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GIANT ANTEATER

Giant Anteater, Pouso Alegre Lodge

THE FIRST EVENING MEAL ON MY RECENT WILD IMAGES TOUR WAS INTERRUPTED BY NEWS OF A 'TAMANDUA BANDEIRA' (i.e. a Giant Anteater (!)) nearby. We all rushed out and enjoyed a show-stopping night-time encounter with this amazing creature, which usually rests up during the day and goes foraging for termites at night. This particular individual is a regular visitor to the lodge grounds at the lovely Pouso Alegre and has been fed (raw eggs among other things) by lodge staff here for some time. It is therefore very tame and relaxed around people. Nevertheless it was worth reminding ourselves that these ostensibly peaceful animals have been known to kill people with their incredibly powerful bear-like claws so we were sure to leave it some space where possible! Giant Anteaters have very poor eyesight and encounters can sometimes be very close indeed, as this one was. Some of the horses in the same paddock as the anteater, bolted past in the dark but the anteater was unfazed and continued on its way. We returned to the dining room to pick up where we had left off (I was just  about to give a talk about photographing Giant Anteaters among other things - bolting horse sprang to mind again). It was getting late now and time for bed and as we headed to our rooms the anteater sauntered past.

The following day we were returning to the lodge and paused to photograph a Jabiru feeding on small crabs in a roadside pool when the anteater was spotted again, this time in broad daylight, wandering towards the lodge grounds. We were able to catch up with it easily, they never seem to go anywhere in a hurry and enjoyed some more point blank views. We were able to photograph against a variety of backgrounds, including plenty of non-manmade as well as man-made ones before it made its way back into the forest. Maybe the overcast sky of the cold front had done us a favour after all as they usually rest in the shade on sunny days.

There are at least one million interesting facts about Giant Anteaters. Here are just a few. For a start it has a very low body temperature for a mammal of only 33 degrees Celsius. Its bear-like claws, used for breaking into termite nests are so long that it has to walk on its knuckles. Its sense of smell is 40 times more sensitive than us and its tongue is so long it is anchored to its sternum and can reach 45cm beyond its mouth! It cannot produce stomach acid of its own but used the formic acid of its prey to aid digestion. I didn’t even mention the extraordinary shape of its head yet. What an incredible creature!

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OCELOT

AN OCELOT AT SOUTHWILD SANTA TERESA WAS THE HIGHLIGHT of my Wild Images Brazil's Pantanal tour. At the hide (or rather open air theatre) of the same name we gathered after dark sitting on the small bandstand opposite a tangle of vines baited with piranha steaks. Happily it did not take too long for the hoped for cat to appear, creeping in furtively from the forest to our right. It took some time to pluck up courage to make its way to the food but when it did our local guide turned on the other two of the three floodlights lighting up the ‘stage’. This is certainly the most sophisticated set up of its kind I’ve seen so far and most folks were able to get reasonable high ISO photos at slow shutter speeds. I opted instead for flash synced at 1/250th second, ISO 1000 and an aperture of f/8, which captured a couple of nice eye-level portraits when the Ocelot stood in a position up on the vines that I was happy with. Interesting that my effective focal length was 280mm too. Generally 400mm is recommended but if you want some background at all then this is too long for me. The shorter and faster lens also aids shooting in the low light of the floodlight if you don’t want to use flash and burn out the cat’s eyes. Not all of the set up is photogenic so it is important to figure out where you want to shoot it, position yourself for that angle and hope that the Ocelot obliges, which lucky for me it did. The Ocelot show was so efficient that we were even back at Rio Claro for evening meal. I am very grateful to Southwild for their kind hospitality!

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WOOD WARBLER AT STOCKS

Wood Warbler, Stocks Reservoir 21 May 2018

THE ACCELERATING TRILL OF A WOOD WARBLER is one of the most evocative sounds of spring in East Lancs woodlands but it is sadly all too rare these days with usually only a maximum of 2 or 3 per year. Punctuated occasionally by 'teeoo-teeoo' calls similar to a bullfinch, a hissing trill reverberated through a small patch of birch woodland as I opened the car door at Stocks Reservoir early on Sunday morning. Bam! I was hoping for an interesting shorebird last weekend but this will do nicely instead. Wood Warbler's song is very familiar, having listened to it many times in Clockburn Dene near my home in Gateshead as a child. I've also heard it all over Eastern Europe, where it is happily still very common. It is even on my cumulative garden list, if you can have such a thing, with one singing from a railway embankment behind my flat in Hitchin, Hertfordshire in the early 90s. I have found a few in East Lancs since I moved here in 2005 but I don't see it every year as they have become very scarce across much of their range in England so every one of them is a real delight. Sadly this bird was gone by late morning so maybe just a migrant passing through? Just in case anyone is interested, particularly bearing in mind the attention the Olympus 4/3 set-up is getting, the file info for the photo above is: Canon 1DX, 700mm, ISO3200, f/6.3, 1/200 sec. (handheld).

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CRESTED HONEY BUZZARD

Crested Honey Buzzard, IBRCE, Israel 20 April 2018

ROLLING UP TO THE IBRCE on 20 April, an interesting raptor was soaring over the Jordan border crossing. Binos through the windscreen, it immediately looked like a Crested Honey Buzzard, so we came to an abrupt halt and piled out of the van in time to get some nice views of it almost overhead before it spiraled out of sight into the midday haze.

The most striking feature was the relative proportion of the wings and tail, obvious immediately, with the tail length shorter than the breadth of the wing base and the hands as broad as the arms. Described as eagle-like by Dick Forsman. Added to this, the long 5th primary (which forms a step in the wing tip with the shorter 4th primary), grey head, dark gorget, lack of dark carpal patches, sparse underwing barring with a broad dark trailing edge and distinctive undertail barring meant we were looking at an adult male Crested Honey Buzzard. Get in!

However, the possibility of a hybrid with European Honey Buzzard needs to be ruled out as Dick Forman writes about claims of Crested Honey Buzzards in the Middle East ‘photographs of alleged Cresteds have revealed that a considerable number of the claimed birds actually show a combination of features from both species’. Looking closely at my photos the iris appears dark, which is a feature of adult and there is a suggestion of a dark bill tip, which also fits this ID. In male Crested HB the flight feather barring crosses all the primary bases as on this bird but to me does not meet the body clear of the secondary coverts as Dick states is diagnostic. However, I’m not sure how variable or important this feature is, as it seems to be the only thing I can find that does not fit perfectly with this bird being an adult Crested HB. The following is a series of images of the bird soaring from several angles.

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