Denali: Moose

“Stop!” yelled my wife. She had seen something moving from the Denali Wonder Lake bus. The bus driver stopped, and I snapped the above photo through the bus window. A mother moose and two calves. Seeing wildlife is an attraction of the bus ride, and the bus driver had told us to yell stop if we thought we saw wildlife.  Continue reading Denali: Moose

A Whale of a Tail, part 3

We enjoyed a 180 degree view of the ocean from our apartment. We looked for whales and turtles with the naked eye and binoculars. Usually the whales stopped splashing before we could get a camera out.

On our last morning on Maui, a competition pod was active long enough to takes pictures after setting up the tripod and camera.

On the right are the mother and calf. In the center a male is swimming on his side and raising his pectoral fin to slap it. On the left is a second male is breaching next to the other male.

competition pod heating up
competition pod heating up

Here the mother and calf are followed by a lunging male, where less than 40% of the body is out of the water.

mother and calf followed by lunging male
mother and calf followed by lunging male

Below, most of the whale’s body, including both pectoral fins, are out of the water, so this is called a breach. We did not see a whale breach on either of our cruises.

breaching whale with both pectoral fins visible
breaching whale with both pectoral fins visible

On a whale watching cruise you’re a lot closer to the whales than from your balcony, so you see more on a cruise. But watching whales from your balcony sure is comfortable, and the price is right!

After mounting the camera on the tripod, I turned off the lens image stabilization and attached a shutter release, to avoid shaking the camera when pressing the shutter button.

The above photos were taken at 400 mm and cropped to show more detail, since blog photos are limited in size. Here’s an uncropped photo to help illustrate the difference cropping makes.

whales in the Maui-Molokai channel
whales in the Maui-Molokai channel

In this image cropped the the above, we can more easily see three whales and houses on the distant Molokai shore.

crop example
crop example

After taking these photos, we packed up and rushed to the airport to catch our plane.

A Whale of a Tail, part 2

We went on second whale watching cruise from Lahaina, Maui. Like the first cruise, it was a warm, calm day in February in Hawaii — perfect for shorts and tee shirt. We saw pectoral fin slaps.

I like the blue-gray ocean in this photo. The water has an abstract, impressionist look. Doesn’t quite look like ocean, except for the whale tail and horizon.

whale tail in blue-gray ocean
whale tail in blue-gray ocean

A humpback mother and calf loitered near our boat. The mother felt comfortable with us; otherwise, she’d put herself between the boat and her calf.

humpback mother and calf
humpback mother and calf

An escort made his presence felt.

escort diving
escort diving

This whale is swimming away.  The top of the whale is visible from the head, to the bump with blowholes, along the back, to the dorsal fin.

humpback blowholes
humpback blowholes

A whale tail and a small boat.

whale watchers
whale watchers

Here’s a tail slap. Notice the spray and that the tips of the tail are higher than the base.

tail slap
tail slap

Finally, the mother, calf, and escort. The whale on the left is exhaling; in the middle, the calf’s dorsal fin is visible; the whale on the right is diving.

mother, calf, and escort
mother, calf, and escort

Day 3 at Serengeti camp – wildebeests and cheetahs

Near our camp in the Maswa Game Reserve, this group of wildebeests walked along the alkaline lake in the early morning. Our guides had told us that with the recent rain, the grass would grow quickly and the herds would return. On our drive the day before, we had seen columns of wildebeests migrating toward camp.

wildebeests returning after the rains
wildebeests returning after the rains

This group has six adults and one baby. I expected more babies — by late February, the calving was complete. Our guide said that about 80% of the newborn wildebeests don’t survive the first year: approximately a quarter die in the first few months, a quarter die crossing the rivers west of the Serengeti, and a quarter die in the Masai Mara. The west and Masai Mara both have rivers with crocodiles. The western Serengeti rivers have the first crocodiles encountered by the young wildebeests, and wildebeests aren’t prepared for the river crossing. The crocodiles get much of their annual food from the migration, so they gather and wait.

We noticed there were a lot more flies than before. Had a thousand flies hitched a ride with every new wildebeest that migrated here? Our guide explained that flies lay eggs in the dung. When the eggs are moistened by rain, baby flies emerge. So the wildebeests migrating into the area didn’t cause more flies.  The recent rain triggered both the new grass (causing wildebeests to migrate into the area) and newborn flies hatching.

Driving on the savanna, we saw three cheetahs: a mother and two 1-year-old cheetahs.

cheetah mother of two
cheetah mother of two
two one-year-old cheetahs
two one-year-old cheetahs

We waited to see if they would hunt the nearby wildebeests and gazelles.  But they only hid in the tall grass, so we drove on. In the photo below, there’s a cheetah head sticking up on each side of the photo.

two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass
two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass

At noon we found a cheetah mother and four cubs with a gazelle kill. It was the same cheetah family we had seen two days earlier. Our guide compared the two cheetah families.  One family has four month-old cubs ; the second family has the two year-old cheetahs.  The family with the older children has fewer children. Is this normal? Some cubs will not survive their first year, despite the best care of the mother. Yes, half the cheetah cubs surviving their first year is normal. 😦

Back at camp we saw this marabou stork.  They’re large (up to 1.5 m tall) and not pretty.

marabou stork at camp
marabou stork at camp

On the evening game drive we saw a mother and baby striped hyena.

striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena baby nursing
striped hyena baby nursing

The family that preys together, part 2

At noon on our third day at Serengeti camp, we found the cheetah family that we had seen two days earlier, just before the thunderstorm. They were in the acacia woodland earlier. Now they were on the savanna about a mile from the acacia woodland.

The mother cheetah had killed a thomson’s gazelle, and the safari land cruisers found the cheetahs. In this photo, four safari vehicles are very close the the cheetahs, and there are more vehicles. The mother cheetah is reacting to the tight circle of vehicles surrounding her four cubs. The short grass provides little cover. This photo was taken at 100 mm focal length.

cheetah mother and cubs surrounded by safari vehicles
cheetah mother and cubs surrounded by safari vehicles

Right after this picture was taken, our lead guide radioed all the guides to give the cheetahs more room.  Remarkably, every vehicle except one moved back.  Because we moved back, most of the remaining pictures were taken at 400 mm, four times the magnification of the first photo.

cheetah cubs eating
cheetah cubs eating
cheetah mother eating
cheetah mother eating
cheetah mother licking her nose
cheetah mother licking her nose

The cheetah mother tried to drag the gazelle, but she was too exhausted to drag it far.

dragging the kill
dragging the kill

The cheetahs stopped feeding. We had watched for an hour.  We drove back to camp for lunch.

cheetahs and gazelle
cheetahs and gazelle

Back at camp, our lead guide told us what happened that morning.  Another guide had watched the cheetahs before we arrived and told our guide.  The cheetah mother went hunting.  She couldn’t take the cubs while hunting, so she left them in the woodland, where they could hide from predators.  After killing the gazelle, she went back to the woodland and brought her cubs to the kill so they could eat and she could protect them.  She had dragged the kill toward the woodland but she was too tired to drag the gazelle the remaining mile.

The family that preys together, part 1

On our first day at Serengeti camp, we came upon a mother cheetah and cubs on the afternoon game drive.  They were sleeping, as cats usually do.  Our guide said there were four cheetah cubs.  We couldn’t make out four cubs, but by now, we knew better than to doubt the guide on counting animals.

sleeping cheetahs
sleeping cheetahs

We kept our distance and watched.  Occasionally a head would pop up for a moment and plop back down.  After 40 minutes, several heads popped up at the same time. Now we can see three cubs.  It’s getting dark.

several heads popping up at the same time
several heads popping up at the same time

Five minutes later the entire family is awake.  A proud mother and her four cubs, posing for us.

proud mother and four babies
proud mother and four babies

They get up and stretch.  My yoga instructor would be proud of these cats.  The cheetah cub does a cat pose.  The mother cheetah does a variation of the downward facing dog pose, a cat with its head up.

cheetah cub does a cat pose
cheetah cub does a cat pose
cheetah mother stretching
cheetah mother stretching
okay, we're up now
okay, we’re up now

And then the rain started.  They went for cover.

running for cover
running for cover

They played for a bit and then ran off, through the rain, into the night.

cubs climbing
cubs climbing
cheetahs nuzzling
cheetahs nuzzling

We had a great visit with the cheetah family.  It was dark, and we had a long drive back to camp in the rain, on dirt roads.

Aftermath of a kill

We were on a game drive our second morning in Alamana.  Another car radioed us about a hyena stalking a mother and baby gazelle. We drove over.

From people in the first car, we later learned that the gazelles spotted a hyena stalking them, and the gazelles ran.  The baby gazelle stumbled, and the hyena caught it.

We pulled up as the hyena caught the the baby gazelle.  The baby gazelle is still holding its head up.  The time of the photo is 8:00:35 am.

hyena biting baby gazelle
hyena biting baby gazelle

The mother tries to distract the hyena by running around the hyena. 8:00:37

mother gazelle trying to distract the hyena
mother gazelle trying to distract the hyena

A minute later, a second hyena is on the scene, and the baby gazelle is dead.  8:01:33

mother gazelle moves on after the second hyena appears
mother gazelle moves on after the second hyena appears

The aftermath is shown in this slide show.  Warning: it’s predictable and not pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the final photo, the hyena is done with his meal.  Note the red paws and mouth.  The time is 8:04:59.  Three and a half minutes from the initial photo biting the gazelle.

I ate the whole thing
I ate the whole thing

For those keeping track, the animals are a spotted hyena and two Thomson’s gazelles.  From wikipedia, “Although long reputed to be cowardly scavengers, hyenas, especially spotted hyenas, kill as much as 95% of the food they eat.”

8:05 am on our third day on safari.  What a way to start the day.