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Leopard Lying on a Rock

Leopard on rock

Photo Details: Leopard (Panthera pardus) lying on a rock against night sky, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XS 10.1MP); Lens: Canon EOS 80-200 F2.8 zoom; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/60; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 400; External flash; 29 May 2009, 6.30pm.

Additional Info: We spotted this leopard during the early part of a night-drive (6.30pm, winter) and were fortunate that it opted to settle comfortably on a rock, as if posing for us (or because we’d ruined its hunt – see below).

I took the picture with a flash mounted on the camera’s hot-shoe. I’m not crazy about taking flash photographs of animals at night, mainly because of the harsh shadows cast by the flash and the “red-eye” effect that often occurs. Luckily in this case the leopard’s pose against the night sky eliminated the shadows, while red-eye is minimised because the animal is looking away from the camera.

There is, however, an additional reason that is making me question the use of flash for photographing wild animals at night, and that’s the sensitivity of their eyes to bright light. The whole issue of game viewing at night is a contentious one. The “night drive”, for which you need spotlights to find the animals, is a popular safari activity, but the bright spotlights evidently cause distress to the animals and, certainly in the case of predators, interfere with their hunting.

Roddy Smith, a veteran safari guide based in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, is vehemently opposed to the use of spots at night, unless they’re covered with red filters. According to Roddy, “night-drives using conventional white spotlights are as intrusive and disruptive to animals going about their after-dark business as papparazzi are to royal girlfriends”. Read more about the use of spotlights in Roddy’s article, Safari Night Drives and the Red-Light Experience.

Black-Backed Jackal on the Move

Black-backed jackal

Photo Details: A black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) trotting through golden-orange winter vegetation, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana. See also a previous post titled Jackal Pair for more about these canids and their social structure.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal Length: 300mm; Shutter speed: 1/30; Aperture: f16; ISO: 400; Date: 30 May 2009, 7.12am

Pair of Whitefronted Bee-Eaters

Whitefronted bee-eaters

Photo Details: A pair of whitefronted bee-eaters (Merops bullockoides) perched on a twig in a dry riverbed, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF300mm F4 IS USM plus 1.4 converter; Focal Length: 420mm; Shutter speed: 1/400; Aperture: f8; ISO: 200. Date: 29 May 2009, 9.14am

Additional Info: See also previous blog posts for pictures of the Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus) and Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides).

Cute Lion Cubs

Lion Cubs

Photo Details: Lion cubs (Panthera leo) take time out after wrestling and rolling around in the grass, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XS 10.1MP); Lens: Canon EOS 80-200 F2.8 zoom; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/250; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 400; Date: 31 May 2009, 5.03pm

Additional Info: At this age, around four to six weeks old, lion cubs are very like domestic kittens – cuddly, playful bundles of fur. But the size of the paws is a dead giveaway, a sobering reminder of how big, dangerous and distinctly uncuddly these cats will eventually be.

When I was in Mashatu at the end of December, I photographed two different male lions mating with one of the pride females, so it’s more than likely that these cubs are the result. Lioness gestation period is 110 days, which would make the birth date around April 20, meaning the cubs are approximately six weeks old, which could be about right.

Wild Dogs on Banks of Limpopo

Wild Dogs at play

Photo Details: African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) romping on the banks of the Limpopo River at dusk, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XS 10.1MP); Lens: Canon EOS 80-200 F2.8 zoom; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/60; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 800.

Additional Info: The African wild dogs in Botswana’s Tuli Block are not roaming as extensively as usual while the pack waits for the heavily pregnant alpha female to give birth. In preparation for the arrival of the pups, the dogs have established a den close to where we were staying at Rock Camp in Mashatu Game Reserve. On our first afternoon in the reserve, we set off on a late game drive and were fortunate to find the pack on the banks of the nearby Limpopo River.

Once the alpha female produces her litter (usually from six to 16 pups), the whole pack will help feed the suckling mother (and the pups after 3-4 weeks) by regurgitating food. See Wild Dog Society – All About Co-Operation for more about the social behavior of these much maligned and critically endangered animals.

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