Friday, August 26, 2011

Creepy Crawlers

After last week's blog, a few people who know me well contacted me asking why I left out a photo of the scorpion that was discovered by the campfire. While I do not have a photo of THE scorpion, they know me well because I take advantage of any and all photo opportunities and do have one of the MANY like it discovered next day during daylight hours. I have included it here. 
Thank goodness I was unaware of the number of them in the area before turning in for the night or I would not have slept at all or ventured out alone into the darkness when nature called! (I am so brave...!)
Scorpion
I am also thankful that I was unaware of the fact that scorpions seek out warm places in the cool night time hours: "warm places" translates to "under the canvas floor of our tents!!!" One was found beneath one of the tents when we broke camp on morning #2.
Remember I mentioned that this charming campsite was on a level sandy area? Well, in the early daylight hours, the sandy area was covered with a variety of insect tracks criss-crossing every which way. The low light of the sun accentuated the different patterns left behind by tiny feet. And so, we spent the early morning tracking and identifying the insects responsible for the beautiful patterns left behind.
Tracks

It was fascinating to see the variety of creepy crawly critters: dung beetles, armoured crickets, and scorpions! As creepy as these insects can be, the more we stalked them and observed them, the less creepy they became... Of course, we stalked them with cameras in hand and were rewarded with numerous photo opportunities to explore light and shadow as well as behaviors.
Breakfast Protein
Showing Scale
Armoured crickets (Acanthoplus discoidalis) are huge and quite intimidating when you first see one. After a while, they become ordinary and commonplace after seeing so many. BUT BEWARE! Our guide told us that even though they are referred to as “crickets,” they can inflict a painful bite!!! This is why I squealed whenever one came close…
Their tracks surrounded our tents (obviously, they were looking for a warmer place during the night, too!) and they showed up in very odd places. I have included a photo of one on the frying pan at breakfast time and one by my size 7 shoe for scale. I loved how the low light of the sun made their shadows so tall!!
So Tall!
Rolling....
Digging...
Burried!
Dung beetles collect animal dung, roll it and then lay their eggs in the formed ball. Next they dig a place to bury the dung ball. The dung beetle at left is hard at work rolling the dung ball and digging. It was so interesting to watch it. The entrance to his freshly dug tunnel looked like a fan in the sand. (Below Left)
On our previous visits to Namibia, we learned about these creatures’ presence solely by their tracks left on the sand; but this time, because we were camping, we were treated to actual observation the creatures themselves. What an unexpected bonus photo opportunity these little critters and their tracks turned out to be!

 
Feel free to click on any of the featured photos to see them larger.

Friday, August 19, 2011

An Unexpected Starry,Starry Night...

June 15, 2011- a night I will remember for the rest of my life! 
We were in Namibia, driving from the Marienfluss in the Hartman Valley to Serra Cafema - a full day of 4WD rugged roads up and down mountain ranges in the literally in the middle of nowhere…

The plan was to camp near Serra Cafema for 2 nights.  We arrived to Serra Cafema late in the day as the sun was setting.  Luckily we found what turned out to be a charming spot for wild camping at the base of a large hill on a large expanse of flat sand surrounded by grasses. (‘Charming’, that is, except for the scorpions later discovered by the camp fire!!!)
From our pre-trip research, we knew tonight would be a full moon and we were delighted to have the hill as our foreground element and clear skies to capture it in all its glory.
Tents were set up and dinner was being prepared while we set up our tripods to photograph the moon rising over the hill.  As the moon began to make its appearance, we photographed it, practicing everything we knew about capturing the night time orb at its finest.  While photographing, we were distracted for a few moments by the discovery of a large scorpion by the camp fire!  The discovery of this unexpected and unwanted creature, caused a stir of excitement in the campsite which lasted a few minutes while it was captured and deposited into the surrounding grasses.  We then went back to photographing our moon.  Looking up, I said, “Guys? What’s happening to the moon?”  It looked like it was getting smaller and was a slightly odd shape.  As time continued to pass, we realized we were in for a treat: We were experiencing a lunar eclipse! 
Dinner was then ready and we sat down to eat, but we photographers had our eyes on the sky.  The moon continued to disappear and the stars were getting brighter!  We inhaled our dessert and went back to photographing this unexpected and amazing phenomenon.  It progressed to be not simply a lunar eclipse, but a TOTAL one at that!!!  With the moon obliterated by the shadow of the earth, and no light pollution, except for our glowing red headlamps, we were treated to a most amazing sight: millions of stars and the Milky Way as I have never seen it!
We photographed as quickly as we could before the shadow of the earth slowly slipped by the moon.  Once gone, the moon shone brightly, illuminating the landscape as if it were daytime. Some of the stars dimmed and others disappeared.  Sadly, the show was over but we felt very special to have witnessed it, as if Mother Nature put it on just for us!

The peak of whole event lasted a very short time, but the  incredible experience will last in my memory forever…

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cheetahs

                                     One of the most beautiful big cats is the cheetah. (Acinonyx jubatus )  Cheetahs are quite elusive in the wild. The word "cheetah" is derived from a Sanskrit word  meaning "variegated." Their spotted coat acts to camouflage them in the grasses of the African plains.  The dark stripes around their eyes act to decrease the brightness and glare of the hot African sun.  Cheetahs are the only cat that does not have retractable claws.  The genus name, Acinonyx, is Greek and means "no-move-claw."  The species name, jubatus, is Latin and means "maned", which refers to the mane found in cheetah cubs.

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal reaching running speeds of 60-70 mph and is able to go from 0 to 60 miles an hour in only three seconds!  Because of their speed, they are very successful at hunting.  Cheetahs hunt during the day by first using their keen eyesight to find its prey. Once in their sights, they stalk and chase it down. The kill lasts only 20-60 seconds.  After the kill, the cheetah needs about 30 minutes to catch its breath before eating.  It often drags the kill to a shady spot not only to hide from their  own predators, but also to hide from other animals who may steal their hunting reward before it can be eaten.  Because of prowling in the daylight hours, they are vulnerable to being preyed upon by their natural enemies: lions. 

Cheetahs are listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN red list.  They used to roam most of Africa and Asia, but their numbers have decreased drastically due to human encroachment of their habitat. Currently, their range of habitat is only south of the Sahara Desert.  According to Defenders of Wildlife, it is estimated that only 9000-12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild.  Their typical prey of hares, impalas, gazelles and wildebeest calves are also declining in numbers.  Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate falling prey to lions, hyenas, and even eagles during their first 3 months of life.

On my most recent trip to Namibia, I had the thrilling opportunity to observe and photograph these beautiful cats at Harnas Wildlife Foundation. 

Images of my memorable afternoon with the cheetahs can be seen in the Cheetah Photo Gallery at throughwendyslens.com



Friday, August 5, 2011

African Wild Dogs


The African Wild Dog is found only in Africa and is closely related to the wolf.  The scientific name (Lycaon pictus) is derived from the Greek word meaning “painted.”  Because of this fact, they are also referred to as Painted Dog, Painted Wolf, or Spotted Wolf, each which accurately describes the appearance of their mottled coat.  No two dogs are marked the same, and unlike the domestic dog, which has five toes on each foot, it only has four. (Lacking a dewclaw)  They live in packs and together they are very organized and efficient hunters.  Their targeted prey rarely escapes and is consumed by the pack in a matter of minutes. 

The African wild dog is listed as ‘endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act and on the IUCN red list.
In some areas, they are close to extinction. Between 2,000 and 5,000 African wild dogs remain in the wild, mostly in game preserves or national parks.  African wild dogs face a number of serious threats, including habitat loss, human persecution (hunting and poisoning), disease spread from domestic animals and isolated populations. 

Currently one of the few captive populations of African Wild Dogs in Namibia is at The Harnas Wildlife Foundation. This population grew from various packs of wild juvenile and adult dogs. All the dogs in the first pack were very badly wounded.  The Harnas Wildlife Foundation’s efforts are helping to conserve the African Wild Dog population and one can read about and support their mission here. 

On my recent trip to Namibia, and visit to Harnas, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to watch and photograph a pack of dogs in their feeding frenzy- an event that is extremely rare to see in the wild!

Some of my images captured during that exciting morning can be seen in my newly posted AFRICAN WILD DOGS GALLERY.