November and early December are a fantastic time to be in bush in the Okavango Delta. It’s special to see all the babies . . . zebras, elephants, impalas, tsessebe, lions, baboons, etc. The vibrant colors of migrant birds are present, and most importantly, the skies are so dramatic with thick, puffy white clouds reaching high in the sky. Just imagine seeing the African landscape in wide screen, techno-color with a splash of lush green, bright oranges and reds.
The giraffe gives a deceptive impression of ungainliness—but watch one in stride with its long, loping gallop and you see a paradigm of power, a kind of imperial grace.
Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years. They also display signs of grief, joy, anger and play. They form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd. The herd is led by the oldest and often largest female in the herd, called a matriarch. Herds consist of 8-100 individuals depending on terrain and family size. Calves are protected by the entire herd so when planning on photographing elephants you must be aware of the dangers posed.
Bee, our field guide and driver at Nxabega Tented Camp, took us to a fairly large herd of elephants which he knew had some babies just recently borne. Closer we told Bee, and he delivered. He took us off road into the bush, shrubs, sticks, mowing down everything in sight. I thought for sure we were doomed—lost in a herd of “pissed off” elephants. We were so close that I switched to my Nikon D600 with the 70-200mm lens. One angry mother with her baby close at hand thought we might be a wee bit too close (I thought so too). She became quite agitated, flapping her large ears and throwing her trunk up into the air, trumpeting her displeasure. Even the boy calf danced around doing his “fake” charged at our vehicle. I wasn’t too worried about the baby since he only came to the top of our vehicle but the mother was another story. I turned to Bee, exclaiming that we needed “PLAN B,” an exit plan. “Don’t worry, Miss Kandy,” he said, “I can read these animals.” Really?
Arguably the most distinctive feature of a zebra is its COAT of many stripes . . . it’s an unique fingerprint just like humans —no two are exactly alike—although each of the three species of zebra has its own general pattern. Scientists are not completely sure why the stripes . . . camouflage seems to be the consensus though. However, it may be to help zebras recognize one another.
Zebras are social animals that spend time in herds or in a “harem.” Plains and mountain zebras live in harems—consisting of one stallion and his mares and their young. They graze together and even groom one another. If a predator is spotted, they will bark or whinny loudly to warn the others in the harem.
Of all the animals that I photographed, the zebra was the hardest . . . always at a distance, ready to run at any given notice. Seldom was I lucky enough to get really close, even though Bee was capable enough to charge us in, full speed, damn the torpedos! My dream was a reflection of zebras drinking at the water hole, lined up in unison. Maybe next year, I will be lucky.
Botswana’s watery landscape of the Okavango Delta, its game-rich parks and reserves, and its famous Kalahari Desert comprises an impressive diversity of habitats. Even though I was not in a location to observe and photograph one of the world’s most heralded large herbivores, a mammal whose plight has recently attracted more media attention than an A-list celebrity, there are still 40 to 50 majestic rhinoceros in northern Botswana. I’ll be back in 2014 in search of the rino.
A menagerie of antelope, baboons, warthogs, awaits you in my blogshow. ENJOY!
When I started researching what lens would be best for an African photo safari, most professional photographers recommended the 200-400mm lens as their powerhorse on the African plains. I had the new Nikon 500mm, f4, VRII, which always serves me well . . . its a super sharp fast lens for all of my field adventures . . . Alaska, Winter in Yellowstone, and for shooting hummingbirds, whooping crane, sandhill cranes, and migrating birds in South Texas. Super telephoto lenses are expensive, and I could have rented a 200-400 lens but, mostly, its the weight restrictions hauling another big lens around that squashed that idea.
I brought my 500mm lens. Boy, was that the best decision I made—it gave me that extra ump I needed when the subject was not as close as I liked, i.e., the zebras. But, for bird photography, it was the big jewel in my box of diamonds. Birds are not easy to photograph even when your in a blind but to get them in the field, in a loud Land Cruiser, well, it’s all most impossible.
At Nxsbega Tented Camp, we drove out each day pass a good sized pond. This particular morning, the pond was full of birds so we decided to stop for awhile to photograph birds. We had kingfishers, storks, hamerkops, shore birds, herons, and a few hippos. Bee, as always, manuvered us in without getting stuck in the mud to a nice spot.
The hamerkop is an interesting shaped bird with a lethal beak. He picked up this poor frog who was literally beaten to death. This bird threw this frog around, pounded it, pecked at it for at least 30 minutes. And, Bee told us this is how the hamerkop kills and eats its prey. Next to be eaten alive by hyenas or wild dogs, this would be a horrible way to die. Of course the Yellow-billed stork was actually just as bad . . . he took, it seemed forever. to eat the fish. I had my 500mm lens focused on this stork just waiting for him to swallow whole this fish he had caught. With finger on the shutter, waiting, waiting, watching, watching, and what does Bee decide to do—MOVE THE FRIGGING CRUISER just as the stork takes his big gulp!
CHECKED . . . another lost shot.
And, for all those times that the subject was too close for the 500mm lens, I grabbed my 70-200mm lens. It’s a zoom lens with all the features of a prime lens. You can attach a teleconverter to it for one. Its fast, its not as heavy as a super prime lens, and it gives you the zooming capability without losing quality. IMHO, I believe that Nikon makes the best glass (cameras debatable), and there is no argument when it comes to the Nikon 70-200mm, f2.8, VRII lens. It should be in every photographer’s camera bag who is serious about wildlife photography.
For Africa, since I had such back issues, I was permanently staged in the front seat next to the driver. Being in the front seat came with its own set of problems . . . Yes, I was lower to the ground but I lacked the mobility that the other photogs had with a row all to themselves. Of course, there was the shrub/weeds problem as well. Oh, and did I mention the antenna? For stablity—my husband strapped in the tripod to the door with the bungie cords. I used pads and blankets between the two seats for support so that I had my 500mm and my 70-200mm right beside me and always ready to go.