Archives for September 2012

Night Sky At Manzanita

Warm temps, a clear sky, a rare thing at the beach so, off we went to photograph the night sky from the beach with a bonfire in the distance…

Nikon D4, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

 

Turning 160 degrees to the southwest I photographed the Milky Way…

Nikon D4, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

And then I turned the camera off and simply enjoyed the beautiful evening for a few minutes with  my honey!

Kenya: Samburu National Reserve The Ele’s

If you were wondering why there weren’t any elephant images during our three days in Samburu, it’s because, I wanted to do a complete post of just Ele’s.  Who can resist these wonderful giants with their deep rooted family bonds, their grace, their majesty!  Simply put; they stole my heart!  I have taken the liberty of copying interesting elephant information from the Elephant Watch Safari Camp website…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC 14E II

Interesting Facts About Elephants:

  • The lifespan of an elephant is about 60 years.
  • Females have a square or pointed forehead, slim tusks, and two breasts between her forelegs.
  • In addition to the features above, the ears of the elephants (size, shape, and nicks) aid in identification.
  • Females reach puberty at 10-13 years.
  • Gestation in the females is 22 months (about 660 days), and they usually give birth to single calves – twins are rare.
  • Female elephants will have from 5 to 10 calves in her lifetime, one every two and a half to three years on average.
  • The suckling period for calves is 24 to 48 months.
  • While males reach puberty at 12-14 years, they only experience their first full “musth” at nearly 30 years of age, and it is unlikley they will mate with a female at the height of her oestrus period prior to then.
  • The bulls are taller and heavier, with a bigger head, rounded forehead, and thicker tusks.
  • They can browse for up to 18 hours in a day and recent research has found out what an elephant eats through the isotopes of the tail hair.
  • A big bull can drink up 250 litres a day.
  • If allowed to live, tusks can reach a length of 2 metres and weigh up to 60 kgs and more.
  • The trunk is a nose, a hose and a hand and has over 45000 muscles.
  • MAN is the ONLY predator of adult elephants (unprotected calves can be felled by lions).

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q: What do you call a male adult elephant? And an adult female? What about a baby? Elephants have little in common with cattle, but they share with them the names for adult male (bull), adult female (cow) and juvenile (calf). Even their collective noun is the same; a herd of elephants.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-20E III

 

Q: What are the closest relatives of elephants?
Elephants, hyraxes and sea cows (dugongs and manatees) are related. Most genetic studies place the sea cows closer to elephants than the hyraxes. The aardvark was thought to be the next closest group, but recent genetic studies suggest that the perissodactyla (horses, tapirs and rhinos) are more closely related to the elephant. The common ancestor between elephants and aardvarks lived some 55 million years ago…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:I heard that elephants can regrow their tusks – is it true?
Humans grow two sets of teeth in their lifetimes – the rootless “milk teeth” of childhood and the second, rooted set of teeth which are supposed to last into old age. With the amount of food elephants eat every day, their teeth wear down at alarming rates, and that’s why they grow not two but six sets of chewing teeth (molars) in their lifetimes. Tusks do not wear out so fast, so an elephant does not grow more than one set in its life. In fact, tusks are rootless, just like human milk teeth. However, they do continue to grow in length throughout the lifetime of the elephant.

Nikon D$, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II

 

Q:What does an elephant use its tusks for?
Elephants use their tusks to pry bark off trees or dig for roots, and in social encounters as an instrument of display or as a weapon.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:What is the full purpose of the elephant’s trunk?
The trunk combines both nose and upper lip and transforms them into a single powerful organ that is able to touch, grasp and smell. It is strong enough to uproot a tree, sensitive enough to pick up a pea-sized fruit from the ground, and long enough to reach foliage high in the trees. The trunk is also used to drink by sucking up water and squirting it into the mouth. Finally, elephants use their trunks for greeting, caressing, threatening, and throwing dust over the body. The elephant’s trunk has about 15,000 muscles and it takes baby elephants quite some time to learn to master its use.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:Why does an African elephant have such large ears?
The enormous ears of elephants act as cooling devices. The gigantic earflaps (which can measure up to 2 square metres (21.5 square feet) are equipped with an intricate web of blood vessels. When the animal flaps its ears, the blood temperature lowers by as much as 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit).

Nikon D$, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:Why is an elephant’s skin so wrinkled?
Wrinkles are also related to the need for these large animals to keep their body temperature down. Wrinkles increase the surface area, so there is more skin to wet when the animal bathes. All the cracks and crevices trap moisture, which then takes much longer to evaporate. Thus, a wrinkly elephant keeps cooler for longer than it would with smooth skin.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:How much do elephants drink in a day?
An adult elephant will drink about 225 liters of water per day and this can sometimes be drunk during a single visit. Each trunkful may amount to between 4 and 8 liters…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:How much do elephants eat in a day? What does their diet consist of?
Elephants are herbivores (plant eaters), but they cannot digest cellulose, the substance that makes up much plant matter. They spend about three-quarters of their time, day and night, selecting, picking, preparing and eating food. An adult elephant in the wild will eat in the region of 100 to 200 Kg (220 to 440 lb.) of vegetation per day depending on the habitat and the size of the elephant.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

The number of plant species eaten by any one elephant may vary but it is likely to be more than fifty. About 30-60 per cent of elephant diet is grass, if it is available. Like humans and apes, an elephant’s choice of food-plants will be determined partly by what grows locally, partly by what was learned from its mother, and partly by what it has discovered by trying novel food items. Elephants also select their meals taking into account the time it takes to prepare each mouthful. Eating long grass is probably the easiest and quickest way for an elephant to fill up! On the other hand, one of the most time-consuming food-items for elephants to prepare is bark. With larger trees, the elephant drives a tusk between the bark and the sapwood and then yanks a strip off the tree with its trunk. The soft wood of some trees such as the baobab is also eaten. Such tusking sometimes destroys the whole tree…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:How many hours do elephants sleep?
Elephants normally sleep for a few hours before dawn and again during the heat of the day.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR

 

Q:Do elephants have distinct calving seasons?
Elephants can give birth at any time of the year if food is plentiful all year round. In areas where food is scarce during dry seasons, most births occur during rainy seasons. This ensures that the mother has plenty to eat while she is suckling her calf…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:How many young do elephants have?
Females between 14 – 45 years may give birth to calves approximately every four years with the mean interbirth intervals increasing to five years by age 52 and six years by age 60. Interbirth intervals of up to 13 years may occur depending upon habitat conditions and population densities. The mean calving interval varies from population to population, with high density populations or otherwise nutritionally stressed populations exhibiting longer intervals between births.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR

 

Q:How big are newborn elephants?
After 22 months growing inside its mother’s womb, a newborn baby elephant weighs more than the average adult human being. Female calves weigh 90-100 kg (198 – 221 lb.). Males are heavier and weigh up to 120 kg (265 lb.)

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q: How big do elephants grow?
An adult bull savanna elephant can have a shoulder height of 3.3 meters (11 feet), weigh up to 7,500 Kg (16,538 lb.) and reach a length of 9 meters (30 feet). Females are smaller, weighing up to 3,232 Kg (7,127 lb.) and measuring 2.6 meters (8.7 feet) at shoulder height.
Elephants are unusual among mammals in that they continue to grow throughout their life, although their rate of growth slows after they reach sexual maturity.

Q:
How big are elephant home ranges?
Elephant home ranges vary from population to population and habitat to habitat. Individual home ranges vary from 15 to 3,700 square kilometers (24-5,958 square miles).

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:How do elephants communicate with each other?
Elephants communicate with each other in many ways and with all their senses. They rely less on their eyes than humans do but visual signals are important and the position of their ears and trunks show what mood they are in. Their sense of smell can tell them something about another elephant’s health or sexual condition. Touch can also be used to convey some information. However, the main way an elephant communicates deliberately is by sound. Elephant vocalizations range from high-pitched squeaks to deep rumbles, two-thirds of which are emitted at a frequency too low for the human ear to detect. Such low frequency calls may be heard by other elephants at distances of at least eight kilometers.

Recent studies also show that foot stomping and low rumbling emitted by elephants generate seismic waves in the ground that can travel nearly 20 miles along the surface of the Earth. Elephants may be able to sense these vibrations through their feet and interpret them as warning signals of a distant danger. They may therefore be communicating at much farther distances than previously thought.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:Is it true that an elephant never forgets?
Elephants do have remarkable memories. In the wild, elephants appear to remember for years the relationships with dozens, perhaps hundreds of other elephants, some of whom they may see only occasionally. They also have an impressive memory for places to drink and to find food. This information gets passed on from generation to generation.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:What is the role of old female elephants in elephant society?
Elephants live in a social hierarchy dominated by older females. Females travel in long-lasting social units of about half a dozen adult females and their offspring, with the unit being led by a single older female, the matriarch.

Males do not maintain long-term social bonds, remaining in the unit only into their teens. They then live out their lives in loose bachelor groups or wandering on their own.

To test the importance of the age of the female leader of the individual units, researchers from the University of Sussex, the Institute of Zoology in London and the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya used high-powered hi-fi equipment to play back the sounds of elephant calls.

Calls from complete elephant strangers prompted the mothers to cluster around their young defensively, while familiar calls were ignored.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

The units led by the oldest matriarchs, those with the most experience, were best able to distinguish between friends and those that might present problems by harassing calves or starting disputes.

If these key individuals cannot immediately distinguish between potential threats, their families may spend too much time being defensive and not enough time reproducing. In fact, the scientists found the age of the matriarch to be a significant predictor of the number of calves produced by the family per female reproductive year.

These findings present important implications for conservation of elephants because older, larger animals are more likely to be targets for hunters and poachers, and killing these individuals could weaken entire family units for years.

Nikon D$, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:How long do elephants live?
An elephant can live up to 70 years and when an elephant dies of old age the cause of death is often hunger as the 6th set of molars wears out.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Don’t miss the October 2012 issue of National Geographic with their compelling article “Blood Ivory”…

National Geographic October 2012

 

To help in the fight against illegal poaching of elephants visit Save The Elephants website!

 

Kenya: Samburu National Preserve Day 3

Having multiple days in one location increases the chances of seeing all the subjects that are on our target list.  With great success already under our belts from our first two days, it felt like day 3 was a bonus day and anything we got was all good.  Even with that in mind, we had an outstanding day of both common as well as rare sightings.  Some of the rare sightings were a Reticulated Giraffe at the river getting a drink.  With their long legs, the giraffe must spread it’s legs and bend way down to get a drink of water.  This leaves it in a very vulnerable position and it is a great sight to see when an opportunity presents itself…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

We were also treated to a brief view of an ostrich nursery.  We surprised a group of forty plus- babies and two adult female ostrich.  What a sight it was to see them all running in a group.  Luckily I was able to fire off a handful of shots before they were gone…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

We were treated to another uncommon sighting in the afternoon when we re-visited a rocky canyon area that we had searched earlier for Klipspringer.  This time, patience and Patrick’s eagle eye found a small family  comprised of a ram, a ewe and a lamb.  They cooperated for a good hour providing us with multiple locations and poses to work…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-20E III

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-20E III

 

We were able to approach a Secretary Bird as it worked the open grasses for breakfast…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Once again we had a wonderful variety filled day.  Patrick simply has a knack for finding the unusual anticipating movement and putting us in the best positions photographically.  I always say that your guide can make or break your adventure.  With Patrick, our guide extraordinaire, I knew we were going to have a slam dunk time!…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Stay tuned.

Kenya: Samburu National Preserve Day 2

Once again I awoke well before my wake up call; I’m either still on Pacific Time or simply too excited to sleep…I think it’s a little of both.  After our amazing first day I am filled with anticipation thinking about what we might see this day.  I readied my gear and dressed by the light of my headlamp as it was too early for the camp generator to be on.  Coffee arrived a short time later and after enjoying a cup of Joe sitting on my porch listening to the sounds of wildlife waking to the new day we loaded up and headed out for our morning game drive.

It wasn’t long before we had our lenses trained on a Vervet Monkey sitting on a tree…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Followed shortly by a troop of Olive Baboons that entertained us greatly with their all too human mannerisms…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

A youngster nurses while it’s mother digs for seeds…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

The youngsters hitch a ride when they get tired of chasing after mom…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

A pair of African Crown Cranes worked their way to within photographable distance and posed nicely in the tall, yellow grasses…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

No sooner had Patrick mentioned Pigmy Falcons than we came across a pair of them perched on an Acacia tree…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-20E III

 

In a split second the male copulated with the female and was gone.  Quick reflexes got me a couple of frames before the entire event was over…

Nikon D$, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-20E III

 

While we’re on the topic of pairs, a pair of Red-billed Hornbills perched long enough for a series of photos before they too flew off…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

One was even patient enough to let us get closer.  Hornbills are plentiful in Samburu but, they are a bit shy keeping a buffer that is just out of my preferred range of shooting so, I was overjoyed to get a clean close up of this guy…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Lions are a bonus but, not something we sought out in Samburu as we knew we would have many opportunities for lions in the Masai Mara.  Still, we certainly didn’t pass up a brief opportunity to photograph a lioness when it fell right in our laps…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Timing and quick reflexes are important to capturing what often times is a split second moment in time.  Having our gear situated in the vehicle is important to quick access.  Bruce had two Tenba long lens cases strapped to the rear seats with an AF-S 600mm f4 VR in one and an AF-S 200-400mm f4 VR in the other, with D4 and D800E bodies attached.  I had a D4 mounted to an AF-S 500mm f4 VR (with a TC-14E II attached a good part of the time) in a Kinesis long lens case that I strapped to the seat and a second D4 with an AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II and a TC-20E III available on the other seat with a pillow case thrown over it to keep the dust down.  My D800 with an AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR was nearby for closeups, environmental shots and landscapes.

*Note: My D800 failed about 2/3 of the way into the trip.  The shutter simply stopped working.  I am not claiming that there is an issue with D800’s, simply sharing my experience with you.  I have no idea what caused the failure.  I sent it to Nikon upon my return from Kenya and will let you know the outcome.

Grevy Zebra are unique to Samburu and we kept an eye out for subjects.  We had one pose long enough to get an ID shot to show it’s markings compared to the Burchel’s Zebra that we will see in the Masai Mara…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

While, on the other hand Gerenuk were plentiful (not my experience on my last visit)…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

and we had many opportunities to make images of them sparring…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

But, best of all, we were able to photograph them exhibiting their unique behavior of standing on their hind legs and stretching up into the higher bushes to find tasty leaves…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR

 

We searched a rocky area to find Agama lizards and found them sunbathing on the rocks…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

I’m beginning to realize that I can’t post all the photos that I would like to so, I’ll begin to select a few key images from each day to highlight our photo adventure of a lifetime.  Each afternoon a strange phenomena occurred that would become the standard for the rest of our safari afternoons and that is, stormy weather!  Yes, even though we were in Kenya during the dry season, the afternoons acted like the short rain season that is still over a month away.  Every afternoon the skies clouded up…

Nikon D800, AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

 

And the rains would come!  But we didn’t let that cut short our game drive.  We still had great photo opportunities and the D4’s handled both the low light and the wet weather just fine.  A pair of Eastern (Pale) Chanting Goshawk were hunting in the rain and remained perched long enough for us to make some images…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

before swooping away in search of prey…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

The cooler temperatures brought on by the rains had a positive photographic benefit of African Hares coming out earlier.  We watched a pair of Hares “boxing”…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Another successful day comes to an end, our memories filled with amazing encounters of the wildlife kind.  Patrick succeeded in exceeding any expectations I had and it’s just the second day of three in Samburu!  Stay tuned.