Some of Nature's less adorable...
17th July 2012 - 0 comments
I've encountered some of Nature's less adorable creatures in the last couple of days. First, I was walking in long grass on a flood plain and found that there were hundreds of Blister beetles sunning themselves on the tops of the tall elephant grasses.

At first, I thought it might be their mating time, but there were singles and doubles and triples in equal number, so I'm not sure whether they were competing for females or whether it was a 'social' gathering!

Blister beetles are so called because they release a toxin as a defence mechanism when provoked. This toxin (Catharidin) causes the skin to blister rapidly, and while not very painful, it takes a long time to heal. They warn predators of their toxicity with bright aposematic colouration.

I then came across beautiful large Puff Adder back in camp, which we managed to remove (safely via a laundry basket!) and transport to a new home out in the bush. Puff Adders are unusual in the reptile world in that they give birth to live young, a characteristic known as viviparity.

Beautiful Starlings
15th July 2012 - 0 comments
These Greater Blue-eared Starlings are ant and termite specialists, often found on the ground in short grass areas. Their iridescent blue/green colouration comes not from a pigment but from the micro-structure of the keratin in the feathers.

Dentist nearby?
14th July 2012 - 0 comments
Sometimes the teeth of hippos don't form in the normal way, and the canine pierces the lip as it grows. While it looks horrific, there are several hippos in a similar situation in the Luangwa and they don't seem to be affected by it.

Elephant complexion
11th July 2012 - 0 comments
There's something soothing about watching an elephant feeding calmly nearby. I'm fascinated by the textures of the ears, trunk and eyes, and have many photos similar to this one in my albums.

Careful where you step....
09th July 2012 - 0 comments
It always pays to take care where you tread out here. Quite apart from being a shame to squash this baby Boomslang, it might bite back.

Boomslangs are readily identifiable by the enormous eye and the way in which the boundary between the upper and lower body colours always passes straight through that eye. While highly venomous, they are usually placid and rarely attempt to bite, preferring to slip away and up into the trees.

Kakumbi Salt Pans
03rd July 2012 - 1 comment
We spent a lovely afternoon at a nearby salt spring on Sunday. The area is used by various wildlife species who come to drink and make use of the coarse grasses that grow there. At this time of year, hundreds of Crowned Cranes congregate to conduct their ritual breeding dance. At this stage, the birds are still massing and there is little mating behaviour, but the sight of 150 Cranes on the lush green grass is still beautiful.

On the way back from the pans, we enjoyed the beautiful evening light splashing shadows through the vast area of cathedral Mopane trees.

28th June 2012 - 0 comments
I caught these baboons as the last rays of sunlight were bathing the plains with that golden glow. This troop were happy rooting for tubers and dung-dwelling insects until darkness fell as they were just a few metres from their roosting site in a grove of Ebony trees.

Dusty Backgrounds
23rd June 2012 - 0 comments
As it dries up in the Luangwa Valley, the dusty evenings give us beautiful scenes against which to capture wildlife going about its business. We are lucky to have a pack of Wild Dogs which have decided to den close by so we should have good sightings over the next couple of months while the adults and yearlings hunt and feed the female and her pups. I was watching them yesterday afternoon and took some photos as they began to shift around, ready to hunt in the last half hour of the evening. The dusty, dead grasses and fallen trees in the area make for nice background subjects, and including the other dogs in an image conveys their very cohesive pack structure.

Cooling down
15th June 2012 - 0 comments
It's estimated that the blood vessels in elephants' ears contain between 3 and 5% of their total blood volume. As the blood passes through these vessels, a few flaps of the ears cools it considerably before it returns to the body once again. Nature's radiator.

Pel's Fishing Owl
08th June 2012 - 0 comments
Behind the bizarre Shoebill, Pel's Fishing Owl is probably the most sought-after bird in African birding circles; the leopard of the bird world. We have a large number in the Luangwa Valley and we often find them near big lagoons during night drives. However, it's more unusual to see them during the day, so I was very happy to find this one sitting high in a tree when I was on a morning drive recently.

They hunt at night and in the twilight before dusk, swooping down from a perch and plucking fish from near the surface of the water.

Roosting Crowned Cranes
08th May 2012 - 2 comments
As I was returning to camp after an afternoon drive to check out the condition of the roads through some of the gullies, I noticed so Crowned Cranes crossing the sunset in the distance. Hoping to catch them in flight as they moved across the open sky, I moved to an open are and found them landing in a dead Leadwood tree in the distance. As the sun dropped lower and the colours intensified, I took a few shots of the unmistakable shape of two Crowned Cranes in silhouette.

PS - I passed my Walking Guide Exams!

01st May 2012 - 0 comments in the middle of Walking Guide Exams so very little time for taking photos, except to record new wildflowers! However, I did find this photo in my archives which made me smile! Reminds me of doing long jump at school!

Bateleur Hunting
22nd April 2012 - 1 comment
We have a beautiful lagoon near the entrance of the park, where a raised track allows you to look down over the area and observe animal behaviour without interfering. While I was sitting out watching elephants feeding on the rice grass, a Bateleur took off from a nearby tree and started hunting at my eye level. As it raced back and forth, I tried to keep up with my camera!

At one point, it plunged to the ground behind a bush, but I wasn't able to see whether it had caught anything. Either way, it was back in the air soon after, so maybe it missed, or maybe it was just a small mouthful.

Close up!
12th April 2012 - 2 comments
When on drives, I don't often take my camera, since it's more important to position guests for the best photos than snap away for myself. But this morning, we managed to creep so close to this Lilac-breasted Roller, that I couldn't resist reaching for my camera and grabbing a shot!

Encounter with Lions
04th April 2012 - 0 comments
Over the weekend, I spent some time with a small pride of lions. Initially, they just lay in the sun, but later a couple of the females got up and began to stalk a pair of warthogs which were foraging nearby. The warthogs knew that something was going on even if they couldn't see the lions, so they never strayed into striking range - I decided to try to video the event, rather than taking still photos, so I only have the following blurry image (which is a frame from the video).

Later, once everyone's pulse had returned to normal, the pride settled down and the male surveyed his sleeping females through the long grass.

We could hear cubs calling from the thickets behind the pride, but they never showed themselves. Nevertheless, this female got up at the sound of the the cubs' yelping and paced around. We left her them to rest, not wanting to disturb her if she had very small cubs nearby.

Bed Time with Baboons
22nd March 2012 - 0 comments
After what seemed like weeks of camp building, I finally got out in the park again last night. During the rains, there is often a storm in the late afternoon, but on afternoons when there is not, the dramatic clouds and clear light make for great photos.

As it was, I didn't take many photos until it was almost dark when I came across a troop of baboons preparing to roost in some Ebony trees along a lagoon. It seems that they regularly choose Ebonies as roosting sites because they are very tall and not heavily leafed which allows them a good viewpoint to spot predators (mainly leopard) as they approach.

It was very calm and quiet as the troop made their way to the grove of trees, stopping regularly to groom a friend or just stare into space, contemplating life.

03rd March 2012 - 0 comments camp building. More updates soon.
River Trip
22nd February 2012 - 1 comment
I just spent a fantastic weekend on the river, a wonderful bonus of the high water at this time of the year. Very few people visit this area during the rains - and with unpredictable weather, it's easy to understand why - but those that do take the chance and book a boat safari on the Luangwa are in for a treat.

Hippos are one animal that you won't miss; they lie around in languid groups, shifting only slightly when you approach.

Waterbirds cram onto the available sandbanks and if you approach stealthily, you can get close up with some of the Luangwa's more colourful residents. Here Malachite, Pied and (a scruffy looking) Brown-hooded Kingfishers perch above the water waiting to catch fish and insects.

Baboons in the National Park are usually wary of humans, but sometimes even females with youngsters forget themselves and gawp as a tin pot filled with primates passes by.

We were lucky to catch this group of buffalo bulls as they began to saunter back towards the bush. Males rarely associate with the herd except for breeding, preferring a quieter life. Some of the older bulls may never return to the herd, knowing that younger individuals would soon drive them off.

We caught up with a herd of elephants who had just crossed the main river. Afer the breeding herd had moved on, instead of climbing out, the males played in the shallows, climbing on each other's backs and wallowing in the cool water. It was a celebration of weightlessness and a respite from the flies.

As evening came, and the light began to fade, hundreds of Cattle Egrets flew up-river to their roosting site. With failing light preventing fast shutters, blurry motion shots seemed the only answer.

And as always, whatever time of day, the scenery is wonderful.

A Frisky Affair
15th February 2012 - 0 comments
It's well known that mating and relationships in the animal kingdom are rarely romantic. Dominance, fighting, relentless pursuit and agressive mounting are all part of a female's day, but when you add the power, speed (and claws) of a lioness to the equation, it gets a lot more interesting!

We found this young adult male following a female down a track. She contiunally trotted ahead of him, but occasionally relented and allowed him to mate with her. On one occasion, he obviously overstepped the mark, and had to swerve rapidly to avoid a sideswipe. The photo is slightly out of focus, and the light was bad, but her intention is clear.

He then affected a brilliant 'hurt' pose, almost appearing to pout as she sat and licked her paws.

After a bit more gentle pursuit, she allowed one more mount, and then all seemed to be well. We moved on and left them in peace.

When is a long lens too long?
11th February 2012 - 0 comments
Sometimes it is....