Readers’ wildlife photographs

March 21, 2015 • 7:45 am

Today we have a combination of plant, animal, and landscape photos by reader James Billie, taken on a trek up Mount Kenya:

This photo of an “LBB”  [little brown bird] is not that great (though I like the sharpness and the frost on the tent fly) but it may be of interest due to the location:  on a tent pitched near the Minto Hut on Mount Kenya, at just about 14,000 feet, and almost smack on the Equator.  The other photos show the surroundings and some giant groundsels and a hyrax. All were taken within a few steps of the tent (except the shot of Mt. Kenya from the west, showing the Diamond Glacier; and the one showing the summit area, including both main peaks, Point John, and the Russell Glacier).
These were taken long before the digital era, on all-manual, with lenses designed in the 1970s, using Kodachrome 64 (which some of your (younger) readers may have never heard of!)  Anyway, the image quality isn’t up to the standard that is easy to achieve today with digital cameras and modern lenses.

James later gave a tentative ID of the bird: “I believe the bird is the moorland chat (Cercomela sordida)”:

WT 1400 217-13 Kenya

Scenery with some giant groundsels (Dendrosenecio spp.), bizarre plants that are endemic to high-altitude habitats on East African mountains:

WT 0597 Kenya Mt Kenya Camp

WT 1400 214-36 Kenya

This is almost certainly a rock hyrax, Procavia capensis:

WT 1400 216-08 Kenya

WT 1400 217-05 Kenya

WT 1400 217-36 Kenya

WT 1400 220-35 Kenya

WT 1400 221-25 Kenya

One of my bucket-list dreams is to climb either Mount Kilamanjaro or Mount Kenya.

31 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. These are very interesting photos. I was expecting to find that the giant groundsel was a kind of palm, but I learned instead it is in the sunflower family!
    Readers should know the relationship between the hyrax and the elephant.

    1. I used to hear that the hyrax was the closest living relative to the elephant, and that is close to the truth, but now people think that dugongs and manatees (Sirenians) are a bit closer. See here

      Timetree verifies this.

    2. I’m late to the party, just came back from fieldwork. These are very evocative photos. The groundsel seems to be convergent with the neotropical Espeletia (see images on google), which play a key role in the lives of the rediscovered high-altitude Oxypogon hummingbird that Jerry posted about recently. Espeletia is also a high-altitude sunflower relative with a tall trunk and big leaves that stay on the plant a long time even after they die, perhaps because they form an insulating layer around the trunk.

      The groundsels also remind me of high-altitude Hawaiian silverswords in the same family.

  2. Love the unique analog pics, thanks. Is there still snow on Mount Kenya? I know the snows of Kilimanjaro are sticking around despite dire predictions. Hemmingway’s short story is still aptly named- for a while at least.

    1. These are from over 20 years ago. I’d be very surprised if those glaciers are gone; but like all glaciers around the world, I would guess they have receded significantly.

  3. Photo and plants reminded me of the Kerguelen Islands and the famous cabbage there (Pringlea antiscorbutica).

    A bucket list location for me though I may have a better chance getting to space than than Kerguelen Islands. 🙂


  4. Kodachrome
    They give us those nice bright colors
    They give us the greens of summers…

    Spectacular! Amazing to think of that bird, mammal, those plants, all adapted to such extreme conditions.

    Ashamed to say that I did not realize the mountains there were that rugged.

    James, are you embarked on the daunting process of scanning old prints into computer files on a big scale, or do you just do it for special cases like this?

    1. Hi Diane,

      Sorry, away from the computer over the weekend.

      I did make a careful selection; but even at that, it was about 11,000 scans, between my slides and negatives (B&W) and my Dad’s slides and some prints (old). (I still haven’t tackled scanning my Dad’s negatives — about 50 years worth and he was quite an active photographer. That will be a task for retirement!)

      I use an Epson V500 perfection scanner and I love, love, love it.

      The big part of the work is labeling the scans so you don’t lose track of your stuff; and, then, even worse, spotting out the dust! I have a very concerted routine of brushing the top glass, bottom glass, and the slides themselves before scanning; but there’s always some dust.

      In addition, I want to scan them all full-frame (including some black space around them) and then crop back. The old “golden rule” was to place the most important element at the 1/3 X 1/3 spot; but I tend to put it more like 1/10 X 1/10 (very extreme corner, especially if there are strong leading lines like the horizon). This leads to trouble in the auto-cropping system on the scanner (which will often crop out important details!) So this too is an additional step.

      The advantages of scanning (and then processing in SW such as PhotoShop or Lightroom) are many:
      1. You can archive them (yay!)
      2. You can share them widely in digital format
      3. You can “save” images where the exposure wasn’t just right (slide films are very unforgiving there). I was able to “save” quite a few images that I never would have projected.

      With modern scanners, it’s easy to even over-sample the analog image. At 6400 dpi (dots or pixels per inch) you are over-sampling Kodachrome 64 by a factor of about 3 (9 pixels per film grain) which is really overkill; though I did this on some of my most important images. 2400 dpi captures nearly everything on Kodachrome 64 (or Tri-X-Pan, my other main film in the film days) and is much faster than 6400 dpi (and the files are much more reasonably sized too of course).

      That scanning was a labor of love; but my wife didn’t care for it too much (I was sitting in my office at the computer too much.)

      1. Thank you for that most detailed reply! I am certainly saving this post for future reference. Most appreciative of all your advice, not to mention the inspiration to get around to tackling this…

        At least with film we took orders of magnitude fewer shots than with digicams.

        (Do you hold onto negatives?)

        1. And, yes, on the digital — you have to be completely ruthless when going through them and delete any that you aren’t sure you’ll use.

          Lightroom is an excellent tool for that work.

      2. Some dedicated slide scanners automatically remove dust marks and do a good job at it. The Nikon Coolscan 5000 is optimized for scanning Kodachrome and I love it, though it is slow. It may be extinct, I don’t know, though I expect people who have them will eventually sell them once they get their slide collection scanned.

      3. I’ve been wondering if a quicker way to digitize slides would be to use a slide-copier front attachment on a good flat-field macro lens. That’s how we often used to make slide copies in the pre-digital days (there was special low-contrast film for that). This technique would be really fast.

        1. That might work well; but I’ve never tried it.

          I am very happy with my scanner. At 2400 dpi, it scanned about as fast as I could rename and organize the previous group of 4 scans. (Dust spotting took longer of course!)

          2400 dpi is plenty good for nearly anything.

  5. Note that these photos were all taken on 100% manual (though my main camera at the time did do auto-exposure; I never used it) and I also almost never used a light meter. I had trained myself to recognize the lighting conditions as described on the little box from the film and expose accordingly, along with adjustments for: time of day, weather, presence of snow/water, etc.

    I only use KR64 and Tri-X-Pan and I had the system wired.

    In the old manual days, one had to be particularly attentive to an approaching shot and preset everything ahead of time.

    It was fun; but once I switched to modern digital cameras, lenses, and SW, it was all over.

    This summer I will be donating all my remaining darkroom equipment to local schools.

    1. Ah, I remember those “lighting conditions as described on the little box from the film!”

      My dad got me started with his purchased-in-Germany-during-the-war Leica–with that we used a hand-held light meter…

      So many ways to sound like a fogey! 😀

  6. Jerry,

    Climbing the second peak of Mt. Kenya is not super-techincal, it’s rated at Class 4 or low Class 5 (US system) and it’s about 17,000 and really cold up there. So the altitude and cold are something to contend with.

    When we went up there, I had a notion of possibly climbing Nelion (2nd peak) which the “main” route goes up pretty much the side of the nearer of the two main peaks (in the second-to-last photo) that you see in the photo from the Russell Glacier (foreground). However, none of my companions were climbers and no other party was up there except for one descending and reporting that the entire main route was well-glazed with black ice and unclimbable at that time.

    Mt Kenya is a very steep mountain and very rugged. It’s a hard two-day grunt to get within range of summit-day.

    We ended up climbing the third peak (if climbing you would call it, just a little scramble right at the end), Point Lenana, at 16,350 feet (approx.). This is the highest peak I’ve ascended, though I’ve been a lot higher in Nepal under my own power.

    Pt. Lenana is a nice non-technical trip. Kilimanjaro is very non-techincal as well, though very high (about 19,000 feet, just under 6000m). On Kilimanjaro, I understand that guides are required (they may be required on Mt. Kenya these days as well). From the stories I’ve heard, they tend to push people pretty hard to get to the top within X days, which is barely within acclimatization limits. However, I imagine that extra cash would solve that problem.

    The mountains of equatorial Africa are wonderful. I hope you do get to go some day.

    1. Thanks for the info. I don’t do technical climbing but I have been over 20,000 trekking over a pass in Nepal, as well as going up the Kala Pattar (18,000, I think) to get a good view of Everest. The last time I went I pushed too hard and got cerebral edema, so I do like acclimitization.

      1. You are doing really well to go that high. But, like you noted, please acclimatize well (and stay hydrated). CE is serious, as you well know. Rock on!

  7. On the last photo, notice the frozen waterfall from the Diamond Glacier high on the west face of the mountain, falling over a thousand feet to the lower glacier. That waterfall (teh Diamond Glacier Couloir) was first climbed (top to bottom, to the Gate of Mists between Batian and Nelion peaks) in 1975 by Yvon Chouinard and Michael Covington(!).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *