Friday, 11 May 2018

A Visit to Ranomafana National Park

Tiny nocturnal tree frog
One of the most visited national parks, Ranomafana, two days drive south of Antananarivo is large, hilly and, when we visited, quite wet. It was certainly worth the trip, but shooting in the park was tricky as most of the lemurs were sitting high up in the canopy. So you not only had to manage slithering up or down wet, tangled trails to get to where the spotter was waiting for you, but also then contend with shooting upwards at a near-vertical angle to capture the animals in the canopy.

In most cases we found that fill-flash, using speedlights produced the best results.

Something I was not expecting to see in Madagascar - a raging torrent of water plunging through the rocky gorges of Ranomafana park

Golden Bamboo Lemur
I had seen photos of this gecko online before visiting Madagascar but seeing one in the flesh as it were was an experience. To start with the guide pointed and told us to look for the gecko. We simply could not separate this creature from the leaf litter in the bushes. After a bit of gentle prodding it moved and revealed itself as a satanic leaf-tailed gecko - about five inches long and almost totally invisible.

Another total surprise - a male stick insect hanging off a leaf in the park.
To the uninitiated, a twig. Perfect disguise from most predators

Phallus indusiatus or Lace Cap Fungus
Seen on the forest floor.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens

Golden Bamboo lemur
Pic by Natalie Hitchens
Wild coffee plant with blue berries (flash)
(Apparently this one is poisonous)
Madagascan version of the shrimp plant, flowering in Ranomafana

Unidentified fungus on the forest floor, Ranomafana

Golden Bamboo Lemur

At the main entrance to the park you get to walk over a bridge spanning this massive river, the lower part of the falls depicted at the top of this post

I think this HDR composite gives you a good idea of what the trails through the park look like.
It's mostly secondary jungle, with a lot of small streams, rocks, very slippery roots, mud and thick undergrowth.
It's one of the hardest places I have been to photograph wild animals seeing as most live in the canopy, 15 to 25 feet above your head.
We asked if we could find one of these critters: a giraffe-necked weevil and were taken a few kms down the road to a small pond. The guide disappeared for 10 mins and came back with two branches which he promptly stuck upright in the mud at the side of the road and produced two male weevils out of a pocket. He wet them with fresh water to prevent them from flying off...

Panther chameleon clinging to a branch
Flash shot at night

The Mossy leaf-tailed Gecko
Blink and you'd miss it (it's head is at the bottom of the screen)
Apparently this is a nocturnal creature that blends into the environment perfectly in the daytime to avoid becoming a meal...

Magpie Robin
Pic by Natalie Hitchens

Pic by Natalie Hitchens

Pic by Natalie Hitchens

Tiny green gecko at rest on a banana leaf
Horned leaf chameleon
being almost invisible somewhere in the forest...
Pic by Natalie Hitchens
This is a tiny Mouse Lemur
It's nocturnal and moves at the speed of light, or at least, very quickly.
To allow night visitors a chance of seeing this lemur, our guide smeared ripe banana onto the branches in daylight.
We arrived after dark, assembled in front of the appropriate bush, and waited.
Illumination was provided by one bright LED torch for a few seconds at a time so it was very hard to focus at all. I shot at f16 to get everything in focus, used my 300mm telephoto lens and a speedlight flash to provide the illumination.
It was a very hit-and-miss operation but I finally scored a few sharp shots of the little fella licking the banana off the branches.

An unidentified chameleon hanging off a small branch.
(Flash at night

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