A few more memories of our visit to Namaqualand before we leave for the Okavango delta today.
While looking at flowers we managed to see quite a variety of animals in the Namaqualand National Parks near Kamieskroon and Springbok, in the northern Cape region of South Africa. This is a harsh environment for warm-blooded birds and mammals, with its searing summer daytime temperatures and extreme aridity, but life finds a way to survive, even here.
Gemsbok are the largest antelope in the Oryx genus, found only in the arid regions of southern Africa, including the Kalahari Desert and sand dunes of Namibia. Gemsbok are so well adapted to the desert that they do not need to drink, getting moisture from the dew that forms on plants overnight, and can keep their brain cooler than their body temperature by passing arterial blood flowing to their head through a network of venous blood that has been cooled by evaporation from nasal sinuses.
Mountain zebra inhabit the dry, shrubby deserts of Angola, South Africa, and Namibia. They not only look different than their cousins in east Africa, their behavior is quite different too. Instead of forming large herds that mingle with other antelope that migrate over vast expanses of grasslands, Mountain zebra roam the rocky, hilly, steppe lands in small family groups of one stallion, several mares, and their recent offspring. Small groups of bachelor males might try to poach the mares of a family group, and stallions may spend a lot of time fighting these interlopers off.
Springbok were once the most numerous antelope in southern Africa, but their numbers have been reduced by hunting pressure and fences that limit their migration. Like the Gemsbok, they can live independent of water all year, or for most of their lives, by obtaining water from dew-laden plants. Grazers when grasses are plentiful and browsers when forage is limited, these little antelope can adapt to a variety of habitats in their arid desert range in Namibia and western South Africa.
Hartebeest (or Kongoni) are nomadic grazers that forage along the boundary between grassland and scrub in southwestern Africa. They are more dependent on water than Gemsbok and springbok and can be found near water sources in the evening.
Native ungulate (hoofed) mammals have to contend with grazing cattle as well as the occasional mules and horses belonging to the local farmers.
Traveling north of Cape Town about 250 miles, we have arrived in Namaqualand, where wild flowers abound in the spring. It is mountain region interspersed with valleys of lush wild flowers, even though the spring rains have not been particularly plentiful. The diversity of plants, both annual and perennial is astounding, far greater than what is seen in our southwestern US deserts.
It’s true that you can always find a Robin in a park, but at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, there seemed to be two different ones.
Another Robin look-alike is the Cape Robin-Chat. But this cute little guy is related to the old world flycatchers, instead of Thrushes.
I am in Cape Town, South Africa, one of my favorite places on earth, and in that beautiful city, is the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, one of the best in the world. The gardens are situated on the eastern slope of the iconic Table Mountain that looms above the city.
The flora at the southern tip of Africa comprise the unique Cape Floral Kingdom, found only here. Among these are the Proteas, with their highly unusual looking flowers.
The blog will be taking a vacation while we are traveling in southern Africa for the next few weeks. If I find some internet availability there, I may be able to post a photo or two of our travels. But there will be plenty of shots of exotic wildlife from the African backyard when I return.
In the meantime, enjoy a few of my favorite “flying away” photos of herons and egrets (the ones that are always flying away from me).
Ciao for now…
Nothing exemplifies patience better (in the bird world) than herons and egrets fishing. On a recent morning walk at the marsh at Wood Lake nature center, I spied these statues along the shore.
If they are undisturbed by a photographer’s presence, they will stand, unmoving in a fixed stance, for minutes on end, patiently waiting for the unwary fish or invertebrate to swim by.
The patient hunter reaps a reward! Herons and Egrets have an astounding 70% average success rate (# of captures/# of strikes) in both natural and man-made aquatic environments in the southeastern U.S*. I assume it’s roughly the same up here in the northland. Great Blue Herons were by far the most successful hunters in estuary habitat, racking up a 93% success rate there. Great Egrets enjoyed their greatest success along rivers (94%). Snowy Egrets were almost equally successful in a variety of aquatic habitats (65-75% success) but were not able to match the prey catching efficiency of their larger cousins.
*data from H.D. Mincey, 2006. MS Thesis, Georgia Southern University.
The warblers are back. They must have flown in with the last storm front this week and are just as busy as they were last spring flitting about the trees and shrubs in search of food. Since they don’t sing or chirp very much on their way south, I discovered the best way to find them was to listen for Chickadees making the “dee-dee” call. Every time I found/heard a flock of chickadees, I saw a variety of warblers with them.
It seems the warblers like to hang out with the local insectivores, forming mixed flocks of several species all cruising through the shrubbery and leaves together. Chickadee calls impart a wealth of information about the environment, especially the presence of potential threats, so perhaps migrating warblers rely on the local chickadee experts for information. In addition, more eyes to watch for predators equals greater safety.
Warblers are notoriously difficult to identify in the fall, mostly because they are not singing and the typical bright and distinctive male plumage may be dulled, looking more like the less distinctive female of that species. Adding juvenile birds into the mix further confuses us. So here’s a bird ID quiz.
Below are two photos of what I thought was two individuals of the same species.
What do you think? One species or two? List your reasons in the comments, and I’ll give you the answer tomorrow.
Under what? Under challenging light conditions, underneath your subject, under-exposed? All of the above? I learned an important lesson in how to use my equipment that made a big difference in the outcome. What I discovered about light metering and exposure values might not be news to seasoned photographers, but it might save some frustration for other beginners out there.
Let’s say you want to take a decent photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, sitting up high on a plant in a brightly lit environment.
The bird is very pale, with its white belly and throat and pale green back. In fact, it’s the brightest thing in the well-lit environment. You have four choices on most SLRs for metering the light in this scene. Here’s what happens when you set the light metering mode to evaluative metering (the default mode that measures light across the whole frame).
The most appropriate metering mode for this type of shot (small, bright object in the middle of a darker field) is spot metering, which measures the light intensity just in the circular area around the spot on which you focus (i.e., the head or other high contrast area on the bird). The result looks more like the first photo — better contrast and better detail.
Pushing this focus on the light intensity of just the bird a little further, I decreased the exposure compensation by one stop (i.e., underexposed), and I like the result even better. The details are much sharper in an underexposed photo, and the black background kind of makes the bird just pop out of the photo.
For even more dramatic contrast, even more underexposure produces something like this.
The Digital Camera World website has some excellent discussions of subjects like this – here’s a link to one on Metering Modes that explains all four light metering modes very clearly.