Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kruger National Park (Gabby Salazar)

I have been in South Africa for one month and have finally arrived in Kruger National Park. We are staying in one of the staff camps towards the middle of the camp and are required to walk in groups of three because of leopards and lions. There have been two people killed by leopards in this camp in the last 5 years. Yesterday we drove from Hamakuya to the camp through the park. It was essentially a 10 hour game drive. We saw white rhinos, a monitor lizard, hippos, crocodiles, and many species of ungulates. As I am the only photographer, my shots have to be quick and steady as we only pause for a few quick seconds at each stop. We are not allowed to get out of the car and walk in the park without a game guard so most of my photography is confined to a car or game drive vehicle. When we do walk outside we have to do so under the supervision of a guard with a loaded rifle.

The park is very dry at the moment and the first rains should start any day. The rains will bring grasses and baby animals. Yesterday we saw a few baby elephants and young zebra. I am hoping to witness a birth during my time here.

After over a week in the village, the tourist camp is overwhelming. We have not been to a store beyond gas stations in over four weeks. The prospect of ice cream whenever I want it is fantastic.

Tomorrow we start a project on elephants with a professor from Johannesburg. We will be studying elephant age distributions within the park. Elephants are a major point of controversey within the park and South Africa in general. They have very few natural predators so their populations are not controlled. Culling is one option that has been explored in the past but there are many people who are against controlling the population in this way. If there are two many elephants, some scientists believe that there are negative effects on biodiversity and on tree populations within the park. Elephants strip trees of bark and they often push over large trees. Their motivations are unknown.

I will send more updates as research continues. For now I need to finish my project on mopane worm pupae (the pupae of the Emperor Moth). The worm is a common food source here in South Africa and we measured density and distribution within red Kalahari sands. Interestingly, we found a very low density and high mortality among the pupae we found. Further research is necessary to determine natural population levels so that sustainable harvesting levels can be determined. The worms are harvested before the adult moth stage when sexual reproduction takes place so overharvesting could devestate populations. This is just one of the many species about which little is known.

The top image is of a monitor lizard in Kruger National Park.

The next image is a little bee eater.

Venda Village (Gabby)

I am staying in the village of Hamakuya. It is a Venda village in the northeast of South Africa. Venda is one of the many black ethnic groups of South Africa.

I am writing to express how much I have been affected by my stay. Despite my travels to 15 countries, many of which are impoverished, I have never before experienced this level of feeling for the people I have met. I stayed in the home of one Venda family for two nights and am now staying at a camp about 30 minutes from the village center and visiting the village to do research.

Many famillies here live on less than $150 per month and the average family size is 6 people. A middle to upper class family lives on $450 per month for 6 – 8 people. Keep in mind that most items here cost similar amounts to what we pay in the United States. People here are very dependent on natural resources to make ends meet and spend much of their days collecting firewood, edible plants, and water. Everyone still cooks over a fire.

How do I describe this experince? I sat on the dirt floor of a kitchen with a 60 year old matriarch teaching me how to grind peanuts and cook grits. She brought tea to my room and got down on her knees at the doorstep and bowed her head flat to the ground as a sign of respect. I met a woman named Grace who is my age and has a 5-year old child and a husband. She is studying English all the time because she wants to get a job to provide an education for her daughter. I spent time with a boy named Pardon who is 14 and wants to be an engineer – he asked me if the world had only one sun and one moon and yet he speaks English almost fluently and can already build fully working models of play cars out of scraps from the junkyard. These people do not beg .They are proud and independent. They are not starving, although they are malnourished. There is hope here.

After staying with a family and spending time with many of the children, I have decided to help. An ethnomusicologist named Lara Allen has given up her job to start a non-profit here to bring jobs into the area. One of the main problems is the lack of jobs.

What has affected me the most is the number of highly intelligent children who are motivated to suceed. Despite the poor school system, many of them are just grappling for books and English reading material. Sadly, even if they get top marks, they are unlikely to ever get past high school because of financial limitations and because the education system here does not prepare students to compete with kids at top high schools. My educaiton has been such a gift and it is the least I can do to help other kids get even a basic secondary education.

More soon!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

3rd Post from Africa

Photography has taken a backseat to academics in the last few days as we have commenced our first Faculty Field Projects (FFPS). To provide a bit of background, I am spending my last semester of college in South Afica particpating in a field studies program. It is a hands-on biology/ecology program conducted in Kruger National Park and other reserves and parks throughout South Africa.
We are currently working in an arid savanna ecosystem. Winter has just ended here and it is chilly at night but up to 90 degrees Farenheit in the day. My project focuses on mopane worm pupae abundance. Mopane worms are worms that primarily feed on the tree Colophospermum mopane and they are also quite tasty. The Venda communities in South Africa along with other cultural groups use the Mopane worm as a source of protein. The worms are harvested in the spring and summer but very little is known about their biology and how harvesting affects their distribution. We are basically digging holes at the base of mopane trees to check the distribution and abudance of pupae. This turns out to be back-breaking work in the hot South African sun. We dug 10 holes this morning about 1 meter long x 70 cm wide x 40 cm deep.
The nice thing about doing field work is that I can pull out my camera on the way to our work sites and our drivers are very nice about stopping as oryx, giraffe, and zebra run across the road or pause to watch our vehicle. This image of klip springer (I need to check that spelling) was taken on the way to a site).
I will write more soon and I do have email access, so feel free to email with any magazine related questions or photography questions –

Friday, September 11, 2009

Winter in South Africa

Hello all -

These are from the place I am currently staying. Just a taste of South Africa. It is winter here but 80 degrees. Class starts at 7:30 am and we are working on field projects including lizard behavioral studies and savanna fire ecology. So, I am in the field 7 hours per day but as a scientist and not a photographer. We do take game drives every few days and most of my images are taken during those times. The dust is overwhelming here and a real challenge to the cameras.

I will send more soon!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Free Software (Johan)

In the world of photography, where everything seems to be expensive, it is always nice to find free software. Here are some that may be of interest to those of us who are on a budget. :-)
Photomatix Pro
 Picasa 3
I took the photo at the top of this post and the photos in the screenshots on Monday when I climbed the South Sister mountain in Oregon (11.5 mile round-trip hike, 5,000 foot elevation gain). I carried a Canon EOS 10D, Canon EF 16-35/2.8L USM, and Hoya Polarizing filter.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of free software. Also, I have not used all of these programs. Use at your own risk.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Using a Blind And Perch (Connor Stefanison)

I'm sure a few of you have tried using a blind and perch setup for wildlife images. If not, it's something to think about for the future. You can build your own blind, or buy one. The easiest way to buy a blind is usually from a hunting store. Basically you want something that will hide you from your subject.

For the best results, an interesting looking perch is key. A dead stick is usually not very pleasing. An interesting plant, or moss covered branch are usually fairly nice perches. Also, setting up your perch in a vertical, diagonal, or wavy position is more pleasing to the eye than a horizontal perch.

Many photographs you will see of a "perfect perch and background" are usually set-ups. Putting a bird feeder on the ground, or food on the unvisible side of a perch are some ways to attract your subjects. The idea is to make your image look as natural as possible. One thing to look out for is if your perch matches the subject's environment. For example, it may not be the most "natural" idea to have a tropical plant as a perch for a bird found in the pacific northwest. Using a distant background is also a good idea since you will get a blured background so the focus of the image is on the subject.

For the image above, I used a blind from a hunting store, and put some peanut butter on the back of the perch. For the perch, I just used a branch extending off a dead log. There's a link to the picture for a larger view.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Live interview on Lensflare35 with Gabby

I just want to give everyone a "heads up" on my interview with Lensflare35.  It was posted yesterday.  You can go to the following link and hear the interview.  It is about 30 minutes long, so you can clean your camera and lenses while you are listening. Go to the bottom of the page and click on the Play button.

Having fun in Africa