Archive for the 'Animal' Category

Evening Encounter

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Late this afternoon we were checking out a bird blind to see if anyone was around. There were a few of the regulars and a couple of squirrels. After making a few images of the squirrels Linda returned to the car while Bob said he would stay a bit longer to see if anyone interesting came in.

The light was retreating when this pretty, almost-yearling female fawn and her mother came in. The youngster had interesting “eyebrows.” Both the doe and fawn looked well fed and bloomy for this time of year. So Bob boosted the ISO and opened the aperture so he could make a few images when they were standing very still.

The mother was wary and kept checking the woods. She did not pay attention to the blind. The fawn occasionally looked at the blind which resulted in the ‘headshot with eyebrows.’

Sometimes it pays to sit around to see what comes by.

Smart Animals

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Just finished Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by primatologist Frans de Waal and was reminded of a very crafty and smart Vervet monkey we encountered some years ago in Tanzania.

After a morning exploring and photographing in Ngorongoro Crater we were far from the main picnic area. Our driver said there was a rest area nearby but it was not much used because the resident Vervets (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) harassed picnickers. We decided to take a chance and saw only one monkey in the parking area so settled in to eat our sandwiches in the vehicle.

All of a sudden our driver put down his sandwich and got out of the vehicle with a tire wrench in hand to scare off the male who was headed straight for the vehicle. The monkey just kept coming and then made a wide, fast detour around to the back of the safari vehicle. He came up over the back and grabbed an apple out of Linda’s open backpack that was behind her. He did not stop but was out in a flash, across the parking area and up the tree where he quickly ate the apple before either of us could get to a camera.

After eating the apple while looking in our direction, he turned his head to look off into space (above), ignoring us. While not many vehicles stopped at this rest area because of the monkeys’ aggressive behavior, he seemed to think it was worth checking it out at midday just to see if one did. The apple was not much of a prize but it seemed to be worth his effort.

The next day at the main picnic area, we saw Black Kites (Milvus migrans) flying by to snatch sandwiches from unsuspecting picnickers. A human screech meant another bird had successfully made a grab. It has occurred to us that these animals may regard humans as not smart enough to protect their food.

The book is fascinating reading. We knew about some of the research about animal cognition. The new material gave us much to think about. In the last paragraph de Waal states that researchers are returning to the methods of wildlife photographers who hunt to reveal rather than kill. We would have used destroy rather than kill. However, we used to say that we photograph to celebrate or try to represent the essence of our subjects. Reveal is a better word and now part of our vocabularies.

How much wood…

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Over the last several days we have seen a young chuckling or woodchuck (Marmota monax) in the back yard.  They are also known as a groundhogs or whistlepigs, There are many other regional names for this member of the marmot family. It does not chuck wood as stated in the tongue twister but is an omnivore, eating mostly plants and some grubs, insects, snails, etc.

This morning, after the storms in the night, we saw it busily munching on grasses. Then it went to the thin-leaved coneflower that had been knocked down by the storm to taste the flowers. They must not have tasted good and it did not stay long but went back to nibbling clover and other grassy vegetation.

Finally it heard the camera shutter and looked up right at the kitchen window from where the sound had come. It stared long enough for another burst of clicks and made a dash for under the back porch.

Bob is uncertain about putting out a humane trap as he has for other woodchucks because we have smelled a skunk in the neighborhood in the last week. Catching a skunk would not be a good idea. Woodchucks, skunks, raccoons, and other animals have adapted well to living in urban areas.

Jaguar, Jaguar, Jaguar

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

The young man driving the speedboat and searching for Jaguars along the rivers in Brazil’s Pantanal would whisper “jaguar, jaguar, jaguar” when he spotted one moving in the vegetation. He was very experienced at anticipating where and how fast jaguars were moving and where they might come to the river bank.

The one above, peeking through the grass, was the first one we saw. He had been walking along a bank but slipped into the grass when he realized he was being observed. The grass moved as he slinked through to find a place to peek out. We were fortunate to be in the right spot in the middle of the stream to get some images of him as the sun was going down.

The sun pops up at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. (18:00 hours) in the tropics. The Pantanal, sometimes called the world’s largest wetland, is about 15-20 degrees south of the equator. Most of the area is a savannah and grassland that gets inundated during the rainy season – November to March. It is said to be at least 10 times as large as the everglades.

We were there the first two weeks of September, 2015 when it was very dry. Animals and birds were more concentrated along rivers and lakes and ponds.

Another waded and swam along the steep bank parallel to the speedboat. He had been walking on the bank and when the shrubs were very thick came down the bank to walk and swim around the area. There were some shrubs along the water and we saw him jump at something behind the shrubs. He did not catch it so continued on his way.

We saw two others swim across a tributary of the Cuiaba River when we were looking for a female and her cubs that had been sighted a few days before we were there. We did not find them but had a lovely time in that small river. Those two males were more wary of us. We did get several nice images as one decided to get in the water.

This well-fed male was walking along the bank that showed evidence of the erosion that occurs when the rivers rise as much as 3 meters during the wet period. He mostly looked straight ahead or to his right. He did turn his head toward the river for a few moments providing a few images.

This is the same individual. You can tell by his spots. He walked along while our guide moved the boat along with the motor very quiet and by using a pole in the shallows of the river. This handsome fellow then found a spot up on a high bank to take a rest. He stayed posing for a bevy of photographers for at least a half hour. When he got bored with watching us he would yawn hugely.

We saw or followed seven jaguars on four out of five boat excursions at Porto Joffre, which is as the end of the Trans-Pantaneira Highway. It was probably six different ones because we think we saw the ‘yawner’ on two different days. He has some scars on his head and an injured right eye.

Learning to use tripods in small speedboats was one of the challenges of using our longest lenses. Even stable boats rock. Thank goodness for high speed continuous shutter settings. We also used 70-200 zoom lenses, usually with tele-converters, to have enough reach with a bit of the habitat visible.

It was very hot during most days, 38-40° C. (close to 100° F). The jaguars seemed quite warm, as did the birds. We certainly were.

We have lots of sorting, culling and key-wording to do but will try to do several more posts about other creatures we had the privilege to see.

Every Night is Halloween

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Bats, especially nectar and pollen eating ones, will take advantage of hummingbird feeders. And this is not a Halloween story.

As the last Trick or Treater just left, it seems a good time to show several of many bats we photographed in Ecuador at hummingbird feeders. One evening someone went out after dinner and came back to report that there were dozens of bats coming to the feeders around the terrace.

That night we worked together with flashlight, camera and flash. One held a flashlight so the other could focus on one of the drink holes in a feeder and then turned the light off so bats would come in. The person with the handheld camera and flash focused and braced to hold as still as possible. Then when bats came, fired away.  It was necessary to refocus using the flashlight and wait for more bats.

To our surprise we made a several acceptable images that way. We set the manual exposure with the ISO at 800, the f/stop at 10 and the shutter speed at 1/250. This is one of the acceptable images below.

The next night the multi-flash hummingbird setup was used. The results were better. The top photo is from that session. This time we used tripods and set manual exposure with ISO 400, f/16 and 1/250 shutter speed. The flashes pointed at the feeder were at lowered power. Using a flat feeder without the bottle gave more room for bats to maneuver. Sometimes there were several feeding at the same time. Bats that were coming or going were also in some of the frames. It still was necessary to prefocus using a flashlight.

Here is another example:

Bats tongues are quite thick and sometimes would protrude as they flew away. The one on the right was dripping nectar as it backed up. We were surprised how soft the bats wings were as they brushed by us in the dark.

Happy Halloween.

Spirit Countries

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

When we lived in Australia, the Aboriginal concept of everyone having a spirit country was one we absorbed. Over the years we came to know that the earth is our spirit country. It is not just over the rainbow but is what lies under it. The spirit of the earth is real and must be guarded with care.

This rainbow was seen last week at the end of a journey into a very special spirit country – Gribbell Island, the home of the Spirit Bears, in the Great Bear Rainforest. We travelled on a 50 foot trawler from Ketchikan, Alaska to Port McNeill near the top of Vancouver Island along the wild British Columbia coast. The rainbow was seen from the shore at Port McNeill as the sun was setting.

This was our second trip on the Delphinus owned by Dolphin Charters. We had previously travelled from Juneau to Wrangell, Alaska to visit several brown and black bear preserves. The hope this trip was to see and photograph a Spirit Bear – the white black bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) along with whales, dolphins, birds, scenery, culture and totem poles.

The thrill of seeing a white male fishing in a creek along with several black members of the Kermode Black Bear subspecies is almost undescribable.  He looked at us occasionally, but mostly fished up and down the creek. This portrait was made as he sat in the side pool near the base of the waterfall where we sat on the log jam at the top of the falls.

Here he was looking at a black bear who was right at the base of the falls. The bears mostly respected one anothers’ personal spaces. One time when a black individual seemed to challenge the white one, he stood with shoulders elevated and stuck out his tongue at the black bear.

After a long salmon fishing session, the white bear left. When he reappeared a bit later, we thought it might be a second white bear because his face was cleaned of the blood from the salmon he had eaten earlier. The scruff on his nose identified him as the bear whom we first admired. The creek was completely in shadow when he returned. The color cooled and had a different feeling than the warmth of the sun dappled creek in the first two images.

The bears seemed careful to come and go from the creek by taking routes that would not appear to challenge one another. This one came down the steep bank near the route we used. He looked at us briefly and then went down to fish.

An estimated 10 to possibly 25 percent of the Kermode bears are white. Both the black and white ones may have cubs of the opposite color. There are probably only no more than 1000 Kermode bears in existence. They need to be protected, not only because of their significance to the Gitga’at Band but because of their special meaning to all who respect nature and what she does to sustain our lives and the spirit of the earth.

The Kermode bears and the Gitga’at people live in an small area that is threatened by the possibility of large tankers, hauling natural gas and tar sands oil from west-central Canada, should a large terminal be developed at the end of the channel that passes their home.

Conservation photography of the type we do – nature as art as well as science and a resource – hopes to help people really look at and consider the well being of all with whom we share the earth. We were privileged to visit this rare bear subspecies and meet a Gitga’at Guardian Watchman who works to protect his homeland and the Spirit Bear.


Thursday, September 5th, 2013

No, the title is not a pun. The pig’s skin is an example of how variable pigmentation can be. We visited an agricultural fair last weekend and thought this pig’s skin was a cheerful abstract as well as an example of skin and hair color in contrast.

The pig was stretched out in its pen taking a nap so movement was not an issue.  Neither was getting parallel to his side. One only needed to lean over the side of the pen.

Pale hairs were in sharp contrast to the pale pink and black skin. He was clean and groomed with all hair lying along his contours. The only black hair in this frame is in the middle poking out of pale pink skin. One wonders what gene determined that that hair be different than the others and why did white hair grows out of black spots.

Polar bears have black skin and their coats appear to be white, even though the hair shafts are colorless. We wondered if this also happens in hogs but have not found any information to verify this. Color patterns in domestic hog breeds have long histories of strict selection. Hybrids can have unusual colors and patterns.

Interesting images may be found everywhere. Keep a camera handy and keep on looking.

Spring Arrives – We Hope

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Yesterday was our first group field trip of the season. Last year Spring had arrived a month and a half earlier but this year it is lagging here in the Midwest. Dave Gossman invited the Iowa Woodland Owners Association and the Iowa Native Plant Society to explore his property and learn how he manages his farm for trees, native plants and the wildlife that lives there along with raising no-till corn and soybeans in conjunction with his other enterprises.

There were a few blooms – hepatica (below), bloodroot, wood anemone, Dutchman’s britches. We also found lots of trout lily leaves and blue cohosh stems in the woods. A few shrubs and small trees had buds. The only obvious fungi were many Devil’s Urns. But mostly we enjoyed the bare bones of the canyon and upland landscapes.

Among the largest and smallest objects of the day was a giant old oak tree and the contents of an owl pellet.

From its shape and size this oak must have once been part of a savannah on the upland at the time of European settlement of eastern Iowa. It stands near the edge of one of the highest bluffs above Buck Creek. There are other oaks with wide spreading arms that let viewers know a bit about the past.

As we were photographing the owl pellet, a Barred Owl was heard calling back in the canyon. In the pellet were several tiny jaw bones, a backbone, some leg bones and even a tiny rodent skull.

Any day exploring the woods, creeks and grasslands has the promise of many opportunities to see and hear and smell the beauty of the earth – even if it not quite Spring.

American Alligator

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

American Alligator

American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) have a sinister, even surreal, appearance.  We saw this alligator and its reflection and were taken by its four eyed appearance. It seems that it can see under water as well as above.

The most difficult part of getting this image was positioning the tripod so the camera was perpendicular to the “gator.” In spite of that effort, the file need to be rotated slightly to get both eyes level. The second part was dealing with the highly reflective snout and dark water. We often wish for a camera with a native dynamic range that covers the conditions we sometimes encounter.  Birds and animals seldom lend themselves to merging several images.

Thank goodness for the raw conversion sliders in Lightroom and Photoshop. Layers in Photoshop also allow for more control of the finished image. It still amazes us you the ones and zeros of a raw file can be optimized to what our brains saw, interpreted and remembered.

We just returned from a trip to Florida for some bird photography. The drought conditions this winter are ever as bad as reported in the media and by conservation and agricultural organizations.

Sable Antelopes

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Sable Antelopes (Hippotragus niger) were among the most sought after trophies by big game hunters in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are still hunted in some areas. Sable Antelopes have become a special sighting for visitors and photographers. We were fortunate to spend some time with a herd of females who were associating with a small group of Zebras. A half hour after leaving the females we came upon a solitary male who also tolerated our presence, probably because he was inspecting an area where the females must have bedded down.

Sable Antelope female

This large, very pregnant female seemed to be the leader of the female herd. They had spotted something in the distance which we could not see. Even after the other females and the Zebras settled down to graze and rest, she kept watch for a long time. There was a second large female who also seemed close to giving birth.

Sable Antelope male

Our tracker and we spotted something dark through a thicket of trees at the same time. Our driver circled the trees and came to an open area with tall grass. There we found this bull with his magnificent set of horns. Though huge, our guide said they were not as heavy as they look. The male’s horn rings were much thicker than those of even the largest female.

The bull walked around, stopping to sniff at places where the grass was flattened or disturbed. The females must have rested here within the last day. He paid close attention to places they urinated. He was busy and did not seem concerned about our presence.

He was checking for pheromones indicating that one or more of the females might be coming into estrus. We were able to make several images showing his flehmen, the act of opening his mouth and curling his lips to allow his vemeronasal sensory organ to evaluate the pheremones. We have both side views and front views of him doing this.

Flehmen is a German word. Many animals – cats, horses, sheep, antelopes – perform this action. Researchers at the National Zoo’s (U.S.) research facility have reported that female Sable Antelopes seem to use flehmen to syncronize their estrus and calving times. Abstracts of their work is findable using a search engine.

We hope this bull and the females we saw on this Botswana concession live long and prosper, including having many calves.