Best wishes for 2013 – Sic Itur Ad Astra.

We had a wonderful New Year shared with old friends in Hoespruit (Hat-creek), a little town adjacent to Kruger Park, mid-way between Phalaborwa and Orpen gates.

Hoedspruit was a revelation. It is at the centre of numerous natural attractions and is steeped in history.

One of the natural attractions is the Blyde River dam. The drive to the dam is spectacular as the road winds its way through the imposing mountains at the start of the Drakensberg.

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The drive up to the dam is along a beautiful avenue of Knob-thorn trees. The mountains are imposing.

Up at the dam, the scenery is beautiful. The mass concrete spillway holds back the dam which  backs up through the mountains.

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Another natural attraction is Mariepskop. The road to the top is steep but concrete lined. Yes, you drive right up to the telecommunication towers, which are right on top on he edge facing east.

On the way up to the top of Mariepskop you will cross beautiful tranquil mountain streams.

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Up on top of Mariepskop it is very much like Table Mountain. Interestingly, it has a greater bio-diversity than Table Mountain.

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We saw a pair of falcons up on Mariepskop but could not see whether they were Lanner or Peregrine. There were hundreds and hundreds of white butterflies,

they looked like cabbage whites, which were busy testing all the flowers on the top of the mountain.

The next few shots show a minute portion of all the flowers.

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A third natural attraction in the Hoedspruit area is the Kruger Park. For a R50 entrance fee per person you will get a day filled with expectation and surprises.

It is hot at this time of the year, reaching temperatures of over 35 degrees centigrade.The scenery in Kruger is nostalgically identifiable for anyone who has been there.

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There is a profusion of mammals. What you see is the luck of the draw. Wildlife photography in Kruger is quite tricky mainly because of difficult backgrounds.

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Bird photography can be very rewarding in Kruger Park because of the wide variety and ability to move to get better backgrounds.

Below, the first shot is of a juvenile Lesser Grey Shrike, then a Lillac-breasted Roller followed by a European Roller.

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Not all birds give you the chance of shooting with clean backgrounds but the shots, although not award winning, are interesting nevertheless.

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The Woodland Kingfisher has a striking powder blue colouring and a distinctive trill – a real bushveld sound. Once you have heard it you will never forget it.

The second shot is of a Levaillant’s Cuckoo. We saw the pair. They flew into the reeds in front of the Ratelpan hide along the Timbavati River. It was brief but an unusual sighting.

The third shot is of a Magpie Shrike. A relatively dark background is needed to reduce the contrast to see detail in the blacks. Backgrounds are usually busy as they love sitting in thorn bushes.

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The fist of the two shots above is of the Levaillant’s Cuckoo taking off from the reeds in front of the Ratelpan hide along the Timbavati River.

The second shot above is of a female Red-crested Korhaan. They often sit in a  bush. More often they are heard before they are seen.

Finally, at the Sweni waterhole near Satara camp. I saw this one posy of beautiful pink flowers. They were the only ones that I could see in the area.

They seemed so incongruent in the bush.This is an example of the bush delivering the most unexpected sights.

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I hope 2013 will turn out to be much better than you expect!!

Best wishes

Mike

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