Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park – A Taraji Blue Trip Report

We’ve been receiving quite a lot of requests for advice about African safaris recently, which has inspired me to reshare links to our trip report for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in South Africa.

We initially wrote this trip report as a HUGE thank you to everyone on the SANParks forums for their fantastic advice and support when we were planning the trip -without them this would not have been a trip of a lifetime. I urge you to join their forums if you’re planning a trip – their enthusiasm alone will have you counting down the days until your holiday starts ūüôā

Enjoy – and safe travelling!

Stars And Spray

The Milky Way arcs downward to the raging seas of the Tsitsikamma coast, South Africa.

The Milky Way arcs downward to the raging seas of the Tsitsikamma coast, South Africa, passing rugged folds of quartzite (I think – I’m no geologist) gently lit by nearby cabins. This was also posted for +African Tuesday *African Rocks* on Google+ so let’s also assume a good proportion of these stars harbour planets or asteroids, many of which will be composed of rock! (and metals, and gas) Technically they aren’t African planetary rock formations yet, but Africa has the Southern African Large Telescope located in Sutherland, South Africa, and the Square Kilometre Array will be built across South Africa and Australia. So there’s a good chance that planets will be discovered through the lens of African “glass” and by my book that makes them African rocks.

This is a mindblowing place to sit hidden among the rock folds for a few hours in the dark night, waves quietly crashing around, silence behind, millions of jewels shining above, and the galaxy slowly – noticeably – drifting across the sky.

Technical notes: 15 seconds at probably f/3.2 or f/4.0 using the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 (manual aperture so not in Exif), which is an outstanding lens and great fun to use – very sharp in the corners/edges and not much coma (there’s some trailing in the very limits of this image due to the exposure time) on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III at ISO 3200, which is a very low ISO from someone who’s used to cranking up the 7D to unforgivable noise limits and still needing 25-30 second exposures, which all the trailing that entails. Mounted on a Manfrotto 190 CX PRO 3 tripod with a 501HDV fluid head, accompanied by a can of Castle or two.

Humpbacks breaching, dassies pushing mountains and cheetahs hunting: our new South African gallery is online

An hour before sunset the plains of Africa are bathed in a glorious golden light

In June 2013 we did a self drive round the Eastern Cape of South Africa, taking in Addo Elephant National Park, Mountain Zebra National Park and The Garden Route National Park. It was a glorious trip to parks and places that were completely new to us.

Seeking adventure opposed to the big five allowed us to take a slower and more more ‘African’ approach to safari. We meandered through the parks daily, taking time to get to know our surroundings, wait for the right light and find out which animals lived where. Doing so enabled us to not only obtain some wonderful photos, but it also enabled us to concentrate on one subject at a time – whether that be the mega elephant herds of Addo, the PCGs of Mountain Zebra or the changing seascape and frolicking whales in¬†Tsitsikamma.

I never expected to fall so much in love with the Eastern Cape, but it’s enchanting. ¬†The coastlines are rugged, the sea is breathtakingly blue and the skies extend to the heavens seemingly forever.

We have shared the first batch of photos from our trip on the Taraji Blue website. For images of humpbacks breaching, dassies pushing mountains, cheatahs hunting and glorious huge moons, visit our new photo gallery on the Taraji Blue website.

Additional images from our previous trips to South Africa are also available on the Taraji Blue website.

Review: The Masters of Nature Photography

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The Masters of Nature Photography is a hardcover book published via the Natural History Museum (UK) and is very closely linked to the globally renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I bought this book a month ago but an article today by the Guardian (tdlr; welcome, but incomplete) prompted me to revisit it and write up the thoughts it provoked in me.

It’s unusual, but this is one book where the photographs are outshone by the words. You’ll have seen many of the wonderful images before, and the Guardian article exhibits them nicely, but this isn’t the point of the book. The point of the book is to explain, to give insight into the encounter, or the challenge, or – and I felt this particularly in a 21st century, high capability culture – to get a sense of how difficult things were in the past, even just 10 years ago with low ISO film and constrained decision making ability. It is the text that should warrant your investment in this book, rather than the photographs – particularly you, the photographer, but also you, the awe-struck citizen who admires the dream-makers.

Keen wildlife photographers will known Rosamund Kidman Cox well, who provides the introduction (and I assume some oversight!) to the book – Ros was editor of BBC Wildlife magazine for 23 years and has been involved in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions and particularly the annual compendiums resulting from the competition, as well as a very welcome fixture at the annual WildPhotos conference held at the Royal Geographical Society in London. A comment she makes in the introduction appeals to me:

“Though the tools they work with are far better than in the days of film, tools are just tools. Knowledge and experience, and vision and passion, are still the most crucial elements.”

The book spans 30 years of wildlife photography and picks out only 10 photographers – each choose 10 of their favourite images. 10 photographers is a small number, but they are 10 who delineate almost the whole spectrum of wildlife photography, with different (conflicting?) views, different equipment, different vision, and different risk levels.

I dare not spoil the prize that awaits the purchaser of the book too much, but some personal highlights – just 5 of 100 images – of humility, integrity, and steely arrogance stand out:

  • “Sometimes I look at this picture and think I can’t believe I shot it” (Ice Wolf, Jim Brandenburg, 1968 on Kodachrome 64 (I would think the same today with a 5D3 on 4000 ISO))
  • Baby Clowns by David Doubilet – if I have seen this photograph before I don’t think I can have spent enough time on it to understand it at all. When I first saw the photo – in the book, the typical layout is one image facing text on the opposite page – I might still have skirted over it, which says more about me than the photographer or designer – we are too fast, too quick to decide on our indulgence in a new thing, too quick to dismiss. This is an utterly, utterly astonishing photograph which brings tears to my eyes and shows astonishing vision, both technically and emotionally, on the part of the photographer.
  • “The last mega-mammals on Earth, running out of time” (Twilight Of The Giants, Frans Lanting, 1988 and a near-perfect shot for many new photographers to dream about)
  • “I moved around until I found a good angle and then waited a few hours until the swans had finished resting” (Volcano Swans, Vincent Munier, 2008 – great photographers wait, and it’s because they know something always happens; you have to be in the right place, time will sort itself out)
  • “It was too late.” (Whiskey, Michael “Nick Nichols”, 1989 – I can’t even look at this photograph, let alone think of creating it.)

There are many more, and photographers I haven’t mentioned who are no less deserving of inclusion in the book but for whom I’d rather people read the book and give each page time to sink in. This isn’t just a coffee table photography book, it’s a compelling journey through the minds and the eyes of the photographers who have awakened a renewed sense of natural belonging, risk and hope, and who have successfully brought it into the public eye, in part through such valuable events as WPOTY. For the new and aspiring wildlife photographer I would be likely to recommend this book above almost others in that it gives both breadth and depth – for the experienced wildlife photographer, well, if you aren’t continually aspiring and haven’t seen anything new recently then I’d go and seek out that, and take the book with you to inspire your journey.

The tale behind the leopards of Kgalagadi

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Last year, in Kgalagadi National Park we had some pretty jaw dropping leopard sightings. We shared two of our experiences with the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Leopard Project and were delighted this week to find out more about the leopards we saw and their offspring who are now exploring the vast plains of Southern Africa.

From the candid snapshots shown in this blog, the mating leopards were identified as the Auchterlonie female and Dakotah. This sighting from June 2012 would suggest that Dakotah is the father of young Warona who the projects estimates was born in October 2012 :).

The second sighting on day 7 of our trip is likely to be Miera, a young female.

The project uses public sightings of leopards identified through their unique spot patterns. They track the leopards and use the sightings to help estimate the population and to investigate range sizes. Please submit any leopard sightings from  Kgalagadi to their website http://www.ast.uct.ac.za/~schurch/leopards. From a couple of our candid snapshots, the leopards were confirmed as

The full sightings are detailed in the following Taraji Blue trip reports:

http://blog.tarajiblue.com/2012/08/trip-report-day-7-in-kgalagadi-transfrontier-park/
http://blog.tarajiblue.com/2012/08/trip-report-day-6-in-kgalagadi-transfrontier-park/

Photos from our trips to Africa are available to view on the Taraji Blue online photo gallery.