Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography – Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.


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Milne-Edward’s Sifaka

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Recently I have been spending a lot of time going out with the Sifaka team recording the behaviour of the Milne-Edwards Sifaka (Propithecus edwarsi). These Sifakas are the largest lemurs found in Ranomafana National Park (RNP) and have been continuously studied here since 1987.

Formerly considered a subspecies of the Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema) P. edwarsi is now considered a full species and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Ranomafana National Park is the stronghold for this Lemur species with half of the total population thought to be found within the park.

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Sifakas are social animals and live in groups of 3 to 9 individuals and like many Lemur species females are the dominant sex. They occupy large home ranges covering 45 to 55 hectares. Both male and female sifakas regularly mark their territory with scent.

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Unlike other lemurs that move in a more quadrapedal fasion, Sifakas are vertical clingers meaning that they leap from trunk to trunk using their huge back legs performing a 180 degree twist in midair to land back feet first. It is incredible to see them moving through the forest hopping from one trunk to the next.

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Including Sifakas, 8 species of lemur have been studied long term in RNP and environmental variables such as rainfall and temperature have been recorded for this period as well as tree phenology. This data is especially important for studying the effects of climate change on endangered species restricted to isolated areas of habitat.

P. edwarsi are long-lived, they have been recorded as living up to 30 years old in Ranomafana. They reproduce slowly and older females continue to give birth until death with most infants born in June and July. Their diet consists mainly of leaves, fruits, and seeds and varies seasonally, with a preference for fruits and seeds when available and leaves when fruits and seeds are not available.

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Much of Ranomafana was subject to logging in the late 1980s and the effect of the differing levels of anthropogenic disturbance on the Sifakas has been well studied. Groups in unlogged forest have been found to consume more calorie and nutrient-rich fruits and seeds than groups in previously logged forest, which consume more leaves.

Groups living in logged forest travel less per day to minimize energy use, but cover a larger area overall to acquire resources. Sifaka groups in the unlogged forest appear to need less area to acquire necessary resources due to increased availability, but move more per day throughout the year to obtain higher-quality but patchily distributed resources, such as fruit.

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www.robinhoskyns.co.uk

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Anja Reserve: finding an icon of Madagascar

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Last weekend we visited Anja Community Reserve. This is a tiny reserve of only 30 hectares but it is the closest place to Ranomafana to see the icon of Madagascar, the Ring-Tailed Lemur. Despite its tiny size Anja is home to over 300 Ring-Tails which are well habituated to tourists. As a private community reserve all entrance fees are put towards local development projects.

After arriving and paying our entrance fees we quickly found some ring-tails in the small fragment of dry forest located in a gap between the cliffs. The light wasn’t too good and there were quite a few other tourists so after watching the lemurs for a while we left them to it and headed up to the cliffs to see the view.

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After a short walk and some rock hopping we got up to the view point looking out across the valley over houses and rice paddies. The landscape is totally different to the eastern rainforest slopes and is much more representative of the central Madagascan plateau. Although this was probably once all forest it is much drier than Ranomafana or Kianjavato. We spent a little while soaking up the epic scenery and just as the light was starting to get nice someone spotted a group of Ring-Tails making their way up the rocks towards the caves where they spend the night.

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I managed to clamber down and get some shots of them sitting on the rocks, soaking up the last of the suns warmth with the epic back drop across the valley. I was having a great time and could have stayed following the Lemurs until they finally went to sleep however the guide was getting impatient for us to get back as we were only half way round the two hour circuit. Very reluctantly I left the Ring-Tails to go about their business and followed the guide back down through the forest.

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Walking back out of the reserve I thought I had missed the best of the light on the cliffs however as we got to the car park the sun just broke through casting a strip of golden light across the cliff face. On the taxi-brousse back to Fianarantsoa I was buzzing from a somewhat rushed but extremely productive two and a half hours of photography.

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www.robinhoskyns.co.uk

 


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First impressions of Madagascar….

One of the ubiquitous green Day-Geckos on a Ravenala palm.

One of the ubiquitous green Day-Geckos on a Ravenala palm.

The first thing that hit me about Madagascar was the level of development or rather the lack of it. For the drive from the capital “Tana” to Kianjavato I had mentally prepared myself, expecting to be shocked by the lack of forest. Whilst there were very few trees remaining until we got close to Ranomafana national park the thing that took me by surprise was the sheer number of people. Madagascar’s population is over 22 million people and it seemed like a lot of these were out and about, using the road to dry rice, transport goods either in baskets on their heads or in wooden carts and moving herds of Zebu cattle. Almost the entire drive was village after village of mud brick houses and wooden huts surrounded by banana plants and rice paddies. Even the small bit of Tana we saw by day seemed distinctly rural. Having been here a little while now I’m getting used to the hustle and bustle of Madagascar and hopefully there will be more images to come soon!

A Brookesia

A Brookesia “leaf” chameleon.

A juvenile rufi (Eulemur rubriventer)

A juvenile rufi (Eulemur rubriventer)

Vatovavy at sunrise taken from the camp site.

Vatovavy at sunrise taken from the camp site.

The most common frog around camp but one of the coolest!

The most common frog around camp but one of the coolest!

Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) living up to it's name.

Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) living up to it’s name.

Uroplatus!!!

Uroplatus!!!

A varecia in a typical pose

A varecia variegata  in a typical pose.


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Mountain Hares in Scotland

I’m back from Morocco after a week of surfing and exploring Marrakech. Panic is starting to kick in about how little time we have left to organise things for Madagascar in a months time. I plan to get up a couple of blog posts about Madagascar preparations and what I’m taking, as I did for the Kalahari but for now I’ll share some of the images of Mountain Hares taken whilst I was in Scotland a couple of weeks ago.

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The first hare doing its best impression of a boulder.

I have visited the Cairngorms on a couple of previous visits to Scotland and I usually like to try to find (and hopefully photograph) some of the iconic wildlife of the highlands on these trips. My main approach in the past has been to wander about hoping to see an animal before it sees me and creep as close as I can get before it flies/runs off. Of course this approach has gained me relatively little success leaving me with only a few half reasonable shots of grouse in the distance and usually with feelings of  frustration as they fly cackling over my head and land a couple of hundred metres away.

Obviously this approach was not getting me anywhere so I thought I’d let my pride stop getting in the way and admit that just because I have spent a lot of time photographing animals in Africa I don’t suddenly have a command over the entire animal kingdom. After the realisation that actually my knowledge of highland wildlife was pretty poor along with my general field-craft skills I wanted something more from this trip, especially before leaving on another adventure I wanted some images of native UK wildlife that I was happy with.

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Whilst I was in this kind of mood I read a blog post about how to photograph Mountain Hares by Andy Howard Nature Photography. What struck me about this post was firstly how natural and relaxed the hares looked in his images but also how willing he was to share his knowledge. Feeling relatively wealthy after several months of working nights and many hours of overtime in the lead up to christmas I decided to book a days guiding with Andy.

Sure enough my impressions were not unfounded as Andy turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about hare behaviour and extremely passionate about the hares with special emphasis on making sure they were relaxed enough for us to capture natural behaviour.

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A good stretch and a scratch behind the ears after a nap.

Unfortunately when we arrived at the location there wasn’t a huge amount of snow. Photographers tend to go crazy about snow and the opportunity to photograph a white animal in a white habitat is almost more than some people can bear! Anyway I wasn’t too disappointed, just excited to be out and ready to see some hares.

Andy quickly pointed out several white dots that with my closer inspection through binoculars turned out to be hares. White hares on green heather are actually surprisingly difficult to spot as they look exactly like the white boulders that were poking out of the heather at random intervals and they stay very still most of the time.

After walking past a couple of hares that Andy said looked unfamiliar and a bit worried by our presence we found Andy’s favorite hare with distinctive markings which unfortunately wasn’t in a very photogenic location so we tried a different hare that was in a slightly more open area.

We spent the next hour or two slowly creeping towards the hare, letting it relax fully enough to display natural behaviour after each forward movement. At one point this hare even had a little nap!

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No amount of camouflage would work at these distances as it would be blatantly obvious to any animal that you are trying to creep up on it no matter what you were wearing besides there were no bushes or shrubbery to use as cover on these hills. Andy’s technique relied mainly on staying low, moving very slowly and talking between us to give the impression to the hare that we weren’t a threat.

After we had gotten sufficiently close and waited long enough to see the hare stretch, yawn, eat a pellet  and then relax again (rabbits and hares eat their own faeces as unlike a lot of herbivores they only have a single stomach and the food they eat is so tough) we backed off and tried again with two more hares.

After getting the close up and behaviour shots I wanted to try to get some wider shots to get a sense of the landscape. This was a little tricky as the hares get a bit worried when approached from above/behind however with Andy advising me on the hare’s level of fear I got into position and managed to get the shots I was after. With the light fading rapidly we retreated for the last time and walked back to the car.

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Having previously let my pride get the better of me I was actually really glad that I sucked it up and in the end I was humbled by Andy’s passion for the hares and put to shame by his field skills. Hopefully the moral of this blog post is that just because you have a few good shots of a certain animal you should never let your pride get in the way of seeking help and although previously of the opinion that guided workshops were for rich amateurs that don’t know their way around a camera this experience has changed my view. Most pro wildlife photographers offer workshops on particular species and if you choose someone who is as passionate about the wildlife as the photography you are sure to learn something!

P.s. consider signing this petition to protect the Mountain Hare in the UK: PROTECT THE MOUNTAIN HARE

www.robinhoskyns.co.uk

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Morning at Bradgate Park

I have been neglecting this blog a little in the past few months however one of my resolutions for next year is to write more and show more pictures. Whether or not this will actually occur will be decided on the reliability of the internet connection in Madagascar where I’ll be spending the first half of 2015.

Here are some images from a trip to Bradgate Park last weekend. The first time I’ve been out with my camera in a few months due to working a “real” job in the lead up to Christmas. I am now free and have plans for Scotland and Morocco before preparing for Madagascar in February.

We arrived at Bradgate before sunrise with the aim of photographing Red Deer whilst they still had their antlers, preferably with the golden rays of morning sunlight lighting up plumes of breath. The light was great, the air was cold and there was very little wind however the deer did not cooperate.

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A pre-dawn Red Deer stag. A little far away but a good test tof the 5D3’s high ISO capabilities.

We managed to locate a Red Deer stag very quickly and with the sun not yet up we had a while to get ourselves into position and let the animal get used to our presence. Being a nice morning forecast, no sooner had we located this individual then it seemed as if half the dog walkers and joggers in Leicestershire also turned up. The stag we were watching quickly moved across the flats and over to the side of the river where the public are not allowed. A photographers pass can be purchased for this side of the river in the rutting season however we had not done this.

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A pair of conspiratorial young Fallow Deer.

We spent a little while wandering about looking for another Red Deer stag however we only succeeded in finding a dead one. It was very fresh and although we considered standing it up in a nice position and just photographing it like that we decided against it. The sun was well on it’s way up and the light was perfect so we settled for a herd of Fallow Deer under some old oak trees close by so at least we would make use of the light.

The Fallow Deer at Bradgate Park are extremely tame and although they keep an eye on humans that stop and stare they are generally completely unfazed. We spent a while with this particular herd making the most of the great light. I liked the overhanging old oak branches so opted for some more habitat style shots.

These three images are all the same individual in the same spot and I’m not sure which is my favorite yet however I like how together they show my compositional thought process:

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After a while shooting into the light we moved around so that we were shooting with the light instead of against it. I love back-lighting and nice light in the UK is sometimes a rarity however it’s always nice to try to get a variety of shots of your subjects if possible.

With the next shot I waited until these two Deer moved into a patch of light and set my camera to under expose slightly to try and get the light coloured deer properly exposed with a dark background.

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Although the light was still ok we decided to leave this heard alone and have another quick look about for a Red Deer stag before heading back. A lot more people were starting to arrive so we thought our chances would be slim, unfortunately we didn’t see any more reds as quite sensibly they were probably the other side of the river. Whilst walking back we decided to photograph the Black-Headed Gulls on the stream as I wanted to practice some in-flight shots as I haven’t really put my 5D3 though it’s paces since I bought it in the summer.

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All in all it was a very pleasant morning and I was very happy to be out and about again with my camera!

Thanks for looking.

www.robinhoskyns.co.uk


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Wildlife Photographer Of The Year

I received an email yesterday saying that two of my images (out of 20) have made it through to the final round of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition at the Natural History Museum. It’s better than I expected but still doesn’t mean that they will get through. Anyway fingers crossed!

As I haven’t shown these two before I thought now would be a good time!

 

The dust kicked up by another Meerkat carrying out some burrow renavation is lit by the setting sun.

The dust kicked up by another Meerkat carrying out some burrow renavation is lit by the setting sun.

A backlit Mantis on a Drie Doring bush.

A backlit Mantis on a Drie Doring bush.

 

Seeing the Meerkat image again made me miss them a little bit! I haven’t really looked through my meerkat images that much for a while as I have been busy with other stuff but it now seems like a long time ago that I was out in the Kalahari watching these guys every day!

As a lot of my WPOTY submissions were Meerkat images I thought i’d also share a couple more of my favorites that got rejected.

I hope you enjoy them and please like my facebook page for more pictures! Robin Hoskyns Photography Facebook Page

To find out more about my time at the Kalahari Meerkat Project see my Kalahari Blog

Buzz Off!

Buzz Off!

Meerkat Secrets!

Meerkat Secrets!

Last one up.

Last one up.