The Leopard of Londolozi

(My Love Affair With A Londolozi Leopard)

Maxabene Resting on a Tree Limb
Maxabene Resting on a Tree Limb

She was the most beautiful and spiritual animal I saw on my September 2005 South African photography trip. I was enchanted with her; it was more than just a fancy or fanciful thought. She was everything that was wild and free about the unique animals of Africa. She embodied all that is Africa. The intense look in her eyes as she surveyed the savanna was mesmerizing. I was completely under the spell she cast with her enchanting yellow-green eyes.

Female Leopard Looking Out At Her World
Female Leopard Looking Out At Her World

Before Londolozi, my photography friends were chiding me about a leopard sighting earlier on our trip in Kruger National Park. I was driving and it was very late; I missed seeing a leopard in a tree flash lighted by a parked tour bus driver. Who at almost dark was shining light into a tree with a big flashlight alongside the road for his passengers.

We had stopped, my friend in our first vehicle was leading, and she engaged the driver and he pointed out the leopard to her. However for me, driving our second car the angle for viewing was wrong; the leopard was hidden by a big branch that hung down to the road. My companion in the back seat and I searched and searched for at least twenty minutes in vain and could see nothing, no leopard.

While my friend in the first vehicle chatted away with the tour bus driver, precious time was ticking down. We needed to get to Lower Sabie camp, a camp we had yet to visit before they closed the gate. Otherwise, we would face a large fine. Already there was hardly any light left in the sky.

Maxabene Surveying The Land
Maxabene Surveying The Land

Suddenly and unexpectedly, my friend driving the first vehicle took hurriedly off as her companion in the back seat, the fourth member of our group, made her aware of the ticking time. She was leading; I was following. It was almost completely dark now and I did not want to lose her. Actually, I had no idea where we were and where was Lower Sabie Camp. I was just following.

Concentrating on my driving, I drove by the “viewing window” to see the roadside leopard. Later, my companion in the back seat when asked said, yes, he did see the “leopard but only at 30 miles hour for a few brief seconds.” I was the only one of our group that missed seeing the leopard.

Afterward, in the Lower Sabie parking lot, my friends were riding me so hard for missing this leopard sighting that I actually got angry. Something I never do. They said that I might never see another leopard and I possibly blew my one and only chance of seeing this elusive cat. “You missed your one and only chance, Bruce. You might not have another opportunity to see a wild leopard, you came all this way to South Africa and mess up your only chance.” I could not believe we were fighting over this missed sighting.  In my anger, I told them to go to hell.

Maxabene Hunting In The Long Dried Grasses
Maxabene Hunting In The Long Dried Grasses

I need not have worried, for our visit to Londolozi, in the nearby Sabi Sands game reserve, was just days away. Where I would have the destiny to meet this beautiful and enchanting leopard called Maxabene. It was like she was waiting for me—just for me alone. We saw other Leopards too, like the Short Tailed 5:4 Male. We had more sighting of leopards than we could have hoped and dreamed for. Not only sightings but the chance to make compelling photographs of this elusive feline species. It’s where I fell in love with the lovely and mysterious female leopard called Maxabene. Our time together was brief. However, she’ll never leave my memories of my time at the place they call Londolozi—a place that truly is a “protector of all living things”.

Plus, I have these images of Maxabene that will be with me always, as a remembrance of our brief time together.

The Intense Look Of A Hunter
The Intense Look Of A Hunter

Songs Gone Silent

Male Northern Cardinal
© 2013 Bruce Finocchio — Male Northern Cardinal

Songs Gone Silent

Each morning a bird call awakens me. Its song is familiar yet unknown. I have not been able to identify it yet, to come know what species makes its familiar call. It’s bothering me not to know. Nevertheless, it is very pleasing to hear each morning–like hearing an old friend’s voice again after a long absence.

Imagine the world without songbirds–without bird songs to wake you in the morning. The world would be diminished, and Rachel Carson’s vision of a “Silent Spring” would be realized. How sad would that day be, not to hear the thrilling sound of birdcalls? Have their calls only remembrances in our dreams!

© 2013 Bruce Finocchio --Immature Male Vermilion Flycatcher
© 2013 Bruce Finocchio –Immature Male Vermilion Flycatcher

Songbird populations across the world are in trouble. From the pesticides that worried Rachel Carson, “to the feral and domestic cats catching many birds in their claws, to those who die in collisions with skyscrapers, communication towers, wind turbines, and even glass windows and doors of suburban homes.”(1) Just the other day, I found a female Lesser Goldfinch outside of my glass back door lying dead on my backyard porch. It happens more than you realize.

Habitat fragmentation is a great concern as our world becomes more commercialized for our needs. Our exponential growing populations place greater demands upon the natural world. As more of wild nature succumbs to our human environments and less and less is left for wild creatures including songbirds. As we pave over, build our structures, and alter the world’s surroundings to meet our needs and wants. There simply are fewer and fewer places for songbirds to live and flourish.

Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch
Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch

Bird populations are falling fast; we have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies forty years ago, by some counts over a billion birds.(1)  Year by year more songbirds become endangered of going extinct. One of my large bird books has a picture of a passenger pigeon. An artist drawing of a beautiful bird of subtle pastel colors. Wow, I say to myself when I see this picture. I would have loved a chance to see one alive. However, it is extinct, and no long possible to see one fly in the sky, yet over a hundred and fifty years ago, millions blotted the skies of the eastern North America.

© 2010 Bruce Finocchio --Male Mountain Bluebird
© 2010 Bruce Finocchio –Male Mountain Bluebird

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a choice. Our generation and the next must decide to save and protect our natural world, preserving the diversity of life on our wonderful living planet.  Now we alone hold the future of life on earth in our hands. We must change our thoughts and actions from one of domination to one of coexistence.

Evolve enough to understand, I am because of you; I am because of other life forms. (2) Relearn that humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web; we do to ourselves. All living things are bound together. All living things are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. (3)

Beautiful Male Cassin's Finch
Beautiful Male Cassin’s Finch

Otherwise, if we don’t relearn and absorb these lessons, take it to heart; it will be very bad and a very sad hour for mankind. No more melodic birds’ songs will grace the airways and bring music to our ears each every morning we awaken to greet a new day. Truly, their songs of life will go silent for the last time.

Nature has incredible restorative powers. Life has an indomitable spirit. If we make the right choice, then there is optimism. Hope for mankind and for a better future. Eventually, my singing songbird will come out of the dense tree foliage, and I’ll have my identification. I will have kept at it; the way mankind must persevere in the coming decades.

Bruce Finocchio is one of the WBB photographers who images are currently showing at the Art Ark Gallery in San Jose, California. Meet Bruce and the other WBB photographers at the June 3 reception from 5:00 to 9:00 PM, and hear their incredible stories of photographing wildlife all over the world, and how they take their work from “Beauty to Deeper Understanding”.

Register for the Reception: Register Here

 

(1) 1,000,000,000 Birds – Just Gone by Austin Baily, Daily Kos, 5/20/16

(2)Boyd Varty, Ubuntu, I am; because of you.

(3) Paraphrasing Chief Seattle’s famous words

 

 

Taken For Granted

Mesquite Frames A Calling Audubon Oriole
Mesquite Frames A Calling Audubon Oriole

Taken For Granted

Taken for granted are the sounds of nature, bird songs in the morning’s dawn, the whispers of the wind gently touching your face, and the powerful smell of raw wilderness. These are a few of the healing and soothing gifts of the natural world.

Male Allen's Hummingbird Does Tail and Wing Stretch On Cape Heath
Male Allen’s Hummingbird Does Tail and Wing Stretch On Cape Heath

Too often today, we have divorced ourselves from nature. This loss of connection has sent us adrift. Most of us are ill without even knowing it. There is so much nature can bestow upon us if we accept its gifts and live close to it. A timeless peace, a sense of harmony and balance, and a belief in the essential goodness of life are a few of the benefits of living with nature.

I have a friend who is a morning person. He would get up very early before dawn and prepare some coffee on the gas burning stove at the cabin we shared. Then, he would go outside with his cup of coffee and wait for dawn to break and watch the day begin. He would listen to the birds’ songs begin as the night passed to day, as the darkness faded minute by minute. This simple act gave him peace and rid him of the anxiety created by life in the modern world. I treasured sharing these moments with him; they became part of my early exposure to tranquil powers of the wild.

We shared another passion. He fueled my desire to learn about the birds whose calls we heard, to distinguish one from another, to learn their calls by heart, and discover their unique behavior of each individual species. I started my first species list. The mysterious California Thrasher whose spring calls from the tops of the chamise bushes first intrigued us became the first species on the list.

Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch
Black-crested Titmouse On A Mesquite Branch

Yet, at some point keeping a list was not enough, nor was just taking their pictures. After a few years, I took my creative passion to capturing their beauty, their very essence, and their spirit of life. I now have gone a step further with my art and my photography to capturing the sacredness of life itself.

In this way, I can share this sacredness of nature with others. Through my images, they can glimpse within their hearts and minds the mystery and wonder of the natural world–regenerating the strings that once connected and attached them to the earth. They can learn not to take nature for granted, especially the morning serenade of bird songs, and again become part of the sacred circle of life itself.

Pileated Woodpeckers Chicks Beg Mother For More Food
Pileated Woodpeckers Chicks Beg Mother For More Food

Here with my Wildlife Beyond Borders collection of bird images, I hope to ignite the love of birds, spark feelings of marvel in their brilliant colors, and open people’s hearts to their unique world. Wherever we are in our daily life we must listen, and not take nature’s gestures for granted, for bird songs are windows into the natural world.

Some may say this is the fanciful thinking of an idealistic dreamer. Yet, I believe in the power of nature to heal, comfort and soothe the human soul. All my life experiences with nature have led me to know this truth.

Come to the Wildlife Beyond Borders reception at Keeble and Shuchat and learn more. Meet my fellow artists Mary Aiu, Susan Carnahan, Diane Rebman, Wendy Hannum, and Oliver Klink. Reception is Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at Keeble and Shuchat, 290 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

To register for the VIP at 1:00 PM and/or Main Event click register link below

Register

What Goes Into a Spectacular Wildlife Portrait?

What Goes into a Spectacular Wildlife Portrait?
(5 Essential Ingredients)

Gray Fox Portrait
Gray Fox Portrait

Subject:

A portrait without a great subject just doesn’t work; there is nothing to catch and hold the eye, nothing to draw and elicit emotions from the viewer.  Some would think a green lynx spider is a great subject, it can be, for spiders and insects strike a chord in some. Yet, sea otters who have a human baby like face, and other attractive animals especially cats and members of the dog family, are more popular subjects and really strike the emotional heart of humans. Young mammals have that “cute” factor that always touches people and produce that “ah” and “wow” response.  Many nature photographers capitalize on this reaction and develop much of their efforts in photographing the young of many mammal species.  Yet, I still believe that any wildlife subject photographed extremely well can be a great portrait.

Background:

How clean is the image? Are there distractions? Where does the eye go to? Whatever the subject is it cannot stand out or sing, unless the background is clear and clean. Ultimately, a complex and busy background will draw the viewer’s attention away from the subject itself. The background’s color, line, and content need to compliment the subject and add to the overall impact of the image, not detract from the subject. Sometimes the background is just as important as the subject.

Light:

Another significant factor is light. Light is the key to any successful image. A great image must have great light. For inherently, photography is essentially capturing light. Many types of light can be used in portrait making. Side lighting can be effective, and with human subjects, the use of flash gives the photographer lots of control over the overall quality of light. The classic Rembrandt technique with its two to one ratio give classic human portraits. Window lightening is also a very simple yet effective light source in the hands of a competent photographer. For outdoor wildlife portraits, my favorite light is diffused light: soft and not harsh, and rendering colors to their most vibrant essence. Not the thick gray clouds of rain, nor the dreary gray of fogging days, but just the thin clouds just obscuring the sun’s direct and bright light–a big giant softbox obscuring the sun.       

Life:

Another factor is the spirit of life. That twinkle in the eyes that reflect back the spirit and personality of the animal. Black and dull eyes mean lifeless eyes. Without good illumination, you have a stuffed animal look that doesn’t capture the mystery and wonder of life.  Eyes must be sharp in focus. As they say, eyes are windows to the soul!

Composition:

The final element is composition. Like a great painter, you must draw the observer in. Create a three dimension space from a two dimension medium. Diagonal lines are more powerful and less static than horizontal or vertical lines. Use s-curves, color, form, and texture to keep your viewer engaged. Study great art! The composition principals are the same in both mediums. Keep the composition simple, for simplicity clarifies the structure and purposes the image-maker intend. Whereas complexity visually clutters the eye and leaves a general disinterest and disappointment with the viewer. Great composition means a powerful impact that engages on an emotional and spiritual level. Hauntingly drawing the viewer back time and time again, to see with fresh eye once more.    

In summary, you need an interesting subject that sparkles with life and engages the viewer with its own unique personality.  Where all the elements contribute and enhance the subject. Keeping the background simple and clean lets the subject captivate the viewer and tugs at the strings of the heart. Photography is an evocative art. The making of a great portrait image is accomplished with distinct and interesting illumination and with a creative composition that ties in all the elements together.

Adding a little behavior could also enhance the overall impact, educating the viewer, providing a glimpse or window into the lives of these animals. Here for my example, a fox with a prey animal in its mouth. Yet other than serendipity, this requires lots of time in the field, much studying their behavior and patience and more patience. However, the reward could be outstanding, a portrait with behavior.   

Applying these ingredients over time, with practice and dedication, you will develop a style, and furthermore, your vision and unique way of seeing the world will come through in your images, in your body of work, and that’s the making of great art! 

Here is a particular wildlife portrait I really love. It’s one of my gray fox images taken at my beloved ramrod ranch from a photo blind. It’s just incredible to watch a wild gray fox come into drink not ten feet away from you. It’s a humbling and spiritual experience. I just love the diffused fall colors in the background. Especially, the diagonal flow of the top part and the subtle warm circular colors in the bottom left. Love also the expression of life in this young gray fox’s face. It’s so alive and alert… One of my best wildlife portraits!!!

This image was taken at the Ramrod Ranch where I offer bird blind photography each spring and fall. Not only do birds come to water, but so does many other animals like this beautiful gray fox.

For more information click the link below:
Bird Blind Workshops at the Ramrod Ranch

A Few Tips For Nature and Wildlife Photography

Guest Blog Post by Peggy Bechtell

Nature or Wildlife Photography

Camera Settings: Aperture priority, f4 to blur background, ISO 800, Drive Mode. F11-F16 for surroundings – carry large black plastic bag to lay on the ground. Often my camera is on a tripod with pistol grip head for tracking.

Stance: Eye level with animal or below = grandeur
Back to the wind with birds – they take off and land into the wind.
Soft Front light directly facing animal with for close-up face shots, and eyes of big cats.
Sidelight = nice texture for fun and feathers.
Backlight = silhouettes, reflections, and glow around the animal.

What to watch for: Patterns of behavior. Birds move differently just before flight. They will often start looking around with more agitation just before takeoff. Eagles generally poop before take-off. Watch wildlife for a while to learn their patterns which almost always repeat. Anticipate behaviors and start firing before the anticipated behavior occurs.

If you see the behavior in your viewfinder, you have missed it.

Patience, Patience, Patience. It is fun to just sit back and enjoy the animal you want to photograph. You will learn a lot, enjoy a lot, and know when to take the picture. For tracking, practice focusing and firing on moving broom, then the handle.

Where to focus: On the eye of the animal when there is a catch light in it = tack sharp face

Where to get information on wildlife: PSA has a membership service which puts you in touch with photographers in the area you are going to.
Fixers (Guides) are available on the internet for areas and animals you want. Local farmers and rangers often know about local animals, the best locations and times of day to see them.

by Peggy Bechtell – bechtell@comcast.net

 

Soul Of The Elephant

Young Elephant Curls Trunk Over Head While Under Mother
Young Elephant Curls Trunk Over Head While Under Mother

A compelling, fascinating, and a compassionate look into the “Soul of the Elephant”, done in a very poignant way as if they were telling the story through a poem. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are my favorite wildlife filmmakers. They tell important stories of iconic African wildlife in a fresh way, with breathtaking cinematography, using innovative camera angles. Their expert bush and species knowledge comes through a narration that is just mesmerizing, so lyrical and melodic–the way they switch and weave the stories and scenes between each other’s voice.

If you love elephants, wild places, wild animals, this Nature PBS episode is not to be missed. This is natural storytelling at its best, by those closest to the wildlife, living life with them. Their passion for what they do and the compassion and love for the wildlife comes through in their presentation.

I only wished for more…like their 88-minute film the Last Lions that I saw in the theater.

The original broadcast was on PBS on October 14, 2015, somehow I missed it. However, I found the full episode online at the PBS Nature site.

Take time from your busy life and please watch this Nature episode; it will change you forever, it’s haunting. I have already seen it twice, and I am sure I’ll watch again.

I highly recommend this search for the “Soul of the Elephant”, in fact, I would love to be doing what they are–immersed in the wild: living and breathing the wild smells of Africa.

Here is the link: Full Episode: Soul of the Elephant

Please posted your comments and let me know your thoughts.

In addition, here is their Ted Talk from 2010  Dereck and Beverly Joubert’s Ted Talk

Ubuntu

Serengeti Sunrise
Serengeti Sunrise

“I Am, Because Of You”

When I was at Londolozi, South Africa, in September 2005, CC Africa owned controlling rights and ran the lodges and safaris. Soon afterwards, the Varty’s bought back the control of their lodge, their family place, and their reserve. They introduced the new concept of A Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat (STAR) where people would come to immerse themselves in the wildness of Londolozi and be healed by its spectacular nature.

For me, when immersed in nature I feel happy and truly alive. At Londolozi, I saw the southern cross for the first time, as well as Leopards and Lions in the wild, and other iconic animals of Africa.

A few years after I was back, I bought Dave Varty’s, book, “Full Circle” when it came out in 2009, and read his family story. His son Boyd now runs Londolozi for the family….

Here is a Ted Talk; I recently discovered on the Londolozi blog from Boyd Varty, given on the day that Nelson Mandela died…. He talks about something that I truly believe in, a sense that your well-being is really tied to the well-being of others. Living your life as such, believing and acting on this principle.

He takes it further and applies it to wild creatures when he talks about an Elephant named “Elvis”. When I was at Londolozi, I saw this elephant, I even have some images of her in my computer files. Here is one!

Elvis Feeds
Elvis Feeds

We thought the same. Why isn’t she food for the Lions? How is she surviving? It’s because the elephants in her group were protecting her, moving more slowly, assisting her across the difficult ground of the African bush.

See what Boyd Varty means by the African concept of Ubuntu. (I am because of you) in this wonderful and important TED Talk…

The other Ted talks in this link from the Londolozi blog are very good and inspiring, but Boyd Varty’s touch me in a very personal way, because I have been at Londolozi, and I share a similar life view!

http://blog.londolozi.com/…/3-ted-talks-that-connect-wilde…/

Let me know what you think….

 

If you are going to Africa on a photography safari, and would like some advice on what gear to take, what particular photography situations are unique to photographing in East or South Africa, etc., I would be happy to share my knowledge.

You can reach and email me at bruce@dreamcatcherimages.net

More of my African images from my recent trip to East Africa in January 2015 are on Bruce’s Flickr Photostream.