Tandem Zebras

Zebras, Kruger National Park, South Africa

I had a lot of fun photographing the Zebras in Kruger National Park and the surrounding Game Reserves. They are easy. They just stand most of the time, most of the time in pairs, and the patterns their patterns make when they collide are always interesting…from a purely graphic point of view. This pair (and I use the term not in its familial sense but just as a numerical designation) show the erect manes of healthy Zebras, despite the drought in Kruger. According to our guides, the patterns on Zebras are as unique as fingerprints…and you can see the subtle variations in this image.

Sony RX10iii at 600mm equivalent field of view. 1/640th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom.

Magpie Shrike

Magpie Shrike, Balule Game Reserve, South Africa

At the end of a long dry winter in South Africa, one of the most present birds of the bush wherever you go, is the Magpie Shrike. Most locals, including our guides, still call it by its old name, the Long-tailed Shrike. And, indeed, the first thing you are likely to notice is the exceptionally long tail. I saw hundreds of them before pulling up alongside this one in the game viewer at Balule Game Reserve for a portrait. They are conspicuous, not only for their tail, but because they tend to perch in the tops of small to medium height brush and trees, where they can keep a sharp eye out for insects on the ground around them. Like most birds with long tails they use the tail for quick side-ways maneuvers and abrupt turns in flight, when pouncing on prey.

Sony RX10iii at 600mm equivalent field of view. 1/250th @ f4 @ ISO 100. Processed in Lightroom.


Oxpeckers on a Giraffe. Happy Sunday!

Red-billed Oxpeckers on a Giraffe, Kruger National Park, South Africa

“If your eye is generous, your whole being is full of light!” Jesus

Oxpeckers have a mutulistic relationship with many of the large herbivores of Africa. The Oxpeckers feed on tics, lice, and flies from the hides, and especially from around the wounds, of everything from Antelope to Zebras. They benefit from the constant food source, and the herbivores benefit from having parasites removed, and wounds kept clean. it is rare to see a group of Giraffes, or an individual hippo or rhino, without at least a few attendant Oxpeckers. Some animals seem more attractive to Oxpeckers than others. The thick hides of Elephants, for instance, don’t seem to have much interest, while almost every Kudu I saw in Kruger National Park had at least one Oxpecker riding along. This Giraffe was infested with Oxpeckers…which probably means it was infested with ticks or lice.

The relationship is so close, in fact, that I was genuinely surprised to see Oxpeckers in a tree, doing regular bird stuff…flying around, harassing other birds…apparently even fly-catching over the tree-tops. I don’t know why it surprised me. They are birds, after all…closely related to the host of Starlings in Africa, and seen in the same mixed flocks…when they are “off-duty”.

Evolutionists would, of course, look to a long history of slow change that somehow turned a Starling-like bird into the Oxpecker of today. They would have to explain how the association developed between bird and herbivore, and why the bird, alone among its iridescent blue brothers, has become the color of dusty herbivore hide, not to mention the function of the red bill in survival and reproductive strategies. They would have to come up with naturalistic reasons for a lot, and there would be a lot, I think even they would admit, that they just could not explain. And it is not that I, as a man of faith, have a “better” explanation. It is easy to say I see in the Oxpecker an example of intelligent, of loving, design and creation. But that would really be taking it backward. I don’t believe in an intelligent loving creator because I see evidence in the Oxpecker. I begin with belief in the creator, through a personal encounter in Jesus, and then can see the Oxpecker in no other light. That is how it is with the generous eye. You see the world in the light of creation, and everything you see speaks of intelligence and love. It is, in fact, easy with the Oxpecker on the hide of the Giraffe…it is not so easy when we look at the worst of human behavior…but it is possible, and it is something I strive for each day. Happy Sunday!

Morning at Marc’s

White-bellied Sunbird, Black Tit, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Citrus Swallowtail, Marc's Treeehouse Lodge, South Africa

White-bellied Sunbird, Black Tit, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Citrus Swallowtail, Marc’s Treeehouse Lodge, South Africa

My last full, non-travel, morning in South Africa I was at Marc’s Treehouse Lodge, operated by Viva Safaris. It is on a private Game Reserve west of the Orpen Gate at Kruger National Park. I decided to forego the scheduled activity and just spend the morning wandering around the grounds of the Lodge with my camera to see what I could see. I was very thankful to the staff at Marc’s for letting me do that. I stayed fairly close to the cabins and tents at the Lodge, as Marc’s is an unfenced camp and there is always the chance of the wandering Cape Buffalo or even Leopard on the grounds. I was looking mostly for smaller birds, as that is what I was missing from my African experience and all the game drives in high vehicles. As I mentioned in previous posts, South Africa and Kruger in particular, are well into a major drought, and it is the end of a long dry winter there, so birds were scarce, even in the trees along the river below the camp. I did see Pied Kingfisher and Little Bee-eater, both amazing birds, and that would have made my morning, but it was really the Sunbirds I wanted closer looks at. I was able to photograph the White-bellied Sunbird in the collage above several times that morning, and glimpsed at least two others during my walk…Scarlet-breasted and one of the yellow ones. (I got a record shot of the Scarlet-breasted the next morning before boarding the van for Johannesburg.) I love the Sunbirds…colored like a hummingbird and filling much the same niche…but with size, flight, and song of a finch. The Southern Black Tit was working the trees just at the edge of the sandy bed of the river, and the Yellow-breasted Apalis was in the vegetation around the pool just below the lodge where the giraffes come to drink. The Citrus Swallowtail was basking by the same pool. I was happy to ID this as the Citrus Swallowtail of Southern Africa and not the much more common, and closely related, Lemon Swallowtail, which is a problem butterfly in North Africa…invasive as far east as China and some of the South Pacific Islands, and as far west as Central America. I also photograhed a Red-capped Robin-chat, but was not able to get a really sharp image in the dense thicket it preferred. All in all, a very worthwhile morning.

All shots with the Sony RX10iii, at 600mm equivalent field of view. Program Mode. Processed in Lightroom and assembled in Coolage.

World Rhinoceros Day

Rhinoceros, Kruger National Park

Yesterday, September 22, was World Rhinoceros Day, and I missed it 🙁 So, here, a day late, are my two best shots of Rhinoceros in the wild, taken at Kruger National Park last week. Both are White Rhino. It turns out that “white” is a mistake, an accident based on the fact that the Dutch name was “wide-lipped” which sounded a bit like “white”, and the name for the other South African Rhino was “hooked lipped” which sounded a bit like “black”. So this is, in reality, the Wide-lipped Rhinoceros, so named because its wide lips are adapted for eating grasses at ground level. The Black, or Hook-lipped, Rhinoceros has narrow lips adapted for plucking leaves from standing trees and brush. Grazer vs. Browser. But it is too late for that. They are forever Black and White. Besides these two “wild” Rhinos, I saw lots of Rhinos at Tshukudu Game Reserve, where they specialize in Rhino (Tshakudu means Rhinoceros in the local language). Unfortunately, due to heavy poaching, all the Rhinos at Tshakudu have to be dehorned for their own protection. Poaching is huge problem. Kruger National Park has enough Rhino horn in stock to flood the market for 20 years to come, but each year proposals to release it for sale, and so drive down the prices to levels where poaching will not be so attractive, are defeated. The logic is that they do not want to “expand” the existing market to the point where poaching is the only way to meet the demand after their stocks run out. Others argue that Rhino horn could be “farmed” in a way that would meet the demand and save most wild Rhinos. I am glad it is not a decision I have to make…but it is one that needs making. I can certainly see the logic of putting the poachers out of business. There are signs along the road to Kruger in South Africa, posed on the property of private game reserves, that say “Poachers will be Poached!” and the people at Tshakudu will tell you about running gun battles between their rangers and poachers as recently as the past few months. It is a serious problem, and, when added to habitat loss, is keeping the Rhino at the edge of disaster.

Rhinoceros, Kruger National Park

Sony RX10iii at 1200mm equivalent field of view (2x Clear Image Zoom). Neither Rhino was nearly as close as they look in the images. Program. ISO 100 and ISO 1000. Processed in Lightroom.

Crocodile, Hippo, and three Terripins

Crocodile, Hippopotamus, and three Hinged Terripins, Kruger National Park, South Africa

The few remaining watering holes at Kruger National Park in South Africa make for strange associations: in this case a Crocodile, a Hippopotamus, and three Hinged Terripins. None of these animals are much threat to the others. The Crocodile might be tempted by a Hippo calf, but it would be very unlikely to get by the fiercely protective mother, and no Croc messes with a full grown Hippo. I suppose the Croc might also try for the Terripins but I am sure their heavy shell is a deterrent. The Croc is sunning itself, using the membranes in its mouth to regulate its body temperature. The Hippo is resting in hopes (probably misplaced during this drought) of finding grass to feed on during the cool hours of the night. Hippo hide is very sensitive to the sun and they have to keep pretty much submerged all day. The Terripins appear to be both sunning and resting, taking advantage of the elevation and relative safety of the Hippo’s broad back.

Sony RX10iii at 600mm equivalent field of view. 1/800th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed and cropped to about 1200mm apparent field of view in Lightroom.

Thirst. Elephant.

Elephant, Kruger National Park, South Africa

You can not visit Kruger National Park in South Africa right now without quickly realizing that Kruger is in trouble. 2 years of intense drought has brought water levels in the dams and natural watering holes to record lows. Many once reliable sources of water have dried up entirely. Large sections of Kruger look more like desert than savannah or scrub woodland. And the park is overpopulated with large herbivores…elephants and hippos in particular. The elephants are surviving so far by pushing over trees to get at the edible bark of the roots. In some sections of Kruger there are very few standing trees left, which, of course, further alters the environment: reduces shade, accelerates desertification, and reduces habitat for birds, reptiles, and mammals that depend on the trees. The hippos, who rely only on standing grasses, are simply dying. 30 died the week I was there. The day I left, the park took the unprecedented step of culling 300 hippos and distributing the meat to surrounding villages. Sad as that is, having been there I know that the choice for those hippos was between a quick death and slow lingering death by starvation. And unless the rains come this South African summer, beginning this month and next, the elephants will begin to die too. Elephants need 200-600 pounds of fodder per day to survive…and up to 50 gallons of water. The park does still operate several bore holes with windmills and tanks and pools, and we saw big male elephants standing on the buttresses of the water tanks, tanks as tall as a two story house, and putting their trunks up over the tank walls to drink. The debate is on as to whether in the long run it is a kindness (or ecologically sound practice) to provide supplemental water to a population of elephants that is already considerably over what the land will bear. There are no good solutions, and even if the rains come this season, the park will take generations to recover.

Because water is scarce, the wildlife is concentrated. Herds of elephants come to the dams, off and on all day, to drink and cover their hides in mud. This is a large female, drinking her bathtub full of water for the day.

Sony RX10iii at 247mm equivalent field of view. 1/800th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom.

The long range forecast models for South Africa are producing mixed results. Some models predict lower than normal precipitation this summer, some predict higher than normal…some predict a dry spring and a wet fall, and some the reverse. If you are a praying person, and the animals of Kruger matter to you, you might spare a prayer for a wet summer for South Africa…this year and for several years to come.


Lion cub

Lion cub, Kruger National Park, South Africa

We found a medium sized pride of lions basking in the shade near a waterhole in Kruger National Park in South Africa. There were a dozen of what looked like adult females (a few of those might have been young males), and cubs of at least 4 different ages. This was the smallest, seen here having a rub along its mother’s flank as it moved to find a new spot among it’s larger cousins.

Sony RX10iii at 1200mm equivalent field of view (2x Clear Image Zoom). 1/320th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed and cropped from the top for effect in Lightroom.

Zebra classic

Zebras, Kruger National Park, South Africa

This is a classic Zebra pose from Kruger National Park in South Africa. Though it might look like a tender moment, the Zebras are actually resting. The posture allows each to relax, while still keeping watch in both directions for potential danger.

Sony RX10iii at 500mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Lightroom.

Hippo in the sunset. Happy Sunday!

Hippopotamus, Tshukudu Game Reserve, South Africa

“If your eye is generous, your whole being is full of light.” Jesus

I am more or less back from nearly a month of intensive travel, with spotty to non-existent wifi, and very little unscheduled time. I am actually in Columbus Ohio for the Great American Birding Expo, but that is relatively close to home, with excellent hotel wifi, and some time this morning to properly reflect on the Sunday. I am thankful for the time this morning, but I am also thankful for the travel. I spent a week in Panama, and 11 days in South Africa, and my head and my heart is full of new and memorable sights and experiences. This shot is from a sunset drive at a private, fenced, Game Reserve in South Africa. Tshakudu Game Reserve specializes in Rhinoceros, but they have all of the “big five” game animals on their extensive property. The small herd of Hippos was basking in one of few ponds that still have water at the height of the severe drought that has the Greater Kruger region in its grip. The water is actually shallow enough so the Hippos are kneeling on the bottom of the pond. This is a classic Africa shot, with the Hippo roaring in the sunset.

I feel incredibly blessed to have stood on the dam in Tshakudu to witness this. And incredibly is just the right word. I am very close to not being able to believe it. Africa has been a dream of mine since childhood, and, now, just after my 69th birthday, it has come true…and it was everything I had dreamed it would be. I went into the trip determined to be as generous as I possibly could be…open-hearted and open eyed as the blessing deserves. I failed, of course, but each day I woke with thanksgiving and did my best to enjoy what might well be a once in a lifetime experience. Just to be there…just to see…just to record…just to share. Overwhelming! God, please grant me generosity of spirit to match the gift. Happy Sunday!