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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Wildlife of Kenya Greeting Cards - for a good cause!

I do realize the actual Christmas season has started and I can no longer express irritation at premature (>2 week) celebrations. So why not buy one of my snazzy cards?

Introducing the Kenya Wildlife Series in support of Faraja Children's Home. Each card has a stunning photograph that I took in the wilds of Kenya and a fascinating nature fact on the inside for an educational greeting experience. It is a celebration of Kenya's beauty and you will help 37 orphans have a little bit merrier Christmas.

"Oh, I've already got all my Christmas cards." Darn you, keener! If you'd done your shopping any earlier, it would be Christmas 2014! Throw those cards in the bin, mine are better!

Use the payment option above and I will send your order ASAP.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

From the archives: ridiculous wildlife poses

While perusing through old folders, carefully selecting 7 epic shots for the #challengeonnaturephotography, I came across many magnificent moments of human and animal coming together. Here are my favourites.

1. My most cherished days are those spent as an Algonquin naturalist. Dragonhunting, feces identification, carcass collection, rodent husbandry and animal tastings were routine activities in a week. David was a top ringleader. 

2. The geek's pallet is not restricted to vertebrates. Odonates are high in protein, crunchy with a fish-like flavour and a salty finish. 

3. Meanwhile, in a sick and twisted furor, Peter attempted to breed a zebra clubtail with a fawn darner. Despite belonging to different genera, they may produce viable eggs, according to Ian, since they are both "hooved." 

4. Chantal demonstrates the right technique with some more elegance. 

5. Every year on Thanksgiving, intrepid Ontario herpers abandon their families on a pilgrimage to Snake Road. Here Steve gets the "person who most looks like an animal" award with a box turtle.


6. Our comprehensive assault of the local herpetofauna required an amphibious approach. I plunged into this frigid river after these River Cooters. 


7. This man! Look at the wonder in his eyes, the sparkle of curiosity as Patrick admires a Green Treefrog. Or is the Green Treefrog admiring Patrick? 

8. Nick Schmeding looking like a total badass with this Gopher Snake, wrangled at 10,000 ft. in the White Mountains!

9. Not even Steve Marshall can resist the allure of the reptilian form. The legendary entomologist rarely photographs non-insect subjects but when he sees a creature so beautiful, he will point his lens and simply take a single shot.  

10. The easiest way to see a Bactrian Camel is to go to the Toronto Zoo. This one urinated in a continuous stream for 10 straight minutes, then gave Paul a literal tongue-lashing. 

 11. Who has never wondered what it would be like to ride a moose? Come on, you have!

12. If there's anything Andrew loves more than birds it's dogs. Here he's made friends with a local feral dog somewhere. 

13. If you want to settle the age-old mosquito competition, go to Amethyst Lake in Jasper. 

14. The best pose I have of someone holding a Gray Jay goes to Angela.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kenya Pt. 1: Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

In London, I toil 12-13 hours/day to do the work of 3 men. Like a wounded gazelle, I feign fitness by prancing about my daily business as if I'm not suitable prey for a pack of ravenous hyenas. Yet beneath this cheerful, collected guise of a well-adjustment man are a desperate and hectic struggle for every pound I earn.

It was time to let loose, and not a day too soon. Somehow, in my drug-mediated work-high, I'd made it to half term. "Holy shit, I thought, what the hell am I gonna do with my 2 week break?" Nice then Barcelona seemed tempting but the fares were jacked up for half term. Dom said I should "go back to my roots." Ha-ha! And that is how in one insane day, I ordered a new camera lens and bought a ticket to Nairobi (I also went to Major Lazer that same day - you can imagine I was pretty juiced up!).

I messaged friends. "I might be in Kenya in one week, who wants to adventure?" The Kenyans I know are pretty much usually down for an adventure at any random moment, since they appreciate the art of living, unlike us over here, who usually think of lame excuses to not go watch birds and camp, like "oh, I was gonna go on a Netflix binge that weekend" or "oh, its too expensive" and then pay $10 for a beer, or "oh, I have to write an essay this weekend" even though they won't even remember what the hell that essay was about in 2 months' time.

Yup, Kenyans are pretty dope. Jackson and Wilson answered the call and the fellowship was formed. I must big up Martha who would have come had she not been held up by some pre-arranged raging in Thailand. 

A two week vacation stands against everything I believe in, but nevertheless, it needed to be done. We headed straight from the airport to the night bus, but not before stopping for nyama choma and ugali.

By next morning we were already TukTuking toward lifer glory.

One of the "little five," a leopard tortoise
But to properly explore this forest, we needed a serious guide and a serious vehicle that could tackle the washed-out roads. There are Prados, Land Cruisers, and Subaru Foresters. Then, there is the Toyota Probox, the best car in Africa. With it's 155 mm ground clearance, efficient storage space, characteristic heat-resisting white paint job, indestructible build and Japanese durability, the Probox can handle anything. If fact, our Probox literally ate a tree stump which was in its way. I'm serious, it actually bit a chunk of wood off the stump which we had to pry out of the frame. 

The Probox in its element
Hey James maybe we should turn arou..op, ok nevermind
We were joined by our driver James (who would push the Probox to its limits), and our superb guide William. We focused on two targets: Sokoke Scops Owl and Sokoke Pipit. To find the owl required exploring known roost sites. We penetrated this dense forest of short trees via elephant trails.

Sokoke Scops habitat with characteristic red soil and short, dense trees

We saw no elephants, but we knew they were there

We were finding no owls, but there were plenty of interesting things to look at other than birds. For example, these ants. Look closely at the photo, and you will see they are carrying termites. This is an army

These ants are returning from a raid with termites

We took a hour off birding to enjoy a traditional vacation, not enough time for a tan unfortunately.

Turkey on bran

Ready for action

Amani Sunbird, the most stylish of all the sunbirds
The Green-backed Woodpecker is restricted to a small strip of coastal forest
We probably ran around for a kilometre chasing these Fischer's Turacos around a small grove of trees, finally to manage this shot
Seike's Monkey
Malindi Pipits

Great Egret
Woolly-necked Stork - lifer!

The lifers were flowing, but it was quality, not quantity that we were after. A true test of our patience was the Sokoke Pipit. Located by its zzip call, this extremely shy forest pipit walks along the leaf litter, flushing when you approach. We had scared one away the day before, and it took us a whole day to find another. 

Though the Sokoke Pipit and Owl are both endemic to this coastal forest, both live in totally different forest types
This pair took us about an hour of careful stalking, sometimes crawling on my belly, to photograph. I have to say one of the most beautiful birds I've ever seen.
Sokoke Pipit
Sokoke Pipit
The pipit sent off a chain reaction of birding, including the timid Red-tailed Ant Thrush.

Red-tailed Ant Thrush

Another resident was the red-capped robin chat, which seemed to be following around the Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew, the rarest of the elephant shrew, the rarest of the elephant shrews.

Red-capped Robin-Chat
Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew

These strange mammals are the closest relatives of elephants, sharing the long proboscis-like snout. This one uses it to rummage around leaf litter in search of food as a female Narina Trogon watches on.

Narina Trogon

We ventured in the Baobab country for some more special birds, and so I could fulfill my promise of collecting an interesting large seed of a baobab and some other trees for my arborist room mate. Unfortunately, they were stolen by a baboon.

Baobab savannah, habitat of the elusive Collared Palm Thrush

Night fell, and we decided to pay our guide and driver a little extra for an all-out night drive for one last chance at the Sokoke Scops Owl. 

We were being watched - by bushbabies
Nothing, but we had to stay another day anyway since we hadn't booked the bus. So might as well round up a few more species. On our way from camp, we were spotted by these two children down the road. We were dancing Nuh Linga (google it) and they were imitating our moves, then each of us would escalate the dance back and forth. This happens alot! 

Our guide arrived with some news we really didn't expect. David Ngala, the main guide and conservationist responsible for creating the forest conservancy, had wanted us to see the Scops so much that he had camped out in the forest so that he could locate a roost for us. I couldn't believe it. So we went there, crawled through a tunnel of tangled branches, and saw this absolute beauty, the most beautiful bird I've ever seen!

Sokoke Scops Owl!!!

In the same habitat lives the Four-coloured Bush-Shrike, which everybody had seen but me at this point. This bird was so ridiculously shy, we'd been hearing it for 3 days and I still hadn't seen one. This was the last chance, and we killed it!

Four-coloured Bush-Shrike
Crested Guineafowl

Now to Mt. Kenya!