FOCUS on the Kruger photo trip report May / June 2017
Posted by Wild4 Photo Safaris on 9th Jun 2017
Our first Focus on the Kruger Photo Tour, led by our colleaugue, good friend and fellow guide, Stefan Viljoen, has just ended.
This photo safari is a 10 night tour based entirely in South Africa's flagship National Park, the KRUGER. Stefan's trip report reveals just how special this reserve really is.
TEXT & PHOTOS by Stefan Viljoen:
On our recent photo safari to Kruger, we had many brilliant opportunities to photograph and spend time with the wildlife of Kruger. Having patience to wait for special moments is something I have learned from working in the African bush. When these moments do happen, one has to take full advantage of them to achieve great images. It is an absolute pleasure to spend time with wildlife and not only photograph it, but observe it too.
Due to the British Airways mix up, our guest, Eric, was delayed by two days, but we were all excited to finally head off to Satara Camp to begin the safari. Satara is the second largest camp in the Kruger National Park and is based in the central part of the park, an area dominated by open tree savanna. It is a hotspot for viewing Burchell's Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Southern Giraffe, Raptors, Lions and Cheetahs.
Kruger is quite unique in that the rest camps can offer many opportunities and one can be kept very busy photographing a wonderful variety of very relaxed and habituated birds and smaller animals, without even having to leave the camp.
The highlight during our stay at Satara camp was to photograph a Leopard kill. It was around midday and I was actually looking for a pride of Lions that frequently hangs around a specific area, north of Satara. I could not believe my eyes when I spotted a beautiful female Leopard. Her behaviour immediatley told me that she was interested in a nearby herd of Impala.
We lost sight of her for a while but patiently drove up and down waiting to see if she would re-appear. Suddenly, I spotted her again, now much closer to the herd of Impala and she was in serious stalking mode. She stalked towards the herd and stopped in the shade of a tree about 40 yards away and observed them closely. The wind direction was in the Leopard's favour, so she just had to be patient. The next moment a few Impala got spooked and a female and young male headed straight towards the Leopard. The Leopard cleverly waited for the larger adult female to pass and then charged in on the smaller young male. In an instant she pounced and grabbed the Impala by the neck and proceeded to suffocate her prey in true cat fashion. Before the Impala had succumbed, the Leopard showed her incredible strength and dragged the Impala right towards us and then took it straight up into a tree to secure it from being stolen by a Hyaena or Lion.
I have seen and photographed many Leopards before, but this was a very special moment.
Another highlight from central Kruger was a mating pair of Lions at a natural water pan. A group of very thirsty Blue Wildebeest and Zebra did not have enough confidence to go and have a drink. It was amusing to watch the animals run as soon as the Lions got up and then return to have a closer look at them as they lay down again.
The Lioness also got thirsty at one point and it was nice to see her drinking with the male behind her grimacing. This flehmen response is done to analyze specific scents, testing the urine of females in estrous with their vomero-nasal organ located in their upper palate.
The second part of the tour was spent at Skukuza Camp in Southern Kruger. This part of Kruger is characterized by a more dense type of bush savanna and the beautiful Sabi River. The best bird hide / blind in Kruger is close to camp and it always offers great photo opportunities.
We got to follow and stay with a big male Leopard for 5 hours as it was slowly moving parallel with the road in search of prey. It did stalk some Impala, but was not successful.
On our way to Lower Sabie one morning, we spent time at a Saddle Billed Storks nest. As we arrived, the male was sitting on the nest, with the two youngsters snapping at his bill, begging for food. This was exciting and my eyes were scanning the sky constantly, knowing the female might come back at anytime.
We sat there for one hour and were privillaged enough to see the change over. The male took off as the female arrived.
Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie camp is always a good place to spend some time and we saw some Crocodiles catching fish. We also saw Grey Heron, Yellow Billed Storks, Monitor Lizard, Pied Kingfisher and Cape Glossy Starling.
We had fabulous weather, with no rain and very few cloudy days. This is typical of this time of year as we head towards our mid winter, the early mornings were very fresh !
The Kruger National Park is really an amazing wildlife eden and it always offers the patient wildlife photographer a variety of excellent photographic opportunties.
Thank you to our guest, Eric, it was great to have met you and to have enjoyed some wonderful wildlife experiences with you.
I also wanted to thank my lovely wife, Sandrine for coming along on this safari and for looking after the catering, and for adding an extra pair of well trained spotting eyes in the safari vehicle !!
Thank you very much, Stu and Justyna for giving me this opportunity to guide this Focus on the Kruger Photo Safari. It is really an honour to be part of the WILD 4 Photographic Safaris team.
I hope you will enjoy some of my images from the very first Focus on the Kruger Photo Tour.
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I recently did a trip with Wild4 which far outweighed any expectations that I had! Wow what a trip. There was a great variety of animals, Stu has extensive knowledge of the animals and their habitat and was always mindful of us getting the best shots possible. My friend and I had our own bench seats in all the vehicles, which was great as we both had 2 DSLRs with numerous lenses, each vehicle is equipped with beanbags to steady your camera / lens, pockets and enough room to take a camera bag. We had fantastic opportunities to watch the cats for a good period of time and learn a little bit about their life, rather than taking a photo and moving on. I loved that we could sit and watch the lions at Mala Mala play in the Sand River, it was a fantastic opportunity. Stu provided us with some great tuition, I certainly learnt a lot of new photo techniques which I look forward to using back home. I hired a Canon 500mm lens from Stu which was great, I think I used that about 85% of the time and used a 70-200mm for the rest. We had many opportunities for night photography, silhouettes, time lapse, low light etc At the end of our trip we did the reptile extension at Khamai Reptile Centre. We went behind the scenes at the centre and had one of Africa's leading reptile specialist spend the day talking about the reptiles, spiders, scorpions we were about to take pictures of. Donald and his team certainly made for a very safe photo shoot, they were extremely patient positioning some of the reptiles for better light or different background. I learnt a lot from Donald, living in Australia we do have some venomous snakes, the day certainly gave me a renewed appreciation for the reptiles. I would highly recommend the Wild4 team for your next photographic safari you will not be disappointed.
Linda Cappello, AUSTRALIA
We couldn’t have enjoyed our trip with Wild 4 more. We were made to feel extremely welcome right from our very first e-mail contact, something which continued throughout our trip and beyond. We’d like to thank Stu, Justyna, Ann, & John for being such wonderful and enthusiastic hosts. Being looked after by such a friendly and caring family was a delight and we were very reluctant to leave after two weeks. Stu is a very knowledgeable, hard-working and helpful guide, always on hand with useful pointers and offering us plenty of encouragement to experiment with our photography. Having a whole row each of a specially adapted safari vehicle was a real find, ensuring we didn’t miss out on any of the action. Being able to stay out in the bush all day was also a real bonus. While many other vehicles drove off after only a few minutes, we were able to spend hours observing groups of lions and other wildlife. As this was our first African safari, Stu suggested we spend the first few nights at the Big Cats reserve and this proved to be a magical experience, with some great close-up action that resulted in some beautiful shots. It is a great place to hone your existing skills & learn some new ones. Given the opportunity we would go again tomorrow without any hesitation. Simply perfect!
Arnoud & Lynsey Van Foreest, NETHERLANDS