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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The Wild 4 team made my trip to South Africa a truly memorable experience. Photographing some of the orphaned captive animals at the private game reserve on the extension was a great way to start the holiday, and Stu's tuition on techniques, composition and familiarity with your gear was the foundation for the rest of the trip. In Kruger we had some wonderful sightings - including the 'Big 5' all in one day on two consecutive days! The highlights were spending 20 minutes with a leopard cub in a tree no more than 30 metres away, and on the last day watching a pride of 14 lions stalking a herd of zebra for more than an hour - just wonderful experiences! I'm sure the quality of the shots I took was infinitely better than if I'd gone on a regular safari, as the whole focus of the experience is expertly designed to maximise photographic opportunities - including only 3 photographers in the specially designed vehicle. Stu's knowledge, enthusiasm and patience were boundless, and Ann's spotting and catering skills were also priceless! I hope to visit Africa again soon, and without doubt Wild 4 will be my first option.
Greg Morgan, UK
I have just returned from a fantastic custom safari to the Kruger with Wild4. This was my second trip in the Kruger with Wild4 and everything from start to finish was absolutely perfect. I absolutely cannot imagine doing this sort of trip there with anyone else. Things were off to a positive from way before we landed. Justyna was as helpful and patient as ever from day 1 and I must say that her suggestions were all spot on. Not only did she sort everything out for us and made it look easy (although I very much doubt it was), but the information she gave us prepared us well for the trip. As soon as we met up with Stefan after we arrived, we had nothing else to "worry" about except take pictures. He was not only great as a guide with his experience, sharp eyes, and genuine interest in wildlife becoming obvious quickly, but he was also excellent as a driver who knows what works and what doesn't photographically and was thus able to position the vehicle perfectly. It was not uncommon for one of us to just say a couple of words about what we wanted to try photographically and he'd immediatelly be on it, getting us in the perfect position while adhering to the rules and keeping the wildlife's interest as a top priority - something all members of the group I was in appreciated immensly. Thank you Stefan, Justyna, and Stu for making this trip happen for us! I look forward to being back with you guys in the future!
Matthew Scerri, Malta