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Do you mind I am Shedding!

As a wildlife photographer I am often asked 3 of the same questions over and over. The first being whether I shoot Canon or Nikon? This is a moot question, we all know, or should know, that it is not about the camera! The 2nd question I am frequently asked, is which is my favourite animal? This is like asking me whether I would prefer to die in a crocodile or shark attack? I just don’t know! As seemingly ridiculous a question as this is, it has generated MANY hours of thought on my part, usually when sitting in the bush somewhere waiting patiently for one of my potentially ‘favourite’ animals to do something! Different animals display different character traits and behaviours, which link to my own individual personality quirks, all making this a much tougher question to answer than one would imagine. The third and final question I get asked frequently, is which time of year I like being in the African bush the most? This is an equally difficult question and it is made even more difficult by the fact that I have been very privileged to get to know the African bush on a very intimate level. After many years of pondering this conundrum I have narrowed my answer down to three different times of year and this is much better than I am doing on the ‘favourite animal’ question - I currently have four favourite animals!

The first window of time that I relish in the bush is an obvious one - springtime! This is not rocket science; the bush is so incredible during late Sep and October. The electric green grass and leaves sprout in defiance of the brown! The migrant birds start trickling back and the sweet aroma of the Wild Pear, Gardenia and Boer-bean flowers, waft gently on the cool breeze. Babies are birthed on the plains and Africa seems to celebrate its new lease on life in a most spectacular fashion. Distant thunder can be heard, the first frog croaks and the gentle subtle ‘Cu–koo’ call of the African Cuckoo is heard again for the first time. The scent of the flowering wild jasmine and the familiar ‘Meitjie’ call of another infamous cuckoo transport me instantly back to youthful days of summer. The sky however still clings to the rich blue hue of winter, which is only momentarily interrupted by the rocking flight, and dazzling colours of the now breeding rollers. The daytime temperatures are perfect and while life bursts forth, the pesky flies still slumber!

 Another time of year that I am particularly partial to, is late April and early May. This is the time of year when the green starts to fade and the Combretum leaves (belonging to the various species of bushwillow trees) start to turn orange. The climate is again blissful and the orange hues make for incredibly soft and pleasing photographic backdrops. As a photographer, this subtle time of change is also one of my favourite times of the year in the bush.

 Then you have February, another favourite time of mine in the bush and indeed, quite possibly my VERY favourite time of all. This is the time of year when the bush is the most alive! The brown shades of winter are now a very distant memory and Africa has become the tropical green jungle that you read about in children’s storybooks. There are thousands of different shades of green alone! The insect life is audibly abuzz and dung beetles busily roll balls amidst a cacophony of bird calls, most noticeably the shrill crescendo of the Woodland Kingfishers. Wild flowers bloom everywhere and the bright blue Commelina flowers juxtapose against the bright emerald-green grass in ways that short circuit your brain. Young foals, fawns and lambs have all found their legs and gambol about both the bush and plains. The rain pelts the African soil in the audible form of gigantic raindrops and lying in bed, the sheet lightning this time of year, is almost enough to allow one to read in the dark. This is Africa energized! 

The only trouble with this time of year, especially for a photographer in remote regions, is that the rains often make it impossible to drive any kind of a 4x4 without getting stuck and this brings me to the image you see at the top of this post. One particularly very wet February in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, I could not drive anywhere without getting stuck and when I mean anywhere, I mean I was marooned in our camp! With not many options available to me, instead of using wheels as my modus operandi, I took to walking around the camp with my close-focusing macro lens in hand. I peered under every leaf and bush and what I discovered left me in awe! An entire micro ecosystem existed right beneath my nose! This ecosystem functioned much like the one above and came complete with predators and prey. The predators took the form of spiders (that disguised themselves as flower petals) and tiny bright red hairy predatory mites! The prey took the form of butterflies and bees amongst thousands of other organisms, many of which were so bizarre that if it was not for the images I was capturing, I would not have believed that such creatures could exist! The most bizarre micro dweller of all was the nymph of creature called a Froghopper. Where does that name even come from? 

Indeed the creatures living beneath my feet were more bizarre, strange, fascinating and wonderful than those living in the ‘real’ world above. Avoiding the occasional puffadder, I spent two months crawling around on my knees, hunched over like an antbear. Besides needing a chiropractor and a blood transfusion from all the tsetsi fly bites, I had never been happier. The delightful denizens of my underworld had cast a spell on me so powerful that hours would pass by, before I lifted my head above the bushes much like a korhaan or bustard and when I did, I had no idea where I was!

One particular day, while I was crawling through a stand of tall rank grass, I found a tiny chameleon, no bigger than your pinkie finger. Moving in more closely to inspect my subject, I was amazed to see that the little guy was shedding his skin! Oblivious to my presence, he was gently rubbing his head up and down a grass stalk, an action that was assisting his shedding process. I had never before seen a shedding chameleon let alone photographed one and inching my lens closer, I finally lined up a shot. When my flash triggered, my little subject halted his to-and-fro movements and glanced straight at me. I took another shot but staring down my lens and directly into the chameleon’s eye, I quickly and rather strangely felt very embarrassed. The little chap was undergoing a very personal moment and there I was, sticking my gigantic lens into his tiny world, capturing him in a most uncompromising position – like some sort of weird bush paparazzi pervert! With our eyes still locked, I thought I heard the chameleon say, “Do you mind, I am shedding here?” and so, gently withdrawing my lens from his world, I tiptoed back to a far more boring one at higher altitude.

Technical Details: Nikon D200 entry-level body, 105mm focal length, ISO 200, F8 and 1/350th, SB800 flash.

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