PHOTO BLOG

Feast
07th January 2013 - 0 comments
It's not often that you find leopards together since they're generally solitary creatures. The only exceptions are when a pair come together to mate, or a mother is rearing cubs. In fast fading light, I found this mother and male cub feeding together on the remains of an impala that they had killed in the morning. The image quality is very bad as it was almost dark, and there were lots of branches in the way but the message is pretty clear!

Big Bull
06th January 2013 - 0 comments
I was driving through the park recently when I saw a large elephant bull pushing through the bushes towards the road. He seemed agitated so I moved forward to avoid blocking his path and waited to see what would happen.

As he approached me, he bashed through the bush near the road, creating a nice image of excitement and nervousness.



After approaching my vehicle and sniffing all around me, he crossed the road and dropped down the bank towards a lagoon. He displayed a swaggering walk which made me think he might be coming into musth (a condition of heightened sexual readiness in male elephants), but he wasn't showing any of the visual signs that a young bull should.

As I was about to move off, I heard more crashing in the bushes and the story began to become clear. Following the younger bull was a huge adult male, who was most certainly in full musth! He was dripping fluid from his genitals and rolling his shoulders in a overly exaggerated way as he moved. He kept the tip of his trunk right on the ground just as a dog's nose tracks along the ground when it is hunting. It was too late for me to move, so I just sat very still and checked that the wind was not going to blow my scent across his path.

As he approached the side of the road, he wheeled around and returned to a spot just behind him, where he sniffed the ground intently for nearly a minute. I'll never forget what followed; an ear-splitting trumpeting-bellow accompanied by a series of head-shakes which cause the ears to slap against the head. It wasn't aimed at me, but more an automatic response to whatever scent he had picked up on the ground, which I suspect to be a urine mark from an oestrus cow.

By this point, the dripping from his genitals was even more pronounced and his temporal glands were glistening wet down the side of his face. He looked up, saw the younger bull (who was by now drinking on the other side of the lagoon, 200m away) and began to charge directly towards him! The young bull didn't mistake the aggression and took off running towards the thickets beyond the lagoon. The pursuer didn't relent until the youngster was driven out of sight, after a charge of several hundred metres!

Sadly I don't have any images of the charge, as I was concentrating on keeping quiet and not becoming part of the action.

Too much green?
28th December 2012 - 1 comment
The park is covered in lush new grass growth as the rains continue to fall. On a bright, sunny day, the verdant green is almost unreal, and must certainly appear so to anyone who hasn't been here.

I found this little Puku calf on his own in the flooded grasslands yesterday. His mother was feeding in the distance and would have returned to feed him before nightfall.

Zebra Portraits
23rd December 2012 - 1 comment
I was approached by a very calm zebra the other day, and I had my longest lens attached, so I took some abstract portraits while he posed.





Leopard Night
03rd December 2012 - 0 comments
I took a pro photographer out on a drive the other day and we found a leopard cub very early in the drive. He seemed very relaxed so we decided that we would try to spend the rest of the drive with him if he hung around.





We know this cub, and we know that he's still fairly dependent on his mother for food, although he will certainly be killing small prey on his own too. In this case, he was well fed and seemed to be bored more than anything else. He had no intention of hunting and as a youngster had no territorial duties to perform, so he just moved around the area sniffing bushes for scents. At one point he became very interested in a particular bush and repeatedly scented the leaves. We suspected that this bush is a regular scent-marking point for the resident male leopard who we see in that area. We think that the male is this cub's father, but we never saw the mother mating, so we can't be sure.



After he'd finished with the bush, he went for a drink, then climbed a tree where he wandered around in the branches for a while, showing off his agility!





Eventually, he came down and disappeared into the bush.



While we were waiting for him to show up again, I heard the distant call of a bigger leopard which I assumed to be the male. We went in search of him and found him soon after. He doubled-back when he saw us and headed towards where the cub had been. We followed to find out if there would be any aggression between the two, but the cub had (wisely) disappeared by the time the big male arrived. Interestingly a number of hyaenas had congregated near where the cub had been (if there was a kill nearby, we hadn't been able to find it) and the large male leopard ran right into them. Thinking that he would simply ignore the hyaenas, as I have seen leopards do so many times before, I was surprised to see him snarl and then run straight up the trunk of a nearby tree! Soon the hyaenas realised that he had nothing that they wanted, and moved off. The male came down very rapidly and disappeared.



We moved on, wondering where the cub had gone, and found him slinking along the bottom of a gully nearby with several hyaenas following closely behind. He was clearly disturbed by the hyaenas so we kept well back and watched as they chased him up a tree as well!



It's not that common to see leopards and hyaenas interacting, so to see it on two occasions in one night was interesting.
Skimmers
01st December 2012 - 0 comments
African Skimmers are a relative of the Terns, and they hunt by dragging the lower part of their beak in the water, and snapping shut when they feel a fish. In the Luangwa, they're most visible when there are exposed sandbars which provide good breeding grounds, and since the water levels haven't yet risen, there are still many Skimmers around.

I watched this pair and their chick hunting up and down the river at last light.



Bee-eaters feeding chicks
19th November 2012 - 0 comments
The Carmine Bee-eaters are still in the Luangwa in huge numbers. Most of them are concentrated along the sandy rivers where they are rearing chicks in nest holes excavated into the banks.





Trying to photograph them is a frustrating business as they are very agile and change direction in the blink of an eye. I found that if you followed the movements of an individual bird, you could tell which group of nest holes it was heading to, and at least have the camera pointing in the right direction to capture the action.



Here are a few shots of the 'Carmines' returning to their nest holes with insects for the chicks inside.





Wood Owl
18th November 2012 - 0 comments
Night drives often throw up something a bit unusual. Wood Owls are not rare, and in fact, you'll hear them almost anywhere if you listen for them, but they don't often sit still for very long! We found this one in an Ebony grove with lots of mature trees, a perfect habitat for a pair of owls. Although we only saw one, we could hear its mate calling nearby.



Leopard Cub
16th November 2012 - 0 comments
I wrote a while back about a female leopard who was rearing two cubs near to camp. The family haven't been seen for quite a while and we've been wondering about their progress. We knew that the male cub was showing much more signs of independence than the female, so we were expecting that we might find him on his own somewhere, but even he didn't show up.

The other night, I spotted some very bright eyes in the spotlight and we drove around to have a look. Out of the bush popped the female cub, who has grown considerably in the last 6 weeks, and is now approaching the size of her mother. She didn't seem to be very comfortable though, coughing and sneezing regularly and eating large quantities of grass. She didn't roll or groom herself as we've so often seen her doing, so we watched her for a while and then left her in peace.



Even the way she looked at us as she appeared from the bush was not how I expected; she's usually very relaxed but this time she looked more wary.



We'll keep and eye out for her and check on her progress.

African Hawk Eagle
13th November 2012 - 0 comments
Hawk Eagles are one of my favourites - they're a beautiful, intelligent bird which use highly developed co-operative techniques to catch their prey. Together with their mate, they hunt ground birds, such as Guinea Fowl and Francolin, which make up the majority of their prey.

We watched as a pair of African Hawk Eagles worked together to catch a Guinea Fowl. The female flew round in front of the birds, in an intentionally slow and visible stoop, which caused immediate panic on the ground. Amongst the confusion, the male streaked in from behind and pinned a Guinea fowl to the ground. It was all over in an instant.

The pair began to feed on their kill, but our presence made them nervous and they carried the carcass away to a nearby fallen tree. While the female fed, the male stood guard over her and posed for some photos.


The rains have arrived...
10th November 2012 - 0 comments
...but I haven't been out with my camera much! I only managed to take a couple of photos of this Fork-tailed Drongo on her (very exposed) nest in a bush by the road. Since the time I took this photo, the bush has grown many more leaves....just as well since many of the cuckoos have arrived and they would certainly target such an unprotected nest!

Leopard
06th November 2012 - 0 comments
We are lucky to have regular sightings of these beautiful cats. During the last few days of the dry season, when water is in really short supply, a bit of time spent at a popular lagoon will usually result in a visit from one of the locals! This big male is well-known to us and usually announces his presence with a throaty call which carries for several kilometers.

Pennant-Winged Nightjar
02nd November 2012 - 2 comments
Nightjars are a group of birds which feed on insects during the hours of darkness. In the Luangwa, we have several species most of which are mottled brown to provide camouflage during the day. Male Pennant-winged Nightjars grow extra long primary feathers during their breeding season as a way of attracting a mate. I have yet to catch an image of one of these ghostly kite-like birds in flight, but I found one sitting on the road the other night.

Wild Dog Behaviour
28th October 2012 - 0 comments
I had a very interesting encounter with a pack of 18 Wild Dogs recently. By this time of year, this pack's activities are often centred around a salt spring in the back country away from the river. Whenever dogs can find a water source in a marginal area away from areas of high prey density, they choose to live and hunt around there to avoid confrontations with lions. Death by lions is the single largest cause of mortality among Wild Dogs in this area and particularly when the pack is supporting pups as this one is.

When we found them, they were actively squabbling over the remains of a very freshly killed impala which I judged had been caught less than 30 minutes before. The dogs had followed their usual practice of dismembering the carcass and rapidly consuming all of it to protect it from larger predators and scavengers such as hyaenas. There was also a Tawny Eagle nearby who was hoping to clean up any scraps that the dogs left behind. After lying down for a while, the pups became restless and began to tumble around with their siblings.



Eventually the adults became bored with the kids' behaviour and escorted them down to a nearby pool where they drank and then began to play in the water.





One of the adult dogs kept watch carefully throughout the time when the pups were playing in the pool, making sure that there weren't any lions or hyaenas sneaking up on them.





Once the pups had cooled off and had a drink, they rolled around in the dry grass and continued playing. Interestingly, they began to mob one of the adults, biting gently at her lips and ears, and begging for food. (When the female is back at a den with pups, dogs which have made a kill gulp down their food, barely chewing it on the way, and then carry it back to the den in their stomachs. The female and pups then beg for chunks of regurgitated meat.) Even though these pups have now left the den and are with the main pack, they've clearly not forgotten how to beg food from the adults!







They mobbed her endlessly until she eventually relented and deposited a large lump of saliva-covered meat on the grass. The pups descended on it, shredding it immediately and leaving no trace seconds later. It was a happy scene as the pups fed together.



We left them resting under a big Sausage tree, waiting for the heat of the day to subside so that they could hunt again.
Furtive hyaena
20th October 2012 - 0 comments
We recently found this hyaena while out on a morning safari. It was a hot morning even though it was still early (it's always hot in October!) so he was lying in the shade. When we approached, he got up and posed for a while before skulking off as if he had done something wrong!





Silent Kudu
06th October 2012 - 0 comments
I was watching a hyaena early in the morning yesterday, and when I lowered my binos, I found that a group of Kudu had emerged silently from the Leadwood trees nearby. When I turned to look at them, most fled, but one female remained for a few seconds before following the rest.

Raptor Morning
05th October 2012 - 0 comments
Some days, you can vainly scour the skies in search of Vultures and other large birds of prey, and other days it's as if there's a raptor in every tree.

Yesterday, I was out with some guests and there wasn't much going on on the ground, so we started to look up and into the trees. On an open area of dead mopane woodland, we found this Yellow-billed Kite and nearby a Tawny Eagle which has been nesting in a Baobab tree for the past few years.



Elegant Lioness
03rd October 2012 - 0 comments
The light was very poor when we found a pride of lions on the sand yesterday. I switched to black and white on my camera, and tried to capture the mood of the lionesses; calm contemplation, and the contented feeling of being top of the food-chain!

Little Bee-eater
01st October 2012 - 0 comments
Out in the park yesterday, I saw a pair of Little Bee-eaters sitting on a low bush. They didn't move away initially which made me think that they might be nesting nearby. One of the pair flew off as we got closer, but sure enough, it dropped down to a little hole right next to the road that I had never noticed before. It wasn't carrying anything, but the presence of an egg-shell outside the nest-hole made me think that the pair were rearing a chick inside.



The other adult sat obligingly on the twig to allow us to take photos.

In flight
30th September 2012 - 2 comments
I've been trying for the last 4 years (off and on, not full-time, of course!) to get a photo of a Lilac-Breasted Roller in flight. I've always managed to get good shots of them sitting in bushes with nice backgrounds, but then they fly off when I'm not ready, or they fly out of the back of the bush!

Luckily, I was recently with some guests who wanted to try and capture the same thing! They were happy to sit and wait while the Roller decided what it wanted to do, and then try to capture it on camera as it set off. So we found our candidate:



And we waited, and waited, and waited.



But finally, it took off and flew a few hundred yards to another low bush nearby. We all consulted our camera screens and decided that we'd done pretty well this time!



The roller even sat still long enough to give us a second chance. And perhaps this one was even better!



Rollers are an insect, arthropod and frog-eating family of birds, of which we have 5 species in the Luangwa.