Some days.....
02nd February 2012 - 0 comments
....just aren't your day. The colours at this time of year can be fantastic, but there are also days where the cloud never burns off and everything looks flat and unappealing. I don't think this Brown Snake Eagle thought it was his day either as he was repeatedly mobbed and dive-bombed by this small Lillian's Lovebird. The grey sky behind certainly didn't help with getting the right exposure, but I think this shot correctly conveys the eagle's mood at that point in time.

Other days are better, like when I found this Western Banded Snake Eagle perching conveniently on a dead mopane tree near the road.

A Week during the Emerald Season
14th January 2012 - 0 comments
I've had my family and godparents staying for the last 6 days, and it's been a great week! When the rains came early in October, I feared that a January visit would be a complete wash-out; impassable roads, thick bush, endless bugs, sticky mud and very little game.

How wrong I was. We've enjoyed cool, cloudy days with sunny spells, and game viewing to rival a week in the dry season.

Here are some of the highlights, all against the backdrop of carpets of green grass and endless wildflowers.

After carrying their unborn lambs throughout the dry season, and losing condition as a result, Impala ewes are rapidly putting on weight.

The partly inundated grasslands are perfect hunting grounds for Black-headed Herons who feed largely on insects and frogs.

The Elephants are stuffing their faces.....

.....and the Puku calves look healthy and fat.

The predators are making the most of the time of plenty, rearing their young while the food-stocks are abundant. This Lionness is lactating heavily and had cubs concealed in a nearby thicket.

As it grew dark, four Lionnesses stirred from their day's slumber and began to look more alert. We watched as they rose, completed evening ablutions and began to hunt.

In the late afternoon, we watched these 10 week old cubs playing on the sand across the river from us.

Leopards make use of the vast number of young antelope on the plains, often showing distended bellies after a good feed.

During the journey down to Bushcamps, we found Sharpe's Grysbok up in the hills above the Valley floor.

And, as always in Africa, there are bright colours whereever you look. This Malachite Kingfisher is just 12cms tall, and hunts tiny fish in the seasonal lagoons.

And of course, there were lovely rainy-season sunsets - there's nothing better.

Steppe Buzzard
01st January 2012 - 0 comments
Not often seen in this area, although a fairly common rains migrant from Russia, I found this Steppe Buzzard in the miombo woodland on the hills above the valley floor.

Happy New Year.

A dog's life....
22nd December 2011 - 0 comments
For a long time, the taxonomic status of hyaenas has been under discussion. Should they be classified with dogs (Family: Canidae) or with the cats (Family: Felidae)? In the end, they are sufficiently different from both to gain their own family, Hyaenidae.

Here are two hyaenas making the most of the cooling waters of the Mushilashi, while idly chewing on an old buffalo skin.

The finished product
20th December 2011 - 0 comments
After 4 days of photo shoots for Tribal Textiles, we finally have the finished product - image collages that show off their designs and colourways in an artistic, but also informative, way. You will see these on their website soon - - but here's a preview!

Where did all the hippos go?!
04th December 2011 - 0 comments
I stood in roughly this same spot about two weeks ago and watched 400 hippos jostling for space in the shallow water. In the space of a few days, they've all moved out.

Add 20 cms to the river depth, which is what the rain in surrounding areas has done, and it becomes uncomfortably deep for a resting hippos. The small amount of rain locally will also have re-filled some of the nearby lagoons, which the hippos prefer to the faster-flowing river.

Photo shoot for Tribal Textiles
24th November 2011 - 0 comments
Apart from the occasional wedding, the vast majority of my photography work is about 'capturing the moment' with wild animals in their natural environment. It's challenging, unpredictable and frustrating because you are nowhere near in control of the situation.

However, as I discovered recently, it's equally frustrating and challenging to photograph inanimate objects in a completely controlled environment. I was doing a photo shoot for Tribal Textiles - a nearby textile workshop and retail outlet employing more than 100 local artists (visit their website here) - to create a portfolio of web photos for their new range of products.

It was an exhausting 2 days which certainly required more concentration and technical skill than when photographing wildlife.....and rather less luck. The responsibility for the end result lies firmly on your shoulders since it's not possible to blame a wild animal for moving at the wrong moment!

Here a few of the results. There will be many more of the photos on their website in the coming weeks.

Grooming time
21st November 2011 - 0 comments
Early morning and late afternoon are the busiest times for primates. Grooming, feeding, cementing relationships, caring for young and resolving disputes are common activities at this time.
This morning, I sat and watched this young female grooming an older female. Possibly a member of her immediate family, but also possibly one of her ''friends'' within the troop, offering to groom a more senior member of the troop is all part of the system of reciprocity that governs behaviour and hierarchy in baboon society. This act of kindness will be remembered and the subodinate animal will, after fostering a strong friendship, rely on the senior animal''s support during disputes.
Of course, grooming serves a practical purpose too by reducing the tick and parasite load.

The most unusual Eagle
20th November 2011 - 0 comments
Of all the Eagles, the Long Crested Eagle must be one of the most unusual. Part Snake Eagle (orange eyes) and part true Eagle (feathered legs). This is the male of a pair which are mating near Mfuwe airport. The male's white legs differentiate him from the female.

Lion Cubs
19th November 2011 - 0 comments
A few months ago, the local pride male was regualarly seen mating with his females. Sure enough, 3.5 months on, there are lion cubs around. But this isn't always the case and we are lucky that so many of the cubs seem to be doing well.

Lions certainly sit at the top of the food chain. And apart from hunting accidents (buffalo don't like to go without a fight) adults aren't at risk from predation. However, cubs are very vulnerable. A roaming male attempting to claim a pride for himself will first kill any cubs fathered by the previous male. Females may try to protect their cubs, but it's thought that any less than a year old will perish. Such is nature's way of perpetuating only the strongest genes.

Females try to ensure that cubs are only born into a stable pride by first coming into a false oestrus, where the male will mate, but the female doesn't ovulate. This way, the male must hold the pride long enough to mate again, before he fathers cubs.

The lion pride situation has been very unstable in the last couple of years. Large prides of 17 - 22 are too big for most males to hold, so they tend to fragment and this makes females and their cubs vulnerable. Last year, a large proportion of the cubs born did not make it to their first year and there may be more that we never knew about. So to have 6 lion cubs in the local area which are readily visible to us suggests that the females feel more secure.

This youngster was the most alert when found them today, and tried to play with his siblings who were mostly too fat to move! At roughly 12 weeks, they are still suckling, but will also sample fresh kills.

These two are about 3-4 weeks old and didn't even turn round when I arrived - despite the heat, they were piled on top of each other like huskies!

Warthog Sentinel
19th November 2011 - 0 comments
I was watching Warthogs on a big, open plain today. This female was foraging with her piglets and last year's offspring.

Suddenly, they got spooked (a turn in the wind carried my scent towards them) and they all turned and fled. Only the female turned to check that I wasn't following before dashing for the thickets.

Back from holiday.....
18th November 2011 - 0 comments
Back from their holiday, Grey-headed Kingfishers are making the most of the huge numbers of insects and bugs avaiable.

Carmine Bee-eater
17th November 2011 - 0 comments
I was photographing the Carmine Bee-eaters today, and one just kept coming closer and closer!

Road trip into the Miombo
16th November 2011 - 0 comments
Yesterday, I decided to explore a little bit of the interior of the park, the 40km wide strip away from the river. As you leave the valley floor, the temperature changes noticeably, and the surrounding vegetation changes even more. At this stage, you are beginning to enter the vast central African plain, which is mostly covered in Miombo woodland.

This miombo habitat is made up mostly of Brachystegia, Julbernadia and Isoberlina tree species, and supports a very different variety of life from the valley floor. In fact, as someone who is very familiar with the wildlife of this area, it's a bit of a shock (and a pleasure) to be thrown into an environment where I can't identify things at a glance!

The scenery is also stunning as you get into the foothills of the escarpment which marks the edge of the bottom of the Rift Valley.

I was in search of Sable, Roan, Eland and Hartebeest, all antelope species which can survive in the more marginal areas, and thrive doing so. Unfortunately, apart from a line of Sable tracks which I followed for about a kilometre (with no luck) I saw no sign of these big mammals. No worries, there were plenty of unrecognisable birds to keep me (and my bird book) busy.

The Red-headed Weaver is a charismatic mixed woodland dweller which builds messy nests in the mature trees.

I didn't recognise this little brown and white bird, except to know from its behaviour that it must be a flycatcher of some type. It took me a long while to get a photo because it kept flitting from branch to branch and the dappled light made it hard to follow. But lucky I perservered, because it is a Collared Flycatcher. So what? Well, after consulting the experts, it's only the second time that this species has been recorded in the Valley, and the first time so low down off the escarpment plateau! You never know what you are going to find in the bush.

To top it off, as I was coming down off the ridge, I found this Leopard Tortoise on the road. Initially nervous, he kept his head deep inside his shell, but soon worked out that I wasn't planning to eat him, so continued his journey.

The lowly Lilac-breasted Roller
12th November 2011 - 0 comments
Whether you love them, or hate their garish colours, guides across Southern Africa are indebted to the ubiquitous Lilac Breasted Roller. Surely more than any other bird, they have introduced countless guests to the rewarding variety and remarkable beauty of Africa's birds.

Will it or won't it.....?
09th November 2011 - 0 comments
Each evening this week, the storm clouds build, the humidity rockets.....and then it all comes to nothing. Although I must admit that I was quite glad of the false start today as I was caught out in it with nothing to protect me and all my kit. When will I learn that it's time to start taking my jacket with me...?

These impala looked very much at peace in the evening light as the pink-grey clouds massed to the north east.

Hippo Mayhem...
07th November 2011 - 0 comments
The view from the bridge makes it clear that hippos are one species that are not in short supply in the Luangwa. These huge lawnmowers will soon enjoy the spoils of fresh grass when the rains finally come.

Difficult light....
03rd November 2011 - 0 comments
The rains are coming! We had about 2cms last night (not all that much considering it rained all night!) but it's a promise that more is on the way.
Rains are a double-edged sword for photographers...the dramatic skies, leaden clouds and lightning strikes are great, as is the clear air that follows a big storm. But the dull grey clouds which stretch from horizon to horizon, and remain in place for days on end are less good! This flat light can make even the best subject hard to capture.
I went out after the rain today, but there was still a lot of cloud around. I didn't even take my camera out until the sun dropped low in the sky and showed through beneath the carpet of clouds. Just in time, I arrived alongside the river just as a ray of nice light hit these two Egyptian Geese.

MGM Hollywood
02nd November 2011 - 0 comments
Further north of here, there is a pride of lion which have featured in more documentaries than almost any others. Hardly suprisingly, someone named them the Hollywoods. So, what better to name the new coalition of 3 brothers who are at the top of the pride, than Metro, Goldwyn and Mayer?
Here's Metro resting in the shade after a long hot day, his dark mane beginning to show that he will soon be a really impressive specimen.

On my way back from watching Metro, I had a close up with an elephant and my long lens could only capture a small part of him.....

Oxpecker Choir....
30th October 2011 - 0 comments
Oxpeckers never get that much attention, but they are fascinating to watch. I spent a couple of hours on the river bank recently, watching them interact with their host hippos and with each other.

They move from host to host, cleaning the exposed skin and wounds and feeding on ticks and other parasites. When a hippo turns over in the water, they move quickly to the newly-exposed skin to enjoy the parasites that had previously been concealed. In this way, they often congregate in large numbers. It was the middle of the day by this stage, so many of the birds were 'gaping' to cool down, giving the impression of a choir singing!

Here, 2 (slightly larger) Yellow-billed Oxpeckers out-compete their Red-billed cousins for the cleaning rights to an open wound on this hippo's back.

Sometimes there are even fights between con-specifics!