Saturday, 2 November 2019

Buffalo with Calf

We had driven along several trails looking for an elusive herd of buffalo that one of the other drivers had spotted the day before. The driver and guide thought the best approach was to track a small pride of lions that we had seen earlier in the morning. He pointed out that where there are lions there are buffalo nearby.

Buffalo with calves

The lion tracks and spoor ended near a wide open plain with just islands of trees dotted here and there. Another short discussion and the verdict; drive through the grassland towards the trees which are perfect lion resting spots.

Lurking Lions

We cautiously entered the sea of grass and bumped our way towards the trees. Suddenly, we were amongst the buffalo. The herd consisted of around twenty animals including calves. Bad tempered at the best of times, the buffalo did not look pleased at our arrival.

Sitting quietly we waited for the animals to settle and within a few minutes they went about grazing seemingly oblivious to our presence. A wonderful time to take a few close up pictures of these iconic African animals.

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Monday, 7 October 2019

Crocodiles Rock

From the light plane aerodrome to the entrance to the national park there is a twenty minute drive past fields of corn and other crops then through villages before crossing a broad sluggish river that is not so benign in the wet season. Although this is the park boundary local people are allowed to fish there with special permits. But it is not the law that is their main adversary but the enormous crocodiles that live in the waterway.

Reaching lengths of 20 feet (6 metres) and weighing over 1500 pounds  (620 kg) these huge predators are capable of attacking all but the largest of African animals and have no problems snacking on the occasional human.

As we drive along the river ban towards the lodge some twenty kilometres our guide Malcolm concentrates on telling us about the plethora of animals whose lives revolve closely around the river. Hippos provide nutrients for many fish with their dung. Kingfisher perch on branches to look for prey. Numerous other birds follow the hippos and elephants when they stir up the water and disturb fish, insects, frogs and other small animals....and so on...the list is exhaustive and fascinating.

But it is the crocodiles that are the apex predators along the river and just before we turn inland we are privileged to see a truly massive example of these fearsome predators. The croc is lying on a small island its mouth open to regulate temperature and in doing so it displays a formidable array of teeth. Malcolm estimates its length at around 4 to 4.5 meters.

Later in our travels we will see many large crocodiles but this first sighting of a big croc is one that will always reside in our memories.

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Friday, 20 September 2019

Zambezi Elephants in Reeds

Zambezi Elephants feeding among reed beds in Botswana

We sat in a flat bottom boat just a few metres from these magnificent animals that had swum from the far bank to feed in reed island near the centre of the river. A wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

Over the next few days we often watched this herd of elephants as they crossed the river taking the young ones with them.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Elephant Babies

Baby elephants are one of the most endearing of all Africa's animals. The intelligence and social nature of elephants makes them animals that humans can easily relate to. On my most recent trip to Zambia’s lower Zambezi I was privileged to spend considerable time watching and photographing these incredible animals.

Early one morning we were lucky enough to see a herd of elephants crossing a small river. Two of the babies were so small that they had not yet grasped the idea of using their trunks to drink. The pair comically tried to dip their heads and mouths into the river to drink. Not really a very successful technique but fascinating to watch. Later I watched one of the more mature infants trying to show the younger animals how to drink before giving up and suckling its mother as the herd reached the bank.

The protective nature of the herd was an oft repeated feature of elephant behaviour. Mature females would quickly shepherd their young into the centre of the group at the first hint of danger. On one occasion a mature female, sporting massive tusks, stood within a couple of metres of our vehicle while the rest of the herd quickly shuffled away through the bush then quietly followed after giving us a loud trumpeting blast to voice disapproval.

We stayed at the river crossing for over an hour watching a variety of wildlife but it was the elephants that really stole the day.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Leopard Moments

It is night and we are spotlighting for wildlife along the edge of the Luangwa River. Our guides have heard both baboons and antelope warning calls and they know that something dramatic is happening nearby.

The spotter sweeps a powerful beam through the bush. It has a yellow filter which is less disturbing for the wildlife and in some cases an infrared light is used which is invisible to most animals. The light is flicked continuously over the scrub and trees. Due to the guide's wealth of experience the various intensities, colours and height of eye reflections above ground, indicate the type of animal.

Near a shallow creek bed he pauses and then re-focuses the 
light on the forked branch of a large tree where a leopard is chewing at the carcass of a puku that it has killed and dragged up into the branches.

We watch spellbound as the powerful predator goes about its meal. We can hear other movements in the surrounding bushes. There are glimpses of other eyes before a spotted hyena emerges from the cover. When a big cat kills these opportunistic scavengers are always nearby.

Sensitive to the cat’s needs the guides only stay for a few minutes before moving off in search of other wild moments that the African bush might provide.

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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Zambezi Elephants

Zambezi Elephants
We were travelling down the Zambezi River by powerboat To the Chongwe River Camp. On each side of the vast expanse of water were scrub and reed beds while the middle was dotted with grass covered islands.

Hippos were the most prevalent animals and a few crocodiles ignored us as they basked along the banks; mouths agape for temperature control and teeth exposed.

But it was the elephants that I found most intriguing. They were in small groups of five to twenty with a range of sizes from massive adults to teenagers and babies.

Every so often we wold catch a glimpse of them feeding amongst the long grass or patrolling the bank ready to cross.

On one occasion I was lucky enough to see a pair of adults emerging from the river to clamber up the bank and feed on a grass island.

Later that day I sat on my deck at camp and watched a herd crossing the smaller Chongwe river just a few hundred metres away from me. Elephants are quite common in the lower Zambezi national parks but they never fail to elicit a strong emotional response whenever I encounter them.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Hippo Behaviour

Nature is volatile and unpredictable. It never does what you need or expect. But occasionally, when the gods are in your favour and the stars positioned just so; animals do what you want.

I had been travelling along a tributary of the Zambezi watching hippos and trying to get a single shot that described their behaviour. These imposing animals are part of a complex ecosystem. They contribute tonnes of fertiliser to the river systems in the form of dung. Birds follow them as they trundle along river banks stirring up insects.

Adult Hippos in their prime have few natural predators. Young animals are sometimes prey for crocodiles while the old and weak are fodder for a myriad of hunters and their remains an appetising meal for crocodiles and a host of carrion eaters from vultures to hyenas.

Eventually I managed to make a pair of images that described aspects of their social behaviour as well as capturing their natural environment. Hopefully these aspects of hippo life are obvious from the pictures.


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Friday, 10 May 2019

Dragonfly Safari Moment

Safaris are usually about the big things; vast plains and rivers, elephants, buffalo, lions and gargantuan crocodiles. While these are spectacular animals there is a world of smaller creatures that live on the African continent, not the least of which are the insects. And, when it comes to insects the dragonflies are one of the most attractive and beautiful of creatures.

On a recent trip to the South Luanga National Park in Zambia I spent a couple of days around the camp due to an injury and roamed the area photographing both butterflies and dragonflies. This pair of male and female Orange Dropwings was hovering near the bank of a local river. I waited for a while and eventually they settled on a branch jutting out from the water and I took the shot; a great example of sexual dimorphism in the insect world.

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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Hungry Hornbill

Victoria Falls Hotel on a warm Sunday afternoon. Cocktails and a bite to eat then sit around the pool. Safari tomorrow. But time and experience have taught me not to waste opportunities.

There is a track behind the hotel which runs more or less parallel to the falls and river. Local people use it and it seems suitable for a bit of an afternoon walk. I chat to one of the waiters and he thinks its safe enough though the occasional giraffe or elephant tend to use it to access the lush lawns of the resort.

Camera in hand, I start to follow the trail. A troop of baboons are just ahead of me and seem unperturbed by my presence veering off into the bush to groom each other. 

However, it is the tree tops that grab my attention. Vervet monkeys, some kind of squirrel and a small group of squabbling Trumpeter Hornbills are disturbing the upper reaches of fruiting trees.

Even with the long lens it is a stretch to catch the action but with a little perseverance I manage a sequence of shots that show a Hornbill searching out and eating both fruit and caterpillars in the tree tops.

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