Day 1 AM
Early start at 05.15 for our first safari. We are inside the reserve in less than 15 minutes after leaving our hotel. Our main target today is Wild Dogs. We decide that we will ignore most of the more common species. The first thing that we see is a substantial herd of Buffalo. Keep going I say. I really wanted to stop as they are covered in a fine red dust. I have never seen Buffalos this colour but I know we will see them again. We soon come across several White Rhinos. Some of them have the biggest horns I have ever seen. They are a beautiful reddish-brown and first light is just beginning to enhance those colours. We have to stop a while. The photographs are stunning. We continue on in search of the Wild Dogs. Two of the sixteen dogs are collared and we have a tracking device to locate them. We find them but they are deep in thick bush. We decide to leave them until our next safari and go in search of other subjects. We find more dust-covered Buffalo and also similarly reddish-brown coloured Elephants. We also photograph Wart Hogs, Vervet Monkeys, Guinea Fowl, Burchell’s Zebra, Greater Kudu, Nyala, Southern Giraffe, Spurfowl, Impala and a Paradise Whydah. On our way back we stop to photograph a Dung Beetle rolling a ball of Elephant Dung before digging a hole and burying it in the dirt. We are allowed out of the vehicle and get some really impressive shots from ground level. An amazing start. This promises to be a really special venue.
Day 1 PM
We choose to pay our first visit to the lake hide. A really special set up. There are shallow reflection pools both to the front and to the rear of the hide. We shoot through a special one-way glass. There are swivel seats and wheeled tripods with Wimberley heads for up to six people. The birds cannot see us but we can shoot through this special glass without softening our pictures. Our lenses are at water level and the backgrounds are superb. It is a bit windy this afternoon and the birds are a little slow. We get some really good shots of Jacanas, Three Banded Plovers, Blacksmith’s Plovers, Common Sandpipers and a Grey Heron. We leave early to search for Wild Dogs. We find them right near the track, not far from where we located them this morning. To my amazement we are led out of the vehicle and walk slowly to within 10 feet of them. We sit/lie down and photograph the pack of eighteen Wild Dogs for more than half an hour.
Day 2 AM
The Wild Dogs are our main target again this morning. It takes us just ten minutes to find them. They are about fifty feet from the road and they have just killed a Nyala. Once again we are led from the vehicle to within fifteen feet of where the dogs are eating. We sit down and watch in amazement. The puppies all eat first while the adults sit a few yards away. The adults wait calmly until the puppies are full. When the last one has left the adults take over. They eat at an amazing rate. The puppies move to an open area and play. Some of them continually play tug-of-war with the Nyala’s tail, which one of them has detached from the kill. We move with them and get some absolutely unbelievable photographs. We had just over one and three quarters of an hour with these guys. Phenomenal. We then go in search of the male Cheetah. This animal is not collared, but has a chip in the back of his neck. We are able to track this guy – just as we can track the Wild Dogs. We find him under a large tree with his belly fit to burst. He apparently killed the day before. Once again we are led out of the vehicle and lie on the ground approximately 30 feet away from him. This is a wild Cheetah and not a hand reared specimen. It is a real privilege to be on the ground with him. On our way back we photograph an African Harrier Hawk, Zebra, Hyena, leaping Impala and a huge male Kudu. Wow – I love this place.
Day 2 PM
We make our second visit to the Lake Hide. It was restocked with fish this morning and we hope to see Fish Eagles swooping in and catching one or two. The light is much better than yesterday. We take shots of Jacanas and Blacksmiths Plovers. The colours are stunning. A Giant Kingfisher sits about three feet in front of us for more than twenty minutes. He then sits on a curved branch for another ten minutes or so. We get two good opportunities to catch him in flight before he leaves. The Grey Heron flies in and out of the pool on a regular basis. The combination of the light and the backdrops make these shots quite special. A fish Eagle sits on a log for fifteen minutes in the same glorious light. It flies to a nearby tree and swoops in twice. The first time it misses, but it catches a sizeable fish on its second attempt. We stop to photograph some White Rhinos with their calves and four Nyala as we make our way home.
Day 3 AM
This morning we opt for the morning birdbath hide. It is set up so that the morning sun rises behind us, giving a beautiful golden glow to our subjects as the sun rises. This is predominantly set up for the smaller birds but also works for the small to medium mammals. There are swivel seats and tripods with Wimberley heads for up to four people. This hide is designed for morning shoots as the rising sun is behind the hide. We photograph a number of birds here. They can be photographed either on perches of drinking in the reflection pool. We take shots of Dark Capped Bulbul, Yellow Breasted Canary, Glossy Starling, House Sparrow, Laughing Dove, Emerald Dove, Blue Waxbill, Hammerkopf and Striped Kingfisher. We have a whole family of Banded Mongooses drinking together at the reflection pool. A really outstanding five minutes or so followed a little while later by four Wart Hogs. When the sun gets a little harsh we leave the hide and continue with a safari. We photograph Buffalo, Rhino and calf, Wildebeest, Giraffe and Wart Hogs.
Day 3 PM
After lunch we use the afternoon birdbath hide. Once again this hide is predominantly set up for the smaller birds and also works well for the small to medium mammals. It accommodates 3 photographers and faces the opposite way to the morning hide. It is designed for afternoon shoots. We start with excellent light and the shutter speeds are much higher than they were at the beginning of this morning’s shoot. The shots are amazingly sharp. Our first subject is a Glossy Starling. He poses on all the branches and stumps and drinks at the reflection pool. When on the branches his underside is brilliantly lit up by the suns rays bouncing off the pool. Awesome. We photograph Blue Waxbill, House Sparrow, Bulbul, Bunting and a gorgeous Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin displaying real attitude. Like the Starling he posed on all the branches and in the reflection pool. We then had Langur Monkeys and Impala drinking with full reflections as the sun began to set. When we lost the light at the pool we still had the sun out in the park for another thirty minutes. We photographed several Rhinos with their calves, Wildebeest, Wart Hogs, Buffalo and Zebra before the sun disappeared below the horizon.
Day 4 AM
We decide on Wild Dogs as our goal for this morning. We search for just over an hour without success. Our tracking system shows that they are constantly on the move. We know approximately where they are but each time we get there they are somewhere else. Then we find them. They are on the edge of a semi dry riverbed and the youngsters are eating a female Impala that they have just killed. We cross the river in the vehicle and disembark. We take our position, with the light behind us, on a sandy bank about twenty metres from the kill. We photograph the puppies taking their last few mouthfuls. Their stomachs are huge. They drink from the shallow river before they leave and disappear into the reeds a few metres away. The adults finish what remains. When they have had their fill (virtually no meat remains) our guide drags the carcass onto the end of the sandy bank where we are. The dogs are stood up and watching our guide intently. They all come to investigate the carcass. The puppies try to find a few morsels of meat but their parents have left nothing. They then play with bits of bone and sticks for twenty minutes or so. They are all round us – both upstream and downstream plus to our right and to our left. They take it in turns to chase the one with the stick/bone – often splashing through the water while doing so. I have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not dreaming. I thought the second day of this safari would be my best ever experience with Wild Dogs. Just two days later and I am proved to be wrong. The adults reappear and pull the carcass apart so that the puppies have bigger pieces to play with. The power of the dogs is amazing. The alpha male holds the neck and the females grab legs. Legs are detached in no time at all. Puppies chase each other while splashing through the shallow water. Suddenly they tire and disappear into the reeds. We move away and discuss the last hour’s photography over a cup of coffee. We then continue with our safari and photograph the usual subjects – Vultures, Wart Hogs, Rhino and calves, Buffalo, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Greater Kudu and Nyala. We see a Brown Duiker but he is too quick for our cameras.
Day 4 PM
I opted for the new (under construction) White Fronted Bee Eater hide this afternoon. It is just a one-man hide at the moment. It will accommodate more people next year. The hide is set less than 5 metres from a beautiful curved branch that protrudes from the Bee Eaters’ nesting site. Some of the birds’ nesting holes are closer than the branch and some are further away. Using a 100 – 400 mm lens on a camera with a 1.6 crop factor, I am able to virtually fill the frame with birds perched on the branch. The backgrounds are superb and I can pick different colours for the backdrops – depending on where the birds are on the branch. I concentrate on birds with insects in their mouths. The variety of insects is quite astounding. After a couple of hours I leave the hide and continue with a safari. I photograph Ostrich, Nyala – both males and females, Elephant, Leopard Tortoise, Several Rhinos and calves, Buffalo and a tiny Nyala calf.
Day 5 AM
This morning our plan was to photograph the animals that we have regularly been driving by and to shoot the Rhinos at sunrise. We enter the park before the sun is up and photograph four Zebra and a White Rhino with a huge horn. We are just about to cross the dam when we spot the Wild Dogs. The sun is about to pop so I instruct our driver to get below the ridge while the dogs are on the top. We get there just in time and take some fantastic shots with the dogs silhouetted against the gold sky. The dogs then go to the lake to drink. We get out of the vehicle and get some great shots with the water behind. The pups are continually playing while the adults are more purposeful continually alert for any hunting opportunity. Their bellies are empty and they obviously have not eaten today. Back in the vehicle and we follow them for at least a mile as they search for prey. As they cross one of the tracks they are spotted by three Elephants. The Elephants immediately go into full charge mode. We are parked on the track and the Elephants are about eighty yards away from us. The dogs are half way between the Elephants and us. The dogs do nothing at first and wait until the Elephants are quite close to them. The Elephants are running flat out towards the dogs – and us. The dogs shoot to the left at the last moment – like it was almost another game. The dogs are gone and the Elephants have not altered course. They are still running at top speed and straight towards us. Our driver makes a hasty escape while I am still shooting the Elephants. The dogs then spot an Impala and are gone like rockets. We lose sight of them and use the tracking device. It takes us about twenty minutes to find them. They have not killed and are resting between some bushes. The babies wake up first. We get shots of them playing. Then the older ones lead the pack in search of food. The pups continually chase each other back and forth. Then the adults do a couple of training exercises to show the pups how to hunt. First they pick on an adult male Wildebeest. They circle this guy and make him run. All eighteen dogs give chase. Red dust is everywhere. You can hardly see the animals. Both the predators and the prey fill the air with red dust. Very difficult to photograph but wonderful to see. They chase this guy for half a mile or so before trotting back to where it all started. Two big male Bison become the next targets. At first the Bison totally ignore the dogs. The dogs have completely circled the Bison. The bison keep spinning round so as to face the biggest threat. The Alpha male snaps at the back legs of one of the Bison. He runs away at top speed with his mate alongside. The dogs chase these guys for more than a mile. They are only a few feet behind the Buffalo. Again the air turns red with dust – so much dust that we cannot photograph anything other than the first moments. What a spectacle and they have travelled almost out of sight in no time at all. The dogs come trotting back – just as they did with the Wildebeest and we get some great shots of the dogs. School is over and now it is time to hunt for real. We follow the dogs for nearly two miles to an area with a different landscape. It is a very dry area with lots of leafless bushes. The adult dogs split up and search from bush to bush. They are covering an area almost half a mile wide. Suddenly one puts up an Impala. The Impala runs for its life and regularly does huge leaps high into the air while making its escape. The Impala is definitely running faster than the dog at this stage. Two more Impala with a single dog chasing each one emerge from elsewhere. They are jumping incredibly high and long. They are definitely showing each dog a clean pair of heels. This is called “pronking” and is a way of telling their pursuers “you can’t catch me”. They all run in a similar direction towards the river. They quickly disappear from sight. We use the tracking device and it takes another twenty minutes to find them. They have crossed the river to an area that is not accessible by vehicle. We can see them and they have not killed. We leave them to continue hunting and we reflect on what we have seen during our last three hours of being entertained by Wild Dogs. Maybe now is the time to tell my driver that I have seen enough of Wild Dogs on this trip?????????? Maybe not. We stop for coffee and then photograph two female Nyala, a huge bull Greater Kudu, Elephant, Crocodile, Buffalo and Rhino.
Day 5 PM
This afternoon we made our second visit to the afternoon birdbath hide. It was a great afternoon and the birds visited regularly throughout the afternoon. We photographed a White Browed Robin having two lengthy baths plus male and female Pink Throated Twinspots. These birds are extremely rare and the male is absolutely stunning. We also photographed Red Billed Firefinch, Yellow Breasted Canary, Blue Waxbill, Dark Capped Bulbul, House Sparrow, Green Winged Pytilia, Green Spotted Dove, Sombre Greenbul and Village Weaver. We saw Red Faced Mousebird, Speckled Mousebird and Crested Francolin very close to the bath while we were in the hide. The highlight was a visit by three Banded Mongooses. The lighting was perfect and they had full reflections in the gold/brown water as they drank. We left the hide about half an hour before sunset and photographed Nyala, Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Buffalo, Wildebeest and White Rhino as the sun set.
Day 6 AM
We do our second visit to the morning birdbath hide. It is brighter this morning and we can soon achieve 1/3000 second shutter speed, and the reflections are gorgeous. The brighter light makes it easier to capture sharp shots of the birds in flight as they leave the pool. We photograph some of the birds that we have seen before but there also are a number of very pretty species that are new to us. We have Blue Waxbill, Dark Capped Bulbul, Green Spotted Dove, Yellow Breasted Canary, Cinnamon Breasted Bunting, Glossy Starling, Cape Turtle Dove, Sombre Greenbul, Drongo and Laughing Dove. Most species of birds make several visits and the activity is particularly high this morning. We then have visits from both male and female White Bellied Sunbirds and both sexes of Scarlet Chested Sunbirds. The males of each species are in full breeding colours and are amazing. Many of the birds were having a bath this morning and they were photographed with water flying in all directions with a prefect reflection beneath. We photograph Rhino, Greater Kudu and Giraffe on our way back to our lodge.
Day 6 PM
This afternoon we opt for a leisurely safari, spending plenty of time with any subject that is in a good position/in good light. Our aim is to fill in the gaps and get some good photos of the more mundane subjects in the park. We get our best shots to date of a White Rhino and her calf. We shoot male and female Nyala, both front lit and backlit. We photograph Crocodiles and Hippos in the lake plus Greater Kudu and Wart Hogs in the same area. The highlight of the afternoon is being allowed out of the vehicle and lying in a dry riverbed to photograph three Giraffes. The perspective is fantastic. It is a real privilege to be able to do these sorts of things that have never been permitted anywhere else to date. Our next subjects are Guinea Fowl. We shoot both the more common Helmeted Guinea Fowl and the much more rare Crested Guinea Fowl. We end the afternoon with the male Cheetah. This is the cat that has been micro-chipped. Using our tracking device it only takes us ten minutes or so to find him. Like the previous time that we saw him, he has a huge belly. He has obviously killed earlier today and is not going to look for food until tomorrow. We enjoy some ice-cold drinks while watching both the sun disappear behind the horizon and the Cheetah lazily scanning the area for any unsuspecting prey.