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

Mana reverence

Mana Pools, on the Zimbabwe side of the lower Zambezi river, is hot in October. One needs to get up early before the furnace is lit. When waking up at 4h45, you find the bird life is already very busy. One of the early morning sounds one hears is the booming pre-dawn chorus of distant Southern Ground Hornbills. It is a wonderful time of the day. It is as cool as it gets, and the bush is in flux as the night shift is home bound and the day shift is stirring.  After the prerequisite cup of coffee and a rusk, we were out of camp by 5h30. We were wide-awake and brimming with expectation about what the day would bring.

“First light offers long shadows, warmer colours and soft contrast. The new morning light is cleansing and infuses energy into everything. The fresh start instills the expectation that mother nature will surprise and enchant you again and again.

~Mike Haworth

Early deliverance was seen lying close to the left hand side of the road, a large male lion – unmoved by our presence.

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We watched him for quite a while as the sun rose. He was relaxed, but just before getting up he began licking his paw, probably trying to remove paper thorns with that rough tongue of his.

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Eventually he got up and walked over to his comrade in arms, possibly his brother.

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They rubbed heads as a greeting. This is quite a moment as here we have two primal 250 kilogram male lions.  If they were to compete there would be an almighty battle and one, or perhaps both, would be mortally wounded. Yet they cooperate and work together to form a powerful team. Africa, you could learn a lesson from these two!

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It was early morning, still cool when the kings decided to move off.

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The look back was poignant – I know you are there!

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“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”
~Aristotle

Our experienced guide, Kevin, had a good idea where the male lions were likely to go. We drove a few hundred metres, and there, walking parallel to the road, we found the kings in an open area on their way towards a thickly wooded area, probably looking for somewhere quiet and cool to rest away from the glare of humanity and possibly what could have been a busy night. We got off the vehicle to walk  parallel to them, closer but a respectful distance so as not to disturb them.

“The early morning has gold in its mouth.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Just looking at them, they exuded power and the confidence knowing there were few challengers. The long shadows show that it was still early in the morning and the light was clear and soft.

Confident and powerful, but ever alert.

When you are on the ground way away from your vehicle, the scales are tipped. In the presence of a coalition of male lions, there is an aura of  respect and reverence. The bush seems to go still as if holding its breath until they pass.

A powerful coalition, with a cooperative bond. They have won the right to dominate, and they do. Gladiators rather than fathers, they are unmoved by irrelevance.  Their massive size and strength instills primal fear into all around them. As they pass, the bush becomes still, a reverence punctuated by alarmed snorts and barks .”

~Mike Haworth

Once the kings had moved out of sight into the forest to rest, there are no words. We just stood still, quiet just taking in what we had just experienced.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life…and the world.”

~Sarah Ban Breathnach

After a while, still prickling with the excitement we went back to the vehicle, then wandered back towards the river. The huge open vistas were soothing and reminded us that this was a vast complex environment.

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Mana river flows gently into the mighty Zambezi on its way to Mozambique and the Indian ocean.

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Further inland, the floodplain was drying out. A herd of waterbuck were taking advantage of the remaining moist vegetation.

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The further away from the river we went, the drier it became. A herd of buffalo on the move, with their rumbling hooves spewing dust.

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Having driven back into the forest, we watched this large bull making his way toward the river.

He stopped in the shade under an Ana tree to pick the seed pods off the lower branches.

The next scene gives you a sense of the the enormity and diversity of the scenes in this amazing nature wonderland.

Back down by the Zambezi river, it was lush with blues and greens and much fewer oranges and yellows.

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“Leave nothing but footprints, Take nothing but pictures, Kill nothing but time.”

~Unknown

Driving back towards the Trichilia area looking through a grove of Ana trees across the Zambezi river into Zambia.

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When you look into this enchanted forest, the light dances and stirs your imagination.

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“If your heart were sincere and upright, every creature would be unto you a looking-glass of life and a book of holy doctrine.”

~Thomas à Kempis

In the mornings, depending on the direction of the sun, there is a blue haze in the Mana forest. This is one of the unique, much sort after features of Mana Pools, especially for photographers.

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It was early spring so the ground was dry. The only greenery was to be found in the trees and along the banks off the river and pools. What you don’t expect is the blue haze in the forest. A female eland and an impala ram were grazing on what could only be crisp shoots of grass.

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Down on the floodplain next to the Zambezi river, a sand island stands defiant in the slow moving river.  On the other side of the island is the Zambian side of the river and escarpment beyond that.

An adult and young male waterbuck walking on the lower sand terrace next to the river.

“A society is defined not only by what it creates but by what it refuses to destroy.”

~John Sawhill

On the floodplain in front of Vine camp you look out across the Zambezi river onto the Zambian escarpment.(double click on the panorama to see an enlarged image).

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A two elephants were browsing on the vegetation in front of one of the covered tents in Vine camp.

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A couple of hundred metres in front of Vine camp, we watched the family herd of elephant quietly browsing in the beautiful late afternoon light. One of the elephant cows was known to be particularly aggressive, so we kept our distance to show respect and not to threaten her or her family in any way.

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Mana Pools is known for its eclectic and colour-filled scenes. The wildlife is abundant. With beautiful landscapes and abundant wildlife what more could a wildlife photographer want?

“When you do things from your soul, the river itself moves through you. Freshness and a deep joy are signs of the current.”

~Rumi

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

Have fun,

Mike

Merry Christmas

I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with fun, laughter, joy and goodwill.

If you do not celebrate Christmas,  I wish you fun, laughter, joy and goodwill.

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We live in an exceptional world filled with colour, movement and wonder; cherish it look after it. It is there with us, not for us. If we take care of it now, our grandchildren will learn to appreciate it too!

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May your Christmas bring you much joy and laughter with friends and family. May it bring you a sense of abundance which you cherish all your life.

Christmas is a magical time as people are gentler, kinder and more generous. There is sense greater harmony and goodwill at this time of the year. It is a magical time for children where fantasies are cherished, gifts wrapped and given with huge smiles.  It is a time of gathering, and a time to celebrate family bonds and friendship ties. 

While Christmas is a time of joy, celebrating humanity, it is also a time to treasure the abundance, diversity and beauty our natural world around us. There are vast libraries of  natural knowledge, experience and laws, much of which we have yet to fathom. 

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“When we remember a special Christmas, it is not the presents that made it special, but the laughter, the feeling of love, and the togetherness of friends and family that made that Christmas special.”

~Catherine Pulsifer

“December days . . . as Christmas time draws near; brings family warmth, and friendship’s joyful cheer, from memory’s store so many days to bless and cherish so in quiet thankfulness.”

~John McLeod  

For me, Christmas is also a time to stop and think back on those sublime moments in the wild when the world stopped, everything in the bush seemed to hold its breath, spellbound by the scene ahead.

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“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

~Agnes M. Pharo

Wishing you peace and goodwill, and I hope your 2018 is filled with friendship, special moments, serendipity and insights.

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

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

~Charles Dickens

Merry Christmas,

Mike

Mana first afternoon

October in Mana Pools in the Zambezi valley below the escarpment is called suicide month, for a good reason. In the  five days we were there, the temperature of three of them averaged 43 degrees centigrade in the shade and 53 in the direct sun in the early afternoon. Part of the reason for visiting Mana at this time is that it is late in the dry season and most the animals are forced down to the river for water.

“The Zambian escarpment across the river. The spring heat in the Zambezi valley. The massive Ana and Mahogany trees. It is all so familiar. It feels like a home-coming. It looks the same but much has changed. Spend some time and the changes will reveal themselves. You will sense the rhythm and the pulse of raw nature, all keyed in exquisite beauty and serenity. Welcome to Mana Pools.”

~Mike Haworth

Wild Eye, under their experienced guide Johan van Zyl, guided the photographic safari. We stayed at Mwinilunga safari camp, run by friends Dave and Tess. The tented camp is right on the edge of the Zambezi river nestled under the large evergreen Natal Mahogany trees in the Trichilia area on the Mana floodplain.

“There is a sense of remoteness and extreme isolation, a feeling that this is one of the last true wildernesses, unknown and unexplored.”

~ Dick Pitman

The river itself is life-giving and its banks are covered with lush vegetation. The Zambezi river is amply populated with hippos. It is the perfect environment for them. There is plenty of space, the water is not too deep and there is plenty of lush vegetation along the river bank to feed on. The Zambezi river at the Trichilia area must be at least half a kilometre wide and flows at about five kilometres per hour.

Mana Pools is so-called because of the four pools which have long since been cut off from the main Zambezi river channel and now form part of an old ox-bow lake. The section of Mana we travelled around was down on the floodplain. There was plenty of sand but there are also clay basins which hold water through the winter. These remaining pools of water were evaporating quickly in spring as the temperatures soared. Two of the four main pools still had water, Chisasiko and Long Pool. Other smaller pools existed but were drying fast. We found a large flock of Marabou Storks feeding on the last of the catfish (barbel as we call them) in a fairly large but diminishing pool of water.

 “Looks often create judgement. Gathered to feast on the trapped remaining fish. Not equipped for predation but scavenging. Marabous are  part of nature’s disposal team. These are not your normal storks; voiceless, they stand hunched shouldered like “Dr Death” waiting for the opportunity to peck at the dead. They are masters of patience, ever alert and wonderful aviators. Nature is always more complex and intriguing than its looks.”

The Marabous were picking off the young, still alive barbel and leaving the floating dead ones. This was the largest congregation of Marabou storks I have ever seen and they had been feasting for a couple of days before we arrived.

  

Marabou Storks are carrion eaters but do not have the ability to tear flesh off bones and carcasses so have to wait around the periphery of a kill for scraps. The small barbel made a perfect meal for them as they could swallow them whole and alive.

“Sometimes it is the quiet observer who sees the most.”
Kathryn L. Nelson

There was no fighting although the odd individual did exert its dominance.

The shallow pool was seething with the remaining trapped fish. It was a strangely quiet scene with just the sound of Yellow-billed Kites, Stilts and lapwings. The Marabous were voiceless but for the odd bill-clapping and croaking from their pink gular sac. 

There was a lot of bird life around the pool. Yellow- billed kites were flying in and out of the Marabous, Pied Kingfishers and a Fish Eagle were around, looking and waiting for a little space for their flight path.

“The excitable observer will pass judgement first and then make knowledge conform to judgement; the prudent observer will first learn to know and then judge according to knowledge.
~ Thomas Cleary

The interaction with the Marabous was fascinating but the dank smell of rotting barbel eventually chased us away to look for fresher scenes. We wandered further along the river to BBC camp.  Under the trees were three lionesses resting in the shade.

As the sun started to sink in the western sky the bush seemed to come alive. Two family groups of elephants wandered past us.

They wandered through the thick textured Vetavaria grass on their way down to the water’s edge which was cool and lush.

Hot, but without a sound the family made its way down to the water’s edge.

“I like Julie Gold’s song “From a Distance”. Her song reminds me of the world as seen through an observer’s eye. Seen from a distance, we are people in the same band playing music for everyone. We are artists who play the most beautiful instruments in the world – life.”
~ Ilchi Lee

The Zambezi river giveth life and taketh away life. This time the river showed her bounty.

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The elephants lingered a long while sating their thirst and relishing the cool of the verdant river bank.

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A big bull elephant walked right past our vehicle straight up to a large Ana tree in front of us. After searching for a short while for seed pods, he decided to shake things up a bit. It is quite astounding to watch this massive elephant place the tree trunk between his tusks and push the entire tree with his head and trunk. He shook the tree vigorously a couple of times and a shower of seed pods fell from the branches. He then proceeded to pick up each and every seed pod, obviously a seasonal delicacy.

Not thirty metres from where the bull elephant had been shaking the Ana tree, the three lionesses had moved closer to the water and were out in the open.

What we thought were three lionesses turned out to be four. They were so well camouflaged that we did not see the fourth female. The impala down near the river had caught all their attention. In the image below the fourth female was already making her way closer to the impala.

The lionesses were very gaunt and not in good condition. They had obviously not eaten for a quite few days. The dry season is usually  prime time for predators, but Mana is no easy environment.

After watching the passing parade for an hour or so we had to make our way back to camp. On the way we drove past Chisasiko pool, one of the four Mana pools. At the west end of the pool was an elephant cow in the hyacinth quieting feeding without a care in the world.

It was so good to be back. It was very hot, but a dry heat. There are so many things to see that for the most part you are so distracted that you do not think about the heat. I have found that if you do not consciously think about it you do not get neurotic about is and all is well.

“Photographing in Mana is not about sitting on a vehicle as an insulated observer. You get off the vehicle and walk with the animals.  With an experienced guide you blend in so as not to disturb the game. It is a wilderness pilgrimage. Spending time in this wild place will restore your perspective, heighten your awareness of the beauty all around you and a deep sense of gratefulness will well up inside you. Mana will unlock memories and open up new, uncharted pathways into your consciousness.”

~ Mike Haworth

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

Have fun,

Mike

Serengeti’s spring rhythms

This is the last post from my Serengeti trip in September with CNP Safaris travelling around the western corridor in their wonderful specialised photographic vehicle. The Grumeti Tented Camp was absolutely superb and the staff were friendly and very attentive. Rather than give you too many words, I thought I would rather show you some of the rhythm, scenes and beauty we were immersed in for nine days in spring in the Serengeti.

“We go far to fill our senses with the unknown. The Serengeti strikes a primal chord with its rhythm and drama. Up before first light, excited about what the day will bring. Oh, and it is never the same. The story reveals itself through the colour, light and movement. You get immersed in a far bigger story being played out and you are privileged to witness a few scenes.”

~Mike Haworth

A king watching out for his hidden queen.

Early morning, cool, overcast and quiet, watching a herd of elephants unhurriedly making their way across the Nyasiriro plain towards the Grumeti river.

“Your vision, rather than just your seeing, displays a thousand or more possible paintings in the simplest things.”

~Andrew Baker

A Cheetah family below Masira hill. The mother and son resting, while the daughter kept vigil. 

Mother and daughter moving in the late afternoon. The male cub walked in the same direction but some distance away.

“Vision is not enough – it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.”

~Vaclav Havel

A dramatic sunrise penetrates the hazy early morning atmosphere.

High morning sun in an overcast and hazy sky.

A female Southern Ground Hornbill, not a raptor but a voracious avian hunter gliding over the plains.

Late afternoon and this troop of Olive Baboons was making its way back to the river where it was going to sleep in the trees for the night.

A pride of lions, “flat cats”, close to water and waiting for night when they can enact their deadly play. (double click on the panorama to enlarge it).

“The eye is the notebook of the poet.”

~James Russell Lowell

We got back to camp early one evening. This was the scene from the front of my tent. The evening chorus had begun with crickets chirping, nightjars trilling, Fish Eagles calling and lions roaring. There was also the occasional screech from a young baboon being disciplined as they settled down for the night.

Another pride of “flat cats”, sleeping in the afternoon shade after a hearty meal of zebra.

Open plains with plenty of room for a young giraffe to cavort.

A “gathering ” of giraffe assembled to intimidate two young cheetah – and it worked.

One lucky Black-backed Jackal which had managed to catch a scrub hare and was taking it back to his family.

While waiting for “flat cats” to get active, this was the scene from the back of the vehicle looking out towards Chamulio mountain.

Rested and now alert in the fading afternoon light. This lioness was scanning the landscape for her next meal.

Painted skies colour our imagination. New beginnings and a new day. A new story to tell and to treasure.”

~Mike Haworth

Early morning, out on the plains watching the new day dawn.

The Grumeti river in spate. This was September so not the rainy season but a good shower flushed the system.

Late afternoon with plenty of cloud around. The sky was illuminated as the last rays of light burst through cloud bank before the day gave way to night.

“Big skies to stretch your vision. The space to breathe deeply. Room for your senses to swim and your imagination to play.”

~Mike Haworth

Oh, that sense of space.

Unusual to see a pride on the move out in the open in mid-morning. Something must have disturbed them.

A panorama looking up the rise towards a herd of wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle gazing peacefully (double click to see an enlarged view of any of the panoramas).

The dawn of a new day – pregnant with expectation and filled with promise.

An overcast and somewhat foreboding view of the Grumeti river around mid-morning. 

Later in the day, the Grumeti river in spate, a test for anyone or anything wanting to cross it.

A few of our distant relatives enjoying the spring blossoms in the verdant trees on the banks of the Grumeti river.

“Muddied in the attack. Feline warrior, armed with canines and claws. Independent, resourceful and fearless. Rest for there are more battles to come.”

~ Mike Haworth

A lone and muddy lioness resting after having captured and killed a warthog next to the water.

On the west side of the Grumeti river closer to the Kilawira range of hills.

“A huge other worldly ball rises above the horizon and pushes down the veil of darkness. This ball of blazing of colour will change everything, heralding a massive transformation at the start of each day.  This transformation which takes place in the cool and quiet is called dawn.”

~ Mike Haworth

A humbling view of the sun peering above the horizon and through the Balanites at dawn.

A minute or two after the sun has peered above the horizon. It was cool and quiet creating a sublime sense of being of alive.

A herd of elephants moving away from the Grumeti river. The herd was clustered together possibly because they smelt lions in that area.

Twisted, gnarled but still standing tall, waiting for dawn.

A family group of giraffe in an open space where they could relax and had a good visual of any encroaching threats. 

A young male lion, well sated, walking back to the edge of woodlands to rest in the shade.

A Tawny opportunist in search of meal as the pride of lions moved away from their kill.

There is something other worldly and spellbinding about watching the sun rise above the horizon. That ball of shimmering oranges and yellows rises like a phoenix out of the darkness below. The light heralds the change in shift, the cue for the nocturnes to settle down to rest and the light brigade to take up arms. Still cool and quiet, but warming and brightening.”

~Mike Haworth

An African sunrise with Balanites in the foreground.

It is difficult to explain the feeling, but the Serengeti fills your senses. There are vast open spaces with big skies giving you the feeling of being able to breath deeply.  It is a wild place where the rules of survival have existed for millennia. You are acutely aware that you are a visitor in this wild place and you need to respect its ways. The vistas will make your senses swim. The colours at dawn and dusk are spellbinding. The abundance and diversity of wildlife will refresh your soul. Visit this wild place for a few days and it will give you a window into a world of immense intelligence and structure which has a natural rhythm choreographed by the weather. So far humans have a minor role to play here but it is a critical role to preserve this wonderful spectacle and diversity for future generations to learn from.

“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”

~ William Burchell

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

Have fun,

Mike