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View Full Version : The Kruger - again!


Melaka
13th October 2016, 11:31 AM
I’m afraid we’ve been at it again – our fifth visit to the Kruger. I’ve covered the basics of going on safari in another thread http://e-group.uk.net/forum/showthread.php?t=36711&highlight=safari which might be worth a read if you’re contemplating going. If you’re dithering, give it a go. The Kruger is absolutely ideal for DIY safaris and for the wildlife photographer there is nothing to beat a few days in the African bush.

We flew to Jo’burg and hired a Toyota RAV4 from Avis. You don’t need a 4x4 in the Kruger except on a few clearly marked trails but the added height of eye is well worthwhile.

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As has become customary we spent a night at the Rissington Inn in Hazeyview which is close to the Phabeni Gate. It’s the ideal place to unwind after an overnight flight and the drive from Jo’burg. You can drive direct via Nelspruit (Mbombela) and White River or do, as we did, and travel via Dullstroom (good for lunch), Mashishing (Lydenburg) and the Long Tom Pass to enjoy the view. Actually there wasn’t much to see except low cloud. If you’ve a bit more time you can go further north over the Robbers Pass and Pilgrim’s Rest.

We’d booked online https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/ at only two months’ notice so didn’t get quite what we wanted. Our first night was at Satara followed by three at Letaba and three at Skukuza. In each case we stayed in a rondeval. They sleep two or three, have a shower and are air conditioned. The stoep (veranda) serves as kitchen and dining room.

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Although all the accommodation is self catering we’d planned to do as little cooking as possible because eating out is so much cheaper in SA than it is at home. The daily routine was to leave about 0630 for a game drive aiming to arrive at a restaurant in time for a leisurely breakfast. Lunch was a picnic with the ingredients bought at the camp shop and we dined in camp each evening. Folk eat early in SA and the restaurants are busy by 1830.

Pride of place for breakfast has to go to the Fish Eagle Terrace at Mopani. It has commanding views over a large lake at which the elephants come to drink whilst you enjoy bacon and egg.

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One waded across the shallows and came out a lovely two tone grey.

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A first for us was this African Open Bill which perched in a dead tree below the terrace long enough to have its portrait taken.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/Q9160396a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90933)

Breakfast in the Wimpey at Pretoriuskop hardly counts as the pinnacle of culinary sophistication but the journey to get there was well worthwhile. Hyenas can often be seem by the roadside at this time of day. Mum with her three pups about two months old was a real show stealer.

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Our favourite picnic spot is Timbavati where this glossy starling was happy to pose.

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We’d never have spotted this owl (a Scops I think) high up in the tree at Mooiplas picnic spot if the resident caretaker hadn’t pointed it out.

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Nearby a red headed weaver was starting its nest

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One of the reasons for going in September is that there is less vegetation than later in the year so, theoretically, better game viewing. What we had not known is the extent of the drought suffered in the park, especially the central area some parts of which had had less than 30% of the normal rainfall. Although water levels are low it’s not the lack of water but the lack of food which is causing the problems, especially for the grazers. The browsers are less affected because trees and bushes sprout even without much rain. The whole area was dreadfully parched and animals were obviously struggling to get food. Some were quite thin and others which would normally have run off were too occupied with eating and/or conserving energy.

This elephant was pawing the ground trying to dig up the roots of a patch of grass.

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Ribs are showing on this rhino

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These Steenbok would not normally have hung around to be photographed.

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The tour operators place great emphasis on seeing the Big Five but there’s much more to going on safari than seeing some grumpy old beasts. We did see them all and more than once so you start to look for interesting features.

This leopard had just crossed the road behind a car. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of that which was a shame. The owner had the bonnet up and was fiddling with the battery connection whilst his wife tried to get the engine started. “There’s a tiger down there”, he said breathlessly as we drove past. As you can see the leopard has had an argument with a porcupine. The quill may get ejected naturally but if it doesn’t it may go septic and the animal die of sepsis (blood poisoning)


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Not all animals are perfect and this elephant has deformed tusks, especially the right one. The reasons are not known but thought to be either genetic or a mineral deficiency. On a previous visit we photographed an elephant whose tusks turned back at right angles but it seemed to manage nonetheless.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/Q9160516a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90934)

Water can usually be relied on to produce some interesting subjects. We did particularly well with Pied Kingfishers. Crossing the causeway over the Olifants river near Balule we spotted this one. There was about thirty knots of wind making hand holding the camera quite tricky and it’s a great tribute to the image stabilisation that the photo came out at all.

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Life was a bit easier in the hide overlooking Lake Panic where there were several willing to pose.

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This battle scarred little hippo was so close to the side of the walkway to the hide that I had to hold the camera over the top and use the tilt facility.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/Q9190356a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90945)

Blacksmith Plovers are common by the water but we were exceptionally fortunate with this one, also at Lake Panic. She had a damaged leg which caused difficulty in moving about and also sitting down to brood her chicks. The chicks had to fend for themselves as Mum could not keep up with their foraging. You can just see two tiny pairs of legs underneath her.

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At Sunset Dam we found this water monitor. It’s a striking beast and quite difficult to photograph on account of its length and speedy movements.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/Q9200547a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90949)

Apart from the red headed weaver shown earlier we didn’t see any nesting birds other than white backed vultures.

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There have been reports of poachers poisoning carcasses because the vultures give away their whereabouts. On the plus side we were pleased to see a number of armed patrols, especially on the eastern side.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/P9180156a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90925)

One morning a detour down a short loop revealed nothing but an Impala but on the way back we stopped to look at this tree. It turned out to have several vervet monkeys in it and they appeared to be licking the flowers to get nectar.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/Q9190255a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90942)

Lower down we spotted these two tree squirrels. One is checking the other to see if it is from the same group. If it isn’t it will be chased off

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Their normal way of avoiding danger is to lie still on a branch.

http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/data/500/Q9140014a.JPG (http://www.e-group.uk.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=90928)

We photographed numerous other birds and animals but I hope these will whet your appetite.

All the photos are OOC JPGs resized for uploading. Most of the bird photos and a few of the others have been cropped. The longer distance shots were taken with an EM1 and the 100-400/4-6.3, closer shots with an EM1 and the 40-150/2.8. There’s not much call for wide angle lenses so I just took the 14-42 EZ pancake on an EM5 II. I also took the 35-100/2.8 as a spare but didn’t use it.

OM USer
13th October 2016, 03:58 PM
Excellent photos, description, and commentry again.

drmarkf
14th October 2016, 06:28 AM
Just a fantastic post, as usual! Full of practical information and fine images.

I can't remember if I said before, but we enjoyed the Rissington Inn a lot as well.

BTW do you have any comments on using the PL 100-400 for this sort of application? I see you managed a BiF! Did your 100-400 start off a bit stiff in the controls, and has it eased up with use? I've come to the conclusion that one of these is likely to meet my needs better than the 300 f4 (mostly game drives and motorsports, with not much interest in birding), but it's really helpful to have the benefit of others' experience.

Imageryone
14th October 2016, 03:34 PM
Many thanks for a fascinating post, David, so much more entertaining than just the big 5.

Melaka
14th October 2016, 07:03 PM
Just a fantastic post, as usual! Full of practical information and fine images.

I can't remember if I said before, but we enjoyed the Rissington Inn a lot as well.

BTW do you have any comments on using the PL 100-400 for this sort of application? I see you managed a BiF! Did your 100-400 start off a bit stiff in the controls, and has it eased up with use? I've come to the conclusion that one of these is likely to meet my needs better than the 300 f4 (mostly game drives and motorsports, with not much interest in birding), but it's really helpful to have the benefit of others' experience.

This was my first outing with the 100-400 apart from a quick trial in the garden - I'd only had it a couple of weeks. It was/is stiff in use and it's irritating that the zoom rotates the opposite way to the 40-150. On the other hand it is light and handy for what it does and I have no quibbles. It's streets ahead of the 75-300 and 100-300, albeit much more expensive. I left the 50-200+EC14 at home - the first time I've been on safari without it.

I also have the 300/4 but it was away being repaired. I got it from HDEW who were very quick when I reported a focussing problem. It took their repairers, Johnson of Glasgow, three weeks to dismantle and reassemble it but a quick trial suggests it now works OK. I'd probably not have used it much except for bird shots with the MC14. The 100-400 wasn't available when I got the 300 but if it had been I'd probably not have bothered with the 300. Zooms are generally more use for safari work.

The Pied Kingfisher was actually hovering and it remained in more or less the same place for long enough to run off half a dozen shots in single frame mode. There was about 30 knots of wind at the time and the BIF was actually easier than when the bird was on a swaying reed! The causeway near Balule is single track with a couple of passing places and one isn't supposed to stop but there was so little traffic that we managed to without causing a problem.

As I said in the post - anyone who is dithering about going on safari should book now!

Best wishes
David

drmarkf
14th October 2016, 10:40 PM
Great, thanks for that.