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Canon 20D

Bird photography, approaching your subject

Walk softly and carry a camera! Early in the 20th century there was a US president (Theodore Roosevelt) whose approach to international relations was supposedly summed up with the phrase ‘walk softly and carry a big stick’.    Well I’ll paraphrase that as ‘walk softly and carry a camera!’     Today’s image was captured near the St Lucia Wetlands in South Africa.    I found a small area of light forest and could hear several birds calling from the bushes and so set out to get a photo or two.

Carrying the Canon 20D and a 70-300mm zoom lens,  I slowly and quietly walked,  looking and listening as I did so.    This is an area where the wildlife,  birds included,  get to see people fairly frequently.    I found that not just walking softly but actually stopping in one spot for a few minutes was the best approach.    The birds were aware of my presence and became curious after a time, alighting on nearby twigs or branches to have a quick look at,  and assess me.   This photo was taken with precisely this approach.    The bird settled for just a moment,  I raised the camera to my eye without any sudden movement and got several frames before he/she lost interest and flew on.

My only regret here is that I can't identify the species,  if anyone has any idea,  let me know.

Bird perched on twig, South Africa

As a post script,  let me recall an experience from many years ago when I was walking along a bush walking trail in my home state of Victoria,  Australia.    I wasn't carrying a camera at the time (this was well pre-digital) but was walking slowly, quietly and listening as I walked.    I heard a sound in the nearby scrub and slowly crouched down to look through a gap in the bushes whereon I observed a Superb Lyrebird scratching around in the leaf litter on the forest floor.   I sat for several minutes and watched this wonderful bird, a rare privilege,  before he disappeared deeper into the forest out of view.   I only got this opportunity because I thread softly and quietly,  respectful of the bush.

A few minutes latter,  I encountered a small group of fellow walkers,  I believe overseas visitors,  walking in the opposite direction.    They were talking loudly,  laughing and walking quickly.    I imagine they had a pleasant walk but I'm also sure that they would have seen very little wildlife/birdlife.    I wonder if they later reflected on their outing.... it was very nice but there weren't many birds!   ~KD.

Egyptian Goose and the late afternoon

Egyptian Goose, Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa Photographed in Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Park,  South Africa, this is one of a pair of Egyptian geese that I observed at a water hole late in the afternoon, very late in the afternoon actually (as I’ll discuss in a moment).    In the park there were several water holes where permanent hides had been erected.    I set up the camera and tripod and observed numerous animals come down to the water,  giraffe,  zebra,  elephant, kudu and several bird species.

I was staying outside the park and using a rental car to visit and get around the twin reserves of Hluhluwe and Imfolozi.  Being aware that the park(s) closed their gates at a given,  published,  time,  I knew that leaving the waterhole,  I had to give myself sufficient time to get out or risk being locked in overnight.   Sadly,  I underestimated,  by quite a margin,  how long it would take to drive out.   Darkness was falling and there are sensible speed limits in place.  Any any event,  driving quickly on the gravel roads is foolhardy as you must consider the possibility of wildlife wandering onto or across the road in the darkness.   Colliding with,  or startling,  an elephant can end badly for both the animal and the car and driver!

By the time I got to the park exit,  it was dark and the gates were shut and locked.   Now I had a dilemma!   The prospect of sleeping overnight in a car by the side of the road didn't appeal.

Next to the gate was a track which led a short distance to a cottage,  the gatekeeper/ranger's post?   I had little alternative,   I made my way along the path to the cottage,  nervously peering into the darkness and noting every mysterious noise.     On getting to the cottage,  I could see that there was a light on,  I knocked on the door,  no response.    Don't tell me!  Surely there has to be someone present.    I looked through a window and could see a kettle on the stove.   I knocked on the door again only louder.   This was enough to stir the ranger inside who came to the door and looked incredulously at his unexpected caller.    I explained my predicament and,  with considerable apprehension,  he unlocked the gates for me,  nervously muttering "lions"  as he did so.

Lesson learnt,  give yourself more time than you believe you need to exit a wildlife reserve!

The image was captured with the 500mm F4.0 telephoto lens on a Canon 20D which has a 1.6x crop factor and so the equivalent angle of view as an 800mm lens on a full frame body.   ~KD.

Hippopotamus, St Lucia Wetlands, South Africa.

Hippos and religion.

Photographed on the waterways of the St Lucia Wetland Park on the east coast of South Africa,  these were two of several hippopotamus that I saw whilst undertaking a boat trip together with about 30 or 40 other tourists.   The hippos were unconcerned by the presence of the boat (they probably get to see it every day).

Although apparently docile here,  hippos are reputedly the most dangerous animals in Africa killing and injuring more people than either lions or crocodiles.   I think there’s several reasons for this,  they can be very territorial and unpredictable,  despite their bulk they can also move surprisingly fast when alarmed or startled.   They have poor eyesight and when out of water and startled, they will run straight towards water and not sidestep anything or anybody,  so if you’re in their path you get trampled.

I suspect that it has a lot to do with human behaviour as well,  people may not recognize the danger hippos represent and put themselves in a position of risk.    Most people,  even those who are reckless with some subconscious Darwinian instinct to remove themselves from the gene pool,  recognize that lions and crocodiles are dangerous,  the claws,  the teeth,  it’s obvious even to a fool!    But hippos look friendly, maybe even cute and so don’t get the same level of respect.   I believe the situation is mirrored in North America where moose hurt as many,  or more,  people than grizzly bears do.  I suspect it’s the same issue of human behaviour,  I won’t go anywhere near a bear cause they’re dangerous,  but that moose looks fairly docile,  I might go over and try and pat him!   (Perhaps my US and Canadian friends can offer their insight on this)

Strange some of the other ideas people get.  Whilst I was on the boat I was approached by an older South African gentleman,  well spoken,  presumably well educated,  who overheard my Australian accent.   He said,  “I understand you’re from Australia.”    I said,  “Yes,  I am.”    He said,  “I’d like to ask a question if I may.   I was thinking of travelling to Australia but I’m concerned,  I’m told that there are no churches in Australia any more,  that they’ve all been closed down.   Is that correct?”     This man was absolutely serious,  I was incredulous!   My facial expression probably resembled one of these hippos.   I assured him that there are probably just as many churches in Australia today as there have ever been and there is no move to close any of them!

Animals are cool,  it’s the humans that are weird!

Hippopotamus mother and calf, St Lucia Wetlands, South Africa.

Canon 20D with 500mm lens at F8.0, shutter speed 1/1000 second at ISO 400.

One from the Hippo family album!    :-)  ~KD

Cape Eagle Owl, Hluhluwe, South Africa

A Cape Eagle Owl (Bubo capensis) perches with its head effortlessly rotated through 180 degrees.

Cape Eagle Owl perched in tree, Hluhluwe, South Africa.

During my travels through South Africa, I visited Hluhluwe (pronounced; Shesh shlewee) Game Reserve in the Kwazulu-Natal region.   This game reserve and the adjoining Imfolozi Reserve are said to have the highest density of wildlife of any of the reserves in South Africa.

****   Updated 18.11.16.   When originally published,  I identified this bird as a "Great Spotted Owl".   With further research,  I now believe it's actually the Cape Eagle Owl as per the title.  If this is incorrect,  I'm happy to be corrected.   The original capture was with the 500mm F4.0 telephoto lens on a Canon 20D with it's 1.6x crop factor giving an equivalent angle of view as 800mm on a full frame camera.   The image was under-exposed in camera (not intentionally!) which needed to be corrected in post processing.  Also in processing,  a distracting twig was carefully cloned out and the file taken into Nik Software (now Google) Color Efex Pro where a "detail extractor" filter was selectively applied.   ****      ~KD