Friends with whom I have travelled will reveal that there is a particular bird that has me in constany rapture in more ways than one and when it comes to animal behaviour, I feel this particular species offers an enormous array of opportunities for some stunning photography. I refer, of course, to the vulture. A much maligned vacuum cleaner of the African plains the vulture offers any photographer more action than they could possibly imagine. From the time they circle in the thermals until they gracefully glide down onto a vulture feast which is followed by interaction second to none there is an enormous a variety of action images just waiting to be taken.
On my trip to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in kwaZulu-Natal the inevitable bird shots are on offer and as usual I cannot resist. The first birds that temptingly dance in front of the camera are some red billed oxpeckers feasting on the ticks clinging to some Impala. Fortunately the impala are not in the least bit skittish and after we stop the car they happily continue foraging around on the ground for whatever morsels are available. The birds then also follow suit and the camera goes to work.
Later during the same trip we stop at the inevitable picnic spot for a spot of breakfast and a crowned hornbill almost instantly appears in the tree above us. I leave the food containers open and step back one or two steps. This brings the bird in closer but he remains really suspicious of me and while I am able to snap a shot or two while his beady eye is kept on the food he does not dare swoop down on the food.
The cherry on the cake for the trip comes on the last day as we are exiting the Reserve where we come across a nesting pair of Whiteback Vultures obviously tending some eggs in their nest. It is fascinating to watch the male perched on the side of the nest while the female, in the heat of the day, is airing herself and the eggs. A rare opportunity that only comes around every now and again.
Earlier this year on a trip to the Masai Mara the inevitable vulture fest presents itself early one morning when, after an electrically fascinating thunderstorm the previous night, three Zebras find themselves lying prostrate on the plains of the Mara. We quickly navigate our way to the carcass where a voracious Hyena has already filled his belly to its limits. A Blackback Jackal is tearing at the softer flesh when the sky starts filling with flapping wings. As the birds gracefully swoop in and land the fun begins. Instantly there is a show of extended wings as each new arrival makes an effort to intimidate those either on the carcass or nearby. The jackal takes exception to the newcomers and makes an intense effort to ward them off but it is all in vain as the numbers swell. The hissing, spitting and barking sets off a wondrous spectacle and before I know where I am it’s time to go.
On this same trip a Crowned Crane, a Ground Hornbill, and a couple of LBJ’s are amongst the photographs that add to the pure enjoyment of being in the bush.
Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana’s Northern Tuli Block is one destination where the Owl seems to reign supreme. I have not been on a trip there without collecting one or two Owls. In May this year the first Owls that graced us with their presence in two trees right next to each other is my all time favourite the Pearl Spotted Owl whose glare would be most daunting if it were any bigger and in the next tree a Giant Eagle Owl. The big surprise of the trip however would turn out to be a Scops Whitefaced Owl that had just nabbed its dinner, an unfortunate little Gerbil. We had enough time in the complete darkness to set up our cameras and test settings for shots taken with Spotlights.
These photographs not only challenge one in technique but they add to the excitement and memories of days spent in the bush.