Raiders at the giant’s table

This post is about three raiders who regularly rob the table at the Giant’s Castle. The latter is a nature reserve in the mountain range called the Drakensberg, colloquially named the Barrier of Spears, in the centre of South Africa.  The table is the place where we put out bones to feed the Bearded vultures.  The raiders are Jackal Buzzards, Cape Vultures and Black-backed jackals who know that food is regularly put out  in front of the bird hide.

“We were meant to explore this earth like children do, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of discovery. Allow yourself to see the world through new eyes and know there are amazing adventures here for you.”  ~ Laurel Bleadon Maffei

We were fortunate enough to have a male Jackal Buzzard visit on one occasion.  In South Africa, we find six buzzards, the Jackal, Steppe, Forest, Long-legged, European honey and Lizard buzzard. The Jackal and Steppe buzzards are the only two found throughout South Africa. The others tend to be more regional. The Jackal buzzard is a resident while the Steppe buzzard is a migrant and had returned to Europe or Russia for the northern hemisphere summer.

We only know a tiny proportion about the complexity of the natural world. Wherever you look, there are still things we don’t know about and don’t understand. […] There are always new things to find out if you go looking for them.” 
~ David Attenborough

The adult South African Jackal buzzard has striking plumage. It is almost black or dark slate grey above, with a rufous tail and a patch on its breast of rusty-brown. The primary flight feathers are blackish and the secondaries off-white, barred with black. Below the chin and around the throat is mainly rusty-brown, and the rest of the underparts and the underwing coverts are rich rufous. 

In flight, the Jackal buzzard’s underwing colouring is distinctive. The flight feathers from below are white, tipped with black to form a dark trailing edge to the wing. The tail feathers are a rufous colour.

Buzzards are a type of hawk, specifically, buteos which are medium to fairly large, wide-ranging raptors with a robust body and broad wings. Their broad wings are ideal for soaring on thermal currents. Unlike vultures, buzzards hunt for their meals and prefer to capture living prey, though they are not adverse to “raiding the giant’s table”, especially if other food sources are scarce.The Jackal buzzard is more of an escarpment than a lowveld bird. Although it soars high on thermals, most of its hunting is usually done from a perch.

“Never lose your sense of wonder.” ~Unknown

It is very vocal during its winter breeding period and frequently emits a high-pitched yelping cry similar to that of the Black-backed jackal, hence its name.

The Jackal buzzard has yellow unfeathered legs below the knee and a yellow beak with a black tip. Bird beaks are a textbook example of adaptations to feeding strategies, but there’s one major exception: birds of prey. Among eagles, hawks and falcons, the shapes of the skulls change in a predictable way as species increase or decrease in size. The shape of the beak is linked to the shape of the skull, and these birds can’t change one without changing the other.

The raider had found one of the bones put out for the Bearded vultures. From a photographic point of view, it was always interesting to see a Jackal buzzard fly in, giving you a chance to see this handsome raptor up close.

In Latin, the term ‘raptor’ means ‘plunderer’ (from the verb ‘rapere’ meaning ‘to seize’). The term is also descriptive of the powerful, grasping, talon-tipped feet found in all birds of prey, and is used as a name for the group of birds whose members have this common feature.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T.S. Eliot “

When in the hide you can spend extended periods where little happens. That does not mean you can let your attention wander. Raiding visitors arrive very quietly and unannounced. If you are distracted or not paying attention you will miss the most import part of the action. It usually only takes a couple of seconds for the raptor to fly in and land. Those few arrival seconds are when any inter species action is likely to occur.

On two occasions a single Cape vulture come to visit and only landed once.

The Cape vulture is one of the largest southern African vultures with a total length of about 106 cm. It is the lightest of the vultures in colour being mostly whitish grey above, flecked with brown. The outer black primary feathers of the wing, the 12 tail feathers (in other species of this genus there are 14) and the inner dark brown secondary feathers contrast sharply with the lighter colour of the rest of the body, both above and below. The brownish crop section is surrounded by white down while the rest of the abdominal parts range from brown to cream becoming lighter on the wings. Source: Cape Nature.

“Let those who wish have their respectability- I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, and the romantic.” ~ Richard Halliburton

The blue grey head and neck are sparsely covered with white down. At the base of the neck there are a few rows of long feathers forming a grey- buff collar. The bare face is bluish grey, the eyes yellowish brown and the feet grey. Apart from a slight size difference (female larger) there is little difference between the sexes making it difficult to differentiate between males and females.

The Cape vulture is southern Africa’s only endemic vulture species, A few individuals have been recorded from Zambia. The Cape vulture is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, northern Namibia and southern Zimbabwe. The southern African population is listed at 2900 breeding pairs, of which approximately 1450 reside in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains- about 20% of the population. Cape vultures live in colonies of up to 1000 breeding pairs, and despite large extended families they are loyal to one partner. Source: Maloti Drakensberg Vulture Project

The Cape vulture occurs near the mountains, in open grassland, arid savannas and steppes. The mountains provide them the thermal currents necessary for the flight of these heavy birds. This species is less common in wooded areas. They breed and roost on cliffs.

The Cape Vulture is a scavenger, feeding on carrion. Around the carcasses, it takes bone fragments, soft muscles and organ tissues.

The two blue skin patches on its breast are thought to be sensitive to temperature and pressure enabling the bird to read the strength of a thermal it is flying through.

When the Cape vulture extends its wings you get to see just how large this raptor is. 

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” – Stephen Hawking

Apart from the raptor raiders there was a family of Black-backed jackals that regularly raided the larder. The Black-backed jackal  is named for the dark, white-flecked ‘saddle’ on its back. From the colour of the light you can see that this jackal came searching for bones in the early morning.

Three species of jackal are found in Africa, the Common or Golden jackal  which is found mainly in East and North Africa and the Black-backed and Side-striped jackal which is found throughout Africa and very common in southern Africa. Black- backed tend to be ubiquitous in southern Africa.

The Black-backed Jackal feeds on small mammals, reptiles, birds, eggs, carrion and fruit. Although they scavenge, they are effective hunters in their own right. 

Jackals are known for their cunning and versatility. They are adaptable hunters and scavengers. The three species of jackals are not endangered and  listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as least concern, probably because of their adaptability.

“Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.” – Mahatma Gandhi

At the hide the pickings were easy for these jackals with no mammalian competition and minimal avian competition. This pair removed their fair share of bones meant for the Bearded vultures. They have also learnt that users of the hide do not put all the bones out at the beginning of the morning but rather spacing it throughout the day. So, they came back every few hours to snatch another snack. Jackals are estimated to have noses that are 10,000 times more sensitive to smells than a human. What is not clear to me is whether the jackals actually smelt the new bones we put out at staggered times or just took a chance.  You will notice in all the jackal images that their noses are wet. They produce a serous secretion (on their nose) which they spread with their tongues. The wet nose also helps the jackal to smell. When the tiny scent particles in the air are dissolved in water, they are more likely to set off the “smell detectors” in the animal’s nose. This must create an invisible picture composed of fragrances and odours.

You will notice this male jackal had a thick coat. It was winter in the middle section of the Drakensberg so got very cold at night. Though he also looked old and battle worn.

The jackals clearly knew there were people in the hide and watched carefully to ensure there was no threat. Usually wherever there are humans, jackals tend to be noctural to avoid any conflict.

The Black-backed jackal has a distinctive call which sounds like a rapid series of whaling yelps. In general, jackals are most vocal in the early and late evening. This pair of jackals were silent raiders.

“There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Jackal pairs mate for life and are very territorial.

The hide shows that with a little patience  and being quiet you will be surprised how nature slowly reveals herself to you.

“He had learned the rare secret that you must take happiness when you find it – that there is no use in marking the place and coming back to it at a more convenient season, because it will not be there then.”
~ L.M. Montgomery

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

Have fun,

Mike

Lanner playground

This is the second post from our trip to Giant’s Castle nature reserve in the central Drakensberg in South Africa. We spent a couple of days in the well-known Giant’s Castle vulture hide. This hide is known for sightings of Bearded vultures, Jackal buzzards, White-necked ravens and Red-winged starlings. It is less known for its falcons. One of the raptors which visited once a day, each day we were there, to stir everything up was a lone Lanner Falcon.

“You come out of nowhere. Like a teardrop falling at lightning speed.

We are only starting to appreciate your unique physicality as an apex predator.

Speed is your method, accuracy your point and surprise your mantra.” ~ Mike Haworth

I have a special place for falcons in my wildlife psyche. This was borne out of experiences watching friends like long-standing “shamwari”, a shona word for friend, Adrian Lombard at our senior school, Falcon College in Zimbabwe. Adrian would regularly, late in  the afternoons, once sports activities had finished, take his Lanner out to fly over the sports fields. Two of the key extra mural activities at this bush school where going out into the bush (with a pack of sandwiches and a snake bite kit) on Sundays and falconry which was usually practiced once sports activities had finished and the playing fields were quiet. The birds used by the falconers where Lanner falcons, Tawny eagles, Black-shouldered kites and Sparrowhawks. I have retained a special place for Lanner falcons having watched them perform above the playing fields at school. In the afternoon, Adrian would cast the falcon off his glove and it would fly high above the field. After a few minutes, Adrian would blow a whistle and start to swing his lure at the end of a light rope.  The falcon would see the lure and stoop down from a great height and level out on the far side of the field below the rugby posts and rocket across the field focused on the lure. Adrian would let the rotating lure go and it would swing high into the air. The falcon would watch the circulating lure while powering across the playing field at phenomenal speed and catch the flying lure in its talons. Time and time again, the display was a stunning show of speed, agility and accuracy.

When I watched the Lanner stooping onto the ravens in front of the vulture hide, I got the same feeling of awe that I had on the sports field watching Adrian’s falcon flying all those years ago.

“Let us remember that animals are not mere resources for human consumption. They are splendid beings in their own right, who have evolved alongside us as co-inheritors of all the beauty and abundance of life on this planet” ~ Marc Bekoff

We put bones out in front of the hide, the object being to feed the Bearded vultures. It seldom worked that way. The White-necked ravens patrol the hide area. As soon as food was put down they arrive in numbers, up to ten to 15 ravens at a time. These birds seem to be the “hyaenas of the castle”. They love the fat on the bones. As the morning wears on, once the ravens are well sated and they just hang around the hide making sure that no other birds get to feed on the fat. Between 12h00 and 14h00, just when everything was becoming quite sleepy, out of blue, a Lanner would come stooping onto the ravens grouped together. Lanner hunting often takes place where prey congregates, such as at waterholes or colonial nesting or feeding sites. Lanners are orders of magnitude faster and more maneuverable than the ravens. Once the Lanner streaked through the flock of ravens, they would scatter only long after the Lanner had flown through. Repeatedly, the Lanner would stoop onto the ravens. We never saw it hit one but I am sure the Lanner does on occasion. The Lanner falcon feeds mainly on small to medium-sized birds, ranging from larks up to the size of ducks and guineafowl. Ravens are right on the menu. The Lanner stirred up the ravens and they remained very edgy for the next hour or so after the Lanner’s visit. It was thrilling so see this avian predator come in at such speed and liven up the hide’s stage.

Falcons are birds of prey in the genus Falco, which includes about 40 species. All these birds kill with their beaks, using a “tooth” on the side of their beaks—unlike the hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey in the Accipitridae, which use mainly their feet. Falcons are roughly divisible into three groups. The first contains the kestrels, the second slightly larger species, the hobbies and relatives. These birds are characterised by considerable amounts of dark slate-grey in their plumage; their malar areas are nearly always black. They feed mainly on smaller birds The third group is the Peregrine falcon and its relatives, these powerful birds also have a black malar area, and a black cap,  The Lanner falcon is a usually a raptor suited to open country and savanna. It hunts by horizontal pursuit, rather than the Peregrine falcon’s stoop from a height, and takes mainly bird prey in flight.

Lanners have a yellow eye ring, a yellow cere and yellow feet. It has the diagnostic “hangman hood” with cap and moustachial strip. It has pinkish buff underparts which distinguish it from other falcons and their chest stripes fade as they mature. The female Lanner falcon is usually larger, darker and more patterned than the male. A Peregrine is smaller than a Lanner and darker in colouring.

Aside from the characteristic notched beaks, falcons have small bony protuberances in their nostrils to baffle airflow in stoops, allowing them to breathe at high speeds. The presence of bony tubercles in the falcon’s nose act to slow down the airflow, increasing the air pressure, which eases breathing. As planes got faster and faster, the engines started choking out at a certain speed. It seems that the air, instead of going into the cowl of the engine, encountered a wall of still air in the engine cowl and so split and went around the engine. Puzzled, the researchers wondered how the falcons could still breathe at such incredible speeds. Looking at the falcon’s nostrils, they found the answer. In the opening of the nostril is a small cone that protrudes slightly. Fashioning a similar cone in the opening of the jet engine, they discovered that the air could pass into the engine even at great speed. Once again a human invention is preceded by an animal adaptation. The air pressure from a high-speed dive could possibly damage a bird’s lungs, but small bony tubercles in a falcon’s nostrils guide the shock waves of the air entering the nostrils, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving by reducing the air pressure differential. When in attack mode, the falcon’s pulse rate can reach 600-900 beats per minute, to fuel its body with oxygen.

“Because we have viewed other animals through the myopic lens of our self-importance, we have mis-perceived who and what they are. Because we have repeated our ignorance, one to the other, we have mistaken it for knowledge.” ~ Tom Regan

High-speed flight presents special challenges. For example, how can the falcon’s eyes focus on prey a mile away and make rapid-fire adjustments while being blasted by air? It has three adaptions to facilitate this. Firstly, the falcon’s eye has 4–5 times the number of visual cells (called photoreceptors) as compared to a human eye. This extra visual detail allows the falcon to make split-second adjustments. Secondly, the falcon eye has an extra lid, called the nictitating membrane, which clears, lubricates and prevents wind damage. Essentially, the membrane serves as a see-through eyelid, which can be closed without limiting his visibility. Thirdlyly, beneath the falcon’s eye it has a dark patch. This shading minimizes glare.  (www.discoveryofdesign.com)

The falcon’s long narrow wings give this raptor more stability. Metaphorically it is like a tightrope walker holding a long pole across their body as they walk along the rope. The extra ‘arm’ length helps to balance the body by adding more mass to either side of it. The trade-off is manoeuvrability. The falcon’s long narrow wings have less end edges. Different air pressures meet at the edges; the less edges, the less turbulence. The falcon’s more stable wing dynamic than shorter wider wings creates less drag. The feathers on the falcon’s back vibrate when the bird is completing a dive and has overshot the optimum angle of attack. This is the point at which the falcon is in danger of spinning out of control. The vibrations serve as a warning signal for the falcon to adjust its flight path. (www.evolving-science.com).  

There are ten primary feathers on each wing. Falcons only have that soaring slot on the primary feather closest to the tip of their wing. All of their other primaries are smooth  The tail feathers or rectrices, are also critical to the falcon’s flight performance. Rectrices (from the Latin for “helmsman”), help the bird to brake and steer in flight. These feathers lie in a single horizontal row on the rear margin of the anatomic tail.

The wing’s primaries are connected to the manus (equivalent of the bird’s “hand”). These are the longest and narrowest of the remiges or flight feathers, and they can be individually rotated. The secondaries are connected to the ulna or forearm bone. The tertials arise in the brachial region or upper arm and are not considered true flight feathers as they are not supported by attachment to the corresponding bone, in this case the humerus.

Flat, rather high-aspect-ratio wings lack slots, and with feathers at the base that streamline the trailing edge in with the body, are found in falcons, swallows, plovers, and other specialists in high-speed flight.  The falcon relies on its wing shape and speed to catch other birds and literally grab them out of the sky. For this raptor, a narrow, pointed wing is perfect – drag is kept to a minimum and the swept-back wing design allows them to dive at high speeds.

The falcon like the cheetah and gazelle has a malar strip or a black tear  strain running down its cheek from its eye. The eye too is black. In the cheetah’s case, the black tear stains absorb sunlight, protecting their eyes during hunting and can act as an anti-glare surface. The black stains on a cheetah improve their vision by reducing contrast sensitivity and absorbing light/wavelengths that produce glare. The black stains on a cheetah improves their vision by reducing contrast sensitivity and absorbing light/wavelengths that produce glare. (http://finchesofdarwin.blogspot.com/2017/03/convergent-evolution-malar-stripes-eye.html)

“To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told — that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.” ~ Beryl Markham

Hawks, falcons and eagles deviate from each other it terms of the morphology of their respective flight appendages. Falcons have long tapered wings and short tails which lend to their amazing aerial speed and agility. Eagles have very broad wings that are designed for soaring and short tails that aid in maneuverability. Eagles are the intermediate form between falcons and hawks. Hawks have broad wings and long tails which provide a very stable platform for flight.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creatures through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of haven taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” ~ Henry Beston

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

Have fun,

Mike

Bearded giant’s cruising the castle

In mid July, Helen and I went up to Giant’s Castle for a few days with the idea of spending some time in the vulture’s hide, photographing all the avian comings and goings, especially the raptors and especially Bearded Vultures. The hide is popular so bookings over the weekend are hard to come by. As a result we took two days before the weekend and one day after to visit the hide. When in the hide it is a time to be quiet and watch.

“When I am still, I fall into a place where everything is music.”~Rumi

The Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve is in the Central Drakensberg region of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site in South Africa. Giant’s Castle camp is positioned on a shallow plateau overlooking deep valleys running down from the face of the High Drakensberg. The Bushman’s river flows in a shallow valley in front of the Giant’s Castle camp.  One of the first things you will notice in the camp is the quietness. It is blissful. The only sound, other than birds and the odd baboon, is the sound of the Bushman’s river flowing over the rocks in the valley below.

“Be still, and the earth will speak to you” ~ Navajo proverb

Being wildlife photographers and keen birders, the vulture’s hide being close to Giant’s Castle is a key attraction. The vulture hide is isolated and affords quiet and beautiful vistas without human disruption.

“Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity. “ ~Lao Tzu

The idea is to get into the hide about 6h30 in winter about 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise. It is light at this time but the sun has not yet risen. It is often a time a sublime beauty with soft light. Then slowly unheralded, the sun begins to peer above the horizon and starts to paint the distant mountain peaks with mauves, pinks and apricots. It is a time of stillness, almost as if Mother Nature is holding her breath. It is windless and the air is crisp. 

“Compose yourself in stillness, draw your attention inward and devote your mind to the Self. The wisdom you seek lies within.” ~Bhagavad Gita

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“Everything inside and around us wants to reflect itself in us. We don’t have to go anywhere to obtain the truth. We only need to be still and things will reveal themselves in the still water of our heart.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the things I like about the hide is it is placed on a shelf in middle berg with a sharp cliff drop off to the valley about 800 metres below. This drop off provides an updraft for the birds around the hide. The larger birds use the updraft to glide up and down the valley and to play.  For those who do not appreciate the nuances of the activity around the hide it can be very boring. It is quiet but active for those who look. The hide is conducive to being quiet, and looking and listening.  The peace is soothing and the more you look and listen, the more you see and hear.

“A quiet mind married to integrity of heart is the birth of wisdom.” ~Adyashanti

For those who watch the natural stage in front of the hide nature begins to reveal herself. At times it is very quiet and at other times new players emerge and the drama can become intense. In the case of Bearded Vultures the drama is usually around landings or when the White-necked ravens start to harass the Bearded vultures. Both Bearded vultures and ravens are good fliers and capable of adept aerial maneuvring. At times nature follows patterns but not always. Often out of the blue the ravens will attack a Bearded vulture flying by. No one rings the bell to wake you up, you have to be ready with camera setting in place to get the shots when the action takes place. Often it is over in a few seconds. When it happens it is as exciting as any lion kill.  From a photographic point of view this is an exciting time and difficult action to capture because it happens so fast.

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Time in the vulture hide is spent with long periods of little action, then all of sudden out of the blue something dramatic happens. Despite long period of nothingness, you cannot let your attention lapse for a few minutes as no bird announces its arrival. It flies into the photographic zone with not  a sound.

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“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” ~Taoist proverb

Watching this large bearded vulture glide past, ever watchful and aware, triggers something inside you. Its vast wing span and effortless riding the updrafts on the ridge shows a wonderful sense of freedom.

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The juvenile Bearded vultures have black heads and they get progressively lighter and eventually get white feathers when they are mature. The aging of the juvenile is set in its face colouring and the development of its beard below its beak.

Bearded vultures are able to swallow bones as large as 20 centimetres in length. These vultures are able to digest bone within 24 hours. It is not that they have unusual digestive tracts or break down the bones mechanically but rather it is the concentration of acid in their digestive system. Small bones are swallowed whole and larger ones are dropped repeatedly onto rock slabs, called ossaries, to break them into small enough fragments to be swallowed. Bone forms 70-90% of all their food intake. This vulture’s oesophagus is highly elastic and expands to allow the passage of large food items, but it has no clearly defined crop. The Bearded vulture is the only species of vulture to have this large storage region in front of the stomach. Bearded vultures use their oesophagus to store food. Source: Journal of Raptor Research June 1994 by David C Houston and Jamieson A Copsey.

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“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” ~ Neil Armstrong

We were very fortunate to see a family of five bearded vultures, two adults and three youngsters flying by. The youngsters looked to be of different ages judging from their colouring.

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This was a juvenile probably three years old who was starting to get the adult colouring on its head but its body colouring was that of a juvenile.D81_0809-1042

“I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.”~ Gerry Spence

Judging from the colouring on its head this juvenile was probably around two years old. Its head was still black but its face was starting to lighten.D5S_8320-1052

The same juvenile from a different angle. The sun rose in the east and the valley in which these Bearded vultures flew was on the west of the hide so the only way to get the glint in the eye was relatively early in the morning when the the sun was low enough.

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The adult bearded vultures have white feathers on their head and the feathers on their back and wings get almost black. The rust colouring on the white head feathers comes from dust bathing in iron rich soils and dust. The eyes are pale yellow, surrounded by conspicuous red eye-ring. The red ring is not just a marking around the eye, it is part of the eye itself. It is called the scleral ring. It’s red because it is actually full of blood, and it functions as the vultures’ threat displays. When a Bearded vulture is stressed or feels threatened, it will force more blood into the scleral ring, causing it to expand and turn more of the eye a red colour.

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“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”~ Soren Kierkegaard

One of the highlights of any hide visit is when the bearded vultures come in to land in front of the hide. Alas, this seldom happens and it did not happen in the three days we were in the hide. The area in front of the hide is the formal feeding station for these Bearded vultures because they are so endangered. There are estimated to be only 350 pairs in this region. Habitat loss is the key threat to these vultures as human habitation continues to encroach into their wild areas. Each morning before we travelled up to the hide we collected a bucket of bones from the camp office. The bucket of bones is part of the feeding scheme. The bones often have a lot of fat on them which the ravens, starlings and smaller birds seem to really enjoy.  The jackals also take their fair share of the bones long before the Bearded vultures get to them.

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While I was putting the bones out in front of the hide, I peered over the ridge and saw two adult bearded vultures sitting on separate rocks about three hundred metres away. These raptors are very skittish and as soon as they saw me they flew away.

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“The more you wander, the more you wonder.” ~Mike Haworth

Despite their size, Bearded vultures appear to be timid by nature. They are regularly harassed by the White-necked ravens who are much smaller but act like terriers of the sky.

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“Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open, only to discover what is already here.” ~Henry Miller

It is only when you spend a long time in the hide do you appreciate that you are not the centre of the universe and that nature will reveal herself when she is ready.

“Wonder is very much the affection of a philosopher; for there is no other beginning of philosophy than this.”~Plato

Watching these incredible raptors turn in the sky is a sight. They have huge wing spans and seem to be able to effortlessly manoeuvre in the air currents along the ridge. They can cross the two kilometre wide valley adjacent to the hide in seconds.

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This adult Bearded vulture had its legs down after having just dropped a bone. Despite their large talons their feet are relatively weak and not as strong as the talons of eagles. For a long period, these bearded vultures were persecuted on the presumption that they killed young sheep which is how they gone their name lammiergeir -a name is derived from the German word Lämmergeier, meaning lamb-vulture. 

When you have spent a couple of days in the hide you have a deeper appreciation not only for the vast beauty of the landscapes from that position but also the natural flow and rhythm along the ridge. To watch the raptors effortlessly use the updrafts to glide up and down the ridge and watch the ravens frolic in the wind gives us terrestrial beings a yearning for that kind of atmospheric freedom. The wildlife clearly knows this is a feeding station and takes full advantage of the resource. 

“Learn to see the wild places in your soul, to cherish the hawk whose wide wings are your own. Learn to trust that trembling heart whose swirling depths call you to give what cannot be given. Let that eager mind that rides the updrafts san beyond the unknown. ” ~ Susan Landon

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

Have fun,

Mike

Bethal views

As part of my quest to learn to see, understand and use light, I participated in a morning landscape course with Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris. The more involved I have become in wildlife photography the more I have realised that landscape photography is an essential foundation. While the ultimate aim is to capture extra-ordinary wildlife interaction, the number of high drama images captured in the wild are few and far between. So many of our wildlife images are in fact landscapes, wildlife landscapes.  The beauty of landscape photography is that it is an ideal method of training ones eye to see more. Everyone looks but not everyone sees.

“Learn to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Learning to see in a photographic sense is not a technical journey. It is presumed that you understand the technical elements of your camera. It is more of a sensual journey where one learns to see patterns, colour, texture and visual balance in an image. No one can tell you how to see, you need to learn this sense.

We visited a cattle farm near Bethal in the Mpumalanga province in South Africa. We rose at 4h00 on a Saturday morning in mid-winter to travel to Bethal which is about two hours drive from Pretoria, to be in position before sunrise. At the expected sunrise time it was still relatively dark due to a thick bank of cloud. The cloud helped warm the temperature somewhat to minus two degrees centigrade. A few days before that it had been minus seven degrees centigrade. One aspect of landscape photography which I like is that you should not be put off by bad weather. Since you are playing with light, the overcast weather can be useful. Anyway, the weather is not always sunshine in wildlife photography so you have to learn to shoot in all kinds of weather and light.  Often adverse weather conditions provide some unique lighting opportunities.

“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

The next image was taken of an empty feeding trough in a paddock where Basotho ponies were kept. These are tough horses able to endure the freezing winter night temperatures. These ponies are used to help round-up and herd cattle on the vast farm. The perimeter of the paddock was lined with trees. Being winter all the trees, except the confers, had lost their leaves.

Cast judgement aside and look. What do you see? Do you see leading lines, or patterns. Perhaps the colours are distracting or would the different tones in the image lend themselves to black and white treatment.

The sun did not manage to break through the thick layer of cloud until much later that Saturday morning.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ~ Aldous Huxley

Part of the reason for the workshop was to learn to take landscape images without a tripod. Traditional landscape photography is tripod centred which dictates that you and your camera are much less mobile and flexible. Often when in position it is useful to move a short distance to change the perspective. Also the light can change quickly in a scene with the passing clouds and you need to react quickly. If the camera is hand-held you have more freedom  to react quickly. This was just one such scene where a herder with his dogs came past us unexpectedly. No time to set up with a tripod. Modern day cameras have much improved ISO (light sensitivity) to noise capabilities allowing you to shoot at higher ISOs than the traditional ISO 100 without too much image noise. Image noise is random variation of brightness or colour information in images. Vibrational reduction is a feature of modern lenses which gives a major improvement to shutter speed flexibility. The vibration reduction feature can give as much as a four F-stop benefit allowing you to shoot at shutter speeds below 1/60th of  a second.

Being able to hand hold the camera and move around easily meant that one could change position easily to alter the perspective from the edge of a river. This is the same Olifant’s river which eventually flows through Kruger Park hundreds of kilometres to the east. The scene was still relatively dark at around 8h00 in the morning due to the thick cloud.

After a few hours of shooting in low cloudy diffused light we at last got some sunshine, a natural element of which we have plenty in South Africa. One of the aspects of landscape photography with short focal length lenses was that you need a focal point in the foreground to add interest to the image, otherwise the middle and background appear far away and less interesting. The focal point needs to be at or just beyond the hyperfocal distance of the lens which in the case of a short focal length lens is close, usually just a few metres. The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity, acceptably sharp.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ~ Ansel Adams

This was a classic example of shooting a simple scene of the river looking onto leafless willow trees in the middle distance. In order to improve the interest in the image we knelt down to include some of the bushes growing out from below the bridge. All images were shot at F22 using a Nikon 14-24mm lens. The key here was that at 14mm the hyperfocal distance was around 0.3 metres. A critical element of a landscape is that the entire depth of the image should be in focus because that is what your eye sees. That is assuming you are not trying something more artistic.

A similar perspective from the bridge looking onto the river but with a black and white treatment to better see the tonal range in the image.

“The task is…not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.” ~  Erwin Schrödinger

Away from the river in the open lands we found this dilapidated windmill which looked as though a serious gust of wind had buckled it. Again the trick was to try various angles and perspectives, looking to see what to include in the image and what not to include. This was all part of the process of learning to see.

The cloud remained quite heavy for most of the morning but every now a then a patch would clear the suns rays would shine through creating some interesting colour variations. This is where the flexibility of hand-held camerawork came to the fore.

In landscape photography one quickly learns that clouds are photographer’s friend, not foe.

We had a fascinating morning trying new techniques. The hand-held landscape photographic technique is not a catch-all approach but puts another arrow in the technique quiver. The hand-held approach certainly improves the photographer’s productivity such that they will come back with four to five times the images in a morning.

“Seeing is a skill which can be learned. See what is rather than what you expect. Look closer and new worlds of perception will open up. In that stillness you will start to see shape, colour, textures and connections which you never noticed before and a wonderland will unfold.”~ Mike Haworth

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

Have fun,

Mike

Pungwe Camp in the Manyaleti

In Pungwe Safari camp there are bush rules not urban rules. There are no fences, which dictates a heightened level of awareness at all times. The camp has all the comforts but without the frills – just the way I like it.

“…few can sojourn long within the unspoilt wilderness of a game sanctuary, surrounded on all sides by its confiding animals, without absorbing its atmosphere; the Spirit of the Wild is quick to assert supremacy, and no man of any sensibility can resist her.” ~ James Stevenson-Hamilton

Pungwe Safari camp is located in the Manyaleti Game Reserve, which borders the Kruger Park and is nestled between the Timbavati and Sabi Sands reserves on the north eastern side of South Africa. The Manyaleti has no fences between any of the adjacent three reserves which enables the free flow of animals between all three reserves. The result is excellent game viewing but with the benefit of less tourist traffic so you really get the feeling of being alone in the bush and wildlife sightings without numerous vehicles at a scene.

“All it takes is one thousandth of a second. The camera captures light. The photographer captures the scene and the subject. It is the eye that recognises the possibility and pattern. The soul is fed  with inspiration and memory is timeless.” ~ Mike Haworth

You arrive to a warm welcome from the staff and are given a cool drink while the camp manager explains how things will work for the next few days in camp. Thereafter you are shown to your tent and depending on when you arrive you are given 15 minutes or a few hours to settle in before the drive game.

No one is obliged to go on the game drive and often you will see a surprising amount of game and birdlife in the camp when all the guests have left for their game drive and peace has returned to the camp. On the other hand you have no idea what everyone else is experiencing on the game drive!

Camp life has a routine. Up at 5h30 and get to the campfire by 6h00 (in winter – much earlier in summer). It is still dark when you meet around the campfire and you are offered a hot drink and  something to nibble. There is normally much chatter about all the activity in the camp the previous night. By activity, I mean sounds of hyaenas, buffalos, kudu or elephant wandering around the camp or hearing lions some distance off.

You do not want a safari camp to be too commercialised, otherwise it loses some of its bushveld charm and  authenticity. Paraffin lamps are increasingly being replaced with solar lamps. Water in some of the more isolated camps is heated with a “donkey boiler”. A “donkey boiler” is a water-heating system installed outdoors. It comprises a metal drum filled with water and heated by a wood fire. Obviously the timing of your hot shower is important, especially in winter, but it reminds you of the basic necessities of life and how simple they are to create and sustain.

One has to be alert at all times in the camp – especially at night. During each of the nights we were in Pungwe camp a pair of old “dagga boys”, old buffalo bulls,  came into camp to graze on the grass and seek relative safety. These old buffalo bulls have usually been cast out of the herd and move around in small separate groups.

“Africa gives you the knowledge that man is a small creature, amongst other creatures, in a large landscape.” ~ Doris Lessing

Breakfast after the morning game drive is a hearty affair. It is usually a “brunch”, half way between breakfast and lunch, because you only arrive back in camp after the game drive around 10h30.

Unexpected guests are part and parcel of the experience. Usually every camp has a small pond next to it to attract birds and animals to drink in the dry season. During a breakfast, a Shikra came to visit with the intention of bathing but there was too much activity and eventually it left to wait for a quieter time to bath.

The time of the year is important in a safari camp. If it is winter, it can be icy cold on occasions or quite pleasant but you never really know in advance. In summer, it can be stiflingly hot and with no air-conditioning the camp needs to have large shady trees to keep the temperature down. The Pungwe camp is located is a shallow valley with resulted in temperature inversion, so cooler than the higher areas. The early mornings were shrouded in mist due to the temperature inversion, The mist cast a moody feel about the bush.

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We were at Pungwe in mid-winter and it was icy-cold first thing in the morning but warmed up beautifully by midday.

Many safari camps have tented accommodation. The tents these days are very spacious and comfortable. The dining area is the central meeting point where there is also a comfortable lounge and bar area.

Evening campfires are different to the morning ones. After a tasty meal, people invariably wander over to the fire and sit around it.  There is something mesmerizing about a fire. With drink in hand, it is a time for reminiscing on the day’s sightings and experiences. The discussions become animated as experiences are regaled with varying amounts of exaggeration. Campfires create a perfect ambiance for story telling. When you have an experienced guide like Pat Donaldson with over forty years of experience guiding in the bush, people are entranced by his tales. It is intriguing to see bright eyes watching the storyteller intently as he or she carefully unravels the story while the glow of the flames flicker on the entranced listeners’ faces.

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You usually sit in a circle around the fire so everyone can see past the person on the opposite side of the fire which is useful so that someone will see if an animal wanders into the shadows.

“There is language going on out there – the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression… We have yet to become fluent in the language – and music – of the wild.” ~ Boyd Norton

At night, in winter, it can get really nippy in the bush. It is a wonderful feeling to pull the duvet up to your chin and snuggle under the bed clothes listening to all the noises outside the tent.

Some nights can be noisy. Not the barking dogs and urban house alarms type of noisy but the lions, hyaena, jackals and scops owls kind of noisy. The air is denser at night so it carries the sound better. In the bush you become very aware when the night shift takes over and the day shift looks for a place to hide and rest.

I always take photographs of the places I have visited and camps I have spent some time in. Years later when I look at the images I am transported back into that moment and I have clear recollection of that time.

“Stop the vehicle. Let the darkness envelope you. Not a word spoken. Let you eyes adjust. Look up and wonder at the immensity of the world above you. Listen to the frog-like purring trill of the Scops owl or the piping whistle of the Pearl-spotted owlet off in the darkness.  You will feel alive and a wave of gratefulness will wash over you.” ~ Mike Haworth

Being in the bush is a time of vivid experiences. Amazing tales are told around the campfires. There is time for reflection. Most of all it is like a mediation where you get a feeling of detachment from the “hurly-burly” urban life, where you feel restored, your hearing improves and you are able to see better in the bush. Most of all you can be quiet and feel at peace.

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

Have fun,

Mike

Lions of the Manyaleti

The Manyaleti maybe the place of stars but it shares this place with lions. We saw lions on all three days were in the Manyaleti Game Reserve.  We heard them at night. Their roars are so loud that you think they are a few hundred metres away in the bush. In reality, the roars carry so far, particularly at night that they could be a few kilometres away.

“You know you are truly alive when you are living among lions.”~Karen Blixen

When you see lions in the early morning, you might be lucky to get an hour or so of activity and play before they seek shade and then turn into “flat cats”. As big as lions are when they lie down on their side in the grass, even short grass, you will not see them until they lift their heads. This particular morning our guide, Pat Donaldson, knew where to look for the pride. It was just next to Dixie dam. From a photographic point of view, it is always the “luck of the draw” with lions. You can arrive half an hour too late and they will have settled down in a thicket or long grass and they become very difficult to photograph or maybe one is lucky and you get there in time to see them play or feed on a kill.

“Wildness is what we seek to escape our overloaded, time ordered urban lives. The wildness changes our sense of order. It creates anticipation because around the next bend anything is possible. This wildness provides a subtlety which invites you to look closer. You lose a sense of time and some wildness returns to your heart.”~Mike Haworth

Lions are highly sensitive sensory creatures. Despite lying close to a wildebeest kill with eight lions feeding on it, this female was testing the wind and must have picked up something, on the wind.

In the early morning the shadows are long but the light moves quickly. Once you assess which way the light is moving, a little patience can reveal all sorts of photographic opportunities.

I was captured by the vibrant red leaves of the Tamboti tree in winter. As beautiful as this tree’s leaves are, it is poisonous. If you burn the wood in your camp fire you will get sick . Tambotis grow in groves, so in the midst of the browns, yellows and faded greens of the winter bushveld you suddenly come across this blaze of red.

In the afternoon of our first day,  we found a pair of male lions lying a couple of hundred metres to the north of a reservoir where the guides had found them earlier in the morning. It is not often lions will move any great distance during the day unless there is a specific reason.

These gentlemen were enjoying the afternoon winter warmth. There seemed to  be a high concentration of lions in the area so we assumed the nights could get quite busy.

“A lion’s roar is unmistakable.  The intensity and power will resonant a primal chord within you. They use the cool dense air of the early mornings to carry their message great distances. Much information is coded in that mysterious roar.”~Mike Haworth 

That night we heard two sets of lions roaring. One was quite close to the camp and their roaring seemed to be territorial, just letting everyone know who they were and where they were. The second set sounded like a mating pair. The roaring was still going on when we gathered at the camp fire in the dark at 5h45 to get our requisite cup of coffee and a rusk. That was enough for us, we decided there and then that we would go and  look for the roaring lions. With warm bellies and heads swimming with anticipation, we drove off in the freezing cold to find our lions. We figured they were a couple of hundred metres from camp. After about half an hour of driving further from the camp, we located not a mating pair, but a pride of lion which had killed a wildebeest in the early hours of the morning. We must have found them somewhere between three and four kilometres from the camp. 

It is only when you are up close and they let out those deep guttural growls that you get a sense of the innate power of these felines. There was an adult male and seven sub-adults feeding around the kill. When the youngsters were getting agitated, they would let out a deep guttural growl which seemed to come from deep inside their stomachs. That deep resonating growl strikes a primary chord in your being.

Feeding time is never peaceful when the dominant male is on the kill. ‘Share” seems to be an unstable equilibrium when the apparent calm can turn savage very quickly. The male was getting some “attitude” from the youngsters either side of him so one firm swipe of his right paw put paid to further attitude.

Eventually this large black maned male lion had had enough of the family attics.  Sated, he got up and walked away to lie in the shade of a far tree. The youngsters were very wary of him when he was on his feet.

The clouds forced the light to dance around the carcass. These youngsters were very wary of the two large males in the periphery.

All the action around the kill gave us a chance to photograph these lions in various poses. One open-mouthed snarl showed the size and condition of the canines……not a place you want to get anywhere near.

When lions look, it is with purpose. When a lion looks directly at you it is unnerving, as it feels like it is looking directly into you, accessing……

“The danger of an adventure is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort.”~ Paulo Coelho

When the prey has been killed the males get first take and then is a “free for all”. Lion table manners do not exist, each member of the pride will have to fight for its share.

Dirty face but satisfied look!!

Despite all the action around the kill there is usually one member of the pride who is keeping guard. This lioness saw another male wandering around about a hundred metres away and was more than a little interested in his intentions.

The lone young male, probably a nomad, was lurking about one hundred metres away. He was clearly not part of the feeding pride and would not venture closer, particularly with two resident males close by. 

The youngsters in the pride were tucking in. The images give a degree of the visual intensity but do not give sense of the noise and smell during feeding time. There was so much energy being expended that there was steam coming of the lions and the carcass in the early morning air.

The intensity and ferociousness of these young lions was evident in their feeding.

We all sat quietly on the vehicle just watching, mesmerised by the spectacle in front of us. According to Pat this was the Nkuhuma pride which had come through from Sabi Sands. It was really encouraging to see so many wild lions in one area.

“It is in wild places, where the edge of the earth meets the corners of the sky, the human spirit is fed.”~ Art Wolfe

According to Panthera, lions have disappeared from 90 percent of their historic range due to habitat loss, hunting and poaching, retaliatory killings by livestock owners, loss of prey and other factors. In just over a century ago, the number of lions in the wild has collapsed from more than 200,000 living in Africa to estimates which vary between 20,000 and 39,000 today. Lions are extinct in 26 African countries.

“When the lion roars in the dark of night,

What images do you see around you?

Do your senses swim in the moonlight,

Or is it just the glow of the campfire dancing on the dew around you?”~Mike Haworth

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

Have fun,

Mike

 

 

Manyaleti meander

The Manyaleti is one of South Africa’s hidden bushveld gems. It is nestled between the Timbavati and Sabi Sands Reserves on each side and the Kruger Park on the east and civilisation, in the form of Acornhoek, on the west side. Winter is an eclectic time in the bush. Some days it can be toasty, lulling you into a sense that the lowveld is always warm. Sometimes it can be moody and misty, and other times it can be really cold.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But  how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths?” ~ Brian Jackman

On our second morning we awoke at 5h45 to be ready for the requisite cup of coffee and  a rusk around the morning camp fire. It was light but the sun had not yet peeped above the horizon. It is always great fun around the fire at this time, as the various camp visitors arrive bleary-eyed looking for a cup of coffee and regaling each other with stories about all the sounds they heard during the night. The one thing you will quickly realise is that the bush is seldom quiet during the night. The night shift is always busy and often noisy. Hyaenas were whooping and cackling in camp while wandering around in the murky light knocking over dustbins.  Lions were roaring close by and an elephant was in camp breaking branches next to our tents. When there were no “ellies”, old buffalo bulls foraged in the camp at night, perhaps for safety. Invariably, one of the camp staff would walk you to your tent to make sure you do not encounter a buffalo – something which could shorten your stay in camp!

“Nobody can discover the world for someone else. Only when we discover it for our selves does its become common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.” ~ Wendell Berry

Coffee finished, we climbed onto the game vehicle. It was cool – ‘cos it’s winter. We drove out of camp brimming with expectation. After the previous morning’s elephant incident we were wide awake and not sure what to expect. The camp was in a shallow valley which was shrouded in mist due to the temperature inversion. This  image was taken at around 6h45. The moisture on my lens was evident and it was still relatively dark and very misty.

As the sun started to rise and we drove onto higher ground,  the mood of the bush started to change.

It was now about 7h30 but the light was peering in and out of swirling banks of mist. We stopped at a small dam. Pat switched the engine off and we just listened. The bush was eerily quiet with no bird or animal sounds.

“You come out of urban life, your awareness dulled by your overloaded senses. The bush can be just as sensory but it brings your senses alive. Your need someone to bridge that adjustment, to guide you, to awaken you to nature’s sights, sounds and behaviours and keep you safe. Your guide will expand your perception way past your urban vision.” ~ Mike Haworth

After listening carefully for a few minutes, Pat climbed out of the vehicle to show us some bushcraft.

As the morning progressed the sun burnt off the mist and the wildlife in the bush started to become more active. I am not sure what it is, but impala seem to prefer to jump over a road rather than run across it.

When you are driving along these gravel road,s every bend offers an opportunity to see something unexpected. For those who have been in the bush many times, just looking down a gravel bush road can be very satisfying.

“Pictures do not exist, your have to create them.” ~ Unknown

We always stop in a riverbed to look both ways in the hope that we see a leopard making its way along the sandy bed  or to see some “ellies” browsing on the bushes next to the river.

We came across many elephants in the Manyaleti, a surprisingly high number of bulls. They always command respect, and the right of way.

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was an invincible summer.” ~Albert Camus

Winter is a time of many colours in the bush veld. The leaves of the Tamboti trees were starting to turn flame-red striking a contrast to the browns, greens and yellows of the winter flora.

By now the sun was high, the mist had evaporated, and it had started to warm up enough to just walk around in shorts and a shirt. Views like this give a sense of never ending wildness.

A female grey duiker lying in the morning sun on the edge of a riverbed. She was obviously trying to remain out of sight. When we passed, she did not move and just watched us drive slowly by.

The big things are always interesting to see but so too are the small things. We came across several groups of banded mongooses and also found a family of dwarf mongooses living in an old anthill. As we arrived they all disappeared, but after a while, sitting quietly, they slowly came out into the open and started going about their business with one member of the family always on guard.

In the Manyaleti we found double-banded sandgrouse, which I did not manage to photograph, but we saw a few pairs of Cocqui francolin foraging in the low grass for seed.

We would usually get back to camp around 10h30, just in time for a breakfast. The food at Pungwe camp was plentiful and tasty. There was normally animated discussion around the breakfast table about what we had seen. I have learnt that in the midst of the table chatter often wildlife will come into the camp and you need to keep eye open because every now and then something special arrives. On this occasion  it was a Shikra.

A Shikra is a type of goshawk. It is slightly bigger than a Gabar goshawk and has distinctive ruby red eyes and yellow legs. The barring on the breast is lighter than an African goshawk  and its has dove-grey upper parts. This character flew down close to where we were having breakfast to take advantage of our breakfast distraction to have a quick wash in the bird bath.

“Raise your words not your voice. It is the rain that grows flowers not thunder.” ~ Rumi

There was too much activity as Mark Bourne from the dog section of the anti poaching unit came and had breakfast with us and explained what was going on in the park and how they were coping with the poaching threat. The Shikra did not like the very active anti-poaching dog which was a cross between and doberman and a bloodhound so soon flew off to wait for a quieter time to bath. It is remarkable how much work goes into the anti-poaching effort and co-ordination required by ultra-dedicated people to sustain the protection. I have huge respect for the tireless and dangerous work they do to keep the wildlife safe from poachers.

That afternoon we wandered around looking for lions which we found and will be part of the next blog. As the sun started to sink, Pat took us to a site where there were three large pod mahogany trees. They were thought to have been planted many years ago when the traders we coming up from the coast to trade inland with the indigenous tribes and the few pioneers.

“Many travellers wander through Africa. Some leave lasting natural legacies such as beautiful ancient trees. They provide food, shelter and wonder for those who come upon them. They remind us of travellers long gone. These ancient trees are not monuments to egos but sustenance for the future. They talk to the wind, and oh, if only they could only tell us stories of times past!”~ Mike Haworth

We had sundowners under these magnificent trees. This is always a time to reflect on the day’s wanderings while watching the sun paint pinks, mauves and oranges above the distant horizon. As the light fades, the Pearl-spotted owls start their piping whistles and hyaenas whoop in the distance, both signals that the night shift had started.

We are often quiet for while as the sun is setting – ‘a time when the angels are flying over’. It is a sublime time when you are grateful to be alive and be able to appreciate this beauty.

Once the drinks are packed away and we are on our way, Pat would stop and switch off the vehicle’s engine so that we could we sit quietly in the dark and just listen. Invariably, you look up, and I am always spellbound by the star-filled night sky. This vista always gives me a sense that we are part of a much bigger whole …. it is  humbling.

Manyaleti – place of the stars! A wildlife gem off the beaten track. Bushveld where the wildlife is free to roam unrestricted by man’s demarcations. Even the camps are unfenced and rustic, a place where the shroud of urban life falls away effortlessly.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike