That Golden Light

Cape Town saw one major storm pull through on Friday night. Yet by Saturday morning all bad weather had cleared up.

I woke up early the Saturday morning and headed out in the dark to get to West Coast National Park before the sun rose. It was still very cold and hardly any cars on the road. I followed the West Coast road that runs along a small mountain range. As I got closer and closer to the park I could see the sky starting to change colour around the mountain edges. It was phenomenal. Purple, blues, red, orange and yellow hues started showing.

An hour later and I had finally made it to the park. I was first to sign in at the gate. Straight ahead of the entrance was the full moon still high in the sky. By now the sky had lit up already, but the colours on the horizon still showed.

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My aim for the day was to shoot in this mysterious “Golden Light” that all photographers talk about. My first subject in the park was a lone Ostrich, but the sun had not yet revealed itself so I got a pic or two and moved on.

I drove out to the Geelbek Bird Hide where I was hoping to shoot from and achieve my goal for the day. As I got out of my car, I saw some Eland. And as luck would have it, they were perfectly positioned for me to shoot them with the full sunrise behind them. I was blown away at the quality of the light and finally got that golden magic that so many are after.

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The Eland moved on and so did I. I took a quick walk to the hide so that I still had an opportunity to get some decent flamingo pictures.

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The light was only just shining at its best so that I could get a quick shot at some Greater Flamingos in the distance. The golden light faded very quickly and a slight mist rolled in.

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Saddle-Billed Stork trying to fish

Crossing bridges in the Kruger usually provides some form of entertainment. The bridge at Lower Sabie did just that.

This was the first time that I had seen one of these critically endangered storks. They are probably the most elegant of all the storks in Kruger. I am glad that I managed to get various sightings of this elegant bird on each day of my trip.

The bridge at Lower Sabie is large enough to park the car on it without causing a traffic jam. This provides the opportunity to take a break from driving and enjoy some refreshments and snacks while viewing some game along the river. While doing so, a Saddle Billed Stork was busy fishing rather close to the bridge.

I managed to capture a failed fishing attempt. This didn’t seem to bother the bird too much. It simply continued with its activities.

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The Hippo, The Lions and the School Bus

A rainy day in Kruger can prove to be just as eventful as any other day in the park. My friend and I had the most bizarre experience on one such rainy day.

We were travelling on the H4-1 road from Lower Sabie back to our camp at Skukuza. At a certain section, we saw a little traffic jam. Naturally we drove closer to see what all the fuss was about.

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In the bush, on the opposite side of the river, was a hefty hippopotamus. I could hardly believe my eyes. They always seemed so much smaller in the water. This hippo might have been there for a while and it looked as if it was getting agitated by all the commotion of the cars. My friend reversed the car to ensure that we gave the hippo enough space should it decide run back towards the river.

It turns out that repositioning the car was not only good for our safety. I looked past the hippo and searched deeper into the bush. Something caught my eye. A lioness! We got totally excited and we were pretty sure we had spotted it first. The lioness was moving in our travel direction and it was moving quickly. We decided to abandon the hippo sighting and try and track the movement of the lioness instead.

We squeezed past the queue of cars and tried to catch up with the lioness. We also hoped that nobody saw what we had seen. As we made it through the traffic jam my friend shouted, “Lion Cubs!” At this point our excitement levels went through the roof! I knew we were the only ones to see the sighting so far.

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What happened next still astounds me. As we approached the cubs, the mother emerged from the bush. She proceeded to cross the road and expected the cubs to follow. First they just stood there looking at each other. Then the cubs decided to reverse and head back into the bush where they had come from.

It turns out that it wasn’t just us that saw these lions. A bus coming from the opposite direction had spotted the lions too. The bus had just passed us when we heard braking, then reverse warning beeps and then we saw a bus reverse right across our view. This frustrated us so much. To make things worse, the bus was full of noisy school children. We were sure that this racket would chase the mother lion away.

We wanted to see how the mother was reacting knowing that the cubs haven’t crossed the road yet. Did she know that they have been separated from each other? We repositioned the car in front of the bus to get a better view. The lioness started to emerge from the bush again. She was probably searching for the cubs.

Next thing we heard was the sound of something decompressing. It sounded as if a bus was opening its doors. I couldn’t believe it!! The bus had actually opened its doors to get a better view of the lioness! We were shocked and astounded. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. I think the bus eventually closed its doors and we left the scene.

I still wonder what could’ve happened had the lioness entered the bus full of noisy school children that day.

Always look up

One of the most iconic sounds of Africa must be the call of the African Fish Eagle. Whether it is early morning, during the afternoon or approaching sunset, the call of this majestic bird will make you feel part of the bush.

One of the things I forgot to focus on during my first trip to Kruger was looking for birds. I was focussed so much on the ground that I often forgot to look up in the trees.

My friend and I stopped around the Lubyelubye Bridge and scanned the ground for any signs of animals. A car stopped next to us and we engaged in a friendly conversation. We asked if they had seen anything exciting in the area. The man looked at me and said, “Look Up”.

I did just that. I looked up and opposite us was a large nest with an African Fish Eagle inside it.

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This sighting felt like it trumped any sighting on the ground. We watched the graceful eagle simply sit in the nest and scan the surrounding area. Luck would have it that the eagle also called its unmistakeable call.

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The next moment we saw some movement in the nest. There was a chick inside it too. The chick got up and started moving around the nest. The mature Fish Eagle proceeded to feed the little one.

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I still can’t believe that we saw this sighting and I count myself lucky that I did. I also hate to think about how many other amazing tree top sightings I missed out on. We had a couple of other moments where we heard the Fish Eagle call across the Sabie River at Skukuza rest camp and Crocodile Bridge rest camp.

It’s a sound I’ll never forget.