Jul 31

Wildlife photography is a fantastic way to discover nature – using your eyes and a camera to really explore and enjoy the natural world. You can have great fun creating stunning wild images whatever camera you have (SLR, pocket compact camera or mobile phone) and wherever you live.  Often the most exciting discoveries are right on our doorsteps – the highlight of my career was photographing a sleeping kingfisher just a few metres from house (they are unique images as far as I know)!

King of Sleeps JPG

Sleeping kingfisher © Iain Green

Whether you enjoy the artistic side of nature photography, or maybe wish to record the different wildlife and behaviour you see (probably a mixture of both) here are my top tips to help you take great wildlife shots.

 Local sites such as your garden, nearby park, beach or nature reserve offer some of the best opportunities for wildlife photography. By regularly exploring these local wild spaces you can build a detailed photographic study and create unique images. Visit sites at different times of the day and year to determine when wildlife activity is at its peak and where is the best spot to photograph.

• Do as much research as you can about the wildlife & habitats you hope to see – books, internet and wildlife charities are great Young Photographer  IG (P&C)sources. Quiz experts and local reserve staff for wildlife knowledge and advice, they are normally very happy to help.

• Get-up early, or go out late to get the best lighting conditions – especially in summer. If photographing bugs or flowers in middle of the day, use a reflector or piece of white card to bounce sunlight on to the shady side of your subject.

• Slow down and take time to think about your composition. Look for, bold colours, striking patterns or exciting action to create stunning photos. When photographing animals make sure you focus on the eyes. Experiment with composition by moving your subject off-centre and using scene features as natural frames

• Change your viewpoint. Get down low to your subjects eye-level for a better perspective and to portray nature in its own habitat. Don’t forget to look straight up or down to discover beautiful natural patterns in plants and trees. Photographing from below can make things look bigger or more impressive.

• Compact cameras are fantastic for photographing mini-beasts or flowers – don’t use the zoom, but carefully move your camera in close. The macro (flower symbol) setting on pocket cameras enables you to focus on something just a few cm away, creating striking frame-filling images.

• Learn how your camera works and don’t be afraid to experiment with different settings, such as exposure and focussing.

• Above all else get out and photograph, the best photographs are created by spending time outside and not in a camera shop. And be patient with wildlife, you may have to wait or make several visits for that special image.

Vole really close

If you are patient you could get some really great shots like this water vole image © Iain Green

Iain Green is a professional wildlife photographer and founder of www.WildWonder.co.uk, a social enterprise engaging young people, schools and adults with nature through discovery and creativity.

Feb 6

East Africa is a stunning region of the African continent. Marked by wonders such as the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Rift Valley, this area is renowned for its high concentration of widlife.

After the new BBC series ‘Africa’ took viewers to the savanna for its second episode, ARKive Geographic chose to highlight the United Republic of Tanzania this month to follow suit and showcase a nation with endless savannas to explore, along with some unique wildlife that you may be less familiar with!

Armoured Arborist

The three-cusped pangolin is an arboreal mammal that is well adapted to life in the trees, with its prehensile tail and clawed feet. This nocturnal creature is active at night searching for food, primarily consisting of ants and termites. It feasts on these critters using its incredibly long tongue which can extend to around 25 centimetres! Pangolins typically defend themselves from predators by curling into a tight ball, creating effective armor with their sharp scales. They can be found in the forests of Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa, as well as some nations in western and southern Africa.

Swimming Spelunker

The Tanganyika blackfin belongs to the Cichlidae family of freshwater fish which are adapted to a wide range of ecological niches. This has resulted in the evolution of a huge diversity of species that live in close proximity. Like many cichlids, this species occurs in a number of different colour forms, including black, light grey and yellow.  This attractive fish occupies rocky regions along the shoreline in the southern parts of Lake Tanganyika governed by Tanzania and Zambia.

Fleet Flapjack

With its unusually thin, flat shell, the pancake tortoise is more agile than other tortoise species. Since this tortoise could easily be torn apart by predators with its softer shell, it must rely on its speed and flexibility to escape from dangerous situations. This rare reptile is found in rocky habitats, also known as kopjes, in Kenya and Tanzania. It is classified as a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List due to habitat destruction and over-harvesting for trade.

 Spicy Islander

Kirk’s red colobus is a leaf-eating monkey found only on Zanzibar, part of an archipelago formerly known as the Spice Islands off the coast of Tanzania. This primate is named after Sir John Kirk, the British Resident to Zanzibar who first identified the species. This attractive monkey has a dark red to black coat with a paler underside and distinctive pink lips and nose. Now Endangered as a result of high rates of deforestation, it is believed that fewer than 1,500 individuals exist in the wild.

Damsel in Distress

The Amani flatwing is a damselfly aptly named for its behaviour of spreading its wings out flat when resting. These little beauties begin their life as aquatic larvae and pass through a series of developmental stages as they grow. Depending on the species, this larval period can last from three months up to ten years! Currently known only from the Amani Sigi Forest of the East Usambara Mountains in Tanzania, the Amani flatwing is classified as Critically Endangered due to destruction and degradation of its habitat.

 Carrion Commander

Rueppell’s griffon is a large African vulture that feeds solely on carrion and the bone fragments of dead animals. These sky captians spend much of their day gliding on thermal wind currents, flying with slow, powerful wing beats and looking for food from above. Griffons have frequent squabbles with one another over food, with grunting and hissing often a part of their aggression. This amazing bird is listed as Endangered, and occurs in a number of protected areas throughout its range, including the Serengeti National Park, a World Heritage Site and an important feeding area for the griffon.

Do you have a favorite savanna species to share with us? Find us on Twitter or Facebook!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA

Feb 3

In the United States, the National Football League’s Super Bowl Championship game is the most watched sporting event of the year. Commonly referred to as Super Bowl Sunday, this informal holiday is an occasion for people to gather, eat a lot of food, and root for their favorite team. This year, the Baltimore Ravens will take on the San Francisco 49ers to fight for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 3, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Some of the NFL team mascots are inspired by the animal kingdom.  In honor of this, we thought we would highlight some of the animals which display true athleticism, whilst  their human counterparts flash down the football field this Superbowl Sunday.

Shot Caller 

Raven photo

Perhaps the most influential position on the football field is that of the quarterback. This is a role of leadership, strategy and fitness – they call the offensive plays and must attempt to execute them. In the wild, the raven is known for its intelligence and athleticism. They are also playful birds, frequently performing mid-air acrobatics and passing objects to each other. These are all characteristics of a true quarterback! They have a variety of vocalizations, but instead of yelling “hut, hut – hike!” on the football field, they are more likely to caw “krack-krack-krack!”. The Baltimore Ravens have secured their seat in the Super Bowl, and could not have done it without their quarterback, Joe Flacco, a human raven!

Catcher on the Fly

Photo of bottlenose dolphin

The Miami Dolphins are a popular football team based in Florida, with the bottlenose dolphin as an appropriate representative. Another offensive position is that of the wide receiver, an athlete that must be able to catch a ball in mid-air while running at top speeds. Dolphins definitely have this maneuver down, with a keen ability to swim at high speeds and leap out of the water to catch fish. They are also highly intelligent and social animals, living in groups of up to 100 individuals. Another important trait on the football field is strong communication, so I think Miami has found the perfect mascot!

Charging Challenger

bighorn sheep photo

In order to get the football down the field, you need a strong offensive tackle to block and take down the opponent in front of you. The St. Louis Rams have an excellent mascot for this position. Bighorn sheep males, known as rams, are anything but lamb-like with their massive horns weighing up to 14 kilograms, and ability to leap over rocks and verticals with ease – like a footballer jumping lineman! Rams often engage in dominance battles by pushing and shoving one another before rearing up on the hind legs and lunging forwards and down, bringing the horns together with tremendous force. This species ranges from south-west Canada, through western and central USA into northern Mexico.

Brawny Blocker

photo of brown bear
The Chicago Bears from Illinois sport a brown bear mascot, an excellent representation of the linebacker on the field. The undeniably large defensemen use their sheer mass to keep the opposing team from getting a first down. Similarly, brown bears have the stature of a linebacker, with the largest subspecies of brown bears, the Kodiak bear weighing up to a hefty 780 kilograms. They are also opportunistic feeders, and move in response to food aggregations. Few creatures will get by a bear of this size without its permission!

Swift Scorer

Peregrine falcon photo

The peregrine falcon is the muse for the Atlanta Falcons from the state of Georgia, another high achieving team that made it to the playoffs this year. Renowned for record speed as the fastest animal on the planet and sheer grace in the sky, these birds of prey are capable of speeds up to 250 kilometres per hour diving for prey. Similar to a runningback on the football field who must show swiftness and finesse with the ball in order to score for their team, a peregrine falcon has the prey handling skills while at top speeds to be a successful sky predator. 

Talented Tackler

Jaguar photo

The Jacksonville Jaguars have an ideal mascot for demonstrating the important role of defensive tackle. This position requires strength, mass, and agility to rundown and seize the opposing ball carrier. The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas, with its power displayed through its impressive muscling, deep chest, large head and strong jaw. Its common name comes from the native Indian name ‘yaguara’, meaning ‘a beast that kills its prey with one bound. Once ranging farther across the United States, the jaguar is now only known to be photographed in Arizona, otherwise existing only in Central and South America.

Which team will you root for this Super Bowl? Let us know on ARKive’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA

Dec 19

South Africa is a nation rife with natural beauty. Found on the southern-most tip of the African continent it is bordered by five other countries including Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland.

Famous for its captivating and exquisite wildlife, South Africa is a popular travel destination for travellers wanting to experience spectacular flora and fauna. To help you save on the air fare, we thought we would showcase just some of the amazing species found in South Africa as part of this months installement of ARKive Geographic.

Sandy Serpent

Photo of Namaqua dwarf adder camouflaged in the sand

Sometimes the best things come in small packages, or perhaps the most powerful! The Namaqua dwarf adder is one such example, being the smallest venomous snake in the world. Reaching a maximum of 28 centimetres, this true viper has an attractive broad and triangular head, a heavy body covered in protruding scales, and retractable hollow fangs used to inject venom into its prey. This dune-dwelling reptile is classified Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to mining activities and collection for the pet trade.

Rooted in Riches

Silver tree leaves

The silver tree is a shining beauty, growing on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. What makes this tree unique is its silver sheen and velvety leaves, which are covered in tiny hairs to protect it from desiccation and being eaten. The fruit of the silver tree will ripen over several months and is sometimes not released from its woody sheath for several years. This hearty plant can live for up to 80 years, yet is considered Vulnerable due to excessive leaf collection and other invasive plant species.

Shy Guy

Brown shyshark on seabottom

Lacking the fierce predatory nature of its larger relative, the great white shark, this brown shyshark is much less dominating in appearance and behaviour. In fact, its name comes from its tendency to coil its tail around its eyes as a defense against predators when it is caught or picked up. It prefers to feed on lobsters and smaller fish, and is endemic to waters around South Africa in the western Indian Ocean.

Stately Stepper

Male secretary bird displaying

The secretary bird is a large bird of prey from the African grasslands, whose name stems from the peculiar long feathers on the back of its neck which are said to resemble the quill pens that secretaries used over a century ago. This unique bird is also known as the ‘marching eagle’ as it prefers to move around on foot. It can easily cover 20-30 kilometers a day hunting opportunistically for food, taking mongooses, hares, snakes, lizards, squirrels and even freshwater crabs! The secretary bird has an intricate courtship routine that involves pendulum displays in flight.

A Rare Hare

Riverine rabbit

The critically endangered riverine rabbit is one of the rarest terrestrial mammals endemic to South Africa. What makes this lagomorph unique is that it typically produces only one kitten (baby rabbit) a year. The riverine rabbit is nocturnal and feeds on flowers and grasses at night. Over the past century, two-thirds of its habitat has been lost and it is estimated that only 250 individuals remain in the wild.

A horse of a different colour

Cape mountain zebras

What would a zebra be without its stripes? While zebras may all blend together in a herd, different zebra species have distinguishing characteristics, and each individual has a unique stripe pattern. The mountain zebra is discernible from other zebra species by the thin and relatively closely spaced vertical black lines on its neck and torso, and the ‘grid iron’ pattern of narrow stripes across the rump. The Mountain zebras also has a square flap of skin, or dewlap, on its throat. Hunting and habitat loss are primary threats to this black and white beauty.

Savannah Sovereign

African lioness covered in blood from a kill

While the range of the lion is not restricted to South Africa, it is difficult to overlook this ‘king of beasts’. An iconic species, lions inspire us with their courage, strength and spirit. This magnificent big cat is built to prey on animals many times its size, including African buffalo, hippos, and even elephants while hunting cooperatively! Male lions are larger than females and possess a mane of hair around their heads, a unique feature unique amongst the cat family. Some of the biggest threats that lions face are habitat loss, human conflict and over-hunting.

While these species are truly magnificent, they are only a small sample of what you can see in South Africa. Haved you visted before, or is it on your travel wishlist? Let us know, and please share your favourite South African species with us on our Facebook or Twitter page!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant


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