Welcome back to the second post of the 5 Day Black-and-White Challenge. Today I’ve chosen to feature a photo of a tiny Steenbok we encountered near the boulders of Masorini in Kruger National Park, a cute little antelope that always tries to look pretty on photographs. But that’s not the only reason why I decided to share it with you – the other reason is the emotion behind the photograph. Let me try to explain this. Being outdoors, hearing the sounds of the animals, smelling the bush, see and feel the wild, all of that evokes a sense of freedom and authenticity in me, a sense of being part of a much bigger scheme of things. Apart from being outdoors myself, I’ve always enjoyed the work from people who possess the gift of perfectly capturing those emotions into images or words. Artists as Peter Beard, Karen Blixen or Laurens van der Post still provide me with ample inspiration, as does the work from contemporary writers, photographers and fellow-bloggers – they all share the same passion …
The sky was cloudy as a front had moved in overnight. The unusual warm temperatures of the previous days had dropped dramatically and a cold drizzle started to come down. A light breeze stirred the Sable Dam water but the surrounding bushveld seemed motionless. Despite the rather chilly conditions and no clear signs of wildlife we were all very excited for things to come. Having stayed at Kruger’s bigger and busier rest camps on previous trips, this time we wanted to experience nature from a different angle. Fortunately the Park’s accommodation is very versatile, ranging from luxerious to basic and outright rustic. After six years of Aussie bush training we opted for the latter, booking nights at Maroela and Tzendze, sites designated to campers only. However, when we came across the opportunity to spend one night at Sable we grabbed it with both hands as staying in one of Kruger’s sleepover hides is the ultimate chance to be out in the African wilderness completely by yourself. Although the hide is fenced to keep animals out, knowing no one …
This pair of Swainson’s Spurfowls (Pternistis swainsonii) was one of the little highlights on our last trip into the Kruger National Park. Whenever at the junction of the H7 and the untarred road towards Maroela camp we were sure to spot these two territorial birds. Seemingly undisturbed and rather inquisitive at first, they frantically started to look for cover in the tall grass every time our car approached. After experiencing this ritual half a dozen of times we baptized them Tweedledee and Tweedledum – a funny couple in a wild Wonderland. To listen to their captivating call please read the post and click on the mp3 file.
Lately, I came across an entertaining African folktale in which Squirrel asks his brother-in-law Rabbit to borrow him his beautiful fluffy tail. First Rabbit refuses, but after a few days of pleading he consents. Squirrel puts on Rabbit’s tail, promises to bring it back in eight days time and then goes home. Rabbit waits in vain for Squirrel to return his tail, and after eleven days he decides to claim it back. When Squirrel sees Rabbit he quickly jumps in a tree, laughs out loud and challenges Rabbit to climb up into the tree if he ever wants to see his tail again. Ashamed of losing his tail Rabbit goes away and spends the rest of his life living in the tall grass. Look out for these arboreal rodents chasing each other in Kruger’s rest camp trees – and think about how poor lonely Rabbit lost its tail.
A flowering Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum) is a colourful beacon in the dry wintery landscape of southern Africa. The plant contains a highly toxic latex which is used for both hunting and medicinal purposes. Some species – amongst which the summer or Swazi Impala Lily – are harvested to such an extent that they are now listed as endangered. While commercial gathering for the horticultural and traditional medicine market, urbanisation and agriculture have almost wiped out the entire population in certain areas, the Kruger National Park forms a save heaven for this beautiful plant. It features abundantly in Skukuza, Letaba and Shingwedzi rest camps, where its stunning pink colour will certainly overwhelm you.
An encounter with a stately Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) doesn’t seem particularly special, however, with only an estimated 25 to 30 breeding pairs left in the greater Kruger area – on a total of 150 breeding pairs in South Africa – we were incredibly lucky to spot this couple collecting nesting materials in a dry riverbank next to the S133. Little is known about the dwindling numbers of this big bird, but a combination between an irregular breeding pattern and the degradation of their wetland habitats by upstream human activity seems to seal their fate. This striking bird is in serious danger and needs all our conservation efforts to change its dire future!
“I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the giraffe, in their queer inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing” – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa I simply love giraffes, the way they look, eat and walk in all their gracious glory. These were not the first animals we came across on this golden hour morning drive near Orpen: lions and black-backed jackals had crossed our path just five minutes earlier. Although the predators didn’t offer the same photo opportunity, I’ve never had such an exciting start of the day!
Just south of the Letaba the S-46 crosses a side arm of this mighty river. At the water’s edge our attention was drawn to a solitary hippo bull, clearly not amused by our presence according to his resonant grunts. It was only after he submerged when we spotted this Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) right next to the car, waiting for an unsuspecting fish or frog in the shallows. We observed this fascinating bird for a few moments, but as it is a symbol for bad-luck and human futility in South-African folklore we didn’t wait for the hippo to reappear…
Browsing giraffes are a common sight on any safari as they love the tender leaves and twigs of acacia trees. Since a giraffe eats up to 34 kilograms every day in order to sustain its bulk, acacias have developed clever defence mechanisms to avoid being stripped completely. Apart from their big thorns – that can be negotiated by the giraffe’s flexible upper lip and prehensile tongue – acacias charge their leaves with alkaloids, chemical compounds that bind with tannins, rendering the leaves indigestible. As soon as an acacia starts this chemical defence it warns other trees in the vicinity, forcing the giraffe to browse upwind in order to continue his love affair with these thorny trees.
We had seen mum cooling herself down in the mud of the riverbed earlier that afternoon. But when a foul smelling odour of territory-marking secretion reached our tents later on, we knew a den of hyena’s would be nearby. The whole family emerged out of their holes early that night and we had a close encounter with them just outside the gates of Letaba. Its reputation as a craven scavenger is perfectly demonstrated by the fearful, almost ashamed body-language of these six month old cubs, constantly glancing at everything except us.
“Much as I love the lion, elephant, kudu and eland, the animal closest to the earth and with most of the quintessence of Africa in its being is for me the buffalo of the serene marble brow.” – Laurens van der Post Buffalo are one of my favourite subjects. They show an interesting spectrum of behaviour ranging from docile to outright malevolent and offer enough drama for a good photo. This old bull didn’t show much action, but the worn boss of its horns and two diligent red-billed oxpeckers did the trick.
A long stretch of the H1-4 road between Satara and Olifants in the Kruger National Park runs through open savanna, a vast plain of pale yellow grass only sparingly interrupted by trees. This area is prime habitat for grazers as blue wildebeest and zebra, although only elephants came out of the shade to withstand the harsh afternoon sun on this unusual warm winter day. While feeding undisturbed on the few knob thorn trees around him, this impressive lone bachelor made his way towards the camera slow but sure, constantly keeping an eye on us. Being in the presence of such a display of power always evokes a sense of fear and excitement that makes me respect and appreciate the natural order of things.
Southern Ground Hornbills (Bucorvis leadbeateri) are one of the most fascinating and striking looking birds to see in the Kruger National Park. We had been lucky to find a pair willing to pose before the camera, crossing the road leisurely in the heat of the afternoon sun and seemingly too weary to even raise their beautiful eyelashes. Soooo pretty!!!