Run to your local news stand and grab the current issue of Bay Nature. There is an article on California Condors that features one of my photos taken of a condor in Pinnacles National Park. This is a popular release point for these birds bred in rehabilitation centers, and the rocky area has proven a successful wild breeding area. As there are less than 300 of these birds in the wild, each is given a wing tag with a unique tracking number, and a radio transmitter.
A California Condor perches on a branch in front of a rock wall, Pinnacles National Park
The condor feature in my photo had a wing tag of number 340, which allowed me not only identify this as a male, but also get some detailed information about the bird’s history from the National Park Service:
Upon arrival at the Pinnacles flight pen, 340 was by far the most active and aggressive juvenile. Perhaps he was aware of his distinction in being the first chick produced by the Oregon Zoo, where he hatched on 5/9/04. As a culturally significant species to the Wasco tribe, the honor of naming 340 was given to Chief Nelson Wallulutum, who named him Kun-Wac-Shun, meaning Thunder and Lightning.
After his release at Pinnacles in 2005, 340 started to expand his range and quickly ascended the dominance hierarchy. He is outfitted with a GPS tag and has taken flight within 50 miles of the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge condor release site. His continued exploratory flights make him valued within the flock for his ability to lead others to new areas. During the winter of 2013, he began courting Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) condor 444. Unfortunately, 444 died due to lead poisoning in the summer of 2014. As a high ranking male, 340 found a new mate in VWS condor 236 and they are currently nesting within park boundaries, raising their chick, 828.
One of my favorite locations I visited in Namibia was the Damaraland region. I was staying at the Mowani Mountain Resort – a collection of beautifully architected bungalows settled in among giant boulders. Each structure was connected by a series of footpaths, and situated so that each room felt completely isolated. I felt as though I had the entire landscape to myself.
The Damaraland region of Namibia is very dry, and features an occasional white-barked tree growing from the rocks.
Luckily there was an interesting cloud bank to the west, blocking the sun and allowing its light to radiate into strong beams. The only element missing was a herd of desert-adapted elephants roaming the desert floor.
Twilight decends upon the landscape of Damaraland, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.
After the sun had set, the landscape radiated a deep blue, beckoning me to keep firing the shutter. This is a crop of a much wider panorama. Sometimes these photographs that appear more muted lend themselves to large wall hangings. Some day I may do just that.
As usual for a sunset landscape session, the action was over too quickly. Soon it was time to pack up the gear, have a quick sleep and prepare for an early safari the next morning.
When I was in Namibia earlier this year, I had a chance to see several rock hyrax up close. I came across them in the Damaraland region, living among the boulders in the dry desert landscape. Rock hyrax are small mammals resembling guinea pigs, distributed across Africa and the Middle East. However, their closest living relative is actually the elephant.
A rock hyrax sits on a granite boulder in the Damaraland region, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.
At first they seemed very skittish, but I found that if I just sat down and was still, they could get curious and would creep closer. I small face would appear around the side of a boulder and then quickly disappear, only to reemerge in a closer location.
A rock hyrax sits on a granite boulder in the Damaraland region, Twyfelfontein, Namibia.
My last blog post detailed my experience with five endangered black rhino at the Okaukuejo Waterhole in Ethosa National Park, Namibia. But that’s certainly not all I saw during those long quiet hours in the dead of night.
The sun sets over the Okaukuejo Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia
I arrived at the waterhole just as the sun was setting behind the horizon. Night is the best time to see wildlife here, and to facilitate wildlife viewing, this camp has set up a flood light by which to see the nocturnal visitors. Quite a few people gathered at the waterhole to watch the sunset, but soon they were off to dinner and bed. Over the next hour, the crowds thinned out and only the die-hards remained for a long night’s wait.
Zebra come at night to drink from the Okaukuejo Waterhole. Night is a good time for prey animals to visit waterholes as they have a better chance of escaping predators.
One of the more common visitors were the zebra. One night a small herd came at dusk, but it was those few that crept up to the waterhole in the middle of the night that were more fun to watch. The absolute silence was only disrupted by the soft crunching of rocks under their feet, as they lined the edge of the water to drink. The stillness of the water cast a perfect reflection. However there was no chance to relax, as any little sound had the zebra darting their gaze to the darkness, trying to see beyond the wall of black.
A giraffe stands next to a tree at the Okaukuejo Waterhole. Its body is reflected in the still waters, Etosha National Park, Namibia.
Zebra gave way to giraffe, which traveling in ones and twos. In order to capture photos of these animals at night, I had my 400mm lens locked down on the tripod, my mirror locked up, and my shutter speed just slow enough to gather the required light. Keep the shutter too slow, and the animal was more likely to move during the exposure. It was a careful balance of predicting animal behavior, and making sure all my camera functions were set correctly.
Giraffe visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole at night, drinking from its still water, Etosha National Park, Namibia.
One of my favorite sights was the comical way in which giraffe drank water. They had to contort their bodies and spread their front legs in order to bring their heads low enough to the ground to drink.
A springbok visits the Okaukuejo Waterhole at night, its form reflected in the still water, Etosha National Park, Namibia.
I did see an elephant in the early hours of morning. However luck was not on my side, and none of my photos turned out. There was too much movement from this giant beast to capture under low lights.
I would certainly recommend this type of experience to wildlife lovers. It was incredibly intimate to watch these animals interacting under the cover of darkness, with nobody else around. It was a wildlife cathedral I was lucky enough to attend!
Under the cover of darkness, two endangered black rhinos socialize next to the Okaukuejo Waterhole, their bodies reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight and are usually solitary creatures. Only at night can they be seen interacting with one another socially.
The endangered black rhino was long thought to be solitary and territorial, usually alone and resting most of the day in deep brush. On a recent trip to Namibia, I was hoping to see one of these rare creatures in the wild. With a worldwide wild population of only 5000, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to see one. Not only did I get my wish, but what I saw was counter to every description I’ve read about these animals.
I was traveling with a group through Namibia, photographing both wildlife and the incredible landscapes of that country. We spent a couple of nights in Etosha National Park, a stop on every wildlife tourist’s “todo” list. Okaukuejo camp features a natural waterhole that is kept floodlit all night. This allows visitors to view the amazing variety of wildlife that frequents the waterhole only at night. Knowing that the black rhino makes itself scarce during the day, I was hoping for a nocturnal sighting.
An endangered black rhino drinks from the Okaukuejo Waterhole, its body reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.
I waited and waited long into the night, with nothing to show for my weariness. I had a tripod mounted Canon 100-400mm lens with a new 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr attached to the back. At about 3:00 in the morning, just as I was about to pack up my gear, the silent darkness was disturbed by an incredibly loud crunching sound. Suddenly, an impossibly large form emerged from the brush a mere 50 yards from my position. My heart leapt into my throat – it was a black rhino!
A black rhino and her baby visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole, thier bodies reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.
Even more surprising was the baby rhino that followed closely behind. I couldn’t believe my luck in seeing not one but two of these rare creatures. After drinking by the water’s edge, the mother walked into the water to bathe. Soon her timid baby followed, and they ventured into water up to their stomachs, drinking as they went.
A black rhino and her baby visit the Okaukuejo Waterhole. A dip in the cool water washes away the dust. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.
As they emerged from the water, they looked like some kind of strange half-white, half-black creature, as the water and washed away all the dust from the surrounding landscape. After a few more minutes, they wandered back into the brush, content. I was certainly happy to have lucked out on my first night, but was hopeful to see them again the next night, now that I knew they were in the area.
The next night I didn’t have to wait long. Soon after sunset, two rhinos emerged from the brush. These were two full grown adults, and based on the lack of a baby, I figured that neither of these was the mother from the night before. After a quick drink, the two faced each other. Expecting some kind of fierce territorial battle, I was shocked to see them rub their faces against each other (see lead photo). Exchanging soft grunts (or at least as softly as a huge beast like this can grunt), they stood like this for several moments, touching horns and nuzzling each other. This certainly didn’t look like the solitary hermits I had read about before my trip!
A black rhino drinks from the Okaukuejo Waterhole, its body reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight.
As I was watching these two, the mother and baby from the night before came to the edge of the water. Finally, a fifth black rhino joined the party by the waterhole. At this point, I was expecting a confrontation of some sort, having seen protective wild animal mothers with their babies before. Surely one of these large adults would get too close to the baby and then the action would start!
Three endangered black rhinos socialize and drink from the Okaukuejo Waterhole, their bodies reflected in the still water. These uncommon rhinos are rarely seen in daylight and are usually solitary creatures. Only at night can they be seen interacting with one another socially.
Not only did none of that happen, but the five rhinos seemed almost sweet with each other. For the next half an hour, these nocturnal socialites drank and mingled, exchanging pleasantries (read: more grunting at each other). The baby was free to wander among the other rhinos. Before they left, I caught a quick video of them all together.
With my only experience consisting of two nights, I have no idea how rare or common it was to see this type of behavior. But rare or not, I was in awe of these amazing creatures and felt blessed to be given an opportunity to photograph them.