A trip report: Mokala National Park, September 2012

Another weekend off, another weekend trip to Mokala National Park near Kimberley – what else?

A week or so ago I decided to pay Mokala National Park another visit as my wife was away on one of her specialised photography trip/courses. I could not get a booking at Mosu lodge (where I usually stay), so for the first time I made a booking at Lilydale lodge. Great facilities but the only drawback is the fact that it is just a bit of drive (time consuming) to get to the game area.

Unfortunately I had to attend to some issues at work, so I left the Friday afternoon around 14H00 – just to arrive at Mokala/Lilydale reception around 16H30. Once again I’ve taken the Jagersfontein – Fauresmith – Koffiefontein – Jacobsdal – Richie road (16km dirt road to the gate) as there are still some road works & stop-go on the main road to Kimberley. As usual, I did enjoy the “lack” of traffic especially trucks on the road (on my way back on Sunday I passed only 3 cars from Jacobsdal to Jagersfontein).

After a quick check-in at reception (no time to visit the bungalow or to unpack) I had a quick drive to Stofdam and the bird hide – a 30minute drive from Lilydale keeping within the speed limit of 40km/h. I watched and enjoyed the bird life around Stofdam for about 30minutes. No real photo opportunities but just before I left, I was very surprised with this unexpected visitor to Stofdam – a scrub hare. It just gave me a few opportunities before moving/jumping quickly back into the bushes. I don’t know if my fellow two visitors in the hide saw the hare. It was allready very late and dark, so I had to increase my ISO to get an acceptable shutter speed. I was just using a beanbag in bird hide as support.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO2500, f5.6, 1/500, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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O, yes – a bushbuck (?Njala – but it looks more like a bushbuck to me) paid the dam a visit for a quick drink of water. I saw there was something wrong with his !!!! but otherwise he looks healthy. Probably just a benign hydrocele.

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO2500, f5.6, 1/8000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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After spending about 30 minutes in the bird hide, I decided to go back to Lilydale – I thought just enough time to drive within the speed limit and make it to Lilydale before 18H30 (gate closes). Near the intersection of the two loops, I saw two old buffalo warriors – time was not on my side but luckily I got a few shots of them drinking water. There still a bit of golden hour sunlight available to spent a few minutes with them. Interesting to see how red their eyes are.

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO1250, f5.6, 1/500, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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On my way back to Lilydale I saw a herd of Roan antelope (nearly 20-25 of them) near the fence between Mokala and Lilydale – once again just enough time for a quick photo (by now I was pushing my luck with time). The Roan in the photo was close to the road but the sun was on from the wrong side. Well – “adapt or die” is what they usally say. So I decided I like the sort of combination between the side and backlighting the sun provided at this stage and decided to use it to my advantage. No action anticipated, so I lowered my ISO. I totally forgot about the general guideline stating that your shutter speed should be more than your focal lens (160 shutter speed vs. 600mm lens). Luckily it is more applicable when shooting without a support system (out of the hand). Without a support susyem, ideally, you want a shutter speed of more than 1/600 with 600mm lens or for example a shutter speed of more than 1/85 with an 85mm lens.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO400, f5.6, 1/160, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Saturday morning I was up and about and ready to roll around 06H30 – on my way to my favourite morning waterhole. The waterhole at the bend of Matopi loop. But as I entered the Mokala area, I saw this single Sable Antelope bull next to the road. Unfortunately it was overcast and the light was terrible. I removed the 1.4 convertor as the Sable Antelope was very close to the road. I’ve used an f5.6 stop (not f4) to ensure that the entire head of the Sable was in focus but still having a relatively blurred background.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens, 400, f5.6, 1/200, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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It took me about 1.5h to reach the waterhole and upon arrival I saw a snake eagle taking off from behind the bushes – no chance of a photo. So I settled down and made myself a nice cup of tea and waited. Not even 5 minutes have passed when the turtle doves started to arrive. I had a lot of practice with the doves and I’ve tried several settings and techniques – the advantage of this waterhole. I loved the reflection of the water underneath its wings in the photo below.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO640, f5.6, 1/4000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Some of the doves used the waterhole for a quick bath and in the photo below the husband was keeping a close eye on proceedings (or is it the other way around?). I increased my f-stop to f8 because I wanted to have both doves in focus (if they were close to each other – in line with each other) – so I decided to compromise on my shutter speed as I prefer a shutter speed of more than 1/3200 for small BIF with “fast” wings. I did not really want to increase my ISO – so I was satisfied with a shutter speed of 1/2000 (see the photo above).

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f8, 1/2000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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And then there were the ever present Cape Glossy Starlings – this one also decided to take a bath and a take-off from the water – not a great photo but nevertheless…

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f5.6, 1/4000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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And if that was not enough, one Cape glossy starling decided to join one of the Cape turtle doves for a bath coming from the other side of the waterhole to join this dove. When I saw the photo, I thought it looks like an Anthony Perkins scene (from the shower scene) out of the Psycho movie.

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f8, 1/3200, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Just as the previous time, the zebras arrived around 09H00 for a water drink session but they did not provide me with “lekker” shots.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f7.1, 1/5000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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And a small one – surely only a few days/weeks old. Unfortunately it stayed behind its mother all the time and I only got two shots of it:

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens, ISO200, f4, 1/3200, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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After spending about 2.5hours at the waterhole, I thought it was time to return to Lilydale. Only three other cars have passed me during the 2.5h time period. It felt like I was alone in the park. On the way back to the bungalow, nothing really interesting – only a lot of general game. O, I did see the black chested snake again but it was too far for a decent photo. Well, I decided to give it a go just because it was a first for me in Mokala – just a record photo. I waited for a take-off photo – waited nearly 15min for it to take-off. This photo is heavily cropped – reason for the poor quality. One does not really need that a fast shutter speed for eagles taking off – 1/2000 is more than enough.

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO400, f5.6, 1/3200, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Around 15H00 it was time to leave once again for a session at the bird hide at Stof dam as the bird hide is more suitable for afternoon shots. Once again – some action at the waterhole at the junction of the two loops. This time three warthogs take turns for a mud bath. I decided to lower my exposure compensation because of the mud and water on the warthog – still I got some clipping on the warthog. Therefore, be careful taking photos like this. You can decrease your exposure compensation even more.

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO400, f5.6, 1/3200, exposure = -1.0, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Just before I arrived at the bird hide, I saw this herd of Kudus and four of them were standing closely together. Just too bad two of them were separated by a tree right between them. So I tried this photo with a primary in the foreground and secondary object blurred in the background (no, I did not blur it in photoshop). I do not know if it works well but I like it.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f8, 1/2000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Arriving at the waterhole, the bird hide was packed with visitors. Luckily I got a seat at the very far end of the hide and I started doing my thing. There was an African Spoonbill foraging and then decided it had enough and took off:

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO400, f5.6, 1/3200, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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There were also two black winged Stilts foraging the water and flying from one side to the other giving me the opportunity to take a photo or two:

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO800, f8, 1/2000, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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The rest of the time was spending practising on the smaller birds around with not really great photos. Around 17H30 everybody has left the hide and I decided to call it a day. On my way to Lilydale – very close to the bungalow I saw this black shouldered kite sitting in the very last golden hour sunlight, so I quickly parked the car and take a few photos. Unfortunately the kite decided it was his bed time and did not want to fly away. So I left the kite alone and went for a nice supper.

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens with 1.4 convertor = 850mm, ISO1250, f5.6, 1/1600, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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Early Sunday morning, after some rusks and tea, I packed the Fortuner and off I went for a quick drive to my favourite morning waterhole. Just outside Lilydale I saw this LBJ in the early morning light:

 

(Nikon D3S, 600mmf4 fixed lens, ISO1250, f4, 1/3200, exposure = -0.67, WB = auto, Aperture mode)

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At the waterhole, there were once again lots of time to practise on the doves and after 1.5h I decided it was time to leave Mokala via the Mokala gate to get back to Bloemfontein in order for me to in time to fetch my wife from the airport.

 

Yet another successful trip to Mokala National Park – I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I did..

 

Message to take home:

Make use of every opportunity to practise your photographic skills and try something different so every now and then. It does not matter if it doesn’t work.

 

Until my next trip (Giants Castle, Drakensberg and Masai Mara, Kenia), keep on shooting

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  1. #1 by bessie on September 24, 2012 - 5:05 pm

    Mooi.Willem. Jy doen so goed.Baie geluk!

  2. #2 by whk139 on September 25, 2012 - 10:33 am

    Hi Bessie – baie dankie, Geduld jong, geduld is al wat tel. Thanks vir die ondersteuning, ek waardeer dit.

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