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

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?!

October 13, 2011

VNF jubileum festival 5 november Hanzehof Zutphen

Voor het eerst in mijn blog schrijf ik eens in het Nederlands omdat dit toch vooral een Hollands evenement betreft.

(I’m sorry for writing this blog entry in Dutch, but it’s about a Dutch Photo Festival, which I’m going to present on November 5th, and I guess it’s kind of a Dutch party)

Ik ben al een aantal jaren lid van de Vereniging Natuurfotografen en dan van de afdeling Apeldoorn. En dit jaar hebben we een feestje te vieren!! De club bestaat namelijk 25 jaar en we gaan dit groots vieren op 5 november a.s. in de Hanzehof in Zutphen. En raad eens wie het festival gaat presenteren 🙂 (ben nu al zenuwachtig en val straks vast van het podium af of zoiets..)

Er wordt al bijna een jaar aan de organisatie van dit festival gewerkt en het belooft dan ook een fantastische dag te worden.

Zo komen er internationaal en nationaal bekende gastsprekers waaronder ‘Wild Wonders of Europe” fotograaf Jari Peltomaki, Dutch photographer of the year David Pattyn en zal ons eigen clublid Jan Vermeer, 2x winnaar van Wildlife Photographer of the Year het festival openen met een prachtige presentatie over Africa. Niet de minste namen zou ik zeggen!! Verder zijn er werkelijk supermooie foto-presentaties te bewonderen van o.a. Karel Tomei en zal Gertjan Straalman een presentatie geven over filmen met de spiegelreflex camera. (heb ik zeker nodig want daar bak ik niks van :-)). Verder is er een ontroerend mooi klankbeeld over de Veluwe te zien, samengesteld uit ingezonden leden-beelden. Ongelooflijk hoe mooi dit relatief kleine Nederlandse Natuurgebied in beeld is gebracht!

Voor het volledige programma verwijs ik graag naar de website van het VNF-Apeldoorn en voor kaartverkoop naar de website van Foto Konijnenberg.

Het aantal toegangskaarten is redelijk beperkt dus bestel snel! Het zou ontzettend leuk zijn jullie daar allemaal te zien!

September 20, 2011

Proud as a peacock..

Filed under: 2011,September — Hennie van Heerden @ 2:13 pm
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Finally…. The book is out!!

My first really really official book has just been published! I am proud as a peacock! 🙂

Better yet, actually there are two books;

Have a look at the Dutch version or the English version.

I feel like I’ve just given birth 🙂 Without the pain that is..

September 11, 2011

Surprise Party

Yesterday afternoon I was working when I all of a sudden heard a bird calling outside. It sounded all too familiar: Kingfisher! Although we have visiting Kingfishers every now and again it still is a rare guests as we live in a forest area and there are not that many nesting possibilities around. Two years ago, we’ve had a Kingfisher emptying our pond for a week, but since then it still is an exception when I hear or see one.

But this time she had landed on a branch over the pond and started scanning the water for fish. As there are a lot of fish in the pond I knew that it would mean that she was probably going to stay around for a while. The next 10 minutes were frantic. The moment she flew off for a moment I sprinted to the shed, got out my hide, threw it on the terrace that is next to the pond, got a little chair, my tripod, camera. Sprinted off to the neares patch of forest where I knew Hans had been busy cutting off branches. Dragged a huge one to the pond and just hung it just over the water surface. Took a dive in the hide, zipped it up and exhaled again 🙂

It only took a few minutes and there was the familiar sound again. To my great thrill it flew straight at the new branch, right in front of my camera. It took her only a minute before she took a dive into the pond and fished out her first little fish. It was a shame that it was cloudy and already quite late, so the possible shutterspeeds weren’t fast enough to capture her smashing the fish on the branch, but still got some really nice shots.

She kept on fishing and in the first hour she caught herself 5 fish before she landed on a tiny little branch just above the water and started to clean her feathers. By that time I thought I heared the call again but dismissed it as imagination as I didn’t see her call. When I looked back at the pictures I took later on, the surprise was complete when it turned out there were two different ones! Talk about a surprise party!! Both juvenile females. I really hope they’ll return but I haven’t seen them again ever since.

August 12, 2011

Workshop Wildlife Photography: Red Deer Rutting Season

Filed under: 2011,August — Hennie van Heerden @ 7:29 am
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I have just updated my website with an exciting new Workshop: photographing the beautiful Red Deer in rutting season!

If you are interested in joining me at this wildly fascinating event on either thursday 15 september or friday 16 september, please follow this link for more information. (Dutch only I’m afraid).

July 4, 2011

On safari in Holland

Last week at the National Park ‘De Veluwezoom’ was fantastic. You know, I’ve heard so often that to see ‘real’ wildlife, you have to go to Africa, or Antarctica, or the Galapagos. But close to home, often you can see so much wildlife that it’s dazzling. But maybe we don’t find it exotic enough. For me, seeing a Roe Deer or a Wild Boar is just as exciting as seeing an Impala or a Warthog. Especially when you’ve waited days to get a clean shot of one of them it’s equally rewarding as being on safari in Africa. Well, at least, almost as rewarding.. 🙂

The last couple of days have been awesome. I love, really love, being out there at the crack of dawn, nobody else, no joggers, no moutain bikers and especially no ‘tour-de-france-wannabees’ yet. (I could fill an entire blog page with my experiences with that group!). Totally quiet. The fun is approaching the animals without disturbing them. I’m getting quite good at that. My poor car is not enjoying rolling down a hill, motor off, heading with a speed of 5 miles/hour, but it works!! But to see the sun creep up the hills, setting the flowering heather ablaze with golden light is fantastic.

The Roe Deer don’t get disturbed but just continue fouraging, the Wild Boar let their young frolick around without heading off, the Doe shows her Fawn without totally panicking. I’ve seen Fox on several occasions but wasn’t able to get a clean shot. But I will, I’m sure.

Yesterday, the Roe Deer Foe who, by now, doesn’t seem to get alarmed by my presence anymore, let me approach her, by now only one, fawn pretty close. Imagine that up until this year I’ve only seen a fawn once, although I’ve been surrounded by Roe Deer all my life! All of a sudden I seem to know how to look, and where to look. Where I used to drive on after seeing a Deer Foe on her own, I now stop the car and wait patiently. Because a Doe on her own in June is likely to have hidden her Fawns somewhere. I can’t help it, but each time I see the head go up when she starts to call with soft high pitched sounds, I secretely smile. Patience gets rewarded every time!

There were two absolute highlights last week. First on monday, to see the Honey Buzzard. It’s a very rare bird of prey in Holland and there aren’t that many photographers that have a shot in their collection. I’ve seen one a couple of times before but had never been able to capture it right.
But this day was different. Although I had woken up an hour too late I still went but indeed all of the wildlife already seemed to have gone in hiding. Until I turned the corner, entering a road that’s overlooking a vast heather field. The light was harsh and shone directly in my face when I saw a shape sitting on a portruding branch. Hawk! I thought by the looks of the grey head and the bright yellow eyes. Exciting as I don’t have a good shot of those birds yet. Yes, dozens of in-flight shots when it’s flying over the meadow behind our house to it’s nest in the corner of the forest, but no ground shots. So I switched off the engine and let the car creep forward, rolling silently down the hill. Just when I was about in ‘shooting’-range, it flew off. Even before I could get a clear shot. Disappointed I sat back, until a shadow fell over the heather; it returned!! Be it one little branch further away. I started shooting although it was quite far away. Much to my surprise, it flew up only to land on top of a shrub closer by!! The harsh light I dreaded worked in my advantage as it shone beautifully through the stretched out wings from behind. When it finally took off altogether, I sat back, and ‘chimped’ through the images on my display and I suddenly realized I was looking, not at a Hawk, but at a beautiful male Honey Buzzard! So I waited around to see if it would be coming back but no such luck. Tried several times during the next days, but I’ve never seen it again (yet). Guess oversleeping made it my lucky day as chances are that I normally would have been out of the park already by that time.

Another highlight occured yesterday, which was my birthday. When I drove my usual circle I saw mom Wild Boar high up the hill. I’ve seen her there before (see upper photo) and I know she has little piglets. But the heather there is really high and usually all you get to see of the little piggies are the tops of their backs, shooting through the heather. But still, you never know, so I stopped and just waited. It took the good part of an hour but the little piglets came closer and closer!! When they were about halfway I suddenly remembered that my camera has a film mode, so I started taping some of the frolicks of the babies. I’m not good at filming but have a look at the video at the bottom of this blog entry. I think it gives a good idea of what I felt, watching those little piglets. Wait for the little white one to come racing through the frame! 🙂

While mom was still foraging, the babies came closer and closer until they were right next to the car! What a wonderful sight!! They started digging for food like tiny little shovels and it was realy too cute to watch them! Hard to imagine that one day these cute little babies will have grown into huge impressive Wild Boars 🙂

I don’t think I could have gotten a better birthday present as spending an hour or so with these little cuties!!

     
 
 

 

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