Martial the pride

It was 7h00 and we had stopped on a rise in Mara North to watch the “double-crossing” lion pride. The pride comprised cubs and lionesses which were lying in the grass out in the open.  The sun was rising, and the light was soft and bright.  The lionesses moved closer to a thicket of bushes adjacent to a pool of water near the top of the rise. 

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”~ John Muir

About thirty metres to the north of the lion pride was an adult Martial eagle sitting on the rock watching the lion pride.


We could not understand why this Martial eagle sat and intently watched the pride for what must have been half an hour. Just as unusual was that the lionesses ensured the cubs stayed close and did not wander too far from the cover of the bushes.

We sat silently watching this strange stand-off. Eventually we asked Akatch, our Mara guide, what was going on and he said the Martial was waiting and watching for an opportunity to snatch one of the smallest lion cubs.

I had never heard of this behaviour before – a Martial eagle snatching a lion cub. Akatch said he had actually seen this happen some years before. A little research corroborated this behaviour and lion cubs do get taken by Martial eagles in the Mara. While not common it has happened a number of times before.

“The strangeness is interpreted from our limited experience. This veil of inexperience falls away as nature reveals relationships which never thought possible. As strangeness turns to knowledge so we learn about the infinite intelligence which binds our natural world together.” ~Mike Haworth

Anyone who has waited for a large bird of prey to do something, knows only too well that they can sit and watch their surroundings intently for hours. Eventually the Martial figured that the lionesses had this situation too closely guarded and it took off. Interestingly, it flew off and circled some distance away probably watching to see if the lion cubs came out from the bushes and started to play.

This is Africa’s largest bird of prey, even bigger than a Crowned eagle. The Martial will hunt mainly on the wing, soaring above the bushveld. They have excellent eye sight and are known to be able to spot prey from up to six kilometres away. This eagle weighs around 6.5 Kg and has a wingspan of about 2.6 metres. 

Martial eagles’ diet consists of  birds such as  guineafowl, geese, francolins, storks and bustards, and have been known to take on a Kori bustard. Martials will also prey on hares, hyraxes, small antelope such as duiker and steenbok,  impala calves, some monkeys, mongooses and, on occasions, the young of serval,  civet and wild cats, jackals and lions. They will also go for snakes and monitor lizards.

Eagles usually kill their prey with an elongated, sharp hind toe-claw, which is referred to as the hallux-claw. It is usually the largest talon in the eagle’s foot with three front  toes and one back one.  This hallux-claw can grow to 51mm, similar to the three largest eagles in the world, Philippines, Stellar’s Sea Eagle, and Harpy Eagle. The inner toe and claw on the front of the foot of the Martial eagle is longer than the other two and is almost the same size as the hallux-claw. This can be seen clearly in the next image as this Martial eagle takes off. The long large middle toes and claw is thought to be an adaptation for hunting in long grass.


Martial eagles are sexually dimorphic with the female being around 10 percent larger in body size and around 35 percent heavier than the male. The upper parts are dark brown as is its head, neck and chest. The belly is white and legs are white with black or dark brown spots. This eagle has menacing bright yellow eyes.

The Martial eagle can spend extended periods soaring looking for prey. This eagle is estimated to be able to see prey five kilometres away, with acuity 3 to 3.5 times that of a human being. The Martial is also known to sit for hours camouflaged in a bush or tree ready to ambush at any point.

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar” ~ Helen Keller

Once the Martial had flown off, the pride came out of the cover of the bushes to drink at the adjacent pool of water. The adults remained cautious and kept looking up to ensure their cubs were not about to be attacked by an avian predator.

The Martial eagle is diurnal and prefers open savannah, alongside woodlands and thorn bush habitats. I have only ever seen a solitary Martial in the bush but they obviously get together to breed.

“Named after Mars, the Roman god of war, this powerful hunter dominates with little need to fight. It uses spiraling thermals in the African skies to rule its domain from high above the plains, soaring effortlessly for hours on broad wings .”~ Mike Haworth

The Martial flew off and circled the area a few times before finding some bushes to perch in about 100 metres further away. The extra distance brought the lions out from their cover and they went down to the adjacent pool to drink. 

At birth lion cubs weigh only around three pounds and are completely helpless. They are usually born away from the pride for their safety and are united with the rest of the pride around three to four months later. In the Mara and Serengeti only one in five, or even less, make it to adulthood. Martial eagles being only one possible cause of the death rate.

After sating their thirst, the cubs followed the adults to lie in an outcrop of  rocks in the open. The Martial did not attempt an attack but the possibility certainly held our excitement for an extended period. We were reluctant to leave the scene but with nothing happening this meant investing time when the morning light was at its best. While no attack occurred the story caught our imagination and was worth the investment.

The Martial made one last swooping circle before catching a thermal to get high up to soar above the open grasslands of the Mara.

There is never a day in the bush when I do not learn something new. Superficially you would have thought that lions would have it all their own way on the open plains – not so!  Size and numbers play a critical role in “plain survival”.  It is very seldom you will see all lions lying down fast asleep unless there are no cubs in the pride. All the normal behavioural rules are continually being broken in the grass plains .

“If you don’t make the effort to get out you will never get to see nature’s magic which will surely surprise you, and fill you with wonder and humility.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


Eternal dance of life around death on the plains

This post is about a hunt we watched in the Mara. For those who are particularly sensitive, please do not read further. Some of the images of the hunt and take-down are graphic.

We were lodged at &Beyond’s superb tented camp, Kichwa Tembo which is located on its own conservancy immediately north of the Mara triangle in the Maasai Mara. In was mid-February so sunrise was at 6h55 as this area is almost on the equator. Most of the game was in the Mara North which was the directly north  and the other side of the Mara river to Kichwa Tembo. The only bridge in that area across the Mara river is on the access road north of the National Reserve against the Oloololo escarpment. The road is in a terrible state which meant that every time we travelled on it, which was daily, we got what was politely called an “African massage”.  Each morning we were up at 4h45 to leave camp at 5h30 and travel the 50 minutes on the access road outside the National Reserve to get to the Mara North via the Musiara gate by 6h45.

“If you want people to to think, give them intent, not instruction.” ~ L. David Marquet

At 6h45 it was still dark but the skyline was undergoing a magical transformation from twilight blues to spectacular pinks, oranges and yellows. Dawn in the Mara has a beautiful yellowish hue to it which is unique to the Mara and Serengeti area. We do not see this yellowish hue to our sunrises in southern Africa.

“The universe doesn’t give you what you ask for with your thoughts – it gives you what you demand with your actions.” ~ Steve Maraboli

Once through the gate now it was a race against time to find our lion prides. The lions seemed to be active for about an hour or so after sunrise, thereafter they either became “flat cats” or retreated into the shade of a few glades of trees which followed various drainage lines. Lou Coetzer, our guide and mentor from CNP Safaris, had been photographing this area for the previous two weeks so had a good idea of where the prides were operating. The “double-crossing” pride worked in a localised section in Mara North so we knew the general area in which we might find them. The pride inevitably moved around and did most of its hunting at night so the chances of finding them where we left them the day before are low, especially if they were hungry when we left them the evening before.

“Next time a sunrise steals your breath or a meadow of flowers leaves you speechless, remain that way. Say nothing, and listen as Heaven whispers, do you like it? I did it just for you. ~  Max Lucado

The sun was now rising fast bathing the vast open grass plains of the Mara in a warm, soft clear early morning light, perfect for wildlife photography. Now all we had to do was find the lions. Next minute between Lou and our &beyond guide/driver Akatch things started to unfold quickly. Lou pointed out that the Topis had stopped and were staring at something. This usually meant they were staring at a predator. Akatch, who had incredible eyesight said that hyaenas, not lions, were in the process of catching what we thought at first was a wildebeest because of its dark colour. We quickly moved into position with the sun behind us and began to watch the drama unfold. As the entourage got closer we realised the victim was a buffalo calf, not a wildebeest. In my fifty years of going regularly into the bush, I had never seen this kind of drama.

“Intent reveals desire; action reveals commitment.” ~ Steve Maraboli,

We missed the first part of the hunt as this buffalo calf was on its own and the herd was nowhere to be seen, which in itself was unusual. Buffalo are known to protect their own. A pack of spotted hyaenas were chasing this calf biting at its tail, flanks and back legs.

At any point there were five to six hyaenas around the calf taking turns to bite it.

The calf just powered on.


“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in tenacity.” ~ Louis Pasteur

The hyaenas at no point tried to take on this calf from the front.

A human perspective does not add any value at this point.

A buffalo’s hide is thick and tough so even these hyaenas, with one of the strongest bite forces in the natural world, were struggling to stop and bring down this calf. All the cackling from the hyaenas attracted a few Black-backed jackals who skirted around the periphery of the action, never daring to get into the fray, being such lightweights.


The drama intensified as more hyaenas joined the biting and tugging frenzy. All of us in the photographic vehicle could hardly breathe and were dead quiet intently looking through our viewfinders.


The strength and tenacity of this buffalo calf are of what legends are made. Despite being mobbed by hyaenas and having chunks bitten out of its backside, hide legs and flanks, it carried on trying to get away from its attackers, dragging five or six hyaenas along at a time.

In my book, this buffalo calf was brave and strong beyond anything I would have expected. It just would not go down.

The calf pulled these hyaenas in wide circle three times, despite being progressively wounded and losing much blood, judging from the scarlet-pink faces, necks and forelegs of the hyaenas.

Slowly and progressively the hyaenas started to eat into the left side flank of this calf but undeterred the calf would not stop and carried on dragging these blood-frenzied hyaenas along.


From a human perspective, it was chilling scene and difficult to watch these hyaenas relentlessly overwhelm this tenacious calf. From nature’s perspective, this is a drama which unfolds time and again on these plains and has done so for centuries.


“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” ~Charles Darwin

Despite their strength in numbers the hyaenas never dared to try to tackle this calf from the front.

This method of hunting by hyaenas is effectively the only way they can bring down their prey. While they have claws, they cannot grip their prey with their paws so have to bite and grip it with their enormously strong jaws. A lion’s retractable claws are like grappling hooks which enable it to attack  and hold on so bring down their prey quite differently. At the first opportunity lions will go for their prey’s throat to suffocate it before feeding on it. Hyaenas cannot do this so effectively eat their prey alive.

Hyaenas are highly cooperative hunters and they execute a coordinated  relay of attacks to bring down their prey.



“The most critical time in any battle is not when I’m fatigued, it’s when I no longer care.”
~ Craig D. Lounsbrough

Eventually, the hyaenas managed to overwhelm the calf and it stopped. This was the first time a hyaena moved in front of the calf during the hunt and started to bite its front legs. By this time the calf’s eyes were wide and glaring, probably in deep shock.

The calf finally went down and within seconds the hyaenas were ripping furiously at its side stripping off large chucks of flesh. The hunt went on for about seemed to  be 15 to 20 minutes.

Within three or four minutes of the calf going down, the hyaenas had eaten all of its insides and about twenty percent of its muscle, such is the speed at which they eat.

The hyaenas knew only to well that the prolonged hunt accompanied by all the their cackling and whooping reinforced by the high-pitched barking by the jackals was bound to attract  attention, and it did.


The hyaenas were well aware of the eternal game played on the plains and never kept their heads down for long.


The hyaenas would dig in to their hard-won kill for a few mouthfulls before looking up to make sure  lions were not approaching.

All the while, the “double-crossing” pride had been watching the hyaenas taking down the buffalo calf from their vantage point on a rise. It seemed that the lions waited until the hyaenas had done all the work before moving in. Initially, the lionesses came down the hill toward the buffalo calf carcass. The lionesses did not rush in as they were outnumbered by hyaenas. This was very exciting because we were about to see an enactment of another epic tangle between eternal enemies.


Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large blond maned male lion racing into the pack of hyaenas to steal the kill, with complete disregard for the lionesses or the number of hyaenas, such is the power and aura of a large male lion.


“I don’t follow dreams, I hunt goals!” ~Unknown

I was so focused on this male rushing in that I did not see the reaction from the lionesses, who I gather from animated discussion afterward were very annoyed by the insolence of these two young males rushing in to steal the kill. These young males were probably part of the pride at one point and were kicked out by the coalition of dominant males. Although effectively nomads they must have stayed in the area close to the pride. They saw the hyaenas taking down the calf and had not seen the dominant males about and  decided this was a perfect opportunity to barge in and steal a meal.


Emboldened by his size and strength this young male thundered in directly to the calf’s carcass, sending hyaenas scattering.

He was so intent on the carcass he did not go for any of the hyaenas and we know that large male lions make it their business to kill hyaenas.

“There is an eternal dance of life around death on the Mara stage, where cooperation and domination are choreographed to the natural rhythms of the dotted plains.” ~ Mike Haworth

One male lion versus nine hyaenas on the kill,  and they all scattered.

Not one of the twelve or thirteen hyaenas directly around the carcass tried to defend it.  That would have been a death sentence.

The hyaenas scattered to a safe distance but did not move too far away



The hyaenas together with the jackals  wandered around the periphery of the kill zone looking for scraps of meat which might have been dropped during the frenzy.


You can see from the openness of this area that any action on the plains could be seen from a distance. There was not another buffalo to be seen as far as the eye could see.


Initially, I did not see the second male but it looked like he worked in concert with the first male securing the carcass and the second male securing the periphery. 

The two nomads settled down to a hearty breakfast of buffalo calf at around 8h00 in the morning. They finished off the calf leaving nothing for the lionesses and their cubs.

For a wild life photographer watching this kind of predator interaction in early morning light is as good as it gets. Lion prides and hyaena clans have overlapping territories. Both are good hunters and both do most of their hunting at night. What makes the Mara predator behaviour different, is that there are few places to hide during the day and the grass in February was relative low, so both sets of predators could see each other. A hyaena clan  posts sentries all over the plains. A single hyaena will lie in a drainage line, a pool of water or large tuft of grass. Each hyaena waits and watches all the goings of the herbivores and other predators in their area. Both lions and hyaenas watch the vultures to see where prey has fallen. They will hunt at any time if the opportunity arises. If a good feeding opportunity arises, such as lions killing a buffalo, then the lone hyaena will whoop for reinforcements. Once enough sentries converge, and if there is no male lion around, then the hyaenas will mob the lionesses trying to force them off the kill.

“Your soul awakens your mind. Your mind makes your choices. Your choices manifest your life. Your life is your lesson. Your lessons create wisdom. Your wisdom enriches your soul.” ~ Karen A. Baquiran

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


Prides of Mara

In the middle of February, I was fortunate enough to spend eight days in the Masai Mara on a photographic safari guided by Lou Coetzer, the owner of CNP Safaris.  The eight days yielded some fantastic wildlife photographic opportunities in the North Mara. February is outside the wildebeest migration season in this part of the Serengeti-Masai Mara circuit. The migration only gets to this part of the circuit around July and lasts through to around late September early October, depending on the rains. The reason for going to the Mara at this time of the year was to photograph the carnivores which tend to be more territorial and stay behind when the wildebeest leave. There is still plenty of wildlife left on the plains but carnivores such as lions have to work harder for it.

“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy

These trips are always great fun because you meet new people and share special wildlife moments with old friends, in this case, Duncan Blackburn, Les Penfold and Lou Coetzer. We travelled around in CNP Safari’s specialised photographic vehicle which is designed for five photographers and has customised photographic chairs with swivelling camera supports for the big camera/lens combinations to provide stable shooting platform.

The previous times I have visited the Masai Mara we worked the Mara triangle and the &Beyond conservancies. This time there was very little game in the Mara Triangle and the grass was getting quite long. As a result, Lou Coetzer found that the North Mara was a far more productive area to work from a photographic point of view.

“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

This post is about the prides of lion we saw in the Mara. On the first full day we found a pride of lion down on Topi flats towards “Double Crossing”. It was early, around 6h30, about half an hour after sunrise. The male was out in the open with a few lionesses and a few cubs.  The rest of the pride had already retreated in the adjacent glade of trees and bushes along a drainage line, seeking shade. The pride male’s flehmen grimace was a response to him drawing an interesting scent over his Jacobson’s organ in the roof of his mouth.

Once the pride moved into the glade, that was that. Most of the lion action we saw took place in the first hour or two after sunrise and thereafter they were “flat cats”. One of the important advantages of photographing in the North Mara section is that it is very open and the grass is low, which improves the quality of the photography once you find an interesting subject.

“The prides and packs are in a continual territorial dance in the Mara. There are few places to hide in these wide open grasslands.  Pick your fights carefully, injury can be a death sentence. One side might win a fight but the predator war persists. Keep your young safe as no quarter is given and every opportunity is taken.” ~ Mike Haworth

On the second day Lou was excited about finding four large male lions under a Ballanite. These were four male of a five male coalition which had moved into the area and looked to be assessing the area for a take-over. As you can see from the next image the open areas in the North Mara are vast which gives the visitors a good visual on food potential and other lion prides in the area.

It was only around 8h00 when we found these males but they were already “flat cats” and were not likely to move for the rest of the day. Their presence created exciting potential for the next week in this area.

Down the hill was one of this area’s dominant pride males lying under another lone ballanite. This male was vulnerable as he was limping. We were not sure whether he had hurt his paw or shoulder. This small herd of zebra must have known or sensed he was not a threat as they wandered quite close to him and he never even acknowledged their passing.

“There is an intimate understanding of strengths and weakness on these plains.” ~ Mike Haworth

On another occasion we found these two young nomad males. They were out in the open and were breathing very heavily but not out of exhaustion but rather the heat. This was strange as it did not seem to be that hot around mid-morning. According to, all lions are extremely sensitive to heat, and many lion behaviours seek to minimize heat stress. Sleeping in the day and limiting most activity to the night is one example; others include lying on their backs to expose their thin-skinned bellies, resting on high rocks to catch the breeze, and panting after exertion or large meals. Unlike dogs, lions do not have cool, wet noses, and unlike people, they don’t sweat. Their only means of thermo-regulation are breathing (panting) and radiating heat from the skin.

After about half an hour of watching them they warily wandered over to a pool of water in a drainage line where they had a long drink and then lay down next to the pool. It looked as though they would be there for the day, so not long after, we left them in peace. As you can see this part of the Mara has huge wide open spaces with few trees for shade so the lions here have to adapt to lying out in the open during the day.

On day three we were treated to an amazing sighting. Hyaenas caught and killed a buffalo calf and two young male lions rushed in and pushed them off their kill. This is a story  for my  post next week. The next image is of the first of the young males having just appropriated the buffalo calf.

The females in the pride were very upset that these two youngsters had barged into what was going to be lionesses meal. I was so focused on one of the males racing into the scene that I missed the interaction as the young males raced past the growling lionesses. After some discussion about the scene later over coffee, we presumed that these two young males must have been kicked out of the pride, but remained on the periphery and when the opportunity presented itself they returned to steal the kill while the dominant males were away. The rest of the pride was left with nothing as the two young males finished the buffalo calf.

The next generation of young males in the pride did not dare to resist and had to make do without a meal and be content with each others’ company. In general, male cubs remain in the pride for about three years. The dominant male then kicks them out of the pride and they become wandering nomads for about two to three years until taking over a new pride or forming a new one. Some males remain nomads until they can form a coalition or find a pride they can take over.

The pride had lost out on a meal and after some time reluctantly moved from the hill toward a few pools of water in a drainage line. On their way down to the water the pride passed one of the two resident pride males. He seemed pleased to see the lionesses.

But greeted the youngster with less enthusiasm.

“Being brave does not mean looking for trouble.”~ Mufasa

The other resident pride male in the coalition was some distance off and followed the pride down towards the water.

The entire pride passed the older male and greeted him, though he was selective when  returning his greetings.


The cubs, even the older ones, were playful despite missing out on a meal, but this lioness looked to still be irritated by the loss of the buffalo calf meal to the young males.

This was the older of the dominant two pride males and he was limping badly probably from a tangle with a buffalo or even a territorial fight with another male.

“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand the balance and respect all the creatures.” ~ Mufasa

The pride eventually got down to the pools of water where they stayed. Two lioness adopted a lookout position so they could see the goings on in that area and catch any passing breezes to keep cool.

Our modus operandi was to leave the camp at 5h30 and go into the park area, where we left the lions the day before, by around 6h45, around 10 to 15 minutes before sunrise. We found that the lions were active for only about an hour after sunrise so not much time in good light. This particular morning we were scouting around looking for the lions and found them in an open area among some rocks looking down the hill on the plain below watching the topi, zebra and buffalo. The whole pride was together excluding the males who  must have been surveying their territory. This was the youngest member of the pride and has a very swollen front paw which caused it to hobble badly.

Again it was ear;y morning around 7h30 and the light was not particularly good because of a lot of cloud. Good for the lions, but not so good for enthusiastic photographers.

Most of the pride came down to drink from this pool of water and it was unusual to be able to see all these lions lined up along the water’s edge and reflections added to the gorgeous scene.

There were always two or three lions looking out while the rest were head down to drink. The sentries were making  sure there were no threats coming their way.

This lioness, probably the cub’s mother, stood on its back leg to pin down while she smelt and inspected the youngster. This was the cub with the swollen right front paw. Amazingly this cub kept up with the pride which moved every day.

“Play is the exultation of the possible.” -Martin Buber

All the safari vehicles cast shadows over the lions around the pool. Seeing these youngsters play with light on them would have produced some wonderful images. Most of the visitors on the safari vehicles were sightseers rather than enthusiastic photographers so were not as sensitive to the light as we were.

The cub with the sore paw was not excluded from the pride in any way, so got its fair share of the “rough and tumble” from the older cubs, including the biting of his tail.

On the second last day, we hunted high and low for the lions. We knew in which broad area they were because of their territorial boundaries, but we could not find them. You would have thought that it would have been easy to find a large pride of lions in this vast open areas with low grass, not so. There are many undulations in the ground and drainage lines. When the lions lie down they are not called “flat cats” for nothing. You will struggle to see an adult lioness lying flat on his side in the short grass. It is only when she lifts her head that will you see her. We watched this pride lying out in the open grassland for about an hour before they decided to get up and wander toward the shade of a Ballanite some 300 metres away.

“Seek respect, not attention. It lasts longer.”~ Ziad Abdelnour

The cubs are very affectionate to the lionesses who in turn are very tolerant with the cubs.

The older members of the pride walking towards the shade. Interestingly, it was the cubs who started the move and the older members followed.

The sky was partly cloudy and it was quite windy which is why the lions only moved to the shade around mid-morning. The coming and going of the clouds made some interesting layering of colours in the background.

The Mara has many lions signalling plenty of food and a relatively stable ecosystem. Predators have to work harder for their food outside the wildebeest migration which makes February a good time to be photographing these cats. The wildlife is constantly moving and the light is always changing so the photographic combinations and variations are endless. There are many lion prides in the North Mara and because they are in relatively small territories there are many predator interactions which adds to the excitement and opportunities of seeing unusual predator behaviour. These lion prides in the open grasslands of the Mara behave differently, in many respects, to our southern African lions which adds to the attraction and fascination.

To Lou Coetzer and CNP Safaris, thank you for a memorable trip filled with photographic opportunities.

“A wildlife photograph freezes a scene and its dynamics. Each image is unique. It allows us to look more closely at the complexity, beauty and subtlety which we cannot fully comprehend at the instant the shutter opens.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


Marievale’s birds

Marievale is a wonderful place to visit to practice your bird photography and sharpen your bird identification skills. I learn new things every time I visit. There is always new bird behaviour to observe and new birds to see, some of which are just visiting.

“Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.”

~ Marc Riboud

The water level in the wetlands is highly variable depending on the seasons. If you are interested in grasses and wild flowers early summer opens a veritable treasure chest of specimens.

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”

~ Oscar Wilde

Every time I visit Marievale, I invariably see a different variety of birds. There are some old faithfuls, but also some wanderers. This is because some are migrants and others are storm followers,  and others still are nomadic following the food and water. One resident frequently seen in Marievale in the Burchell’s Coucal.

“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.”

~Henri Cartier-Bresson

Marievale is an hour’s drive from Johannesburg so we leave at 5h30 to get the best light. We found this Burchell’s Coucal on a dead tree stump as we drove into the embankment area of the wetland. These Coucals are often shy but this character did not budge and seemed quite content to sit out the photo shoot.

We see Yellow-billed ducks every time we got to Marievale. That bright yellow bill is a give-away in what is otherwise cryptic plumage.

We do not see Cape Shovellers every time. This duck has a distinctive spatula shaped dark bill. It has bright yellow eyes and legs. The male has a yellowish tinge to the feathers on his head. The female is duller and more mottled colouring on her head and neck. This duck is a dabbler and uses its unique bill shape to filter food out of the water.  This male Cape Shoveller was on his own.

“Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.”

~ Unknown

A Reed cormorant resting  on a wooden stump after an energetic morning swimming and diving for food. Its feathers were still wet and it was drying out in the early morning sun.

A Black-headed heron walking along a gravel track. This heron likes to hunt in the grasslands adjacent to the waterways hunting anything it can find from frogs to rats to insects and even small birds. It uses its long beak to spear its prey. These herons do not walk and hunt in open water like Goliath herons.

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

~Henri Cartier-Bresson

A male Golden Crowned Bishop all puffed up in display for passing females. This gorgeous little bishop flies just like a bumble bee and is just as fast. He will lose his vivid yellow plumage at the end of the breeding season.


A male Southern red bishop also all puffed up displaying to passing females.  The Black-winged bishop looks very similar but is not found in South Africa. The shape of this bishop’s beak indicates it is a seed-eater.

A Blacksmith lapwing guarding a puddle in a dirt track. Its pied plumage is distinctive as is its red eye. They are also very noisy and are a dead giveaway anything moving  near them.

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.” – ~Unknown

A male Hottentot teal poised on a floating raft of reeds. He stopped just to assess what we were doing. Not keen to be photographed he soon swam away deeper into the waterway.


Another Golden-crowned bishop in full display mode trying to attract females. One of our own diminutive birds of paradise but without the dancing.

A secretive African Crake wandering along the track on an embankment. I could not get a clear image as it was walking away from me and my f-stop was not enough to achieve an adequate the depth of field. The image does though give you an idea of one of the more secretive birds you can see in this wetland. I have also seen many Black crakes and on occasion, an African Rail.

“Photography is the story I fail to put into words.”

~ Destin Sparks

A Red-knobbed coot with her chick. This coot has all black plumage but for a white frontal shield with two red knobs which are only present in breeding season. There are hundreds of these coots in the waterways of Marievale and the males are forever chasing each other in a mad dash across the water.

“Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

Another male Southern red bishop. This time his attention on seeds, not females.

One of the summer migrants, an male Amur falcon sitting on one of the power lines stretching along the border of the bird sanctuary. There are a number of trees for these falcons to perch on but they seem to prefer the power lines presumably because they have a better view of their killing area.

This is an aggressive noisy seed-eater –  a male pin-tailed Whydah. The male will assume a territory and aggressively defend it. If he is not chasing females he is attacking any male nearby. The long tail regrows every breeding season. Whydahs are usually brood parasites, and the Pin-tailed whydahs often parasitise waxbill nests. Male Whydahs unlike Widowbirds are not all dressed in black.

A female long tailed Widowbird (?) watching the other females being chased by a male. The red bishop females are a lighter buff colour with less heavy streaking on their front and back.


There are many pairs of Stonechats in Marievale. I particularly liked this male Stonechat perched  in this florescence of  small yellow flowers. 

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
~ Robert Lynd

We don’t always get a good sighting of a Purple Gallenule but this time we were treated to watching a female feeding her chick. It is hard to believe that this drab coloured chick will transform into the glorious plumage of the adult with its blended blue, green and purples, all of which have a beautiful sheen in the sun.

This female Purple Gallenule was stripping the outer sheath of succulent stems to expose the pith and giving it to her chick.

 The north west side of Marievale borders an old gold mine. I liked the different textures when looking across the grass in the foreground to the pampas grass above the crushed stone pile with the old corrugated mine dump in the background.

It was quite an overcast morning on the Sunday when we went to Marievale. The dark skies added even more contrast to the textured scene looking west.

The soft wispy texture of the pampas grass was a strong contrast to the crushed stone dump behind it.

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”
~ Stephen King

Whiskered tern hunting over the waterways in Marievale. These terns are highly agile fliers turning sharply and diving to pluck insects and small fish out of the water. Most of South Africa’s terns have a black forehead, crown and nape, a red beak and legs. the body is mostly grey but for their white cheeks and throat.


Whiskered terns have a lazy, banking flight pattern and patrol up and down the waterways looking for food. This tern has a high aspect ratio ( wingspan/wing area) which is ideal for gliding. The long narrow wing have a high wing-loading ratio ( bird mass/wing area). The combination of aspect ratio and wing loading will determine how agile the bird will be in flight.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

~Ansel Adams

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


Sanctuary at Marievale

Marievale is a bird sanctuary north-east of Nigel in the southern part of Gauteng in South Africa. It forms part of the Blesbokspruit. According to Birdlife, the Blesbokspruit is one of the Vaal River’s larger tributaries flowing from the Grootvaly Wetland Reserve in the north to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary in the south. This is the only Ramsar wetland in the Gauteng province. It was declared a wetland of international importance in October 1986. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

~Aldo Leopold

Water levels in the Blesbokspruit are artificially maintained by the inflow of mining, industrial and municipal effluents which supplement the summer rainfall. The wetland was formed during the 1930s after road and pipeline embankments were constructed for the mining industry of the area.

“I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.”
~Ed Begley Jr.

The Blesbokspruit is an Important Bird Area (IBA). In summer you will find a wide variety of water birds and seed-eaters, the odd raptor, mongooses, grasses and wild flowers. Summer migrants also join the seasonal gathering and you are likely to see cuckoos and Amur falcons.

Being so accessible, an hour or so from Johannesburg, this is an ideal place to practice your wildlife photography and sharpen your bird identification.

 You can find two types of teal in Marievale. I have never seen a Cape Teal in Marievale but there are many Red-billed teal and Hottentot teal. The Red-billed teal has that distinctive blackish cap and nape and bright red bill.

Red-billed teal male and female are similar in appearance. The colouring is cryptic from above when these ducks are in the reeds for cover. The Cape teal looks similar but has a pinkish bill and does not have the distinctive black forehead, crown and nape of the Red-billed teal.

The wetlands are surrounded by flat grasslands. Being a swamp-like area the water table is very high so numerous varieties of grasses and wild flowers grow there in the spring and early summer. One of the most distinctive flowers you will see is a bushveld vlei lily.

The masked weaver has a red eye and the lesser weaver has a yellow eye.  They both have that black face mask. The masked weaver does not make a entrance tunnel to its nest whereas the lesser weaver does make a small tunnel entrance but nothing like as long as the spectacled weaver. The weavers select trees and bushes when building their nests rather than reeds, which the bishops use.

Juvenile Little grebe. There are many Little grebes here and you might also be lucky to find the Great Crested Grebe.

The African snipe is so well camouflaged that unless to you are looking for it, chances are you will not see it until this “pocket rocket” jets out of the reeds.

African snipe are often seen at Marevale. I have never seen a Great snipe or a Painted snipe at Marievale. I have only seen Painted snipe on the banks of the Chobe river and in a swamp in Amboseli.

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” ~Edward O. Wilson

The bushveld vlei lily is usually only open fully at midday and are slightly sweet-scented. It appears from late November to January. One has to get down on your knees (or belly) to get an attractive background for your image.

There are many seed and insect-eaters in the grasslands around the waterways in Marievale. The Levaillant’s cisticola is a common sighting as is the Grassbird. The cisticolas are small insect eaters and their small straight bills are well adapted for pecking diminutive insects off foliage.

Feeding in the waters you will find, a variety of herons, coots, moorhens, ducks, avocets, spoonbills and greater flamingoes.

“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy – it is already too late for that – but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.”
~ Aldo Leopold

You will find both Sacred and Glossy ibis and Hadedas in Marievale. This is a close up head shot of a Glossy ibis. Breeding adults have reddish-brown body plumage and shiny bottle-green wings. Non-breeders and juveniles have duller bodies and their head and neck is a light greyish-brown with white flecks.

Small group of Fluvous Whistling ducks. This duck is easily identified by its distinctive reddish-brown plumage. Both male and female plumage is similar, but the size of the female is slightly smaller and has duller plumage than the male. They prefer wetlands.

White-throated swallow. There are only four southern African swallows which have patches of rust red feathers in their plumage. The White-throated swallow is the only one with a rust red patch on its forehead directly above its beak.

The Barn swallow has a rust red patch on its forehead and its throat. The Wire-tailed swallow has a rust-red crown and nape. This White-throated swallow was preening itself in the warm early morning sun.

I never managed to get a good image of an Pied Avocet. This bird has pied colouring with a distinctive red eye. You don’t always see these avocets as they are partial migrants and seem to be storm followers. These birds are also filter feeders, much like spoonbills.


“Human society is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the earth environment. If our “parent company” destabilises, our society and our economies go down with it.”

~The Natural Step

A pair of Red-billed teal sunning themselves in the morning sun after feeding earlier.

Yellow-billed duck is a local but is nomadic. It is known as a dabbling duck, as it usually feeds in shallow waters by dabbling and upending. You also see mallards, teal and fluvous whistling ducks doing this.

A Fluvous whistling duck in resting mode with one foot tucked up and standing one legged in perfect balance. This character also had a short snooze, resting its beak on its chest. They also rest their heads on their backs while they nuzzle their beaks into their back feathers. Usually they place their heads on the opposite wing to make it easier to balance.

A Fluvous Whistling duck running on the surface of the water to get airborne.

An adult male southern Pochard drying off after having bathed. This is a common duck in southern Africa, but I have only seen a few at Marievale. 

Adult male Southern Pochard feeds mainly on plants and will eat small invertebrates when they can find them.

Juvenile female Southern Pochard with its distinctive white crescent band from the back of its eye down to its throat. The base of its bill is also white. The female does not have the red eye of the adult male.

I am not sure what this next bird is but I think it is a Neddicky, based on its colouring. Its tail did not flick up like a warbler or Prinia. It does not have a white or light coloured band over its eye and its belly and throat were very light cream coloured, almost white.

Juvenile Common moorhen foraging in the shallows.

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”

~Edward O. Wilson

Dwarf coral tree is a deciduous shrub which is often multi-stemmed. They grow wild in the grasslands of Marievale and bloom in November and December. They produce scarlet flowers  and these brightly coloured flowers attract sunbirds.

In summer there is a blaze of purple, white and yellow Statis in the grasslands around the waterways of Marievale. This can make a perfect background for some bird images. The only problem is you have to get out of your vehicle and get low to get the right background and that usually chases the birds away.

An adult Glossy Ibis in full breeding plumage. To maintain longitudinal balance these ibis fly with their necks stretched out. Flocks of these ibis can be seen flying in a “V” formation over Marievale.

Perhaps my favourite southern African duck, the Hottentot Teal. It is small beautifully, if not cryptically, coloured with  an exquisitely coloured blue beak. The male seems to be larger and slightly darker than the female with a area of green sheen on the outside of its secondaries. This next image is of a female Hottentot Teal.

“What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.”

~Paul Hawken

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


Kelly’s corner

In November last year, friends Neville and Sue Kelly invited Helen and I to their bush retreat in Mabalingwe, west of Bela Bela in the Limpopo province of South Africa. It is a wild life estate with plenty of space and a wonderful sense of the bush. 

“Time spent with friends in the bush who also love the wild wide open spaces is filled with interesting drives where knowledge is shared and new insights gained. Then later back at our base many stories are told around the campfire accompanied by trilling nightjars,  whistling Scops owls under a canopy of glittering stars.”

~Mike Haworth

One of the amazing aspects of this bush retreat is the plethora of bird life.  This area is cuckoo paradise. We were also in store for some unusual sightings of grey hornbills.

On the banks of the north side of the top dam, Neville and Sue knew where to find a hornbill’s nest. Early one morning we went down to the dam to see if there was any activity at the nest. The next image shows an African grey hornbill, having caught a chameleon, was busy ‘tenderising’ it to be able to push it into the nest’s entrance.

The opening to the nest was small and this grey hornbill had trouble getting the chameleon into the nest. The nest is usually made in the hollow of a tree where the female lays two to four white eggs. The female undergoes a full moult at the time of laying her eggs. The entrance to the nest is blocked off during incubation with a cement made of mud, droppings and fruit pulp. Once completed, the entrance to the nest has one narrow aperture, just big enough for the male to transfer food to the mother and the chicks. When the chicks and female outgrow the nest, the mother breaks out and rebuilds the wall at the entrance to the nest, after which both parents feed the chicks.

Time and time again this male flew up to the nest and hovered momentarily to try to place the chameleon into the nest entrance, but there seemed to be no takers. African grey hornbills eat insects, fruit and small reptiles.

The adults were very busy gathering insects and pushing them into the nest entrance. We must have watched them go back and forth for about three-quarters of an hour. The male has a black bill and the female has red on its mandibles. The next image shows a female with a grasshopper. She was ‘tenderising’ it before pushing it into the nest’s hole.

This adult male African grey hornbill was taking a break from its food gathering activities. The African grey hornbill has a unique somewhat melancholic piping “pee-o pee-o pee-o” call.

This image was taken in the afternoon when the light was shining directly onto the nest making the photography considerably easier.

“For the 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world. Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.”

~Janine M. Benyus

After watching the grey hornbill for quite a while we moved further down the valley to see what other animals and birds we could find. On the rocky slope next to the road we found a small family group of klipspingers. This female scent marking her territory with a secretion from the orbital gland just below her eye.

At one of the remaining waterholes we found a group of Nyala. The adult female on the right  and her offspring on the left were drinking from what looked to be a stagnant pool of water.


As we arrived the male in the group of Nyala was walking away having already sated his thirst. It always amazes me that evolution has resulted in these antelope having such long hair in the thick bush and in areas where it can be very hot.

male blue headed agama busy feeding on insects on the bough of a tree. The bright blue colour of its head suggests that it was breeding season. We only saw one male but they usually congregate in small groups.

A Striped cuckoo perched in the shade some distance away from the road. Mabalingwe has the densest seasonal population of cuckoos I have ever seen and heard. 


We drove down a gravel road to have a look at the busy bird activity at dam further down the valley. While we were parked watching the European Bee-eaters bathing in the dam, I looked around and in the tree next to us saw this little Pearl Spotted owlet.

It seemed quite relaxed and its mate was in the opposite tree about 20 metres away. After about a half an hour the pair eventually flew off.

The Red-chested cuckoo is one you so often hear, with its characteristic “Piet my vrou” call, but rarely see. This was the first and only time I have ever seen a Red-chested cuckoo out in the open.

It was calling away and in plain sight.  I have spent many hours in the past trying to just see this species of cuckoo. After about two minutes it was gone. This species like all the other cuckoos is a summer migrant. The red-chested cuckoo is polygamous and parasitises about fifteen others birds nests, mainly wagtails and robins. 

We stopped at the the top dam on the opposite side to the grey hornbill’s nest to have a cup of coffee. Before I had time for a sip of coffee I heard a Diederik cuckoo. I stealthily crept around a cluster of bushes to get a better view of the cuckoo only to find a Great Spotted cuckoo in the same tree. The only other place I have every seen this cuckoo species was in Mashatu in Botswana.

The great spotted cuckoo feeds on insects, spiders, small reptiles and hairy caterpillars which other birds avoid. They are known to parasitise crow and starling nests. The female cuckoo adds one of her own eggs to the host’s clutch. 


On the other side of the dead tree was a Diederik cuckoo. This was an adult given its mostly green and white plumage. It is an exquisitely beautiful cuckoo with a distinctive red-eye ring. Adult males are glossy green above with copper-sheened areas on the back and whitish underparts. They have a broken white eye-stripe and a short, green malar stripe.


The Diederik cuckoo usually lays one egg in the nests of weavers, bishops and widowbirds. This cuckoo has an onomatopoeic call which is a loud and persistent “deed-deed-deed-deed-er-ick”.


“Nature is man’s teacher.
She unfolds her treasure to his search,
unseals his eye, illumes his mind,
and purifies his heart;
an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds
of her existence.”

~Alfred Billings Street

In late spring before the rains had started in earnest, the top dam attracts a variety of wildlife which we watched moving through a tapestry of colours.


After a wonderful day’s game and bird watching this was the scene of the sun setting in the west. 

A big thank you to Neville and Sue for a wonderful weekend. They are both accomplished birders with an excellent knowledge of trees. They also love the bush so it was great fun sharing stories and learning new things with them.

“Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.”

~Charles Cook

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


Mana, banking on the Zambezi!

While we were in Mana Pools on a Wild Eye photographic safari, we stayed at Mwinilunga Safari camp operated by friends Dave and Tess, wonderful people! This camp is located in the Trichilea area of Mana Pools which is named after its groves of verdant green, deep shade Natal Mahogany trees. The welcome shade, wildness, hospitality and wonderful cuisine made this a perfect base for our photographic excursions.

“The Zambezi river mercurial and transformative. Controlled for the most, but never tamed. Humble beginnings but mighty in maturity. The journey forces changes in the mood and energy,  but the character and purpose remain. Life blood to many and much. Abundance within, above and around. It casts an enchanted spell on those who choose to wander along its course.”

~Mike Haworth

The Mwinilunga camp is named after the source of the Zambezi river. The Zambezi Source National Monument is located in Mwinilunga, a district in the North-western Province of Zambia. The source of the Zambezi River is itself located some 53 Kilometres on the Northwest of Mwinilunga in Kalene Hills. This is the source of one of the four mightiest rivers in Africa. The Zambezi River is ranked fourth in terms of size on the African continent after the Nile, The Congo/Zaire, and the Niger. ( The area of the Zambezi’s basin is slightly less than half that of the Nile river.

This river originates in the Kalene Hills in northwest Zambia at an elevation of 1,500m above sea level and flows south and eastwards for 2,574 km to the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi river has been classified into three distinct stretches: the Upper Zambezi from its source to Victoria Falls, the Middle Zambezi from Victoria Falls to Cahora Bassa Gorge, and the Lower Zambezi from Cahora Bassa to the Zambezi Delta. The next panorama shows the vastness of the flat flood plain section of Mana with the hills of the Zambian escarpment in the distance.


Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba are in the centre of the Middle Zambezi section. Below Kariba Dam, the Zambezi flows from Kuburi through a series of deep gorges and narrow floodplains down to the Lower Zambezi National Park on the north bank and Mana Pools National Park on the south bank. Middle Zambezi is fed by two major tributaries – the Kafue River and the Luangwa River. The Kafue river flows into the Zambezi just below Chirundu and upstream of Ruchomechi while the Luangwa joins the Zambezi at the headwaters of the Caborra Bassa dam in Mozambique.The Middle Zambezi Valley is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Zambezi River Basin features several of Africa’s finest national parks. Eight Zambezi Basin floodplains are designated as Wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, including the Barotse Plain, Busanga Plains, Kafue Flats, Mana Pools (also a World Heritage Site), Lower Zambezi National Park, Elephant Marsh, and the Zambezi Delta. ( The river surrounds are home to a rich biological diversity and some of the densest concentrations of wildlife in the world.

“There is another alphabet, whispering from every leaf, singing from every river, shimmering from every sky.”
~ Dejan Stojanovic

Before the Kariba dam wall was built, the vast area below Chirundu was a floodplain. The annual flooding of the floodplain resulted in a massive increase in fish production far in excess of what an equivalent river without a floodplain could produce. Now that the floodplain no longer floods and renews the soil, the land is less fertile and consequently supports less wildlife. Today, the Mana Pools flood plain is sustained by rainfall and groundwater seepage.

As the Zambezi flows past Mana Pools it spreads out. At some points, it is a wide shallow river and at other points it splits into numerous channels alongside  the main channel. The river looks very quiet at this point but watch a piece of water hyacinth or a small raft of reeds being carried by the river, and you will see it is in fact flowing at about five kilometres per hour. The Kariba dam wall had major hydrological and ecological changes down river. Immediately down stream of Kariba the water quality was markedly altered. Turbine intakes usually draw water from the hypolimnion (lower thermal layer) or metalimnion (middle thermal layer) water layer of the lake. This turbinated discharge water is cool and low in oxygen. By the time it gets to Mana Pools the quality of the water has been restored. 


There has been deep erosion of  the Zambezi channel below the adjacent floodplain and  the water table in the floodplain has fallen. Without the flooding, there has been the invasion of woody savanna and thicket vegetation into open grassland and wetland, abandonment of former tributary channels, and further down at the delta as the Zambezi floods into the Indian ocean there has been displacement of freshwater grassland species with salt-tolerant grassland species, degradation of coastal mangroves, and reduction in breeding and feeding grounds for endemic and threatened mammal and waterbird species. There are significant long-term consequences to the down stream river flow once a dam such as Kariba had been built.

The next images shows the Zambezi splitting into a number of channels along the main channel. This is beneficial for hippos and crocodiles.

Some of the channels are permanent and other seasonal. 

The water levels in the river do vary depending on how much water is being controlled through the Kariba dam wall. The Zambezi Water Authority reported that Kariba dam was 36% full on 15 Jan-2018 compared to 15% full the same time the year before. The lake level varies seasonally with a low around February and a high around May-June each year. One interesting fact is that the maximum flow recorded at Victoria Falls was during the early construction phase of the Kariba Dam wall in March 1958 at 10,000 cubic metres per second. The lowest flows recorded to date at Victoria Falls were during the 1995/96 season which had an annual mean flow of 390 cubic metres per second. The long-term mean annual flow at Victoria Falls is 1,100 cubic metres per second and it is currently 990 cubic metres per second ( One anecdotal piece of information I found ( not sure how accurate it is) indicated that each flood gate opened in the Kariba dam wall raises the water level of the Zambezi River, passing Mana Pools, by approximately 1 metre.

“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.”
~ David Brower

Mana Pools is dry and hot in October but along the Zambezi river bank the flora is verdant, attracting much wildlife.

As you would expect the flood plain is flat

There is an abundance of wildlife in Mana Pools. If you are lucky you may see rare species such as African wild dogs and South Ground Hornbills.

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.”
~ Jo Walton

The spring days in Mana can be very hot with cloudless blue skies.  Unusually one morning it was very hazy. I am not sure whether it was temperature inversion or smoke haze. It did not smell like smoke haze.


By mid morning the heat normally makes the far side of the river shimmer in waves, this particular morning it was very hazy. Interestingly, there was a strange quietness which descended over the bush.

This is a panorama of the scene in the late afternoon between Goliath Safari’s camp and the BBC camp. (double click on the image to enlarge the panorama)

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore

The sunsets in Mana are legendary. The sun sets over the Zambian escarpment. In early spring there is plenty of dust in the air, so the setting sun shines through a dusty atmosphere creating surreal colours.

This particular evening marked the end of a productive afternoon with our cameras. We drove down to the river to watch the sun setting – with a beer in hand.  This scene was indescribably beautiful. The quiet and beauty was mesmerising.


There has been a long-standing family tie with Mana Pools. My father, Brian Haworth, built the steel frame for this treetop lodge for a European client in the early 1960s. When he was alive, Dad told stories of when he was building the treetop lodge. While constructing the steel frame, once the frame was built and the first floor platform was in place, he would sleep on the platform at night for safety. During the night elephants would come and scratch themselves against the steel columns of the elevated lodge. Needless to say the entire frame swayed back and forth. Dad quickly realised stronger bracing was required for the stability of the steel frame to ensure the safety of future guests. Once the lodge was opened, we visited as guests and I remember standing at the top of the stairs looking down at the buffalo and honey badgers below the lodge. There were also black rhino around that area.

Mana Pools treetop lodge 1964 1Mana Pools Treetop lodge 1964 2

Source: Unknown, but thank you for the wonderful memories.

Much later my cousin, Rob Shattock, became involved in Ruchomechi in the early 1980s. The luxury lodge of today had humble beginnings. Rob had always had a deep interest in the area. He started the camp with an old caravan, a few small tents. The camp was not on the tourist map, but it was just at the end of the war. Times were tough and there was little income revenue forcing the camp to change hands a few times. The successive owners progressively developed Ruchomechi into the wonderful lodge it is today.


Robin Shattock holding up what I think was a Sable Antelope skull to show guests.

I have only ever gone to Mana in the dry season mainly because of accessibility and ease of seeing the wildlife. I am told Mana is a verdant paradise around March and April. 

I spent a wonderful five days in Mana Pools in the Mwinilunga safari camp. A big thank you to Dave, Tess and Roog for your hospitality, exceptional cuisine and warm friendship ( and Roog your evening dancing!!!). I will be back!

To Johan van Zyl of Wild Eye, thanks so much for showing interesting ways to photograph and sharing your knowledge about wildlife which is so valuable when trying to anticipate its behaviour – much appreciated. 

“Memories were the markers of the journey through life. It was necessary to know where you had come from. Only then could you know where you were going.”

~William Shatner

Explore, seek to understand , marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,