush as cover. She got pretty close and charged immediately but the little guys were too quick for her while an impala ram watched in the distance!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Playful lion cubs

These 2 male cubs are about 6 months old now and in a very playful phase, we were lucky to view them out in the open in good light this morning!

The 3 remaining Mapogo coalition males have accepted them and let's just hope the coalition can remain strong and hold this territory for another 2 years so these cubs make it to adulthood. The other 4 lionesses of the Ximungwe pride are all pregnant or denning so we are looking forward to lots of cubs soon.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

An afternoon with Dwarf Mongooses

These usually shy animals provided us with great entertainment during their social hour the other afternoon.

We waited patiently for them to become relaxed with our presence.

Behavioural Info

There is a strict hierarchy within a group, headed by a dominant pair. The dominant female is usually the leader of the group. All group members cooperate in helping to rear the pups and guarding the group from predators.

Dwarf mongooses are territorial. They sleep at night in disused termite mounds, although they occasionally use piles of stones, hollow trees, etc. Territories often overlap slightly, which can lead to confrontations between different groups.

Generally, only the group's dominant female becomes pregnant and she is responsible for 80% of the pups reared by the group. If conditions are good, subordinate females may also become pregnant but their pups rarely survive.

Normally one or more members of the group stay behind to babysit while the group goes foraging. At 4 weeks of age the pups begin accompanying the group.

A mutualistic relationship has evolved between Dwarf Mongooses and hornbills, in which hornbills seek out mongooses in order to forage together and warn each other of nearby birds of prey and other predators. Sometimes the hornbills can be seeing pestering the mongooses to get going in the morning, no time for a sunbathe!

A tribute to two cubs

A photographic tribute to Hlaba Nkunzi's 2 female cubs. One of them was tragically killed by a new male (Xinzele) in her territory yesterday.

She had just turned 1 year old...maybe a mere 6 months away from independence, Africa can be so harsh!

We are rooting for her and her remaining cub as they try and evade Xinzele who will probably try and find the other cub...

Their first kill, a young bushbuck.

Hours of play, practising hunting skills.

Satisfying their thirst from suite 5 pool.

On the way to a kill with Hlaba Nkunzi

A confident show of teeth, a 1 year old coming of age!

Hlaba Nkunzi and cub

Hiding from a lion high up a tree at 4 months old

Playing and excitement on the way to a kill