There is one animal that elicits an emotional response like no other in the natural world. Which creature could it be? For me, and many others I know of, the Tiger has an aura, a spirit that seems to soar above those creatures around it. Don't be fooled though, this isn't the only draw to India ... it is just a case of trying to find a wild corner of this vast country to explore its natural delights.
I have recently returned from a trip to India searching for Tigers and some of the stars of the Jungle Book. I had some issues along the way with cameras and park legislation but I won't go into that here.
I didn't have the best trip from a photographic point of view but there were a few stand out moments which I thought I would share with you.
The week started off pretty slowly and I didn't really have any sightings of any of Tadoba's standout species. However I did seem to have some better luck on the bird of prey front ... as you can see above. The my luck changed and I had an incredible encounter with a very handsome young male Tiger.
Only moments after driving through the park gates we heard a sound that is comparable with that of a Lion in Africa. We heard the territorial call of the Tiger and we knew that it was heading back into the park, having spent the night patrolling the park boundary.
We drove up into the park proper and stopped at the top of the hill and listened. The deep call sounded again from the forest, it was coming closer. We moved further down the road and waited for a moment that will live long in my memory, an intimate moment with one of the most striking individual cats I have ever seen.
I was also really lucky with a particularly close encounter with a pack of Dhole (Indian Wild Dog), but the photography opportunities were tricky as the dogs being rather unsettled. Only moments before these images they had failed to hunt a Barking Deer, they weren't particularly keen to oblige and pose for photographs.
I will be writing another post about the last few days I spent in Tadoba and going on to describe a few of my concerns too. Although I saw plenty of wildlife, I was rather shocked at some of the tourism practices within the park and the way this could directly affect the wildlife.
For now though I will leave you with a shot of this cute little fellow ...
After the amazing sightings of Platypus in Eungella NP, we headed further inland hoping to visit Carnarvon Gorge. We first stopped off in the gemfields and stayed in the small community of Sapphire, where I got up close and personal to an amazing Oscillated Velvet Gecko which was searching for a meal in the extraordinary heat.
After this short stop we continued southwards to the amazing Carnarvon Gorge but sadly it didn't go quite as we had planned. We were hoping to stay there for 4 nights, that way we could make the most of this amazing destination. Unforunately, after only 1 night we had to leave, a large rainstorm was forecast and we could be cut off for a couple of weeks. We got to spend one afternoon enjoying the local wildlife though and it was great from a photographic point of view. With close encounters of both Swamp Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos the highlight.
As the sun started to set a Kookaburra appeared in the trees above me and started to laugh until the light was no more. I took a single silhouette as my final image of the day.
So for the last couple of weeks we have been based near the popular town of Byron Bay. We are actually up in the hills in the 'hinterland' but the climate is fantastic and there is an amazing amount of life that comes out at night. We are house sitting in the village of Federal and are also looking after a collection of chickens.
One of the biggest problems with looking after chickens here is that there are large Carpet Pythons ... only last night I heard next doors chickens sound an alarm but by the time I got there a 2 metre python had already killed one chicken and was trying to kill a second. It was really sad but if we hadn't have got there when we did, then the whole coop could have been lost!
It isn't just snakes that inhabit the night, there is also an amazing diversity of invertebrates ...
Then there are the amphibians ...
That'll do for now but I will post some more within the next week. I will also update the details for the invertebrates so they are all correctly labelled.
The last stop on our road trip, from Sydney to Federal (near Byron Bay), Coffs Harbour was probably one of our favourite spots. We actually stayed in the village of Emerald in the caravan/campsite there, it was right next to the beach and it was just lovely and peaceful. Even better for me ... the wildlife was fantastic!
As you can imagine, I spent quite a bit of time with the local inhabitants ... they seemed completely at ease as long as you respected their personal space (if only everybody respected the wildlife and didn't try to pet it).
As well as the Kangaroos for company we also had some feathered friends too, some particularly noisy and large friends. The Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo is a monster as far as parrots go and they are pretty vocal. They are inquisitive and love to play at the same time as feeding, they even like to see what you are up to.
The next day we were in for a treat, after a lazy morning around the campsite we decided to head down to the beach. We stayed for maybe half an hour before the strong winds and wind driven sand made us a little irritable. We returned to the tent for a calmer spot to relax and enjoy the blazing sun, of course that meant I ended up photographing the Kangaroos and in particular, a gorgeous Joey who had remained hidden in its mother's pouch since the previous day. As you can see below, it let me get pretty close but that was after sitting with them for a couple of hours and letting them know I wasn't a threat.
A really wonderful experience with a truly beautiful animal, mammals are my passion and to be allowed so close to such a charismatic character is truly a privilege. As well as some close encounters with some large males the local bird life was also pretty obliging.
After this, our last stop, it was time to finish our journey by heading northwards and on to Federal. As we packed up the car for the final time before settling in Byron Bay (where we are staying for 5 weeks), I noticed a little stow away which I thought was particularly photogenic.
So, first off I have to say sorry for being off the radar for the last few months. I have had a completely manic few months but could have a few really exciting things lined up for the future and particularly regarding my photography. Also the weather for 2 months or so was absolutely diabolical with a lot of flooding and real lack of photographic opportunities.
So where do I even begin ... well first off I got an image in to the final round of Wildlife Photographer of the Year! Sounds great, and it was but a complete nightmare followed ... I ended up having a catastrophic hard drive failure and that one image alone was one of about 50 images that were not back up. I know it is completely my fault and it is definitely a lesson learnt.
Now I know exactly what I need to do for next year and I can't wait to get cracking on some projects.
Anyway here is a random selection of images from the last few months when I have been able to go out with the camera.
So, with the nice weather over the last few days I decided to make the most of it and head out to Thursley Common in Surrey. This is one of the best places in the country to see some of our native reptile species, especially Adder and the Common Lizard.
So I set off in search of my quarry, firstly heading to the boardwalks in search of the basking lizards. Within moments I had spotted my first subject, although I quickly learnt that they can be quite wary if you lower yourself to their level. I eventually worked out that if you start a way off at their level and crawl across the planks of the boardwalk, they tend to stay put and let you get that much closer. Considering I was using my 100mm macro, that was pretty essential!
After a couple of hours I accumulated quite a collection of images, some of which are featured below. But it was then that I turned my attention to an avian species, causing quite a commotion with the other members of public. A Hobby was screaming across the sky, darting this way and that way, before reaching out with its talons and plucking a helpless dragonfly out of the air.
After nearly 3 hours trying to get an image, I got one or two that are keepers but it was great fun and something I might well try again!
I hope you like the new slideshow feature below, let me know your thoughts!
So, the 5th day of the tour, and our last opportunity to get some shots in the Mara. We went for one last morning drive before heading off towards Amboseli NP. If you didn't know, Amboseli like the Maasai Mara is on the border with Tanzania and it has quite a spectacular backdrop: Mt. Kilimanjaro (the world's tallest free standing mountain). Firstly though we would be staying the night at Lake Naivasha, enjoying the tranquility of this beautiful setting, and hopefully getting some good shots of the wildlife too.
One thing that had managed to elude us over the past few days was a big handsome male Lion, we made sure we ordered one for the last drive, instructing our fantastic Wild Eye guide Joseph to deliver. Of course we offered to buy him a Tuskers if he succeeded! So, we left the camp on the Mara River for one last time, knowing we would meet the staff the next day in Amboseli. We were heading towards the Mara proper as a pair of Jackal crossed the road in front of us. We of course got a few mandatory snaps before moving on.
As we rounded one of the gentle hills I noticed a light shape in the grass, only a couple of hundred yards ahead and you could tell it was a big cat. Luckily for us, the cat was laying right by the road, we quickly realised it was the same Cheetah as from the night before (it had some sort of skin condition, mites perhaps, and it had rather scruffy ears). The light was superb (changing every couple of minutes) and the cat performed perfectly, sitting and posing before moving off and then laying back down again. "Purrrfect!!!" (And yes, before you ask, Cheetahs do actually purr.)
Sorry to interrupt with some text, but I would love for you all to pay close attention to the image above! I am going to nerd it up a bit here and I am sure some of you are already well aware of this fact anyway. Cheetah are from a different family of cats to those of the Lion and the Leopard, which are both part of the Panthera family. The Cheetah, unlike the Lion and the Leopard, can not fully retract its claws and as you can see in this photo, the claws are well and truly on display! Fascinating huh? (Back to the pictures now I promise!)
What a great start to a day it was then, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity to practise your big cat portrait photography. Also interesting to see that these majestic animals don't have it all their own way, a skin condition might not seem like a life threatening condition, but if you are at not at your peak in such a competitive environment then it could be your downfall. I really hope that this Cheetah carries on feeding successfully for many more years to come.
After this fantastic sighting we made our way to the bridge, where we would leave the Mara Triangle one last time before heading through the Maasai Mara NP and onwards to Lake Naivasha. As we signed out, at the offices, there were ample photography opportunities. Most people opted to photograph the Mara River and the extraordinarily coloured Agama Lizards but I set my sights on some small rodents.
Just as we were readying ourselves for the drive to Lake Naivasha, we got some news that a large male Lion had been seen not far from us, back in the Mara Triangle. We turned around and headed to the spot to see if we would strike lucky and see the cat. We arrived full of excitment to find no sign of the large male but we did find the local Park Guard. A few other vehicles arrived ahead of us. The guard directed them across the valley to where there were some lions in the grass (no male though). As we approached the guard's vehicle, we had invited him to breakfast the day before, he hinted that the large male might be in the bushes next to us and indeed it was.
As the other vehicles made their way across the shallow valley we primed ourselves, ready for the lone male to make his move. We didn't have to wait long as after only a few minutes, he was up and moving across the hillside. We of course snapped away happily, enjoying the moment we had ordered earlier on in the morning.
We decided to leave the big male in peace and quiet, and thought we would go and pay a quick visit to the Lionesses across the valley, before finally heading off and making our way out of the Mara. However, once again, we got to see something miraculous. A lone Wildebeest was wondering straight towards the lions, and suddenly one of them went into stalking mode.
It was amazing to watch and before we knew it the Lioness sprinted off, chasing the Wildebeest down into the valley below us. Not making for the best photographic opportunities but it was all very exciting. The Wildebeest got away and then we were lucky enough to experience one of the Lions greeting her cubs and walking with them through the long grass. It was a lovely intimate moment and one that I very much enjoyed.
We decided that it really was time to head off after this chance sighting. We eventually made our way out of the Maasai Mara NP and onto the road Northwards towards the Maasai town of Narok and onwards again to Lake Naivasha. We arrived at the extremely comfortable Sopa Lodge (admittedly after a pretty long and bumpy drive) and were treated to our first sightings of the wonderful Black & White Colobus Monkeys.
To sum it all up then, another day full of fantastic photographic opportunities and some truly amazing wildlife sightings. We really couldn't have got the shots we did without the patience of Joseph, our guide. He listened to every thing we said, always getting us exactly where we wanted to be at just the right time. So once again a massive thank you to Joseph for putting up with us picky and demanding photographers. Thanks again to the Wild Eye photography experts, Gerry and Andrew for their guidance and thanks to fellow tour participant Richard for his continued good humour!
The Macro learning curve continues
As many of you may know I recently bought the image stabilised Canon 100mm macro lens, and those of you who shoot macro will know it is a whole different discipline to that of traditional wildlife photography. I have also now acquired a remote control for the camera which makes it all a whole lot easier, hopefully this will make my shots that little bit easier.
I decided that I wanted to try and photograph a millipede the other week. Now, I am usually fine with 'creepy crawlies' but I have to say that I have a fear of millipedes so for me this was a big deal. Don't ask me why I have such an odd fear, all I can tell you is that the legs moving in that wave like motion make me feel ill, even thinking of them as I type makes me shudder. Anyway, so I set about photographing these weird little invertebrates as I have large numbers of them in my log pile but they are extremely hard to get to stay still. After nearly an hour I got two shots that I am rather happy with, as you can see below ...
I have also been on the look out for any insects around my garden and paddock, and I have come up with a couple. Now I don't know the species names, so I will have to do some further research, but I can tell you that the beetle is part of the weevil family and the other is fly which I think is part of the Tachina family.
I also have a population of Slow Worms living in my grass heap, I have only managed to get the one shot so far and it was of an absolute tiddler. Here is the little chap for you.
Finally, this evening I decided to lift a few stones around the garden to see if I could find any amphibians and I was in luck. I found a Common Toad hiding under one of the stones and he moved out into the sunlight in search of somewhere else to hide. I took a few shots of him before placing him back under his stone, where it was nice and damp with plenty of invertebrates to prey on.
The World in Miniature
I have finally got a replacement Canon 100mm Macro IS L now, my first version had a spot of dust internally so I ordered another one. Miraculously the weather has decided to co-operate and I decided to make the most out of it and get out there and get some practise in. Here are a few example shots that I hav emanaged to take since getting the new lens. Macro is a whole new discipline for me but one I think I am going to love!
This rose was in one of my Gran's bouquets of flowers from over the weekend. It was both her's and my birthday so there were flowers absolutely everywhere and I thought I would get some practise in.
When I went outside in search of some creepy crawlies or something a little more interesting to photograph I came across this pair of snails who where otherwise pre-occupied. After getting a few shots of them in the heat of the moment I moved them to the safety of a nearby crack in the wall, away from the many garden birds who might cut their activities a little short.
After continuing my search and upturning a few rotten logs I found a whole selection of little critters to photograph, the only issue was none of them stayed put for long. The only thing that didn't scuttle away was this Pill Louse who got himself stuck in the wood as he rolled into his defensive "pill" shape.
This little fellow is a Common Newt, you may not believe it but this individual is only about 3cm long. I found him lurking underneath one of the many log piles we have around the garden, surrounded by some lovely invertebrate prey, after a few minutes I left him to his own devices and put him back in the shade.
Spring is in the air
It seems that Spring is well on its way, some of the trees are now in blossom and the Sun feels that much warmer on the skin. It has also started some Spring behaviour in some of the local wildlife around my work's office and at home too. The birds are visiting the feeders less, except the Goldfinches who are still regular visitors to the Nyjer seeds.
Around the office recently there have also been signs of spring, it is an exciting time and I was extremely lucky on a lunch time walk in the office's garden. Whilst walking along the river bank I noticed a shiny shape in the long grass and to my astonishment, it was a beautiful grass snake, curled up, basking in the warm spring sunshine. After a few minutes the snake decided to move into the grass and out of sight. I made sure not to approach it and let it move on in its own time.
Around the Naturetrek offices we also have a few Little Egret and they are quite often feeding in the small river channels. They are very nervous around people and if they are approached they normally fly off to another pat of the river. This is exactly what happened here but luckily the bird turned around and flew right above me.
In the area surrounding my house there is a lack of a Rabbit population at the moment. Last year we had a large outbreak of Myxomatosis that wiped out our local population of Rabbit and so for the summer ahead I have been scouting new locations with good cover to hide in and good lighting. I think I have now found a good spot and found a Rabbit posing against the light of the setting Sun. All I have to do now is get permission from the farmer.