Lapwings Make Amazing Parents!

Ask any sensible guide, and they’ll tell you that animals that are parents are to be viewed from a respectable distance.

We have the luxury today to have learned from the past mistakes of others. For some we learn by reading a book, others by watching footage of close encounters gone wrong, and a few with a strong survival instinct causes them avoid the situation of a close encounter entirely.

The parents of even the most timid of species can be driven by the natural instinct to defend their young by any means necessary, no matter how great the threat.

 

 

Birds in general have developed methods to ensure the survival of their young. The Blacksmith Lapwing is a precocial species, meaning that when the chicks hatch, they have a feathery covering and are developed enough to see and run. This is compared to the altricial species which hatch under-developed and cannot see or run, and are naked.

The trade off with birthing precocial young is that the parents have to look after the eggs for twice the normal length of time (for lapwings – 29 days), of an altricial species of similar size, so that the chick is able to develop enough for life on the ground.

For this reason, defensive measures have been set in place for the protective parents. The eggs are camouflaged (a light brown color with black blotches all around), and in the heat during the spring, the parents may even belly-wet in order to keep the eggs cool.

 

 

 

If any potential predators such as jackals or birds of prey come into the vicinity of the eggs or chicks, the parents must take evasive action against the intruder. At first, they may try to draw attention away from the nest or young by making noise (thus drawing attention to themselves) and attempt to lead the predator away.

If this fails, then it is a fearsome display where they will hold their wings outstretched while still making a threatening noise to warn the intruder. If this still fails, then a full on attack is launched which involves dive-bombing at the intruder with sharp spurs at the leading edge of the shoulder. This is usually enough to keep intruders at bay.

No matter how big or small, no parent is to be underestimated!

 

Written by: Mitchell Huggins


New Cat on the Block

Being part of an open system reserve in Africa, there is always the possibility of new animals showing up in our traversing area. This was the case with a particular male leopard that was spotted a few weeks ago.

From the first sighting of this young leopard we noticed his relaxed attitude towards our presence, this hints to the fact that he must have grown up around vehicles. Naturally, we asked around the reserve if anyone knew this male and surprisingly no one had, but thanks to social media it was soon discovered that he came from a private concession in the Kruger National Park, some 50+km away from where he is today.

Young male leopard drinking

 

 

With technology and social media it is extremely interesting to see the movements of these young animals that were previously unknown. In the past, once they left a certain area to find their own territories they would vanish into thin air never to be seen again.

We managed to find this new young male with a nyala kill that he had made the previous night. He is quite big for his age and certainly has some attitude after he had his kill stolen by hyenas but managed to get it back from them and stash it in a tree before heading to a rain pool to quench his thirst.

 

Close up of young male leopard

 

When it comes to leopard identification it’s not only the spot patterns that can be used to identify individuals, but also stand out features such as scars which set different leopards apart from one another. In this case, the scar on this leopard’s right rear leg is key to his identification.

 

Young male leopard walking

 

He is a big boy for a young male of roughly three years of age. Male leopards are usually in their prime from around six years old, so if this male’s current size is anything to go by he is going to be absolutely massive as he matures – a real force to be reckoned with!

Another stand out feature of this leopard is his amazingly piercing eyes. Eye color in leopards differs according to genes and his eyes are stunning with their amber and gold hues.

 

Young male leopard close up

 

Time will tell whether this young male will remain in the area or if he will be pushed out by the other dominant males as he crosses through their territories.

Though at the moment he seems to be settling in here quite well, regularly making kills and calling the central Timbavati his home… for now.

 

Tail of young male leopard

 

Written, and photographs, by Greg McCall-Peat from Umlani Bushcamp


The Basics of Photography on Safari

Almost everyone who has and will visit Kapama Private Game Reserve for a Big Five safari has a camera, whether it is an entry level DSLR, a smart phone, a bridge camera or a mirror-less system. Going on safari is an incredible experience and many of us want to document and remember it by taking photos. So, I decided to put together a small piece on the basics of wildlife photography for those of you who are new to the world of photography and want to leave Kapama with great memories.

Gear

Smart phones can take incredible photos these days. It all comes down to what type of photographs you are wanting to get. Luckily for us here, we often get quite close to the majority of the animals, so big lenses aren’t necessarily always required. If you are coming on safari and want to leave with memories and some photos to show your family or share on social media platforms, then a bridge camera or smart phone could be efficient. If you are looking to print photos of your trip or what to take your experience a step further, then a DSLR with a mid-length telephoto lens like a 70-300mm might suit you a little better.

Composition

Composition refers to the placement of elements in your picture. Basically, how the scene fits into your shot. Composition is one of the greatest tools in photography and it doesn’t matter what camera you are using. There are a few rules or guidelines referring to composition. The most well-known one being ‘The Rule of Thirds.’ This refers to placing elements off-center. On safari this would include things like your animal/bird, the horizon and the sun. This helps your image to tell a story. In the example on the left, having the horizon just below the center of the frame and keeping the tree and sun to the right helps make the photo. In the example on the right, the lion has negative space on his left allowing you to show him off in his environment in an aesthetically pleasing way.

 

The Exposure Triangle
Whether you shoot in automatic or one of the other modes in your camera, it is important to understand ‘Exposure.’ Basically, exposure is how bright or dark your image is and is controlled by three things, namely: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. So, let’s start by looking at the definitions of the above.

Aperture or f-stop refers to the size of the opening where light comes into the lens. The larger the hole, the larger the aperture and the smaller the number eg: f/2.8. The smaller the hole, the smaller the aperture and the bigger the number eg: f/18. So, the larger the hole, the more light will come in and the brighter your image will be. Aperture is also a huge tool in photography as it determines your depth of field (what is in focus and what isn’t). The bigger the aperture is, the shallower your depth of field. And vice versa. The example on the left was shot at f/5.6 and as you can see, the chameleon is in focus, but his background is blurred. On the right, I used an aperture of f/11 to get more of the pride in focus.

 

Shutter Speed refers to how long your shutter stays open and is measured in seconds or fraction of a second. For example, a fast shutter speed would be something like 1/2000sec and a slow shutter would be 1/30sec. The faster your shutter speed, the quicker your shutter will open and close causing a darker image. Fast shutter speeds help you freeze action like a bird in flight and slow shutter speeds help you show motion within a picture, such as a river flowing or an animal running. On the left, I used a slow shutter speed of 1/30sec while following the waterbuck to keep its head in focus but show the movement of him running. On the right, a fast shutter speed of 1/8000sec was used to freeze the White – backed Vulture in flight.

 

 

 

ISO refers to how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Low ISO values like 200 are used when there is sufficient light and allows for a clearer or sharper image. Where high ISO values like 3200 are used when light is low and can sometimes cause your image to turn out noisy (grainy) in some cameras. Higher ISO values will make your camera more sensitive to light and will allow for a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture to achieve your exposure in lower light. In this example I pushed my ISO to an extremely high value of 20 000 to achieve this photo at 7pm at night. As you can see it caused the image to be quite noisy, however, it did allow me to get the shot.

 

 

 

These three things work together in proportional relationships to equal a chosen exposure. When cameras are on full automatic, the camera will decide what exposure best suits the given frame and chooses the appropriate aperture, shutter speed and ISO values to achieve that. If you move off automatic to Aperture Priority (A or Av), then you get to decide on an aperture value and your camera will change the shutter speed and ISO values, within their ratios, to suit your aperture. This works the same if you move over to shutter priority (S or Tv). You will now be able to decide on a shutter speed and your camera will adjust the rest to suit your shutter speed. Within all these modes you can also adjust your ISO values by simply taking it off Auto ISO in your settings. You can also use the full manual setting where you can change all the above independently. In this mode, getting the exposure correct is completely up to you.

Breaking the Rules

At the end of the day photography is an art so don’t be afraid to get creative and break the “rules.” Do what makes you happy and don’t worry what other people think. And remember to have fun! On the left, the photo is clearly “over-exposed” but it was intentional to enhance the contrast between the elephants and the horizon. On the right I used a technique called ‘radial blur’ to create an interesting effect. Can you tell what animal I photographed?

 

If you have any questions while out on safari on Kapama, don’t hesitate to ask your guide who will be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t forget – have fun and create those lasting memories!

 

Story by and photos by Southern Camp Ranger Mike Brown


Most Wanted

From all my guests that I take out on safari, one of the most asked questions I get is:

Would it be possible to see the one-eyed lion of Kapama?

There is no doubt that he is the most famous and an absolute icon – Our one-eyed Lion. However, it’s extremely difficult to answer this question.

He has the ability to hide, and only show himself whenever he feels like it. He used to be the King of Kapama, ruling his territory on the Reserve with an iron fist. Demanding respect at every turn. Unfortunately, as time went on he got older and by getting older he got weaker and slower. He is a father to many Lions on Kapama, but in one of his litters, there were three males. As the months passed by his 3 sons grew bigger and stronger. When they entered their prime they decided to form a collision.

A collision is when male’s Lions decide to work together. This makes them stronger as a unit. Then the day arrived when he couldn’t keep them in check anymore and they overpowered him. In a fight with his three male sons to try and keep his power over the territory, he lost his right eye in the battle of his life. Unfortunately, they were just too strong for him and he lost his title and was forced to move away far down the reserve keeping his distance from them.

These days he keeps to himself in the very south of the reserve. But when you are lucky to see him, you immediately get the sense of his power, even if he is an old male lion.

Walking down the road demanding respect, all his battle scares tells the epic tales of his life. His immediately recognisable and extremely dark mane states his dominance and you can’t help but feel his power, even still. He never shy’s away from photos, always giving us great opportunities to take the ultimate shot of him. In fact, sometimes I think he loves to have his photo taken and almost seems to pose for the camera.

On one afternoon we left Buffalo Camp for our game drive and we got extremely lucky. He spotted him walking down the road with such a sense of pride.

Now and then he would turn his head toward us and give us big yawns. There was one moment where he decided to roll around on the ground and as he rolled gave us a big smile. Oh, the wonderful and interesting stories he could tell….!

So coming back to the question: Is it possible to see him? Definitely yes, although it’s always a great challenge to find and to track him down. He is probably the most wanted animal to see on Kapama private game reserve, and rightfully so.

When you succeed in finding him the reward is well worth it! Long live our one-eyed king!

Story by Buffalo Camp Ranger Ben Scheepers


Tiny Hippo!

It was during the afternoon safari at Senalala when I decided to take my guests to the local dam where a pod of hippos have taken up residence. As we arrived at the dam I drove to the inlet where I saw one of the most amazing things I have ever seen!

We pulled up and saw a sub-adult hippo standing next to a tree and on the other side of this tree was a fully grown female and her small, wet, creased newborn lying in a heap next to her. We all gasped simultaneously as we cast our eyes on this inconceivable little being – the energy on the vehicle was palpable as we watched the scene unfold in front of us.

Newborn hippo with its mother by waterhole

The mother turned her body and I could see that there was still afterbirth hanging out of her, meaning that we must have arrived just moments after the birth.

She started nudging her little heap and it stirred and tried to take its first steps without success, but it kept trying as the mother gave it encouraging nudges.

Newborn hippo with mother in water

Eventually the little one made it to the water’s edge and mommy and baby reached the safety of the shallows. They slowly made their way further into some half submerged vegetation and out of our view.

Newborn hippo with mother in water

Myself and my guests just looked at one another in shock and appreciation for what we had just witnessed.

This is the absolute embodiment of the fact that you never know what’s around the next corner on a safari!

Newborn hippo with mother, sitting in the waterhole


Written by Melanie Groenewald from Senalala Luxury Safari Camp

Photos by Ernie Bright