I was fortunate enough to have been invited by long-standing friends Bill and Judy Pierce to spend the long Easter weekend with them at Eagle’s Rock. This is a syndicated wildlife estate of which Bill and Judy have a share.
Friendship isn’t about whom you have known the longest… It’s about who came, and never left your side…
Eagle’s Rock is located about 10 kilometres north of Witbank, in Mpumalanga. The estate encompasses a section of the Olifants river just downstream of President’s Rus about 35 kilometres upstream of Loskop dam. What is amazing about this estate is it is in the middle of the Highveld and the coal belt but here the Olifant’s river has cut a deep gorge through the sandstone creating an enclave for wildlife.
Each morning, not wanting to miss the sunrise, I was up trying to capture that magic transition between night and day. The first morning it was very misty in the gorge. Even though the sun was rising the Highveld autumn mist created a surreal atmosphere.
“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
― Albert Camus
On the second morning there was no mist and it was a superb clear sunrise. One of the tricks in landscape photography is you need to find a compelling perspective and this requires walking around and looking at many spots from all angles. I did not have time to do this so found three dead trees just off one of the sand roads which looked good subjects.
‘There is something immensely hopeful about seeing the first rays of the sun in a new day’.
Once the sun had risen well above the horizon, I went off looking for other interesting subjects to photograph. A particularly beautiful section of the estate is along valley drive. It is a shallow valley cut into the surrounding plateau of sandstone creating rugged valley walls.
Down this valley is a plethora of fauna and flora. Early in the autumn morning the dew is heavy which makes for some beautiful patterns in the grass.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
– Lao Tzu
Being autumn, I did not see many birds but this Cape Grassbird was very busy.
Down valley, the sides of the road were covered in flowers. The dew on the flowers early in the morning added that extra sparkle.
There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
– George Gordon, Lord Byron
Deep in the valley there were large swathes of Pale Blue Pycnostachys alongside the river. They were dripping with dew in the early morning light.
There is a variety of buck on the estate and also a herd of black wildebeest. These beasts look more interesting than the ubiquitous Blue Wildebeest, but they do have similar shaped noses. The game was wary and would not allow me to get too close so a long lens was required.
There were plenty of Guineafowl and these Natal Francolin, wet with morning dew, were feeding on seeds along the two tracks of the road. I sat quietly as this Natal Francolin family came wandering toward me. The female was much more relaxed than the male and the chicks were carefree. Early in the morning the valley was mostly still in shadow.
At the other end of the estate is the river gorge with deep sidewalls of rugged weathered sandstone. At one time there was a colony of vultures living there but many years before the formation of Eagle’s Rock estate the farming activity in the area chased them away.
The deep rugged valley walls make it ideal for Black Eagles to nest. There is one pair of Black Eagles which nest here each year and have made this part of the Olifant’s river their territory. They share this valley with Peregrine Falcons and Red-wing Starlings and many Cliff Martins.
This pair of Black Eagles breed every year on the cliffs at Eagle’s Rock – hence the name of the estate. These are majestic, proud, large Eagles which soar effortlessly on the updraft along the cliffs looking for Dassies and, by the look of it, just for the exhilaration of flying.
This pair was starting to prepare their nest. In the cup of the nest there were new green leaves, signs of the start of nest preparation. It will not be too long before the female lays her next clutch of eggs.
There were also many butterflies in the area such as this Garden Commodore. There were also Grass Yellows, African Vagrants, Monarchs, and Yellow Pansies.
This is a shot of Bill and Judy’s lodge from across a deep ravine further down the gorge. As you can see the scenery is magnificent.
While we were looking across the valley an intrepid soul greeted us. For a while we looked around for the friendly person and only after a minute of so of circling above us did we see this para-glider having great fun. What a magnificent view he or she must have had.
I did not see the Leopard this time but moving through the rugged broken plates of sandstone above the valley along the south-east of the estate reminded me of a magical hour Bill, Judy and myself had spent two years before with this magnificent large male Leopard. Initially, he stared at us from his vantage point on top of a flat sandstone rock. He was completely unconcerned about us being there.
Although he was aware of us, he was much more interested in the Zebra and Wildebeest foals in the open grassland behind us.
We were privileged to have spent just over one hour with this proud male. As the sun started to set he lay down on the rock and stretched, keeping an eye on us all the while.
Shortly after this image, he got down off his sandstone table and began to slowly make his way towards the open grassland behind us, presumably to inspect the foals, and we lost sight of him.
The next image is of a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image from Bill and Judy’s patio in the morning looking north-west out over the Olifiant’s river gorge.
The wonderful thing about Eagle’s Rock is that you cannot see any of the lights of humanity at night and this gives it a real sense of wildness. The evenings were idyllic, looking out from the patio of Bill and Judy’s lodge chatting away over a glass of wine,
A big thank you Bill and Judy for a wonderful relaxing weekend. Spending time with old friends and getting back into the bush is a celebration of life and soothes my soul and I appreciate every moment.
“I still find the moon more amazing than the fact men have walked on it.”
― Marty Rubin
Seek to understand nature, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be.