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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My wife Joanie and I joined Wild4 for the Best of Kruger and Big Cats in August of 2014. It was our very first trip on an African safari. I’m a serious amateur photographer and my wife’s a non-photographer but both of us enjoyed the trip thoroughly ! To this day, we still regularly recall the highlights of sightings and events fondly. True to Wild4’s brand promise, Stu Porter delivers maximum photographic times spent chasing photo opportunities out in the field - out 6am as soon as the camp gate opens and back only 6pm when the gate closes. Having no more than three photographers on each of two jeeps allows every photographer immediate access to both sides of the vehicle. Stu always knows where to position the vehicle for the best vantage points. Every day has its highs – big cat chases and kills, grazers sparring, herds of elephants and buffaloes appearing from nowhere at water holes... Thanks to Stu and the enthusiasm and knowledge of experienced senior guide Mike Lentz. Camps in Kruger are basic (by first world standards) but hey this is a safari ! There’s the important benefit of being only a short drive away from dams, good spots to catch the first light when the sun rises. This is important as the gates do not open till 6am so there’s little margin for being late. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand, the Wild4 team’s dedication and commitment to a successful photo trip for guests, beyond the call of duty. The Wild4 team helped solved a major photographic equipment problem. Early afternoon on Day 5, the lens AF motor on my 400mm telephoto lens failed. This was really a disaster on a trip like this, as (like everyone else) I had a spare camera body but not a spare super telephoto lens ! The other lens I had was a medium telephoto zoom, hardly a lens to use with tele-converters. Murphy’s Law indeed ! This happened with seven more days to go ! I enquired with Stu about hiring a lens from the nearby towns. Stu sprang into action immediately whilst still on the afternoon game drive - got his back-office team to make enquiries back in Nelspruit town. This was something new to the Wild4 team as they never had to hire a lens but they found a lens on the same day, a 200-400mm that’s also ideal for safari. The lens had to be dispatched from almost 200 km away and Mr John Porter helped to drive south to collect the lens sooner. I had the use of this lens by the morning of Day 7, with one-and-half day “downtime” in a remote location. Service excellence lived by as a core value indeed. After eight nights I left Kruger National Park with the feeling that I was just warming up and was leaving too soon. I would have gladly extended a few more days if that was possible. But we were bound for the next destination. I notice Wild4 has not been static. More new trips were added. I see the enterprise is growing fast ! Joanie and I are now looking forward to a trip to Kenya, again with Stu and the Wild4 team.
Steve Seow, Singapore
Stu, Thank you for another wonderful safari. We were blown away by the sightings that we had. From the Lion kill to the tiny Lion Cubs, it was one great experience after another. The bird opportunities were also outstanding. I'm still sorting though the 1000's of images that we brought home. Also, thank you Justyna for setting up our 2 week private Kruger safari with Stefan. We spent over a month in Africa shooting every day except for a couple of travel days. It was our trip of a lifetime. The accommodations, food, and itinerary were as good as it gets. We can't wait to do another one!. Dick and Mary Wild Side Photographic Art
Dick Collins, USA