Small guests at the Giant’s Castle table

The vulture’s hide at Giant’s Castle is a raptor hide first and foremost. The setting on the edge of  a middleberg ridge is spectacular. Placing the bones for the raptors, mainly for the Bearded Vultures, supplements their natural food sources which is diminishing due to loss of habitat and is the main purpose of the feeding. The fat and marrow on the bones attracts a variety of smaller avian opportunists. The larger ones are White-necked Ravens and Red-winged Starlings.

“I learn from everything I look at, good, bad or indifferent. I follow my eye reflexively; if it is drawn toward something, I pay attention and try to find out why. You train your eye, build up a mental image bank, and constantly try to pinpoint why some things are convincing and others aren’t.”
~  Roberta Smith 

All the avian activity seems to attract a number of other species from chats to bishops, and pigeons to sunbirds and shrikes. Obviously they don’t feed on the fat or marrow but there are a grasses which disperse seeds and a number of indigenous trees along the edge of the cliff which attract nectar feeders.

“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.”  

~Konrad Adenauer 

I have preconceived ideas about ravens and crows after seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Birds’ one Saturday night as a 13-year-old in my first year of boarding school at Falcon College in Zimbabwe in 1966. The movie really scared us as kids. It was about many types of birds, but mainly crows or ravens which menacingly gathered at the local school. As soon as the adults attempted to get their children away from the school the birds attacked them, savagely. The plot progressed from bad to worse where the birds began attacking homes and started killing people. As a movie it made an indelible impression on my young mind with clear recollection 50 years later. After the movie was finished, we had to get back to our dormitories in the pitch dark. Needless to say we ran back as fast as we could as if our lives depended on it. In the movie all sorts of birds attacked the people in the village but the crows and ravens really stuck in my mind.

It is evident that ravens and crows are highly intelligent birds. They work in packs and are playground bullies intimidating birds smaller than themselves but deferring to larger raptors. These White-necked Ravens will hustle even Black-backed Jackals which are much larger, but only if they have numbers on their side.

On the second day the wind started to blow quite hard. The smaller birds sought cover, but the ravens reveled playfully in the turbulence. Their flying skills have to be seen to be believed – they are master “wing men”. A Lanner Falcon arrived at one point and started dive bombing these ravens. It was an amazing sight. The Lanner was smaller than the ravens, but was considerably faster. It harassed a few ravens repeatedly, nearly hitting them on several occasions. You can only marvel at both species’ flying skills. 

“Seeing is a gift that comes with practice.”

~Stephenie Mills  

The seed-eaters were more sedate and easily scared by any shadow moving quickly across the ground near them.  With falcons and buzzards around, the seed-eaters needed to be very wary. A few Speckled Pigeons flew onto the vulture’s dining table to forage for grass seeds. They are not well camouflaged on the grass but their colouring is perfect when they are on the rocks.

Seed-eaters abounded. There were groups of canaries and a few yellow bishop males (with their girls) also flew in to feed on the grass seed. They were very skittish being at the bottom of the food-chain. The next image is of a Yellow Bishop male in non-breeding plumage.

“There’s a saying among prospectors: Go out looking for one thing, and that’s all you’ll ever find.”

~Robert Flaherty  

A single Cape Longclaw came to visit. Its characteristic orange-coloured throat makes it easily identifiable. Its long claw is also evident. 

There was also a resident pair of Buff-streaked Chats in front of the hide. They were versatile feeders eating insects and pecking at the fat and marrow on the bones. These chats will also feed on nectar when available. The male is the bold black and white coloured bird with a buff chest and breast.

The female Buff-streaked Chat is just as confident but is an altogether simpler looking bird. The streaks on her buff breast and chest are clearly evident. These chats seem to prefer rocky areas, ridges and rocky outcrops. The Drakensberg is the only place I have ever seen these chats.

“These beautiful days…do not exist as mere pictures – maps hung upon the walls of memory to brighten at times when touched by association or will…They saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always.”

~John Muir  

This male Cape Rock Thrush added to the eclectic variety of smaller birds in front of the hide. He seemed to enjoy the fat on the bones but also eats insects and small berries from the surrounding flora. This thrush’s blue-grey coloured head is its distinctive feature. The female has the same rufous chest and belly but its head is a buff colour, not the blue of the male.

The Cape Rock-thrush prefers a mountainous rocky habitat, so the hide area was perfect for it. It is an insect eater but took advantage of the insect proxy provided.

Besides ravens there were many Red-winged Starlings there to greet us first thing in the morning. They loved the fat on the bones. Interestingly, by midday they all disappeared only to return later in the afternoon. The female Red-winged Starling has a grey head and has the same distinctive brown-red primary feathers as the male.

“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

~Oscar Wilde

A mid-morning view looking south from the vulture’s hide.

A male Red-winged Starling perched in a Glossy Mountain Bottlebrush tree. The Red-wings were feeding on the buds and nectar from the scarlet-red flowers from this tree. He was tucked in as the wind was blowing and it was a little chilly.

A female Red-winged Starling in the same Glossy Mountain Bottlebrush tree. The red flowers really stood out in the yellows and browns of winter.

“Humanity has passed through a long history of one-sidedness and of a social condition that has always contained the potential of destruction, despite its creative achievements in technology.  The great project of our time must be to open the other eye: to see all-sidedly and wholly, to heal and transcend the cleavage between humanity and nature that came with early wisdom.”
~  Murray Bookchin

We heard and saw male and female White-bellied Sunbirds but could not photograph them. We did not see any Malachite Sunbirds on this trip. We were fortunate to see the endemic Bokmakierie. This is a bushshrike which has a typical shrike beak with that sharp down curving hooked tip,  signifying its predatory nature.  The name, Bokmakierie, comes from its melodious call notes, often uttered in duet, from the top of a bush or tree.

The Bokmakierie has brilliant yellow underparts with a broad black collar separating the throat from the breast. This bushshrike has a grey head and thin yellow eyebrow. The back and wings are olive-green. 

The Bokmakierie is endemic to South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is a shy bird and is normally seen in pairs. We only saw this individual. I look at the colours of this bird and am spellbound by the stunning combinations. I doubt any fashion designer would come up with the palette and hue of the colours seen on this bushshrike.

“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”

~Claude Monet  

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

Have fun,

Mike

 

 

Scavengers in the Giant’s Castle

The title is literal and metaphoric with a slice of licence. In my first post from Giant’s Castle last week, I featured the Bearded Vulture, an endangered mountainous region’s unique bone-eater. The national park supplements the food for these endangered Bearded Vultures which birders and photographers put out in front of the vulture hide. Inevitably, by putting out the bones, this food source attracts an assortment of other scavengers. Many of the bones have been sawed in half exposing the bone marrow which opens up the variety of avian opportunists one is likely to see. The fat on and marrow in the bones attracts a wide variety of wildlife.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

~Charles Darwin

In this post I will show you some images I took of the Jackal Buzzards, the Cape Vultures and a Black-backed Jackal which came to partake in the feast in front of the vulture hide. I reiterate that under normal circumstances, feeding or baiting the wildlife for photography purposes is not allowed. The feeding of the Bearded Vultures at the Giants Castle hide is a special situation encouraged by the national park. 

The hide is located on a ridge  about 1500 metres above the Bushman’s river valley floor. The ridge provides perfect updrafts for the raptors to approach the hide. In winter, we get into the hide around 6h30, around half an hour before sunrise. As the first horizontal rays of sunlight blazed onto the hide’s foreground many birds were ready and waiting, mostly Red-winged Starlings and White-necked Ravens. One of the first visiting raptors to the hide’s breakfast table was a Jackal Buzzard.

The Jackal Buzzard is endemic to South Africa and the southern parts of Namibia. The English name of this bird comes from the loud yelping calls, similar to those of the Black-backed Jackal. The Jackal Buzzards are perch hunters but if necessary will take to soaring to look for food . The Jackal Buzzards near the vulture’s hide have become habituated to finding food at the hide and seem to visit every day, and often more than once a day.

“Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation. “

~Mahatma Gandhi

The Giant’s Castle vulture hide’s breakfast table with a spectacular backdrop.

The bones put out to feed the Bearded Vultures also attract the Cape Vultures. This is one of the southern Africa’s largest vultures with a total length of just over one metre and a wingspan of around 2.5 metres. This large vulture has a creamy-buff colour, with contrasting dark flight- and tail-feathers. The head and neck are almost bare skin as seen with the Lappet-faced and White-backed Vulture implying that they get their heads right into the carcass when feeding.  The eye socket has a bluish tinge and the eye is  yellowish and the beak is black.

Since 2015, the Cape Vulture has been classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List. The global population estimate has been revised to 4,700 pairs or 9,400 mature individuals according to IUCN but the population is declining overall but interestingly is reported to be increasing in select areas.

Apart from a slight size difference (female larger) there is little difference between the sexes making it difficult to differentiate between male and female. As with other vultures these raptors are superb fliers.

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

~H.G.Wells

Black-backed Jackals regularly visit to hijack the bones in front of the hide. They have found this to be a convenient source of food.

Usually one Jackal arrives and does not seem to fuss when the White-necked Ravens are around. By contrast, the Jackals have been known to get into a tangle with the Cape Vulture over ownership of the bones.

On each of the two days in the hide we saw the Black-backed Jackal. It arrived early in the morning just after sunrise. The jackal’s coat appeared much thicker than that of a Jackal found in the lowveld where the temperature is much warmer. It can be very cold in the Berg even in summer. The coldest I have ever been in my life was in mid-November (summer time in the Drakensberg) in the Berg above Injasuti. When we were out hiking a massive thunderstorm rolled in so quickly that we were caught on the side of the mountain for the night in the rain. I have huge respect for the variable weather in the Berg.  Hikers and photographers should always be prepared.

The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”

~Kakuzo Okakaura

On both days at the hide, the Jackal took a few bones. Presumably it stashed them in the long grass out of sight from the hide and then took them, one by one, back to its den. This jackal knows only too well it has competition from the vultures. It must have seen some vultures high in the sky above it.

The Jackal Buzzard frequents mainly hilly and mountainous habitats. It is one of few raptor species to be found on altitudes above 3000 metres. The nesting season is from July to September, which probably improves the chances of seeing them in late winter to early spring in Southern Africa. 

The adult Jackal Buzzard has a black head, neck, throat and upper-parts. On the upper-wing, the flight feathers are black, narrowly barred pale grey, and show broad, black tips. It has a rufous chest and rufous coloured tail feathers.

“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.”

~Bruce Lee

On the underparts, the breast is usually rufous with white upper edge contrasting against the black throat, and black markings on the lower edge. Lower breast, belly and under-wing coverts are black with narrow ‘greyish’ white bars. Flanks, thighs and vents are white or rufous. The bill is black with yellow cere. The eyes are dark red-brown. The legs and feet are yellow.

One of the key features of hide photography is that you have to keep watching all the time, ready to capture images  of these raptors as they appear in a split second from below the edge of the cliff. You can wait for hours to get a glimpse of them and in two or three seconds they have flown in and landed. 

The female has similar plumage to the male but she is larger and heavier.

“A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.

~Chinese Proverb

The Jackal is dead quiet. It slinks in at the edge of the ridge, quickly assesses friend and foe and whether there is any potential food and is gone within a minute of so. If you are distracted while making coffee you will miss the photographic opportunity.

A Cape Vulture flew in on the second day. It did not go for the bones but just sat on the cliff edge. 

These raptors are always looking around, probably wary of competition or threats. This Cape Vulture sat at the very edge of the cliff so could easily escape by launching itself off the cliff.

This lone Cape Vulture looked to be just sunning itself on a Sunday morning. The White-necked Ravens know only too well that this raptor has a long flexible neck and can easily give them a savage peck if they venture too close. Once it was rested and had warmed up, it took one hop and it was again riding the updrafts along the ridge.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

~Stephen Hawkins

We had a number of visits from the Jackal Buzzards. On this occasion this bird tried to pick up a large joint, but not without some objection from the raven.

Having decided the bone was too heavy, it flew off over the edge of the cliff not to be seen again that day. The Jackal Buzzard normally feeds on insects, small reptiles, mammals, birds and carrion.

Fortunately, this beautiful raptor is listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List.

“More and more  we try to effect an adaption to life by means of external gadgets, and attempt to solve or problems by conscious thinking rather than unconscious ‘ know-how’. This is much less to our advantage than we like to suppose.”

~Alan Watts

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

Have fun,

Mike

Bearded giants gliding the barrier of spears

This is the first post from my trip to Giant’s Castle in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg park in mid-July. Apart from the breath-taking beauty, a key attraction at Giant’s Castle was its vulture hide.

“uKhahlamba – the basalt comprising most of the ‘High Berg’, is a brittle rock and its relative softness has resulted in jagged, vertical spines. These spines reminded the Zulu people of an impenetrable barrier often implemented on the battlefield. This is the Drakensberg, a barrier of spears.”

~Erwin and Nicoleen Niemand

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park has Africa’s highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro. It presents a formidable horizon of massive basalt cliffs in its northern reaches stretching to soaring sandstone buttresses in the south.  When standing on one of the high points in the ‘Upper Berg’ looking down onto a boiling brew of clouds you will see jagged mountain spines rising above that boiling brew in what looks like the spines of a dragon’s back, giving them the Afrikaans name Drakensberg – Dragon Mountains. Those spines were seen by the ancient Zulus as spears and they called this mountain range uKhahlamba – the Zulu name for the barrier of spears.

Difficult terrain and unpredictable weather is the habitat for an array of unusual wildlife in this mountain region. This post shows images of one of its rarest South African wildlife members, the Bearded Vulture. According to International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in southern Africa the population of Bearded Vultures is estimated at circa 100 breeding pairs. Separate research by Ezemvelo puts the population at around 145 pairs. We were privileged to see four juveniles and two adults soaring above the hide for two days.

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
~ Dr. Seuss

The juvenile Bearded Vulture is much darker than the adult and it has a mostly black face but its black beard grows with age. The next image is of a fully fledged, sub-adult bird. The colouring on the breast feathers is a gorgeous mottled mix of browns and beiges. The juvenile also looks less thick set than the adult.

A juvenile Bearded Vulture soaring against a dry winter, but colourful background. It was mid-winter but there was no snow on the mountains. The weather forecast was for sunny skies and clear nights and a maximum temperature of one degree centigrade and minimum of minus six centigrade. The reality was a cool two degrees as a minimum and 19 degrees maximum – idyllic winter weather with sunny skies.

We have been to the Vulture hide above Giant’s Castle rest camp three times, but this  was the first time in winter. Bearded Vultures in southern Africa breed in winter and are more likely to land in front of the hide to pick up the bones provided by the park.

To encourage these magnificent vultures to land we put out bones the park provides. While this is baiting, it has a conservation bias as these vultures are endangered in South Africa and their habitat loss requires food substitution. The Bearded Vulture, like other vultures is a scavenger but it does not compete on a carcass like other vultures. Its diet consists mainly of bones (80-90 percent). This vulture has stomach acid with a pH of about one so can digest the bone fragments in about 24 hours.

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

~Helen Keller

These Bearded Vultures seem to be very wary birds. The six vultures we saw made numerous fly byes looking at the bones on the rocks in front of the hide but only two individuals landed on separate occasions on the first day. These vultures showed no aggression towards other birds such as ravens. The White-necked Ravens were also not fussed by their large rival – perhaps because of safety in numbers. This adult Bearded Vulture did not manage to fly off with a bone. The dinner table was probably too busy and noisy for this normally solitary wind rider.

Unlike most vultures, the Bearded Vulture does not have a bald head which suggests a very different feeding method to the White-backed or Cape Vulture. This species is relatively small headed, but has a powerful and thick set neck and shoulders. It is a big but stocky raptor with baggy leggings. This raptor’s thick plumage is presumably an adaption for the cold mountain air.  It appears bulkier than other vultures and waddles when on the ground. Its feet are large and powerful but are used for picking up big bones rather than killing.

“This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us, it made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.”

~Bridget Asher

To watch this huge vulture gliding with such freedom in a huge open space with the imposing mountainous backdrop is inspiring. Bearded Vulture are thought to spend 80 percent of their daylight hours soaring on the updrafts along mountain ridges.

The image below is of a sub-adult but it is an older bird as seen by its beard even though it has not yet taken on its adult plumage, which only  comes through after about seven years. 

“To soar, we must leave anything that weighs us down.”

~Saru Singhal

Although dissimilar, the Egyptian and Bearded Vulture each have a lozenge-shaped tail — unusual among birds of prey. The tail varies in length from 43 to 52 centimetres and is presumably shaped to provide additional lateral control in the turbulent mountain air upthrusts.

You will very rarely see these vultures flapping their wings and when they do it is mostly from the “hand wing”. It is the most spellbinding sight to watch this majestic bird glide across a two kilometre valley in a matter of seconds without any apparent movement of its wings other than control adjustments.

This adult Bearded Vulture landed on the rock about 50 metres below the hide. The adult is mostly dark gray, rusty and whitish in colour. Its back is grey-blue to grey-black. The creamy-coloured forehead contrasts against a black band across the eyes and lores and bristles under the chin, which form a black beard that give the species its English name. Adult Bearded Vultures are variably orange or rust of plumage on their head, breast and leg feathers but this is actually cosmetic. Adults rub iron oxide rich soil into their feathers. After dust-bathing they preen their breast feathers with their feet. The richness of the colour of the breast feathers is thought to intensify with age.

The Bearded Vulture has an elliptical wing shape with a low aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is the ratio of wing length to wing depth. This low aspect ratio shape is ideal for soaring and also helps this large bird to take off without the need for a long taxi run to get airborne.

The threats these vultures face are direct and indirect poisoning, shooting, power-line collision and electrocution and habitat loss. Threats that have emerged and may be impacting on the species include food shortage, disturbance at nests by climbers and helicopters, indirect poisoning of carcasses with veterinary drugs and harvesting living birds for use in traditional medicine. 

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.”
~ Ansel Adams

Like other vultures, the Bearded is a scavenger, feeding mostly on the remains of dead animals. It does not usually feed on carcass meat but around 70 to 90 percent of its diet is bones, getting its nutrition from bone marrow. The Bearded Vulture has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 50–150 metres above the ground and then dropping them onto flat rocks below, called ossuaries. The impact on the ossuary smashes the bone into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow.

This is a big vulture with a wingspan of around 2.7 metres and is about 1.1 metres tall when standing.

This was one of the younger sub-adults ‘on finals’ and coming in to land. Only one juvenile landed in two days and it was on the ground for about thirty seconds.

As this juvenile was coming in to land it flared its wings and had its alulas out to maintain control at slowing airspeeds. The alula is a bastard wing located between the arm wing and the hand wing. It is assumed to function similarly to a leading-edge slat that increases lift and delays stall.

“If you jump to conclusions, you make terrible landings.”

~Terry McMillan

This juvenile landed to pick up a bones we had put out for these vultures. It picked a point where there were no ravens to harass it.

These Bearded Vultures are very wary and will fly passed their food source many times waiting for hassle free landing.

These vultures have to compete with White-necked Ravens, Cape Vultures and Black-backed Jackals for their food at the hide.

This sub-adult managed to take off without incident. It will take this bone to an ossuary and drop it to fragment it into swallowable pieces. 

These huge raptors do not get it all their own way. As in any situation where man interferes there are distortions. By leaving bones out for the vultures there are many other birds attracted by the marrow and fat on the bones. The White-necked Ravens are protective of their turf and on occasions prevent a Bearded Vulture from landing to pick up a bone. This juvenile successfully landed and picked up its cargo, but even in flight the ravens harassed this cargo carrier for some distance.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”

~John Muir

The Bearded Vulture is monogamous. In Southern Africa it mates and lays its eggs in winter and raises it young in summer. Normally, siblicide ensures one chick survives.

Modern jetliners have adopted the same wingtip design as seen on the wings of this Bearded Vulture. The winglet is upturned at the end of the wing. This upturned winglet shape reduces the drag across the wing by partial recovery of the tip vortex energy, improve handling and increase the effective aspect ratio of the wing.

“Biomimicry is … the conscious emulation of life’s genius.”
~Janine Benyus

The Bearded Vulture is classified as near-threatened internationally in the IUCN Red List as assessed by Birdlife International. There are an estimated up to  10,000 individuals found in Asia, Africa and Europe. The bearded vulture is only found in the Drakensberg in South Africa/Lesotho and is classified as locally threatened.

Under normal circumstances we would never feed the wildlife and would never be allowed to feed the wildlife in a national park. In the case of the vulture hide at Giant’s Castle, the park provides bones to ensure these endangered giants have supplemented food. The hide is also a photographers paradise. Being up on the side of the mountain in dead quiet but for the wind and the sound of Red-winged Starlings and ravens is perfect.

“I would rather own little and see the world, than own the world and see little of it.”

~Alexander Sattler

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

Have fun,

Mike

Black and White

By the time you are looking at this post I will be up in the “barrier of spears” , the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa. Hopefully I will be able to bring back some interesting landscapes and images of Bearded vultures and a variety of other birds from the “vulture’s hide” at Giant’s Castle.

Until then, I have converted some of my images, taken this year, into black and white to get a sense of how colouration or the simplification of it can alter the mood and texture of the photographic message and hopefully that mood, texture and contrast triggers an emotional reaction. Some things in life aren’t quite as black and white as you’d think…

As a wildlife photographer, I am very interested in the essence of things. The artistic essence – form, shape and pattern  – helps you to focus on composition. When you take away colour from an image you are left with contents; strong colours draw your attention to certain elements in the image.

Black and white images create mood, atmosphere and feelings, and so the light illuminates and shadows define.

“One important difference between colour and monochromatic photography is that in black and white is that you suggest, in colour you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty….”

~ Paul Outerbridge

I was particularly intrigued by this image. It was taken in the morning with the sun behind me. The moon was sinking towards the horizon and it was partly cloudy. By taking the colour to black and white and darkening the scene, it gave a sense of being out in the bush on a bright moonlit night. Not implausible, the moon is so bright at full moon that it cast shadows on the ground.

A Lesser Spotted Eagle fixed with a laser stare on potential prey. The removal of colour in the feathers shows how well aligned they are –  aerodynamically preened

“Colour is descriptive, black and white is interpretive.”

~Elliot Erwitt

This matriarch was coming out of a croton grove in Mashatu in Botswana. It was early morning so the shadows in the vegetation behind her were dark. I thought darkening the background further gave this female elephant a more imposing approach.

No disguising the bright morning sunlight in a bed of yellow devil thorn flowers in high summer. This lioness had cubs behind her and was watching a family group of giraffe ahead. The background, although beautiful, was of little consequence to her, as her attention was drawn elsewhere.

This cub was watching its mother intently. It was wet from the heavy morning dew and every now and then turned to look and see what we were doing. The sun was in the right direction, it was just about waiting for the cub to turn towards us – timing is all.

“Light and subject are inseparable. But when it is well integrated, they become a fine masterpiece.”

~ Paul Chong

One snoozy cub lying on the cool stoney sandbank of a riverbed at around 9h00  with a dark Croton forest in the background.

Along the Majale river in Mashatu, a few family groups of elephant had come down to drink. It was cloudy but not hot that morning. In black and white, the cloudy sky provides a wonderfully moody backdrop.

“I think it’s because it was an emotional story, and emotions come through much stronger in black and white. Color is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.” 

~ Kim Hunter

On another occasion, also in the Majale river, this herd of elephant came rushing out of the Jackalberry and Croton tree line on the river bank. Something must have spooked them. They did not take any notice of us and just rushed past. The dust stirred up by their feet was more apparent in black and white.

“To see colour is a delight for the eye, to see in black and white is a delight for the soul.”

~Andri Caldwell

This Steenbok female (no horns) was lying in an eroded sand gully. She was very well camouflaged. Only by taking the colour out of the scene could you see her more clearly. There is no question that colouration plays a key role in camouflage. This is why the armed forces in the second world war used people who were colour-blind to fly in spotter aircraft to be able to see enemy armaments under the camouflage nets.

A Darter, the snake bird, so called because of its long flexible neck, sunning itself and drying its wings in the late afternoon sun on the Chobe river in northern Botswana. The golden sheen on its wings added to the contrast.

This elephant was having such fun splashing around in the Chobe river. You seldom ever see the mouth of an elephant from below its trunk. Those canines are a remarkable evolutionary adaption.

This giraffe was drinking from the Chobe river in the late afternoon, which is why its was well illuminated. There was thick vegetation behind it which enabled me to darken the background. It is unusual for a giraffe to  drink at the river with such thick ambush potential right behind it.

In April along the Chobe, the weather was variable with storm clouds brewing on a few afternoons. There is something very special about an African thunderstorm. The late afternoon light illumes the river while the sky grows dark and threatening, giving a sense of an impending unleashing of African wildness. The cumulonimbus clouds get heavy with moisture, generating massive upthrusts of air rising well over 5000 foot into the sky. The colours in the sky vary from blues and whites to dark grey, then out of nowhere, Zeus sends down a huge bolt of lightning followed by an almighty clap of thunder. You can measure how far the storm is away from the number of seconds between the lighting bolt and the thunder-clap, which is approximately equal to the distance away – one second equals one kilometre.

The full moon in April is impala rutting time. I was quite surprised how well-defined these two sparring impala rams were against the background. The black and white treatment showed off their form and texture against a very different textured background.

This very young Vervet Monkey was part of a troop which had been trying to find/steal food from the lodge dining room next to the Chobe river. This little imp was empty-handed so had to make do with the fruit from the tree above.

“Black and white photography is truly quite a ‘departure from reality’, and the transition from one aspect of visual magic to another was not as complete as many imagine.”

~Ansel Adams

A family of Kudu standing on top of the Shilthave dam wall in Kruger Park. The elevation of the dam wall gives them a good visual on the surrounding area. The wind was blowing which always makes them nervous. The wind mixes up the smell and sound and makes it difficult for them to get a sense of  any animals in the surrounding area.

This was a very pretty, somewhat coy but engaging  young waterbuck doe.

Almost a silhouette, this male Klipspringer was sitting on top of a granite boulder at the foot of a kopje along the Waterbuck road in south-western section of Kruger Park. I liked the different tones and textures.

The dark side of the bush. Whether in colour or black and white you do not want to come across an “old dagga boy” like this in the bush on foot. A “dagga boy” is an old buffalo bull which has been kicked out of the herd. Sometimes you find them on their own and they can be unpredictable and very dangerous. His textured boss is what does the work. A buffalo bull can easily pick up an adult lion with those grappling hooks and throw it high into the air and cause real damage.

“Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.”

~ Louis Aragon

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

Have fun,

Mike

Creative twist

This post is about colour. I am inbetween wildlife trips so I thought it would be interesting to play around with the colour in some of my wildlife images. Rather than change the colour of the subject, I wanted to see what effect it would create if I removed the background colour. Presumably, it would be more effective on some forms and colors than others. While playing, a number of fascinating insights emerged. You will not learn about this sort of thing from books or websites, once has to play to get a sense of what works and what does not!

“We must draw our standards from the natural world. … We must honour with the humility of the wise the bounds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence.”

~ Václav Havel

One of the first things professional photographers will ask you when they are looking at your image is what are you trying to say – what is the message your photograph is supposed to communicate.  If it is just a record of what you saw that is one thing, but if you are trying to show something more, the message needs to be clear. You will quickly realise how important the focus and colour of the background, or negative space, in the image is and whether it emphasises the subject, or disguises it.

I am an amateur wildlife photographer so this is a journey of exploration, physically, intellectually and spiritually. Physically, I do not want to let the grass grow under my feet, and my camera is my passport to travel. Intellectually, I have a deep need to communicate the beauty, inter-connectedness and innate intelligence in nature at a time when humanity is expanding and destroying most natural things in its path. Spiritually, I am becoming increasingly aware of the innate intelligence of nature and that we are the ones that need to learn her ways with considerably more humility than we are showing, currently.

“Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life–and maybe even please a few strangers.”

~A.L. Kennedy

I have been privileged enough to go to Mashatu in Botswana, on the Chobe river in Botswana and the Kruger Park in South Africa in the first half of 2017. This post shows a selection of images from those trips, in which I have modified the saturation and sharpness of the background using Adobe’s Lightroom. The purpose of the modification is to reduce the distracting background colour in order to emphasize a key feature of the animal or bird. Removing the background colour enables the viewer to focus on the true colours of your subject.

“The picture will have charm when each colour is very unlike the one next to it.”

~Leon Battista Alberti

Water lilies on the Chobe river, painted with sunlight but without the blues of the water in the background .

A scene of a buffalo bull munching on water lily stems with a Cattle Egret on his back. The Cattle Egret normally walks along side (him) but with the buffalo being in the water the Cattle Egret just has to wait it out. Green hippo grass in the buffalo’s mouth, pink tongue and the yellow beak and legs of the Cattle Egret

A water lily standing tall in the water showing off its greens, whites and yellows without the distraction of the blue in the water.

A juvenile Bateleur Eagle standing on the bow of a dead tree. Without the background colour, the browns and blacks stand out as does the distinctive facial skin colour. The colour of the facial skin is an indication that this is an older juvenile. The younger ones have a green tinge to their facial skin.

“Every time you shift to a different color or different hue you are creating interest. It’s a subtle thing but it builds content.”

Clyde Aspevig

A Purple pod Terminalia with the sun behind it. The background color and the greens are removed which emphasizes the colour of the seedpods.

A summer migrant looking for insects. This is a Lesser Spotted Eagle.

“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.”

~ Rachel Carson

This lion cub must have been bitten by an insect and began to lick the itchy area on its paw. Just the yellows, browns and oranges showing.

A Diederick’s Cuckoo in Mashatu. The de-saturated background emphasises the emerald greens on the wings back and tail, and that red skin around its eye.

A Plum-coloured Starling, now called Violet-backed Starling, playing with a leaf in Mashatu.

Cobalt blue, blood-red and archeological brown – woodland colours.

The Pied Kingfisher is so-called for obvious reasons. This next image needed some colour in the perch to show it was not a black and white photo. Somehow the colour in the perch gives it an improved three dimension effect.

The blue facial shield on the African Jacana got lost in the blue water background. Removing the blue in the background emphasizes the blue shield and the complementary rich ochre colour on the back and body feathers and the golden necklace.

A juvenile African Jacana foraging on the water-lily pad for insects and snails. Taking the colour out of the water gives the lily pad  a greater floating effect.

“Real genius is nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought.”

~Simone Weil

This female hippo decided we had got too close.  When this happens it can be extremely dangerous so you need a competent boat driver and guide. In all the excitement you do not see the colour of the water, just those eyes and the brown-pink colour around the eyes and nostrils.

In Mashatu in summer, we found a pride a lion which included a few cubs. It was mid-morning so nearly sleep time for these youngsters. Just allowing the yellows and oranges of the cubs to come through. Desaturating – the background colour improved the image.

“Colour is uncontainable. It effortlessly reveals the limits of language and evades our best attempts to impose a rational order on it… To work with colour is to become acutely aware of the insufficiency of language and theory – which is both disturbing and pleasurable.”

~David Batchelor

One of the lioness in the pride was watching the goings on attentively. The darkened background emphasised the colours on her face.

 

These cubs were lying on a gravel sandbank. It was cool in the summer morning heat. The background was a dark croton grove.

I took the green out of the bush and blue out of the sky to emphasize the reds and browns of this old male Swainson’s Spurfowl. The red facial skin is a key diagnostic when identifying this species of spurfowl. You could see it was an old male from its worn down and broken spurs on the back of his legs.

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A Pearl-spotted Owlet was sitting in a tree close to where we had been watching the coalition of three male cheetahs lying in a field of yellow devil thorn flowers. Taking out the blue in the background removes the complementary blues and seems to reduce the colours competing for attention and emphasised the colour of the owlet. It also gave a sense of how well camouflaged this owlet was in the tree in direct sunlight.

“When infinite colors exist between the dark and the light, who among us would choose to see only black and white? “

~Gene Bertsche

In summer in Mashatu, you will see many Carmine Bee-eaters. They are incredibly beautiful bee-eaters, which hawk insects from a perch. By taking out the background colour, you can see its bejewelled colours

The Blue Wildebeest is a grey-black colour in the bush. They do have colouration on their bosses and their youngsters are brownish in colour.

One of the many avian summer migrants from the northern climes. A White Stork taking a break from its foraging in the grasslands in Mashatu.

The removal of background colour helped show off this Yellow-billed Hornbill. Interestingly, bird identification would probably be much easier if the key characteristic colours were emphasised and background -.desaturaing.

 desatru

“You put down one colour and it calls for an answer. You have to look at it like a melody.”

~Romare Bearden

A water-lily floating on the Chobe river with a pollinating visitor. Without the blues from the water, the tips of the petals seem more pink.

A juvenile African Jacana chick searching for insects on a bed of old water lilies. The background was naturally dark which showed off the subject well.

“The objects in front of you are flowers, but the subject is colour.”

~Michele Cooper

A water lily in full summer bloom in the Chobe river. I really liked the colours reflected in the water in the foreground .

A Great White Egret with its distinctive yellow bill, yellow eye and black legs and feet.

A Banded Mongoose mother with her youngsters. Without competing colours, the the colour bands on their backs really stood out.

Another Diederick’s Cuckoo with its favourite food, a caterpillar. 

“Colour is a powerful physical, biological, and psychological force. When less color and less intense color is present, trace amounts and subtle differences become highly significant and are strongly felt.”

~John Paul Caponigro

A young shoot embraced in the fork of this syringa tree. The green leaves signify hope, youth and a new start.

You don’t usually notice the browns in a juvenile Martial Eagle, but they stand out in front of a desaturated sky.

Again desaturating the background colour from the water helped bring out the greens, yellows and pinks in this water lily.

 

“In order to change a colour, it is enough to change the colour of its background.”

~Michel Eugene Chevreul

An adult African Jacana alighting on a water lily flower. Somehow the colours of both the lily and Jacana looked looked more intense with the color of the water desaturated. The contrast gives the image more definition.

An adult Egyptian Goose bathing. The water just running off its back. By taking the blue of the water out of the image gives it a cold feel which was in stark contrast to the very hot morning when this image was taken.

Regal, powerful and striking avian predator, this fish eagle was surveying its territory along the Chobe river.

The use of colour in a wildlife image is intriguing. The negative space around the subject is a powerful compositional component. There are occasions when complementary colours work well together and other times when removing the cooler colours really emphasise the warmer ones. This is a journey of discovery for me. I readily embrace colour in my wildlife photography but at times it can be distracting. This is another example of learning to see. 

“Nature is more depth than surface. Hence the need to introduce into our light vibrations represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blue to give the impression of air.”

~Paul Cezanne

I remain ever grateful to be able to visit and photograph wildlife in some of the most beautiful wild settings in Africa.

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

Have fun,

Mike

Kruger Park – lower Sabie

Our last day in Kruger Park. We went through the Kruger gate. It was easy, pleasant and efficient and we were in the park before the sun had properly risen – the way it should be!!

“It is not so much for its beauty
that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts,
as for that subtle something,
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson 

After a successful route along the Sabie river the day before we decided to try it again. For those of you who have not been in the park this might sound repetitive but I can assure you that nothing is ever the same in the bush. You will never see and experience the same thing in the same place again. That is part of the allure.

On the right hand side of the tar road along the Sabie river was a small pan. It had virtually dried up, but for  a few small pools and a muddy surround. Two Woolly-necked Storks were foraging in the pan.  They looked to be hunting in the mud and pools for insects.

You don’t often get to see these Woolly-necks up close. I have been into the bush many times and this is the closest I have got to this species.

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path. . .”

~Antonio Machado

Once on the Salitje road, which runs parallel to the Sabie river for about seven kilometers, we knew we were bound to see something interesting. As we wandered along the road we came upon this pair of Swainson’s Spurfowl. They were foraging along the side of the gravel road, peeking at grass seed as they wandered. You can see this was a male by his long spurs on his legs. He was also a young male as the spurs has not yet worn down through fighting.

It is always a challenge when you have two subjects in focus, which are not standing side by side. Immediately you have to stop down your f-stop to get greater depth of field. The top end cameras are so sophisticated these days, for the life of me I cannot understand why they do not put in the depth of field in the view finder. Lidars are all the rage these days which with well known geometry could give us the depth of field at a specific distance. Anyway, the guess seemed to have worked as I got them both in focus.

Have you ever wondered how tricky it must be to have eyes either side of your head rather than binocular vision.

“But, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover,life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.”
Marcel Proust

This was a classic example of one of nature’s surprises. We had turned off the Salitje road on to the S128, both gravel roads, and were almost at the tar road from Tshokwane to Lower Sabie when on the right hand side there was this Tawny Eagle  ripping the remaining flesh off what remained of a pelvis.

The Tawny stopped regularly during its feeding to look up and make sure that there were no threats anywhere near.

This Tawny looked to be feeding on the pelvis of a small antelope, either a young impala or a duiker.

We must have watched this blonde raptor for about ten minutes before it decided it had too much company.

Further on we turned onto the tar road which took us across the high level bridge, about a kilometre below the Lower Sabie camp. Down river from the bridge the Sabie river had been dammed with a weir. The wide sand bank gives you an idea of just how full this river flows at times.

We were now traveling down the H4-2 between Lower Sabie Camp and Crocodile Bridge when we saw this lone Purple Roller. They have the distinctive GISS of a roller but their colouring is not that distinctive. The stripped throat breast and belly are the main diagnostic feature of this bird. Only when they fly do you get their purple colouring.

“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”
~ Angela N. Blount

We turned off the main Crocodile Bridge road onto the H5 to start making our way back towards Skukuza. This is an image which will stir most African hearts. The gravel road, tree landed, with blue skies and wildness all around. Don’t drive fast as you never know when a kudu will step out from the bush!

Mpondo dam. Good to see it so full of water with a herd of elephants drinking on the far right hand side.

We took a drive up to the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial on the way back from Mpondo dam. This was a step back in time to remember the incredible vision that some of the park’s founders had in those days. Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, known as Paul Kruger, was the President of the South African Republic ( 1883 to 1902) who first pleaded “for setting aside certain areas where game could be protected and where nature could remain unspoilt, as the Creator made it”. In 1891, Kruger managed to amend existing game laws, and the state started providing protection for some animal species. After managing to declare other smaller areas as game reserves, on 26 March 1898, he proclaimed the ‘Goewerments Wildtuin’ (Government’s Reserve) between the Sabi and Crocodile rivers, as the Sabi Nature Reserve. After the end of the Anglo-Boer War (1902) and the death of Paul Kruger (1904), the reserve had almost been forgotten until Lord Milner re-issued the proclamation for the reserve. In 1902, Sir Godfrey Lagden, appointed James Stevenson-Hamilton as the first warden of the Sabi Nature Reserve. Stevenson-Hamilton served the game reserve for 44 years from 1902 to 1946. After his retirement, he settled in White River. At the age of 63, he married Hilda Chomondeley, 34 years his junior. They had three children. He died on 10 December 1957 at the age of 90.

“An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.”

~Thomas Fuller
Stevenson-Hamilton was a good friend and fellow of the Tsonga people who lived on the reserve. They nicknamed him “Skukuza”, meaning”the man who has turned everything upside down” or “the man who swept clean”. It was Stevenson-Hamilton’s work and reputation which eventually resulted in land grants all the way from Crocodile River to Limpopo River, 10 times the size of the Sabi Game Reserve. The new area was renamed Kruger National Park.

There have been many generations of dedicated people who have committed their lives to protecting the wildlife sanctuary which is now the Kruger National Park. Sadly, 110 years later, the threat of poaching is as virulent as ever, but the rationale has changed. It is no longer about hunting for food for survival but much is now about poaching syndicates selling animal products to Asia. Certain types of wildlife are under considerably more threat than others. Kruger’s reputation for conservation has been badly undermined by the sustained slaughter of rhino in the park. Rhino poaching is a major problem and unfortunately, the syndicate poaching goes beyond rhinos to elephants.

Every eight hours, a rhino is slaughtered – three a day in South Africa. The task of the Kruger Park rangers is immense. Making the task even harder was the lifting of the ban on trade of rhino horn. The ruling by South Africa’s highest court in April 2016, legalised domestic trade in horn, and in the process raised emotions across the globe. It has been seen, by many, as a  decision that could hasten the extinction of rhinos in the wild.

“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do”.

~Henry David Thoreau

Whenever there is condemnation, the authorities’ response is to clampdown on information. First, there was a clampdown on rhino poaching statistics. Surely, if there is a threat you try to get as many people involved in stopping that threat as possible. Now the same is happening with information on elephant ivory poaching. SANParks has refused to provide statistics on how many elephants have been poached in the Kruger National Park. This year, Park officials instead refer queries to the National Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The DEA has also declined to release the latest figures saying interested parties must wait until the next quarterly statistics are released by the Minister.

Mixing armed poaching gangs and tourists cannot be not good for business!!!!!!!

We have lost the ancient wisdom that considers each decision on how it will affect future generations. We have to get back to thinking in a different way, beyond the easy political wins.”

~Dr Jane Goodall

The refusal to release these statistics follows a sharp increase in elephant poaching in the northern section of the Kruger National Park. It is estimated that at least 80 elephants have been killed since early 2015 – the highest levels in more than three decades. There appears to be no letting up in the “relentless rhino poaching onslaught” across Africa with South Africa on track to lose more than a thousand rhino for the fifth straight year. According to News24, 483 rhino have been killed in the first five and a half months of 2017. There are no official figures on rhino kill statistics currently available from the Department of Environmental Affairs, the national custodian of the country’s natural heritage.

“Life in any form is our perpetual responsibility”.

~S. Parkes Cadman

An observer naturally gets suspicious of the authorities’ intentions when they clam up on poaching information. The obvious question is what are the authorities hiding? They are supposed to be the guardian’s of our natural heritage for future generations to enjoy – inter-generational fairness.

“The unending slaughter of Africa’s endangered wildlife is amputating a balancing branch of humanity. Unless the world’s political elite establishes universal, thought provoking legislation and enforcement thereof, species on the brink of extinction will be lost for future generations. In particular, China and Africa stand at the cusp of the most historic leadership embarrassment of civilization.”

~Dex Kotze

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

Have fun,

Mike

Kruger Park – Sabie circuit

Despite all the traffic and the substantial increase of people in Kruger Park, it is a big and still, wild park.  Away from the high traffic areas, there is peace, wildness and beauty.

“May the sun bring you new energy by day.

May the moon softly restore you by night.

May the rain wash away your worries.

May the breeze blow new strength into your being.

May you walk gently through the world and know the its beauty all the days of you life.”

~Apache blessing

On this particular day we did not go through the Phabeni gate but chose to travel the 40 kilometers outside Kruger Park to the Kruger Gate. The staff at the Kruger gate were pleasant and efficient. It could not have been a more different experience. We will not be going through the Phabeni gate in future. Once in the Park,  we chose to drive the Sabie circuit which is the route from Skukuza down the H4-1 , turn left  and travel 12 kilometers down that road along the banks of the Sabie river, then cross the high level road bridge  across the Sabie river. Turn immediately right after the bridge onto the Salitje road and we made our way down to the Lower Sabie camp.  This turned out to be one of our more productive photographic routes.

The Sabie River, an image taken from the  bridge looking west up river. It is a beautiful lowveld scene, graced by plenty of water.

This is a wider view of the same scene as the previous image. You can plenty of water and lush vegetation showing space and magnificence of the area.

“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”

~ Linda Hogan

Down the Salitje road there are a number of spots to view the river. You can stop under the big Jackal Berry trees which offer plenty of deep shade. One of our favorite things is to stop in one of these spots, take a break from the driving and have coffee and a rusk or hot cross bun while sitting quietly listening to the river gurgle below and all the wildlife around us. It is not quiet, but is so peaceful and soothing.

After our coffee break, we got back on the river road traveling south east. On the road was this Crested Barbet which had caught a large grasshopper.

It was fascinating to watch this barbet slowly dismembering this large grasshopper into bite size pieces until it had its meal down to a “swallowable” size.  A great management technique and hugely satisfying, by the look of it.

A typical scene along a Kruger gravel road. You can see the Crested Barbet in the bottom right hand side in the road.

This was a female elephant and her calf in a dry river bed. The female had dug down in the sand until she got to the water. The female was almost kneeling to get at the water in the hole, so the calf had to get down really low to suckle. The calf looked almost too old to suckle. It was strange that this female did not go down to the main Sabie river to drink. It must have been only a couple of hundred meters away.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

~ Annie Dillard

A view of the river from another of the side road view points. It is always worth stopping to take a look, you just never know what you might see. Many of the view points offer shade which is welcome as the day starts to warm up.

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy,
if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you,
if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand,
rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
~ Eleonora Duse

Sitting in the shade at one of the  view points of the river, we watched a Hammerkop gathering sticks for its huge nest. I took the shot without adjusting my shutter speed but liked the effect the image created.

A little further on along the Salitje road from were we had seen the female elephant and her calf drinking, we found a part of the river  which had been naturally dammed. It was a very peaceful scene.

“Land really is the best art.”

Andy Warhol

On the right hand side were sandstone rocks exposed right down to the water’s edge providing some interesting texture and colour to an otherwise flora dominated scene.

On the far side of the river lay this large Nile Crocodile. Those exposed teeth say it all.

Also in the pool of water were a few hippo. This character was getting a lot of attention from a group of Red-billed Oxpeckers.

“The beauty of the natural world lies in the details.”

~ Natalie Angier

Further down stream along the Sabie river we stopped to watch this Goliath Heron hunting from the rocks. We never saw it catch anything but we were just not patient enough.

There were many wildlife pedestrians along the gravel road. On this occasion, we stopped for a family of Dwarf Mongoose.

They are quite wary being so far down the food chain.

They also have Meerkat tendencies and are able to stand on their back legs for quite a while  using their tails as a support.

These little characters are insect eaters and move in groups of up to 20 individuals. They all move together, much like the Banded Mongoose, to give the appearance of a much bigger being.

A Red-billed Hornbill is territorial. It defends permanent territory against its own species, but not other species. This Red-billed Hornbill was going through its courtship display, which  includes “shoulder-shrugging” and ‘body-swaying”.  During displays, they utter clucking calls with bowed head and slightly opened wings.

The adult African Long-tailed or Magpie Shrike has black and white plumage with a very long, graduated tail. Its head and mantle are glossy black. Their scapulars are white and they have greyish-white V-shaped colouring on the rump, which is more conspicuous in flight.

By midday we had got close to Lower Sabie camp. We crossed the Sabie River again. Looking down from the high level bridge, we could see a number of crocodiles out of the water warming themselves in the rising morning temperatures.

From Lower Sabie we traveled north beyond the Mlondozi Dam to the S129 and then back along the Salitje road because it is such an attractive drive. As we turned left off the S129 onto the Old Tshokwane road, this this large elephant bull was walking up the road towards us.

“We cannot command Nature except by obeying her.”
~ Francis Bacon 

We always show these giants of the bush the respect they deserve and never have any problems with them as a result. They can see you but when you show some deference and back off and give them some space they are usually quite relaxed. He had given himself a good red dust bath after being in the river.

This is one sight you do not want to see when walking through the bush, a lone old “dagger boy”, a buffalo bull.

When alone they seem to be less willing to give you any slack. Just look at the size of his boss. He has survived this long in the bush for a reason.

Back along the bridge over the Sabie River below Sukuza. This time looking south-east. The huge fig, Jackalberry and Natal Mahogany trees give the river a sense of grandeur.

“To find the universal elements enough;
to find the air and the water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk
or an evening saunter;
to be thrilled by the stars at night;
to be elated over a bird’s nest
or a wildflower in spring
– these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”
~ John Burroughs

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

Have fun,

Mike