Thursday 27 November 2014

Madikwe: May 2010 (Part 2)

If you missed out on the previous episode of this trip report, click HERE.

Day 2

We headed straight for the sighting of African Wild Dogs that was called in on the radio. When we found them they had moved from the side of the road and were staring intently at something deeper in the bushes - would we see them hunt?

They soon lost interest in whatever was back there, and proceeded to move about and socialise with each other. The surrounding bush was quite dense so the images aren't that great - but this was my first proper Painted Dog sighting in years (I don't have much luck with them in the Kruger National Park) and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a good deal of time with them in close proximity, watching the pack interact with each other.

When the dogs decided to lie down, we took our cue to return to the lodge, have a hearty brunch, and relax around the pool watching the wildlife come and go to the small waterhole in front of the lodge. We also met up with Grant Marcus and Gavin Tonkinson, two of the local Madikwe guides involved at the time with Tuningi Safari Lodge. They were keen to join us on our afternoon drive as they didn't have guests to attend to at the time.

Later that afternoon we decided to head to a range of kopjes for a sunset shoot - obviously looking for some wildlife sightings on the way. All these great plans were interrupted when this little lady shot across the road right in front of us!!

Back then, Madikwe wasn't really known for quality leopard sightings. The cats that were there were known to be skittish around vehicles. That's all changed now and the reserve produces some great leopard sightings consistently now. We decided to stick with this young leopardess and see what she does. She ended up providing us with a real quality sighting. Initially, after she scoped us out properly from behind a bush, she sauntered back across the road, and after earning her trust we gently followed her trail off the main road.

She was skulking through the long grass, peering ahead. Was she on the hunt?

She stopped at a nearby tree - not your typical tree preferred by leopards (this one was densely covered in branches and looked like a tough one to get high up in) - peered up, and before we even realised it she jumped into the tree and climbed to the top, where it seemed she had a kill stashed. She was just about to tuck in, when a lone male Impala strolled by. She immediately went into hunting mode - tail swishing to and fro, waiting for the impala to walk past right under her position...

There was silence in our vehicle as we held our breath - would we see her jump down on this ignorant antelope right in front of us???

The wind shifted, and just before her quarry was close enough for a pounce, he caught wind of her and bolted in the other direction. She relented and carried on feeding on her existing prey. What a close call! The sun had now set (there goes our sunset shoot on the kopje, but we didn't mind) and we used a spotlight to grab one or two images of her feeding, then left the sighting as other lodge vehicles started to arrive.

Driving leisurely back to the lodge with the spotlight at the ready, we came across some "African Unicorns" as well (you can figure that one out by yourself), and stopped to photograph some of the iconic dead leadwood trees under the stars as well.

I still had a lot to learn about nightscape photography at this stage, but it was fun and that is what matters in the end!

We had a jolly dinner around the fire recounting the day's exciting turn of events. What would our last morning in Madikwe hold?

Morkel Erasmus

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Shake it Off

All is quiet, except for the sound of doves and guinea fowl in the distance.
The sky is bright blue on a winter's morning.
I am sitting in an underground research bunker in +Etosha National Park in Namibia.
He approaches from the southeast, ambling like they usually do. His footfalls are quiet, eerily quiet, like they usually are for these giants.

I see the secretion from his temples and down the inside of his hind legs - he is in musth, an aggravated hormonal state which makes elephant bulls particularly agitated.

The bunker provides protection but you still feel small and powerless when an African Elephant bull gets this close. As he approaches the waterhole he inevitably passes by our bunker.

He sees us, smells us, whatever but he notices us.
An indignant shake of the head, and the dust puffs off him.
A deliberate trip of my shutter.
I have my image.

By the way, I chose the title of this photo long before Taylor Swift had a hit song with that name...

Nikon D800
Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 36mm
Kenko PRO Circular Polariser
f11  |  1/200 SS  |  ISO-900

This photo is Copyrighted © Morkel Erasmus.  
click on the photo to view at proper resolution and sharpness

I hope you have a fabulous day!

Morkel Erasmus

Sunday 9 November 2014

Madikwe: May 2010 (Part 1)

Hey everyone! I am carrying on my huge backlog of trip reports as and when I find the time to do so - so herewith the start of another belated adventure for you to enjoy.

Back in May 2010 my wife and I were fortunate to be invited by my friend Gerry van der Walt to spend some time in the Madikwe Game Reserve, situated in the North West province of South Africa. This was the first time we visited this interesting reserve, situated in the "Marico" bushveld of Herman Charles Bosman's lore. The entire area is malaria free and the history of the development of the reserve is quite fascinating. 

We arrived late in the afternoon, and after clearing the gate permit we drove to our home for the next few days, Nkurru Lodge. En route we encountered an elephant road block (these guys were a bit feisty and held us up for a while), a brown hyaena and a lone lion (albeit these last two were found in near-darkness walking next to the road).

Day 1
The following morning, Gerry had me up early to scout for one of the local packs of African Painted Dogs with him - this park is known for its success with these endangered predators. The prime goal of this morning's venture was to collar one of the dogs for research, a personal conservation project driven by Jono Buffey, who was also visiting Nkurru and was heading out later that day. Unbeknownst to me at the time was that a few years later I would be involved in photographic safaris with Gerry and Jono, in the form of Wild Eye!

We didn't find the dogs that morning, but we had a lovely drive and I got to see the beauty of Madikwe properly...

Later that day, we were joined by Kerry de Bruyn as well, and we set off on our afternoon drive.

A large elephant bull was our first compliant subject for the afternoon...

We spent the better part of the afternoon tracking mating lions in thick bush, we had some visual but no real photographic opportunity, and we also spent some time at the famous Tlou dam and doing some bird photography.

Day 2
The following morning we set off VERY early, heading out to an area called Madikwe Plains. I wrote a comprehensive post about this morning's events back in 2010, and you can read all about it HERE.

Following our surprise encounter with the old guy in the post above, we also found his brother (by following the answered roars in the distance) - he had a drink in front of us and then passed out like a proper lazy male lion should...

We were also treated to some springbuk rams sparring. Madikwe is one of the few places where you can see springbok and impala in the same biosphere, since it's a transition zone between bushveld and Kalahari...

A lone elephant bull and a breeding herd of elephants also provided ample entertainment on this particular drive.

A young calf in particular was chock full of attitude...

The next moment the radio crackled to life and we were notified of a sighting of the elusive Painted Dogs!! We were off, hoping they would stick around for us...

You'll have to stick around for the next episode...

Morkel Erasmus

Monday 3 November 2014

Sleepy Eyes

I just love discovering a gem in my archives. Unlike what many people may think, I am not on safari for the better part of the year - I actually have 3-5 opportunities to go to the bush for periods of between 3 and 8 days every year, depending on leave roster at work, my Wild Eye schedule etc. So the majority of photos I put out on my blog and social media channels may actually have been taken some time ago. I'm actually just lazy in deleting excess images, so I have to inevitably go back into my archives to clean up some space. In doing so, I actually come across photos I'd forgotten I'd taken. They may not have grabbed enough of my attention in my initial processing binge after returning from that particular trip, but for whatever reason I didn't delete them initially as there was some sort of moment caught there.

Case in point, this image...

Nikon D3s
Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II
f4.0  |  1/500 SS  |  ISO-200

click on the photo to display at best resolution and sharpness
We came across this Verraux's Eagle Owl asleep in a mopani tree along the Mphongolo loop north of Shingwedzi camp in the Kruger National Park. The scene was cluttered and the bird was asleep, but something about the moment spoke to me, and I snapped it.

Fast forward to last week, when I was looking for a "fresh" photo to process for the popular "black and white challenge" that is viral among photographers on Facebook. I scrolled over this one again, and immediately saw the moment that spoke to me initially when tripping the shutter, and knew that it was a good candidate for monochrome...

After some tweaking in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex I was happy.
The result??

click on the photo to display at best resolution and sharpness
Quite a different feel, mood and effect, right?
It's actually about more than the owl - and that's what I like.
It's not about what it evidently is - it's also about what else it is...
Photography should evoke more than it describes, if it's to be seen as an art-form...
I hope these statements above resonate with you?

Now, go dig up those gems in your own archive!
Until I write again...

Morkel Erasmus