Paul Slyer's Photography blog

A blog all about photography, travel and wildlife

Deer rutting season begins..

It’s 6 a.m. when my alarm clock sounds and despite it being dark outside I have no problem rising this morning as I have been looking forward to this day trip all week. After a quick shower, cup of tea and double checking I have charged batteries, CF cards, monopod, camera and lens we are on our way to do some photographing in Richmond Park.

Richmond Park is a 944 hectare urban park located in south west London and is the largest of the royal parks in London.  The park is home to numerous wildlife species including red and fallow deer, foxes, rabbits, ring necked parrots, kestrels, woodpeckers and numerous waterfowl species.

Red deer stag

Red deer stag

Our main aim for the day was to photograph red deer.  In autumn the deer start their breeding ritual called the rut, where mature stags compete for the attention of the females (known as hinds) by sparring with each other.  Sometimes fights can last several minutes and males can sustain serious injuries if nether stag backs down.  Stags can be heard roaring and bellowing to advertise to females or to keep a check on the females already in his harem or group.  It seems that the females are attracted to males that call the loudest and most frequent.

Stag's call to attract females

females are attracted to stag's that call the loudest and most frequent

Arriving at the park we met up with a friend and discussed where we would start our deer search.  All of a sudden out of the morning mist came a low rumbling roar, similar to that of a male lion that I am so accustomed to back in Africa.  We all froze and listened with excitement as the realisation that there where deer in the vicinity became apparent. Discussion over, we headed for the distant roars of a stag advertising to females in a nearby woodland patch.

We found a fairly large group of around 15 deer grazing on chestnuts that had fallen overnight. They where all a bit skittish and due to the low light in the wood we could not get any decent photos, but never the less we had found our first herd and our spirits where up.  We slowly wandered from group to group following their calls waiting patiently for the right moment to capture a deer standing in a beam of light or compose a silhouette of one with a clean back ground.

In one thicket we managed to get some lovely shots of a large stag walking towards us in very thick ferns with only his head sticking out.  He was not fazed by us at all and we had to move out of his way to avoid being on the receiving end of a very large set of antlers.  He walked passed us and took out his frustration on a low lying branch before running down the hill towards a group of hinds in a small valley below.

Those antlers meant business

Those antlers meant business

As the sun and temperature rose, the deer moved out into the open fields where they lay sunning themselves and the males continued to call to any female looking for a harem to join.  In the distance we witnessed a fight between 2 rival stags with a group of 7 females watching intensively to see which male would be the more dominant. We raced off in their direction to record the action, but unfortunately by the time we reached them, there was already a winner who had kept custody of his females and the challenger was seen running off into the distance.

It was a good day out and we got some good images.  The light was a bit dark early in the morning, but the sun eventually showed itself and we could lower those ISOs enough to get some clean images.  If you are interested in photographing in Richmond Park, I would recommend getting an early start as you have a good chance of getting some lovely silhouette images of deer in thick mist.  The deer tended to stick to the woods in the morning and move into the open areas as the day warmed up.  At this time of year it is very easy to locate the deer by their calls.

I would definitely recommend a large focal length lens around 200 to 400mm as you don’t want to disturb them or get too close as they can be aggressive and have been known to attack people.  A monopod or tripod is a must, I found myself shooting at around ISO800 and only getting shutter speeds of 125th of a second at f5.6 and f8. 

Deer3

Calling out of a fern thicket

I always take great delight in taking time out from looking through the eye piece of the camera and just appreciate being amongst nature, spending time with these magnificent animals and enjoying the moment you have together.

Last but not least…respect the wildlife in our parks, take only photos and leave only foot prints.

Enjoy!

Posted 8 years, 2 months ago at 1:29 pm.

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Madagascar, A photographer’s dream (Part 2)

Kids on go-cart

Kids on go-cart

Leaving Ranomafana National Park we continued south on Route 7 towards the town of Fianarantsoa.  About 15km before we got there we started seeing hoards of people walking or pushing carts carrying local produce, chickens and ducks to sell at market day in the town.  It was very comical watching 4 boys riding on a go-cart while sitting on bags of rice.  In true Malagasy sense of humour they started showing off, doing tricks and leaning off the side of the cart while flying down a hill at 50km an hour.  After lunch in Fianarantsoa we headed towards our next park called Andringitra National Park.  The road to Andringitra is a 2 hour drive that takes you through beautiful rolling hills covered in rice paddies and tiny villages, but the road is a real dirt track and I would recommend doing it in a 4×4 or a vehicle with a high ground clearance.  

Road

Road to Andringitra National Park

Andringitra is probably the most scenic park I have ever hiked through.  It is subdivided into three ecosystems growing around a huge granite outcrop, which is the second highest mountain in Madagascar at 2,658m above sea level and offers some of the best landscape photography on the island.  The ecosystems are made up of lush tropical forests at the base of the outcrop, Montane mountain forest on the sides and high altitude vegetation on the top.

View from the top of Andringitra

View from the top of Andringitra

Pool by campsite

Pool by campsite

It is a fairly difficult but rewarding hike as you ascend up the mountain alongside two beautiful waterfalls to your first camp at the top of a plateau. The camp is made up of a small wooden hut next to a beautiful pool of crystal clear water where you can have a refreshing swim and cool off.  This hut is normally a sleep over stop before you carry on to Pic Boby which is the name of the highest peak in Andringitra.  The views of the valley below are spectacular.

 

 

Moss with a tiny stream

Moss with a tiny stream

From here you travel back to the plateau camp where you should spend another night before continuing along the top of the plateau through large granite boulders that are covered in islands of moss and lichen with tiny streams of rain water.  You can spend hours exploring the almost lunar landscape before descending down the other side of the plateau giving you a better view of the two waterfalls and the peak that you have just conquered.

If you are interested in landscape photography or are a keen hiker Andringitra National Park is a must and you would be foolish to skip it. Give yourself two nights hiking within the park as you will regret rushing it with just one night.

 

 

 

Two waterfalls

Two waterfalls

The next day we carried on heading south towards Isalo National Park. On our way we came across the most chaotic situation I had experienced on the whole trip. Madagascar always has something interesting to offer regardless of if you are on your way to or in one of the parks.  As far as the eye could see, the road in front of us was full of Zebu (local name for cows) all being herded towards our 4×4 on the main road to Tana.  Every few months herdsmen spend weeks
Zebu Jam

Zebu Jam

taking their Zebu on a few hundred km trek to the capital to sell them in the market.  For the next few hours we where caught up in Zebu jams waiting patiently or pushing our way through hundreds of animals, herd boys and taxis.

 Arriving in the town Ranohira we checked into our hotel for the evening to get some much earned rest before our big hike in Isalo the following morning.  Isalo National Park is made up of a wide variety of terrain including sandstone formations, open grassland, deep canyons in thick forests and a beautiful clear spring water oasis surrounded by palm trees.

We started our walk through landscape that looked similar to the American Grand Canyon with open grassland and huge eroded formations.  There were a lot of burial tombs dug out in the cliffs, which gives you an eerie feeling that the local ancestors are watching you.  After about 3 hours of hiking you are rewarded with a stunning oasis of palm lined pools and little waterfalls where you can have a refreshing swim and some lunch before carrying on into a large canyon filled with thick vegetation and fast flowing streams.

Isalo National Park

Isalo National Park

Madagascan Kistral

Madagascan Kistral

One of the nice things about Madagascar is that the wildlife does not feel threatened by people and you can normally get to within a few metres of birds and mammals before they start moving off.  We got within 1 metre of a Madagascan kestrel which was resting on a rock, he was so relaxed he even tucked one foot into his chest and closed his eyes while we just sat watching him.  We also saw ring tailed lemurs and red fronted brown lemurs around the campsite who where quite happy to pose for photographs.

Isalo National Park has a beautiful campsite within the canyon and is perfectly situated for you to spend many days hiking in the surrounding area.

 

 

 

 

The next installment we visit Beza Mehafaly, Tulear and Ifaty.

Read about Madagascar (Part 1)

Posted 8 years, 2 months ago at 2:07 pm.

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Madagascar, A photographer’s dream (Part 1)

Madagascar is a place unlike anywhere else in this world with its unique mixture of fauna and flora that seems to have evolved on a completely different level to the rest of the planet. It contains around 5% of the worlds wildlife with 80% being completely endemic to the island which is very extraordinary as it is only the 4th largest island in the world and slightly bigger than France, but the diversity of animals and plants on the island is out of this world. Apart from nature its landscapes and spectacular views rival the best in the world from lush rainforests with cascading rivers to dry arid deserts with rocky moonscape mountains being just the start to the different terrains it has to offer. I was fortunate enough to spend a month on this magical island and to say I was impressed is an understatement, I was blown away.
Tana2

Antananarivo

Landing in Antananarivo, (Tana for short) is something you need to brace yourself for. As soon as you step out of the airport the noise, smells and sights hit you like a ton of bricks.  The city is alive, bustling with swarms of people, cars and confusion all packed in along colourful stalls which sell everything from fruit and meat to bicycle parts, centred around a maze of old buildings, decrepit houses and shacks. It’s very overwhelming at first and you are not quite sure what to think, but you soon settle down and join in with the flow of things.

Food stalls (taken by John Slyer)

Food stalls (taken by John Slyer)

 If you are on a tight schedule I would say you would not need more then a full day in Tana. Some of the more popular attractions are the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, the Queens Palace and Tsimbazaza Zoo.

 Heading south it is well worth a night in Ialatsara Lemur Forest Camp.  Ialatsara Lemur Forest Camp is a fairly small reserve located on Route 7 south of Tana. The accommodation is made up of beautiful rustic open sided log cabins with fold down canvas flaps. The beds in the cabins had the most comfortable mattresses we experienced in Madagascar and it was really nice lying awake at night listening to the noises of the forest with a cool breeze on your face. 

chamelion

Chamelion

 

At night we went in search of Chameleons which proved to be a challenge at first as they are very camouflaged, but once your eyes become accustomed to what you are looking for we found dozens of them.  On top of that we also saw a mouse lemur which is about the size of a hamster and has one of the cutest faces you have ever seen with their pointy ears and big round eyes.

 

 

Mouse Lemur

Mouse Lemur

The next morning we went in search of the Milne-Edwards sifaka and found 3 of them after a fairly easy 2 hour walk. Milne-Edwards Sifaka’s are an arboreal, diurnal lemur species (active during the day and solely live in trees).  Their diet consists of leaves, fruit, seeds and flowers. They are a fairly large lemur dark brown to black in colour with a light brown back. We spent about 20 minutes with them before moving on. Shortly afterwards our guide found a Brookesia chameleon, which is the smallest chameleon in the world about 2-3cms in length.  They are extremely hard to find given their size and brown colour making them very camouflaged and usually found hiding under bark and leaf litter. After a few photographs we headed back to camp for breakfast and packed up.

Brookesia chameleon on 3cm's long (smallest chameleon in the world)

Brookesia chameleon on 3cm's long (smallest chameleon in the world)

Ranomafana National Park is one of Madagascar’s best known parks.  It became a national park in 1991 following the discovery of the golden bamboo lemur in 1986. The park is situated in a very rich montane or high altitude forest. It looks very similar to a rainforest having thick lush vegetation growing on steep mountain sides with fast flowing turbulent rivers and cascading waterfalls flowing down the valleys which provide stunning panoramic views.

River flowing through Ranomafana National Park

River flowing through Ranomafana National Park

Ranomafana supports a rich diversity of plants and wildlife. On our expedition we were lucky enough to see red-fronted brown lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, small toothed sportive lemurs and the very rare golden bamboo lemur with which the park is famous for. On top of that we got great shots of the very colourful daytime gecko plus loads of other interesting reptiles, frogs and insects. One night we went on a walk and came across a Malagasy striped civet sitting in the middle of the path not bothered by us at all. I also almost walked into a leaf tailed gecko which was hanging on a leaf in the middle of the path.

Daytime Gecko

Daytime Gecko

Regarding hiking, I would suggest that your fitness levels should be fairly good as the hikes can be strenuous with steep paths up and down the mountain sides and high humidity. I would recommend spending 3 nights in Ranomafana, spending the first and last night in one of the many hotels next to the park and the middle night camping within the park at the halfway point of the main hiking trail. The trail can be done in a day, but gives you little time to explore the forest.

Leaf tailed gecko

Leaf tailed gecko

My next instalment will be on Andringitra and Isalo National Parks.

Posted 8 years, 3 months ago at 9:36 am.

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Nikon D300s vs Canon EOS 7D

Well great news for Canon lovers, as this week Canon announces the much anticipated EOS 7D and finally a camera that will stand up to and could overtake Nikon’s flagship APS-C sensor range. This camera has been announced 4 weeks after Nikon announced the D300s which is an upgraded version of the highly accredited D300.

 d300s

Nikon D300s

 

Canon EOS 7D

CMOS

Sensor Type

CMOS

12.3

Mega Pixels

18

4288×2848

Max Resolution

5184×3456

100(L) 200-3200 6400(H)

ISO Rating

100-6400 12800(H)

30sec – 1/8000 sec

Shutter time min/max

30sec – 1/8000 sec

7  fps

Shutter speed

8 fps

Yes

Video

Yes

1280 – 720 at 24fps

Max video resolution

1920 – 1080 at 30fps

100%

View Finder

100%

148 – 111 – 74mm

Dimensions

147 – 114 – 74mm

938g

Weight

860g

yes

Live view

yes

3 inch 920 000 pixels

LCD

3 inch 920 000 pixels

51

Focus points

19

CF and SD

Card Format

CF

£1410  $1799  €1665

Price

£1699  $1699  €1649

On paper the 7D does look better than the D300s with an 18MP APS-C size sensor and 8 fps shutter speed.  Also, if you like video recording on your DSLR then you will be impressed with 1920-1080 HD video, recording at 30 fps which will increase the video quality.  Canon has added a 19 point AF system which is a huge improvement from the 50D.

For the D300s, Nikon has added 1290-720 HD video, recording at 24fps.  Marginal increase in shutter speed from 6 to 7 fps with the same 51 point auto focus system that has proven so popular with sport and wildlife photographers. Another useful feature is the addition of a SD card slot alongside the CF slot, which allows you to choose which card you save your photos to and the functionality of saving videos and stills on different cards or separating RAW and JPEG. 

Buffer speed technology has really improved with the ability of the 7D taking 18mp images at 8fps.  I don’t think it will be long now before we see 24mp full frame cameras shooting at 10fps.

I believe that the D300s will have the better image quality out of the two, due to the fact that Nikon have not increased their sensor. By increasing the pixels on an APS-C size sensor the quality of the shot can be compromised as it tends to add more noise to an image, especially in low light. Unless Canon brings out a completely new sensor design I don’t think they will be able to rectify this problem.

We will have to wait and see what the image quality is like when someone gets the chance to do a hands on review of the two cameras with sample pictures of the same subject.  However, as a Nikon shooter, personally I am really happy that Canon has caught up with Nikon, as I believe it will push Nikon to release an even better camera than the D300s.

Posted 8 years, 3 months ago at 7:44 pm.

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In the lion of fire

Recently while on a field guiding course in Karongwe Game reserve I had an encounter that will stay with me for the rest of my life…

We were out on our usual afternoon game drive looking for the resident pride of lions.  I was the designated tracker on this afternoon, perched on the end of our open safari vehicle.  For those of you who don’t know what being the tracker entails, it usually means sitting on a tiny chair which is bolted onto the front left hand side of the bonnet with your feet dangling over the edge resting on the bumper with two handles to hold onto to avoid falling off whilst driving along bumpy roads or speeding to an animal sighting. It is the tracker’s job to look for tracks on the dusty sand roads and to help the guide look for interesting sights on a game drive. 

One of Zeros Cubs

One of Zeros Cubs

Well back to the story…as we were crossing a dry river bed I spotted the resident pride of lions making their way down the river bed towards us.  I signalled to my guide, who switched off the engine not to scare the lions.  The were was made up of a magnificent male lion called Zero who was the leader, his 2 females and 2 younger males which were last years offspring.  The river bed was dry apart from 2 small puddles that had formed in tyre ruts.  Zero was about 20 metres in front of the rest of the pride and was walking directly towards me.  He stopped approximately 6 metres away from our vehicle stared into my eyes thought for a moment whether I would make a tasty meal then walked towards me…this is when I became really nervous!

 My guide and trainer at the time warned me not to move, not even to breath as this could spark an attack.  Zero got to within 1.5 metres of me, lay down at my feet and started drinking water out of the puddle looking up at me the whole time.  Now let me tell you I have done a fair few adrenalin sports in my life like bungee jumping, white water rafting and motocross, but nothing gets the heart pumping more than a fully grown wild lion at your feet!

Zero coming towards me taken by Robin Gilbert

Zero coming towards me taken by Robin Gilbert

After a few moments of composing myself I started appreciating the situation I was in.  To-date most of the adrenalin pumping activities I have participated in seemed dangerous at the time, but in reality have been pretty safe.  The chances of a rope breaking doing a bungee jump over a 100m gorge are pretty slim, but if Zero had decided that I looked like a tasty meal he would’ve had me between his jaws in seconds.  Luckily for me lions don’t associate trackers as food, but rather as part of the vehicle, which of course is alot bigger than they are.  

After about 15 minutes Zero got up and walked back to the rest of his family who where lying about 30 metres away, which gave me a chance to grab my camera and start getting shots of them.  Zero’s sons lay perfectly in parallel of each other and I got some good shots with one being in focus and the other out of focus.  Zero lay down facing one of his lionesses and gave her a nudge as males do when they what something more before getting up and mounting her.  She must not have been in the mood as a split second later she swung around and took a swipe at him. Obviously he was not impressed and let out a huge roar and wondered off sulking. These turned out to be great shots of lion interactions.

Zero drinking taken by Kim Carpenter

Zero drinking taken by Kim Carpenter

Well I think my close encounter with Zero has been engraved in my memory forever and I don’t think I will ever forget him and his pride for as long as I live.  I’m sure I will have plenty more encounters with lions in the future, but as they say “the first cut is the deepest”.

Cubs in a line

Cubs in a line

Having a tiff just after mating

Having a tiff just after mating

Posted 8 years, 3 months ago at 6:27 pm.

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