Ever since I have had cameras with flip out screens, I have been far more likely to get down to the right level for a photo. Lying on the ground was something I would only do in the right circumstances. Walking through the arboretum with Nancy is not the right time to get grubby doing that. However, now I can let the camera be low down and check the shots from a slightly more comfortable height. This was the right thing to do when I was taking some shots of some mushrooms. You get a totally different perspective from ground level!
Earlier in the year, I was up at Juanita Bay before things got too warm to make it enjoyable. We get plenty of ducks and coots on the bay but, on this occasion, there were a load of grebes on the water. The types of grebes I grew up with a larger than the ones I saw here. To be honest, I am not certain whether these were adults or juveniles because they seemed to have very small wings. Maybe that is how they are, but it could be that they weren’t fully grown. Maybe some of you know your birds well and can enlighten me.
Anyway, they would periodically get excited and start zipping around the bay. They would be flapping these small wings furiously and just skimming across the water until they found somewhere that they were happier to be. I don’t know whether this is just normal movement or that they were spooked by something but it was fascinating to watch them hurtling around.
When I was a lot younger, I watched wildlife programs on the BBC. There was a film maker that was on my local BBC region called Simon King. He graduated to working in the Maasai Mara where he was on with another photographer and film maker who had been there for many years. His name is Jonathan Scott. He still lives in Kenya and, with his wife Angela who is also a photographer, can be seen out and about in the Mara covering the animals. I was really pleased when we came across the pair of them. He was driving their Land Rover with his wife in the back shooting out the side. He had a camera mounted close but too. I waved at him at one point and he smiled and waved back. Had a bit of a fanboy moment!
We came upon a few filming crews while we were in the Maasai Mara. There were professional photographers but more of the video teams. National Geographic had a crew out working and there were others filming too. You would sometimes find vehicles that were scouting crews for the filming. The thing I found funny was that they often had signs saying that they were filming crews and not to follow them. I might never have paid attention to them until I knew that they were filming crews and might well have good intel about where animals were!
Modified vehicles which allow the camera operator to sit outside the vehicle and shoot looked like just the sort of thing I would like to have. They weren’t always in use, though. I did see one operator sitting inside the vehicle with his feet up while checking stuff on his phone. Looking at the very pricey lenses attached to the camera rigs was almost as fun as looking at the animals. Nat Geo also had a vehicle with a gimbal mount out on the front of the vehicle. It would have been fun to see that in use!
One thing that occurred to me as I watched these teams at work was the volume of material that they would collect that would be culled down to make a TV show. Sure, this would be a vast amount of data to store and sort but how different this must be from the days of wet film. Those crews shooting things like the early Big Cat Diaries must have been carrying a ton of stock and then had to manage all of it through processing and cataloging. That must have been a very time consuming and expensive proposition.
It has been a while since I was down at Juanita Bay. During the summer, the light is harsh, the heat haze is tough, and the humidity is uncomfortable. I also sometimes find myself getting bitten by stuff. However, a pleasant fall afternoon after work seemed like a good time to head down and see what was going on. Things were not too active, but it was nice to relax in the sun as the wildlife did its thing. Sure, an eagle did fly over at one point, but it seemed more interesting in annoying the other birds than actually hunting.
There were tons of coots on the water. They were grouped together with lots of preening and bathing going on along with the regular feeding. At some point, something happened to spook them, though. I don’t know whether there was really anything there or not. I wondered if an otter was under the water, but I never saw any sign of one. Whatever happened, the coots all seemed to get upset and they took off in bunches to go to another part of the bay. Some of them came very close to me so I got them “running” across the surface of the water to find somewhere they felt more relaxed.
At the end of our first day in Amboseli, we came upon a bunch of vehicles that were sitting near some trees. There was nothing apparent to me about what was going on, but the word passed around that a cheetah had been seen near the trees. We sat and waited for a while. The sun was rapidly going down and that meant that any vehicles that weren’t staying in the park, had to be out by the deadline. They had to leave so the remaining vehicles were only those staying inside the park. There were still quite a few trucks but not too many.
Before too long, the cheetah came in to view. It was walking away from the trees but quite far away. Still, it was great to see it. Then a second appeared and the two of them started walking. At first, they seemed to be paralleling the road but soon it was clear that they were converging with it. We would drive a little way down and wait for them to come towards us and they were getting closer and closer. Occasionally they would stop and sit, almost in formation. Then they would start again. We would let them walk past us then drive a little further and wait again. Vehicles were leapfrogging each other as we all did the same thing.
The light was fading fast, and the ISO was really cranking up, but it is incredible what a modern mirrorless camera can do. Meanwhile, the two cheetahs were getting closer and closer to the road until they eventually decided to cross over the other side. Being so close to them was an incredible end to our first full day.
Our next cheetah encounter was a surprise. We drove out towards a tree in some open space (admittedly an area known for cheetahs). There was a truck near the tree but only as we got there did we realize that there was a mother cheetah and her cub sitting in the shade. They were quite relaxed with us there and the cub was sitting next to mum albeit with some long grass making a clear view a touch tricky.
We left them to it but, an hour or so later, as we came along a road, they were walking towards us along the road. Mum was in front with the cub trotting along behind. They went off the road into the grass to pass us but then resumed using the road once they had passed us. It was so cool to see them moving by as if we weren’t there.
Our last cheetah encounter was entirely down to Nancy. We were bouncing along a road at speed as the third of the three trucks. The side of the vehicle was covered in mud as a result of the heavy rains we had been experiencing. Somehow, through a tiny gap of clear window, Nancy spotted a cheetah and called out loudly. We ground to a halt and did a U turn. Sure enough, a cheetah was alongside the road eating what remained of a Thompson’s gazelle. The others turned around to join us as this animal finished its meal. The stomach was looking very full.
The cheetahs are just glorious looking animals. They are small and sleek compared to the larger leopards and the even larger lions. Speed is their thing, and they look so fast even as they are walking. The markings on their face are really interesting too and the cubs look almost sad with the facial lines. There were many high points on this trip, but they were definitely up there.
Walking through the backyard, I noticed a colorful looking beetle on one of the branches of our Japanese maple. Did I shoo it off? Of course not. I ran to get the camera instead. The bug flipped around the branch as I returned and was showing its underside instead which was not what I wanted. I got a shot or two just in case and then waited to see if it would turn over again. Thankfully, it did and I was able to get something closer to the shot that I had originally envisaged.
For the first of my animal related posts from our trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I am going to go with the apex predator – the lions. When we saw our first lion, I was so excited. It was off in the distance that a bunch of lions from a pride were hanging out. A young cub was running around but everything was far away. However, this was just a taster. Before too long, we were right in amongst a pride of lions. They were youngsters one the whole and playing around. One was resting and it turned out to be nursing an injury.
From this point on, we just saw more and more lions. Sometimes they were far away but often they were very close. Usually they were doing nothing. Sleeping during the day is a regular occupation and hunting is something that they prefer to do at night. We came across a solo male (surprisingly close to the spot we had stopped for lunch) and he was quite injured after a battle of some sort. He could look either imposing or vulnerable depending on the moment.
We also came across mating pairs on a couple of occasions. One of these pairs was out on the grass on a sunny day with the light making the male look totally serene. Their lack of interest in us was hard to get used to. (Step out of the vehicle and things would change rapidly!). I liked getting shots of them sleeping too as they often looked like they were in uncomfortable positions. However, a quick opening of the eye would transform the shot.
It was easy to get a bit blasé about the lions after a while. We saw so many and in a variety of locations that it was easy to forget that these were lions for goodness sake! Don’t ever forget that. Now, as I look back through the shots, I am reminded of just how lucky I am and how amazing this was.
Trips to Log Boom Park are usually to see the floatplane activities from Kenmore Air’s base but it also gives the potential for some other airborne photo subjects. On one trip a short while ago, the conditions were a little harsh with strong lighting from overhead, but the local fauna was helping out. Getting eagles there is not too unusual but the warmer weather does mean the possibility of ospreys showing up and they did oblige. No close action as they were fishing but they did get some food from the water and even occasionally managed to fly our way while carrying their successes.
While sitting on the deck one evening, a frog was climbing up a post. I didn’t know how long it would hang around, so I grabbed a few quick pictures with my phone before going inside to get the camera with the macro lens. It hadn’t gone too far when I got back but I was glad I had taken the phone shots when I did. The frog was now climbing up the post and it jumped in to one of the hanging baskets. This made getting shots a touch trickier. There were also bits of plant getting in the way. I ended up using the focus stack function to get a sequence of shots which I then processed in Photoshop later. I just love close up shots of wildlife like this.