Trip report: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, September 2015 (Part III: Day 4 – 6) – Great shots and missed opportunities

Right, I’ve just returned from yet another week in the Kgalagadi but first I need to complete this trip report – spending a long weekend in September 2015 in Kgalagadi. The purpose of this three-part trip report is to show what can be seen in the Kgalagadi when you are willing to drive all the way up to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to spend a long weekend in Twee Rivieren camp.

Right, lets continue to see what the Kgalagadi has to offer in the month of September. This report is called Great shots because I had some great shots taken during these two days as well as Missed opportunities because I’ve missed the shot of the trip because of wrong choices. Just a side comment: the mid- day and late afternoon temperature was between 40 and 46 degree Celsius while the morning temp was between 9 and 12 degree Celsius. For those who are interested and planning their first ever trip to the Kgalagadi.

 

Day 4 – Morning drive

Once again, leaving the camp at gate opening time (06H30) I decided to drive along the Nossob River. And again, a quiet drive with nothing really happening at Samevloei, Leeudril and Kji Kji waterholes. Between Kji Kji and Melkvlei I came across this nice Tawny eagle sitting in one of the dead tree just next to the road. From it feathers, one can see how cold it was – even in September.

21 Eagle early morning W

Eagle early morning

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO640, 1/2000 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 25 meters from eagle

Way too early for the eagle to take – so I just took a record portrait shot of the eagle while enjoying the good light.

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Between Melkvlei and Gunong water hole, the whistling rat colony again – I’ve tried my luck once again. Lets try this one in colour because it was not that late in the morning.

22 Rat hole W

Rat hole

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO640, 1/8000 sec, f4, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 6 meters from rate

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Nothing at Gunong waterhole but on my way back between Melkvlei and Kji Kji – the best opportunity of the trip. But a missed opportunity because of bad decision-making from my side. The same Tawny eagle shown above caught a snake and was busy eating it while a juvenile Bateleur was hoping for a piece of it. As you can see from my camera settings, I was ready for action.

23 Eagle and Bataleur W

Eagle and Bateleur

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/5000 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 25 meters from the raptors

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At one stage the eagle walked away and the Bateleur moved in to look if there was anything left. And this is where I missed the shot. I’ve parked way too close to the sighting as the tawny eagle retuned to the feeding spot to chase away the Bateleur – evidence of my mistake below. In hindsight – I should have used my 200-400mm lens.

24 Eagle and Bataleur fighting

Eagle and Bateleur fighting

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/5000 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 25 meters from the raptors

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I decided to reverse a bit and wait for the take off of both birds as a “consolation price”. First the tawny eagle took off

25 Eagle take off W

Eagle take off

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/6400 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 31 meters from the raptors

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Followed a few minutes later by the Bateleur

26 Balateur take off W

Bateleur take off

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/3200 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 31 meters from the raptors

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Day 4 – Afternoon drive

I followed my usual routine leaving camp around 15H15-15H30. It was very hot – 45 degrees so I did not expect much action. I drove along the Nossob River – the same route as the morning. Nothing happening up the Gunong water hole. On my way back, between Kji Kji and Melkvlei waterhole, I came across the same juvenile Bateleur as display above in a dead tree. After a while it decided to join the parents in a bigger tree – the image below taken while the juvenile was flying from the dead tree to the roasting tree. Just look at the difference between this image taken from the same bird in late afternoon sunlight below and the previous image (hard late morning sunlight) above. Interesting!

 27 Bataleur juvenile flying W

Bateleur take off

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/8000 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 28 meters from the raptor

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And just before Rooiputs water hole, a slender mongoose lying in the road in the shade of a tree. Not very often that one of these shy little animals providing a photographer with such nice opportunities. They usually run away but not this one. I’ve used a fill-in flash a la Albie Venter because of the shadow of the tree.

28 Slender mongoose W

Slender mongoose

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/640 sec, f8, exposure comp = 0, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 11 meters from mongoose

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And as usual, be on the lookout for the ostriches between Rooiputs and Samevloei waterholes. They do provide you with nice backlight shots while taking a dust bath like this ostrich did.

29 Ostrich late W

Ostrich late

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO800, 1/3200 sec, f4, exposure comp = -1.3, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 63 meters from ostrich

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What a surprise after Leeudril waterhole – my third ever sighting of a leopard in the Kgalagadi (in four years)! A bit far but just a record shot with a 2x convertor on the 600mm lens in very low light conditions.

30 Leopard W

Leopard

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens with 2 x convertor = 1200mm, ISO800, 1/200 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.673, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 85 meters from leopard

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So, a very eventful afternoon drive came to an end.

 

Day 5 – Morning drive

The same routine as always – a drive along the Nossob River. The first interesting sighting was between Rooiputs and Kji Kji waterhole. The Cape fox lying in front of its burrow in the early morning sunlight. Unfortunately no puppies around – so I don’t think it was a den.

31 Cape fox W

Cape fox

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO800, 1/3200 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 12 meters from fox

Just to let you know – the above-mentioned camera setting is my default settings for my D4 and 600mm lens combination and I just love it.

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Just pass the rat colonies between Melkvlei and Gunong water hole – the great opportunity of the trip. Around a bend just before Gunong waterhole sat a Tawny eagle and an African wild cat next to each other on the ground. However, both were not interested in each other. The eagle was collecting nesting material. Luckily I’ve got a few shots of the eagle taking of with a twin in its beak – example below.

32 Eagle nesting twig W

Eagle nesting twig

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/6400, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 32 meters from eagle

Be careful with birds with white feathers under their wings – as you can see, the exposure compensation of -0.67 used for this image was not enough in this case – should have used an additional two stops (-1.3). I had to work hard in Photoshop to get the detail back in those feathers.

This image already received 2 acceptances in international salons

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So what happened to the cat? It disappeared over the dunes but I decided to wait a bit to see what will happen. The cat returned after about 15 minutes with another cat on its tail.

 32a Cat running W

Cat running

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/64000, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 28 meters from cat

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I was waiting for some action (this time prepared with my 200-400mm lens – lesson learned the previous day with raptors) but another car arrived and the cat at the back left in a hurry

32b Cat together W

Cat together

Nikon D3S, Nikon 200-400mm lens @ 260mm, ISO1600, 1/64000, f6.3, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 15 meters from cats

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The other cat stayed behind lying in the shade of the tree and was very relaxed allowing me to capture once again some nice close-up shots.

33 Wild cat relaxed W

Wild cat relaxed

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO500, 1/1600, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 9 meters from cat

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I even had time to put on my 1.4 convertor for some even more close-up shots.

34 Cat and fly W

Cat and fly

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO500, 1/1250, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, fill in flash, 9 meters from cat

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Day 5 – Afternoon drive

 

The same routine – a drive along the Nossob River. The afternoon drive was very relaxing with not much happening except for the lions at Leeudril water hole on our way back to camp. First a nice type of backlight shot with a yawning lioness.

35 Lioness late yawn W

Lioness late yawn

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1000, 1/1250, f8, exposure comp = -1.30, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 28 meters from lioness

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And the lioness decided to taste a bit of the Nissan Xtrail in front of us. She moved around my Fortuner as well but I quickly started it and she moved on. Just to show you – you should not feel “jammer” for your vehicle when coming to the Kgalagadi – the Nissan sustained a few holes in its bumper after the bite!

 36 Lioness biting car W

Lioness biting car

Nikon D800, Nikon 70-200mm lens @ 200mm, ISO100, 1/200 sec, f4, exposure comp = -0.3, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 4 meters from lioness

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Day 6 – Morning drive

 

It was time to leave the Kgalagadi to drive the 7+hours back home to Bloemfontein. But not before a quick drive to Gunong water hole and back. At Kji Kji the “gemsbokke” were playing around the waterhole while sharping their fighting skills when it comes to determine who is dominant.

37 Gemsbok fighting W

Gemsbok fighting

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/4000 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 63 meters from gemsbok

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And at last found I found the four cheetahs near Gunong waterhole – I was looking for them every day. They were lying next to the road – how lucky can one get? A quick photo or two and I was on my back to Twee Rivieren to check out and drive back home.

38 Cheetah yawning W

Cheetah yawning

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1600, 1/3200 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 10 meters from cheetah

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39 Cheetah under bush W

Cheetah under bush

Nikon D4, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO1000, 1/2000 sec, f8, exposure comp = -0.67, Aperture priority, WB = sun, 15 meters from cheetah

Definitely a male cheetah!

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Until the next trip report from the Kgalagadi (Nov/Dec 2015)!!!

 

Message to take home:

 

Thinking of my major mistake during this trip – one should never stop learning when going out on a shoot. Each photography trip should be learning experience – no matter how familiar the environment / park / sighting is. I’ve learned a valuable lesson during this trip and I will surely never forget it.

 

Until the next trip report – keep on shooting!!!

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