The feeders have been extremely active this winter season on a daily basis and have attracted a few species I haven't seen since my move to the island. Migrating Evening Grosbeaks stuck around for the first part of the season along with a single Red-breasted Grosbeak. American Goldfinch, B.C Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Hairy and Downy Woodpecker and Crows were among the daily visitors. A pair of Bald Eagle have made the property a consistent visit as they are paying close attention to the pig farm that has opened up adjacent to the reserve. The smell reaches the backyard to our homestead occasionally but dissipates inside the forest. I am staying positive about the new operation by taking note of the predator animals that may show interest in the habits of such a farming practice.
My plan for setting up multiple bird feeding stations has been successful and the turnout has been note worthy. My experience with finding birds on the island has been much different then life on the mainland mostly due to the amount of agriculture for such a small island. The partial stand of trees that remain seem to be, at best, a 3rd class lifestyle for my sought after avian friends. My aim with the purchase of this property was to give the wildlife remaining on the island, and the seasonal visitors, a protected habitat to freely roam and forage with human interference non-existent. This has proven to be a challenge with everything from ATV operators not respecting private land to a pack of domesticated dogs running wild through the area. As I continue to work on the property these issues are coming closer to a end and the vision gets a bit clearer by the day.
Here is a small gallery of birds photographed at the feeder this year followed by a list of winter birds recorded. Enjoy......
Backyard Bird Gallery
Birds recorded for this winter are as follows;
I wanted to give a brief update on the progress of the reserve and let you know the plans for the seasons ahead. At the moment things have been slow besides brainstorming plans for the spring and summer seasons. This winter has fell a lot of snow, which has been great, but the snow to rain patterns have made it very difficult to pass the entrance to get inside the forest. Every spring a natural pond appears to the left of the entrance beyond the field that has been an important resting area for migrating ducks and waterfowl. During this part of the season the first 200 meters of forest becomes a large mangrove-like environment until the rain stops and water dissipates; this is when I have been beginning spring forest excursions. With the consistent snow, rain and thaw process of this winter season, this particular section of forest has become impassible due to safety reasons. Along with the uncooperative weather making it hard to be consistent with documenting animal tracks (the way I usually spend my winter) my wife has been pregnant with baby number 2, arriving in April, so our energy has been spent preparing our home for another member.
When the snow clears and ground thaws I will erect swallow boxes in the back field that separates our homestead from the forest. This has been a popular spot for migrating Barn Swallows, as well as a safe nesting area for 4 different species of sparrow and a hopeful .area for more ground nesting breeding birds. We will then continue to monitor owl boxes before starting the reserves first breeding bird survey. The spring will also be spent grooming trails and preparing selected areas for setting up surveying hides. We have been back and forth on the idea of guided walks through the forest, so in the meantime it's important to keep up on trail safety.
I have been quiet and very low key through this winter on the website but will be posting again regularly come spring. We are also in the midst of planning upcoming photography trips for the travel season and will be blogging about each one along with consistent photo galleries. I have been non-existent on all other media platforms and will most likely keep it that way , so keep up to date here.
All the best,
Traveling out of the park was something I wasn't looking forward to. My experience inside was much more of an emotional trip then I had originally expected, although the place I was on route for would prove to be extremely educational and inspiring. So on the road I went, to experience the rest of South Africa.
Exiting the park I traveled south east to the Mkhuze Game Reserve where I would spend 3 nights in the open wilderness before continuing south east for St. Lucia to search for birds. Mkhuze proved to be a wonderful selection and great introduction to what it means to camp in the open African wilderness. With my experience in Kruger, I was used to sleeping in gated campsites knowing the possibility of outside animals getting in, besides the baboons, was very slim. Now waking up and having my morning coffee outside with no safety nets gave me a truer sense of respect for the powerful African environment. Throughout my stay in Mkhuze I had opportunity to speak with several rangers who were very informative on the fight against animal poaching and the measures they go to, every single day, to protect the animals inside the park limits. The large size of the park makes it impossible to stop the poaching crimes as many locals hunt on the far ends of the reserve where there are no roads inside the park to access the areas. Many snares are set up along the perimeter where people can easily climb over the property fences and access the wildlife inside the park. I was told by different rangers that they often find animals snared and left by poachers for days, but by the time they are able to get to these sites, the damage is done. Cheetahs have often been the target and would always be mentioned in the conservation conversation.
Time in Mkhuze was very informative, and many times since I've thought about the stories I heard from the folks fighting to protect Africa's wildlife welfare. Since my time in Africa the sport hunting community has attempted to own the title "conservation", but they have nothing on the hard working rangers who fight to protect animal life. The very simple fact is that humans now feel they need to control animal populations to keep the flow of diversity intact when the problem began with humans desecrating the entire animal kingdom by wiping out the food-chain from the top to the bottom. In the end it is just another example of the intense mistakes humanity has made and is now trying to fix; death with more death. This was my primary lesson learnt from Mhkuze.
I hired a local bird guide and wildlife educator named Themba for one day. After our first outing I thought it was best to keep him on for the rest of my stay. He was a wealth of information and has remained a contact of mine to this day. Themba took me through many spaces I would not have been able to find on my own and easily located many bird species. He took me through his home village 50 miles outside of St. Lucia and spent a full day walking through swamps and pristine African forests locating all forms of wildlife and shared his in-depth knowledge of the ecosystem along the way. Themba also shared his business pursuits and his desire to build a communication center focused on educating his local community on environmental conservation. After my return to Canada I would continue to work with Themba in providing a financial outlet to help build his center as well as providing photographs for his programs and seminars. You can find a link to Themba's outfit in the footer section on this website called Zulubirding and Ecotours.
Creighton and The Kingdom of Lesotho
The plan for the rest of the trip was to head west to Creighton and stay with a company called Button Birding (also found in the footer). This was a small family owned business that provided 2 guided birding tours a day and gave you access to their beautiful private property. A few days into the stay we would go to the Kingdom of Lesotho and experience the culture of a country dwelling inside a country. After the stay with Button Birding I would take a few days in Wakkerstrom, looking for more birds before heading back to Johannesburg to fly back home.
Traveling through the country, heading to Creighton, gave me opportunity to experience the rural town cultures as I would drive through many different townships and stay in local motels. Before this, my only pursuit was to find animals and photograph as many different species as possible. I took my time for the rest of the trip traveling in this way. From town to town, until I arrived at my selected locations.
Creighton was a place full of birds not yet recorded, driving from location to location with Malcolm (the owner) learning about the local wildlife and his views on his country. Malcolm would take me into the Kingdom of Lesotho for a day to photograph birds very secluded to that area.
Leaving Button Birding I would head to Wakkerstrom with high expectations. Wakkerstrom seemed to me the place to be for a wide variety of bird species. In all my research done before the trip, this was always a very highly recommended place to go. On my journey there I would once again spend my nights in local motels found along the way. At this point in my trip, I had already left a piece of myself in Africa and was mentally processing future plans to return.
Wakkerstrom was beautiful and met all the expectations. On my last day there and on a voyage looking for birds I found myself on the back roads, outside of town, in peak heat of the day. The roads were getting worse by the kilometer until I reached a point where hindsight says was impassable. By this time I felt I had reached the point of no return so I carefully planned how I could move forward. Before I knew it, my vehicle was bottomed out due to the massive ruts in the road. Exiting the vehicle I realized the foolish decision making involved but had to come up with a cure for the situation. After past hours of failed attempts the problem seemed helpless. As dinner time approached, to my amazement, a local from the nearest town was bicycling through and stopped to look at my dilemma. This man could not speak a word of English but graciously continued to struggle by my side to get the SUV back onto higher ground. An hour in, another man, originally from Swaziland, happened to pass by and join the cause. He spoke broken English and was able to communicate enough as a mediator that we were able to hoist the rig back onto the shoulder of the road. After changing tires and driving these great humans to their place of rest, I gave them each a full weeks pay and headed back to the Wakkerstrom local pub, where I would spend the duration of the evening. The next morning I would begin my trip back to Johannesburg for one more night before flying home to Canada.
This was the most inspiring trip that I have made to date. Africa is a place of pure beauty and power and will always have a place in the deepest part of me. Now with a wife, daughter and another on the way, Africa is most definitely in the family plans for the future. I can`t say that I would have done a single thing differently on my journey from east to west and would recommend these locations to anyone planning a trip to the country. South Africa has a wealth of any wildlife you are in search for and a population full of wonderful people. I hope you all enjoyed reading the recollection of my trip as much as I did recalling the journey.
All the best, Robbie
Over the past month I have began diving into the world of podcasts. I find this outlet a very good source of education. There are a few great casts that I have thoroughly enjoyed and many that I have trouble relating to. The most common thing I hear from the nature photography community is the "code of ethics" standpoint when photographing wildlife and landscapes. There are many good and respectable ideas out there, and I personally believe this is an issue everyone needs to consider.
I find it difficult to converse in debates as I most often am very much stuck in my own ways, which is why I started a podcast here on the site and soon realized that it wasn't for me. I began recording different topics that I value as important but soon understood that I have very one-sided ideas that would make it difficult for my following community to listen to, as I tend to ramble frequently. I thought it would be best to replace the podcasting page with the videocast page and simply take my viewers out on my explorations. This way I have time to look at the words I write before I deliver it to the public in an attempt to not create hypocritical content. As I began recording episodes for the podcast I realized how hard it is to touch on topics such as deforestation and environmental pollution issues when I am a carpenter and live in a society that really forces all of us to pollute in some way or another. Saying this, I have a few things I would like to talk about here and share my thoughts on what I find to be controversial in the world of the nature/wildlife photography "code of ethics".
The photo above is my first lion sighting on my previous trip to Kruger National Park, South Africa. I came across these two lioness as I was traveling from one campsite to the other. These extraordinary cats have never left my mind since the moment I seen them and the images I have taken will continue to recall the hour long conversion we had. I simply pulled to the side of the road and took the moment in as the two creatures lied on the road and exhibited perfect family-hood right in front of me. Time was spent taking photos while much more time was spent existing with these apex predators.
What I would like to consider here is the image I was trying to capture in opposed to the African photography tourism way of exploiting these lovely animals. As I traveled through Africa I quickly realized first-hand how the majority of the tourism fleet behaves. This is a business strictly geared towards bombarding and suffocating wildlife's natural path of existence in order to appease their paying clients appetite for aggressive imagery . The first few days traveling through Kruger I came upon many scenes where safari guide vehicles packed predator hunting activity sites to the extreme, and to the point that I felt completely overwhelmed with disgust and continued on my way. The remainder of my time in the park and travel through Africa was spent as far away from tourist activity as possible. This brings me to my point in wildlife photography ethics.......Always respect wildlife's domain and understand the simple fact that, encroaching on an animals means to survival "is what it is"......photography, poaching, trophy/sport hunting, or whatever the human hobby may be that directly cripples an animals way of survival, is in the end, all the same. So my point is, the photo I'm sharing here is a photo of allowing animals to exist as they are and move at their own will. Wildlife podcasts seem to be built on methods that are geared towards setting people in spaces that conflict with animal natural movement for the sole purpose for getting an image. The majority of photos with leopard, lion, hyena, or any other predator attacking and gorging on a meal are most often taken from a vehicle that has played a very negative role in manipulating the entire approach to what was naturally happening. The simple idea is that, predators go with far too many missed meals due to egotistic travel guides and travelers who are more concerned with getting photos then respecting wildlife in it's natural state, which most often should mean, leaving it all alone.
By the time these powerful predators make it to this region they have already endured a very daunting and exhausting migration and before they head back to the far north, the most important thing we can do as photographers, is to either have the right gear or just put the camera down. Migratory animals need their space.
Ethics plays a huge part in any animal you decide to photograph but many times is not really considered. It seems that photography has become more about human ego then it has to do with anything else. Getting published and having a pristine gallery is great, but when animals go without meals and miss out on rest then your photography has become an "animal cripple". Experience in the field and researching wildlife behavior are two things we all need to consider when pursuing wildlife photography. Ethics and common sense go hand and hand for the most part, but when photographers have bad or selfish motives, the hobby and animals suffer. Wildlife photography for me is purely for the enjoyment of my encounters and to document them in order to give wildlife a voice that we as humans may be able to interpret. The truth is, understanding a camera and all of the components of photography is really quite simple, so there is no need to get too egotistically involved. Always explore, learn and conserve wildlife, because it is much more important then the images we produce.
Robbie P. Gallant
As a naturalist, I spend a great amount of time in personal study. Discussion and research is key to exploring new and intelligent ideas and furthering our understanding of our natural surroundings.