Sunday, March 20, 2011

OKAVONGO DELTA EXPECTATIONS

Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on?
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

This lyric has been playing itself off in my head ever since I started thinking about what to write about my visit to the Okavongo Delta. Perhaps it is my own fault for “anticipating” too much but I have long watched the many programmes aired on the “Animal Channels” and I had visions of huge prides of lions attacking buffalo herds and generally seeing a plethora of predators on the prowl. Therefore, expectations were high! The lyric reflects more of the reality where, it seems, the place has a reputation that outstrips the reality. Having said all that, I have to admit that despite the disappointment of not seeing the many predators I had anticipated, we had a good trip.


I think that I have to thank, firstly, my photobuddy on the vehicle, Rob Lewis who, it must be said, is one of the best photobuddies I have had the privilege to share a vehicle with. He was not demanding in the least and was happy to make use of any opportunity that presented itself – and this is what I hope that I do when on a photo-safari, he also had a good sense of humour. His sharp eyes constantly picked out various hidden gems such as the Pearl Spotted Owl. As a result of this we managed to do a lot of photography with not a lot of opportunities. We were able to explore various angles, move back and forth for best distances and backgrounds, set ourselves up to wait for the action and know that no one was impatient to get going to another sighting. We were able to make use of the sighting we had, even if it was simply a little kingfisher doing its thing on a branch.


The other aspect that made the whole experience more valuable was of course the C4 Images crew. Isak Pretorius and Greg du Toit were on board to ensure that we maximised our opportunities and learnt some more about our cameras. Added to this was our location in the Mombo Concession at the Sanctuary Chief’s Camp. At this point it may be useful to elaborate a little on the value of a comfortable camp. Chief’s Camp is certainly a luxury option and you are definitely not slumming it at this location. The rooms/tents are luxurious and the staff very attentive. The food is a cut or two above any other location I’ve been to while on safari and kudos to the Executive Chef who was particularly obliging to dietary requirements. Our travel arrangements went without a hitch and flying in on small planes was a bonus to cut down on time. The mosquito nets, ceiling fans and very comfortable bathrooms made for some great downtime between drives. Mealtimes were gregarious affairs with much laughing and bantering between all the photographers (pseudo, aspirant and professional).

Then, special mention must be made about our Ranger, Rex (named after the royal family Rex), whose knowledge was exceptional. He knew the terrain well, he handled his vehicle with a deft hand and despite having to rely on a walking stick to get around he ushered us to and from our rooms (as there was a resident hyena under the unit next to ours) and he kept us well entertained and on the move. We also appreciated the fact that we could get out well before the good/golden light arrived and set ourselves up for anticipated possible action.
The vehicles however are the standard safari vehicles and these remain a challenge for a well equipped photographer. Supporting structures such as poles etc prevent one from panning a shot. No ledges prevent the use of beanbags and armrests on seats constantly get in the way of free movement and of course – the Toyota Landcruiser is still a hard ride!! But, I’d rather be on the back of a Landcruiser than in a Datsun bakkie!


Back to the animals. I think that it may auger well if I start off with the Bird List. Notice to all birders!  This is a destination for you. Heaven could not be better. I am not a bird photographer but I took a LOT of bird shots and the list below is what I have in photographs!

NOW HOLD YOUR BREATH! Yes, I have a photo or two (albeit not fantastic photos) of a ROSY THROATED LONGCLAW. Nothing I can win a competition with – but I have the photo!


Here’s the list of the others:
Hamerkop, Red Billed Hornbill, Woodland Kingfisher, Bateleur Juvenile and Adult, Hooded Vulture, Yellow Billed Kites juvenile and adult, Jacana, Carmine Bee-eater, Crimson Breasted Shrike, Fiery Finch, Blacksmith Lapwing, Lilac Breasted Roller, Swallowtail Bee-eater, Pearl Spotted Owl, Painted Snipe, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Egret, Copperytailed Coucal, Yellow Billed Oxpecker juvenile, Pied Kingfisher, Goldentailed Woodpecker, Redbilled Spurfowl, Swainsons Spurfowl, Squacco Heron, Saddlebilled Stork, Yellow Billed Stork, Yellow Billed Egret, Ground Hornbill, Fish Eagle, Striped Kingfisher, Verraux Eagle-Owl, Wattled Crane, Maribou Stork, Open-billed Stork, Guinea Fowl, Dwarf Bittern, Slate Grey Egret.
Conclusion.............this must surely be Birders Paradise.

For the rest of us there were some other sightings interspersed with the birds that made for some good photographic material. On day one we witnessed a sparring match between two young bull elephants in a shallow pan and I eventually had to change to my shorter lens because they got so close to the vehicle. We managed some great shots of elephant interaction with water splashing about to add interest to the compositions


We had a special sighting of some vervet monkeys with babies and the sightings of the lions gave us the opportunity to take some good stock shots. A visit to the hyena den one early morning gave us a glimpse of some pups but they soon disappeared into the den before the good light could arrive. A stop at a Hippo Pool allowed us the luxury of getting out of the vehicle, lying flat on the ground and getting some eyelevel shots of the hippos in the water.


Then the rain came, but being intrepid photographers we still wanted to get out there and it was this decision that gave us our best opportunity. We came across two male lions lying in the road, looking what can only be described as, thoroughly miserable. Acting on Rob’s brilliant suggestion, we decided to sit and wait for the rain to abate and for the lions to shake their manes. The biggest decision was around which lion to line our cameras up on. So, decision made, we waited! And we were rewarded! A brilliant shake of the royal mane delivered some very different shots.


Other highlights were some Red Lechwe locking horns, a leopard cub trying to catch a tree squirrel hiding out in a dead tree, a Woodland Kingfisher having a bath and a comical Giraffe chewing the cud. We spent some time at various intervals trying to take good rain shots with drops forming little patterns over our photographs and catching some Buffalo with glistening horns and noses.



Another experiment that I tried was to loosen the ring on my 500mm lens and then take a shot of a Lilac Breasted Roller. Results below! Great experiment! Lots of light leaking into the camera and it also allowed plenty of dust to accumulate on the sensor and mirror!


There was also a helicopter flip that was an optional extra and I decided to take up the opportunity. However, this is a very different kettle of fish......on analysis after the flip we concluded it wasn’t long enough, the pilot needed to be better briefed and perhaps needed to know more about photography. I have a sneaky suspicion that this is a very very specialised field.
All in all though, a very entertaining, rewarding expedition and I left there with a good feeling and with some new friends.



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