Pilansberg – managing expectations

Helen and I get out of town into the bush as often as possible. It refreshes the soul! I needed some practice, so we decided to spend the day in the Pilansberg Game Reserve.

As you are all aware watching Eskom’s bulletins and the looming load-shedding, we are moving headlong into winter when the summer greens give way to yellows and browns. The first thing we noticed was how dry it was in the park. There was a nip in the air despite being sunny the whole day. Of course, in the transition months there is more wind which does not make bird photography any easier.

The first shot is of a herd of Zebra walking in a line along a contour on the opposite side of a valley. I took the shot just to give an impression of the size of the valley and the vast backdrop.

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Besides a couple of White Rhino and numerous Wildebeeste, we saw quite a few small herds of Zebra. During the day we saw only one bout of mock fighting where the Zebra try to bite each other’s legs.

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As I mentioned, the park was very dry. This next shot shows a colourful, but stagnant pool. In the park many dams were dry and some had very little water in them – surprisingly.

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We saw very little game  and very few birds during out eight hours in the park. So like any photographer with such beauty all around, I started shooting landscapes.

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I wanted to take a shot which any person who has been to the Pilansberg would recognise. I love the rocky outcrops, not quite granite kopjies, but interesting nevertheless. Also at this time of the year, the grass is dry and turns blonde making an interesting foreground.

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The Pilansberg is a caldera and as such is endowed with some rugged countryside creating  magnificent scenery.

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At this time of the year the grasses are tassling, so there is lots of seed around. We came across  a few Waxbills (impossible to get a decent shot) and Canaries. The next shot is of a male Yellow-Fronted Canary having just taken off from its perch to feed on all the seed on the ground.

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Seeing very little, we were just about to give up when Helen saw this Ground-Scrapper Thrush standing in an open patch down near one of the rivers. It is amazing how one bird can revive a photographer’s spirits.

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One of the big things I have to manage is my own expectations. When I head out for a photographic session in a park like Pilansberg, I am brimming with expectations of amazing shots to edit later in the evening. It does not always work out that way. On a safari with Lou Coetzer in Kalgadigadi Transfrontier Park, on our first drive of the trip, we saw a pride of eight Lion with plenty of activity and interaction. Lou cautioned us that we had been very lucky and should not expect that level of excitement each time we went out – he was 100% right.

Nature keeps surprising you, when you least expect it. The next shot was of a Cape Rock Thrush with its distinctive colouring. Rock Thrushes have  a slate-blue head and rufous underparts and is the typical size and shape of a Thrush. It is a common resident in rocky hillsides and the blue-grey head colouring does not extend down to mid-breast level as in the Sentinel Rock Thrush. I have never seen one in Pilansberg before.

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One bird you can rely on even when the sightings are very few and far between is a Glossy Starling and this character was no exception. Its colouring was glorious – and that orange eye!

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We only saw one Red Hartebeeste and it was hanging around with a group of Zebra, probably for a little added protection.

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Old man! This was not the most handsome Giraffe I have ever seen but life was etched all over his face. The colour of the Giraffe worked better in black and white emphasising the shapes and textures.

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Again, I was amazed how few birds we saw in eight hours in the park – no raptors, no shrikes and no waterbirds. When all else fails, an old favourite we can rely on is the Lillac-brested Roller .

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Another bird you will see often in most game parks is the Fork-tailed Drongo, but getting a decent shot is not always easy – I will settle for this portrait.

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The day, from a wildlife photography perspective, was challenging and I had to marshal my expectations.

The roads in the park, both tarred and gravel, were in a poor state as were the ablutions. This was surprising given it is a premier destination for overseas visitors who I thought we were trying to impress with our beautiful country. Even with few animal or bird sightings, the vistas in the park are spectacular!!

On a day like last Sunday, I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote – “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.”

I am off to Mashatu next week, which is why I needed the practice, so hopefully I will have some interesting images and stories to share.

Even on a quiet photographic day, the bush is a sensory wonderland.

Have fun


2 thoughts on “Pilansberg – managing expectations

  1. Enjoy Mashatu – I am also planning a trip to Mashatu towards the end of the year. Looking forward to see your photos and hear your opinion of the conditions fro photography.

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