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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We recently travelled to South Africa for a safari led by Wild 4 African Photographic Safaris. To put things simply, we were completely blown away. I had been on safari before, and had expectations that I thought were reasonable, but Wild 4 completely exceeded those expectations in so many ways. First of all, Justyna handled all of our travel and trip details with exceptional professionalism and always responded to even our most basic questions quickly and in a very detailed manner. Once we had arrived in South Africa, we were met by our guide Stu Porter, who I cannot say enough good things about. He is so organised and cordial. Stu was spotting things that we couldn’t believe that he was spotting, which almost always led to an amazing wildlife experience that we never saw coming. His knowledge and understanding of the wildlife and ecosystem was outstanding, and he went to great lengths to insure that we had the best chance of capturing a great photo, without compromising the rules of the park or the integrity of the animals and ecology within it. His understanding and respect for the wildlife and surroundings made the trip so much more than just a “drive around and look at whatever we see” kind of experience. I know that you can never predict what kind of experience you will have when you go out into the wild, and often it’s up to nature to decide what events you will be a part of, but in all honesty, I can’t imagine a better guide than Stu Porter. We will be doing our future trips to Africa with Wild 4, and cannot recommend them highly enough. Thank you so much for what a lot of people call “the trip of a lifetime”, although we feel that this is only the beginning of many trips of a lifetime. Thank you, Wild 4!!
James Smith, USA
I found Wild4 through an article in Popular Photography magazine about how to choose a photo safari. They were one of five recommended in the article. After checking them all out, I saw that Stu and Wild4 offered the kind of experience that I wanted: 1) Small groups of dedicated photographers 2) Variety in wildlife viewing 3) Tuition on photography and wildlife behavior 4) Good communication and organisation. I can say that Wild4 met and exceeded all expectations on all points (and then some). 1) We used one vehicle for three photographers. Stu is a trained photographer himself, so his goal was always to get us into the best position with the best light. Having only three on the tour meant plenty of room for equipment and the ability to shoot from either side of the vehicle when surrounded by a herd of elephants! It also gave us the flexibility to be patient and wait for the shot. 2) The three places we visited each provided a unique experience and wonderful variety in scenery and wildlife viewing. 3) Stu's tuition was excellent. It was there if we needed it but never pushed. Tips, reminders, anecdotes on wildlife behavior. All given with patience and good humor. 4) From the first email, the communication was timely & clear. Justyna was a joy to work with and handled the back-office part of the tour seamlessly. It can't be as easy as she makes it seem. Wild4 didn't provide the wildlife or the spectacular sunsets that we experienced, but they put us in position to enjoy and capture a little piece of it in our cameras and in our memories. Our Safari was amazing and I would not have changed a thing…well, maybe I would have eaten a little less. If you're looking for a Photo Safari, there is nothing to consider. Just go ahead and contact Wild4 Photographic Safaris. You will not be sorry.
Doug Croft, USA