Thursday, 27 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath)

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath) The world's tallest heron.

The Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath) also known as the 'Giant Heron' is not only the worlds tallest heron, standing at 120–152 cm (47–60 in). However, the Goliath Heron is also one of 10  species of heron which has been recorded in South Africa .

Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath) Portrait wildlife picture
Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath) - Kruger National Park -South Africa

Monday, 24 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures-Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis)

Wildlife and Nature Pictures -The Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis)

Their are a couple of species of Thick-knees in South Africa, the Water Thick-knee (Burhinus vermiculatus) or this one below the Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis). As you can see from the photograph these birds are 'nocturnal' ('hunt by night' and have very large eyes) and the 'tibiotarsal joint' (knee) is swollen hence 'Thick-knee'. These birds are also know as the Spotted Dikkop or Cape Thick-knee.

Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) stood up in green grass
Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) - Rietvlei - South Africa

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou)

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou)

Their are two species of wildebeest (Gnu) in South Africa. Natures well known 'Blue' Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) of the Serengeti migration fame and the smaller and less known 'Black' Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) or also known as the 'White' tailed Gnu.

Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) standing in a grass field
Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) - South Africa

Monday, 17 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - African Elephant
(Loxodonta africana) a Kruger Tale

As many of you know South Africa is known for its splendid national wildlife parks and an opportunity to see and photograph nature at first hand, especially Africa's Big 5 which includes the magnificent African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) as its largest and possibly most dangerous member. 

Many wildlife photographers, including myself ensure we prepare ourselves for a photographic trip the night before and get up very early the following morning to ensure we can capture natures wildlife in all its natural glory in those few hours just before and after sunrise, this we call the 'golden hours' just a few hours either side of sunrise and or sunset when the light is at its best.

So with all this preparation and very early mornings, you wouldn't be surprised that normally around 8am my wife and I usually steer ourselves to one of the very splendid picnic spots South African national wildlife parks provide its customers for a much welcomed breakfast break.

It was at one such picnic spot called 'Tshokwane' (named after 'Tshokwane' a South African man of 'Muti' or 'medicine man' in the area) between Kruger National Parks most famous of rest camps 'Satara' and 'Skukuza' we stopped for a 'breakfast break'. It was here that my wife and I experienced a simple and somewhat tender moment with one of South Africa's Big 5 the African Elephant. We were just finishing up our breakfast when I noticed 3 or 4 African Elephants (possibly made up of a Matriarch and some younger female siblings) come out the bush and step over a small fence separating the picnic spot from the rest of the park. Here raising their trunks they all proceeded to feed on ripe green leaves on trees just inside the picnic spots entrance. 

We were mesmerised, to late to move out the way we sat their quietly only a couple of meters from these magnificent animals enjoying a 'special' African Elephant moment, while they to enjoyed their breakfast. The experience lasted about 10 minutes, and they soon disappeared  back into the 'bush' as quickly as they arrived. 

It was estimated at the last census count of African Elephants in South Africa's Kruger National Park their numbers were a little over 13,000, up considerably from 2006 when African Elephants counts were just over 700.

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) raising its trunk eating leaves
Female African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) having breakfast
  at 'Tshokwane' picnic spot the Kruger National Wildlife Park - South Africa

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - The Black-collared Barbet

Wildlife and Nature Pictures  - The Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus)

The Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus) is wide ranging in Sub-Saharan Africa and is often one of the first birds identified by those learning bird identification and bird calls in Southern Africa. This is not only due to its striking markings but also its remarkable distinctive call.

The Black-collared Barbet is one of only a handful of birds which 'duet' which it uses on a daily basis, this distinctive call is that of a 'too-puddly  too-puddly' This song does not seem to vary and no singular songs seem to be heard. The "too-puddly" song is actually an 'antiphonal' duet. That means that one bird out of the pair sings the first note, then the other bird in the pair sings the second note. To those that stand and listen, this does not sound like it comes from two different birds but one solitary song.

The Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus)  is a common resident in South Africa and regularly seen in woodland, forest, savannah and local gardens. Not a large bird but the Black-collared Barbet has a large black conical beak, distinctive red head (sometimes the 'head' can also be seen as a rare yellow morph)  and a 'black collar' which gives it its name. 

Living and nesting in holes in trees the Black-collared Barbet is often parasitised (in this case eggs are laid in its nest by another bird) by the 'Lesser Honey Guide'. Living on a diet of mainly fruits the Black-collared Barbet has also been known to supplement its diet with insects and nectar. 

Finally, another interesting fact about the Black-collared Barbet is its toe arrangement, it has what is known as a 'Zygodactyl' arrangement. This means it has two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backwards, similar to that of Woodpeckers, Parrots and most tree trunk 'arboreal' (tree dwelling) climbing birds.  This differs somewhat to the group of birds we define as  'passerines'  or perching birds which have 3 toes pointing forwards and one backwards.

Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus), picture perched on s stup
Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus),

Monday, 10 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures- African Darter

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - African Darter (Anhinga rufa)

Following on from last weeks post about our recent CWAC (Coordinated Water Bird Count)  here in South Africa, one of the most abundant birds counted was the 'African Darter' (Anhinga rufa). Found in almost all bodies of water in Sub-Saharan Africa, this much-maligned bird is also known as the 'Snakebird' due to its long slender head and neck which is often the only part of its body seen when it is swimming along the surface of the water.

One of my favourite photographs from last year (see below) was taken of the African Darter which I captured at first light in one of the worlds famous wildlife and nature reserves situated here in South Africa the Kruger National Park. Exposing for the 'golden' early morning light that was in front of me and as the morning sun rose  I caught this African Darter in a great backlit 'silhouette' pose shortly after it had been fishing for its  breakfast. 

This 'classical' pose denotes the reason why the African Darters is more often than not seen like this. The African Darter lacks 'oils' in its feathers therefore their feathers are not 'waterproof' and become waterlogged  when swimming and or diving for food. Unlike many other water birds who's feathers have the necessary oils to keep their feathers suitably protected. Therefore the African Darter simply has to 'dry' their feathers out in the sunshine and or wind before they can fly again. I have also been told that this 'pose' also aids digestion once the African Darter has eaten, which is generally molluscs and of course fish.

African Darter (Anhinga rufa) backlit silhouette and spreading its wings
 African Darter - (Anhinga rufa) - Typical 'classical' pose of spreading its wings to 'dry out'

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - CWAC (Coordinated Waterbird Counts) South Africa

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - CWAC (Coordinated Waterbird Counts) South Africa

In South Africa twice a year, once in mid summer and again in mid winter many many SA birders (including my wife and I) partake in the CWAC (Coordinated Water bird Counts) census and before I get anybody asking me why we have 4 letters CWAC and only 3 words Coordinated Water bird Counts, WA is the abbreviation of Water bird.

Just a little history on the CWAC, this project was launched in 1992 by the ADU (Animal Demography Unit) as part of South Africa's commitment to international waterbird conservation. These counts are carried out in wetland areas and rivers and dams all over South Africa at least twice a year, which is considered the minimum international standard although regular surveys are encouraged to enable more accurate data, all of which is sent to the ADU for compiling. All surveys are carried out by volunteers mainly through associations and bird clubs in South Africa. Currently the project regularly monitors over 400 wetlands around the country and furthermore curates waterbird data for over 600 sites in South Africa.  

The first bird club we joined in South Africa when we (my wife and I) were pretty much 'greenhorn' birders was a great bird club in South Africa's Northwest province called Birdlife Harties a bird club with membership under the auspices of Birdlife South Africa. The club takes its name from the local town called 'Hartbeespoort' and its famous dam Hartbeespoort Dam.  We continue to support this great bird club, (although we are now living hundreds of kilometres from Hartbeespoort) in its monthly meetings and events and of course the CWAC. It also gives us an opportunity to catch up with friends we made back then.

This years CWAC (Coordinated Waterbird Counts) was as always conducted by our team (green team) on the Hartbeespoort Dam, other teams from the club carry out the CWAC in other areas in and around Hartbeespoort Dam, 'Harties' dam as its known locally. Over the last week or so a large portion of South Africa has had severe rains and flooding and the night before and into the early morning did the area continue to have torrential rain. 

Suffering greatly from the rain and floods we could see on the dam large swaths of Hyacinth and a lot of debris floating in the dam waters but we were not put off.  Starting at 6am we set off from the boat launch, (9 of us) we all felt relieved as the rain looked as though it was to be kind to us this morning and stay away.  We have a 'scribe' the person who takes down or 'ticks' off the birds seen as shouted out and counted by the 'others' or shall we call them the counters. Only certain birds are allowed to be counted as determined under CWAC. These would include such birds as African Darter, Squacco Heron, White Breasted Cormorant, Pied Kingfisher and many more. 

So all that said, camera's and binoculars ready. Oh nearly forgot plenty of coffee and snacks ready!! Off we set, immediately 'One Little Egret' was shouted out and recorded, which was the start of our 5 hrs of counting.  

Number of bird counted by the 'Green Team' were a total of (658)
Which included (213) White -Breasted Cormorant and (302) Cattle Egrets

Note: All photographs are © of John Wesson unless otherwise stated

Hartbeespoort Dam View
Hartbeespoort Dam, Northwest Province, South Africa
Coordinated Water Birds - Hartbeespoort 'Green Team'  February- 2014
Hartbeespoort Dam - CWAC Participants (Green Team) February 2014  (I am 4th from the left)
Members of Birdlife Harties Bird Club (South Africa) after the 2014 CWAC count
 Counting birds is thirsty work apparently - Some members of  'Birdlife Harties' after the CWAC
(Coordinated Water Birds Count) February 2014
Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) & Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) some of the birds counted at the Coordinated Water Bird Count (CWAC) Hartbeespoort Dam,
Sacred Ibis & Cattle Egrets were some of the birds counted at the  CWAC  (February 2014)
at Hartbeespoort Dam, Northwest Province, South Africa
White-breasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus) in flight at the (Coordinated Water Birds Count) , Hartbeespoort, South Africa February 2014
White-breasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus) This and others were in great numbers at the 'CWAC'
at Hartbeespoort Dam, Northwest Province, South Africa 
(February 2014)

Monday, 3 February 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Dwarf Mongoose

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula) Africa's Smallest Carnivore.

It always astonishes me when I hear people returning from game drives or outings in South Africa's nature/game reserves saying they ''haven't seen much wildlife''. Huh! If you really look, the 'bush' can tell you so much without actually seeing any wildlife at all! But that's another whole new post best kept for another day.  

Before I discuss about the Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula) one of South Africa's smallest carnivores, I want to recant one of my training exercises as a field guide. When our instructor called us for an 'observation' exercise one morning, he asked us to 'walk through the bush (about a 100 mtrs) and pointed to the location to start. All he asked of us was to be observant and to simply tell him what we see. 

Well after the 3rd or fourth attempt most of our group had missed a 'red dust pan' hanging off a tree, another was a 'neck tie' tied around a bush and even a 'broom' laying in the grass, all with in 10 mtrs of our path through the bush! What I learn't that day was not to go into the bush with pre-conceived ideas of what you will see or expect to see, lions, leopards, the Big 5 and the like, look 'into' the bush, 'train' your eyes to your surroundings and take it slowly their is no rush or prizes to be won. By doing just this simple little thing my wildlife, photography and nature experiences have more than doubled I would safely say to what they used to be before I applied these simple principles -  'look and ye shall see'

Applying what I have just mentioned above, my wife and I were at a picnic spot in the Kruger National Park early one morning where we had stopped for breakfast and a cup of coffee. I was taking our rubbish to the rubbish bin which was against  sheer, craggy rocks. I put my rubbish in the bin and stood their looking around for a minute, when I gazed up about 10 meters above me I saw this little dwarf mongoose with his head peaking out from the rocks. I waited a further few minutes for him to appear fully and found an opportunity not only to observe but also to photograph him. If I had been less observant and not stopped and look around these rocks, this opportunity to see and photograph one of South Africa's smallest carnivores the Dwarf Mongoose, would have simply passed me by. 

Only found in South Africa in the far North East of the country the Dwarf Mongoose is literally what this mongoose is, a dwarf in size but not in stature at only a mere 25cm (10 inchs) and about 350g (1/2 lb) in weight. However, don't be fooled as the Dwarf Mongoose is a ferocious predator in its own right and is more than capable as a predator of snakes, lizards, small birds and rodents amongst other things. The Dwarf Mongoose is a diurnal (active during the day) animal, very territorial  with males marking their territory with anal and cheek gland secretions, that said they are a very sociable species, living in family groups of up to 20 + members headed up by a dominant pair.

Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula) sat on rocks, its South Africa's smallest wildlife carnivore
Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula) South Africa's Smallest Carnivore

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Lenstag App - Camera Theft Protection

'Lenstag' App Camera Theft Protection

Have you ever had something stolen or known someone who had something stolen? I think the answer to that is yes, we all have known someone or personally had something stolen.
The question here is what would you do if you had your camera gear stolen? Most of us would call the police to file a report and hope that they contact local camera stores in the hope that someone tries to sell them.
Even worse, what if you don’t have the serial numbers of your gear, you will never be able to track down your gear and get it back.
Enter a place where you can upload and verify all any gear in your camera bag from lenses to bodies to laptops.
LensTag is a free site that becomes a repository for your camera gear and serial numbers. The hope is that more and more photographers start to utilize the site to make it the go to place to verify if gear is stolen.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having your gear stolen you go into your lenstag page and mark the item as stolen. LensTag will create a page that gets indexed by google. If someone searches for that serial number they will find the page and see that the item is stolen.
This is a fantastic FREE service that I have already started to use and hope that you check out as well.