I thought I would write a little about the smaller animals in Botswana who are often overlooked with regards to the more popular lions, elephants and giraffes. As gardeners, we tend to think of squirrels as pests. They dig up freshly planted seeds, dig holes in lawns, drop the scales of pine cones everywhere, and they often get to green tomatoes and fruit before it is picked. Yet squirrels are important to the well being of forests. The caching behaviour of seeds by squirrels is very important for the renewal of many tree species, particularly plants that produce heavy seeds that have few chances to sprout when they fall near the parent plant. Conservationists have long regarded mongooses as an enemy to native wildlife and ecosystems when introduced to islands without natural predators. In its natural habitat, southern Eurasia and mainland Africa, they are a natural part of the food chain, eaten by jackals, wild dogs and hawks. The mongoose is carnivorous, consuming mostly insects, but also other small mammals, lizards, snakes and eggs of all kinds. Also, like squirrels, they will supplement occasionally with berries and seeds.
I recently traveled to southern Africa and decided to add the 7 Artisans 7.5mm f2.8 fisheye lens by to my lens collection primarily to perform some astrophotography and because the price was really attractive. My initial impressions of the lens are very favorable, it is well-made, small and fairly light. This 7.5mm is a fisheye lens that apparently has a maximum angle of view of 180 degrees. With 11 elements arranged into 8 groups, it also has a 12-bladed iris. It is a lens requiring manual focus and aperture adjustments although the price of $140 makes it a no-brainer to add to my lens collection. It is about 2.5 in wide and long and weighs 9.7 oz due to a mostly aluminum construction. I thought I would share some photographs and techniques using this lens on my Lumix GX8 camera.
The slender Black-Backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) is only found in Africa. This species has a discontinuous distribution range, and is found in two separate populations, one in East Africa and the Horn (East African jackal or Canis mesomelas schmidtiand), and the other in Southern Africa (Cape jackal or Canis mesomelas mesomelas). The black-backed jackal has occupied eastern and southern Africa for at least 2–3 million years, as shown by fossil deposits in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. Specimens from fossil sites in Transvaal are almost identical to their modern counterparts, but have slightly different nasal bones. Wolves, dogs, and dingoes are subspecies of Canis lupus. Canis species too small to attract the word “wolf” are called coyotes in the Americas and jackals elsewhere, and specifically in Africa. The jackal’s ecological specialisation is similar to that of the coyote found in North America. Though it scavenges, it is also a proficient and well-respected hunter of smaller game.
The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), also known as the laughing hyena, is the sole member of the genus Crocuta, one of only four species of hyena and is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. In a previous post, I wrote about wild dogs and I must admit that hyenas and wild dogs look a little like each other, run in packs and are carnivores who also scavenge, catching prey with their teeth. In addition, both eat food quickly and may store it, and their calloused feet with large, blunt, nonretractable claws are adapted for running and making sharp turns. Surprisingly, hyenas are more closely related to felines (cats) than canines (dogs). The hyena is an example of “convergent evolution”. Similar traits can arise when different species live in similar ways and/or a similar environment, and so face the same environmental factors. When occupying similar ecological niches (that is, a distinctive way of life) similar problems can lead to similar solutions.
In a previous post, I presented examples of the smaller birds I saw on my recent trip to Botswana, in this post I thought I would show the larger birds. I saw the two beautiful birds seen above in Chobe National Park in Botswana, about an hours drive from Victoria Falls. Chobe is well renowned as a superb bird sanctuary featuring many different waterfowl, raptors, woodland species and migrants. In addition the Okavango Delta supports large concentrations of animals on both a permanent and seasonal basis. It has become perhaps one of the best places to see animals and birds in Africa. In between, there are many large and small birds adapted to the semi-arid bush during the winter. I have arbitrarily put Hornbills, Heron and Storks in separate posts to make the post more manageable. There a total 593 species of birds in Botswana, of which 4 have been introduced by humans, and 100 are rare or accidental. Of course, I did not see all of them but these posts cover the ones I did see.
On my recent trip to Botswana, I had an opportunity to observe a variety of beautiful Storks. Storks are beloved in mythology and literature, associated with childbirth and one of my favorite birds with their long graceful form and often bright coloration. Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long stout bills. They belong to the family called Ciconiidae, and make up the order Ciconiiformes. Ciconiiformes previously included a number of other families, such as herons and ibises, but those families have been moved to other orders. German folklore held that storks found babies in caves or marshes and brought them to households in a basket held in their beaks. The babies would be dropped down the chimney of a hopeful mother. Households would notify when they wanted children by placing sweets for the stork on the window sill. The Modern English word can be traced back to Proto-Germanic *sturkaz. Nearly every Germanic language has a descendant of this proto-language word to indicate the (white) stork.
On my recent trip to Botswana, I had the chance to visit Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, about an hour from Victoria Falls. The Chobe river forms Botswana’s northern border with Namibia and the boundary of southern Africa. Its water helps maintain a lush floodplain and rich variety of habitats vital to the multitude of animals that inhabit Chobe National Park. Chobe is well renowned as a superb bird sanctuary featuring many different waterfowl, raptors, woodland species and migrants. This area from Ngoma to Kazungula, incorporating northern Chobe National Park and Kasane, must rank as one of the top birding spots in southern Africa. The total bird list now exceeds some 450 species, which is Botswana’s longest area list. There were an astonishing number of Heron and Egrets and I thought I would present them together. These waterfowl tend to congregate around the Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and Elephants since they churn up the water, delivering food to the birds.
This will be a short post detailing the use of Byword and Workflow for offline writing and posting to WordPress. In my previous post, see references, I detailed the reasoning for choosing this combination if you are interested. Obviously to follow along in this step-by-step description you will need to download the WordPress, Byword and Workflow apps listed in the references. In addition you will obviously need login credentials for your blog. This whole project was started because my favorite blogging program, Blogsy, went out of business last year. Since then I have tried many, many approaches to replace the convenience of Blogsy, mostly without success, until I found this combination of Byword and Workflow.
I often get questions about this blog and how it is created. I have decided to do a number of technical posts that go into the decisions I make in creating new content. For those of you who have no interest in this you can skip this post. I currently use an iPad program called Byword which publishes to a WordPress platform enhanced with a custom theme. In this post I will explain the terminology used above and why I chose the current setup. Website development is the euphemism used to describe a website or blog that can be indexed by Google or other browsers. Compatibility is the key and dictates many other things. While it is possible to create a website “from the ground up“, sometimes using drag-and-drop programs, the results are usually less than optimal. Adding content is difficult, the appearance is often variable, the site may become unstable and hosting may be a problem. Thus I repeat the advice of many other professionals, the author should provide content and rely on reliable consultants to provide the framework for the content.
Last fall I had the good fortune to go on a safari in Botswana (it was spring there below the equator) where I saw some beautiful birds. While Botswana does not have any endemic species of birds, it is nonetheless one of Africa’s top birding areas because of its protection of a number of threatened and endangered species. The best season in Botswana for number of species is during the summer months, when the migrants have arrived, but this is not to say that the winter months are a bad birding time. On the contrary, it is easier to find birds during the dry winter months when their movements are restricted to permanent water sources and pools drying to mud with trapped fish and crustaceans. I have arbitrarily separated the smaller and larger birds into separate posts. As a disclaimer, since the stated purpose of the safari was large mammals, it was challenging to get adequate closeup photos of the smaller birds, I have presented what I have.