An exceptionally memorable trip in the Southern part of the Kruger National park which has been one of my favorite trips i recent years. It had everything except cheetah and included wild dogs returning from a kill to fee their youngsters, with fantastic predator sightings including a leopard taking out an impala, lion stalking a kudu and a spotted hyena almost taking out a human! A large veld fire creating some interdsting photo opoprtunities as it swept in from Mozambique with various animals in a state of panic. At times we were engulfed in smoke and had poor visibility, with a fire line stretching over 60km across the horizon.
Over the long weekend of the 23rd September 2013, my kids, Tom and Anna and I joined some good friends for an unplanned trip to the Pilanesberg National Park. Despite my land rover’s alternator glowing bright red and catching fire on route (necessitating an AA truck to rescue us) we eventually made it to Pilanesberg in our alternate car the following day.
Much of the long weekend was cold and overcast but it did not rain. It however did make photography challenging but we were rewarded with some wonderful moments of diffused light as the sun shone through the clouds. The park was dry as would befit the end of winter and the dams were low in volume.
On the wildlife front it was a really good trip, though I spent less time in the park and more time at camp.
My highlight photograph was a young zebra frolicking through the veld in subdued light on iso 400. I am very surprised to have gotten the shot since I was seated in the passenger seat and shot through the open window of the driver’s side across my friend Mike.
Another highlight was the stalking of four giraffe by a male lion. The giraffe saw the lion approaching them from about 200m away and they bolted at great speed. I managed to get a shot of the giraffe at full gallop. I believe the lion to have been stalking the youngest member of the herd.
My son, to whom I had given my old Canon 20D, had a field day using the camera in combination with the 70-200mm f4 and his photography is developing nicely. This combination of lens is both light and manageable for an 8 year old and will nto break the bank if dropped. I also used the trip to use my 1.4 Mk II converter on my 300mm f4 IS lens. Though autofocus was slower, it was accurate and I was happy with the results.
Another great moment was the arrival of two herds arriving at the small Pilanesberg centre waterhole. There was a lot of pushing and shoving by the adult members of the opposing herds, with their babies screaming in disgust and rushing away from the action, staying close to their mothers. One particular shot I really like is the contrast of an elephant in the foreground spraying water, with an elephant in the background with the dust on the left. The elephants took every opportunity to chase away the giraffe and warthog which were also trying to use the water hole.
I am looking forward to getting back to Pilanesberg in springtime and hopefully seeing more birds as they migrate back to South Africa for the summer.
We decided to take our annual family trip to Kruger in April, rather than the winter months. This is a very different time of year to when we normally visit. The viewing of birds and animals was challenging due to the late rains. The bush was green and dense and many of the migratory birds had already left for warmer climes and many of the animals had dispersed into the bush with the late rains and abundance of groundwater. Spotting game was challenging and viewings were relatively sparse to what we are normally used to.
We were fortunate to camp next to some professional wildlife photographers who regularly publish their pictures in National Geographic and sell stock photography. They gave me some great tips and one realizes there is always something new to learn to get great shots. My camera malfunctioned a day before the trip but I was able to work around it though it impacted the auto focus and ability to change iso on the fly. So my % of keepers was far less successful.
Particularly noteworthy was a wild dog hunt with 24 wild dogs pursuing an impala down the Timbavati river until they headed bang smack into 4 black maned lions in their prime. The dogs barked at the lions and were then pursued by the lion which passed right in front of the car. I realised the limitations of my old canon 20D as the light was dim and it was raining and overcast. I really needed a high iso camera free of noise to make up for the poor light. There was so much happening and my photos were mostly disappointing but driving down the road with the dogs hunting on either side of the vehicle calling to each other was an amazing experience and one of my most memorable in 30 years of visits to the Kruger.
The following day there was a great leopard sighting within a few hundred meters of of the previous afternoons viewing. This time the leopard which sat calmly for 20 minutes in a clearing was suddenly chased up a log by 2 wild dog who made a brief 5 second appearance before disappearing. Alas it was too far to get a shot with dogs and leopard in the same frame.
The middle and southern part of Kruger gave up a lot more sightings compared to the Letaba and Olifants area but the strong flowing rivers and number of pans dams and puddles in the bush generally meant that much of the game had dispersed into the bush and were not reliant on the waterholes. 3 Cheetah were also seen which is also special but I have seldom seen so little game in a 10 day trip. We focused a lot on insect life and bought an excellent field guide which opened up a whole new exciting world.
The trip got me thinking that I must pursue a Field Guiding Course which would enable me to one day achieve my dream of being a safari and photographic guide.
I hope you enjoy the pictures.
With the onset of a busy year both personally and in terms of work (new job), photography has had to take a back seat. However the craving to be out in the field is still intense and the desire to create work of originality and aesthetic still lingers on. It is surprisingly difficult to create something different and depends largely on patience and skill with a lot of luck thrown in. I am not the kind to sit patiently at a waterhole waiting for the game to arrive (and this is particularly difficult with a car of kids). Only I can seem to sit watch a leopard plot its next move from the boughs of a tree for 2 hours!
So my general modus operandi is to be on the move and cover a lot of ground, in my landy. This can result in chance encounters but results in a lot of misses. There is no greater anguish than missing that shot of a lifetime (such as failing to catch the lion chasing the cheetah in the same frame). This is where rushing round as driver and photographer can be tricky. I have mastered the art of being able to drive, follow an animal and take photos at the same time’ though it has its resultant limitations.
Some of this year’s trips included 4 days in Kruger and a few days in Pilanesberg. Sadly my trip to Namaqualand, West Coast and Kgalagadi had to be cancelled due to work commitments.
I am continuously tortured by the desire to get new gear but it just seems to get more and more expensive each year, faster autofocus, faster burst rate and higher continuous shooting, more pixels and longer lenses but I need to learn to be content with what I have. Some cameras are ideally suited to particular work others are just too slow and are great at catching stationary animals and landscapes but one needs to be able to work around these limitations. I think we often think so much about the gear that we forget why we are really in the field. I do however think I need a wide angle lens it he range of 12-24 mm…Maybe next year!
My next plan t is to pursue more film based panoramic photography, it is an age since I used my large 6×17 Fotoman with 90mm Caltar Lens and though there has been desire to “sell everything and start again” this is just not viable when you are making little or no income from photography. I am hoping to get to the Sabie and Graskop and Blyde River area for a few days.
Another thing I deem important is to meet other people in the field and gain their perspective and understanding. Recently when I was at Pilanesberg I met a wonderful lady, passionate photographer and painter who shoot black and white. Having seen her work I was bowled over and decided to shoot B&W for a day..What a revelation. It will not be the last? There is always something new to learn and this is another goal for the remainder of the year.
I attach some of my favourite pics from October 2011 to November
2011 proved to be a great year for my wildlife photography with some great memories and sightings despite fewer trips to the bush. Two trips to the Kruger were undertaken, The first in July 2011 with Tom and Doug and the second in October with Joy, Tom and Anna for 10 days, commencing in the middle of the Park commencing in Letaba, then Satara and Skukuza… both very different seasons. The former trip in the south of the Park (Crocodile Bridge Skukuza and Berg En Dal) resulted in my closest sighting of a black rhino as it was about to cross the road in dense bush as I passed (to within 5m) . Needless to say both of us back-pedalled to eye each other out. Most of my experiences of black rhino is that they are obscured by the bush and in the distance (50m+)but not in the current scenario. Why I was shooting ISO 1600 on one of my cameras is a mystery and a mistake. I also had a great leopard sighting that same day on the tar road from Skukuza to Malelane. The Leopard was sitting on a koppie 30m into the bush and decided to walk to within touching distance of my landy, totally ignorant of me and clearly on the hunt. This year saw me experimenting with a new suction cup mount attached to the door of my landy and secured by tie downs as well as a roof top hide allowing the kids and I to pop out at opportune moments. Missed opportunities included getting stuck in a traffic jam during a leopard sighting when I new of a little known road along the river just a bit further …I got there too late only to see the tail of the leopard head into the bush 3m away. I must say I was tempted for the first time to get to out of my car but common sense prevailed . I also phoptgraphed a recently born young elepghant ( a few days at most). I was surprised as to how placid its mother was as I passed within 5m of them both..sadly the light was poor and I was nervous . As to the most amazing photographic moment..it was a fish eagle at Nsemani dam, which dived from flight and dragged and swam with its huge prey of a barbel catfish to the shore, a distance of 6m . A series of 40 odd photos of this amazing sequence was taken. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.. If only I had a longer lens..the perpetual cry of a wildlife photographer.