The sardine run of South Africa occurs between June and July on most years. Millions of sardines (Sardinops sagax) attract thousands of predators including dolphins, tuna, sharks, whales, and birds. It also attracts people who wish to see and photograph this spectacular event.
The long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) are the driving force that creates the fish “bait ball”. Large pods of dolphins work cooperatively to herd the fish into these tight groups. Sardines along with mackerel (Scomber japonicus) group together when they are threatened. The dolphins force the fish up to the surface where they are easier to catch.
After the dolphins have done the hard work many other predators begin to take advantage of such a large concentration of fish. The Cape gannets (Morus capensis) are large seabirds that begin to dive by the hundreds into the fish bait ball. They reach speeds of over 100 km/h (60 mph) as they hit the water. If not initially successful they will chase the fish underwater hoping for a meal.
Not to miss out sharks begin to show up in large numbers. Spinner sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna) were the most common on our encounters although there were also bronze whaler sharks (Carcharhinus brachyurous) called copper sharks in South Africa and dusky sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus).
Each year can be very different. We had very poor visibility (10 feet or 3 metres) on our first 8 days and few bait balls. We did not see a single sardine in our 9 days on the water. Fortunately, we encountered a fairly large bait ball of mackerel on our final day in a pocket of water with relatively clear visibility that allowed us time to get in the ocean. This 20-30 minute event produced all of these pictures.
Okay, I’ll say it. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny as a kid and loved the cartoons with the roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) and that bumbling Wile E. Coyote who tried endlessly to capture that speedy bird. I must say that I admired the coyote. He was a persistent fellow and never let failure deter him.
Up until last year, I had never observed a roadrunner and it was different than I expected (too many cartoons). It is in the cuckoo family living in open arid habitats in northern Mexico and in the southwestern United States.
The roadrunner is capable of flight but prefers the ground. We were able to photograph it in a tree which is apparently not common. As you can see, all of our ground pictures are still shots. I did not anticipate the speed of this bird, which can reach speeds of 30 km/h (20 mph). Wildlife encounters are often brief. I had my shutter speed at 1/200 of a second which proved much to slow for a speedster like a roadrunner.
The roadrunner nests in cactus or a thick shrub not far off the ground and will lay 3-5 eggs. These eggs will hatch in about 20 days and the chicks will be capable of running in another 18 days.
Because it lives in an arid environment the diet includes a wide variety of desert organisms including snakes, lizards, scorpions, spiders, and insects. An adult bird is capable of killing rodents and small birds. It can be seen holding larger prey in its bill and smashing it into the ground repeatedly until its victim dies.
Our goal was to photograph the sunrise at Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas. We had photographed the canyon during the day just after a rare snowfall. The rocks in this canyon are multicolored and we thought it might make for some nice sunrise pictures. A coyote crossed our path as we drove in the night to reach our destination. As the sun began to rise Tricia decided to use her drone to capture a different perspective of a beautiful sunrise.
As she continued with the drone I decided to hike into the interesting red sandstone rock formations. As daylight was beginning to wake the world, I came across a male mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides). What a colorful bird! Unfortunately, the light levels were low first thing in the morning so I had to increase my ISO substantially in order to capture him. Using a high ISO allows you to shoot in lower light conditions but makes the pictures more grainy (not as sharp). Considering the conditions, I was happy with the end result.
The pictures directly above and below have the red sandstone formations as a background and hence the red colored background. The mountain bluebird in the picture below is sitting next to desert mistletoe (the red plant). Mistletoe is a leafless parasitic plant that grows on other vegetation like desert trees and shrubs. It obtains some of its some of its nutrients from the plant it has embedded into.
This mountain bluebird was in its’ winter range in February. It eats insects and berries. During breeding season it will lay 5-6 eggs in a natural cavity. They line this hole with grass and the young hatch in about 14 days. The naked birds grow rapidly and then leave the nest approximately 21 days. The mountain bluebird is the state bird of Nevada.
Adding birds to our photography adds so many new subjects to what we can photograph when we travel to a new area. Along with the common gallinule, we got some pictures of the American coot (Fulica americana).
They make their home in marshes and wetlands. These water birds are not ducks and do not have webbed feet. They have extremely odd looking feet and their toes fold back enabling them to walk on land. Their feet look out of proportion to the rest of their body. However, they are commonly observed with ducks.
The American coot is common although this was our first encounter with this bird. The male and female are similar in appearance, unlike ducks where the male generally has brilliant plumage.
To find food it can walk on land, consume aquatic vegetation while swimming, and is also capable of diving. Consequently, it has a varied diet which includes snails and fish. Nests are made from marsh vegetation and the female will produce about 8-10 eggs. Incubation is shared by both parents and the eggs hatch about 21 days later.
We chose Grand Cayman as a good location to lay low and recharge after a very busy field season with our business. Our intention was to snorkel, go for walks and learn about our cameras. Since we decided not to take our underwater housings, all of our photos are on land. We discovered that Grand Cayman is an amazing spot if you are interested in birds.
We stayed at the Morritt’s Grand Resort on the east end which is the quieter end of Grand Cayman. Our unit was beautiful, roomy & functional with a full kitchen.
Lots of space to relax
Huge bedroom with jacuzzi & patio doors
A few more photos of the resort:
Most days we enjoyed beautiful sunrises & sunsets
We had daily visits from a very nosy Greater Antillean Grackle 🙂
The number and variety of birds we were able to photograph was incredible. Although we are not bird experts we took the time to look these up and we believe they are all correctly named. Here are the types of birds we saw:
Little Blue Heron
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Cuban Bull Finch
West Indian Woodpecker after a heavy downpour
Cayman Parrots (our favourite!)