Trip report: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, September 2015 (Part II – Day 3) – The Cats

Lets continue with the report on my last visit to the Kgalagadi. I am calling this Part II “The Cats” because I was very fortunate to have a few sightings of African wild cats and lions on this public holiday.

As you would recall, I’ve decided to stay in Twee Rivieren for the entire 5 days in the park. I did not want to drive all over the park during such a short stay in the park. I would rather stay in one camp, locate some of the animals and go back every day to try and find them again. And I had some reasonable success with this approach – especially the african wild cats (vaalboskat). Now for Day 3 and let me show you what Kgalagadi has to offer if you decide to stay in one camp for the duration of one’s visit:

Day 3 – morning drive

Leaving the camp at gate opening time (06H30) I decided to once again try my luck driving up the Nossob River. Nothing was happening at Samevloei and Leeudril waterhole. So I decided to carry on Rooiputs waterhole and Kji Kji. However, just past the famous tree with the big Sociable weaver nests next to the road, I came across this magnificent male lion (around 07H30 just to give you an idea of travel time in the Kgalagadi looking for photo opportunities). The lion was walking towards Leeudril waterhole but he was smelling the bushes every now and then. I decided to following him slowly and not to drive back to the waterhole to wait for his arrival. And I was not disappointed – as you can see from the next three images below. Once again – photography in the Kgalagadi is all about anticipation and quick decision-making.

11 Lion scape W

Lion scape

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO400, 1/3200, f4, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 110 meters from lion

I was a bit far from the lion – even for a 600mm lens. But one must always consider capturing the animal in its natural environment and not always trying to get a very close-up shot. That is the reason I call this image “Lion scape”

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At one stage the lion did walk closer to the road – a more close-up shot of his action. Still a nice landscape shot.

11a Lion morning walk W d

Lion morning walk

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1250, 1/4000, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 63 meters from lion

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And the suddenly he decided to turn towards the road and walked right up to me. I was very fortunate because by now there were already about six or seven cars following the lion (initially we were only three cars following the lion but the rest caught up with us). By now it was not easy to manoeuvre one’s car to get the best possible position for a shot. So, I was very satisfied to have captured this type of shot – always trying something different.

12 Lion one eye W

Lion one eye

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1250, 1/4000, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 21 meters from lion

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The rest of the morning was just a very relaxing drive with just general game and birds – nothing really worth posting. Turned around at Gunong waterhole and went back to the chalet for a nice brunch, image downloading, bit of image processing and a lekker afternoon snooze.

 

Day 3 – Afternoon drive

My usual routine in the Kgalagadi for the afternoon is to leave camp around 15H15-15H30. I just love driving along the Nossob River from Twee Rivieren, so it was the same route as the morning drive. Between Kji Kji and Melkvlei waterhole I was looking for the African Wild cat I saw earlier the morning in a tree. The cat was still there but while I was watching it and getting my camera gear in place (including my flash because the cat was in the shadows), the cat decided it was time to leave the tree. I quickly had to adjust my camera in order to capture the cat coming down the tree – hopefully where I can get some decent shots. And I was lucky!

13 Cat in tree W

Cat in tree

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO400, 1/2000, f4, exposure comp = -0, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash19 meters from cat

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14 Cat coming down W

Cat coming down

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO400, 1/2500, f4, exposure comp = 0, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 19 meters from cat

I even got a quick look from the cat before continuing down the tree – how lucky can one get!

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15 Cat down branches W

Cat down branches

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO400, 1/3200, f4, exposure comp = 0, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 19 meters from cat

And the rest of the downward movements was very quick and fast – very difficulty to keep the small cat in the frame but I’ve managed to capture a few of these images with the cat full in the frame. As you can see – I just managed to keep the cat’s tail in the frame.

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Turned around at Melkvlei and when I reached Kji Kji waterhole on my way back to Twee Rivieren, I saw three of four cars parked about 800 meters south of the waterhole. Then I saw two lions walking in the riverbed towards the waterhole. So, parked my car so that the lions have to walk past me. And they did.

16 Lioness walking W

Lioness walking

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1250, 1/1600, f11, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 21 meters from lions

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The two lionesses had a drink of water with one lioness smelling the air. Not very often that I do see a lioness smelling the air like this. It is usually the male lion smelling the air like this around a female lioness.

17 Lioness smelling W

Lioness smelling

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1250, 1/4000, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 40 meters from lioness

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After the drinks they continue to walk north while looking for something to catch. As you can see – always alert even when they were walking

19 Lioness watchful walk W

Lioness watchful walking

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO640, 1/1600, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 32 meters from lioness

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One lioness was lying next to the road ever so watchful what was going on around her.

18 Lioness watching W

Lioness watching

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1250, 1/4000, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 11 meters from lioness

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And as you can see, both of them were definitely in a hunting mode – this female amongst the three thorn bushes looking at some springboks down the riverbed.

20 Lioness hunting W

Lioness hunting

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1250, 1/8000, f4.5, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 63 meters from lioness

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Unfortunately it was getting late – about 40 minutes (still 45km from Twee Rivieren) left to catch the camp gates still open. So, I couldn’t stay to see if there were a few wildebeests around. Therefore, I left them to do their thing on their own

To be continued

Message to take home:

The eyes! The eyes of your subject are the windows to the soul, and it should be the focal point of your wildlife shots. You should try to keep the focus of your camera on the eyes of your subjects. I know it is not always possible when the action is fast. But in shots of the lions as shown above, it is possible to keep the focus on the eyes.

Until the next edition of this trip report – keep on shooting!!!

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