Southern yellow-billed hornbills perched together in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Southern yellow-billed hornbills perched together in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
A face only a mother could love!?
While some will say yes, warthogs more than make up for it with their personalities. This adult female was strutting her stuff on the way to the watering hole. Her appearance caught the eye of two nearby males, who quickly tried to establish which one of them was going to get the chance to talk to her.
While the smaller and younger male put up a good fight and made a last ditched effort to tusk his opponent, it was the older, mud-covered male that won out.
After chasing the younger male away, he walked over to the female while clattering his teeth and drooling for her attention. However, on this morning she was more interested in getting a drink than any of his advances. The male got the message and without missing a beat, he wandered off to try his luck with another female.
My work involved supervising an anti-parasite drug resistance project carried out by students taking part in the Global Health Field School in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). In brief, this meant getting up before sunrise to get to the field sites to sample and treat herds of goats and sheep. We would then return to camp and spend the day analyzing fecal samples for specific parasites. Yes, you read that right! Herds with high parasite levels were re-sampled about 2 weeks later to determine the effectiveness of the deworming treatment, which allowed us to gauge the likelihood of drug resistance.
At night the livestock are contained in these bomas to protect them from lions, hyenas and leopards, but from sunrise to sunset they spend their days grazing wherever the best vegetation can be found, all while under the watchful eyes of the Maasai. The pink marking on this young goat indicates that we treated it.
The reward of having our field site in NCA was the abundant wildlife that can be seen and heard from both within and around or camp.This included almost daily sightings of giraffe while we sat around the table eating our meals!
Maasai giraffe in the background, with a traditional Maasai shuka (cloth blanket) hung out to dry on an acacia tree.
After a long day of work in the lab, the reward was a game of soccer with the locals or going for walks surrounding our camp. Most days that meant coming across numerous species of birds and a small herd of these Burchell’s zebra in fields of wildflowers!
Other times it was impala, vervet monkeys or baboons trying to raid our camp for food (they were never successful), and the occasional elephant! Heard almost nightly were the whooping contact calls of hyenas and while we didn’t see or hear any lions or leopards, they are known to wander through from time to time. For some, this might have been their worst nightmare, but for me it made for one of the best field sites I’ve ever stayed at!
It’s been some time since my last post to say the least. Since April I’ve travelled to Tanzania for work and then onto South Africa for a holiday before eventually coming back to Canada. It had been a few years since I had been to this wonderful part of the world so it was great to get back. For the next little while I will post some images from my experiences there.
There was certainly no mistaking when this buffalo herd was nearby. Stretching for more than a kilometer, this large herd was a sight to be seen, kicking up dust with every step as they slowly made their way to one of the last remaining watering holes not dried up from the prolonged drought. Travelling along with them was their mini-ecosystem of assorted insects and birds.
Equally as impressive were the sounds. The constant rumble of their hooves pounding the dirt, periodically interrupted by snorting bulls crashing through bushes in their way, bawling calves, hordes of buzzing insects and flocks of squawking ox peckers.
Even when hidden from view and resting in the shade, getting downwind of them told me they had not gone far! Three adult lions were nearby, but they didn’t even bother getting up to investigate. With full stomachs and the hot sun beating down, they had no interest in testing the buffalo that day.
I have grown accustom to big horn sheep hanging out roadside licking up minerals and eating grass to the point that I have developed the bad habit of not paying them much attention. However, with company in town the sheep were low hanging fruit and they became an instant hit. We stopped for several minutes so they could watch and photograph them. Initially I didn’t lift my camera up but soon some of them were making pretty entertaining faces that I could not longer ignore! They put on a great show for us and left me with the parting shot below. I guess I need to pay them a bit more attention the next time!
On a 3-4 hour round trip hike into a backcountry area of the Rockies my girlfriend was struggling to stay motivated and it was clear she wasn’t enjoying the steady uphill climb. While she can carry a heavy pack and hike like a machine in the prairies on scorching hot days while I whither under the sun, she detests any uphill hikes in the mountains. Finding a hike that would be enjoyable was out of the question, it was just a matter of finding one that had a big enough reward at the end to make it worth it! I tried picking one that was not very steep and that had a tea house at the end where we could treat ourselves to drinks and treats in a beautiful wilderness setting. While that helped get her to the trail head, it didn’t guarantee that she would want to do anything like it again. Thankfully, her love of small mammals seems to trump almost anything else and as luck would have it there were lots where we were heading, including pika, a species she had never laid eyes on before!
After visiting the tea house and trying some of homemade treats and teas we went over to a huge rock avalanche area with a nearby meadow full of lush vegetation; about as ideal a spot for pika as you can find. We sat quietly on the rocks and within a few minutes we were rewarded with our first pika, then another and another! We watched as they sun bathed on the rocks, learned their favourite feeding spots and travel routes and saw them unsuccessfully trying to defend their stashes from the raiding chipmunks. It was a rodent biologists dream come true and needless to say the torture of the uphill hike quickly melted away and was replaced by her excitement at seeing and watching these little farmers go about their daily lives.
With the pika and chipmunks providing the entertainment, I focused on photography. I set up my wide angle lens on a rock next to an area that it routinely passed by on the way back to its hay stash. I pre-focused on the spot I guess it would pass through, moved back and waited with my remote in hand. It didn’t take long before it jumped along the rocks with a mouth full of green grass completely unconcerned by the addition a clicking camera.
That little pika really did save the day and plans are in the works for the next mountain wildlife hike!
Many people in Banff National Park know these bears, as their mother is bear 64 who is one of the most commonly seen grizzly bears in Banff. She prefers to make her living in the wilderness areas surrounding the Banff townsite and has successfully navigated this busy landscape for over two decades.
Even now, with her cubs at 3.5 years of age, they are still very reliant on her to keep them safe and to show them all the seasonal food sources in the Rockies. Grizzly bears here have the longest interval between births of any grizzly bears in the world at upwards of 5-6 years. This is thought to be do to the harsh landscape and reduced food supplies compared to other regions where grizzly bears can be found.
This almost adult sized youngster has always stayed very close to her mother and is never far from her side. In a sign of her growing independence she has started to go off and forage on her own but she always tries to keep tabs on where her mom is. On this day, 64 was off doing her own thing and out of her cubs sight, so this youngest stood up on her hind legs and search the area for her. When that didn’t work she started calling out. Within seconds 64 appeared from the bush and came running over to see what she was being called about. Content that her Mom was back in close proximity, this ‘cub’ relaxed and went back to ravenously feeding on berries. In the next few months their independence from 64 will grow and they will likely head off on their own or be sent packing by Mom soon.
With only small amounts of snow remaining on the mountain peaks, wolves become even more like ghosts of the forest during the summer. Coming across them is always, to some extent based on luck and usually the glimpses are very fleeting.
With the sunlight trickling through the trees I only had a few seconds to steady my camera and get this photograph before it disappeared back into the dense understory of the bush. Such remarkable and elusive creatures!
I was recently a naturalist with Classic Canadian Tours to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary on the North coast of B.C. The park is the largest remaining intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world, can only be accessed by boat or float plane and was specifically set aside to protect grizzly bears and their habitat. About 50 grizzly bears call this park home, which is the about the same number that live in all of Banff National Park. That may not sound impressive at first, but the Khutzeymateen is 16 times smaller in area than Banff! As such it has one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in North America and if you time it just right the bears are on almost every beach that you come across.
They come down to the huge estuary almost everyday at low tide from late-spring to mid-summer to feast on crabs, clams, sedgegrass and whatever else they stumble upon. In the 2 hours we were in the park we came across 7 grizzly including a mom and cub that play fought along the shore as we watched from the boat! On the way to and from the park we also saw breaching humpback whales that had just started to return from the north to feed on the abundant herring, lounging harbor seals, stellar sea lions, bald eagles fishing for the salmon and countless other coastal bird life. It was an incredible day of wildlife viewing!
To give you an idea of the habitat I chose this photo of the rainforest and one of the many rivers feeding into the estuary. A grizzly bear appeared at the edge of the river and seemed to be checking it out for any returning salmon. In a few weeks the bears will be farther inland feasting on all the spawning, dead and decaying salmon trying to put on as much fat as possible for their long winter sleep. A truly very unique place.
If you are interested in seeing the Khutzeymateen but can’t afford to be away for very long or the expense of a multi-day trip, Classic Canadian Tours has day tours from both Calgary and Edmonton that are sure to sell out again in 2014. Dates will be announced soon so stay tuned!
A bald eagle cries out as it effortlessly soars through the air near Prince Rupert, B.C. Once back home, with the help of Photoshop I created this image by keeping the eagle in colour while making the rest of the image black and white. I love the eye-catching effect is has and it turns the image into something more like art than traditional wildlife photography. Sometimes it’s nice to do things a bit differently! Please click on the image for the full size and let me know what you think!
With its razor sharp talons firmly grasped around the flimsy top of a sapling, a great grey owl intensely scans and listens for any unsuspecting prey.
A round trip migration of over 12000 km, a heart rate of 1200 beats/minute, a wing beat rate of 3000-3700 beats/minute, having to go into torpor every evening to survive the long cold nights. Hummingbirds are about as close to mythical that exists in the bird world. I have held them in my hands, felt the vibrations of their little hearts beating and marveled at how something so small and fragile can survive, but it’s still hard to believe they can eek out a living in the harsh environment of the Canadian Rockies. Until this year I had never seen an active nest in the wild. So to say I was ecstatic when, with a bit of help, I came across this one would be a bit of an understatement!
Hummingbird nests, which in themselves are works of art, are constructed with the soft silk of spider webs! Imagine how many spider webs are needed to make a nest like this? It was placed on a thin drooping branch that wouldn’t support the weight of any potential predators (crows, squirrels, martens, etc.). It was woven around the branches and then lichen and moss were attached to the outside to provide camouflage. As is typical, 2 eggs the size of small jellybeans were laid and incubated for just over 2 weeks. The chicks grow at an exponential rate and within 19 days they fledge, fly off with mom and never return to the nest again.
When I came across this one, the chicks were already about 1.5 weeks old and had tiny pin feathers. Contrary to what many believe, hummingbirds don’t rely on nectar to feed their young. The rapidly growing chicks need a high protein diet so they are almost exclusively fed insects. This is why in early summer if you have a hummingbird feeder you won’t see females at it. They return to the feeders later in the summer with their fully grown offspring to teach the young about the best feeding spots. This lasts all but a few days at which point the offspring are self-sufficient.
Watching a hummingbird can be dizzying, not to mention painful from all of the mosquito bites, and while I wish I could say I planned to get this photo, simply put, I didn’t nor could I have imagined it possible given the conditions! The light was low, the nest was well hidden, multiple small branches were getting in the way and as you know these birds do everything at warp speed. I knew the only way I was ever going to have a chance at being successful was if the sun’s rays found a break in the trees to penetrate into the forest and if I set my camera up on a tripod and manually focused on the nest. With the settings locked in I stepped back from the camera with my remote in hand to take in the action from a distance so I didn’t disturb them. After a few minutes the sun was low enough to get through the dense canopy and light up the area around the nest. Now all I needed was for the mom to come back and feed her babies.
Luck was on my side. She flew in and started plunging food down the throats of her chicks. After feeding them she would usually zoom off into the surrounding meadows to catch more food, but this time she did something different. She flew up from the nest but remained hovering right next to it in the beautiful soft light of the sun! I was too far away to see what she was looking at so instead I clicked the remote as fast as possible hoping I would get one good photo of her in flight. The whole sequence lasted less than two seconds but I managed to snap off a few frames that were in focus. It wasn’t until afterwards when I zoomed in on the images that I saw what she was so intent on. Under the watchful eyes of her chicks she had spotted and caught a spider! If you look at this photo closely you can see one of the legs of the unsuspecting spider in her beak just before she clamped down on it! The spider tried to get away by hiding behind the branch but it was no match for the hummingbird and was quickly snapped up and eaten!
While I have other images of the mom and her chicks, none tells the story of the life of this hummingbird family as well as this one! The background and shadows are a bit distracting but this photo is still to date my favourite photo of the year. I hope you like it as much as I do!
Two young of year black bears check to make sure the coast is clear before running off to catch up with mom.