Wildlife: Spotted Dikkop - my first
01st June 2013 - 0 comments

It's pretty unusual for me to see a new species in an area that I know so well, but it does happen occasionally! Last night, I found this Spotted Dikkop in some open grassland between areas of scrub Mopane trees.

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Kudu on Lion Plain
30th May 2013 - 0 comments
In the North of the park, there are several areas of vast open plains. While these areas are sometimes a bit bleak, at this time of the year, when there's still some grazing to be found, some animals choose it as home, safe from many of the predators.

Other animals cross the plain to reach the river and surrounding lagoons. As we passed through in late evening, we found this bull Kudu ambling towards the thickets along the edge of the grassland. He didn't seem to be any hurry, and stopped to chat with the Impalas as he passed!

27th May 2013 - 0 comments
I was up in the Northern Sector of the park over the weekend and we found this large male lion drinking in a gully. He wasn't very comfortable around us and quickly moved up the bank and away from the water, but he did stand for an identification shot.

It was well before sunrise so the light was very poor, but as he moved through the trees, we could see the remains of an old scar which identified him as 'Limpy', a male who'd sustained a nasty gash on his front leg. There wasn't much sign of the limp anymore!

At the other end of the day, as the light was fading fast, we found a large male leopard padding through the shrubs at the edge of the river.

Impala Antics
19th May 2013 - 0 comments
Testosterone levels in mammals are always highest in the early morning (and after a successful contest with another male of course!) so we often watch interesting behaviour between male impala during the rutting season. This male was parading around his patch, showing off to the females and making his presence known to other males. The flared tail is a giveaway signal that he feels dominant in his area.

After some time, another male approached him and they sized each other up, neither wanting to commit to a fight too early on in the encounter.

Eventually, one male began to run off but the incumbent male was sure to pursue him and ensure that he left his territory. I was following to see what might happen if they crossed the boundary to another territory....and soon found out. At an unknown distance, the fleeing impala turned and engaged in a fairly prolonged bout of fighting. There was lots of snorting and groaning, and even though there was a screen of grass between me and the action, their eyes tell the story.

A thirst-quenching drink
17th May 2013 - 0 comments
I enjoyed watching this small family of elephants as they trudged through the dry bush towards the river. As they got closer, their pace picked up as they smelled the water and they celebrated with huge trunkfuls!

Southern Ground Hornbill
16th May 2013 - 0 comments
These large carnivorous birds are something of a speciality in the Luangwa, given that they are very scarce in other areas of Southern Africa. Here, they occur in good numbers although they are certainly not common. I found a pair stalking across an open plain yesterday and decided to try some portrait photos.

Leopard Compilation
13th May 2013 - 1 comment
I've been going through a lot of old images that are stored on my system but have never seen the light of day, and came across these images which were taken over the last few months and show the growing up of a young leopard cub. She's been wonderful to watch and I have many more memories than I have images to back them up.

Here she prowls down a track towards me in the gloaming light.

And another where she used a dead tree as a lookout for potential prey.

Earlier in the year, when there were still a lot of flies around, she would regularly sit on exposed branches to enjoy the cool breeze.

And most recently, I found her resting on an old broken bridge, in one of her favourite hunting gullies.

08th May 2013 - 0 comments
I was out in the last light of evening yesterday and caught this image of an elephant cow feeding in the Leadwood forests. The sun was being masked by a cloud and gave this beautiful, moody effect.

Golden Roller
03rd May 2013 - 0 comments
In the last light of evening, this Lilac-breasted Roller held its ground on a nearby mopane trunk, before turning its gaze to the ground to check for one last hunting opportunity before dusk.

Wild Dogs hunt Impala
01st May 2013 - 0 comments
Wild Dogs are well known for their highly efficient hunting methods. Rather than relying on stealth and ambush (as do the cats) they employ the chaos and confusion method with astonishing success. It's estimated that around 90% of Wild Dog hunts end in a meal for the predator, compared to around 5-10% for cats.

I'd seen several Wild Dog hunts in the past, but the one I watched on Sunday evening was perhaps the most spectacular in its ruthless efficiency.

As the heat seeped out of the afternoon and the sun dropped lower towards the horizon, the 5 dogs awoke and began a short session of ritualised greetings - licking at the mouth of other dogs and rearing up to meet companions in an exaggerated boxing display.

After a couple of minutes of this, the dogs began to move out towards a herd of around 80 impala who were feeding nearby. They sat in the shade of some thickets, and observed the impala who were completely unaware of their presence.

Without warning, one of the adult males set off in the direction of the impala herd, scattering them in all directions.

As the other dogs followed behind, one impala headed towards me and gave an amazing display of pronking as an honest show of strength and agility to the hunters.

Within seconds, most of the impala were standing still again, so confused by the 5 predators in amongst them, that they didn't know which way to run.

Shortly after there came the unmistakable sound of a distressed impala, and the remaining 4 dogs turned towards the noise. One adult dog had caught an antelope by its hind quarters and was not going to let go. The other dogs arrived and the bleating stopped very soon after. From first attack by the adult dog to a silenced impala - less than 1 minute.

The feeding frenzy that followed was pretty brief too, lasting around 10 minutes. After this time, there were only bones and skin remaining, all the valuable meat safely protected from scavengers inside the dogs' bellies. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy of predators means that you have to employ other methods to protect what you kill, and gulping it down is certainly effective. (Dogs will 'beg' food from others who have fed more recently, asking the adult to regurgitate largely undigested lumps of meat, which are then eaten by the youngsters.)

With full bellies and in failing light, the dogs settled down for the night.

Photographing into the light......
30th April 2013 - 0 comments not normally recommended, but it can produce some nice effects.

29th April 2013 - 0 comments
When fleeing from predators (and sometimes even just for fun) antelope make giant exaggerated leaps to put distance between themselves and the hunter, and to display how fit and healthy they are. We call this behaviour "stotting", and it's well known across African species and some from elsewhere, such as sheep and deer.

This impala's bouncing leaps were so graceful and balletic, that at one point, he closed his eyes and appears to have got lost in the moment....! He quickly recovered though as the sounds of frightened antelope reminded him that a pack of 5 Wild Dogs were causing chaos among the females and youngsters nearby.

27th April 2013 - 0 comments
As the rains come to an end, and the grass dies off in the back-country, elephant herds which have been living in the grasslands begin to move towards the riverine strip. The increased access to water and fresher vegetation draws them from the protein-rich dambos to the riverbanks where they will spend the majority of the coming months.

It's a great time to photograph them as they file slowly across the open plains, adult females leading with calves and juveniles following behind. Small groups of bulls are sometimes seen following these herds, perhaps sensing an early oestrus female or taking advantage of the matriarch's lead.

I spent Saturday focusing on elephants, not something that I often do and was rewarded with some great sightings.

This large bull was left behind after a few of the breeding herds had moved past me.

I moved round to meet them in an open area of Leadwood forest as the sun was dropping low in the sky.

After sunset, the glow of the green trees created a beautiful effect.

As they fed on the short shrubs under the ancient Leadwoods, one of the youngsters noticed my presence and fell in line behind the female, with a couple of bulls behind.

In another area, I found a family that had spread out to feed across open grassland. As I approached this young calf, who's only been alive a couple of months, realised that he was separated from Mum, and scuttled across in front of me to catch up!

And as the light fell, I switched to black and white to enjoy the unmistakable shape and texture of these giants of the bush.

25th April 2013 - 0 comments
They're not the most inspiring of our antelope, and they've got a bad rep for being a bit smelly (German sausage-like if you can get the wind right), but there's more to Waterbuck than meets the eye. Dominant bulls employ the services of younger bulls as Generals, defending (on their behalf) areas of their range which are further from the core territory. This arrangement of shared territorial behaviour leads to very interesting interactions between males within their patch - how do you show dominance over all other males, but submission to your senior....?

These females had been feeding in the open grasslands and were returning to their overnight resting site, the escorting male following close behind.

Long Stretch
21st April 2013 - 0 comments
It must be tough to be a young elephant bull watching as your larger companions effortlessly reach into the branches of Tamarind, Winterthorn and Acacia trees. We watched this pair of bulls as they gently made their way from the grasslands back towards the river in the evening, stopping regularly to feed on the abundant vegetation available at the end of the rains.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the bulls started to head for a line of Ebony trees in the distance and the sun caught their wrinkly hides.

A morning with Giraffes
13th April 2013 - 1 comment
It's been a while since I updated my blog, but it doesn't mean it's been quiet in the National Park. We spent a lovely morning watching a small herd of giraffes in an open dambo recently. The youngsters were quietly sitting on the ground, legs folded underneath, but the older males remained standing - perhaps their old joints make it harder to get up and down!

As males get older, specialised skin cells deposit more bone on the 'horns' and down the front of the head, adding weight to their skull. If a male needs to fight for mating rights, he'll use his head as a club, so any extra weight is beneficial.

After a while, a younger bull appeared in the distance and began to approach the group. We were interested to see what might happen between the newcomer and the resident males, but before we could find out, we realised that a yearling leopard cub that we had been watching earlier was still in the area, and had begun to stalk the giraffe!

I had only a fixed length lens so couldn't squeeze in all the action at some points, but the following pictures tell the story!

The leopard wasn't really hunting the giraffe, as prey such as a giraffe is clearly much too large, but she was certainly practicing stalking her larger friend, and at one point, we thought she would jump on the giraffe's back! The whole performance (stalk, chase, retreat) was repeated several times before the young cat became bored and wandered off, leaving us to consider the astonishing markings on the flank of one of the old males.

The Classic Leopard
06th April 2013 - 0 comments
In failing light, we found this beautiful leopard cub resting in a tree last night. She was escaping the flies and enjoying the cool breeze of evening. After some time, she came down and began hunting a couple of Spur Winged Geese which had landed at the side of a nearby lagoon.

Bateleur Eagle
01st April 2013 - 0 comments
Bateleur eagles are one of the most readily recognisable of all our raptors, identifiable at a glance by their rocking, unstable flight. Having a very short tail makes them highly maneuverable, but reduces their stability in the air, leading to a flight pattern that appears similar to a tight-rope walker on a wire.

Adults have striking black and white plumage, with a red face and legs. Juveniles, as with many large raptors, take a number of years to achieve the good looks of the adults. This youngster was flying towards me in beautiful morning light, and showing off his agility.

Alice does it again
29th March 2013 - 0 comments
We don't have names for many of the animals here (in fact it's only one leopard and a few lions). But Alice is probably the most well known of all of them. She's an adult female leopard who's marked out an area of territory just across the river from camp. We see her at least once a week, and often daily. Recently, she's been very visible with her two year-old cubs.

I was guiding on Monday and we came across the family feeding on an impala carcass high in the branches of a Mahogany tree. I was driving and trying to keep the vehicle positioned well, so didn't take many photos, but here's Alice and her 13-month old son.

Some days...
27th March 2013 - 0 comments's all just a bit too much for a young baboon.

One of the best reference books on baboon behaviour was written by a well-known animal scientist called Shirley Strum. After years living with Olive baboons in Kenya, she compiled her findings into a very readable book called "Almost Human". It's a wonderful account of her life as one of the troop.

She carefully documents the ever-changing behaviour of individuals towards one another, trying to keep anthropomorphism to a minimum, but occasionally, she has to concede that they are astonishingly close to us.