Ukhahlamba majesty

This is the last post from our Drakensberg trip showing some of the majesty of the Giant’s Castle area of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg in central South Africa. We went there in mid-winter hoping to see snow. No luck, it was cold at night and in the early mornings there was frost on the lower reaches next to the Bushman’s river but no snow up on the mountain tops.

“Any landscape is a condition of the spirit.”~ Henri Frederic Ariel

The majesty of the scenery dictated that we rose well before sunrise which was around 7h00. This was the scene looking east at the sunrise from behind the vulture’s hide.

Slowly the sun peered over the middle berg to shine on basalt buttresses in the distant upper berg. The colours were soft, infused with purples and mauves.

“As knowledge increases, wonder deepens.” – Charles Morgan

As the sun rose it brightened revealing a pallet of unexpected colours.

On the edge of the ridge in front of the hide this pair of Black-backed jackals came to steal some of the bones we put out for the bearded vultures.

The Giant’s Castle vulture hide perched on the edge of a steep cliff in the middle berg.

The White-necked ravens were ever present even when the jackals were looking for food. Needless to say the jackals got whatever they wanted.

A view from inside the vulture’s hide looking south west across the ridge and off to the upper berg.

A Lanner falcon came to visit and stirred things up among the ravens.

A view of the terrain on the way to the vulture’s hide. Vast, magnificent and quiet but for the wind singing in the grasses.

A Bearded vulture sitting looking out from the edge of a cliff in the middle berg.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ~ Rachel Carson

Breathtaking views and colours as seen from the hide-early morning views.

Two juvenile Bearded vultures sparring high above the valley floor.

Early morning before the sun had risen -there was a stillness but the colours were vibrant and the scene sublime.

A Bearded vulture flying with the basalt buttresses in the distant background.

An adult and juvenile flying together way above the valley floor.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~  William Butler Yeats

Late afternoon just above the hide looking south west.

Freedom, space and grandeur.

Below the middle berg, this time along the Bushman’s river. It was early morning with the first light illuminating the tops of the middle ground hilltops. The white you can see in the foreground was frost. It was ice cold at that time. Nothing a cup of hot coffee and rusk could not ward off.

The sun had not yet peered into the valley but some of the reflections of the light from the hilltops were beginning to be caught in the reflections in the river.

Just stop on your walk and look around. You might be surprised at the eclectic colour and textures you might see.

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” – Robert Louis Stevenson.

A short walk up the one of the valleys – verdant even in mid-winter.

The sunlight was now filling the valley. The river was strewn with rounded boulders which have been shaped over hundreds of years. The sun illuminated the river course beautifully.

“Have you ever sat in absolute quiet,

Have you ever been bathed in the warm morning light,

Does your heart not sing at the sight,

Does something deep inside you not stir just a mite.”~ Mike Haworth

On our last evening, once it was too dark to photograph from the hide, we drove to an adjacent area south west of the hide to watch the sun setting in the west.

The spectrum of colours melted from warm to cool with a warm hue. It is at times like this when you feel alive and grateful to be able to witness this incredible beauty.

The last light show from what was a spectacular day.

“Have you heard the wind singing in the trees and seen the branches swaying in rhythm. The wind was telling us where it had come from and where it was going. Then in between times the breeze whispered stories to the grass which waved in delight.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

 

 

 

Guardians of the Castle

Ravens and starlings are the guardians of the castle.  

“When you do what you want, not what you wish” said the first raven. “When you no longer seek your reflection in others eyes” said the second raven. “When you see yourselves face to face” said the third raven. “Then”, the ravens intoned in unison, “you will have found what you truly seek.” ~ Adam Gidwitz

The setting is the vulture hide at Giant’s Castle located in the middle berg of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, a spectacular mountain range in the middle of South Africa.

The starlings were sitting in the bushes around the hide as we arrived before sunrise. The ravens were circling, flying passed,  and landing and taking off from rocky ledges close by.

For most people there would be nothing unusual about this scene but I have some context.

“Memories are contrary things; if you quit chasing them and turn your back, they often return on their own.” ~ Stephen King

I went to a boarding school about 35 miles south east of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, called Falcon College. I arrived at the school in early 1966. As a junior everything was new, bigger and more intimidating than usual. Every Saturday evening the school showed a movie on a reel-to-reel movie projector. Not too many weeks after we arrived at the college, the movie one the Saturday evening was ‘The Birds’.  A 1963 American horror-thriller film ‘The Birds’ and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on the 1952 story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.

The story began in 1963, when Melanie Daniels, a young socialite known for rather racy behavior and playing pranks, meets criminal defense attorney Mitch Brenner in a San Francisco bird shop. He wanted to buy a pair of lovebirds for his sister’s eleventh birthday, but the shop had none. Mitch, knowing she was a lawyer, plays a prank on Melanie by pretending to mistake her for a salesperson. She is infuriated but intrigued by his veiled advance. She finds his weekend address in Bodega Bay, purchases a pair of lovebirds, and makes the long drive to deliver them. While he goes into the barn she sneaks the birdcage inside the Brenner family home with a note. While leaving she is attacked near shore on the town side and injured by a seagull. Melanie gets to know Mitch and his family, mother Lydia, and  younger sister Cathy. She also befriends local school teacher Annie Hayworth.

When Melanie spends the night at Annie’s house they are startled by a loud thud; a gull had killed itself by flying into the front door. At Cathy’s birthday party the next day, the guests are set upon by seagulls. The following evening, sparrows invade the Brenner home through the chimney. The next morning, Lydia, a widow who still sees to the family farmstead, pays a visit to a neighbouring farmer to discuss the unusual behavior of her chickens. Finding his eyeless corpse, pecked lifeless by birds, she flees in terror. After being comforted by Melanie and Mitch she expresses concern for Cathy’s safety at school. Melanie drives there and waits for class to end, unaware that a large flock of crows were massing in the nearby playground. Unnerved when she sees its jungle gym engulfed by the birds, she warns Annie, and they unwisely evacuate the children. The commotion stirs the crows into attacking, injuring several of the children. An amateur ornithologist dismisses the reports as fanciful and argues with Melanie over them. Shortly thereafter birds begin to attack people outside the restaurant they are in, knocking a gas station attendant unconscious while he is filling a car with fuel, which spills out onto the street. A bystander attempts to light a cigar, igniting a pool of gas and is incinerated. The explosion attracts a mass of gulls, which begin to swarm menacingly as townsfolk attempt to tackle the fire. Melanie is forced to take refuge in a phone booth. Rescued by Mitch, she returns to the restaurant, where Melanie is accused of causing the attacks, which began with her arrival. The pair return to Annie’s house and find that she has been killed by the crows while ushering Cathy to safety.

“The pattern created an association which revived a memory! I closed my eyes and was transported. The image was vivid, the feelings returned, as did the smells. I could hear the wind in the trees- I was back there again. Oh the timelessness of these memories.” ~ Mike Haworth

Melanie and the Brenners seek refuge inside the family home. It is attacked by waves of birds of many different species, which several times nearly break in through barricaded doors and windows. During a night-time lull between attacks, Melanie hears the sound of fluttering wings. Not wanting to disturb the others’ sleep, she enters the kitchen and sees the lovebirds are still. Realizing the sounds are emanating from above, she cautiously climbs the staircase and enters Cathy’s bedroom, where she finds the birds have broken through the roof. They violently attack her, trapping her in the room until Mitch comes to her rescue. She is badly injured and nearly catatonic; Mitch insists they must get her to the hospital and suggests they drive away to San Francisco. When he looks outside, it is dawn and a sea of birds ripple menacingly around the Brenner’s house as he prepares her car for their escape.

The radio reports the spread of bird attacks to nearby communities, and suggests that “the military” may be required to intervene because civil authorities are unable to combat the unexplained attacks. In the final shot, the car carrying Melanie, the Brenners, and the lovebirds slowly makes its way through a landscape in which thousands of birds are ominously perching. The plot was sourced from Wikipedia. A group of ravens is called an “unkindness” or “conspiracy,” which seems fitting, since ravens are traditionally considered creepy; and seeing many of them in one place can induce “Hitchcockian” flashbacks. A murder of crows also seems fitting in this context.

“Passages in time shall leave timeless evidence in their wake.” ~ Anthony T. Hincks.

The thing that made the movie so scary was the peculiarity of it all. Perhaps the moral of the story is beware of people bearing lovebirds as gifts. After the movie was finished we had to run back to our dorms in the pitch dark along a road with large trees on one side, with strong winds blowing their branches causing them to creak in the wind!  I still have a clear recollection of that evening over 50 years later. 

The congregation of starlings in the bushes around the hide and the ravens flying around the hide in numbers just reminded me of some of the scenes in the ‘The Birds’. Thank you Alfred Hitchcock for the memory, thankfully I was never ornithophobic ( a fear of birds)

“Look, listen, consider and then make your own mind up.” ~ Mike Haworth

Fifty five year old movies aside, many birds were attracted by the bones in front of the hide. White-necked ravens were the dominant species. They ruled the bones and even managed to fly off with some of them. There are three species of crow in south Africa, the Pied, Black and White necked raven. There is a physical difference between crows and ravens. The latter are bigger, have a larger deeper bill and make more of a croaking sound whereas the crows make more of a ‘caw-caw’ sound.

The White-necked raven has a much shorter tail than the common raven. Its  bill is large and looks laterally compressed and is deeply curved in profile giving the bird a very distinctive appearance. This bill, the largest of any passerine at 8–9 cm in length, is black with a white tip and has deep nasal grooves with only light nasal bristle covers. The White-necked raven is very similar to the Thick-billed raven found in the horn of Africa. This powerful beak enables the raven to effectively tear meat and fat off the bones. It is also strong enough to fly off with surprising large and heavy bones.

Crows and ravens are known to be highly intelligent birds and are able to use tools, form cooperative units and are able to mimic the human voice when in captivity.

We only found White-necked ravens up in the middle berg. 

Ravens are known to mate for life and live in pairs in a fixed territory. When their youngsters reach adolescence, they join gangs and these flocks of young birds live and eat together until they mate and pair off. It was quite possible that we saw a gang of adolescent ravens dominating the non-raptors around the hide. One raptor that had them scattering for cover was the Lanner falcon. It was so much faster and more agile than the ravens. It stooped on them multiple times for about half an hour and certainly had them on edge for quite a while thereafter. 

“Look at this life – all mystery and magic.” – Harry Houdini

In the early to mid morning, the ravens just sat around feeding on the fat on the bones and chasing away any other birds which wanted to join in the feast. By lunchtime and in the early afternoon, when the wind got up, the ravens started to play in the wind in what looked to be just for the sheer joy of it. There was a natural updraft on along the ridge in front of the hide and the wind gave it extra power. The ravens spent hours just frolicking way above the valley in the wind.

The ravens were good fliers showing remarkable aerobatic feats in midair.

The White-necked raven is a persistent and tenacious bird and seems to enjoy mobbing the passing Bearded vultures. On one occasion a raven dive-bombed a Bearded vulture and hit it so hard that we heard it from the hide.

Needless to say the ravens gave way to the Black-backed jackals which regularly stole the bones in front of the hide.

Red-winged starlings also loved the fat on the bones. They formed pairs and would protect one another at the bones, when the ravens were not around. These starlings have distinctive red-primary wing feathers. The male has a mainly iridescent dark blue-black plumage. The female is similar but has a greyish head and neck.

This starling is a cliff nester, breeding on rocky cliffs, outcrops and gorges. There is a pale-winged and red-winged starling found in southern Africa. The pale-winged has mainly white outer primary wing feathers with a slight orange colouring on the outmost primaries. It has a yellow eye and is found mainly in the west side and the Cape of south Africa and Namibia, whereas the red-winged starling is found mainly in the north and east of southern Africa.

Similar to other starling species, the red-winged starling is an omnivore, feeding on a wide range of seeds, berries, nectar from plants such as Aloes and  invertebrates such as the beetles. As we saw from the hide, they will also scavenge on carrion and food scraps from humans.

“I marvel at the richness, variety and unexpectedness of it all – there is more to see than you can imagine” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

The giant’s small but colourful raiders

This is the fourth post from our trip to Giant’s Castle in the central berg which is part of the Drakensberg mountain range in the centre of South Africa. One of the main attractions is the vulture hide which is about five kilometres from the Giant’s Castle camp where the hide is located on the edge of a plateau in the middle berg. The hide is for bird watchers and photographers alike. Being in high demand the hide has to be booked, especially over weekends. One of the main functions of the hide is to put bones out in the open to feed the bearded vultures. This has become necessary because  the bearded vultures have become endangered due to humans encroaching on their habitat.

“Fascination is one step beyond interest. Interested people want to know if it works. Fascinated people want to learn how it works.” ~Jim Rohn

We leave bones out on the grass shelf in front of the hide. Raiders such as White-necked ravens and Red-winged starlings are the first to tuck into the daily feast. The Jackal buzzards and Cape vultures also come in to have a look. More surprisingly, there are an amazing assortment of small feathered visitors which come into partake in the feast. Some come in to feed on the grass seed and insects in front of the hide. For some unknown reason, there seems to be a regular routine to the visitors arrival. The Yellow bishops come in at first light to feed on the grass seed as do the Speckled pigeons. After an hour or so they leave. It makes me wonder whether the grass exposes its seed at intervals.

“I think everyone has some fascination with what’s outside our existence. It’s a constant journey to find the truth.”Nicholas Lea

A view from the west side of the hide at around 7h30 in the morning.

As the sun rises higher in the sky the light changes and the distant mountains take on a blue hue.

The hide is located high on the side of a ridge in the middle berg. There is a steep drop off below the hide. If you look carefully the hide is on the skyline of the ridge, about two fifths from the left hand side of the image. .

If all life were eternal all interest and anticipation would vanish. It is uncertainty which lends its fascination.”~ Yoshida Kenko

A female Yellow bishop puffed up as it was quite chilly first thing in the morning, being winter.

The female Yellow bishops came in twice a day – in the early morning and again around mid-afternoon. They are seed eaters and I wonder why they would visit twice a day –  it makes me wonder whether the grasses progressively expose their seeds?

The Speckled pigeons came in first thing in the morning and only foraged for seeds. We only saw one pair at a time.

The male fluffed out his neck feathers as a sign he was impressed by the female close by.

I was surprised to see a Fiscal shrike, or “Butcher bird” as we call it, at such a high elevation.  I would not have thought there were many insects  at that altitude in mid-winter. The one thing I have learnt about the hide is that my expectations are frequently confounded.

Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.” ~ Wayne Dyer

When birds are able, they carry a bit of fat to use as ‘fuel’ during their day-to-day lives. It looks like a smear of butter under their pink, almost translucent, skin.  Fat is what keeps birds going through the day and, more importantly, the night. A bird has to eat enough to make sure it has the energy it needs – not just for flying, running and singing, but also to keep itself alive overnight. Keeping warm takes a considerable amount of energy, so heavier (fatter) birds are more likely to survive a cold snap. Birds weigh less in the mornings than in the evenings before they go to roost, because of the fat they ‘burn’ overnight. Fat reserves can also see a bird through periods of bad weather when feeding is difficult or impossible, and migrating birds feed up before setting off. In this context it is understandable that these smaller birds congregate around the hide to feed on the fat on the bones put out for the Bearded vultures. Wild birds don’t get obese. They live high-energy lives, but by putting out food we give them a little more leeway.

A pair of Orange-throated longclaws, now called Cape longclaws, arrived. They  are endemic to South Africa.

These longclaws were foraging for insects but were also partial to the fat on the bones.The long claw on the back toes is distinctive but you need to see them on rocks not in the grass to see the toes. I am not sure why they have long toes other than because they forage in long grass and need to grasp the grass stems.

“For the 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives depend on knowing the fine, small details of our world.  Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.”  ~ Janine M. Benyus

This bird looks like a pipit but stands more upright and has a distinctive orange throat and upper breast patch bordered by a black necklace marking.

“When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu

A Familiar chat is a drab greyish brown colour. They arrived to forage for insects but also seemed to enjoy the fat on the bones. Being small they had to wait for the larger birds to move away before they could partake. Size counts in the feast.

Chats have that distinctive three or four flicks of their wings just after they have landed.

The Familiar chat is found throughout southern Africa but prefers rocky and mountainous terrain.

A female Cape rock thrush. Like the Familiar chat this species prefers rocky and mountainous terrain.

A male Cape rock thrush. This species differs from the Sentinel rock thrush in that it does not have blue on its back. The grey-blue colouring is only on the head and neck.

“Man is not himself only…He is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources…He is the land, the lift of its mountain lines, the reach of its valleys.”  ~ Mary Austin

The view from just above the hide in the late afternoon looking south west into the upper berg.

We were fortunate to see Greater double-collared sunbirds and Gurney sugarbirds but I was not able to photograph them. One of the more colourful visitors was this Bokmakierie. 

We heard the beautiful call of the Bokmakierie before we saw it. Birds do not have vocal chords like humans but use their tongue and mouth to create their unique calls. Birds have a syrinx, our equivalent of a voice box, but it is at the bottom of the windpipe not at the top as in humans. Bokmakieries are also known for their duets. The duet is thought to be musical rather than a visual means of bonding.

With a little patience and quiet nature will slowly reveal herself.

“Go out, go out, I beg of you!
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth,
With all the wonder of a child.” ~ Edna Jaques

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Raiders at the giant’s table

This post is about three raiders who regularly rob the table at the Giant’s Castle. The latter is a nature reserve in the mountain range called the Drakensberg, colloquially named the Barrier of Spears, in the centre of South Africa.  The table is the place where we put out bones to feed the Bearded vultures.  The raiders are Jackal Buzzards, Cape Vultures and Black-backed jackals who know that food is regularly put out  in front of the bird hide.

“We were meant to explore this earth like children do, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of discovery. Allow yourself to see the world through new eyes and know there are amazing adventures here for you.”  ~ Laurel Bleadon Maffei

We were fortunate enough to have a male Jackal Buzzard visit on one occasion.  In South Africa, we find six buzzards, the Jackal, Steppe, Forest, Long-legged, European honey and Lizard buzzard. The Jackal and Steppe buzzards are the only two found throughout South Africa. The others tend to be more regional. The Jackal buzzard is a resident while the Steppe buzzard is a migrant and had returned to Europe or Russia for the northern hemisphere summer.

We only know a tiny proportion about the complexity of the natural world. Wherever you look, there are still things we don’t know about and don’t understand. […] There are always new things to find out if you go looking for them.” 
~ David Attenborough

The adult South African Jackal buzzard has striking plumage. It is almost black or dark slate grey above, with a rufous tail and a patch on its breast of rusty-brown. The primary flight feathers are blackish and the secondaries off-white, barred with black. Below the chin and around the throat is mainly rusty-brown, and the rest of the underparts and the underwing coverts are rich rufous. 

In flight, the Jackal buzzard’s underwing colouring is distinctive. The flight feathers from below are white, tipped with black to form a dark trailing edge to the wing. The tail feathers are a rufous colour.

Buzzards are a type of hawk, specifically, buteos which are medium to fairly large, wide-ranging raptors with a robust body and broad wings. Their broad wings are ideal for soaring on thermal currents. Unlike vultures, buzzards hunt for their meals and prefer to capture living prey, though they are not adverse to “raiding the giant’s table”, especially if other food sources are scarce.The Jackal buzzard is more of an escarpment than a lowveld bird. Although it soars high on thermals, most of its hunting is usually done from a perch.

“Never lose your sense of wonder.” ~Unknown

It is very vocal during its winter breeding period and frequently emits a high-pitched yelping cry similar to that of the Black-backed jackal, hence its name.

The Jackal buzzard has yellow unfeathered legs below the knee and a yellow beak with a black tip. Bird beaks are a textbook example of adaptations to feeding strategies, but there’s one major exception: birds of prey. Among eagles, hawks and falcons, the shapes of the skulls change in a predictable way as species increase or decrease in size. The shape of the beak is linked to the shape of the skull, and these birds can’t change one without changing the other.

The raider had found one of the bones put out for the Bearded vultures. From a photographic point of view, it was always interesting to see a Jackal buzzard fly in, giving you a chance to see this handsome raptor up close.

In Latin, the term ‘raptor’ means ‘plunderer’ (from the verb ‘rapere’ meaning ‘to seize’). The term is also descriptive of the powerful, grasping, talon-tipped feet found in all birds of prey, and is used as a name for the group of birds whose members have this common feature.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T.S. Eliot “

When in the hide you can spend extended periods where little happens. That does not mean you can let your attention wander. Raiding visitors arrive very quietly and unannounced. If you are distracted or not paying attention you will miss the most import part of the action. It usually only takes a couple of seconds for the raptor to fly in and land. Those few arrival seconds are when any inter species action is likely to occur.

On two occasions a single Cape vulture come to visit and only landed once.

The Cape vulture is one of the largest southern African vultures with a total length of about 106 cm. It is the lightest of the vultures in colour being mostly whitish grey above, flecked with brown. The outer black primary feathers of the wing, the 12 tail feathers (in other species of this genus there are 14) and the inner dark brown secondary feathers contrast sharply with the lighter colour of the rest of the body, both above and below. The brownish crop section is surrounded by white down while the rest of the abdominal parts range from brown to cream becoming lighter on the wings. Source: Cape Nature.

“Let those who wish have their respectability- I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, and the romantic.” ~ Richard Halliburton

The blue grey head and neck are sparsely covered with white down. At the base of the neck there are a few rows of long feathers forming a grey- buff collar. The bare face is bluish grey, the eyes yellowish brown and the feet grey. Apart from a slight size difference (female larger) there is little difference between the sexes making it difficult to differentiate between males and females.

The Cape vulture is southern Africa’s only endemic vulture species, A few individuals have been recorded from Zambia. The Cape vulture is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, northern Namibia and southern Zimbabwe. The southern African population is listed at 2900 breeding pairs, of which approximately 1450 reside in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains- about 20% of the population. Cape vultures live in colonies of up to 1000 breeding pairs, and despite large extended families they are loyal to one partner. Source: Maloti Drakensberg Vulture Project

The Cape vulture occurs near the mountains, in open grassland, arid savannas and steppes. The mountains provide them the thermal currents necessary for the flight of these heavy birds. This species is less common in wooded areas. They breed and roost on cliffs.

The Cape Vulture is a scavenger, feeding on carrion. Around the carcasses, it takes bone fragments, soft muscles and organ tissues.

The two blue skin patches on its breast are thought to be sensitive to temperature and pressure enabling the bird to read the strength of a thermal it is flying through.

When the Cape vulture extends its wings you get to see just how large this raptor is. 

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” – Stephen Hawking

Apart from the raptor raiders there was a family of Black-backed jackals that regularly raided the larder. The Black-backed jackal  is named for the dark, white-flecked ‘saddle’ on its back. From the colour of the light you can see that this jackal came searching for bones in the early morning.

Three species of jackal are found in Africa, the Common or Golden jackal  which is found mainly in East and North Africa and the Black-backed and Side-striped jackal which is found throughout Africa and very common in southern Africa. Black- backed tend to be ubiquitous in southern Africa.

The Black-backed Jackal feeds on small mammals, reptiles, birds, eggs, carrion and fruit. Although they scavenge, they are effective hunters in their own right. 

Jackals are known for their cunning and versatility. They are adaptable hunters and scavengers. The three species of jackals are not endangered and  listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as least concern, probably because of their adaptability.

“Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.” – Mahatma Gandhi

At the hide the pickings were easy for these jackals with no mammalian competition and minimal avian competition. This pair removed their fair share of bones meant for the Bearded vultures. They have also learnt that users of the hide do not put all the bones out at the beginning of the morning but rather spacing it throughout the day. So, they came back every few hours to snatch another snack. Jackals are estimated to have noses that are 10,000 times more sensitive to smells than a human. What is not clear to me is whether the jackals actually smelt the new bones we put out at staggered times or just took a chance.  You will notice in all the jackal images that their noses are wet. They produce a serous secretion (on their nose) which they spread with their tongues. The wet nose also helps the jackal to smell. When the tiny scent particles in the air are dissolved in water, they are more likely to set off the “smell detectors” in the animal’s nose. This must create an invisible picture composed of fragrances and odours.

You will notice this male jackal had a thick coat. It was winter in the middle section of the Drakensberg so got very cold at night. Though he also looked old and battle worn.

The jackals clearly knew there were people in the hide and watched carefully to ensure there was no threat. Usually wherever there are humans, jackals tend to be noctural to avoid any conflict.

The Black-backed jackal has a distinctive call which sounds like a rapid series of whaling yelps. In general, jackals are most vocal in the early and late evening. This pair of jackals were silent raiders.

“There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Jackal pairs mate for life and are very territorial.

The hide shows that with a little patience  and being quiet you will be surprised how nature slowly reveals herself to you.

“He had learned the rare secret that you must take happiness when you find it – that there is no use in marking the place and coming back to it at a more convenient season, because it will not be there then.”
~ L.M. Montgomery

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Lanner playground

This is the second post from our trip to Giant’s Castle nature reserve in the central Drakensberg in South Africa. We spent a couple of days in the well-known Giant’s Castle vulture hide. This hide is known for sightings of Bearded vultures, Jackal buzzards, White-necked ravens and Red-winged starlings. It is less known for its falcons. One of the raptors which visited once a day, each day we were there, to stir everything up was a lone Lanner Falcon.

“You come out of nowhere. Like a teardrop falling at lightning speed.

We are only starting to appreciate your unique physicality as an apex predator.

Speed is your method, accuracy your point and surprise your mantra.” ~ Mike Haworth

I have a special place for falcons in my wildlife psyche. This was borne out of experiences watching friends like long-standing “shamwari”, a shona word for friend, Adrian Lombard at our senior school, Falcon College in Zimbabwe. Adrian would regularly, late in  the afternoons, once sports activities had finished, take his Lanner out to fly over the sports fields. Two of the key extra mural activities at this bush school where going out into the bush (with a pack of sandwiches and a snake bite kit) on Sundays and falconry which was usually practiced once sports activities had finished and the playing fields were quiet. The birds used by the falconers where Lanner falcons, Tawny eagles, Black-shouldered kites and Sparrowhawks. I have retained a special place for Lanner falcons having watched them perform above the playing fields at school. In the afternoon, Adrian would cast the falcon off his glove and it would fly high above the field. After a few minutes, Adrian would blow a whistle and start to swing his lure at the end of a light rope.  The falcon would see the lure and stoop down from a great height and level out on the far side of the field below the rugby posts and rocket across the field focused on the lure. Adrian would let the rotating lure go and it would swing high into the air. The falcon would watch the circulating lure while powering across the playing field at phenomenal speed and catch the flying lure in its talons. Time and time again, the display was a stunning show of speed, agility and accuracy.

When I watched the Lanner stooping onto the ravens in front of the vulture hide, I got the same feeling of awe that I had on the sports field watching Adrian’s falcon flying all those years ago.

“Let us remember that animals are not mere resources for human consumption. They are splendid beings in their own right, who have evolved alongside us as co-inheritors of all the beauty and abundance of life on this planet” ~ Marc Bekoff

We put bones out in front of the hide, the object being to feed the Bearded vultures. It seldom worked that way. The White-necked ravens patrol the hide area. As soon as food was put down they arrive in numbers, up to ten to 15 ravens at a time. These birds seem to be the “hyaenas of the castle”. They love the fat on the bones. As the morning wears on, once the ravens are well sated and they just hang around the hide making sure that no other birds get to feed on the fat. Between 12h00 and 14h00, just when everything was becoming quite sleepy, out of blue, a Lanner would come stooping onto the ravens grouped together. Lanner hunting often takes place where prey congregates, such as at waterholes or colonial nesting or feeding sites. Lanners are orders of magnitude faster and more maneuverable than the ravens. Once the Lanner streaked through the flock of ravens, they would scatter only long after the Lanner had flown through. Repeatedly, the Lanner would stoop onto the ravens. We never saw it hit one but I am sure the Lanner does on occasion. The Lanner falcon feeds mainly on small to medium-sized birds, ranging from larks up to the size of ducks and guineafowl. Ravens are right on the menu. The Lanner stirred up the ravens and they remained very edgy for the next hour or so after the Lanner’s visit. It was thrilling so see this avian predator come in at such speed and liven up the hide’s stage.

Falcons are birds of prey in the genus Falco, which includes about 40 species. All these birds kill with their beaks, using a “tooth” on the side of their beaks—unlike the hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey in the Accipitridae, which use mainly their feet. Falcons are roughly divisible into three groups. The first contains the kestrels, the second slightly larger species, the hobbies and relatives. These birds are characterised by considerable amounts of dark slate-grey in their plumage; their malar areas are nearly always black. They feed mainly on smaller birds The third group is the Peregrine falcon and its relatives, these powerful birds also have a black malar area, and a black cap,  The Lanner falcon is a usually a raptor suited to open country and savanna. It hunts by horizontal pursuit, rather than the Peregrine falcon’s stoop from a height, and takes mainly bird prey in flight.

Lanners have a yellow eye ring, a yellow cere and yellow feet. It has the diagnostic “hangman hood” with cap and moustachial strip. It has pinkish buff underparts which distinguish it from other falcons and their chest stripes fade as they mature. The female Lanner falcon is usually larger, darker and more patterned than the male. A Peregrine is smaller than a Lanner and darker in colouring.

Aside from the characteristic notched beaks, falcons have small bony protuberances in their nostrils to baffle airflow in stoops, allowing them to breathe at high speeds. The presence of bony tubercles in the falcon’s nose act to slow down the airflow, increasing the air pressure, which eases breathing. As planes got faster and faster, the engines started choking out at a certain speed. It seems that the air, instead of going into the cowl of the engine, encountered a wall of still air in the engine cowl and so split and went around the engine. Puzzled, the researchers wondered how the falcons could still breathe at such incredible speeds. Looking at the falcon’s nostrils, they found the answer. In the opening of the nostril is a small cone that protrudes slightly. Fashioning a similar cone in the opening of the jet engine, they discovered that the air could pass into the engine even at great speed. Once again a human invention is preceded by an animal adaptation. The air pressure from a high-speed dive could possibly damage a bird’s lungs, but small bony tubercles in a falcon’s nostrils guide the shock waves of the air entering the nostrils, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving by reducing the air pressure differential. When in attack mode, the falcon’s pulse rate can reach 600-900 beats per minute, to fuel its body with oxygen.

“Because we have viewed other animals through the myopic lens of our self-importance, we have mis-perceived who and what they are. Because we have repeated our ignorance, one to the other, we have mistaken it for knowledge.” ~ Tom Regan

High-speed flight presents special challenges. For example, how can the falcon’s eyes focus on prey a mile away and make rapid-fire adjustments while being blasted by air? It has three adaptions to facilitate this. Firstly, the falcon’s eye has 4–5 times the number of visual cells (called photoreceptors) as compared to a human eye. This extra visual detail allows the falcon to make split-second adjustments. Secondly, the falcon eye has an extra lid, called the nictitating membrane, which clears, lubricates and prevents wind damage. Essentially, the membrane serves as a see-through eyelid, which can be closed without limiting his visibility. Thirdlyly, beneath the falcon’s eye it has a dark patch. This shading minimizes glare.  (www.discoveryofdesign.com)

The falcon’s long narrow wings give this raptor more stability. Metaphorically it is like a tightrope walker holding a long pole across their body as they walk along the rope. The extra ‘arm’ length helps to balance the body by adding more mass to either side of it. The trade-off is manoeuvrability. The falcon’s long narrow wings have less end edges. Different air pressures meet at the edges; the less edges, the less turbulence. The falcon’s more stable wing dynamic than shorter wider wings creates less drag. The feathers on the falcon’s back vibrate when the bird is completing a dive and has overshot the optimum angle of attack. This is the point at which the falcon is in danger of spinning out of control. The vibrations serve as a warning signal for the falcon to adjust its flight path. (www.evolving-science.com).  

There are ten primary feathers on each wing. Falcons only have that soaring slot on the primary feather closest to the tip of their wing. All of their other primaries are smooth  The tail feathers or rectrices, are also critical to the falcon’s flight performance. Rectrices (from the Latin for “helmsman”), help the bird to brake and steer in flight. These feathers lie in a single horizontal row on the rear margin of the anatomic tail.

The wing’s primaries are connected to the manus (equivalent of the bird’s “hand”). These are the longest and narrowest of the remiges or flight feathers, and they can be individually rotated. The secondaries are connected to the ulna or forearm bone. The tertials arise in the brachial region or upper arm and are not considered true flight feathers as they are not supported by attachment to the corresponding bone, in this case the humerus.

Flat, rather high-aspect-ratio wings lack slots, and with feathers at the base that streamline the trailing edge in with the body, are found in falcons, swallows, plovers, and other specialists in high-speed flight.  The falcon relies on its wing shape and speed to catch other birds and literally grab them out of the sky. For this raptor, a narrow, pointed wing is perfect – drag is kept to a minimum and the swept-back wing design allows them to dive at high speeds.

The falcon like the cheetah and gazelle has a malar strip or a black tear  strain running down its cheek from its eye. The eye too is black. In the cheetah’s case, the black tear stains absorb sunlight, protecting their eyes during hunting and can act as an anti-glare surface. The black stains on a cheetah improve their vision by reducing contrast sensitivity and absorbing light/wavelengths that produce glare. The black stains on a cheetah improves their vision by reducing contrast sensitivity and absorbing light/wavelengths that produce glare. (http://finchesofdarwin.blogspot.com/2017/03/convergent-evolution-malar-stripes-eye.html)

“To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told — that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.” ~ Beryl Markham

Hawks, falcons and eagles deviate from each other it terms of the morphology of their respective flight appendages. Falcons have long tapered wings and short tails which lend to their amazing aerial speed and agility. Eagles have very broad wings that are designed for soaring and short tails that aid in maneuverability. Eagles are the intermediate form between falcons and hawks. Hawks have broad wings and long tails which provide a very stable platform for flight.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creatures through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of haven taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” ~ Henry Beston

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be,

Have fun,

Mike

Bearded giant’s cruising the castle

In mid July, Helen and I went up to Giant’s Castle for a few days with the idea of spending some time in the vulture’s hide, photographing all the avian comings and goings, especially the raptors and especially Bearded Vultures. The hide is popular so bookings over the weekend are hard to come by. As a result we took two days before the weekend and one day after to visit the hide. When in the hide it is a time to be quiet and watch.

“When I am still, I fall into a place where everything is music.”~Rumi

The Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve is in the Central Drakensberg region of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site in South Africa. Giant’s Castle camp is positioned on a shallow plateau overlooking deep valleys running down from the face of the High Drakensberg. The Bushman’s river flows in a shallow valley in front of the Giant’s Castle camp.  One of the first things you will notice in the camp is the quietness. It is blissful. The only sound, other than birds and the odd baboon, is the sound of the Bushman’s river flowing over the rocks in the valley below.

“Be still, and the earth will speak to you” ~ Navajo proverb

Being wildlife photographers and keen birders, the vulture’s hide being close to Giant’s Castle is a key attraction. The vulture hide is isolated and affords quiet and beautiful vistas without human disruption.

“Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity. “ ~Lao Tzu

The idea is to get into the hide about 6h30 in winter about 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise. It is light at this time but the sun has not yet risen. It is often a time a sublime beauty with soft light. Then slowly unheralded, the sun begins to peer above the horizon and starts to paint the distant mountain peaks with mauves, pinks and apricots. It is a time of stillness, almost as if Mother Nature is holding her breath. It is windless and the air is crisp. 

“Compose yourself in stillness, draw your attention inward and devote your mind to the Self. The wisdom you seek lies within.” ~Bhagavad Gita

D81_0998-1231

“Everything inside and around us wants to reflect itself in us. We don’t have to go anywhere to obtain the truth. We only need to be still and things will reveal themselves in the still water of our heart.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the things I like about the hide is it is placed on a shelf in middle berg with a sharp cliff drop off to the valley about 800 metres below. This drop off provides an updraft for the birds around the hide. The larger birds use the updraft to glide up and down the valley and to play.  For those who do not appreciate the nuances of the activity around the hide it can be very boring. It is quiet but active for those who look. The hide is conducive to being quiet, and looking and listening.  The peace is soothing and the more you look and listen, the more you see and hear.

“A quiet mind married to integrity of heart is the birth of wisdom.” ~Adyashanti

For those who watch the natural stage in front of the hide nature begins to reveal herself. At times it is very quiet and at other times new players emerge and the drama can become intense. In the case of Bearded Vultures the drama is usually around landings or when the White-necked ravens start to harass the Bearded vultures. Both Bearded vultures and ravens are good fliers and capable of adept aerial maneuvring. At times nature follows patterns but not always. Often out of the blue the ravens will attack a Bearded vulture flying by. No one rings the bell to wake you up, you have to be ready with camera setting in place to get the shots when the action takes place. Often it is over in a few seconds. When it happens it is as exciting as any lion kill.  From a photographic point of view this is an exciting time and difficult action to capture because it happens so fast.

D81_1009-1242

Time in the vulture hide is spent with long periods of little action, then all of sudden out of the blue something dramatic happens. Despite long period of nothingness, you cannot let your attention lapse for a few minutes as no bird announces its arrival. It flies into the photographic zone with not  a sound.

D81_0999-1232

“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” ~Taoist proverb

Watching this large bearded vulture glide past, ever watchful and aware, triggers something inside you. Its vast wing span and effortless riding the updrafts on the ridge shows a wonderful sense of freedom.

D81_0989-1222

The juvenile Bearded vultures have black heads and they get progressively lighter and eventually get white feathers when they are mature. The aging of the juvenile is set in its face colouring and the development of its beard below its beak.

Bearded vultures are able to swallow bones as large as 20 centimetres in length. These vultures are able to digest bone within 24 hours. It is not that they have unusual digestive tracts or break down the bones mechanically but rather it is the concentration of acid in their digestive system. Small bones are swallowed whole and larger ones are dropped repeatedly onto rock slabs, called ossaries, to break them into small enough fragments to be swallowed. Bone forms 70-90% of all their food intake. This vulture’s oesophagus is highly elastic and expands to allow the passage of large food items, but it has no clearly defined crop. The Bearded vulture is the only species of vulture to have this large storage region in front of the stomach. Bearded vultures use their oesophagus to store food. Source: Journal of Raptor Research June 1994 by David C Houston and Jamieson A Copsey.

D81_0819-1052

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” ~ Neil Armstrong

We were very fortunate to see a family of five bearded vultures, two adults and three youngsters flying by. The youngsters looked to be of different ages judging from their colouring.

D81_0811-1044

This was a juvenile probably three years old who was starting to get the adult colouring on its head but its body colouring was that of a juvenile.D81_0809-1042

“I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.”~ Gerry Spence

Judging from the colouring on its head this juvenile was probably around two years old. Its head was still black but its face was starting to lighten.D5S_8320-1052

The same juvenile from a different angle. The sun rose in the east and the valley in which these Bearded vultures flew was on the west of the hide so the only way to get the glint in the eye was relatively early in the morning when the the sun was low enough.

D5S_7851-1408

The adult bearded vultures have white feathers on their head and the feathers on their back and wings get almost black. The rust colouring on the white head feathers comes from dust bathing in iron rich soils and dust. The eyes are pale yellow, surrounded by conspicuous red eye-ring. The red ring is not just a marking around the eye, it is part of the eye itself. It is called the scleral ring. It’s red because it is actually full of blood, and it functions as the vultures’ threat displays. When a Bearded vulture is stressed or feels threatened, it will force more blood into the scleral ring, causing it to expand and turn more of the eye a red colour.

D5S_7473-1033

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”~ Soren Kierkegaard

One of the highlights of any hide visit is when the bearded vultures come in to land in front of the hide. Alas, this seldom happens and it did not happen in the three days we were in the hide. The area in front of the hide is the formal feeding station for these Bearded vultures because they are so endangered. There are estimated to be only 350 pairs in this region. Habitat loss is the key threat to these vultures as human habitation continues to encroach into their wild areas. Each morning before we travelled up to the hide we collected a bucket of bones from the camp office. The bucket of bones is part of the feeding scheme. The bones often have a lot of fat on them which the ravens, starlings and smaller birds seem to really enjoy.  The jackals also take their fair share of the bones long before the Bearded vultures get to them.

D5S_7471-1031

While I was putting the bones out in front of the hide, I peered over the ridge and saw two adult bearded vultures sitting on separate rocks about three hundred metres away. These raptors are very skittish and as soon as they saw me they flew away.

D5S_7468-1028

“The more you wander, the more you wonder.” ~Mike Haworth

Despite their size, Bearded vultures appear to be timid by nature. They are regularly harassed by the White-necked ravens who are much smaller but act like terriers of the sky.

D5S_7404-1504

“Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open, only to discover what is already here.” ~Henry Miller

It is only when you spend a long time in the hide do you appreciate that you are not the centre of the universe and that nature will reveal herself when she is ready.

“Wonder is very much the affection of a philosopher; for there is no other beginning of philosophy than this.”~Plato

Watching these incredible raptors turn in the sky is a sight. They have huge wing spans and seem to be able to effortlessly manoeuvre in the air currents along the ridge. They can cross the two kilometre wide valley adjacent to the hide in seconds.

D5S_6516-1158

This adult Bearded vulture had its legs down after having just dropped a bone. Despite their large talons their feet are relatively weak and not as strong as the talons of eagles. For a long period, these bearded vultures were persecuted on the presumption that they killed young sheep which is how they gone their name lammiergeir -a name is derived from the German word Lämmergeier, meaning lamb-vulture. 

When you have spent a couple of days in the hide you have a deeper appreciation not only for the vast beauty of the landscapes from that position but also the natural flow and rhythm along the ridge. To watch the raptors effortlessly use the updrafts to glide up and down the ridge and watch the ravens frolic in the wind gives us terrestrial beings a yearning for that kind of atmospheric freedom. The wildlife clearly knows this is a feeding station and takes full advantage of the resource. 

“Learn to see the wild places in your soul, to cherish the hawk whose wide wings are your own. Learn to trust that trembling heart whose swirling depths call you to give what cannot be given. Let that eager mind that rides the updrafts san beyond the unknown. ” ~ Susan Landon

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Bethal views

As part of my quest to learn to see, understand and use light, I participated in a morning landscape course with Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris. The more involved I have become in wildlife photography the more I have realised that landscape photography is an essential foundation. While the ultimate aim is to capture extra-ordinary wildlife interaction, the number of high drama images captured in the wild are few and far between. So many of our wildlife images are in fact landscapes, wildlife landscapes.  The beauty of landscape photography is that it is an ideal method of training ones eye to see more. Everyone looks but not everyone sees.

“Learn to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Learning to see in a photographic sense is not a technical journey. It is presumed that you understand the technical elements of your camera. It is more of a sensual journey where one learns to see patterns, colour, texture and visual balance in an image. No one can tell you how to see, you need to learn this sense.

We visited a cattle farm near Bethal in the Mpumalanga province in South Africa. We rose at 4h00 on a Saturday morning in mid-winter to travel to Bethal which is about two hours drive from Pretoria, to be in position before sunrise. At the expected sunrise time it was still relatively dark due to a thick bank of cloud. The cloud helped warm the temperature somewhat to minus two degrees centigrade. A few days before that it had been minus seven degrees centigrade. One aspect of landscape photography which I like is that you should not be put off by bad weather. Since you are playing with light, the overcast weather can be useful. Anyway, the weather is not always sunshine in wildlife photography so you have to learn to shoot in all kinds of weather and light.  Often adverse weather conditions provide some unique lighting opportunities.

“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

The next image was taken of an empty feeding trough in a paddock where Basotho ponies were kept. These are tough horses able to endure the freezing winter night temperatures. These ponies are used to help round-up and herd cattle on the vast farm. The perimeter of the paddock was lined with trees. Being winter all the trees, except the confers, had lost their leaves.

Cast judgement aside and look. What do you see? Do you see leading lines, or patterns. Perhaps the colours are distracting or would the different tones in the image lend themselves to black and white treatment.

The sun did not manage to break through the thick layer of cloud until much later that Saturday morning.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ~ Aldous Huxley

Part of the reason for the workshop was to learn to take landscape images without a tripod. Traditional landscape photography is tripod centred which dictates that you and your camera are much less mobile and flexible. Often when in position it is useful to move a short distance to change the perspective. Also the light can change quickly in a scene with the passing clouds and you need to react quickly. If the camera is hand-held you have more freedom  to react quickly. This was just one such scene where a herder with his dogs came past us unexpectedly. No time to set up with a tripod. Modern day cameras have much improved ISO (light sensitivity) to noise capabilities allowing you to shoot at higher ISOs than the traditional ISO 100 without too much image noise. Image noise is random variation of brightness or colour information in images. Vibrational reduction is a feature of modern lenses which gives a major improvement to shutter speed flexibility. The vibration reduction feature can give as much as a four F-stop benefit allowing you to shoot at shutter speeds below 1/60th of  a second.

Being able to hand hold the camera and move around easily meant that one could change position easily to alter the perspective from the edge of a river. This is the same Olifant’s river which eventually flows through Kruger Park hundreds of kilometres to the east. The scene was still relatively dark at around 8h00 in the morning due to the thick cloud.

After a few hours of shooting in low cloudy diffused light we at last got some sunshine, a natural element of which we have plenty in South Africa. One of the aspects of landscape photography with short focal length lenses was that you need a focal point in the foreground to add interest to the image, otherwise the middle and background appear far away and less interesting. The focal point needs to be at or just beyond the hyperfocal distance of the lens which in the case of a short focal length lens is close, usually just a few metres. The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity, acceptably sharp.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ~ Ansel Adams

This was a classic example of shooting a simple scene of the river looking onto leafless willow trees in the middle distance. In order to improve the interest in the image we knelt down to include some of the bushes growing out from below the bridge. All images were shot at F22 using a Nikon 14-24mm lens. The key here was that at 14mm the hyperfocal distance was around 0.3 metres. A critical element of a landscape is that the entire depth of the image should be in focus because that is what your eye sees. That is assuming you are not trying something more artistic.

A similar perspective from the bridge looking onto the river but with a black and white treatment to better see the tonal range in the image.

“The task is…not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.” ~  Erwin Schrödinger

Away from the river in the open lands we found this dilapidated windmill which looked as though a serious gust of wind had buckled it. Again the trick was to try various angles and perspectives, looking to see what to include in the image and what not to include. This was all part of the process of learning to see.

The cloud remained quite heavy for most of the morning but every now a then a patch would clear the suns rays would shine through creating some interesting colour variations. This is where the flexibility of hand-held camerawork came to the fore.

In landscape photography one quickly learns that clouds are photographer’s friend, not foe.

We had a fascinating morning trying new techniques. The hand-held landscape photographic technique is not a catch-all approach but puts another arrow in the technique quiver. The hand-held approach certainly improves the photographer’s productivity such that they will come back with four to five times the images in a morning.

“Seeing is a skill which can be learned. See what is rather than what you expect. Look closer and new worlds of perception will open up. In that stillness you will start to see shape, colour, textures and connections which you never noticed before and a wonderland will unfold.”~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike