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Nikon Owner Issue 12

Animal Encounters
By Heather Angel

Flamingos

Since feeding is essential for long-term survival, arguably one of the easiest achievable goals is to compile a photo essay of the way in which different animals feed. However, the chances of encountering a mobile predator – such as a big cat – feeding, are less likely than finding an herbivore grazing or browsing throughout much of the day.

Animals tend to be creatures of habit with favourite seasonal foods, which helps the photographer to pinpoint when and where to travel for feeding shots. A productive way of working is to use a permanent hide or a platform overlooking a honey-pot location, notably a river where brown bears gather to gorge themselves on migrating salmon. The window of opportunity for such feasting on seasonal bounties may last for only a matter of days, so it is crucial to get the timing right.

Animals are also opportunists, taking advantage of any unexpected windfall, whether it be scavengers spotting a carcass or birds flying over fruit-laden trees. One of the best ways to locate a kill in Africa is to scan the sky for vultures homing in on a carcass. Many animals are so preoccupied with feeding, they will tolerate a close approach by a photographer; but always be aware that carnivores may become aggressive if an intruder approaches too close too quickly. Having made a kill, carnivores are reluctant to abandon it; whereas herbivores can simply move off to graze or browse elsewhere.

Lions

A feeding frenzy is a rare spectacle which I have twice experienced in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Towards the end of the year when the extensive flood waters have shrunk to isolated pockets, fish became concentrated in natural fish traps. This provides a feeding bonanza for a host of birds which don’t normally feed in close proximity – I have counted 35 species at one trap alone. Last time I saw such a fish trap we scouted for raised ground onto which we could drive in a jeep to gain a slightly higher viewpoint. From here, I used a complete galaxy of lenses from an ultra-wide (to show the extent of the feeding area) to a 500mm for individual cameo scenes.

Affection

Any shots depicting mother love are always popular and, arguably, amongst the easiest to get, since young mammalian babies have to remain close to their mother to feed. Look for a touching moment when one member of a family unit reacts to another by stretching out a hand or caresses a partner with a bill.

Getting these sorts of shots requires investing time out in the field, waiting for that moment when two animals interact in an affectionate way. Like humans, primate youngsters also need repeated reassuring hugs from their mother or other adults within the social group. Being prepared to sit in a hide or a vehicle is the best way to observe and anticipate the prime moment when to release the shutter.

Conflict

Elephants

Animal aggression may be fleeting or prolonged, mild or intense. Animals are aggressive in defence of their territory, or if their offspring, their food or their lives are threatened.

Defence of territory is the most frequently seen. It starts as posturing, but may develop into mortal combat – typically between males. Fighting uses up energy, so animals will fight only as a last resort. Dominant male sea lions and elephant seals – known as bull masters – constantly patrol their beach territory during the breeding season. A low camera angle helps to isolate jousting bulls against the sky. After prolonged bouts, both combatants can be left with bloody wounds on the neck and head.

Time spent beside a hippo pool, is often rewarded by a hippo emerging from the water with mouth agape revealing large incisors and tusks. This yawning threat display is most dramatic when captured head-on. Whereas elephants wrestling with their trunks or fighting in earnest are best shown side-on. In their quest to produce more eye-catching pictures, some photographers are prepared to risk life and limb by standing in the path of a charging elephant with a wide angle lens; a far safer solution is to trigger a camera remotely from a distance.

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