Timbavati in June

Sue and Neville Kelly were kind enough to invite us to join them and a group of their friends in the Timbavati at Walker’s River Camp for four days in the middle of June – it was a magic time. We were lucky enough to have Pat and Eileen Donaldson looking after us for the four days. Pat is a seasoned wildlife guide in the Timbavati area so knows the area intimately and Eileen was a wonderful host looking after us in the lodge. When you go into the bush as a “towny” you need someone with detailed knowledge of the area to be able to orient you in the limited time you have in the bush. Pat was just that person.

“Love meeting new people, travelling to new places, hearing new experiences and stories, and finding new evidence”.

 – Unknown

The Walker’s River Camp is located along the Klaserie river very close to the Timbavati gate. In 1956, a group of conservation minded landowners formed the Timbavati Association (http://www.timbavati.co.za/overview/history). The aim was to reclaim the land for the benefit of all. Today, there are over 50 members who have succeeded in restoring the land to its natural state with diverse and rare wildlife  and flora species. In 1993, in recognition of the importance of the area, the fences between the Kruger National Park and the Timbavati Game Reserve were removed to encourage natural species migration. 

Timbavarti 0615-1072-2

The first birds we saw in Walker’s River Camp were were the Dusky and Black Flycatchers. They were very active from about 11h00 to 14h00 as that must have been the time of greatest insect activity. I only managed to get a reasonable image of a Dusky Flycatcher.

Timbavarti,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1250, f6.3, iso800, 600mm

The first afternoon out we saw this Black-backed Jackal who was basking in the warm winter sun. He gave us nothing but a passing glance. There are many predators in the Timbavati so the Jackals can make a good living as long as they keep out of harm’s way.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/5000, f6.3, iso1600, 600mm

The next morning we drove passed the closest waterhole, which we called “hide waterhole”, just to see what was going on there. A small family of Hippos were submerged in the icey morning water with the amber reflected dawn light silhouetting them.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/6400, f7.1, iso2500, 165mm

A wider angle shot a short while later once the sun had started to rise across the “hide waterhole”. An adult Wildebeest had died in the water, cause unknown, and was lying semi-submerged for almost a day and surprisingly nothing had touched it by the time we had passed.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/800, f11, iso1600, 29mm

Further on we came across this lone young Hyaena returning from its night’s foraging. Judging from the size of its belly the night’s picking looked fairly lean. Surprisingly, it was not too far from the “hide waterhole” but this Hyaena seemed not to have scented the dead Wildebeest.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/500, f7.1, iso2500, 230mm

A juvenile Martial Eagle sitting in a large dead tree close to the waterhole presumably waiting for prey to come down for its last drink.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/6400, f6.3, iso2000, 600mm

After some driving we came across a coalition of three male Lions – a dominant force on any terms. We found all three males lying deep in thick bush. After some time, two of the males moved into a more open area. One male was lying low in the short grass just watching us. Although he looks intimidating, he was relaxed but keeping an eye on us.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/2000, f7.1, iso2500, 150mm

One of the other males decided to get up and go and investigate something that caught his attention down near the river. He was a magnificent fully grown specimen who looked like he could get what ever he wanted.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/3200, f7.1, iso2500, 360mm

The scars on his nose show that he has had to fight for his current status and territory. It was still relatively early but the sun was up and the light was good which made his pupils contract into little black dots.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/6400, f7.1, iso2500, 240mm

He walked across the sand road on his way down to the dry river bed. It is only when these male lions are in the open do you get a sense of just how big they are, and it is times like this you are grateful to be on the game vehicle and not on foot armed with nothing but a camera.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/8000, f7.1, iso2500, 195mm

Down in the small river bed, a scent had caught his attention. 

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/6400, f7.1, iso2500, 240mm

After a short investigation he lost interest in the river bed scent and climbed up the bank, closer to us, in front of a big thorn bush and flopped down. I caught him just as he was reclining, looking  a touch too effeminate.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/5000, f7.1, iso2500, 240mm

Now he looks more like a testosterone-driven male Lion. There were no Lionesses around so presumably these three males were just patrolling their territory.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/5000, f7.1, iso2500, 240mm

I have included this image just to show you the environs in which we found this coalition.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1600, f11, iso1600, 70mm

After spending about three quarters of an hour watching these males do very little, we decided to find a spot some distance away to have our morning coffee break. We stopped at a small waterhole and I was struck by this solitary dead tree in the water suspending a colony of Buffalo Weaver nests which were lined with Village Weaver nests. There was hardly a ripple on the water and it was a warm South African winter morning in the bush, still and peaceful.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/8000, f7.1, iso2000, 150mm

At this time of the year, the leaves of the Tambotei tree turn this deep red, really punctuating the brown, greens, oranges and yellows of the flora in winter.

Timbavarti 0615-59

There are quite a few waterholes in the Timbavati area. This was another example of the dead still, cool winter morning where the reflections in the water were near perfect.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/2500, f11, iso1600, 32mm

On our way back to the camp, we stopped at the “hide waterhole” and disturbed this family of young Hippos. They immediately bolted for the water. As a photographer you try to catch that perfect moment when they launch themselves into the water.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/6400, f7.1, iso1000, 195mm

A fraction of a second later, a relatively sedate entrance.

Bothaville,South Africa -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/8000, f7.1, iso1000, 195mm

A view of another waterhole later that day at sunset. Whilst it is fun to get sunset images you need to be aware that there is crocodile, “flat dog”, which has seen you next to the water’s edge and is probably on its way over to greet you.

Timbavarti 0615-9-2

The magic of an African sunset.

Timbavarti 0615-15-2

The Timbavati is one of those special places in South Africa where landowners have co-operated for the common purpose of protecting the flora and wildlife and have taken down the fences and opened the area up to the Kruger Park allowing the animals unrestricted access. This map shows you the  lie of the land.


“Wilderness, in whatever way we describe it, becomes a chance for human beings to redeem their humanity. It is a place where we go to contemplate our origins, examine our past, and plan our future. It is manna for the soul and hope for all life.”

Ian Player

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

Have fun,


One thought on “Timbavati in June

  1. Magical place which offered good sightings Mike! We have such wonderful places still to be explored on our doorstep. Thanks for sharing!!

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