Hennie van Heerden's Wildlife Diary

May 31, 2014

The Battle of the Cuckoos

Filed under: 2014,May — Hennie van Heerden @ 8:19 am
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(I thought it was about time to update the wildlife diary again :-))

I was out very early in the morning a couple of days ago. Already within the first five minutes it turned out to become a good day for photography as the Roe Deer posed perfectly, and Spotted and Pied Flycatchers and a beautiful Bullfinch showed themselves.

For a couple of days already I heard a Cuckoo calling around the house and because of that it wasn’t hard to spot. He was flying up and down between the neighbour’s and our place. Unfortunately it always perched high up a tree but nonetheless I kept on shooting take-offs and landings.
I still had theImageImage calling bird in focus, waiting for yet another take-off, when all of a sudden a second Cuckoo appeared out of nowhere, practically bomb-diving my poor little friend. A fight developed, with the two birds tumbling through the air. Everything happened só fast, the only thing I could do is keep my finger on that shutter and blast away. Within 5 or 6 seconds it was all over leaving me with pounding heart and trembling hands. (apparently the Cuckoo also had a good scare because he didn’t call anymore for another hour or so, only to get back at it with new enthusiasm afterwards 🙂

I couldn’t wait to get back at the house to see if any of them would be sharp and low and behold; they were!! Of course they needed to be cropped but still I’m more then thrilled to have witnessed, ànd captured this unique event!!

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

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November 2, 2012

VNF Nature Photography Contest November 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hennie van Heerden @ 11:52 am
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Well, I didn’t take a way the overall ‘Photographer of the year” title at the VNF Nature Photography contest last night, but I did take home two first prizes and one 3rd prize, so I’m still thrilled to bits.

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First prize category birds, shot last monday in Gambia

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First prize in this year’s theme category: Movement
Nuthatch shot in my garden at a first attempt to freeze motion using flash. As you can see I wasn’t really good at that 🙂

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Third prize category birds

June 18, 2012

A dreamday..

Filed under: 2012,June — Hennie van Heerden @ 11:33 am
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When I entered Holland’s dune area last friday, it rained cats and dogs. At first I tried to ignore that but when it became clear that also the animals took shelter and didn’t show I gave in and waited it out under a tree. Was quite a challenge to keep the raindrops out of my coffee!

Hmm, when I had known I wouldn’t have gotten up at 4AM but could have stayed in my oh so warm and comfortable bed!

At about midday, the weather cleared up and with the sun also the animals showed themselves a bit more. But it wasn’t after lunch that the first fox showed itself. A young male was making an appearance and modelled like a pro in front of the waving grass and the flowering Sorrel. Beautiful setting! After a while it suddenly dashed off and soon became clear why. A beautiful adult female came in sight. She has taken over the territory of the old male that unfortunately died last february and defends it with a vengeance. No wonder the young male ran for it.

After spending quite some time with the beautiful female, I slowly headed back. I knew of a fox earth along the route but when I had checked it earlier that day it seemed abandoned. I really don’t know what made me check that den again; call it a hunch, but I did. I actually already passed it but something made me decide to turn back and have another look. And what a great hunch it was!!

When I carefully approached I saw something moving just outside the den; fox!! And not one but two! Mom and her beautiful baby were playing together in full view. I sat myself down and for the next 3 hours or so I filled every single memory card I had with me. I know I must have breathed in between shots but I can’t remember 🙂

Wat a fantastic encounter! For years I have been hoping for a fox kit in front of my lens and yes, I especially went to the Dunes to find one, but I never could have imagined to find this wonderful scene!!   

 

May 25, 2012

Honey (Buzzard) for breakfast..

Filed under: 2012,May — Hennie van Heerden @ 3:10 pm
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It was about 8 AM and I just had my first cup of coffee and the newspaper in front of me. All of a sudden I caught a glimpse of a big shape moving in the garden from the corner of my eye. I looked up and my jaw dropped to the floor. A Honey Buzzard!! This big bird-of-prey is migratory bird that only spends a few months a year in Holland. I had only seen two before in my entire life (twice in the same week last year).

And here it was some 5 meters away from the terrace, completely at ease on a branch of the apple tree in the garden! Of course it may have helped that our 4 dogs were still sound asleep, as was my husband. My camera was on the table so I took a dive to the floor, grabbed the camera Lara Croft style, slithered over the floor to a window where I would have the clearest view and started shooting straight through the window as I knew that there was no way that it would stay when I would open the sliding doors to the terrace.

It looked around, not in the least disturbed by the alarmed blackbirds that tried to scare it away. It hopped from the apple tree to the walnut tree and continued checking the surroundings for wasps’ nests – its main food. I kept shooting from the floor up, with one arm fencing off the dogs that had meanwhile woken up and came to see why I was acting so strangely. Hans had woken up too and wanted to enter the living room but was stopped by my frantically hissed “stay there!!” He didn’t dare to move a muscle 🙂

When it finally flew off  I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Honey Buzzard! Right here in my own garden!! The good thing is that now I know the sound I hear it every day. And the biggest surprise is that yesterday we saw it flying around, accompanied by a second one!! So please, keep your fingers crossed that it will nest somewhere close and raise lots of new honey buzzard babies!

April 7, 2012

Marakissa River Camp – The Gambia

A light fog still touches the water of the Marakissa River and the orangepink promise of yet another sunny day is glowing behind the palm trees when we step into our canoe that morning. When we push off from the bank a Pied Kingfisher plunges into the water right next to us in search for breakfast and we nearly jump out of our skin when a Purple Heron crashes out of its hiding with a loud shriek and decides to head for (even) quieter grounds.

With only the occasional splash of the paddle audible we float on the smooth surface of the river while nature awakes around us. An elegant Great White Egret steps with almost royal dignity through the shallow water near the bank and  bright green Ring-necked Parakeets shoot through the air. We hold our breath but keep our cameras ready when a Blue-breasted Kingfisher some 5 m next to the canoe, peers intently into the water; will it take a dive? But no, decisively he turns his splendid bright-blue back to us. A little further Little Bee-eaters greet each other enthusiastically and a Grey Kestrel checks out a hole in a dead Palm tree to see if it makes for a suitable nest. An enchanting sound high in the sky turns our attention to a huge flock of Whistling Ducks flying over in perfect v-formation.

Our cameras rattle constantly; we aren’t making much progress as we stop every 5 minutes when another feathered color-palette makes an appearance in front of our lenses. The faint Allāhu akbar from a distant mosque intensifies the magic of the silence even more. When around 9 the sun gains in strength we turn the canoe around and try our best to paddle straight back as not to keep Adama Hermse, owner of Marakissa River Camp, waiting with breakfast too long. Not that we are doing a great job in doing so as the temptation to take one more picture of those beautifully posing Long-tailed Glossy Starlings or the chattering Bearded Barbets is simply irresistible. But finally, somewhat embarrassed for being way too late, we reach the little jetty of Marakissa River Camp.

Our concern is unnecessary because Adama is waiting bright and cheerful for us, clapping her hands and chanting “Welcome back, welcome back!”, followed by her charismatic laugh. The smell of freshly cooked omelet reaches our noses and suddenly we feel how hungry we are after that gorgeous canoe-trip. Which is good because Adama’s meal portions are legendary. The Dutch background of her husband Joop is evident in the many varieties of jams, ‘hagelslag’ (typically Dutch granulated chocolate) and the delicious home-made peanut butter.

After breakfast we relax in the shadow of the thatched terrace in the garden and have a look at our photographical catch of the day. However, we don’t get much chance to do so as Joop and Adama have turned their garden into a true bird’s paradise.  Especially in this dry season when the water in the river has turned brackish, birds come to quench their thirst and wash their feathers from salt in the many small ponds and drinking spots scattered all over the garden. Brightly colored guests fly off and on; bright red Firefinches, icy-blue Cordon Blue Waxbills, startling yellow Weaver birds. We don’t dare to even breathe when a splendid Violet Turacu shows himself and a Blue-Bellied Roller flies in to take a bath. Completely breathtaking are the petite but outrageously pretty Beautiful Sunbirds that drink the nectar from the flowers’ calyxes.

By 4 o’clock we step into the canoe again. We are in luck because Joop has offered to accompany us. He knows the creeks of Marakissa as no other and even offers to do the paddling so we can concentrate entirely on photographing. As close as 20m from the jetty a surprise is waiting for us; an (in our eyes) huge Nile Crocodile is taking a sun bath on the bank of the river. Carefully Joop steers the canoe towards the impressive animal, meanwhile marveling about the fact that this is a first for him too, in all of his 20 years in Gambia! Usually you only get a glimps of this reptile, if you are lucky, and needless to say that swimming in the Marakissa River is not recommended. When “Schnappy”, as we lovingly call this beauty, gives off a warning sign by menacingly opening his impressive jaws, we quickly obey and remove ourselves  to a more respectfull distance. Message understood!

When it really becomes too dark to photograph we return to camp, where candles and little parafine lamps are meanwhile lit to offer us a warm welcome. Joop starts up the generator for us to charge our camera batteries and to load our valuable booty onto our computers. Enthusiastically Joop and Adama peer over our shoulders while we do so. Immediately after that has been done, the generator is switched off and the camp once again lies in serene silence. While crickets, frogs, owls and other night-birds take care of the background concert we eat the usual fantastic meal Adama has prepared for us by candle light. An hour later in our also by candles illuminated little roundhouse, just before our eyelids lose the battle against gravity, we hear how an African Scops Owl takes in his position on the roof beams of our hut…

March 14, 2012

Close.. But not close enough!

A few days ago I left early in the morning but there wasn’t much going on to photograph. When I was about to give up I passed a meadow where 3 hares where playing.. ehm, well it is spring! .. around. I stopped the car and got out for a low level shot. Right at that time they decided that it was time for a rest.. Tsss..

After a while one of them walked off towards a ditch where it disappeared in the reeds. Moments later I heard a big splash! I looked up just in time to see the hare crawl out on the other side, dripping wet. Guess the ditch was just a little too wide. But I figured that when one would try and jump the ditch, more could follow! So I quickly moved to the ditch and just waited.

It took about half an hour (I had forgotten my coat and 7 degrees in just a sweater nearly made me abandon the whole plan) but sure enough another hare approached the ditch and disappeared in the reeds. When it came out on the water side it hid behind some reed stems so it was impossible to get focus.. Aagh! Until it took 3 leaps towards me to find the shortest way to the other side and jumped!!!

And like his mate, also this time, the ditch turned out to be just a little bit too wide. Hilarious!

I put the whole series together in a sort of sequence. Hope you’ll like it as much as I did.

February 13, 2012

A Day at the Dunes

The “Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen”, in short AWD certainly belongs to my favorite Dutch areas for photography. Not only because of the abundant foxes and fallow deer, although I must admit they are the most spectacular inhabitants of this nature reserve, but also because of the magnificent landscapes and the many birds. The AWD has got it all; dunes, forests, water in the form of numerous canals, (AWD provides drinking water for the city of Amsterdam) vast heather and grass fields.

When I entered the reserve last week a thick fog rose from the many canals. The Swans, ducks and geese where hardly visible, but what an atmosphere. Beautiful! Soon the fog blanket evaporated and the area bathed in golden morning light. Can’t help myself but everytime I’m there, I feel happy. The area is so beautiful there is a surprise around every corner, however small sometimes.

It was still very cold, around -10 to -12 C and the AWD was covered in snow. After an hour or so we decided to sit down alongside one of the canals and get some of the tea we brought with us. But as always, when you sit still, nature finds you! The tea was soon forgotten when we discovered dozens of snipes, fouraging on the banks so what other choice did we have than go down in the snow and shoot our heart out! 🙂 Actually, we were so busy crawling up to the Snipes that we hadn’t noticed another visitor who was checking us out from behind a couple of reed stems.. Fox!! And we weren’t at all close to the area where the foxes are known to be approachable. The snow covered bank of the canal made for a perfect setting for this beauty and while the teacup was melting a hole in the snow down we went again on our stomachs. Funny how you don’t feel the cold at such moments at all!

She didn’t stay long but allowed us quite a few shots before she went. When afterwards we turned around to save the meanwhile stonecold tea, we were in for another surprise. Apparently her young was checking on mom what she was up to and meanwhile ‘guarded’ our gear that was, in the haste, scattered all around. Wow.. two foxes in our first hour in the dunes!!

The young fox was quite skittish and didn’t come close which was actually good so I could use the 500mm, a lens I prefer because of the nice blurry backgrounds. Also this one didn’t stay very long but I think I got some wonderful shots, especially with the snowy banks as background.

When the adrenaline of the fox encounters had worn off a bit we got on our way again. Like I said, around every corner there are little surprises. Woodcocks flying off when you practically stand on them (never time enough to capture them!), a Bittern and Whooper Swans flying over, Mergansers, Tufted Ducks, and Kingfishers on the canals.

After another hour we again sat down for the next attempt to get some tea down and yes, you guessed it; another fox paid us a visit 🙂 When some other photographers discovered us, soon she went on her way again but not without our memory cards still buffering!!

Later that day we saw two more foxes but in our hearts we knew that we never would get the setting there like we had had earlier. Sure we shot but the winning photographs of the day were the three earlier foxes! What a glorious day!!

When we slowly made our way back, it’s always quite a hike, we encounter yet one other female fox, an older one. I remember I saw here only once before last year. She completed the score of 6 foxes in one day! Can you imagine that the first couple of times I went to the AWD I couldn’t find even one, despite the 20-odd km I walked, cris-crossing the reserve.

We walked back along the canals with fallow deer as company. A Swan couple swam towards us, like two proud flagships, silently floating by. Can you imagine that I left the reserve with a big smile on my face?!

February 12, 2012

Photo Exhibition at the National Park “De Hoge Veluwe”

Filed under: 2012,February — Hennie van Heerden @ 4:04 pm
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My very first photo exhibition!! I’m really proud that a selection of recent photos is exhibited in the visitor centre of the National Park ‘De Hoge Veluwe’!! Next to that, a small movie is shown about me and my other work. So far, the response is heartwarming. So if you have been there already, thank you! And if you are going to go to the ‘Hoge Veluwe’, you’re very welcome to have a peek! It still runs until the 1st of april.

Mijn allereerste foto expositie! Ben hartstikke trots dat een selectie van mijn recentere foto’s momenteel tentoon gesteld worden in het Bezoekerscentrum van Nationaal Park de Hoge Veluwe. Ook wordt er een klein filmpje vertoond over mij en mijn werk. Tot dusver zijn de reacties werkelijk hartverwarmend! Dus mocht je al zijn geweest; dankjewel! En als je nog naar de Hoge Veluwe gaat een dezer dagen ben je van harte welkom om een kijkje te komen nemen!! De expositie loopt nog tot 1 april 2012.

January 1, 2012

Smashing book review!!

Filed under: 2012,January — Hennie van Heerden @ 8:27 am
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Ended 2011 with a fantastic bookreview on ‘the World of Hennie van Heerden’ in one of Holland’s biggest newspapers De Telegraaf!. 4 star rating!! Unexpected but boy, I’m so happy with it!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nederlandse boek website: www.wereldvanhennievanheerden.nl

English book website: www.worldofhennievanheerden.com

December 25, 2011

Not one but two!!

Filed under: 2011,december — Hennie van Heerden @ 10:26 am

Yesterday I received an email with a wonderful Christmas gift; The National Wildlife Federation congratulated me with not one, but two honorable mentions in their 2011 Photo Contest!! Already winning the first prize in the category birds with the little heron in the river “Braving the Waves” was fantastic but now the Dung Beetle shot (“Gladiators”) and the young leopard in the Mashatu tree “High and Mighty” also received this great honor. Wow! Great Christmas present!

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