So full 2 weeks of the New Year have come and gone. If you are still holding on to your resolutions good on you! If have already you broke them for whatever reason, well you only 2 weeks in so you can always wake up, shout “Mulligan!” and start over. If you didn’t make any, you do you as best as you can, because you never know who’s watching and looking up to you! My resolution for 2018 is actually something along those lines, but before we get there some background.
It is amazing that most of us can look back and pin-point the turning points in our lives that may have lead us to where we are now, yet at the time we didn’t realise that we were on the cusp of something amazing. I was reminded the other day on exactly one such moment by facebook and it got me thinking about all that it has lead to since. In August 2015 I decided on a whim to make a drive to the Pilanesberg National Park. I can’t remember the exact reasoning but it was around the public holiday long weekend and for whatever reason I had not gone down to Durban so it must have been pure whim that made me drive the 180km to get there.
It was my first visit to the park and I had no idea what to expect or what to do and to be honest I cannot for the life of me remember how much of the day went. What I do remember is stopping in the late afternoon at Mankwe dam to walk out to the bird hide to see what all the fuss was about. And after sitting around for a few minutes there was a little bit of commotion as a pied kingfisher came up to a dead tree right in front of the hide and proudly sat down with his catch. Not being big into birds at the time I did not know what happens next, but the seasoned photographers and birders did and quickly turned their attention to the kingfisher. The bird then started beating the fish about quite rapidly and violently to descale and tenderise the fresh catch before tossing the little meal around to position it and swallow it whole.
I was shooting with my 550D and 70-300mm Ultrasonic lens, which to that point had served me extremely well. But on that afternoon I found myself struggling. The 550D’s frame rate is about 5 frames per second which was decent enough to catch some of the action but missed half of it. The afternoon sunlight was rather harsh and I think even today I would struggle to deal with it. But the combination conditions and equipment limitations (at least in my head anyway) left me wanting to get better. And I think this is where my transformative journey in nature and in particular birding began.
I went back to the park in December 2015 with a new 7D mkii camera body and a second hand 300mmF4LIS lens that I purchased in September and October respectively. And that was my first introduction to some of the beautiful bird species to be seen in the park, including the white fronted bee-eaters and lesser striped swallows. The photography improved and I also got one of my favourite pictures in the park shot from the Rathlogo hide of 4 zebras having a drink. I also went with Tannie Wilma and Oom Hans which in itself was a great experience and possibly the inspiration to do the big year of birding I attempted in the course of 2016.
Through 2016 I did not make many a turn past the Pilanesberg. The park, which played a big role in inspiring the big year of birding as well as the Sanparks challenge I am currently completing, unfortunately took a back seat as I went trekking through the rest of our beautiful country. However I did manage one visit if I recall correctly and spent a nice afternoon at Mankwe dam again shooting a very young baby elephant and it’s protective family.
This year I have been to the park 4 times and each one was special in it’s own rights. The first trip in march for my birthday yielded a pair of cheetah walking through the long grass after the good summer rains. I was actually shooting a ruffous-naped lark when a couple saw me and directed me to follow them as they had been following the cheetahs for a while and they would come of the grass soon. And sure enough, no sooner than I had turned around, the cheetahs emerged casually walking through the long late summer’s grass. I don’t think I made the most of the opportunity but I chalked that down to excitement more than anything else.
I then decided in early June to join Heinrich Neumeyer, the leopard whisperer of the Pilanesberg to try to track at least one leopard down. In the end we did see a leopard on the safari, late in the afternoon when the light was too bad for decent photographs. But we also saw the big five in one day, elephants, rhinos, lions and buffalos to-ing and fro-ing in the early morning light and the late leopard.
I hired a lens to shoot with on the day and fortunately, as it turns out, left my 1.4x extender on the back of it. Heinrich and Gerrie tracked extender down for me so just to make sure I got it back safely I went back to the park a month later, the first weekend of July and went for my second tour with Heinrich. This time around we got got to see not one leopard but 5 and they were all in full daylight, offering some superb opportunities to photograph the notoriously elusive cats. Before the trip in early July I had seen a total of 3 leopards. Two in the dark and one briefly on safari in 2013 when I visited Kapama with Maja. So to see 5 in a day was extraordinary to say the least! I still managed to mess it up though and cut of the tail of one of the leopards crossing the road. Heinrich has promised to find me more leopards the next trip though because he owes me one…
The latest in the string of Pilanesberg adventures was on Women’s day last week. I decided to make a day trip because the holiday being a Wednesday was ideal for a one day sojourn. And I decided to invite a few friends along so we had a full car of photographers. I lead the expedition, given my love for the park, so this was the inaugural Pluckan Pilanesberg Tour (PPT). And while we didn’t get to see any of the big cats and the elephants somehow managed to elude us, it was all in all a great day. Well I think anyway. I did manage to seen two new bird species and photograph one (secretary bird below) and got some half decent rhino shots. Oh and we also saw a brown hyena which is the only hyena species in the park but were cut off just at the most inopportune time. As I said, Heinrich owes me one! I think the last trip made me realise that sharing the experience can bring its own rewards. So the park keeps inspiring me in different ways, mostly to get better with each return trip. And I shall be back sooner than I know it (possibly even by the end of this month) so the next edition of PPT is coming soon!
Our guide stopped to allow me to take a picture of the Waterberg Mountains. While I got my camera settings correct in the dim light of the cloudy morning he explained to the other two guests on the drive that the mountains that surround the Marakele National Park were very rich in iron ore. The name of the closest town, Thabazimbi, even translates directly to mountains of iron. And it was because of the high iron ore content in the mountains that the area was know to experience some of the most dramatic electric storms in the country. Which explained a whole lot because, the evening before, driving through to the town of Thabazimbi I got to experience one of those legendary storms first hand. Continue reading “Journey to the iron mountains…”
I woke up apprehensive on Monday morning. We were moving to a new office which meant additional traffic and therefore waking up earlier to learn the routes needed to get in to work. But, like most Monday’s I also woke up with a yearning to escape the routine of going to work and then coming back home, even though it would be a little different. It is Steve Jobs who said something to the effect that if your answer to “Is this something I want to be doing if this were my last day?” becomes “No” for too many days in a row then something’s got to change. And so I decided that perhaps I needed a little escape and with that made up my mind to make a mid-week dash to the Kruger National Park. Continue reading “Gentleman of the road”
I recently made a trip down to Durban and had some time on a Saturday morning to get out to the Botanic Gardens, one of my favourite places to visit when I am in Durban (see the previous post on the other places to see when in Durban: I’m coming home…part 2 of 2). It was a clear, sunny morning, creating light that lend itself perfectly to shooting, unlike most of my previous visits that were mostly cloudy and on one occasion raining. The large patches of shade on the small pond created by the trees that surround it and shooting indoors in the orchid nursery allowed me to try my hand at some low key shots of the birds on the pond and some of the orchids, resulting in some of the pictures in this post. I got a number of questions on how I achieved these dramatic shots and so I will try to explain some of the technique behind the photos. Continue reading “My guide to capturing low key nature photographs”
The second part of my post on my home town was going to be on the things one should do when visiting Durban. After all, while I may still call Durban home, very soon its not going to be my home town anymore. I’m going to be one of the Vaalies (if indeed I haven’t already become one) who only visits during school holidays to make the roads busier, fill up the malls and make visiting the beach impossible. As soon as I was done writing part 1 of 2, I edited the feature image and wanted to dive right in and have this post done immediately. Then I got to planning and thinking about it and I came to a rather disheartening conclusion. Continue reading “I’m coming home…part 2 of 2”
How could that have even happened you may ask! I know its may be hard to believe the title of this post but I can assure you that it really did happen. Actually it happens all the time to me. Falling in love is a regular occurrence. How anyone would get through a week, or even a few days in a row without falling in love actually escapes me. It would be hard, after all, keeping up a blog called Passion Fruit if I didn’t already have many loves and if I didn’t occasionally fell in love all over again.
I have always had the very bad habit of constantly procrastinating. Mostly because I seem to have a very poor attention span. Its not that I don’t want to do what I am supposed to do, but more that there’s always something new and exciting that needs to be explored or investigated, a new distraction that is waiting to happen. John Legend sings about a favourite distraction; I think my favourite thing to be is distracted. So growing up and growing old I have thought up many many plans, but have a tendency not to see them through.
A couple years ago however I began to adopt the Nike approach though. Whenever I come up with a new idea I mull it over in my head for a little while and then eventually tell myself its time to just do it. This blog is, in fact, a prime example of that because, as I have previously stated, I was meaning to do it for a while and eventually had to tell myself, Pranesh, enough, just get it started. It works mostly, because I’m not one for meticulous planning either (add that to my growing list of vices). I should be, as a process engineer. But am I have just never been well enough organised to get myself organised. Continue reading “When nature calls!”