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.
Bimini Island in the Bahamas is where these photographs were taken. It is a small island 80 km (50 miles) from the Florida coast and has a large variety of shark species. On this trip, we also encountered great hammerheads, nurse, blacknose, blacktip, and bull sharks. They are commonly found in shallow water around coral reefs.
Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii) are the most common requiem shark species encountered by divers in the Caribbean sea. They also inhabit parts of the Western Atlantic ocean. If you dive in the Caribbean you may encounter this shark as it is relatively common.
Most of the baited shark dives involve the Caribbean reef shark. This is often the first “shark dive” new divers will take part in and it can be thrilling. We did this years ago with our kids and I must say we were nervous and our adrenaline was sure flowing. However, this made us fall in love with sharks when we realized just how majestic they were. This surreal experience led us to pursue our “shark hobby” and we have been photographing them ever since.
They average about 1.5 to 2 meters (5-7 feet) in length but can reach lengths of about 3 meters (9 feet). They often hang out around Caribbean reefs and it is likely the largest shark you will encounter while reef diving. Their diet consists of a variety of fish, octopus and small rays.
Caribbean reef sharks can evert their stomachs which means the stomach is turned inside out. This is helpful to discard undigested food and plastic. Unfortunately, our oceans are now full of discarded plastic from human consumption. These plastics are often ingested by marine organisms and are responsible for many needless deaths.
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.
Scuba diving in the dark is always an adrenaline rush because you know that there are sharks near you but you can’t see them until they suddenly appear. We love night dives because they add an entirely new dimension to exploring the underwater world. We photographed these great hammerhead sharks around Bimini Island in the Bahamas.
Sharks are very comfortable swimming in the water at night. To simplify, their eyes are designed to allow light to pass through the retina twice which enables sharks to see in the dark. It is believed that sharks can see about ten times greater than humans in clear water.
They also have a cephalofoil (the hammer) that is full of electrical sensors. These electroreceptors are interconnected jelly-filled pores called ampullae of Lorenzini and aid in hunting as these sensors pick up electrical signals given off by all living creatures including humans. Therefore, a shark at night is very aware of your presence and location in the ocean even though you have no idea where they are.
Another freshwater turtle we found in the Las Vegas wetlands was the Red-Eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans). This turtle is not native to this area. It is bought as a pet but as with many pet owners, they irresponsibly release it into the wild when they don’t want it anymore. We counted as many as 15 turtles in this pond. The danger is that invasive species may out-compete native turtle species causing a decline or eradication of the native Spiny Softshell turtle.
When water temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celcius (50F) turtles are generally not active but brumate. Brumate is a form of hibernation. They will sleep on the bottom of the pond, awaken, swim to the surface, possibly drink water and then proceed back to the bottom. The process repeats itself periodically. During brumation, they do not eat.
Las Vegas had a cold spell with temperatures around freezing at night. There was some snow which is unusual here. This is why we were surprised to see these turtles sunning themselves on the rocks in the early morning. These turtles should not have been as active as they were considering the weather conditions.
Red-Eared Slider turtles can live for 20-30 years. The shell (carapace) averages between 15cm (6 inches) and 30cm (12 inches) in length. Females generally are larger than the males. A large female can lay up to 30 eggs and may lay up to 5 times (clutches) in a year.
It is interesting how your perspective for photography changes with subsequent trips to a game park. Our first trip in 2017 to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania was so overwhelming with all the animal life that our cameras never stopped shooting and we took over 6,000 photographs. In 2018, we took half that number and began to focus more on interesting situations. This lion cub entertained us for a long time.
There are many prides of lions scattered throughout the Serengeti. We were traveling in a more remote area of the park when we came across a very small pride. It was unusual in that there were two males (brothers) instead of one, just two females and only a single cub.
There are advantages to having two males as the head of the pride. If another male attempts to challenge the pride to become the dominant male then he would have to fight two males instead of one. Therefore, his chance of being successful would be severely reduced. However, according to our guide, only one male will mate with the females and the other brother is subordinate.
It is not uncommon for a new male or males, in this case, to kill cubs that they have not fathered. This causes the female to come back in heat and therefore he can mate with her. This female had only one cub. We assume that it was his offspring because why kill some cubs but leave one. Therefore, this female either had only one cub or some tragedy occurred that killed the other cubs if she had given birth to a few babies.
Having no brothers or sisters to play with meant that this little cub easily got bored and continuously harassed its mother. She was attempting to sleep but on numerous occasions when it would look to play with her she would growl at the pesky little cub. It would role in the grass, chew on sticks and feed. All this was very entertaining.
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.