The Lion and the Buffalo

I recently had an opportunity to photograph the interaction of a lion and a Cape buffalo in Tanzania, East Africa. Since the photo below was published, I’ve had several requests for the backstory, and for more images from the series, too.


So here’s the short story:

This male lion had a girl in the rocks that you can’t see in the first image. The pair of lions started out that morning at first light, very close to the Rover I was in. I was lucky to get some close-up mating images, and I can tell you now that lion mating is a noisy, snarly affair.

Gradually the lions worked their way over a small rise, heading towards a rocky outcrop next to a river. The lioness leading the way, of course, and he followed her closely.  They mated occasionally on the trek, as lions often do.

Eventually they reached the rocks and the two lions were having a smoke, metaphorically speaking, when a large herd of cape buffalo started milling around the scene. There were probably 300 or so buffalo in the the herd. Most of the buff continued on across the river, but a few didn’t want to leave the lions alone.

Taking a break from the morning’s amorous activities.

The lions were completely ignoring the buff, right up until a particularly voyeuristic bull decided to test the male lion’s resolve. The old bull slowly got closer and closer to the big cat until the lion actually took a swipe at him. At one point they were less than two feet apart. You can see the lion’s displeasure in the photos. The roaring was constant and intense.


Coitus Interruptus Syncerus

The buffalo, satisfied that he had ruined the party, stood his ground. Eventually the lioness got tired of all the testosterone and left the rocks. The lion followed, as they often do, and they both wandered out of view.

Wish you could’ve been there.

The end.


All images are copyrighted and available in hi-res for licensing.

©2017 Keith R. Crowley – all rights reserved.

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Confession: I’m a Zinjanthropus Groupie

I recently returned from a trip to Tanzania; a trip I told everyone was about cheetahs, and lions, and leopards.

Zinjanthropus (Australopithecus boisei) replica on display at Olduvai Gorge.
Zinjanthropus (Australopithecus boisei) replica on display at Olduvai Gorge.

I lied. It was actually a trip to fulfill a lifelong dream to see Olduvai Gorge, and to walk in the footsteps of my childhood heroes, Louis and Mary Leakey.

I was a strange child.

The Leakeys, as you may know, were giants in the field of human evolution. In the 1950s and 60s, they made discovery after discovery which added to our knowledge of how we came to be. Much of their work was done in a place called Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania.

Since I am a child of the 60s, I grew up watching their accomplishments on television and in magazines like National Geographic. I dreamed that someday I might meet Louis and Mary, and maybe even find a way to do what they do.

My obsession was so bad that I actually wrote a letter to Louis in about 1970, when I was 9 years old. I have no idea what I wrote, or how the letter found it’s way to Africa, but Mary replied. Somewhere in a sea of less important paperwork, I still have that letter. In it Mary explained that Louis was very busy, but that they both appreciated my letter. And she encouraged my interest in human evolution.

The Leakey story at the tiny Olduvai Gorge Museum in Tanzania
The Leakey story at the tiny Olduvai Gorge Museum in Tanzania

I often wish I had followed up on that letter, but when I heard that Louis passed away in 1972, my dreams of becoming a world-famous anthropologist faded too. I went on to other things, mostly wildlife-related things like writing and photography.

And that’s how I finally found my way to Olduvai Gorge.

The monument at Olduvai Gorge to Mary Leakey’s discovery of Zinjanthropus in 1959

Situated between two of the great wildlife meccas in Africa – Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti plains – Olduvai Gorge, and the site of Mary Leakey’s discovery of Zinjanthropus in 1959, is a place I had to visit.

Giving up a day of Big Cats and Great Migrations isn’t an easy choice for most wildlife photographers, but it was a prerequisite for my first trip to Africa.

A thunderstorm rolled in just as I arrived, and I watched silently as a deluge of rain washed the valley. I toured the tiny little museum, and I persuaded one of the guides there to take me to the site of Mary Leakey’s historic discovery. He didn’t want to drive into the gorge and cross the Olduvai River in a driving rain, but I was not going to be denied.

It was slick and muddy, but worth the risk (and the tip) to be able to stand in the footsteps of my heroes.

The site is still an active dig, although only in the middle of the Tanzanian winter – June, July, and August. Since I was there in January, I was alone, with only my guide. And for a time I forgot completely about wildlife and photography.

I was lost in my thoughts and almost didn’t take any photos at the small monument commemorating Mary’s discovery, but my guide suggested I should. I’m glad he did.

Childhood dreamed realized.

Did I mention I was a strange child?

A view of Olduvai Gorge from the rim as a storm rolls in. The official name of the site has been changed to “Oldupai”, in keeping with the traditional Maasai spelling of the word.

You can find out more about the Leakeys and their work at http://www.leakey.com

You can see more from my trip to Africa at http://www.lodgetrail.com

Favorites from 2016

It’s time once again for an annual “best of” post. Again this year I have limited the gallery to a dozen of my favorite images and I added a few comments about each shot for some backstory. I hope you enjoy them.

They’re arranged roughly chronologically and clicking on a photo will take you to the full gallery with many other favorites from 2016 that didn’t quite make it into this post.


#1

Amazing things happen when you least expect it. I came around a corner on a road in Wyoming in January and saw four coyotes run up steep rocky hill. When they got to the top of a rocky ledge, three bighorn ewes popped over the top and stood on the cliff face. Smart sheep! And smart coyotes, too. They knew they couldn’t get at the sheep where they were, so just as quickly as the chase started, it ended. For predators like these coyotes it doesn’t pay to waste precious energy on a lost cause in sub-zero weather, so the whole encounter lasted only a minute or two. In addition to be an interesting wildlife interaction shot, this photo has the distinction of becoming a two-page spread in a national magazine. That automatically qualifies it as a favorite for me!

#2

January was also the month of the great bobcat photo op. Even in an area known for cats, you are never guaranteed to see any, but a group of friends and I had a magnificent day with this cat. We were able to watch hunt up and down a river in Wyoming for much of the day. Just as the day ended we watched in amazement as the cat leapt far out into the river, disappeared completely under the water for a moment, and emerged with a fat muskrat. It was spectacular. I came away from that encounter with so many bobcat photos that I still haven’t fully processed them all. With so many good shots, it was tough to choose one, but this is my current favorite. It just says “predator” to me and I have a large metal print of it hanging in my home.

#3

It’s all about the feet. In 2016 I spent much of March in northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin working on a magazine project involving hares. While this shot didn’t make it into print, I just love that you can so clearly see why Varying hares are often called “snowshoe” hares. Those feet are impossibly, comically huge… and perfectly adapted for running on the snow. This particular hare was soaking wet from all the melting snow dripping down from the spruce trees it was hiding under on a warm March afternoon.

#4

If you know me at all, you know that I love wide open grasslands and the critters that live there. Some of my best friends are prairie dogs, Black-footed ferrets, and Swift foxes. I especially love Burrowing owls. They’re tenacious hunters, and brave to a fault. I once watched a pair viciously attack a badger which approached their nest. As the name suggests, the little raptors live in abandoned prairie dog burrows. They are primarily insect eaters, with the occasional small rodent or reptile added to their menu. This one was obediently catching a variety of insects (a hornet, in this case) and bringing them back to its mate at the burrow in Buffalo Gap Grasslands in South Dakota.

#5

I spent almost all of July in Alaska, and while I knew I had to visit Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park, I also knew that there are literally millions of photos of bears catching salmon there. I wanted to try some long exposures to get the feel of the powerful falls juxtaposed with the big, beautiful bears. I took somewhere around 1100 long-exposure shots varying between 1/16 second up to about 3 full seconds. It takes some time produce that many long-exposures. It’s not like average wildlife photo ops where I’m spraying and praying at 12 frames-per-second. And the bear has to remain absolutely still for it to work out. Of those 1100 frames, there were four I was satisfied with. This one is the best.

#6

For varieties sake I wasn’t going to post any bear cub photos in this year’s favorites list, but these two are pretty tough to ignore. This photo was also taken at Katmai National Park, and these Brown bear cubs-of-the-year belong to the bear in the long-exposure above. They were the most well-behaved, patient young cubs I’ve ever photographed. They sat together like this for ages waiting for the sow to catch a salmon. When she did, the larger cub would carefully walk through the rapid water to sniff and tug at the fish while the sow ate the best bits. While the cubs were sitting together like this they never squabbled with each other, which is unusual. They just waited for mom, occasionally glancing at the tourists watching them from the viewing platform. Most of those tourists had cameras, of course, which means there are probably thousands of similar photos out there. I don’t ordinarily enjoy those kind of photo ops, but the cubs are still dang cute.

#7

Another shot from Katmai, Alaska, but this time far from the crowded falls. The best part of this experience was I was the only photographer there as this Brown bear wandered back and forth on this tiny peninsula for a long while. I took dozens of shots of him in various postures – some sitting, some laying down, and even some with float planes landing in the background – but this one just makes me smile more than the others. I don’t know why.

#8

Photographing Barren Ground Caribou on the tundra was one of the primary reasons I went to Alaska. I had never seen wild Caribou before, and they didn’t disappoint!  To get this shot I had to belly crawl along the back side of a ridge, staying out of view of this bull and another one. At the same time I was keeping one eye on a Grizzly sow with two cubs-of-the-year. The three bears had just crossed the same ridge, but fortunately they kept going and I could concentrate on the bulls. Unfortunately, the two caribou winded me before I could photograph them bedded down. At least this one paused to look at me, and just look at that white beard!

#9

This Bugling bull elk is another shot I set out specifically to get. I’ve always wanted to get a full-frame, in-your-face shot where you can almost feel his breath. A close-up shot like that is the only way I know to see the incredible textures these old bulls are made of. So I was very pleased when this big Colorado bugler came up over a rise, very early one morning and floored me with his wild music. Nothing says September in the Rockies like bugling elk.

#10

This may have been my proudest moment of 2016. I saw these Blue-winged teal circling an island on a lake in northern Wisconsin in early October. There was only time for four frames, handle-holding my biggest glass. Given how fast those teal were moving, and the fact I had to run to a shooting position at the lake shore before they disappeared around a corner, I was pretty sure none of those four frames would be any good. This one was.

#11

November means the rut, when big bucks lose much of their natural caution and start chasing does in broad daylight – well, almost broad daylight. In fact, this shot was taken well before sunrise, at 1/15th of a second, and the buck is back lit, making the shot even more challenging. But modern cameras and lenses are really something if you use good technique. I don’t normally add the tech specs, but in this case it was taken with a Canon 5DmkIII, 1/15th sec, 700mm (500mm & 1.4 teleconverter,) f/5.6, Exposure bias was -1, ISO 1000, on a Gitzo CF monopod. It’s also just cropped a tiny bit to straighten.

#12

Some photos do better in Black & White. Especially when there are contrasting textures you want to emphasize. That’s the case with this Bighorn ram. Between the teeth just peeking from his slightly drawn upper lip, to the death-ray eyes, to the undulating layers of horn, there was so much texture to look at that B&W was the only way to go. An artist friend of mine recently used this image as a study for an amazing drawing, too. That also makes the image special to me.

Bonus image –

A bonus photo, just because I love this quote so much — “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing… about in boats — or with boats. In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.” – from “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame

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And your comments are always welcome!

Happy 2017!!!

Visit Lodgetrail.com to see more.

Here we go again… another bear attack.

So there has been another Grizzly bear attack in the Rocky Mountain West, and thankfully this time the person attacked lived to tell the tale. Not only did he tell the tale, but he posted a video of the aftermath on his Facebook page.

The person, Todd Orr, was hiking in the Madison Range near Ennis, Montana, when a sow grizzly with cubs attacked him. He had bear spray and he used it. But the bear was determined to protect her young and after the initial attack, she followed Orr back on the trail and attacked him again.

As human populations expand into unfamiliar territory, violent encounters with extant and expanding wildlife populations are going to increase. As those conflicts increase, the calls for people to stay out of “the bear’s home” in the first place also increase. It happened when Lance Crosby was attacked and killed in Yellowstone last summer, and it’s happening again with Mr. Orr.

I’ll let the social media pundits debate what Mr. Orr may have done wrong and whether the attack was defensive or predatory, but from my perspective Orr did everything right.  Of more concern to me is the underlying theme that emerges when incidents like this happen.

For some reason, whenever wildlife conflicts happen, whether it’s bears, mountain lions, bison, or even smaller animals, there is an instant reaction on social media that the person “deserved to be attacked” because he or she had no business being in the wild.

This short-sighted perspective insists that humans don’t belong in the wilderness… and certainly not alone in the wilderness.

Well, I’m here to say that not only do some of us belong in the wilderness, but we need to be there. Spending time alone in the wilderness can be a truly transformative experience for people who are used to concrete and glass.

Thankfully, conservation history is replete with humans who recognized the value and necessity of a true wilderness experience.

People like John Muir, John Burroughs, Horace Kephart, George Washington Sears, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigurd Olson, Aldo Leopold, and the many unsung others worked tirelessly on behalf of wilderness specifically because they knew it intimately. That intimacy came from many weeks, months, and sometimes even years of solitude in wild places. They saw those places vanishing and in need of protection.

And those same people all knew very well that wild places can be dangerous places. That’s part of their allure.

We only have those few small, precious remnants of wilderness today because people with vision and determination were allowed to go there alone and see the value of wild land. To call for human exclusion is to call for the end of wilderness.


You can read Mr. Orr’s full and graphic account of the attack on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ftodd.orr%2Fposts%2F10210413685967827&width=500

A Fishing Trip

A little Brown bear cub gives fishing a try under mom’s watchful eye, at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska.


"Please, please, please, can I go fishing with you?"
“Please, please, please, can I go fishing with you?”

A cub goes fishing at Brooks Falls.
“Yay!”

IMG_0537
“Now, be careful. The current is strong and the rocks are slippery…”

...especially that rock right there!
“…especially that rock right there!”

IMG_0757-Edit-2
Oops, too late.

IMG_0760
“I hope no one saw that!”

IMG_0785
“Now, what did I just tell you!?!”

Maybe I'll just stay here with sis and lick my wounds.
“Fine, I’ll just stay here with sis and lick my wounds…”

“…and leave the fishing to mom and dad… for now!” The End.

 

Boreality

IMG_5923-Edit-4
Country that just demands to be canoed.

I spent much of last week cruising the Boreal forests and lakes in far northern Minnesota, in places that just beg for a canoe and a paddle.  I took a kayak and a paddle instead.

Mostly I went there to fish and ruminate – election years do that to me –  but I can’t go anywhere without a camera, just in case.

While I didn’t catch a lot of fish, there were enough. And there were critters I don’t get to see very often in my home country of scrub oak barrens and white pine.


IMG_5599-Edit-2
Very pregnant cow moose wearing a telemetry collar.

I camped next to beautiful little lake with no one else around and one morning I woke up to see a moose swimming out to a little island in the lake. When she got out of the water I could see she was wearing a radio telemetry collar, and she appeared very pregnant.

I suppose she swam to that island to give birth. Islands are just a little bit safer for newborns in this land of hungry black bears and gray wolves. Anyway, that why I think she was there. Minnesota moose are having a tough time right now, so I hope she is successful in raising a calf or two this year.


I also saw three Pine martens in a 24 hour period, but none paused long enough to have their photo taken. I stumbled along through the spruce bogs trying to keep up with them, but that’s an impossibly tall order for this old man.

IMG_5651-Edit
Male spruce grouse.

I did photograph a couple of Spruce grouse, one male and one female, but the lighting wasn’t very good for the male, I’m afraid.

Oh well.


There were lots of Snowshoe hares, all wearing their summer coats of brown.

IMG_5801-Edit
Varying (Snowshoe) hare, summer coat.

Just their feet kept the white fur of winter. I found part of one unlucky hare that had been a recent meal for a… I don’t know… the romantic in me wants it to be a Lynx. It could be, they live there with the hares.

IMGL1114-Edit
Male ruffed grouse displaying.

There were too many ruffed grouse to count, the males all busy proving why they’re called “ruffed grouse.”


 

I also came across a Sharp-shinned hawk that was busy consuming a very long-tailed rodent of some kind. He gulped it down in a hurry when I arrived, and flew off to parts unknown. I know how he felt. I’ve gulped down too many meals in a hurry – very few of them were rodent though… so far as I know.

Sharp-shinned hawk with a long-tailed rodent (possibly a Forest jumping mouse.)
Sharp-shinned hawk with a long-tailed rodent (possibly a Woodland jumping mouse.)

The Accidental Baiter

I accidentally baited an owl today.

Since, in the past, I have steadfastly and openly refused to bait owls for photographic purposes, (see Of Mice and Owls), I’m feeling a little guilty about this.

Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t feel guilty at all, since:

  •  I didn’t know the owl was there.
  •  I wasn’t carrying a camera at the time.
  •  The “bait” was a stainless steel hex nut.

So here’s the story, winnowed down to the barest details, since it’s really not that interesting.

I was trying to fix a fishing reel that hasn’t worked quite right in about two years.

After I generally made things worse by attempting a repair which involved many tiny parts and lots of profanity, I figured I should test the reel.

Barred owl
A Hungry and confused Barred owl.

I put new fishing line on the reel, strung the line through the guides on the rod, and tied a stainless steel hex nut to the line so I could test my surgical skills. The nut was handy and weighed about 1/4 ounce, near as I could figure – just the right weight to simulate a small fishing lure.

I heaved the nut down the driveway and it bounced in the sand. I began retrieving the surrogate lure and all was well. Damn reel worked like a champ.

Then a barred owl pounced on the nut and wouldn’t let go. I swear this is true.

I had no idea their was an owl nearby, although to be fair I should have; they’re here every year.

Anyway, she hung on, but thankfully didn’t try to fly away with the nut. That would have gotten sporty real quick. Instead she just sat there holding on until I scolded her like you would a naughty puppy. “No, no, no…”

The owl eventually let go and flew up to a perch about 20 feet away, and she stayed there long enough for me to grab my camera.

That’s her in the photo, still trying to figure out what the hell that was all about.

That’s all.