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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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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Happy 2017!!!

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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.

A Baker’s Dozen: My Favorite Wildlife Images of 2015

By Keith R. Crowley

Posting my personal favorites from the past twelve months is a new tradition I look forward to at the end of each year.

For one thing, it reminds me of all the fascinating places I’ve been and wonderful wild things I’ve seen in the past twelve months. For another, it gives me a chance to share some backstories, and to explain why certain images are special to me.

I’ve cut back the selection this year to thirteen images. But if you do want to see further highlights from the year, including additional foxes, wolves, grizzlies, owls, albino deer, (and even a couple of landscapes!) please check out the full “Best of 2015” gallery by clicking here. I’m proud of all 48 images in that gallery, so please take a look.

And, of course, I would truly appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends and families.

2015 Wildlife Favorites –  in the order taken:


870F – This is a bittersweet photo and a reminder about the real “wild life”. This old Yellowstone wolf, research #870F, had lived a tough 7 years in the park. When I got there in January, she had recently been chewed up and spit out of her pack, literally, where she once had been the alpha female. On this day she crossed my path, then slowly ambled up a hillside and laid down – tired and sore from just being a wild wolf. As it turned out, she only lived a few more weeks after this photo was taken. She died alone deep in the Yellowstone back country, injured and unable to feed herself. Most Yellowstone wolves die by other wolves, and rarely is it pretty. Nature is a cruel mistress, and this photo is especially poignant for me because on this day, as I photographed this once-formidable predator, I knew it would be the last time. (More images from this encounter can be seen here.)

Synchronicity – The juxtaposition of the subjects is what appeals to me most about this image. Golden light reflecting off a hillside in the background, and a Golden Eagle perched alongside the tiny, spring fed pond on a frosty morning, just seemed “right” to me. The pond, by the way, was full of trout, which may explain the eagle’s attraction to it. While Bald eagles are notorious fish eaters, occasionally Golden eagles will actively hunt them, too.

Sky Walker – I was busy looking at the reflection of the clouds in this shallow tidal bay in south Florida when a Tri-colored heron walked into the shot. Lucky. I knew I was going to like this one as I clicked the shutter. And, I discovered by accident, if you flip this image vertically, it still looks pretty good!

Flying Kites – The bird I went to Florida looking for in March was this one, the Swallow-tailed Kite. These gorgeous raptors were very elusive for me and it wasn’t until the last day that I managed to find a nesting site. Once I located that, it was only a matter of waiting for the adults to come and go with whatever they managed to catch – in this case a frog. I wish I would have found them sooner in the trip – one day wasn’t enough – but I was glad to have found them at all, and thrilled that they were in the air almost continually.

Deep, Dark Forest – Thousands of miles away from the mangrove swamps of southern Florida, Spring was also arriving in Wyoming. By early May, when this shot was taken, the bull elk are already starting to regrow their massive antlers. This shot is all about the mood for me. The sun had just risen and the back lit bulls seemed almost like mythical creatures emerging from the deep, dark forest.

Hang On, Here We Go – Actually, this Common loon is just stretching it’s wings. But it looks like she’s getting ready to take off with her chick on her back. In fact, at the end of this stretch the little chick was unceremoniously dumped off her back, but it climbed right back on to continue the ride. I took a lot of baby loon photos this year, but this one is by far my favorite! The Latin name for Common loons is Gavia immer, which is a wonderful taxonomic designation. It sounds like poetry to me and fits the birds so well.

Septet – As I mentioned in the preamble, 2015 was the year of the fox, partially by design, but mostly by happy accident. The Swift foxes pictured here were the designed part of the fox encounters. I’d been planning to photograph the amazing, tiny foxes for several years and this year it finally came together. This particular photo probably isn’t the “best” fox  image I captured, but in it there are SEVEN swifties, mama (peering over the head of the closest foxlet) and six kits. It’s my favorite memory from this particular den site. In keeping with the previous photo’s caption, I’ll tell you that the Latin name for Swifts is Vulpes velox, which is another wonderful scientific name (when so many are less than poetic.)

Playmates – Shortly before I left to photograph the Swift foxes, I learned about a Red fox den in my home state of Wisconsin. By time I got there, the kits were half grown and very active. Well, two of the three little ones were very active. One kit preferred to sit and watch as the other two – these two – practiced being foxes.

Super Fox – Almost unbelievably, while I was photographing the red fox den in Wisconsin, a friend told me about a Gray fox den nearby. Since I didn’t have a single good Gray fox photo, I left the Reds and spent the next few weeks photographing the two adult and three young Grays. What I was truly hoping to get was a photograph of a Gray in a tree. With cat-like retractable claws, they are the only member of the dog family that regularly climbs trees, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before the little ones started exploring the area around the den and learning how to climb. It took 12 days of waiting, but eventually one climbed way up into a crab apple tree and stayed there long enough for me to photograph it. (You can see that shot by clicking here. ) With that mission accomplished, I spent the next week trying to get a clean shot of a running kit. By the time they get this big, they move so fast it’s hard to describe. I have dozens of soft images of them tearing around. Then I got this one – the one and only truly clean, in-focus shot I managed. I love that the kit is in full flight, too. In the end I came away with hundreds of really fine shots of the whole group of grays. It was a long process, but so well worth it!  By the way, in Latin Gray foxess are Urocyon cinereogenteus, (so now you know why I like Gavia immer and Vulpes velox so much.)

Zen Buck – One afternoon I came across this handsome mule deer buck bedded in an old forest at the top of a mountain. With light rain falling and a cool breeze blowing through the timber, I spent a couple hours with this buck. Watching him breath and doze and just “be” was a deep and pastoral experience for me… very much zen. (I also made a short You Tube video of the experience you can see by clicking here.)

Smile – 2015 was a great year for Grizzlies. I have so many shots of the big bears from Spring and Fall, that I still haven’t sorted through them all. It’s an embarrassment of Griz riches, and by waiting until the light got good before he started moving around, this huge boar was perhaps the most cooperative bear of all. And it didn’t hurt that I was there with some good friends!

Spread – My stated goal at the beginning of the year was to photograph large mule deer bucks. Last year, I was a hair away from having a major national magazine cover photo, (they even sent me a mock-up of the cover using my photo) but I lost out because the buck just wasn’t quite mature enough. So I spent some quality time this fall looking for the really big guys. This one will do…

Landing Gear – We’ll call this the Baker’s Dozen photo. Image #13 was an unexpected bonus for me while I was photographing mule deer, so I’ll make it a bonus here, too. Kestrels have been frustratingly difficult for me to capture, but while I was waiting for a large mule deer buck to reappear from a thicket, this one brought a meadow vole near me and consumed it. When he finished eating, he moved over to a perch even nearer to me. Maybe I was trying too hard. Anyway, thank you, Mr. Kestrel!

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If you would like to see these images in larger, hi-res versions, along with 35 other images that just missed out of the favorites list, click this link: Best_of_2015

And have a great 2016 everyone!

All words and images ©2015 Copyright Keith R. Crowley. All rights reserved. No reproduction or distribution in any form without prior written authorization.

 

 

 

 

 

A Wisconsin “Three Dog Day”

Gray wolves in northern Wisconsin

Among those of us who spend our lives looking for wildlife to photograph, there is something called a “Three Dog Day” – that means finding, and with any luck photographing, red foxes, coyotes, and wolves all in the same day.

In a place like Yellowstone National Park, where the animals are more accustomed to people, three dog days are noteworthy, but not that unusual.

What is unusual is having that same experience in Wisconsin.

Much of the northwest part of the state is heavily forested; most of the rest is rolling scrub oak and pine barrens. In both terrain types you’re lucky if you can see 50 yards. And predators are much more skittish.

But one day last week the wildlife gods looked down on me and smiled.


Male Red fox in Wisconsin

It began with a lovely male Red fox prowling around the house early in the morning. He was undoubtedly searching for one of the many deer mice perpetually trying to find a way in.

Personally, I have nothing against the mice, but I hope the fox succeeded anyway.

After a few minutes of watching, I left the fox to his business while I poked around to see what else I might see on that cool August morning.

The local badgers have been busy lately and I thought I might find a family group to photograph.

That’s when the unusual happened.


Gray wolves are ever-present here in this part of the state, but they are rarely seen for more than a moment.

Rarely seen does not equate to rare, though. There are lots of wolves around here.

In fact, I’ve caught glimpses of five wolves in the past month; long enough to ID them, but far too brief to photograph them.

Male Gray wolf in Wisconsin

But for some reason, on this day a pair from a local pack decided to do a territorial perimeter check in broad daylight.

I watched them for about a mile. Each time they would come out to the road, urinate on everything in sight, and then melt back into the roadside cover. With one eye on me, and the other on the road, they performed this scent marking six times while I watched.

In August, Wisconsin wolves are not at their prettiest; with thin coats, thin bodies, and gangly legs like only the wolf has.

But still, wild wolves are fascinating, and they’re really hard to photograph in the middle of a Wisconsin summer. It’s much easier to find them in the winter.

Based on their urination techniques, one was male and the other female, and the male was a head taller. As tall as he was, and in his summer coat, he almost looked like he was on stilts.

The size difference of the wolves is readily apparent in this photo – male (right), female (left)

Eventually they left the road altogether and I went on my way.

That wonderful, unexpected photo op sent me on a mission to complete a wild dog trifecta.


A gray fox den about thirty miles away has been relatively inactive since the vixen started letting her three kits tag along on her hunts, but I had to check it anyway.

No luck.

But another adult Gray fox has been seen recently in the same area, so I staked out the most likely place to see it.

Gray fox in Wisconsin

15 minutes later the gray came up out of a ditch and stood looking at me.

Unbelievable! A three dog day in Wisconsin – in August.

Of course I immediately started making plans to accomplish the impossible; a four dog day.

All I needed was a coyote, the most common of all the wild canids in the state. But try as I might, I never found one.

Not a bad day, though, considering I started out looking for badgers.

Female Gray wolf in Wisconsin 

Keith R. Crowley is a writer and photographer who splits his time between the Upper Midwest, the Central Plains, and the Rocky Mountain West.

You can see his work at www.LodgeTrail.com

©2015 Keith R. Crowley – All rights reserved.