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.

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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,

Mike

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.

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“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,

Mike

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. 

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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.

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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”.

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“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.

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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,

Mike

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. ( http://whc.unesco.org). 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.

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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. (https://hub.globalccinstitute.com). 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. 

(http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/AC675E/AC675E06.htm). 

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 (http://www.zaraho.org.zm). 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.

nehimba-lodge

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,

Mike

 

Eclectic Mana

Mana Pools, a plain flooded with memories. Up early at 5h30 before the furnace has been lit and before the contrast gets too harsh. Cameras in hand and pumped with expectation we were on the vehicle and off to see what mother nature would reveal to us that day.

“We wait, starving for moments of high magic to inspire us, but life is full of common enchantment waiting for our alchemist’s eyes to notice.”
― Jacob Nordby

We were travelling west on an open vehicle in Mana Pools when we came upon this large adult male lion lying just next to the left hand side of the sand road. He was alert but relaxed and impassively looking around into the surrounding bush for about fifteen minutes before getting up and walking over to his coalition partner.

When you look at this huge predator, who is predominately a night operator, you can’t help wondering what happened in this part of the bush last night.

“Not in numbers, but in unity that our great strength lies.”

~Thomas Paine

This male lion walked up to his comrade, but there was no head rubbing this time. There was something in the look that caused the walking lion to move right past the one lying down. Again, I wonder what happened the previous night?

Not a 250 kilogram predator, but a 25 kilogram one, in fact a pack of them. This pack of wild dogs were resting in the shade and it was only around 08h00 in the morning. Six of the pups were in the foreground.

In the forest adjacent to Chisasiko pool, we found these two bull elephants. It was early morning  and the we were facing directly into the sun. The refraction causes the light to turn blue giving the forest an enchanted feeling.

The light in the forest in the early morning is mesmerising and seems other worldly.

“So, I said, when does the enchantment start? We were sitting side by side, facing the mountains. “It started when the earth was born.” Her eyes were closed. Her face was golden in the setting sun. “It never stops. It is, always. It’s just here.”
~ Jerry Spinelli

Anyone who has seen and experienced this mood in the forest will recognise it immediately, not only from a visual point of view, but from an emotive one too. This place gets under your skin.

We did not get to see any of the big four bulls which have all been collared, so did not see the likes of Boswell or Fred standing on their back legs to reach the higher parts of these Ana trees. When you look at this bull stretching his trunk up to pick small side shoots you realise just how remarkable it is for a wild six tonne bull elephant to get up onto his back legs  and reach straight up to access the higher branches. Nature will surprise and amaze you every time you venture into her world.

“Like water, we are truest to our nature in repose.”

~Cyril Connolly

At the westerly end of Chisasiko pool is a shallow section with a lot of water hyacinth, this bull elephant was quietly feeding on the succulents accompanied by cattle egrets which were feasting on the insects the bull had stirred up. A serene scene with giant trees watching over it.

Further east along the pool was a Grey Heron fishing off the back of a very accommodating hippo.

This was a huge baobab on a higher terrace above Chine pool which is inland and slightly east of Long pool. The pool had all but dried up in October. Chine pool marks the inland limit of the floodplain. This baobab is hollow and the space is big enough to climb inside. Beyond this baobab the bush turns into a woodland full of mopanis and leadwoods, and further inland into ‘jesse’ bush which is correctly labelled as mixed-species layered dry forest. This is deciduous and has a thicket-like understorey. It has a rich variety of both tree and shrub species, for example Pterocarpus, Xeroderris, Commiphora, Berchemia, Combretum and Acacia among many others. This so-called dry forest, is a tangled area of flora which is thick and difficult to walk through.

Much of Mana’s wildlife can be found in the jesse during the early dry season. You can often see species such as Nyala and crested guineafowl, which you won’t see elsewhere in Mana; and there is a real sense of wilderness when you get away from the often-congested game-viewing tracks on the Mana floodplain. A word of caution, though: Mana’s special dispensation that enables you to walk unaccompanied by a guide doesn’t apply in the jesse bush – with good reason. It’s very dense, visibility is extremely limited, and there can be a lot of wildlife around, notably elephant, buffalo and lion”.(wildzambezi.com/…/mana-pools-road-network-expanded)

“We heard your booming call at dawn, but only found your later in the morn. Disturbed, you walk away. Endangered, you escape on the wing. Broad aspect wings lift you high but  you are still distinctive to the eye.”

~Mike Haworth

On our way back into the Trichilea area near Mwinilunga camp, we disturbed a family of Southern Ground Hornbills which flew toward the river, and then turned back.

These are large birds and look dramatic when they fly with their distinctive white primaries, and red facial and neck skin is distinctive. Their booming call can be heard at around 4h30 in the morning.

We took a drive up to Sapi pool, otherwise known as Lungfish pool. It was hot that afternoon. We stayed in the shade but the place was seething with mosquitoes. Two long suffering hippos were occupying the drying pool. It was full of mud and hyacinth. This pool is away from the floodplain so must exist as a depression in the ground with a clay base to retain the water.

Around Sapi pool it is noticeable how many dead leadwood trees there are. When I asked Kevin, our guide, what had happened to caused all of the leadwoods to die, he said there were two schools of thought. One was that when Kariba was formed there was substantially less flooding so the water table lowered quicker than the trees could growth their roots. The other possible reason was that as the flood plain began drying, the subsequent less frequent floods caused concentrations of salts to rise in the soil, poisoning the roots of these magnificent trees. While Kariba dam wall is a masterpiece of civil engineering, its hydrological and biological effects are still being felt today, almost 60 years later. Leadwoods have such hard wood that these trees are likely to be still standing in a 100 years time, providing humans leave them alone.

“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

~Henry Miller

On our way back from Sapi pool, the morning was very hazy even by mid-morning. Kevin pointed out this flowering  Leadwood ( I think?) and interestingly all the White-browed sparrow-weavers built their nests on the west side of the tree. This is likely for air-conditioning reasons, but if you are wandering through the bush when it is so hazy and you cannot see the sun or any landmarks then you can pick up the direction from these nests.

In the late afternoon down at main pool where there is back-lighting, this  is our preferred  time and place to photograph hippo .

Photographing hippo entails getting close to the water’s edge and getting down as close to the water level as possible. Long pool is seething with crocodiles so you need someone to watch the water’s edge to make sure that in your distraction and enthusiasm a “flat dog” does not try to interrupt your photography!

It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.”
~ Antoine Rivarol

Just before the sun sets, the colour of the light turns orange and that is when you need obliging hippos to snort their nasal spray into the air.

The hippos submerge themselves for a minute or so then surface for breath. The larger ones often blow the water out of their nostrils much like a whale.

A panorama taken along “Zebra drive” looking across a section of long pool towards the Zambezi river and the Zambian escarpment in the distance. By October this section of the floodplain had all but dried up. This is the outer reach of the Mana flood plain.

The plan was to photograph hippos in main pool in the late afternoon so that we got back-lighting. It was very hot and one was facing the sun. Even at 17h30, one gets  “cooked”. There were plenty of animals on the far bank of main pool, varying from impala, kudu and baboons and a plethora of birdlife.

“I believe everyone should have a broad picture of how the universe operates and our place in it. It is a basic human desire. And it also puts our worries in perspective.

~ Stephen Hawking

As you can see Main pool is a large, I estimate a kilometre long. Don’t be beguiled by this beautiful setting, in the water lie many hippos and crocodiles and although you cannot see them, they are waiting in the shadows along the bank for unwary prey.

One morning we wandered east to Mana river. The small water course had all but dried up. In the early morning before it really heats up the sand is cool and soothing. We found three, apparently well fed, lionesses relaxing in the river bed. This particular lioness was not happy with us.

After a short while she relaxed sensing that we meant her no harm. With a flick of her tail her whole demeanor changed.

Feeling rather exposed this lioness got up after a few minutes and walked over to another lioness to lie in the  cool sand shaded by a tree.

A third lioness backed off and walked away to get away from our glare.

A Bradfield’s Hornbill searching for insects in the leaf litter. This character was not fazed by us or the two large male lions lying nearby in the shade of a grove of trees.

Back at Chisasiko pool, this Grey Heron was hunting for fish in among the hippos and crocodiles. These herons and Yellow-billed storks were wandering through the shallows along the edge of the pool despite the numerous crocodiles in and out of the pool.

“Never write about a place until you’re away from it, because that gives you perspective”

~Ernest Hemingway

On our last day, around mid-morning up at the west end of Chisasiko pool, we found this male leopard relaxing in the cool shade.

After watching him for about half an hour he decided to get up and melt back into the treed background.

Another perspective of Chisasiko pool. We found the leopard  just around the far right hand corner of the pool up at the water hyacinth end.

“So often in life a new chapter awaits. You ride off into the sunset and discover it’s the sunrise.”

~Robert Brault

Early one morning when we were looking for wild dogs, we stopped to watch a few people in the forest walking some distance behind the wild dogs. We were about to get off the vehicle when someone on the left side of the vehicle quietly mentioned that there were two hyaena lying on the side of the road in the cool sand about ten metres from the vehicle.

Eventually they got up to walk off to see what was causing all the movement in the forest.

Further into the forest we got off the vehicle and walked to a safe point to photograph a passing herd of buffalo. Needless to say the buffalo have acute senses and picked up on us very quickly. This small group of a much larger herd stopped to assess what we were up to, then soon relaxed and wandered on.

In the forest, the colours were exquisite offering a palette of yellows, oranges, browns and greens with a haze of blue in the background.

While we were walking deeper in the forest following a large bull elephant, directly behind us was a buffalo bull which was following us just to make sure that we were no threat to his herd which was out of the right side of the image.

On our last day, it was very hazy and this was the scene looking over a section of the floodplain  farthest from the Zambezi river. One is more likely to see zebra in this area.

I put this eclectic mix of images of Mana Pools in this post is show you the variety of scenes one is more likely to encounter away from the river.

“Nature is our source. The trees are our lungs. The air is our breath. The waters are our circulation and the earth is our body. All of us resonate with deep, all-knowing wisdom, an ancient familiarity, as we reconnect with our source.”

~Shikoba

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

Have fun,

Mike

Mana’s wild dogs

Mana is wild. That way you to get to see it uncut and uncensored and in a very modest way you experience the bush the way the wildlife does.

There are some mammals you will not see such as giraffe and black rhino. There is no evidence of giraffe ever having populated Mana Pools, possibly because of the steepness of escarpment. During my first trip to Mana Pools in the early 1960s, we saw a number of black rhino. Before this area was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1984, Mana Pools was one of the most important sanctuaries for eastern black rhino in Africa. There were approximately 500 in the park at that time. By 1994, poaching had reduced the population to just 10 rhinos, which were then removed to another area for their protection.

Paradoxically, now you can find one of the rarest predators in Africa in Mana Pools, African Wild Dogs. In 2016, the resident pack split in two, so there are now two separate packs working the Mana Pools flood plain area.

Currently between 3,000  and 5,000 wild dogs (600 to 1 000 packs) remain, mostly in southern and eastern Africa where they are confined to a few areas with low human densities. Wild dogs seem to prefer areas of moderately dense bush and open plains which suit their hunting skills.

“Painted dogs packed with loyalty and endurance. The pack is fast, light of foot, with many feet. The in-between time is when you hunt, when it is cooler. Your hunt is considered, coordinated and relentless. Your numbers, endurance and tenacity ensure full bellies at night.”

~Mike Haworth

These wild dogs hunt over a vast area so there is a chance you may not see them. We were lucky, they remained in our area of the floodplain for three of the days we were there.  These dogs are another example of co-operation in the African bush.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
~
Henry Ford

The African wild dog is one of the most threatened carnivores in the world following its dramatic population decline over the past 30 years. They are now the second most endangered carnivore in Africa (after the Ethiopian wolf), and the most endangered in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The African wild dog is a highly social animal, living in packs with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females. Uniquely among social carnivores, the females move away from the natal pack before the males are sexually mature, and the young are allowed to feed first on carcasses. This species is a specialised diurnal hunter of antelope, which it catches by chasing them to exhaustion.

“Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.”

~Roger von Oech

Wild dogs are very gregarious and very playful, pups and adults alike.

With these dogs being diurnal, the only time you see them playing and hunting is in the early morning light and the last light of the evening.  This is understandable. They are highly mobile in a place where the temperatures get to over 40 degrees centigrade in the shade during the middle of the day. Be prepared, for most of your wild dog photography unless you are lucky, will be in the shade. This makes getting the correct exposure and shutter speed tricky but that is what we wildlife photographers thrive on, where dynamic range and ISO capabilities come to the fore.

There are times when you search high and low for these painted dogs and never find them. On this occasion we were travelling east toward main camp and there, on the sand road in the morning shade, was the whole pack. They seem to be remarkably tolerant of people and photographers who were lying on their stomachs with big eyes looking at them.

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Being lightweights in the bush with lion and hyaena all around they are always very wary. Something, a sound or a movement, caught their attention. The whole pack responded.

“Whelping over, out of the den, time to join the pack. Your family will teach you well, but don’t stray and you cannot dwell. You have a lot yet to learn and much energy to burn. Play to build your strength and skills, watch carefully and learn for your turn is coming for the kill.”

~Mike Haworth

Interestingly, the pups seem to have ears that are almost the same size as their parents and there is always a pup which is more alert than the rest. Perhaps an alpha in the making.

The image is dark because of the deep shadows in the early morning. 

Shooting at ground level gives a much more dramatic impression of the dogs. They took no notice of these large “one-eyed flat humans” who meant them no harm.

Wild dogs have a tight social structure. Their close interactions and bonds serve them well when hunting and while raising their young. Wild dogs live together in groups of six to 30 members. In the East African mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, Jonathan Kingdon wrote that before so much of the fauna was destroyed in South Africa, Gordon Cumming (1850) described packs of several hundreds and Karen Blixen saw a group of five hundred in Masailand which cantered past her “looking neither right or left, as if they had been frightened by something…”. The consensus view seems to be that wild dog pack sizes are much smaller today because the abundance of antelope has diminished.

“Small on your own but powerful in a pack. Wild at heart you run like the wind. Since  you play in the hot zone, rest in the shade for you will need all your wiles later.  Your mottled pelage of black, white, tan and ochre helps you to melt into the bush surrounds. You hunt in the in-between light  when it is cooler and you are camouflaged.”

~ Mike Haworth

The wild dogs’ hunting technique is usually to silently approach their prey and engage a fast chase which can reach speeds of 66 kilometres per hour and averages less than kilometres. During the chase the dogs bite the legs, belly and backside of larger prey until it eventually stops. Smaller prey is run down and torn to pieces.

Wild dogs are seasonal, co-operative breeders. Whelping generally occurs during the months of April to September after a gestation period of just over 70 days. In southern Africa, pups are born mostly from late May to early June. The pups are born in a den, where they remain for the first three months of their life. Wild dog females cannot successfully rear pups without the  assistance of the pack.

Each individual has a unique coat pattern, which makes it possible to identify every one in the pack with certainty.

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

~O. Fred Donaldson

The pups are sexually mature after 23 months and they start leaving the pack when they are a year-and-a-half old. They leave the pack as same-sex groups that join unrelated, opposite-sex groups to form new packs. Males disperse later, in larger groups, and further than females; these patterns are to avoid inbreeding and competition for mating. No dogs mate with close relatives.

 African wild dogs are light weights, weighing between 19 and 34 kilograms. Females are generally larger than males and can weigh up to 34 kilograms.

“In union there is strength.”

~Aesop

Wild dogs hunt primarily by sight and in daylight, either in the early morning, or in the early evening. The pack often approaches herds of prey to within several hundred metres, but they select a particular animal only once the chase begins. The pack functions as a hunting unit and the group cooperates closely in killing and mutual defence.

“Big ears keep vigil. There is danger all around, you live in the predator zone. You are small but few can match your hunting skills. You tear through the bush and tear through your quarry. Speed and endurance is your signature.”

~Mike Haworth

Known as the alpha pair, the dominant male and female are the only dogs to breed in a wild dog pack.

One of the interesting interactions our guide, Kevin, told us about was  between Hooded Vultures and wild dogs.  Hooded Vultures are not the main participants in the cleaning of a carcass because of their relatively small size and inability to effectively tear flesh of the carcass. They do not have the strength and tearing ability of a Lappet-faced or White-backed vultures so tend to work the periphery of a kill picking up scraps. “Hoodies” hang around wild dogs because the latter tear up their prey so there are probably numerous scraps lying around. In addition, the adults  regurgitate meat for their pups which is also  a possible source of scraps

Even more intriguing is that Hooded Vultures eat the faeces of wild dogs because they are so nutrient rich. Hyaenas have been known to harass a pack of wild dogs forcing some of the pack members to defecate – which the hyaenas then eat. I find it fascinating that there are many more linkages between wildlife than is apparent on the surface.

Once  rested, whether it is early morning or late afternoon, the pack tend to play. Adults with adults and adults with pups.

In the packs we saw there were around 16 dogs with the majority being adults. Each breeding season they lose a few pups to predators.

“Antelope this is a time for instinct, not a time to lope. Flee for your life, once the pack locks on you, your odds dive. They will run you to exhaustion. Once caught, no time for strangulation, just desperation. With tearing and blood-letting, the shock will do the rest.”

~ Mike Haworth

Wild dogs are efficient hunters. They run their prey to exhaustion using a relay race tactic. Once they have caught their prey, it is literally torn to pieces by the pack within  minutes. African Wild Dogs are considered one of the most successful hunters in Africa with a kill rate per chase of more than 85%.

20171016-_D817193Wild dogs are not the senseless killers that some make them out to be. They kill to eat only. Once prey is caught, a single dog cannot strangle it so the pack pulls it apart. Larger prey such as wildebeest and kudu are bitten on the flanks and chunks of muscle and connective tissue are torn out until the prey stops and collapses from exhaustion and shock. Juveniles are allowed to feed first after the kill has been made. Not much remains of a carcass after the pack has fed.

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We were driving back to camp as it was getting dark when we met Stretch Ferreira, a legendary guide in Mana, on the road who said the pack had run past him not two minutes before. When we arrived, this is the scene we found – part of the reason for the quick kill and fast feeding is to minimise the chance of it being stolen.

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There is so much in a scene which a photo’ cannot capture.  In the dim fading evening light our human tools are limited, but our eyes and senses reveal the scene.  Our camera’s narrow field of vision excludes much of the surrounding scene and context. In the dusk, the action is frenetic. The adults allow the pups to feed while they keep vigil. All the noise of the hunt and capture is bound to attract unwanted nocturnal inquisitors.  Experience has taught the pack to feed fast. The frenzy of the feeding is not captured in the very low light. The camera cannot capture the smell of a kill. It is raw and unpleasant to the human nose. It is difficult to get your mind around the fact that the Impala you saw dashing through the twilight running for its life just a few minutes ago is now in pieces.

“It is a travesty that your co-operation and hunting efficiency cannot help your species prevail. Pack sizes over 100 were recorded in times gone by when the antelope passed by in vast herds. Sadly those days are gone, humanity’s encroachment has reduced the herds and with it your family. Still unbounded, you seek uninhabited places in Africa, which are now few and far between.”

~Mike Haworth

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

Have fun,

Mike

 

 

 

Mana light

For a wildlife photographer, Mana Pools is a unique environment in which to photograph wildlife and landscapes. Not only is there an abundance of wildlife but the lighting in the forest and early in the mornings and evenings can be exceptional.

“Mana Pools, you are a place of memories, with remnants of rivers long gone. Your flood plain remains as a symbol of natural processes deceased. Changes continue but your attraction remains. Your seasonal pulse draws in your wild children and pushes them out. Your beauty is distilled in the forest blues and evening hues cast over the gently flowing Zambezi. Your wildness captivates me!

~Mike Haworth

In the mornings the light filters through the forest canopy. It creates a wonderful enchanted, moody light. Depending on the direction you are photographing you can capture the “Mana blues”.

In the early mornings and late afternoons the light streams through the trees and in many cases under the trees’ browse line. The wildlife, mainly elephants, have created a relatively high browse line which allows the light underneath the canopy. The trees also diffuse the light creating that mystical enchanted feeling.

Much of our photography was done in the early mornings and late afternoons because of the heat and deep contrast created by the harsh overhead sunlight in the middle of the day. The next image is of the early morning sun, around 7h00, shining through the top of the trees, but not quite getting to the ground.

“Mana’s moods are infectious and beguiling. She is awake and ready to greet you when you rise, serenaded by lions roaring, ground hornbills booming and hippos grunting. Mana only reveals herself to those who take the time to look. Once caught you are in her embrace for eternity.

~Mike Haworth

We were fortunate to experience two mornings which were very hazy. The haze was thick enough to photograph directly into the sun.

That browse line again, but there are times when it helps to frame the scene.

Shooting directly in the direction of the sun in the early morning. Although the contrast had not yet fully intensified, the light in the forest was illuminated.

“Mana’s colours ignite imagination, ethereal light and wild sights will light up your dreams. Here massive bull elephants stand up tall on their back legs, large herds of buffalo rumble and stir dust clouds. Here the light dances amongst the trees, and sprinkles glitter on the river. Here the trees greet the wind with waving branches and talk to the breeze.”

~Mike Haworth

Even when there was no direct sunlight on our subjects, the early morning light was soft enough to saturate the colours of the trees, bushes and grasses. The soft colours gave the scene a very gentle feel.

The same mother and her calf in the previous image began walking towards us. An unusual aspect of Mana is that you can get off your vehicle and walk around, into the forest if you wish. At all times you need to show the wildlife great respect and be able to read its behaviour which is why coming straight out of city life you need a guide to be able to do the reading for you.

Backlighting in the morning. A baboon troop had come down from the trees where they had slept the previous night and began foraging on the forest floor.  The illuminated ring lighting contrasted our subjects with the diffused light in the forest background.

Most of the wildlife tries to stay in the shade because it is so hot in the direct sun between 10h00 and 16h00. The light in the middle ground silhouetted this kudu bull browsing on the tree’s leaves.

Another early morning scene looking into the sun hidden behind the trees. The direct light filtering through the forest in the background casts a blue haze. It was warm but fresh, a wonderful time of the day.

In the afternoon around 16h30 down near the river this large bull elephant was making his way west in the direction of the sun. The terrain around the river, on the Zimbabwe side, is flat because it is a flood plain.

As the evening sets in after the sun has fallen behind the hills on the Zambian escarpment, the colours change depending on which way you look. The blues are accentuated looking east in the opposite direction of the setting sun.

Mana sunsets are legendary. It is still hot after the sun has set but there is a sublime stillness and you are bathed in this exquisite beauty cast in pinks, apricots and blues. At times you just have to put down your camera. The beauty is so intense that it can be quite emotional.

Other times such as mid-morning, the furnace is heating up and the shadows are finding their way under the trees. The browse line is high because of the elephants. There are no giraffe in Mana Pools. There are two notable species that are not present in the park: giraffe and rhino. While giraffe have never been present in the area, the eastern black rhino used to have a strong population in Mana Pools. By the mid 1990s, poachers had reduced the population to just ten individuals, which were then transferred to the intensive protection zone within Matusadona National Park, next to Kariba dam.

The next image is a scene of Ana trees in the foreground, the river in the middle ground and the hills of Zambian escarpment in the background.

The classic “Mana blue” haze in the forest. The time is around 9h00, the sun was already high and I was shooting directly towards the sun. The blue haze has something to do with the direction and refraction of the light. In a discussion over dinner with Barry, an entomologist who worked for many years in Zimbabwe,  he suggested that there could be a form of temperature inversion which takes place in the early morning that makes the air denser in the forest creating the refraction.

October was mid-spring in Zimbabwe and there were only a few pools of water well inland from the river. These female eland had come down for a morning drink.

The sun had just set below the horizon but the sky was still illuminated. For about 20 to 30 minutes after the sun has set the colours in the sky get progressively more saturated. Some of those saturated colours were reflected in the river.

It was a hazy morning and we were wandering through the forest. In an opening near Green Pool we found a small herd of zebra. They prefer the open areas so they do not get easily surprised by predators.

Further on in the forest the light was very diffused because of the haze. I loved the soft pastel colours which the bush presented. A large bull elephant way making his way unhurriedly through the Albida trees munching on the Albida seed pods.

The Albida seed pods are a delicacy sought after by elephants. This bull was stretching up into the tree to access branches with the seedpods attached.

By mid-morning the African sun had already climbed high and usually there was strong contrasting light. This morning the haze softened the light so that it was bright but with low contrast.

This next image might not mean much to many, but for those of you who have visited Mana, I am sure it will warm your heart because this is a typical Mana forest scene.

All the roads in Mana are gravel or dirt roads and many have sand. In the late afternoon we were down a Chisasiko pool watching baboons and impala feeding along the edge of the pool when a vehicle drove past stirring up dust in the golden light.

“In Mana Pools there is something in the light, the heat and the dust which is captivating. There is rhythm and movement. Your senses bath in the colour. Your measure will be tested in the heat, but your heart will flow gently along with the Zambezi river. And when the day is over, sitting around the camp fire there will be animated chatter as stories abound and tales are told. When the day is done and your head is on the pillow, you will waft away to the sound of distance roaring lions and the purring trill of a Scops owl close by – sweet dreams. “

~Mike Haworth

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

Have fun,

Mike