Golden Orb Spider
01st March 2013 - 0 comments
I found this huge Golden Orb Spider or Golden Orb Weaver out in the park yesterday. It had built a huge orb web, stretching about 5m across and about 3m tall. The spider itself was over 15cms long and was sitting, alert, at the middle of the web. It had position a leg on each of the main strands of the web waiting to feel if an insect became caught in the sticky strands.

While not particularly dangerous to humans (the bite causes localised swelling and pain), the venom is potent enough to disarm insects, moths and possibly small birds.

Taking the Kids for a Walk
25th February 2013 - 0 comments
I've been watching a pair of Crowned Cranes nesting in the long grasses of a swampy area over the last few weeks. When I drove past yesterday, I was a bit surprised not to find them there. I thought that perhaps they were nestled down in the grass, or perhaps had been chased off by a predator. What I had not considered was that they had reared the chicks and they were out foraging together!

The parents were careful to keep the 3 chicks in the long grass where I couldn't really see them, so I just watched as the adults stamped the ground to flush insects which they then caught with their large beaks, or left for the little ones to deal with them. Eventually, when one of the adults took two of the chicks across the road, I grabbed the chance and took a couple of photos. Think it's fair to say that they've got a bit of growing up to do!

18th February 2013 - 0 comments
I first noticed this baboon because he was staring intently in one direction for some time. If you can spot this behaviour, it can tell you more about what's going on than we can see or hear.

Baboons have fantastic eyesight and rely on it more than any other sense. So if they tell you there's danger, it possible that we can see it too. In this case, he had sensed something and was assessing whether it was worth alerting the rest of the troop.

As often happens, in the end it wasn't anything more sinister than a distant Warthog which had caught his attention. But his prolonged concentration allowed me to drop down out of my seat and take some photos of him surrounded by a sea of grass.
It's hard not to be anthropomorphic.
17th February 2013 - 0 comments
And particularly when watching baboons! I spent about half an hour enjoying watching a troop of baboons as they slowly congregated at the base of the huge ebony which they use as a roosting site. Females and males groomed each other, the youngsters played and even the youngest babies let go of their mothers and explored their immediate surroundings.

These two were playing on top of a termite mound, wrestling gently with each other. As I lifted my camera, I disturbed them a little, and they looked round guiltily. I couldn't help but think of my brothers.

Eventually, after hiding behind the mound, they scaled their tree.

Wildlife Photographic Safaris
09th February 2013 - 0 comments
The Luangwa Valley offers unrivaled wildlife viewing in an unspoilt natural environment. With diverse game in abundance, much of which is neither vehicle nor camera shy, the National Park and the surrounding area offer wonderful photographic opportunities.

I have put together three photographic safaris in 2013 to give keen photographers the chance to get the very best out of a trip to the Luangwa. We will use two camps in different areas of the park, and travel only in open-topped safari vehicles which offer the best view for capturing the action. The emphasis throughout the safaris will be on producing excellent images from our drives in the park whilst enjoying and learning about the wildlife in its natural habitat. I'll offer photographic assistance and advice whenever required.

Please download this PDF to read more about my Luangwa Photo Safaris, and feel free to contact me for details.
UK wildlife is.....
03rd February 2013 - 0 comments
.....not quite as inspiring as African wildlife! I spent some time in the UK recently, at home in Dorset, and tried a couple of times to photograph some of the local inhabitants. A combination of poor light, almost continuous rain and nervous animals led to some slightly disappointing results! Looking at this washed out image of a young sika stag-calf made me realise (again) how lucky we are to live in this beautiful place.

Small Brown Birds....
17th January 2013 - 0 comments
.....can actually look attractive and interesting when there's a nice green environment around them. Here a female Red-backed Shrike and a Southern Grey-headed Sparrow use exposed perches to advertise their territorial presence.

Bush Pig!
16th January 2013 - 0 comments
I've been waiting years to see one of these. Most of the other guides have seen them, although only very rarely, and I was finally lucky last night when I found one crossing the road from a lagoon where it had been drinking.

Amazingly, it stood for long enough for me to take some photos, even if they weren't very good in the failing light!

We don't think that Bush Pigs are rare in the Luangwa, but they are generally nocturnal and certainly shy.
Fiesty Warthog
15th January 2013 - 0 comments
I was out driving in the park last night at that time of day when everything looks golden! I came across this warthog who was feeding on the short, fresh grass near a small lagoon. Instead of running away when I drove up, he approached with his head held high and his tail swishing. He was frisky, almost fiesty! I took a few photos while he stood resplendent in the sunshine.

As I started the engine again, he lost all of his bravado and took off into the thickets which caused a nearby herd of impalas to panic at the unseen danger!
Little Girl
13th January 2013 - 0 comments
I watched this young leopard for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon. She was very relaxed up in the tree but when the temperature dropped, she decided to come down. Having fed not long before, she had a very full stomach so made a bit of a mess of her descent!

I followed her as she scouted around the area and scented various bushes, presumably picking up the spray-marks of the territorial adults in the area. Eventually, when it was almost dark, she lay down in a patch of long grass. By this time, my camera could 'see' more than I could so it was a bit of a shock to look at the screen to check the exposure and see this piercing stare looking back at me!

12th January 2013 - 0 comments
All small antelope are overlooked because they are plentiful, spend most of their time feeding and don't kill anyone else!

But they're very smart creatures (particularly the females) and will often be the first to alert others to danger approaching. I watched this female and a few others feeding in the lush grass yesterday afternoon. Almost at once, they all looked up and gazed in one direction. I didn't think too much of it to begin with (Puku sometimes watch birds or mongooses!) but after 30 seconds or so, I thought that they might be picking up the scent of something bigger. I drove about a kilometre and found that another Puku was whistling an alarm at a leopard - the first group of Puku had heard his call and we're alerted to the danger.

So Puku are very smart...and they also look nice!

Woodland Kingfisher
11th January 2013 - 0 comments
We have a large number of visiting migrant birds during the rainy months when the insect life is at its peak, and provides the best source of food.

Woodland Kingfishers come all the way from Senegal in West Africa to spend 5 months breeding and feeding in the Luangwa Valley and elsewhere in Southern Africa. They are often found on exposed branches early in the morning, to catch the morning sunshine and advertise their presence to territorial competitors.

09th January 2013 - 0 comments
Spectacled Weavers are one of many species in the Ploceus genus, which are generally yellow in colour and build beautiful woven nests out of fresh grass.

This female Spectacled Weaver is inspecting the nest which the male is constructing. When she's happy with it, she'll 'make home' inside with some soft grasses and leaves and begin nesting. However, this nest still has a fair amount of work to be done, so perhaps she was just checking on progress.

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.
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.