In the blink of an eye

Paying attention to what’s happening when photographing wildlife can make or break a great photo opportunity. There are so many opportunities that can arise or disappear in the blink of an eye.

I was photographing a Purple Heron at Intaka Island one morning. The purple Heron had been hunting for fish all morning and had finally been successful. After capturing the sighting, I thought I’d take a quick stretch break and rest my eyes.

Before I could even get off from my seat, I noticed a quick movement from the Purple Heron.

The Purple Heron was still standing close to a reed bed minutes after feeding on the fish. The next moment it turned its head around and snapped at the reeds. My camera was not focused on the Purple Heron so I had no idea what it had caught.

I aimed my camera and focused on the Purple Heron. Believe it or not, it had managed to catch a big Dragonfly. I had assumed that it wouldn’t eat so soon after devouring the large fish for breakfast. I was mistaken.

Purple Heron with Dragonfly5

This happened within a few seconds. The Purple Heron proceeded to secure its catch and then instantly gulped it down.  Some of the other photographers were still trying to figure out what had just happened.

Purple Heron with Dragonfly2Purple Heron with Dragonfly4

Black & White

With all the controversy around the Rhino poaching situation in South Africa, I was very surprised at the amount of Rhino sightings on my first ever four day trip to Kruger National Park.

While planning the trip I did not even expect to see Rhino. I had no idea how bad the situation was and to what extent it had affected the Rhino population in the park.

My first Rhino sighting occurred at the least expected moment and it was a rare sighting at that. I was rushing back to camp on my first day in the park. I had already seen amazing sightings and was already overwhelmed. I even saw two lionesses and all I wanted to do was go check into camp. I saw a car parked on the side of the road and decided to ask what they were viewing. The man in the car grinned and whispered, “A Black Rhino”.

I didn’t get the best view, but managed to see the Rhino and its horn in between thick bushes. Black Rhinos are fairly shy and don’t like to emerge from the bushes. I could not believe that this was how my trip was starting. What a special and memorable way to end off the first day.

Over the next few days I managed to see numerous more White Rhino sightings. I saw a mother and calf walking around a waterhole during a guided night drive. The guide told us that a White Rhino mother will lead with the calf behind her and a Black Rhino mother will have the calf in front of her at all times.

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I saw these two White Rhinos while heading towards a waterhole. It was quite an ironic story seeing these rhinos in this area. The bush was quite thick and all I could see was a large mass moving through the bush. I first assumed it might be elephants, but then they eventually revealed themselves. They were on a slow march and made their way across the road.

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The last day in the park was surprisingly hot as it was the first sunny day after some rain. I drove past these two white Rhino’s simply taking it easy in a shallow mud bath.

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Bending roads in the Kruger are something I look forward to as you never know what’s going to happen around the next bend. You’ll be very lucky to have an incredible sighting all to your own, but seeing a traffic jam tells you that something great is taking place. This is what happened with this baby Rhino. Once I made it through the pile of cars, I saw a baby White Rhino rolling around and frolicking in the middle of the road. It was the cutest thing I had seen on the whole trip. It must have been enjoying the heat on the tar road. It simply was not concerned with any traffic rules and was having a ball of a time. It eventually got up and walked back to its mother to have a quick bite to eat.

I had some other minor rhino sightings where the rhino were simply too far away to see anything spectacular. However it is an incredible experience to see them in their natural habitat. I was relieved to see that all the Rhinos still had their horns intact.

P.S. For the protection of Rhinos, I’ve omitted where I’ve seen the Rhinos and some key details in my story.

Well spotted

Curiosity must be one of the most interesting characteristics of humans, even if the curiosity can lead us to danger.

I took my first trip to West Coast National Park early in January 2016. I headed out early in order to catch the morning movements of the various animals. As soon as I got close to the entrance of the park I realised it was peak tourist season! There was a long line of cars waiting to enter the park. I kept my cool and slogged my way through the busy gate.

I wasn’t quite sure what sightings to expect in the park. The first thing that I did notice is that the swarm of visitors weren’t there to view the animals at all! They were simply interested in getting to the various braai spots as quickly as possible. This did not deter me in any way. I kept the car to a slow crawl hoping to spot any animals that may be lurking around. This can be quite tricky when the bush is dense and carries on for kilometers without end.

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It was a slow start, but I managed to spot numerous birds of prey even before entering the park. I made my way down to the first bird hide situated over a small wetland. It was a great setting, but the sun was rising into the hide, so photo opportunities were difficult to come by. There was a Black Harrier flying around the area which kept me entertained for a few minutes. A pair of White Throated Swallows was building a nest inside the hide and they kept swooping in and out while I was there.

I managed to come across some Ostriches roaming the park as well as a large herd of Eland buck which was a first for me.

I drove up to the Atlantic Ocean lookout point. Behind me was a great view of the lagoon and in front of me were rolling sand dunes and the cold Atlantic Ocean. I spotted a falcon that was flying low overhead, but struggled to capture any great pictures due to the sharp sunlight.

As I was about to leave, I saw some people looking intently at the bush close to their car. My curiosity kicked in and I decided to walk over to them.  I asked the guy what he was looking at and he said that there were two snakes in the bush about three metres away. I scanned the area, but I could not see anything but twigs and bushes.

The guy picked up a small stone and tossed it in the direction of the snake. I finally managed to spot it and what a beautiful sighting it was! The snake was hidden in a small bush full of bright pink flowers. It was a Spotted Skaapsteker snake. The snake was very calm and really wanted nothing to do with us.

Spotted Skaapsteker Snake West Coast2

There is nothing more thrilling than coming within a few metres from a dangerous animal. Just knowing that something could go wrong sends the adrenaline levels soaring. It was a great day out in the West Coast National Park and I’ll definitely be back.

Oh what splendour

One of the treats of a healthy wetland reserve is that there will most likely be a resident Kingfisher. Intaka Island in Century City provides such a treat as it has a resident pair of Malachite Kingfishers.

Malachite Kingfisher10

To add to the beauty of these colourful little birds, they have successfully bred three chicks. It has been an interesting few months watching these chicks grow up. There was a lot of excitement when they first ventured from their nesting hole.

Adults are recognised by a red beak and juveniles by their black beaks.

Junior MK2

Many mornings were spent watching the chicks perched on reeds calling for food. The parents would come and deliver little fish and then fly off to catch the next meal. Often I would only see glimpses of this feeding as the reed beds are quite dense and the Kingfishers don’t always come out in the open areas of the wetland.

Then they started practicing to dive into the water, first to bath and then to learn to catch a meal.

The chicks are now fully functional and have even started hunting on their own. They seem to function completely independently from their parents.

Malachite Kingfisher5

These Kingfishers fly incredibly fast and it is often difficult getting a great pic unless they perch right in front of the bird hide. It is only a matter of time before these chicks grow up and the parents force them to leave the area.

Until then I hope to photograph these chicks in all their splendour.

Third time lucky

With a very healthy population of Mozambique Tilapia at Intaka Island, I’m always amazed that I’ve never seen these fat fish being scooped up by the Herons or the Raptors that pass through the wetland reserve.

I made my way to the bird hide very early on Saturday morning. There was not much going on when I arrived, but it all changed pretty quickly.

I saw the resident Purple Heron hanging around in the shallow water. His gaze was sternly focussed on the water around him. The Purple Heron had assumed his striking pose and stood still as if it was a statue.

The next moment it struck!

Purple Heron - Fail 1Purple Heron - Fail 2

There was a lot of slime and goo in the water which resulted in very slimy fish. The Purple Heron managed to catch the fish, but struggled to hold on. A few minutes later the Purple Heron attempted another hunt, but once again it failed.

Purple Heron - Fail 3Purple Heron - Fail 4

This was the first time that I had seen any of the Herons catching fish. It was very entertaining and I decided to sit tight and hope that the Purple Heron would make one more attempt at catching some breakfast.

Sure enough, the Purple Heron got back in the game. This time he managed to catch a fish and hold on to it, despite all the debris in the water. I couldn’t believe my luck. The Purple Heron managed to make quite the catch.

Purple Heron - Fishing1Purple Heron - Fishing2

The Purple Heron proceeded to make its way out of the water with its prized catch. With some bigger Herons in the area, any catch needs to be consumed immediately. The Purple Heron made its way on to a nearby bank and decided to eat its meal there.

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It was fascinating to see how the Purple Heron swallowed such a large fish. It repositioned the fish a few times, without dropping it, ensuring that it could be swallowed with ease. The Purple Heron opened its beak wider and tossed the fish up and proceeded to swallow the fish whole. It opened its throat and swallowed the fish with one large gulp.

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Road runner becomes road kill

Besides all the larger mammals and reptiles in the Kruger, many of the smaller animals and birds provide some sort of entertainment.

Driving back from Lower Sabie to Skukuza rest camp before gate close at 18:00, my friend Anthony and I came across two very playful Francolins on the side of the road. They were chasing each other, bolting in and out of the bush, running circles in the road and making a racquet as they usually do. We stopped the car to take a little break and watched their shenanigans.

The next moment a SUV drove past us as one of the Francolins darted across the road. I knew what was about the happen next. The SUV didn’t slow down and simply drove over the bird. All I saw was feathers flying around. My friend chirped them and they claimed it wasn’t intentional. Either way, the Francolin was history and his friend just stood around wondering what just happened.

The next day returning back to camp after a successful day of game viewing, Anthony and I spotted something coming waltzing far down the road. We didn’t have a clue what it was. It looked rather light in colour and had a bearish appearance. After a couple of guesses we gave up. We drove closer and to our surprise it was out first Spotted Hyena sighting.

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We were overjoyed with excitement and decided to follow the hyena. The hyena was trotting in the opposite direction of our camp, but that didn’t matter to us. We turned the car around and drove side by side with the hyena. The hyena would scamper off into the bush and then return to the road. This continued for a fair distance down the H4-1 road. Then the hyena crossed the road.

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I could see something lying in the road and the hyena was eager to investigate what it was. It was some road kill. The hyena wasted no time and started eating the road kill. Being close to the same spot as the night before, we wondered if this was the same Francolin that had been hit the night before.

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A couple of cars stopped at this sight. The hyena easily scoffed up this bird, after getting half of the bones stuck in his feet. It is very entertaining watching these animals in their natural environment and seeing what they all get up to.

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When it finished off the road kill, it simply hurried off into the bush again trying to avoid all the attention from the cars.

An unpleasant sighting

After a couple of rainy days spent in the Kruger Park, I finally woke up to some sunshine on day four. Contrary to what I had expected, the rainy weather produced some very exciting game viewing! However, seeing blue skies and sunshine automatically changes the atmosphere around you.

Trying to take in the stillness of the morning, I walked down to the Sabie River with a bowl of Jungle Oats in hand. Sitting on a riverside bench, I was welcomed by the familiar call of an African Fish Eagle. A moment later another African Fish Eagle swooped in and perched in a nearby tree. It had been attracted by the call of the first eagle and proceeded to respond with a call of its own.

The adventure for the day was to travel south down the H3 road from Skukuza rest camp to Malalane. Along the way I stopped at Mathekanyane Lookout. This is a massive, steep granite boulder 10km south of Skukuza rest camp. It is one of the spots in Kruger where you are allowed to alight from your vehicle. This boulder provides spectacular views of the surrounding bushveld.

Elephants in the bush

It is a little daunting walking out in the open knowing that there is a chance of predators roaming the area. I noticed that there was a herd of elephants at the base of the boulder. I watched them for a while. The adults were just feeding on branches and digging for some roots. The two elephant calves were a little more playful. My attention drifted from the elephants and I made my way back to the car. The next moment I heard a thundering roar!! I immediately spun around and scanned for lions, but it wasn’t lions making that noise.

One of the elephant calves must have done something wrong and the mother was reprimanding him. I couldn’t believe the intensity of its holler. I only expected a small little trumpeting like one might hear in a zoo. This uproar ripped through the entire bush!

Some game drive vehicles made its way up the hill. They came from the direction in which I was heading. I asked one of the game rangers if there had been any noteworthy sightings along the way. He said that there was a lioness that had been laying on the side of the road for the last 2 or 3 days. She had contracted TB and was just waiting to die.

Sure enough I reached the lioness next to the road. Being ill, she would most likely have been kicked out of her pride and left to fend for herself. There were already a couple of cars lined up at the sighting. I approached the lioness from behind. I could see that the lioness was rather skinny and worn out. She lifted her head a few times with great effort and you could see the hopelessness in her eyes. I managed to make my way through the cars and got a clearer view from the front.

Lion from behind 1

Lion from behind 2

Only once I approached from the front was I able to see the extent of her illness. It wasn’t a pleasant sight at all! She was curled up in a ball and was just waiting to die. As sad and uncomfortable as such a sighting is one must realise that this is part of life and how the order of things work in the bush.

Lion from front

Skulls & Bones

Throughout Kruger you’ll see an abundance of life in all shapes, colours and sizes. If you look carefully enough you’ll also see evidence of the life that once was.

I did not even imagine that I would come across so many skulls and bones scattered around Kruger. When you see these skulls and bones your imagination automatically runs away with you and you start to wonder how those animals lost their lives.

What scared me the most was where I got to see all these skulls and bones.

Walking along the boundary fence along the Sabie River in Skukuza rest camp, I noticed a large buffalo skull within two metres of the fence. Although the fence is electrified, it really isn’t all that high. The fence is also about 2 metres away from the pedestrian walk way. This buffalo met his demise assumingly by some hungry lions within full view of the campers.

Skull in Skukuza

You can easily become restless while being stuck in your car after driving for kilometres on end. Kruger has designated areas where you may alight from your vehicle. Most of these areas are of historical significance, scenic vantage points or geological points of interest. These areas do provide some relief for stiff legs, but caution must be exercised when stepping outside.

 

Rocks

I arrived at one of the get out points, Eileen Orpen Rocks, close to Tshokwane. This is a large set of granite rocks balancing on top of each other. It was raining so I didn’t get out. I drove right up to the rock and read the information tablet embedded in it. The tablet was dedicated to Mrs Eileen Orpen who donated 7 farms to be included into the Kruger Park. The tablet indicated that this is a get out point.

The next moment I looked down at the ground and saw some Kudu Horns at the sight. This made me very nervous to think that kills are made at the very spot where it is assumed to be “safe” to walk around.

Kudu horns Rocks

Having lunch at the Lower Sabie restaurant really allows you to relax and take in the natural environment around you. The Sabie River flows past the restaurant where hippos, crocodiles, birds and game come to have a drink.

On my first arrival at the restaurant I scanned the area and in the bush, just a few metres from the fence, another buffalo skull with some bones was spotted. Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to witness this event, but whoever was at the restaurant that day would have had a clear view of what unfolded.

Skull in Lower Sabie

A little patience pays off

Entering the Kruger Park for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Even more so if you’ve grown up in the city. Sometimes you might notice certain animal behaviours, but only after a few sightings do you manage to make sense of their actions.

On the second day in the park I started noticing vultures in the tree tops. I was still in awe at the magnificence of Kruger that it took a while for me to comprehend what a vulture’s purpose is and what their behaviour looks like. Often they just sit in a tree and look as if nothing is happening around them. At one occasion, across a dry riverbed, I saw vultures frantically flying up and down from a tree. It was pretty obvious to me that a kill had taken place and they were feeding.

During the rainy days I never saw too many vultures. However, the afternoon after the rains ended, the vultures seemed to be perched in tree tops around every corner. At the time I didn’t understand why I was seeing so many vultures. Would luck have it that there were that many kills around?

After a while what I did notice is that all the vultures sat with their wings spread out, doing absolutely nothing else. This was very puzzling to me. Then eventually it clicked that they must have been drying out their wings after the rain.

Vulture Spread Wings

The last morning I headed out on an early morning drive. The weather had cleared up all together and a sense of excitement was in the air. Over the last couple of days spent in Kruger, I learned that anything could happen at any given moment. A little patience is needed and seemingly from no bush activity, the most extraordinary scene can unfold right next to your car. You may even be lucky enough to be the only car around.

I drove along the H3 road just outside of Skukuza and what did I come across? Three more vultures sitting in a tree. Having studied vultures over the past few days I immediately scanned the surrounding bush. The bush was about 15 metres away from the road, but rather dense and impenetrable. I decided to pull over close to the vultures and wait and see what might happen.

A minute later one of the vultures darted down from the tree. I knew this meant some sort of action. I still couldn’t see what was happening at ground level. I kept patient. Soon after that I saw something scurry from out of the bush. At first I couldn’t identify what had emerged from the bush. It was a sight I had not expected. The figure revealed itself and it was a large Spotted Hyena. It came zig zagging rather nervously out of the thicket.

Hyena emerging

To make the above scene even more dramatic, it came out with a massive bone in its mouth! I could hardly contain myself. I tracked the movement of the Spotted Hyena and calculated that there was a good chance it would stop right next to the car. That’s exactly what it did.

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It stopped right next to the car and started eating the bone. The Spotted Hyena continuously scanned the immediate environment, being weary of other predators lurking around. It was a gripping sight. What astounded me the most was the ease with which the Spotted Hyena bit through the bone. It seemed as if the bone was made of Marshmallows. Within a few seconds half of the bone had been devoured.

Bone on ground

A game vehicle came and parked next to me, but their activity must have startled the Spotted Hyena so it dropped half of the bone and scampered into the bush.

This was without a doubt one of the highlights of my trip. This whole scene, together with all the others in Kruger, shows how quickly and unpredictably things happen in the bush. Whoever would pass by this spot after I left would have no idea of the scene that had just played out. This makes any sighting in Kruger something worth cherishing.

Too close for comfort

There is no holiday quite like a bush holiday. Spending a holiday in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park, is a privilege and a dream come true.

Kruger has the ability to present you with natures finest, wild moments. Some of these moments will be delightful, entertaining, nerve-wracking, adorable or simply awe-inspiring. There will be other moments where you might just be caught completely off guard.

My very first trip to Kruger was with my friend, Anthony, in September 2015. We had spent 4 nights in the park and stayed at Skukuza rest camp. On our last day in Kruger we made our way down from Skukuza to exit at the Malalane Gate.  We still had some time to spare before exiting, so we decided to make a little detour to Berg-En-Dal rest camp.

Arriving at Berg-En-Dal rest camp, Anthony went into the curio shop and I walked on towards the restaurant area. Approaching the staircase next to the restaurant, I saw a group of ladies looking curiously at something. I walked closer, but couldn’t figure out what they were looking at. I looked at the ground, but couldn’t see anything. I thought maybe it would be behind the ledge of the staircase. I was hoping it would be an interesting bird or small mammal that I hadn’t seen yet. I approached the staircase ledge and leaned over to see what they were looking at.

There was nothing to view at the bottom of the ledge. Not wanting to miss out on any action, I asked one of the ladies “What are you ladies looking at?” One of the ladies replied, “A snake!” I was totally surprised and excitement levels shot through the roof. I then said “ah cool, where?” The lady quickly responded with “right next to you!”

At that moment a sense of both excitement and fear rushed through my body. I had still not seen the snake yet. I cautiously looked down at the ledge on my left and finally saw a bright green snake lying on top of the ledge right next to me. My first thought was that it was a Boomslang!

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I couldn’t believe it! Without even thinking I took a few awkward steps backwards. I remember hearing the group of ladies laughing. I’m assuming it must have been at my response to finally realising that there was a snake right next to me.

Anthony finally came down towards the restaurant area and I had to explain why the ladies were laughing at me. We watched as the snake very quickly hoisted itself up and started to slither up some low hanging branches of a tree next to the staircase. I only then realised how quickly a snake can move.

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 I only got confirmation after returning home that the snake is a Spotted Bush Snake and not a Boomslang as I originally had thought.