Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 5: Sleepy Lions, Marking Leopard, and a Posing Roller

My last day in the bush.

We began with a sleepy pride of lions (mostly lionesses and cubs) just beginning to stir. The males had been roaring quite a bit the previous night, near the camp. If I hadn't mentioned it before, there's nothing quite like the roar of a male lion piercing the silence of a camp in the bush in the black of night.

Then we followed Salayexe (female leopard) as she walked her territory and marked a stand of bushes.

On our way back to the lodge, we stopped for a Lilac-breasted Roller who was posing nicely for portraits.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Wild Dogs Successful Hunt

Elephant Plains Day 5

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 4: An African Wild Puppy Pile

Our first sighting today was of a pride of lions feasting on a freshly killed baby giraffe. We learned that the facial scaring seen on older lions is the result not of fierce battles with enemies. Rather, it's the consequence of dinner table territorial disputes. If two lions are munching away on some tasty baby giraffe ribs and get too close to one another, the claws come out and some swatting is done to establish feeding domains.

We made our way, rightly or wrongly, to an African Wild Dog nursery. Puppies were piled into a tight formation, doing their best to sleep. But a few remained on full alert.

At our sundowner, no one (other than me) had any interest in this scene.

Thankfully, I'm not a slave to small-group social dynamics.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Two Prides of Lions, One Kill, – and 10 Hyenas

Elephant Plains Day 4

Monday, July 7, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 3: Leopards and the Last of My Big Five

The early morning drive was a fairly complete bust. Lots of driving. No seeing. It was cold and overcast. But then we came upon a clan of hyenas. That led us to a female leopard (Salayexe) wobbling in a tree with a freshly killed impala. It was too much cat and not enough tree, but she wasn't going to let those pesky hyenas feast on her meal.

Then we got a call to return to the Big Dam, where we came upon two well-fed males who seemed to be occupying the same space. Each one seemed agitated, but neither was in the mood for a fight.

Before we embarked on the afternoon drive, our ODP leader, Brendon, asked the assembly of photogs if all was well with our cameras and gear. For the first time all safari long, I raised my voice with a concern. "I have a problem with my camera. It doesn't seem to have a photo of a rhinoceros. I checked it out quite thoroughly. Is there a way you can fix that?"

Not long into the afternoon drive—as if on cue—a rhino crossed our path. I watched it for a while, thinking "How did you escape extinction when your fellow dinosaurs died out?" It really seemed to be in the wrong geologic epoch. But I got my rhino; my Big Five was now complete!

We ended the day with some more spotlit lions before returning to Salayexe just as she finally descended from that wobbly tree.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Dominant Male Leopards Confrontation

Elephant Plains Day 3

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 2: Leopards and backlit lions


Here's my room at Elephant Plains. A "roundel". The roof is authentic thatch, inside and out.


At night, we found lions. Eventually, a family gathered to drink from a shallow pool. Later, we arranged our two trucks to share backlighting duties. One truck's ranger would light a lion while photogs across the way in the other truck would shoot away, then the duties would be traded.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: An Amorous Young Lion gets a Swat for his Interest

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Elephant Plains Day 1: African Wild Dogs


The small airports at Maun, Kasane, and Victoria Falls were either newly expanded or had construction ongoing. Even in the depths of the dry season (Winter), they all seemed quite busy.

After many small planes and large passenger prop planes, the British Airways 737 from VFA to JNB felt futuristic. Not at all how they feel from SMF to LAX on Southwest. Context!

It was a Beech 1900 the next day. This was a Fed Air shuttle service, meaning you might land and take off a few times along the way as passengers were dropped off hither and yon. From what seemed like a satellite air field adjacent to the sprawling OR Tambo, we headed to Ulusaba, where I changed planes to (once again) a small Cessna.

Upon arrival at the nicely appointed Elephant Plains, we had 20 minutes to settle in before our afternoon game drive was to commence.


The prize of the evening was a pack of African Wild Dogs (or African Painted Wolves). They do not bark or howl so much as yip.

ODP Blog - Elephant Plains: Wild Dogs vs Hyena for a Kill

Elephant Plains Day 1


Thursday, July 3, 2014

A few days at Victoria Falls: Jumping bungee and getting soaked

After breakfast, I spent a little time with Clive, The Kingdom's activity coordinator.

He told me how to get to the mid Vic Falls Bridge bungee jump, and booked me on a helicopter tour for the next morning, prior to my departure back to Johannesburg.

The moment before the moment.

Bungee jumping
You must navigate through the aggressive pan-handling mobile street merchants to the Zimbabwean border post. Produce your passport so they can see the visa you bought to get into the country (though I'm told this is not necessary, I wasn't looking to find out for certain). Tell the border agents you're going to bungee jump and they'll give you a ticket to return. Probably a good idea not to lose that ticket.

Keep walking. The bridge is open to auto traffic, so keep to the pedestrian areas at the outer edges. The nugee jump hut is in the middle of the bridge on the gorge side (not the falls side). But to jump, you must first register and pay. The place to do that is up a small hill on the Zambia side.

There may be a crowd at registration, so remember—it's Africa. Registration involves signing a few waivers, getting weighed, and paying. They offer other adventures (bungee swing, zip line), but I ws there to jump bungee. Nothing else.

They write your mass in kilograms and your number in the queue on your forearm. Proceed back through another set of aggressive merchant/pan-handlers back to the mid-bridge hut. They'll fit you with some harnesses and a flimsy floatation vest.

At long last, you'll be invited to the preflight area. There, they wrap your calves in sturdy "towel" before binding them tightly with a collar rope. That rope is attached to the bungee cord several times with independent carabiners. The camera guys chat you up as the rope guys do their work. The video will be on offer after the jump.

Then you waddle out to the diving platform. With a quick "5-4-3-2-1-Bungee!" you're helped with your jump by men who are tethered to the bridge. And off you go. Seconds of free fall. Over 100 meters. Then a jerk and increasing upward acceleration as the bungee kicks in. Some lateral motion as well, since you jumped forward. You swing under the bridge then back into the view of the platform.

Your oscillations die out as a worker in a boson's chair comes down to retrieve you. He puts you upright and gets you back to the underbelly of the bridge. You tether yourself to a guide rope on the understructure of the bridge and walk back to the Zimbabwe side and go back topside. By the time you get back to the registration area, they've got your video in the hopper and ready to show. And a round of still images, too.

I asked if they transferred the media via wifi from the cameras. No, the camera guys literally run the memory cards to the production room at registration. Wifi of the feet.

I bought the video, but not the stills. When I opened the disc on my computer, the stills were thrown in, too. (I think they presume you'll buy both video and stills, and prepare the DVD accordingly.

Victoria Phyz Falls

Was I ever in much danger bungee jumping from this bridge? Yes. The cord hardly ever breaks. But don't tell that to Australian, Erin Langworthy. She got more of an adventure than she bargained for.

Falls Watching
Having survived the bungee, I spent a few hours in the falls park ($30 per entry). The best shot I got was likely a pano on my iPhone.


I walked the full length of the path, but there was so much water here in July, the spray dominated most of the length of the falls. I got duly soaked. (I probably needed a fill-in flash here.)

At the end of the trail, you had a nice view of the bridge. Late into the afternoon, the bungee jumpers were still bouncing in the gorge.


I returned early the next morning in hopes of interesting light. This time, the trail guard manning the hotel gate to the foot trail walked me past the pan-handling merchants to the park entrance. I got a few shots before returning to the hotel to prepare for my helicopter tour. On the way out, a baboon was posing on top of the park sign.

Air Touring
The helicopter tour is called "Flight of the Angels". A quick road transfer from the hotel gets you to Zambezi Helicopter HQ. They weigh you before grouping you into a flight group. If you're in a shopping mood, a variety of wood carvings are on offer.


Eventually, your helicopter comes in, the previous passengers exit, and you climb on board.

I brought the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 for this flight, and got one nice still.


You can buy a video of your flight. I passed. Here's one I found YouTube.

Victoria Falls - Flight of the Angels

Keepers from
Victoria Falls. [coming soon]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chobe River Day 5 and crossing into Zimbabwe


ODP Blog - Ultimate Chobe Safari: A Congregation of Birds Fishing in One Spot

We set out for nesting (and nest-making) storks this morning. This area was downstream of the national park and nearer to some rapidly moving water, so a more experienced pilot was brought on board.


It was the last day of Pangolin Ultimate Chobe for most of us. After another meal at The Old House, ODP's Ben Cranke got me to the nearby airport. There I met up with the Botswanan driver for my road transfer to Victoria Falls, arranged through Afrizim.


The crossing at the Kazungula Border Post was a little slow and tense. I had run out of US cash paying out tips, but fortunately had R300 for the single-entry visa that Zimbabwe requires of yankees. Brits get to pay an additional R250. Cash only, but they'll take dollars or rands. (I would liked to have used a Visa to buy my visa, but that poetry was not to be.) The wait was unjustifiably long, but it's usually a mistake to be in a hurry in Africa.

With visa securely in passport, we loaded into our second van to finish the drive to Victoria Falls.

I checked in and settled into The Kingdom at Victoria Falls.
The Kingdom website

Things are expensive in Vic Falls and I don't recall eating any food that was particularly tasty in Zimbabwe.

My keepers from
Chobe River Day 5.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chobe River Day 4: Wildlife and Kasane's Old House


ODP Blog - Ultimate Chobe Safari: A Congregation of Birds Fishing in One Spot

We were unable to get the star trails/baobab shots we hoped for the previous night due to rare dry season (winter) cloud cover. We never did get that shot, as the clouds persisted.

When you're shooting from the Pangolin custom photog boat, it's not uncommon for the guide to tell the driver that "we need the hippo to be in the orange light." The hippo is, in fact in the river. And the orange light is in the sky. The rest is reflection and geometry; getting the hippo into the orange light requires some maneuvering of the boat.


The morning's main exercise was tracking shots of birds in flight. Arrange for a slow shutter and try to pan the cam with the motion of the bird. You'll miss more than you get, but they're only pixels.


We stayed on the river past our appointed time to be back for the breakfast buffet. Instead, we went out to Kasane's Old House. If you're not in a terrible hurry, you'll be rewarded with some delicious food.

The clouds and sun produced some interesting light near sundown, and we did our best to put a group of elephants in or around the crepuscular rays.


My keepers from
Chobe River Day 4.