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Saturday, December 17, 2011


Whilst spending my dinner hour looking for squirrels in the cemetery near work I took every possible shot that presented itself. Having wanted a shot of a crow on a grave stone for a while I was just as pleased when this jackdaw scooted away from my but landed perfectly. The inner-city cemetery near Ostbahnof is a lesson in nature prevails, even in the city.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tiny pano, and things change

I waited for a couple of hours to shoot the voles in a more intimate position, but they never got together...not where my flashes were positioned anyway. So in the end I took 3 shots and stitched ;) I really love watching these guys, every one has its own personality.

Occasionally things change, that's part of the fun, something different each time. Like this fellow, looks like a fresh wound, could have been a predator, could have been a scrap....could have been the missus beating on him. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winter cometh?

So there I was, all excited, winter is coming. I go out a lot, feed various spots in the forest with bird food and expect them to damn well eat it. Which they would were it not unseasonally mild, we have not had one flake of snow and even the frosts have been limited to a few clear mornings. Last week my friend Sue came expecting deer, boar and birds...she left with none of them.

So there I sat last week waiting for the tits an finches, the robins and peckers. I could still be sat there now, they are not coming down, they are just too warm and comfy. But yesterday I did notice something, some critters are planning ahead, and that meant I had to get down and dirty.

So I returned today, still no birds and the martens had eaten all the fat and nuts, I still can't get me a shot of one. So I decided today to go small, maybe even smaller than the tits. Using a pair of speedlites and my trusty 7D, which can not only trigger the speedlites remotely it can also set the exposure of them, I got down to it. It took a few attempts, there is always a blade of grass or twig or fungus in the shot. The critters always hide behind said obstruction, regardless where it is. But I waited and I got wet in the rain soaked moss. But they came, I am sure there was more than one simply working on their personalities, and I feel better for having taken a picture on home soil, at last.

I presume they are field voles, the forest is full of them around here. Now I am a bit stuck, I cannot get closer with the 500 f4 and TC but I love the IQ it gives me. The 100-400 might work, maybe something to try over the next few days.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Don't fly Continental...

...or United. I have suffered some bad airlines before. Canada air used to be atrotious, they picked up their game though, Iberia I will not tollerate and I thought I had seen the worst. Until we flew from New York back to Munich with Continental/United. Now, we Europeans are used to having a beer or a glass of wine with our meal, usually complimentary as we are not flying Ryan Air. Entertainment  is usually a nice touch screen with on-demand films and programming. Food is usually on the edible side of bad. Children recieve a small toy to keep them busy for a few minutes, they enjoy getting a present, then they watch a film on the screen. Check-in desks are usually staffed, especially when travelling with a child with friendly folk.

I will start with the check-in, maybe it is just Newark but we arrived late, our fault, only to be greeted by a row of machines. Machines which should scan our passports, but didn't quite manage, would be fine if more than one person was there to help people using the eight screens. Eight people who all needed their bags tagged, their passports entering and their bottoms wiping. I imagine when it works it is great but when six people are checking in at one screen, three of us at another and all the rest then things become confused. We were late but said member of staff did not help us before she had sorted out the noisy women checking in all at once. I have heard of economising but this was ridiculous, one person and some dumb machines.

On the three hour flight from Miami to Orlando we are asked to pay for our entertainment, $5, I think not. Three hours and not even a sandwich, I remember vaguely getting a drink, of water.

Once aboard our Munich flight we tried to switch on our screens. Black. Nothing. Zero. The in-flight magazine touted plenty of films I had not seen, should be good, if only the screen worked. Eventually they reset the system, bingo, a picture. But we were informed that the entertainment system is "tape based" and is prone to bugs. Tape? I think I owned one of those in the 80's. So the films on the tape were complete crap, nothing I could show my daughter. Then the screens went blank, for the two of us. Time for the laptop and some Bambi time.

Then the drinks arrived, juice and soft stuff unless you wanted to pay for it, on principle I would not.
Then the "food" arrived. "Chicken" with "rice" was rice, I am sure of it, but it had a funny texture and absolutely no taste. My daughter loves rice, she did not eat this stuff. The "chicken" was definately protein based but thank goodness, for my daughters sake, I had brough beef jurkey and nuts. We had a feast while those around us suffered.

Now in the USA we never ate at a restaurant which did not cater for children. My daughter always recieved crayons, paper and a cool plastic drinking straw cup. So it came as a suprise that on a flight costing quite a bit, and she being nearly three paid her seat, we recieved nothing. Zero. Nada. Which was hard to explain to her as she thought the lady would let her chose a small something, which she gets on every flight in Europe, even the short ones. It is something to look forward to, a sweetener for the nine hours of misery to come. Looking after children is, afterall, in their best interests because one day they get big and travel.

So Continental is on my black list, I would rather fly Cousin Cletus Air and pay for the outside toilets and live banjo show than give any money to that company again. That our luggage remained in Miami was just the nail in the coffin.

Rant over. Here is a nice photo from the trip ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

As you may have garnered from my previous post this years family holiday was in Florida, a place I have been wanting to visit for a few years, maybe even before that when I was a fisherman. Anyway, we had twelve days to follow the west coast and the Everglades, finally ending up in the Keys. After spending four days of sunshine, cold, rain, wind and snow in New York I was pretty happy to be leaving (it may be noted I HATE cities). Of course Florida is far from my much loved 0°C or under, but hell, makes a change.

Driving from Orlando to Clearwater I could have had multiple chances to shoot cranes, egrets, herons, ibis and raptors but the interstate is not the place for that.

Clearwater beach.
As described in my previous post I met up with a good friend, Bill Lockhart, in Clearwater. Bill showed me a thing or two about Floridian wildlife, namely that it does not scare so easily. We had a great morning and I came home with way too many pictures and great memories.

Clearwater beach is a busy resort but despite this you can still shoot pelicans, terns, shore birds and ospreys along the beach... some of them with a 24-105 lens! Like I say, they do not scare easily and are quite used to humans. Just driving around the area there are multiple parks and roads where you will find umpteen possibilities to shoot, ospreys nest by the road or among the houses and shore birds are everywhere.

Honeymoon Island is also worth a drive, the beach is great and we watched dolphins from here. There are also trails which are worth walking, if you do not have a pushchair and do have insect repellant. We lasted ten minutes but were eaten alive and got stuck in the sand. We did see a bald eagle however, one of the few we did see and quite close and a gopher tortoise.

Florida is cool. You don't need to rush anywhere and nowhere was it more obvious than in Sanibel, a laid back island of big houses and bigger boats. Driving the causeway from the mainland give great views and plenty of ospreys, if I knew then what I know now I would have spent a morning along the causeway.

My first visit to the beach was when I found this fellow having a wash in the shallow waters of a sand bar, right in front of the hotel. I rushed back, daughter in my arms and grabbed my lens (I have to say my daughter stayed in the room with my ever suffering). This was the only chance I got to shoot an osprey at eye level and I am glad I took the chance.

Sanibel island is also home to the Ding Darling reserve, which I first visited on a Friday, only to find it closed :| So I was up early on Saturday shooting anhingas, cormorants, spoon bills, ibis and many heron and egret types. White pelicans also turned up.

 Now I have seen crocodiles before, in Australia and Africa, but I had never been given the chance to get close. I love crocodiles, they have stood the test of time and have cool features (such as disease resistance and super healing wounds, they rarely die from infection even after losing a limb).  I know American alligators are less agressive than their big brothers but i was still very careful when approaching this guy. It was early and he was still cold, my chance to get close was now or never. He knew he was not big enough to eat me, not whole anyway, and I knew he knew that - but he could still take an arm if he tried. Either way I patiently crawled my way as close as I dare, until his head lifted a touch, got my shots and left him in peace. He was there again that evening when I returned with the family, but after a day of him being snapped by tourists I figured I would just use the 500 and be done with it.

We dined one day at Grandma Dotts, a cay side restaurant, and here I found a few willing ospreys. One was perched on a small airplane eating his dinner. Another in the nest kept screaming at the other, presumably this was the female ;)

Leaving Sanibel we did stop for a walk along the causeway.

Homestead and the 'Glades.
Homestead was our base for the Everglades, it is not near the coast and a bit too busy to be anything but a base. Still, you may see one or two raptors flying around, especially vultures.We made the mistake of going for Mexican food here, real Mexican, which is why it was bland and mushy, and somewhat greasy. Gimme Taco Bel!

Getting to Homestead we took the Tamiami trail which cuts right through Everglade country. You will see some 'gators by the road and plenty of birds along the channels running parallel to the road. A stop in Everglade City was also worthwhile as the fish at a market, I cannot remember the name of, was cheap, fresh and perfect. Of course it came with fries, deep fried, in a sandwich or deep fried in a sandwich!

We took the road through the Everglades stopping at various trails and picnic spots, eventually arriving in Flamingo. We would have done an airboat ride if we had realized it was not actually possible inside the park. Damn. The boardwalks are well worth a visit, although they can get busy, but do not expect too much. There were some very, interested in us, black vultures but they were no match for my daughter and soon scarpered when she went for a cuddle. But they were close, so close I had to take 4 shots and stitch them using the 5D and 500.
But I saw more in a few minutes around Clearwater than the few hours we spent walking here in the Everglades. There is a huge amount of space and the wildlife is widespread.

I guess I was also expecting something different, this being my first trip to the real USofA. The Everglades is a national park but the whole thing is dotted with boat ramps, fishermen and poeple doing stuff you don't expect in a NP. Everything is easy and easy to access, roads are tar and picnic spots have toilets. It is not quite the swampy wild nature I was expecting. So I came away disappointed, despite seeing manitees in Flamingo.

 One great opportunity came at a picnic spot by a lake, a lone 'gator sat in the shallows, perhaps waiting for tourist titbits (totally unallowed). I tried to get as low as possible without getting too close, despite the sun I also wanted to try and blur the waves, I did get down to 1/4 of a second, at the cost of f/32 image quality.

Airboats. We stopped at Coopertown, population 8, for a forty minute ride on an overpackd boat for $22. Private charters start at $200 an hour, I was tempted believe me! If I ever come again I would prefer to spend more time looking for stuff I want to shoot, not what the guide thinks I want.....namely alligators. We saw a few small ones but forty minutes is not enough to discover this landscape, besides there we bigger crocs along the road! Maybe next time.

The Keys.
The end of our holiday was spent in the warm and relaxed Keys, we stayed on Conch Key a tiny island owned by the hotel. This is good, means it is exclusive. Also it is bad as the smaller the island the closer you are to the road! But an impressive road it is, 127 miles long, quite alot of it is causeway or bridges.

I cannot recommend this as a wildlife destination. I saw less here than anywhere else, it is a far more touristy destination with beaches and hotels. There were shore birds, cormorants and ospreys but nothing in any number or as close as in other places. We did drive down for a look at Key West, but only do this for the novelty, it is a loud and busy place.

A family holiday is no place to capture great images of wildlife, there just is not time. A whole day would be needed at Ding Darling for example, to catch the different tides would have been nice. More time too would be needed to try and get that elusive fishing osprey, a shot i really wanted was the osprey emerging from the water with a fish. Dolphins can also be captured from some of the boat charters, rushing through the wake as the boats speed up. So much to do. I would also like to get to Augustine Alligator farm for the breeding season, lake Kisimee and Cape Coral. But these were not immediately obvious family holiday destinations. So next time. Means I get to go back and hire my trusty guide once again, hope he still has that 1DIV and 70-300 L if I do. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A morning with the Maestro

For a long time now I have wanted to travel to Florida to sample the avian delights it has to offer and when a good friend of mine, Bill Lockhart, offered to be my guide for a day I jumped at the chance. Of course this was a family holiday, not a photo safari, so my time was limited and I needed a good guide.

Unfortunately my guide had no idea how to approach wildlife photography, in fact he took me to an industrial area looking for sandhill cranes. I was starting to think his nickname "Crazy 'ole Bill" was not just given in jest.

Upon finding a willing threesome I was ready to don my RealtreeHD outfit, hike through a swamp, setup a blind (hide), use some decoy calls and sit for a few hours in the hope they would approach me and I could get a single shot using my 500mm L and tele-converter. But the darned guide got so excited, wanted to test his new camera and wildlife lens, he was off before I could so much as say "Mossy oak leaf suit"!

 So off I ran to to get a good position, a position which the terrified birds were sure to pass. Sure enough, my guide had scared the living wits out of the cranes and they were on their way.

One of the poor creatures was so scared it tried to disguise itself as a squirrel and started to eat a pine cone.

Another as a woodpecker.

In the end they reported us to a security guard and we had to leave.

My guide took me to various spots in the Clearwater and Dunedin area, each time we stalked the birds and wildlife "Florida" style, here is a quick check list for those uninitiated.

1. Park your vehicle, don't worry if you are driving fast, skidding to a halt is acceptable.
2. Open your door, jump out and slam the door shut.
3. Open the rear door to retrieve your gear, take time to swap lenses or bodies, then slam the door shut.
4. Now walk right up to the intended victim and shoot away, do not get too close it will probably walk towards you anyway.
5. Curse loudly at only having brought a tele prime with you, not being able to zoom back to 24mm is a real problem in Florida.
6. Once home check all your shots of the birds head, eye or beak. Many will be out of focus as the critters wandered within minimum focusing distance.

No really, my guide opened my eyes. You see Bill Lockhart has for many a year posted wonderful images of birds and wildlife (and the occasional landscape), I figured he had an air-boat and used it to navigate swamps. Once in his blind I was sure Bill sat for hours on end, swatting mosquitoes and fighting alligators in order to take that one shot which danced on my screen.

I now know different. I now know the wildlife is everywhere and not (yet?) persecuted in Florida. Ospreys nest along the roads and in the housing estates. Terns and waders go happily about their business on busy beaches and causeways. Sandhill cranes hunt in the grass around industrial units. Deer wander in public parks oblivious to the human activity. It is truly amazing.

So I leave you for now with a few more images taken that morning with my good friend Bill, with who I have, for many years, communicated with over the wires. It was a pleasure to finally meet in person, a like minded soul searching for that special something in his photos, as in life. Adventure, light and balance. You can find Bill, a Floridian all his life, here. His images speak for themselves, go find them.

I even had the privilege to shoot some of  LPU 409 (Local Pelican Union) despite my lack of license they agreed to charge Bill more fish on his next time around. Here we see Lady Hildegard Von Wurstwasser preening, she is a large lady and I had to stitch three shots together to fit her all in.

The herons are less fussy, they will work for crabs.

The skimmers just sit and watch.

The deer hide until a photographer happens along, then they jump out and pose. I had to walk backwards just to focus.

The ospreys just look on, in awe of our professionalism.

Many thanks Bill for a memorable morning.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The first frost

Yes, last Saturday and Sunday I awoke to the wondrous sound of cars being scraped. After so many months of sunshine winter finally decided to turn up. So excited was I, at 5am on Sunday I was awake and packing my bag. I had heard the deer calling and knew the rut must have begun, but I was yet to locate any individuals.

Sunday I managed to at least find some deer, both fallow and red, in a 5000 hectare park near here. Easy to find they are not as numbers are carefully controlled and the park is in fact Munich's largest underground water reserve. But find them I did, at 7am, still dark enough not to be able to focus. But I waited. The deer left. I cried. Some came back, one big motha roared and stamped around, a few hinds turned up to watch. Then it was time to go, before the other halves woke up (this way I get to go out again).

So I know where they are and I have around two hours free in which to photograph them again before flying to Florida.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Kruger 2011 - the second bit

Now I may have gone on a bit in the first half of the trip report so I will try and keep it short, and clean, this time. 

After a pretty fruitless evening out from Shingwedzi we retired for our grill and bed. 

Day nine
This far north I had little in the way of expectations, large bull elephants perhaps but that was about it. Today did not really make me alter that opinion. We spent the morning seeing nothing then headed out at 10am in one car. We stopped for five minutes to shoot a very large example of the elephant species resting at a concrete waterhole. Yes it was hot and sunny, the concrete looks about as natural as Pamela Anderson and all the shots are crap but we were desperate! 
Then on the road north a car slowed and told us about a cheetah kill not far up. Woah! As we arrived we noticed cars, leaving. We were then told, to our obvious joy, that the cheetahs had just that minute left the kill and wandered off. Five minutes with an old elephant had cost us dearly, should always trust your instinct especially when shooting concrete water holes! 

Later on we were entertained by an ostrich and a baby elephant. 

We met up with a couple from the Sanparks forum that night and had dinner with them. We were informed that Pafuri picnic spot was a great place for birds, this from a birder, and so we decided on a trip up north which we could combine with Crooks Corner as none of us had been so far north. 

Day ten
With a long drive ahead of us we were sticking to the main tar road, Sue decided she was coming with me to try and change our luck! At 6.50am we stopped besides a very small water hole as a pick-up was pulled in and all the passengers looking out. A LEOPARD was down there somewhere. So we stopped the engine and waited. Suddenly there he was, looking back at us from under a huge log. Brilliant. 

We had the usual problem of grass but were undaunted. The leopard vanished as quickly as it had arrived. By now other vehicles had arrived and moving around was impossible. We noticed Andrew set off as soon as the original pick-up left, he had top spot!

We stuck around, leopards are known for sticking to favourite water holes. Suddenly the reeds started to crash around, like hurricane son-of-a-bitch just hit them. What I thought was a huge rat set off at high speed into the bush, then all was quite. We figured the leopard had missed its chance and started to breath again. 
Of course, you can sometimes (99% for us) get it wrong. 

Mr leopard appeared with a huge, now identified, cane rat in his teeth. He then proceeded to jump onto the log and run across it, disappearing once more into the thick bush. It was the last we saw of him and my view was mostly tree and leaves. I had also left my 1D set to f8, not 5.6, so nearly got some sharp shots but at least one did turn out OK. 

So on a high we drove onwards.

After more elephants and zebra we arrived at Pafuri but after the long drive were expecting more in the way of bird species. On the upside we got to see the other side of Kruger, where less grass grows and the soil is red. Crooks Corner was interesting to see, the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa border. There is an obvious lack of fence but then the river was home to a multitude of deterrents, hippos and crocodiles a plenty.

We arrived back at camp, exhausted.

Day eleven
Today we had an even longer drive, down to Satara. According to my images we didn't see anything but grass the whole way. Except perhaps for this young fellow by the road. 

Oh and a few million buffalo near a water hole.

So, we checked in at Satara and made our way down the S100, the fabled and amazing road which had given me so much the last time I was here. 
But this time it kind of failed. We did see a couple of male lions lazing around too far away. But that was about it. We stayed with the lions as long as we could, but they did not wish to move.

We headed back to camp, once again, gutted.

Day twelve
We spent the first thirty minutes one the s100 again but apart from a lone jackal nothing else made itself apparent. 

Through the course of the day we became more desperate, even stopping to look at some lions near Nsmani dam, but that was uneventful due to grass and distance. 
We headed back to camp for a drink and met up with a couple Sue knew from the Sanparks forum. They were also a bit depressed and agreed there seemed to be less lions and other carnivores this year. After they left we entertained ourselves a while with the hoopoe grubbing around near the bungalow. 

After another brief trip out and seeing nothing we came back to camp to meet up for the sunset drive. Before we set off to reception however John and Poppy came by the bungalow to tell us about a lion kill they had seen....arghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Sunset drive (to hell and back),

It was with some reluctance that I boarded the jeep with our fellow travellers. Firstly because they had seen a kill and we had time to get there in the car, to be sure we would get there and see it. Secondly I hate safari jeeps, you are too high up and most often on the wrong side! But John explained to the driver that there was a recent kill and where, the driver replied enthusiastically with “Yis, noooo prooooooblem”. Expecting a little more hastiness, once this nugget of information had been received, we were shocked to have to wait a little longer. Typically someone was late. 
Before setting off we had the pleasure of listening to the jeep full of young American citizens, safari virgins, taking photos of themselves; in the jeep. “Smile….and look scared!”, oh yes, we were really hoping to spend an evening with those guys in tow! On leaving the gates more than a few of us could be heard muttering “Turn off on the S100, turn off….pleeeeeeeease”… and they did. Little did we realize we had been infiltrated, safari virgins were everywhere! 

Now, a select few of us were party to the knowledge that a kill was 12KM down the road. The select few included the driver who, we knew by the fact he avoided the S100, was heading for it. We also predicted, in a collective bout of stupidity, that he might head there in a brisk manner. What we had not accounted for was the freshly arrived SV (I will refer to him as a safari virgin) who took great please in absolutely everything, that includes vegetarians! The first kudu we came to a screeching, as best as one can describe it at 5MPH, halt. We were then given the natural history of the kudu, its feeding habits, its habitats, how to age it from the curvature of the horns and of course the life span. Onwards, with haste, the light doth fail us!

Please excuse the lack of pictures, I was far too busy chewing the side of the jeep by this point.

Then we stopped for the incredibly rare and endangered sand grouse, we had not seen one for over five minutes, in fact we had not only seen a couple of thousand the whole trip so were jolly impressed when the SV pointed it out. Without further a do we were off again, until he spotted a roller, then an impala and a frankolin. 
Now on my side of the jeep I had spotted many vegetarians, small and large, but kept stumm in case we were given a lesson on each of them. Eventually, with the wind behind us we reached a top speed that would make any snail envious, we turned onto the S126 some 12km (about three days drive) later. We could see cars ahead, only fifty metres until we get to see …….. “Oh yeeees, der is a vultcha in da trhi!” some foolish tourist had spotted a bird. Fuck. A stone’s throw from a pride of lions munching away on a male kudu and we were getting a lesson on the Kruger vulture population. I know how many species there are, how big they grow and the PH of their feces but what I don’t yet know is how lions look in the fading light whilst eating a kudu.
I never will know, since the only lions left in the golden light were sat down, bloated from too much protein and as I was at the back I couldn’t see squat. Eventually the driver moved forward and I had a shot of the lazy lions in the last of the light. But I was on a jeep, so about twenty feet too high for my liking. I really wanted a beer and a baseball bat, but then again the driver did have a gun (perhaps to protect him from pissed off photographers?).

Anyway, the buzz in the jeep eventually wore off and the driver decided to continue up the road.
We did see hyenas, arriving for the kill of course, and the usual host of nocturnals including genets, sivets and a white rhino. A large breeding herd of elephants could be seen heading towards the kill site and the driver was of the opinion that the lions would be scared off eventually. 
Later brought the real action. Another pride of lions moved in on the kill, we could not see much with the onboard lamps but what we did see was far out done by the roaring of the females and the male. The original pride were run off the kill, although by now they must have had a fair fill. The roaring alone made the drive pretty memorable, shame about the beginning.

Day thirteen
First thing we headed for the kill hoping something would have hung around. But it was mostly vultures picking at the kudu carcass (which had been dragged almost behind the grass!). 
There were still lions down the road but they soon wandered off before the masses arrived. We saw a passing glimpse as they disappeared. 

We left Satara and headed for our last camp, Skukuza. I have fond memories of the area, Lake Panic and the river always providing a sighting of some kind. So I was a bit miffed to find Lake Panic had been taken over by darters, which meant the kingfishers were perched elsewhere :( But they did flit in and out occasionally. Plenty of herons around too but nothing to write home about.

Other shots of note were some (gnus)wildebeest running around and an ibis.

That evening Sue decided to come with me leaving Andrew back at camp to drink tea and sort out his shots. Would we get lucky a third time? 
Not far from camp a pick-up stopped us and told us to hit the un-mapped road on the right. So we did. Bingo. 

Three males and three females sat upon a small hillock giving us quite a nice angle. There were lots of cars and we left as late as we could. As usual it was rather dark but we did our best. Unfortunately, for us, one male decided to mate with a female but the hill obscured our no mating shot :( 
Our biggest problem was, however, what to tell Andrew?

Day fourteen
Not much to show for our last full day in the park, some hippos asleep at Panic Lake just about topped the charts for the day. There were some elephants along the way of course but I have lost the will to process.

Day fifteen
I will cut our exit from the park short. It was cloudy and cold and the highlight was the weir at Biyamiti. Then we left.

The rest of the photos will be added here in due time kruger 2011