Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Eagle, Er, Blue Crane Has Landed - Etosha National Park, Namibia

The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea), Etosha.

Birds R cool. Yes, you heard it here. In terms of biodiversity, they wack the number of mammalian species in the Park.

There are approximately 280 species of birds found in Etosha. Few are more majestic or graceful than the Blue Crane. Adults grow to a height of 100 to 120 cm and up to 6.2 kg in mass.

I like that crane's bulbous head...

Unfortunately, the numbers of Blue Cranes is dwindling. The ICUN Red List classifies the species as vulnerable, meaning eventual extinction if mitigating factors such as habitat destructions aren't dealt with.

The Blue Crane population in the Park is around 70 breeding individuals.

As we were watching these cranes, I couldn't believe cars were whizzing by without stopping for a look...

Blue Crane Factoid of the Day...

The Blue Crane is the National Bird of South Africa.

The Eagle Has Landed...

If you know me, and most of my loyal readers do, you know that I'm a NASA-outer space exploration-astronomy junkie.

Well, this week marks the 40th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the Moon.

If you missed this inspirational moment back in 1969, surf to We Choose the Moon, a really neat website that is "replaying" the events that transpired in "real time", complete with the original soundtrack of the mission. If you're into twitter, the website will send you "tweets" to keep you up-to-date with mission happenings.

As of writing, the crew is 90 hr. 18 min and 15 sec from landing on the moon.

NASA has posted new digitally enhanced Apollo footage on it's site. The footage is crystal clear, as if it was filmed in a Hollywood sound stage just yesterday. Oops. Forget about that last comment.

If you haven't signed it out of the local public library, or rented it, make sure you watch the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon.

Or, else.

I guarantee it will make you cry like a little baby...

I did.

Finally, as a tribute to both the moon landing and Michael Jackson, I leave you with this link.

MJ, I know you're up there somewhere...doing the eternal moonwalk with the rest of us...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I Want a Rhinoceros for Christmas...Throw in a Leopard While You're At It - Etosha National Park, Namibia.

The plains of Etosha were vast and at times appeared to be void of animals (large mammals in particular).

Our patience and persistence on the safari beat eventually paid off in finding the animals we wanted to see.

After a long, hot, dusty day of pounding Etosha gravel roads, me and Ahmed were driving back to Halali Camp. The sun was setting below the endless horizon, bathing the landscape of the expansive veld in golden light.

Ahmed brought the car to a screeching halt.

Three cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) lounged under a distant acacia tree to our left. Yes! Pay dirt! Our first cheetahs!

Pressed for time, we drove on.

Again, Ahmed stopped the vehicle in its tracks.

Three white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) to the left!

Damn the Camp!! We rushed onward.

Driving around a big bend in the road, we saw what we thought was an injured animal lying on the edge of the vegetation. It was rather large for being roadkill. Ahmed slowed the car down. As we approached, the animal's head swung up.

The spotted mass was a sleepy leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)!

Holy crap! Bingo!

Pandemonium ensued, as we grabbed our cameras.
leopard namibia etosha
A little too much pandemonium in the car. Fast leopard, slow lens meant fuzzy leopard. Interesting abstract I guess.

In the span of 25 minutes we made three amazing observations...

My advice, don't stop looking. Never give up...

The cheetahs were really far from the road, but I managed to film the white rhinos and the leopard. Here's a taste of the chase:

Director's commentary:

00:12. Ahmed gets out of the car to observe the rhinos. Please do not try this at home unless you look both ways for large carnivores like cheetahs, lions, or leopards.

00:14. The darker rhino lets loose a violent power pee; easily mistaken for a jet plane taking off.

01:00. Ahmed tries to gain the attention of the leopard. By the way, using the psst...psst command is a legitimate photographic technique.

01:12. I think I was delirious from the heat in the car when I announced the distance to the cat was 700 metres. Clearly, it was about 30 metres. My bad.

Ed. note:

We missed the closing time of Halali Camp and were locked out.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

African Elephant Sighting - Fire in the Hole! Fire in the Hole! - Etosha National Park, Namibia

Another example how close my friend Ahmed can get us to some of these animals. We spotted this mud covered elephant bull about 200 m off the road. We stopped to watch. The elephant was walking towards the road. Ahmed gauged the situation. He moved the car about 50 m ahead. The elephant crossed the road about 10 to 15 m behind us. Not bad tracking, eh? Made for a good set of photos...

One of the biggest elephants I've ever seen. I'd guess 4-5 m in height and really massive... Notice the tiny car on the other side of the elephant...yikes.
The African Elephant, despite it's apparent calm, cool, and collected outward appearance, ranks up there with the most dangerous African animals. Good advice is to stay in the car or risk being crushed or being gored/tossed/tapped with one of them tusks.

Nice portrait. If you're caught out of the car and the elephant starts flapping its ears while engaged in a staring contest with you (followed by a ear piercing trumpet of a call), make yourself scarce. Find a very thick tree nearby and hide behind it. Forget about running...or climbing.

Elephant Factoid of the Day...

Healthy adult African Bush Elephants (Loxodonta africana) have no natural predators...some young adult bulls have been known to attack and kill rhinoceroses.