Safari Story: Ox Peckers are Everyone’s Friend

Red Billed Ox PeckerWhile we sit an watch the majestic large mammals grazing and herding in front of our open safari vehicle we are not aware of a the subplot playing out around us.  The ox pecker is hard at work rushing about the backs of the animals  cleaning ticks and other parasites from their hides  and their cries go unnoticed by us among the other noises of the bushveld.

African birds photography
Impala spend much time grooming so they enjoy help
African wildlife habits
Even the fierce buffalo bull enjoys a visit from the ox pecker

The red billed ox pecker eat the ticks and other small parasites found on the skin and coats of buffalo, kudu, zebra, giraffes, and other animals.  Their bills are especially adapted to this lifestyle as are their feet.  They also are known to clean open wounds by consuming the rotting wound tissue.   The ox pecker’s presence minimizes the time the host animals needs to spend grooming to remove parasites themselves.

photo safari story about ox peckers
ox pecker ventures into a zebra’s ear
photographing birds on safari
Ox Peckers feel safe and take a break on the back of a rhino
Photographing small animals on safari
Ox peckers working the large surface area of a giraffe

The birds act as watchmen; their rattling alarm calls giving their hosts advance notice of approaching predators.

 

 

 

 

 

A Photo Safari Story: Giraffe Battles

Giraffe may seem the symbol of tranquility in the bush; smoothly and silently watching and eating. In fact, fierce battles between competing males occur and they are a pretty unique thing to witness and photograph.

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Join us on a photo safari in 2014 – some spaces still open!

While on a game drive with a recent photography group, we came around a corner and found our way blocked by two powerful male giraffes who were having a heated battle.  They would posture while standing quite close, then one would begin to swing its neck and quickly the other would counter.  Speed would determine which head ended up wrapped around and on the bottom – the idea position because then they could deliver the blow upwards with their horns.  Well placed blows get the opponent right in the lower jaw,  but other blows could connect with the neck or other body parts, also causing damage.

 

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Our skirmish lasted several rounds and one giraffe backed off with the other following still not declaring victory. Im sure the fight continued after we hastily continued on our way. We didnt want the fight to end up on top of us this time!

Male giraffes sport many scars from the fights needed to gain and maintain a harem.  Some solitary individuals show that they have retired after a successful life of leadership.

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Dung Beetles: Astronavigators and Climate Change Warriors

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Dung beetles use their acute sense of smell to find a fresh pile of dung. Then they form it into a ball and start to roll it a safe distance away so they can eat it in an underground storage den.

 

This humble act helps reduce amount of methane released into the atmosphere  making them a surprisingly effective weapon in the battle against climate change.  According to a recent study, they do it by just digging in and around the dung which helps aerate the turds  reducing the amount of methane formed and released. 

The journey away from the dung pile  is not without drama.  Dung beetles prefer to roll in a straight line else they risk deviating in a circle and ending up back at the pile where another beetle will undoubtably steal their ball.

Studies had previously shown that dung beetles were able to keep a straight line by taking cues from the Sun, the Moon, and even the pattern of polarised light formed around these light sources, but it was the animals’ capacity to maintain course even on clear moonless nights that intrigued the researchers. To answer the question, dung beetles were treated to a night at the planetarium where the researchers could control the type of star fields they see.  In a blackened container to eliminate any landmarks on the horizon such as trees, they were confronted by different conditions.  The beetles performed best when confronted with a perfect starry sky projected on to the planetarium dome, but coped just as well when shown only the diffuse bar of light that is the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. They think it is the bar more than the points of light that is important.

Dung beetles climb on top of their balls periodically. It is thought this how they take their bearings. It has also been shown that the beetles will climb on top to cool their feet on very hot days.

Dung beetles have preferences for certain species’ dung so when species such as rhino and elephant decline, so do the beetles.

 

Funny video:  True Facts about the Dung Beetle

 

 

 

 

Morning at the Hyena Den : A Safari Story

The oldest checks us out
The oldest checks us out
The pups play with a stick
The pups play with a stick

While on our morning game drive, our guide had the suggestion , since we were near by, to swing past a den area known to be used from time to time by hyena. Sometimes we forget about the hyena as an interesting and fierce predator. It often acts as a scavenger, but it can hunt and kill on its own and it has a fascinating pack social structure . We approached the den and could see immediately that it was active. There was one pup exploring around the den. We watched it wander around looking like it wanted to play with a stick. Then we noticed a small head peaking out of the den: a second pup probably curious at the new noises. We watched them play together for a while.

 

Curiosity draws the youngest pup out of the den
Curiosity draws the youngest pup out of the den
two cute hyena pups
two cute hyena pups

I don’t usually think of hyenas as cute, but these two had all the appeal of any young and fuzzy animal. It seemed strange for them to be all alone and running amok, but we soon learned that the “babysitter” was near by and ready to intervene if the pups got too out of control. The dominant female who is the only hyena allowed to breed, will appoint a juvenile subadult to watch over the den while the mother hunts , This guardian did her duty that morning and made sure the pups did not stray into trouble.

 

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The Oldest pup greets the babysitter

Hyena pups

Elephant Images and Stories

Elephants wonderful subjects that are usually at ease around visitors and offer plenty of character which I am happily challenged to capture.  One drawback is that they are not the most colorful creatures, but shapes and textures make up for that.

In Kruger we often enjoy lingering on a scarcely traveled dirt road in the middle of a family herd or close to a watering hole.  I love watching the hierarchy in action and the protection and caution enforced by the senior females.  They truly seem to enjoy simple pleasures such as the daily drink at the watering hole and a choice tree branch.   On the private reserves it is not uncommon to be so close that you can hear them breathing, smell them, and hear them chewing.  Often the herd is spread across the road: you can not see all the members because they have an uncanny ability to hide in the smallest of trees and walk silently but you can hear the destruction of trees.

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Elephants are not shy to go about their business in the presence of the safari vehicle.  Our guides have to be very aware of the attitudes of the herd members and sometimes moves us away if something such as sparing gets out of control.

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Parking at a watering hole is great entertainment: you never know what you might see.  Elephants cautiously approach with the matriarch leading the way.  The young ones are kept close and in the middle of the herd.  They love the water and spray and drink with the babies causing mayhem.  Some seem so young that they do not know how to drink properly.

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This was a great day in Kruger.  The elephants were digging in the dry riverbed to make a mud and water hole.  The mother showed her juvenile how to dig – making him do most of the work while the baby got in the  way and enjoyed all the fun.  Mom got impatient and pushed the kids out of the way so she could drink.  On the other side of the vehicle was a large wallow full of mud and elephants – splendid.

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I have decide that I want a trunk: it is such an amazing appendage and when used by a master such as an elephant it is remarkable what they can do.  Watching them strip bark, fling water, and caress their children evokes respect and wonder.

 

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This is a very old elephant who lives on Thornybush Reserve (our neighbor). He comes very close the vehicle and casually demonstrates how to pick and eat a good lunch.  He was famous for breaking the fence to our reserve and camping out at our marula tree gorging on fruit until he was herded back to his own reserve.  Sadly he has now passed away.

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This is one way to introduce color to a neutral colored elephant!

 

Interesting shapes and texture brings interest to photographs and elephants have it all that.  There is not a boring angle or detail on them.  When they get too close, I like to snap close ups of skin, tusks and eyes.  Elephant hair from their tails was once used to make a traditional  bracelet.

I hope you have been inspired and entertained by my elephant photos and stories:  join me on safari and experience this joy first hand.

Four Very Nice Species of Hornbills

Southern Ground Hornbill
Southern Ground Hornbill

On my recent self-drive ride through Kruger National Park, I photographed three types of hornbills: Southern Yellow-billed, Red-billed, and the Grey Hornbill.  Not spotted this day was the ground hornbill.  These birds are frequently seen, except the grey which I see less often.  They like to grab bugs off the roads.  At the lodge they fight their own reflections in the mirror to my horror as I know one day they will break the glass with those tremendous bills.

Yellow Billed Hornbill
Yellow Billed Hornbill
Grey Hornbill
Grey Hornbill

Hornbills have a cooperation with mongoose in that the hornbills eat bugs dug up by the mongoose and in exchange the hornbills warn the mongoose of aerial threats such as raptors  which normally are of no concern to the hornbills.

Red Billed Hornbill
Red Billed Hornbill