Sunday, December 14, 2008

Aquatic Life

During a tour I recently guided and during which we also spent a few days in Namibia, a boat trip on the lagoon/sea at Walvisbay was included - certainly a highlight on this particular tour's itinerary.

As soon as one sets off, the sky "whirls" with birds, which "expect" a treat - sure enough the skippers hold out sardines or small fish and either a gull or pelican swoops down, masterfully accepting (grabbing) the offering.

Luckily for "photographers" like me, there's always the opportunity to "snap" aquatic birds
like these White Pelicans (right) swimming on the water around the boats, instead of only flying about. Pelicans feed predominantly on fish whilst the pouch (beneath the bill) is attached to the throat. This pouch is usually "folded away" but can be "distended" (see on photo) to accommodate a store of fish.

Did you know that in Christian art pelicans are regarded as symbols of charity = a symbol of Christ? This rests on the assumption that the pelican pierces its own breast with its bill to feed its young with "sacrificial blood" - whilst in fact the pelican transfers "macerated" portions of fish from its pouch to the bill of its offspring.

Kelp Gulls (left) are a very common species and are well-known
for their loud "mewing" call - an evocative sound of the sea and coast.

Did you know that this gull's Latin name - (Laridae) dominicanus - is derived from the distinctive black of its back and wings, which is supposed to bear a resemblance to the black mantles Dominican friars wear?

This Kelp or Southern Black-backed Gull (right) supposedly has a name = Michael (at least that's what our skipper called it!?). Tame like a pet, Michael kept returning to our boat and to my delight, "posed nicely" for this close-up photo.

And then there was...... (?) sorry, forgot the name of this fur seal (right). Yes most "visiting" animals or birds are "recognised" by the skippers, and sometimes, seals are "invited" on board!

Obviously to its chagrin this seal (left) didn't receive an invitation! It nonetheless tried its best to get noticed BUT....

.... with these 2 gentlemen (right) blocking its way, I don't think the seal had a chance to get on board!!??

On a more somber note - the pelt of fur seal pups is greatly coveted in the fur trade, which has often led to indiscriminate commercial exploitation of this species by sealers.

Last but not least - a dolphin. I still have to meet a person, who doesn't get excited when this sea creature is in the vicinity. This playfully exuberant mammal is known as a highly intelligent creature and fast swimmer, which seems to enjoy "surfing" as much as many coastal dwellers do.

Not are dolphins only known to enjoy the surf but also for "riding" the bow waves of ships for long distances. In our case and during this trip, the dolphins appeared to play games by either riding the waves behind the boats, or suddenly surfacing ahead - I say suddenly, because they were so fast and dived down as quickly as they reappeared that trying to get a "good" photo was a real mission!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Camdeboo Magic

Whilst looking through my "stored" photos for future use on this blog, I came across a "set" I decided to post today. Although I've got many photos left of mainly birds and wild animals, I'm sharing photos today I took quite some time ago (with a "small" HP Camera) in a quaint little town: Nieu Bethesda, in the Camdeboo region of our country.

Whilst travelling on one of 2 gravel roads leading to Nieu Bethesda, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this scenic valley (left) for the first time. The peak, visible on the right, is called "De Toren" (= the tower) and I must say: I think it's one of the most picturesque valleys in our country - and that in an area (the Karoo) mostly known for wide, open spaces!

Nowadays, Nieu Bethesda is mainly famous for "The Owl House", which has become a great tourist attraction (one day I'll post photos I took of Helen Martins' art-creations in the so-called Camel Yard behind her house). Today, I prefer to concentrate on what I "discovered" whilst walking around, camera in hand - like this building (above), a trading store.

The vibrant colour of this house "begged" me to take a photo!

This house (right) reminded me of what many houses looked like in the part of the country, where I grew up (on a farm in the Free State Province). To me, it's a perfect example of how, through it's isolated location, Nieu Bethesda has certainly retained an "old-world"-kind of atmosphere.

Surely this tractor is quite out-dated? But here it was, standing in the main street!

And then there were these 2 wells - each with its own charm (right + below).

I returned from where I had set off - the famous Owl House, and "checked out" the ware a street vendor was selling - copies of the owls Helen Martins had created many years ago. Since all who know me are aware that I "collect" owls, they'll understand that I couldn't resist buying one here.

My last photo for today is of one of the bedrooms inside the Owl House museum because I think it's also representative of the old-world kind-of-charm the photos I posted today, depict.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Maxi Mammals

Since my last entry was about Mini-Mammals, I thought "maxi" is appropriate for the photos I'm sharing today.

These 2 old "dagga boys", as we talk about old male buffalo in the "industry" (dagga = mud; pronunciation: soft-g; not to be confused with the stuff some people smoke!!) didn't move an inch when we drifted closer in a boat on the Chobe River (Botswana). If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll see that an African Jacana pecking around the buffalo in the front, also wasn't able to disturbed the old male.

This is one of those photos I'm rather proud of and which I call "lucky" shots - being at the right place at the right time. Dust was the first we saw during a game drive in the Kruger National Park - and then a herd of buffalo materialised, which I was able to capture at the "right" moment - I'm amazed at the "symmetry" of the photo, which I only noticed once I looked at it on my computer screen back home.

The large herd of buffalo moved passed and we happily snapped away. This was a great opportunity to leisurely watch in close proximity these members of the so-called "BIG 5" (see one of my previous postings = BIG 5).

I guess the most loved and respected member of the BIG 5 is the elephant. Recently, I bought a fridge-magnet which says: "We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts". To that I can add: "and with imagination", because I often notice "human" traits whilst observing wild animals. Whilst "absorbing" this scene (above), I imagined that the youngster, lying down, wished to play and that the second youngster was keen to join in the fun, BUT mother-elephant would have none of it! The result: the youngster stood up, obviously reluctant, but contritely followed its mother and the rest of the herd.

Often I'm asked by visitors why the tallest of the wild animals isn't part of the BIG 5 - and then I explain (often all over again) why certain animals are classified as the BIG 5 and NOT the giraffe. Apart from being aware how the expression originated, I also know that giraffes only tend to lie down when they are "convinced" that no dangerous predators (especially lions) are in the vicinity - otherwise they sleep or rest standing up. This old male in the Etosha Park (Namibia) certainly felt safe, because it had moved only a short distance to lie down again when we passed in our bus many hours later.

Just to "prove my point" - in case you think because it was an old male, the giraffe might have been too weak to move on - we saw another giraffe lying down in the Kruger Park a few days later (during another tour). This one stood up, though - it probably felt nervous when we stopped - and moved on. Two different giraffes lying down during 2 different occasions - I must admit that until then, I had only observed giraffes doing that in private game reserves, where NO dangerous predators are present.

Isn't she pretty(right)? When I saw and snapped this young female in Etosha, I certainly thought it looked as if she'd "put on" her make-up!! I love taking photos of giraffe-heads (and also adore their long eyelashes) but this one "takes the cake" in the beauty-department.

Although giraffes are probably the most "peaceful" of the large wild animals, the males sometimes do fight. I saw this happening years ago and never again - until my last visit to Namibia, where I took photos of these 2 males "seriously slapping" each other with their long necks.

When bending down to drink, giraffes are at their most vulnerable - that's why they mostly appear nervous around e.g. watering holes. The "classic" way for giraffes to drink is "demonstrated" by the female on the right in my photo BUT recently (or so our Namibian guide informed us), giraffes also tend to "spread" their legs (as demonstrated by the giraffe left in the photo). Interesting! Is that perhaps a position from which they can get upright quicker (in case a predator attacks)?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mini Mammals

Amongst the smaller mammals in southern Africa, the mongoose is distinct with its elongated body, pointed features and brisk scurrying gait.

Share the Mongoose Dilemma - what is the plural of mongoose?

Amongst the 11 species indigenous to southern Africa, I've only "met" the Banded Mongoose so far during tours in Namibia and Botswana. We recently encountered a family in the Chobe National Park, scuttling around for food.

The mongoose-diet mainly consists of invertebrates, especially beetles and termites, and sometimes rodents and snakes. Mongoose will eat fruit when available, and eggs - which they fling with their hind legs against solid objects (e.g. stones/rocks) to smash the shell so as to lap up the contents.

Whilst the first 2 photos are of Banded Mongoose we encountered in Botswana, we also "met" these small carnivores in the Etosha Park (Namibia) during the same tour. Mongoose (mongooses??) live in cohesive packs (also called "mobs") between 6 and 40 individuals.

Whilst some mongoose "love" standing upright (see photo above), others "spread" flat on the ground (photo left). Mongoose tend to hole up in disused termite mounds or in underground burrows.

For some "variety", I'm adding one of my (many) photos (right) of what we call a "meerkat" in South Africa (= suricate = a member of the mongoose family). These cute little mammals are very territorial and will fiercely defend their home from other meerkat gangs - at least one mongoose always stands guard, also to look out for predators.

Did you know that the dark eye-markings of these mongoose act like "built-in sunglasses"?

The Dwarf Mongoose (right) is - as its name suggests - the smallest of the mongoose family. Although this photo is part of my photo-collection, it was taken by our son-in-law, Quinton, during a family outing to the Kruger National Park a couple of years ago. It's such a gorgeous close-up photo that I feel compelled to add it today.

Diverting to another species now, the cute little Tree Squirrel (right) is primarily a vegetarian, but being a rodent, it also preys on insects. The Tree Squirrel is one of 3 indigenous species (although a 4th one, the Grey Squirrel, exists in the Cape Town area; it was introduced from Europe many years ago). The Tree Squirrel (as its name suggests) always retreats to trees when alarmed, but spends much time on the ground foraging for food.

Like the Banded Mongoose (see photo above), Tree Squirrels tend to "spread flat" on the ground (left) - an endearing habit when not feeling alarmed - which I certainly appreciated so I could take this photo. Tree Squirrels use their forefeet to manipulate food items whilst feeding, and live in territorial family groups, which nest in tree holes.

The Ground Squirrel is also predominantly herbivorous, feeding mainly on roots and bulbs, but occasionally "snacks" on termites, all of which it excavates with its claws and front teeth. As is "demonstrated" on the photo (left), the Ground Squirrel uses its tail as a "sunshade" - holding it in a bent position over its back whilst feeding.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lucky Encounters

Since I returned last night from a short 5-day tour with a chip full of new photos, I want to share 2 of those encounters today. I always feel lucky and privileged when I have the chance to "get so close and intimate" with nature, which of course is also "facilitated" by my job as tourist guide.

Aren't these 2 hyena youngsters cute? I certainly think so. Youngsters seemed to be "the order of the day" during this last visit to the Kruger National Park. We also saw a female warthog with two cute little newborns, this season's first impala fawns and many baboon babies.

We were busy "checking out" from an open safari-vehicle a buffalo kill by lions, with a lioness lying close by, fully sated, when along ambled this magnificent specimen of a male leopard. Now wasn't that lucky?? 2 of the BIG-5 (both "cats") on one and the same spot!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Welcome Sightings

As I've indicated before, my photographic goal is to "capture" as many birds as possible. I had hardly left my room at the Zambezi Sun hotel (Victoria Falls vicinity) during the last tour - with the specific purpose to find some birds - when this beautiful little fellow (right) flew past and settled right in front of me on a branch. Although I've snapped Brownhooded Kingfishers before (even at home in our garden), I haven't recorded one as close "and personal" as this one before.

After posing "just for me" for a while, the kingfisher flew off - and along walked this "somewhat different" Helmeted Guineafowl. It was amongst a flock of fowl, which I snapped, but since this specimen was somewhat unusual, I'm sharing it on this blog today - "my version" of a "whitebreasted guineafowl.

Soon I was distracted by an unfamiliar bird-noise. We also have Blackeyed Bulbuls at home, but never before did I witness a mating ritual as the one I was confronted with right then - fascinating. Other than taking a series of photos, I also took a video clip of the "procedure".

As has happened before, I hardly had to move on when the next bird species "appeared" - I think I'm rather lucky in this respect (or is it because I learned to be patient when on a mission to record birds?). Whatever the case, I certainly have developed "an eye" for finding birds, although I could hardly miss these relatively large specimen - a couple of Crowned Hornbill, one of which "posed attractively" close.

Not to be "out-done", a few Grey Hornbill settled in a tree - almost the exact moment after its "cousins" flew on. Right then, I felt like a "bird magnet" (my version of this expression!!) - on the right spot at the right time!

Eventually I did move on to find more birds - or other wildlife. I chose a short circular walking trail behind the hotel complex, and was soon arrested by a fluttering sound amongst the brush on the ground. I saw a bird preening but wasn't quite sure what it was. I eventually identified it as a Whiterumped Babbler - a not very common bird species and certainly a localised resident - after all, it does occur only in the part of Africa where I was "situated" right then! Needless to say, I hadn't "met" this member of the babbler-family before.

Again I didn't have to move "an inch" when along came yet another "first" for me! I thought I was looking at a gorgeous Knysna Lourie - but I knew the location wasn't right!? At home, after down-loading all my photos, I "discovered" that it was a Livingstone's Lourie ("old" name, I know - nowadays they are supposed to be called touracos), but whatever the case, I'm extremely proud of having had the opportunity to record this rather uncommon bird (even if I couldn't get a very "clear" visual).

It certainly turned out to be my day of "up close and personal". I've had the opportunity to snap a Yellowbilled Kite before, but certainly not one as close as this one! This raptor appeared to suffer from the oppressive heat as we visitors to this part of the country did, yet he was sitting on a bare branch with absolutely no shade.

Other than birds, I also "encountered" a few monkeys along the rest of the walking trail - and a crocodile crossing my path! Luckily it was not too big AND got as much of a fright as I did - so it turned tail and reversed back into the water from which it had just emerged. Although the encounter was truly scary, I did have the frame of mind to take a photo or two (habitually, I guess) and which I'll post soon - unfortunately, my camera was on zoom - just in case I saw yet another bird - so the photo of the croc is somewhat "out of focus" (or is that because I was shaking with fright?) - I have no idea.

Whilst my heart was still pounding after the "unwanted" close encounter with a crocodile, I was distracted by the visual of a more welcome sighting - of a Greenbacked Heron perched over water on a dry tree stump. I've also "met" this water-associated bird before, but not one yet that "posed so prettily" - even if it was rather far.

Since I've shared a few first-encounter-photos today, I'm adding this last one even if it was snapped many days later in Namibia, and not in the vicinity of the Vic Falls. It's a Rueppell's Korhaan and only common in the desert region of the Namib.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Glorious Nature

A month ago, the Jacaranda trees in Johannesburg were in full bloom. Although Pretoria is known as the "Jacaranda City", I believe there are as many (if not more!!??) Jacaranda trees in and around Joburg. I took this photo (above) during the last tour from the window of my room in the Southern Sun Graystone hotel (Sandton).

This photo (right) of Protea (this particular species is known as Pincushion) stems from the garden at the Franschhoek Monument - so does the King Protea (in full bloom and a bud) below.

Since the gardens around many monuments in the Western Cape Province are well-kept and boast with all kinds of flowering plants, it's a photographers "paradise". I took the photo (above, right) of a Giant or Natal Strelitzia (= Wild Banana) at the Afrikaans Language Monument in Paarl and the Strelitzia = Crane or Bird of Paradise flower (right) also in the garden at the monument in Franschhoek.

Although I've posted photos of roses before, I'm rather proud of this photo (left). I found these near-perfect roses in the garden next to the Museum in Franschhoek.

And now to photos of sunsets, which I promised 2 postings ago, and which we were privileged to experience during the last tour:

During a boat cruise on the Zambezi River on our first day at the Victoria Falls (Zambian side), we were treated to this sunset in all its glory, tinging the sky in many hues.

Two days later, whilst staying at the Chobe River Lodge in Kasane, Botswana, purple and pink seemed to be the predominant colours during the sunset that night.

Everybody on the boat during a cruise on the Chobe River the next afternoon was excited about this sunset (right), especially because our "captain" complied with my request to "place" us in such a position that the elephants virtually encompassed the setting sun.

Eventually, the setting sun started to look like a psychedelic ball! We were all overawed by this special and glorious manifestation of nature.