Those of you who have been following along on this blog for some time already know that I am totally addicted to the Kruger National Park. In the past few months, I have been fortunate to take 2 more solo trips back to the park of 2 weeks each. As you might imagine, I am drowning in photos from these trips but today I want to tell you about the highlight of my latest adventures, the SANParks Honorary Rangers Photography Course.
Taking a sundowners break from class
As I was planning my June visit to Kruger, I came across a photography course offered by the SANParks Honorary Rangers (SHRs). The SHRs are a volunteer organization that assists the national parks with various activities within the park and also does fundraising in order to donate much needed monies to various projects within the parks. The course was being held in the Klaserie, a private nature reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park and coincided perfectly with the dates I had planned to be in the Kruger.
I have been interested in photography for many years, though I have never had any formal training. The SHRs course was a 4 day, 3 night class, in the bush, so in other words, a great opportunity to improve my skills and have some fun. The course allows for a maximum of 6 participants and in our case, we ended up being only 4. Gail and Hippo were the wonderful SHRs who took such great care of us, including cooking all meals and making sure our wine glasses never ran dry. They were joined by professional photographer Charles Heiman of iMedi8 Photographic and Shaun Taylor, professional guide, of Moriti Private Safaris.
Kudu in late afternoon light
This team was simply awesome. As I usually self-drive, it was a real treat for me to be pampered for a change. I am pretty sure I have been totally spoiled for any future trips as it couldn’t possibly get any better than this. The course was held at Camp George and as the camp was exclusive to our group only, this made for a really intimate and special experience. Gail, Hippo, Shaun and Charles spent every waking moment making sure we were always happy and having a great time. The camp is beautiful and spacious and has a lovely waterhole just in front to sit and watch for visitors. Just after arrival, we announced that we would be moving in permanently.
The photography course was practical, hands-on and adapted to the level of each participant. Every morning started out with a 3-4 hour game drive. Charles, the instructor, sat in the middle of the jeep so he was easily able to assist each one of us. Shaun, the best guide and tracker that I have ever come across, found us some amazing subjects to photograph and expertly placed the jeep for the best lighting situation. While we discussed the best settings for each sighting with Charles, Shaun shared his vast knowledge of the bush with us from the animals and birds, to the trees and even taught us a few things about tracking.
Kudu at the camp watering hole
Side-striped jackal. A rare sighting of a pair of these jackal was a first for me.
Hitching a ride on a hippo
Mongoose (mongeese? mongooses? The debate continues…)
Our morning drive was followed by a hearty breakfast back at the lodge. We then gathered in front of the waterhole for a couple more hours of photography discussions with Charles to reinforce what we were learning while out in the bush. We all had so many questions and Charles was always so patient and skillful in explaining techniques in a way that made understanding easy for us. Our programmme was quite busy, but I was glad about this as I wanted to learn as much as possible in our short time. After our sessions, I managed to squeeze in a quick shower and spend a bit of time exploring our lovely camp for photo ops before departing for the afternoon drive.
Caterpillars on a tree
Impala Lily, my favorite flower
We headed back out for another drive every day around 3 pm for 3 or 4 hours. This gave us some good daylight until we stopped for sundowners (for those of you not in the know, sundowners are drinks at sundown) and to capture the sunset. After sundowners, we continued on to search for the creatures that usually only come out after dark. When you are self-driving, as I usually do, you are not allowed out after dark so this was a good chance for me to practice some night shots as well.
As we were driving, Shaun suddenly stopped the jeep claiming he smelled lion pee. He got out of the jeep, started sniffing around a bit and announced that a lion had peed on a shrub not more than 20 minutes earlier. We were a bit skeptical however, not 2 minutes later, we came across this lioness with her 2 cubs in the riverbed. How awesome of a tracker is Shaun!?!
Wouldn’t it be fun to paint his toenails?
Steenbok posing so nicely for us
Just another African sunset
Genet peeking out from his hole in a tree
Over the 3 days we had some really fantastic sightings but the highlight was most certainly our wild dogs sighting. Wild dogs are considered an endangered species and it is estimated that there are less than 450 of them left in South Africa. This particular sighting was also very special to me as just the week prior, the entire Lower Sabie pack of wild dogs (13!) was sadly lost to canine distemper. When we found these dogs, they had just killed and almost completely devoured an impala. They then moved off to the riverbed and much to our delight, we saw that the alpha female was quite pregnant. We got to spend a good amount of time alone with them as the only safari jeep and even went back again in the afternoon and found them again, still in the area. I heard reports of the pups being spotted a couple of weeks later in the area, I so hope they go on to live long and healthy lives.
Wild Dog on the move, such lovely colors
Pregnant alpha female
Just stunning, I love the light colors on this one
C’mon, give me a little kiss…
This is the impala the dogs took down
Dung beetle arrives at the impala kill
While I don’t (yet) consider myself a birder, I love to photograph them and I always try to learn about more them on each trip.
Besides working on our wildlife photography skills, we also had a really cool opportunity to do some star photography. After dinner one night, Shaun drove us out to a former airstrip. As it was almost new moon, this was an excellent night to do this as there was virually no extraneous light to pollute our photos. What a fun and amazing experience to be out in the middle of the bush, on foot, at night, taking photos of stars while every so often we would hear a lion roar a bit off in the distance! Shaun kept a close lookout as Charles patiently assisted each of us with our settings. I have always been captivated by the night skies while out in the bush but have not often attempted to photograph them. My skills still need more practice but I really had a ton of fun trying this out and I will definitely be working on this more often.
Milky Way, not too bad for a first attempt
This photography course far exceeded all my expectations and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I not only learned a lot about photography and wildlife, but I had the best time ever and made some great new friends. If you are interested, keep an eye out on the Honorary Rangers page for the 2017 trip dates which should be announced soon. As it is limited to only 6, be sure to book early.
For those of you who have actually read until the end, here is a little secret for you… I was so impressed with the SanParks Honorary Rangers that the Frenchie and I have both decided to join this fantastic group! We have been accepted as applicants and are now in the process of completing the requirements to become full members. We have a lot of work to do but we are both really excited to have this opportunity and we are looking forward to many exciting times ahead. Stay tuned for more of our ranger adventures!
Sunset in the Klaserie