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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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!!   

 

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?!

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!!

     
 
 

 

June 7, 2011

A dream of a day…

Filed under: 2011,June — Hennie van Heerden @ 3:11 pm
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Last sunday I got up at 4.30 and went to the Veluwezoom, a National Park here in the Eastern Part of Holland. By many people this park is considered the baby sister of ‘De Hoge Veluwe’, a much larger neighboring National Park. But although de Hoge Veluwe is unequalled in Red Deer rutting season – the sightings there are awesome – in all other seasons I prefer de Veluwezoom. It’s got beautiful landscapes and it harbors a lot of animals and birds.

So this morning I was at the Park at 5 in the morning. The sky was dark and threatening and you could see a thunderstorm building up. My expectations were not very high when I arrived but still, after 5 minutes I saw Wild Boar in the dark forest, foraging for food. Not a bad start at all, but impossible to capture as it was way too dark, certainly this deep in the forest. But.. I tried anyway and raised ISO to an incredible 3200 which gave me just enough shutterspeed to capture the little piggies. And with that, all has been said as even in my display I could see that it wasn’t much.

But.. on I went and after just some 500m I spotted another Wild Boar, but this time underneath the bushes, next to an open field. I just parked the car in the middle of the road (there wasn’t anyone else crazy enough to visit the park in this weather anyway :-)) and waited. And out she came, but she wasn’t alone!! To my great excitement she had little piglets with her!! So never mind the high iso…. Shoot!!!! They ran up on the open field and I just knew it would be next to impossible to capture the movement in this kind of light. But one (just one) came out alright. Besides the shot, I was really thrilled to see the little family.

Only 500m further I stopped to see if there would be birds around as this was an area where I had seen lots of Yellowhammers and Linnets before. Nope, no such luck but something else drew my attention. A huge Wild Boar was standing in the bushes just alongside from where I had stopped. So sure, I tried to photograph her. Until I saw movement just next to her and a baby Boar showed (for a second) its cute little head. What a surprise!! So far it had been incredible despite the gathering clouds above my head. The storm was building and you could feel the electric tension in the air. Maybe that’s why all the animals were out, foraging while they still could..

My spirits rose as did my expectations. Often, when a day starts right, it will remain right! So off I went with good hopes. A little further down the road a little bird welcomed the day with a song and I stopped to capture it. From the corner of my eye I all of a sudded saw the bushes alongside the road move.. I looked, and out came the cutest little baby fox I had ever seen!! Which isn’t difficult as I’ve never seen one before in my entire life! I thought my heart would stop just there and then. Quickly pointed the camera and started shooting as if my life depended on it. But the baby wasn’t going to pose as after just a second it got up and walked straight towards me. Way too close for the lens…. Frustration!!!!! Well anyway, I got it and no matter the noise in the shot, I’m ever soooo happy with it! As with the experience of finally seeing my first baby fox!

After I sent several text messages (YAAAAYYYYYY, I got a baby fox) the beebs waking up hubby and some shooting buddies (sorry guys! just couldn’t resist!) I went on, my heart still pounding.. It was only a mile further down the road when I spotted a Roe Deer foe, up to her knees in heather and kind of nervously looking around. I again stopped the car and waited.  When I saw why she was so nervous my heart did another summersalt…. A Baby Deer was jumping high over the heather to get to her. It was just a second later that I realized that there were in fact 2 fawns!! God, what a day…
The little ones had spotted me and ran to mamma; all legs and no brains. Mom stood perfectly still and waited for the little fawns to reach her before she led them out into the field. But she was nervously trotting around while the fawns panicked and jumped all over the place. I figured they wanted to cross the road to reach the safer forest, so no matter how dearly I wanted the shots, I moved the car to make way. When I looked back I saw the three of them running off into the forest.. Couldn’t help it but I actually had tears in my eyes…

I continued my drive but my head was brimming.. When a trio of Red Deer came in sight, I just couldn’t believe my luck anymore….

For the past 2 days I’ve been up at 4.30 again to see if I could get a shot of all of this young life again, but nothing. Absolutely nothing. A Deer here and there, but nothing exciting. But I’ll keep on trying!!

December 1, 2010

Band of Brothers

After 3 weeks of travelling alone today was the day that Hans would arrive!!!! I could hardly wait for the plane to arrive. Of course it had been fantastic so far but especially on safari it’s so nice to share all of the wonderful sightings with each other. He would be arriving in the early afternoon, so of course I went out on game drive first in the morning. But I had to be back in Main Camp fairly early as I still had to pack everything as I would move to Rattray’s Camp to spend another 2 weeks there together with Hans. And in my case, it’s not so much the luggage that takes a lot of time to pack; It’s more fitting all the photographical gear back into it’s carry-on case 🙂

The day started brilliantly by finding the Matshipiri Female leopard high up in a tree. She is the mother of Pretty Boy or “The Italian” as I call him. So far we saw him a couple of times, but she had been invisible up till now. What a glorious sighting to start a day with!!
All kinds of Eagles were pretty active too and the Lilac Breasted Roller sure made a nice graphic picture on his branch.

I just couldn’t waint until it was time for Hans to arrive so I was ready on the deck way too soon. The transfer to Rattray’s went smoothly as was the ‘handing over’ to ranger Dean whom we got to know last year.  And it was a very big thrill to meet all my friends again. Alan the Barman, galant as ever, was waiting for me with the nicely chilled Chardonnay I like so much…. How’s that for a welcome!
A little before 2 we went to the airstrip and like clockwork the plane came in….
The man sure knows how to make an entrance.. 🙂

Of course we went on gamedrive that afternoon! And what a treat we had! I’ve mentioned before that Cheetah are a rare species in Mala Mala. The beautiful cats are more at home in the vast plains of the Serengeti than in the more densely populated South African parks and there had been years that I hadn’t seen one at all during my visits. We had been looking for them on the northern boundary for days already but other than a glimpse of only one, we hadn’t been lucky.

Until today…
When we arrived at the boundary there were 2 vehicles standing in the middle of the plain there….. And then we saw them.
The four brothers were together, watching a tiny newborn Wildebeest baby some 500 meters further on. They never lost sight of it while they crept closer and closer. Step by step, with endless patience. We came in on the right of them but the light of the setting sun was not in our favour. Dean quickly turned the wheel and got us to the left of them. Perfect Light!! And on top of that, the brothers chose that moment to line up absolutely perfect!!!! I’ve never in my life seen a more beautiful sighting of Cheetah than this. I didn’t know what to shoot first of last and ended up by just letting the camera rattle 🙂 I am SO happy with these shots!! The magnificent cats got up, crept closer to the Wildebeest baby and went down again. Surely a sighting I’ll never forget!

We stayed with them until it was completely dark, but not without getting treated to a most beautiful sunset. What a fantastic day!!



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