And now, for something a bit horny…

Hey you – made you look!  You probably weren’t expecting a post dedicated to Rhinos, were you?

Rhino Grazing, April 2013
Rhino Grazing, April 2013

Part of my desire to see a Rhino was based on fear.  Fear that if I waited too long, they would be poached into extinction.  I certainly hope that doesn’t happen.  At last count, 273 had been lost in Kruger National Park this year alone.  It makes me feel sad and dismayed that people cling to these outdated, and patently false beliefs about the power of Rhino Horn (or Bear Gallbladder, Tiger parts…)   Sadly, as long as there is a market for these items, people will continue to brutalize animals.

The first time I saw a Rhino, it was somewhat anti-climatic.  We were just about to stop for sundowners, and there they were…. It was one of those sighting that I had to be told where to look, and I still didn’t see them at first.  They were far from us, in the tall grasses and amongst some bushes, in the falling light.  Blackish grey blobs in the distance.  Even at 300mm zoom, I couldn’t get a decent view of them. It didn’t help that the group of three was so focused on grazing, not a single one raised their heads the entire time we were stopped.  It was exciting to know they were there, but I really didn’t get a sense of them at all.

It wasn’t until our last evening game drive that we had a proper opportunity to watch the rhinos and get some good photo opportunities.  I was surprised by how close we were able to be to them in the vehicle, but they were completely unconcerned with us.  We were completely captivated viewing them, and they were completely captivated by their grazing.  I had heard previously that rhinos have terrible vision, and looking at them up close, it is easy to understand that fact, as they appear to have very small eyes in proportion to their body size, and they always look to me a bit squinty, like they need a strong pair of glasses.

Rhino at Londolozi, April 2013
Rhino at Londolozi, April 2013
Rhino and Oxpecker, April 2013
Rhino and Oxpecker, April 2013
Rhinos, April 2013
Rhinos, April 2013
Heading off for a new patch of grass.  Rhinos at Londolozi, April 2013
Heading off for a new patch of grass. Rhinos at Londolozi, April 2013

The Lilac-Breasted Roller

Lilac Breasted Roller

This little bird captivated me from my first sighting, but proved to be a difficult photography subject for the first couple of days.  Obviously there was the usual scenario – that birds don’t necessarily sit still long enough for photographs.  Then I had overcast weather or flat out rain that did not do the colours justice, or fading evening light.  But in the end, I managed several lovely shots, one of which is now framed so I can see it every day.

Lilac Breasted Roller

From Wikipedia:

“The Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) is a member of the roller family of birds. It is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula, preferring open woodland and savanna; it is largely absent from treeless places. Usually found alone or in pairs, it perches conspicuously at the tops of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can spot insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents moving about at ground level.[2]

Nesting takes place in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2–4 eggs is laid, and incubated by both parents, who are extremely aggressive in defence of their nest, taking on raptors and other birds. During the breeding season the male will rise to great heights, descending in swoops and dives, while uttering harsh, discordant cries.

The sexes are alike in coloration. Juveniles do not have the long tail feathers that adults do.

This species is the national bird of Botswana and Kenya.”

Lilac Breasted Roller

Lilac Breasted Roller, April 2013
Lilac Breasted Roller, April 2013

This is the photo that I have framed 🙂

Lilac Breasted Roller In Flight, April 2013
Lilac Breasted Roller In Flight, April 2013

Photographic Failures (Lion cubs on a fallen tree)

I look forward each week to the Londolozi photo blog. It brings me back to a place I loved and whets my appetite for a return trip. This week James mentioned two things that got me thinking. The first was a computer problem causing photo access issues – a great reminder to hook up my portable harddrive and do another backup (plus a secondary backup in case of a serious meltdown). The second was a photo he included that he noted was a photographic failure, but the story of the sighting was amazing (check out the week in photos #80 on the Londolozi site). Had I not had the explanation, I wouldn’t have gotten the full impact of the photo. Which got me thinking about the lion cubs we saw while at Londolozi.

The photos I have of the cubs include some of the most shockingly poor photos I have taken. Out of focus, odd colour, motion blur when there shouldn’t be, depth of field that was inappropriate for the situation, highly grainy & filled with noise… Honestly without the story behind the photos, people would probably think one of two things:

1) “That is the first time this person held a camera… and it didn’t go well.”

2) “The photographer was drunk.”

I can assure you that this gem was taken by someone, who although is in perpetual learning mode when it comes to photography, has definitely held a camera before, and was also stone cold sober (in fact, I’m quite certain I have managed far more in focus photos than this after a glass or three of wine. (I have no idea how I managed to cut her feet off and make her float.)

A floating lion, otherwise known as a photo fail, April 2013
A floating lion, otherwise known as a photo fail, April 2013

So why, out of 98 photos, did only a handful turn out?

The weather was poor when we headed out for our afternoon game drive – the ponchos went on right away, and I actually took my iPhone with me in case I couldn’t get my Nikon out (note to self, I need to get rain gear for my camera for the next trip). We found tracks of a lion pride, and followed them up through the trees and a dried riverbed, and eventually found the pride – with four adults and 7 cubs. As we had been driving, the weather got steadily worse. Lead gray skies, pouring with rain as well as cold and windy. Perhaps Mother Nature just wanted to ensure that the people from BC felt right at home in South Africa! I finally extracted my camera from beneath my poncho and instead of trying to coordinate manual settings, I just put it on auto – and the camera couldn’t focus (the joyous “Subject too dark” message – and wanting to us the flash on a subject 20+ feet away). Back to manual mode, I found that to get a correctly exposed photo,I would need to use an exposure time of around 2 seconds. Long exposures are great – with stationary objects and a tripod. Playful lion cubs? Not so much. So I snapped away using the slowest time I thought I could manage, and mostly just watched. Because when Talley and Freddy started saying things like “This is special – we don’t see this everyday” it was all about the experience. The camera was definitely a secondary consideration, and not something that would take my focus off the scene.

Four cubs on a fallen tree
Four cubs on a fallen tree, April 2013

The lion cubs played in the rain on a fallen tree – they climbed, wrestled a bit – they entertained us immensely, and the rain and cold didn’t matter at all. They stayed in the area a good 20-30 minutes before setting off. We were also lucky enough that day to see an old female lion, who has since passed on.

Two Lionesses, April 2013
Two Lionesses, April 2013

The lions gave us great viewing opportunities at Londolozi, from the mating pair on night one, to the beautiful male I wrote about earlier, to the playful cubs, and rounding out with a male and female stalking impala as we drove off in the transport on route to the airport (actually a male watching a female stalk impala). Not to mention the calls we heard throughout the night each night we spent at Londolozi.

Lioness with added watercolour effect, April 2013
Lioness with added watercolour effect, April 2013

Below are a couple of the shots I managed to salvage. The nice clear shots will have to live on only in my head – unless I’m lucky enough to see such a sight on my next trip, with far more favourable lighting conditions.

Cub in focus!!!, April 2013
Cub in focus!!!, April 2013

Three cubs on a tree, April 2013
Three cubs on a tree, April 2013