Selati: Hiding in the dark

Selati’s Klipspringer Lodge has a photographic hide which is positioned about 20 metres from a man-made waterhole. The hide is about 100 metres down the hill from the lodge. With the addition of lights and camera supports from CNP Safari, photographers can use the hide day and night.

The main purpose of a hide is to conceal the photographer from the alert eyes of wildlife. As soon as wildlife sees a person out in the open it will normally flee. A permanent hide becomes part of the environment and the wildlife becomes progressively habituated to its presence and ignores it – providing the photographers are quiet in the hide.

“Proficiency in photography techniques and composition will yield you good images. But, true passion and love for wildlife will make you a better wildlife photographer.” ~ Alvis Lazarus

There is something special about being in the hide in the dark in the middle of the bush. It is quiet and the lights focus your attention on the waterhole as the colour of the evening sky fades into a midnight blue and then a star spangled black. You are filled with anticipation about what might come to drink. It could be anything from sandgrouse to a duiker or a Sable bull, White rhino or elephant, or perhaps even a lion or leopard – you just never know.

“A good photographer records: a great photographer reveals.” ~ David Glen Larson

One of the intriguing aspects of the hide during the transition period from sunset to full darkness is that the colour of the sky changes dramatically which provides ever changing background colours while the spot lights keep constant illumination. The changing colour in the sky is reflected in the bush and the water.

Early one evening just as the sun was setting behind the hill overlooking the Klipspringer Lodge, a group of elephant bulls walked up to the waterhole to drink. It is breathtaking to see these giants approach the waterhole in the last light. They did not make a sound. Being early evening it was just a drink, not time to bath or play.

A special thrill for me was watching this band of Sable bulls come to the waterhole to drink at last light. Their massive scimitar shaped horns glistened in the last light.

“The painter constructs, the photographer reveals.” ~ Sun Sontag

The early evening light can play tricks on your senses. The intensity and hue of the light can be so subtle and sublime you have to pinch yourself. These three young Kudu came to the waterhole to drink. It was a vulnerable time for them and they were alert and very careful when they quickly took their evening drink of water.

A few Eland came to the waterhole to drink at that in-between time just before the light fades. That in-between time seems to be a moment when mother nature holds her breath as the daylight transitions into night. That in-between time can be still with not a breath of wind. The bush is quiet as the diurnal wildlife makes its way to find a place to sleep and the nocturnal wildlife is waking and beginning their evening’s activities.

As the last oranges of the evening’s light transformed into blue, a large elephant bull emerged from the gloom of the surrounding bush. He drank deeply, illuminated in the spotlights. His presence was imposing but he drank his fill in peace and walked back to feed in the bush through the night.

Duiker are mainly nocturnal. They are naturally very wary when approaching a lit waterhole in the depth of night. This Grey duiker would wander back and forth in the penumbra of the lights away from the waterhole for many minutes assessing the safety of the area. Eventually the duiker would come up to the edge of the water to drink but the stretched pose showed that he was ready to bolt at the slightest sound.

At night the animals rely on their hearing and the slightest sound from the hide will stop them drinking. They look up and assess the direction of the sound and whether it represents a threat or not. After a short while of assessment the duiker relaxes and continues to slake his thirst.

On a different night a lone Sable bull proceeded cautiously towards the waterhole to drink. After assessing all was safe he came to the edge of the water to drink. After a few minutes of deep drawing drinks he stepped back and walked off into the night.

“Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be.” ~ Duane Michals

Unexpectedly, a small herd of wildebeest came into the light to drink. They were reasonably relaxed considering they were exposed but were obviously thirsty. They drank without incident and quietly went on their way.

Without a sound a female White rhino came into the light to drink. Despite her size she did not make a sound, even when drinking.

“Between fact and context is judgement. A photograph captures the fact, the composition and frame creates the context which can have a profound effect on the opinion and appreciation.” ~ Mike Haworth

From a photographic point of view you hold your breath when three rhinos come into the light to drink. It is a time of peace when a mother brings her two calves in to drink. They are quiet, there is no fuss just peace.

At around 18h00 each evening, like clockwork, the Double Banded sandgrouse came to the waterhole to drink. They flew in with their characteristic squeaking so typical of sandgrouse. Many pairs flew in each evening. Some stayed and just rested.

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The quiet before the revelation. As a photographer you just sit quietly in the dark, swimming in your own thoughts, reflecting on all that you have seen during the day and the conversations you have had with fellow nature watchers. It is cool, not cold, but quiet. The Fiery Necked nightjars are calling in the surrounding bush. Every now and then a Pearl-spotted owlet “buuurps”.

“A photographic hide is like a studio in the wild.” ~ Mike Haworth

This male Grey duiker was clearly intrigued by the fragrance of this female. The interaction was quiet and gentle. Not pushing just quiet acceptance. The larger female got to drink in peace and the pair walked off into the night after about 15 minutes.

A male Double Banded sandgrouse resting after his fly in. In many cases these sandgrouse fly many kilometres to drink and when they have a chick to feed, they soak their breast feathers in water to take the moisture back to their waiting chicks.

A female Double Banded sandgrouse drinking at the waterhole just after 18h00. Many pairs flew in at that time to drink. You can them hear them flying in from afar with their unique and musical “kellie-wyn”.

Early one cool morning this young hyaena came to the water hole to drink. Eventually it was joined by two others from the clan. There was no noise. They were dead quiet and it watched attentively as they drank. As quickly as they arrived they disappeared, not to be seen again for the remainder of our stay.

The hide was set about 100 metres below the lodge. It was a real thrill to walk down from the lodge in the dark at around 5h30 not knowing what you would find. The feeling was the same leaving the hide in the dark at various times at night.

“I love the nightlife where we hide in plain sight and where life is rife.
From sunset to sunrise, the stage is lit with special appearances from a changing moon.
The actors are natural, experienced and unscripted.
The set is bejeweled with a kaleidoscope of colours, courtesy the weather and moon.
Beyond the lights an infinite ceiling is spangled with twinkling stars.
The music is choired with the melodies sung by frogs, nightjars and owls.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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