February 20th, 2015

Londolozi Trip

We have been visiting the African bush for years and we try to take every opportunity we can to get out there. There is a sense of stillness and excitement when one is in the bush that is quite unique. The buzzing ‘silence’ sets one’s senses working overtime: sight, sound, smell, taste and even touch are getting a fair share of work in the bush.

Note: click on each of the images to get a larger view. To exit the large view, click the ‘x’ in the top right corner.

We have experienced all sorts of bush lodges and we have wanted to visit the Sabi Sands Game Reserve for years. The region’s reputation for good game viewing is well established. We had read the books, watched the documentaries and followed the progress of famous leopards over the years. Last year we decided it was time to visit Londolozi Game Reserve, part of the Sabi Sands. Photographing the animals and in particular the leopard was high on the priority list.

Going a bit wider with the zoom, gives a nice inclusion of the surroundings.

On one of our first rides into the bush we met with an older leopard male, just waking up out of his afternoon nap. Londolozi is a private game reserve and the rangers may go off-road and follow the game into the bush when appropriate. We were able to get really close and have an almost personal interaction with this male. I had a good opportunity getting the images I wanted.

Zooming tighter provided this proud pose of the leopard.

Getting to see and, in particular photograph, leopards was high on our wishlist. We were very lucky to see leopard on more than one occasion. The rangers take great care when they approach animals and the animals are well habituated to the presence of the vehicles. This is of course great for photography and game-viewing.

The leopard female.

On our last full day at Londolozi we were treated to a spectacular display of a male and female leopard courting and mating. For thirty minutes we witnessed them vocalising to each other, walking around, flopping down and eventually also making sure the species continues to thrive. As Londolozi has a strict visiting policy (max #vehicles = 3) for any sighting, we released our spot for another vehicle after we had our fair share of taking images.

The act

The excitement of the bush is that you never know what may appear just over the next rise or behind the next bush. On one of our morning drives we visited a hyena den. At least one mother, an older cub and two younger cubs were present. Hyenas evoke many responses but cute is rarely one of those. We definitely had the cute response when we saw following scene.

The two cubs were chasing each other like domesticated puppies, playing and fighting over a piece of bark. They were having the time of their lives, we did too. For at least twenty minutes, they ran around the termite mound and raced past the vehicle and one of them gave one of the tyres a playful bite. Because it was overcast this morning, I set my camera in manual mode (by histogram check). Light conditions being the same for the time we were there, I didn’t have to reset the light settings on my camera. It was a very special encounter.

We left the scene as the smallest and cutest one glanced at us as if to say: “Oh … were you there ?”.

During an afternoon drive we came close to a group of giraffe and our ranger decided to give this group of eight giraffe a closer look. He parked the vehicle and invited all of us on board to get off and follow him in single file as we carefully approached the herd on foot! This is generally strictly forbidden in most game parks. It was really special to be on the same ‘level’ as the game, although that is not entirely applicable in this case. The eight giraffe all looked at us then turned and slowly continued on their way moving into a thicker part of bush. Since we were positioned with the sun in front of us, I processed this image to make it even more dramatic.

The past year has been one of the worst with regards to the poaching of rhino in South Africa. On average three rhino were (and probably still are) poached per day. We were very pleased to see that these animals were still present here. Private patrols have been effective in helping to protect these magnificent animals.

We were also lucky to see a group of three grazing rhino, also known as a ‘crash’ of rhinos. It was very special.

In all of our years in the bush I have seldom seen cheetah. It was therefore very special to come across this beautiful female cheetah. It was later on the morning drive and she was in hunting mode: constantly looking around. She then jumped on a fallen tree to have a better view of the surroundings.

I asked our ranger to move the landrover, to better position the vehicle in relation to the sun position. In the below image the sun is more behind us and she gave us a stunning viewing position.

At one stage she suddenly accelerated away from us in pursuit of a steenbok, a small antelope. The chase was brief, the little steenbok escaped and after that she searched for some shade to recover from the sprint.

Pushing the shutter button during the jawn, I managed to get the widest gape.

Often when one sees buffalo there are only a few animals in view. If there are more they are usually hidden deeper in the bush. We entered the open plain in the middle of the Londolozi concession and we were in the middle of an enormous herd of buffalo grazing, resting and socialising. Amazing.

Lions are always a big attraction. Despite their reputation, one mostly sees them lying down and doing pretty much nothing. They usually rest in the heat of the day and generally only become active as the light goes. Our sighting was no exception.

They yawned and stretched and changed lying positions. Nevertheless, I was able to capture proof of their reputation. Note the teeth in the following image.

A complete BIG 5 experience when the elephant is added to the list. We saw them a number of times in the reserve, placid and relaxed. A good sign as it indicates they have been leading a peaceful life in the reserve and not chased by poachers.

This disturbingly still elephant was simply taking an afternoon nap.

Our visit was a very satisfying experience – I was going home with a slightly overwhelming number of images to keep me busy for a while.

Lesley was keen to meet Elmon Mhlongo, one of the longest staying and knowledgeable rangers at work at Londolozi. He is the famous tracker from the Londolozi Leopard documentaries filmed by wildlife filmmaker John Varty. Here flanked by Lesley and yours truly.

Last but not least, we were very impressed with how Londolozi treats its staff and gave us a tour of the accommodation village and how operations work behind the scene. Staff is living on and in the camp site boundaries. Offices, a school for the kids and an advanced study centre are part of the community providing all the facilities for staff and families. Sustainable development and community involvement are well implemented at Londolozi.

We were both very impressed by the village tour. It gave true meaning to the meaning of the word Londolozi: “Protector of all living things”.

See more images of our trip here: Londolozi Photo Gallery.

January 30th, 2015

Young Leopard


I am working through files from old trips. In recent times I learned a ton of new and improved processing methods. The files I am working now are from trips in 2008 and my ‘dark-room’ skills were definitely not as tuned as they are today. When going through the folders and processing this leopard image, I thought it was time to post it here. The image shown here is from a scene in Kruger park, near Paul Kruger gate. As we were leaving the park to go home, there was this traffic jam, cars packed around a tree with 2 leopards. One leopard, the mother, had just dragged an impala up the trunk of a tree. This young female leopard was impatiently moving in trees around the tree where the mother was eating. She gave a nice glare at all the fuss going on at the roadside.

December 11th, 2013

Colorful Beauty

Common Kingfisher

Last weekend I went out to shoot at a bird-sanctuary near Zürich. Anette Mossbacher from BPN accompanied me.
Star of the afternoon was the Common Kingfisher. We sat in a hide, overlooking a part of the lake. Most of the lake was frozen and the kingfisher was mostly hovering around an open patch in the ice. Now and then the kingfisher crossed to the other part of the lake and twice she positioned herself on a reed-stem in gorgeous afternoon light. Even with the 600mm lens with a 2x converter it was still quite a distance.

October 13th, 2013

Save the Rhino Petition at Avaaz.org


white-rhino-family_jock50d_26-09-2009_img_8405

Save the Rhino

John Varty, filmmaker and owner of Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, wrote an open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa, now Vice President of the ANC in South Africa. John basically wants these poachers, mainly form Mozambique, be treated as invaders.

The whole issue with Rhino horn is that the horn is made of keratin, the same material as our finger nails. If keratin has medicinal value (it hasn’t), biting your nails will have the same effect. Leave these animals alone !

Please join the efforts to stop this slaughter. As we speak, nearly 800 Rhino have been killed this year alone. Goto the link below and sign the petition. Avaaz has a good record of creating awareness on political levels with encouraging results.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_Rhino_Poaching_in_South_Africa_1

Below is the actual letter that John Varty sent to the South African government:

Dear Sir,

Having recently personally purchased for R18 million a buffalo bull, I know you are someone who cares about our wildlife and heritage.

My problem is this, in September 2011, I implored the President, Jacob Zuma to treat the invasion of Mozambicans who are killing our rhino as an invasion of our country.

I feel the President, like President Ian Khama of Botswana, should be at the forefront of this rhino crisis.

As from my attached letter, you will see that the war is intensifying into the private game reserves. In desperation, I have written a letter to the Minister of Defense, but I have had no response.

I find the ANC Government aloof and non-communicative with its citizens.

Can you urge the Minister of Defense to commit troops to crush this poaching once and for all.

Could you as Vice President of ANC, take this crisis into your own hands and play the role that President Ian Khama is playing. This involves appearing on TV, motivating and inspiring us who are trying to combat the poaching. We desperately need leadership!

The fire that you displayed when you were leading the unions against the big mining companies during apartheid, is needed now!

Please reply to jv@jvbigcats.co.za
Cell number: 083 6511 600

Tread Lightly on the Earth
John Varty
Co-owner of Londolozi Game Reserve
Founder of Tiger Canyons

This letter is copied to the following:
1) President of South Africa – Jacob Zuma – president@po.gov.za
2) Min Defence and Military Veterans – Ms Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula – siphiwe.dlamini@dod.mil.za
3) Min Justice and Constitutional Development – Mr Jeff Radebe – Mediaenquiries@justice.gov.za
4) Min Police – Nathi Mthethwa – zwelim@saps.org.za
5) Min Tourism – Marthinus van Schalkwyk – mbloem@tourism.gov.za
6) Min Water and Environmental Affairs – Edna Molewa amodise@environment.gov.za
7) Premier Mpumalanga – Mr David Dabede Mabuza premier@prem.mpu.gov.za
8) Premier Eastern Cape – Ms Noxolo Kiviet – nolwando.stofile@otp.ecprov.gov.za
9) Leader DA – Helen Zille leader@da.org.za
10) Cyril Ramaphosa – vice president ANC – sngubane@anc.org.za

August 12th, 2013

Macro Day

Rösti Rasp Reflection in Olive Oil

Yesterday we went to a macro workshop, organised by Markus Bissig. Markus is a gifted photographer and he also has a passion for cooking. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen, he ‘saw’ how simple objects could be used as great subjects for photography: in a macro kind of way. He uses an industrial studio in Uster, where some well-known kitchen tools are collected to be used in this great workshop. He, as he says it, has a fetish for the Rösti Rasp. With light, composition and a macro lens you can come to some surprising results. My favorite of yesterday was a setup whereby I positioned some olive oil drops on a mirror and reflected a red-lit rasp above the mirror. The images are somehow a bit abstract but there is a lot of fun involved making these kind of images. The result is shown above. More of the kitchen-macro images can be found here…

July 29th, 2013

Fract Mills

Fractalius Mills of Kinderdijk

This weekend I have been playing with the new fractalius plugin for Photoshop-Elements. I have been experimenting a lot with birds and with buildings and this one came out quite well. Perhaps I find some setting that might even work for people, although revealing the eyes on humans is looking a bit weird :).

This image from the Kinderdijk windmills was created during our Netherlands tulip tour.
The original image is displayed below.

Early morning Kinderdijk
July 27th, 2013

Patience

Fractalius Swan

After much debate, I finally decided to take the route I should have gone long ago: get a fractalius plugin. But since I am a MAC user, this plugin is not available for a MAC installed copy of Photoshop. What I do have is a VMWare installed copy of Windows XP, where I occasionally use Breeze Browser to get some additional information from an image.
Today I purchased a copy of Photoshop Elements V11 and a license for the Fractalius plugin.
There has been much debate on the net as to why the developer of Fractalius does not release a copy of this plugin for the MAC community. However, I can relate the motivation(s) not to.

The above image is rendered with a glow100 filter, from the image below.
In an additional layer mask I revealed the eye and the bill from the below layer.
Shoot me an email if you have questions about the installation of VMWare, PS Elements or Fractalius on your MAC.

NB:

  • a license for VMWare for MAC is €50
  • a license for PS Elements V11 for Windows is €100
  • a license for Fractalius is $40
June 13th, 2013

Flamingoes of the Camargue

On our way to Spain, we made a stopover in the Camargue, at the Rhone Delta west of Marseille.
The images below are from two afternoon sessions. Click on a thumbnail to get a larger version of the image.

December 5th, 2012

I Wish

Normally I glance over advertisements, but tonight Triodos Bank grabbed my attention with a TV commercial. A simple question: “what do you want to change ?”. A simple question. And I yelled: “I wish that rhino-horn becomes worthless”. The commercial appealed to go to their website and express your wish. I did and it was posted. I have no ties to this bank, but I was moved by their question and motivated to wish and do something.

Asian medicine is still convinced that rhino horn powder cures a wide variety of diseases and today their horn is valued more than gold. The animals are slaughtered in the African bush at an alarming rate. In South Africa alone, the number of animals wasted this year is somewhere near 600. To cure what ?

I wish that future generations can still watch this:

White Rhino, photographed in 2008 in Kruger National Park, South Africa
August 30th, 2011

Give and Take: tale of a leaf

Galapagos: tale of a leaf

On the morning of 7 July we had a panga ride through a mangrove forest. The atmosphere was magical. In the background the sound of the sea and in the channel system a serene peace.

When peddling through the channels, you can sort of imagine how buccaneers and pirates went through these channels some hundred years ago. A number of animal species also use the peace of the mangrove-forest for security and for regaining strength: turtles, rays and numerous species of fish were spotted.

Our knowledgeable guide Juan pointed us to a particular feature of the mangrove trees: since they are completely submerged in the seawater they are designed and forced to deal with the salt water. The tree evolved to have a very efficient filter to get rid of the salt, as salt is not contributing to the growth of the tree: the mangrove tree is able to filter 99% of the salt out of the seawater.

The last percent needs to be dealt with too and the tree does this by sacrificing one leaf of each cluster of four. So what you’ll see is a green tree with lots of yellow leaves: the tree accumulates the salt from the filtered seawater in one leaf and will discard this leaf. The leaf will drop to the water, sinks to the bottom, ferments and rots away to then provide the necessary minerals for next generations of trees or other plants of the forest.

The image above portrayed this cycle of life quite nicely: the dying leaf, hanging above the water is about to be handed over to the sea, containing the last bits of salt, showing this remarkable relationship between tree and sea.