We had a rude awakening on our first morning at Dolomite. The noise was deafening ! The light was barely coming through the window which I seem to remember was left with the curtains open so we could enjoy the view when we woke up. Perched up on the hillside total privacy is guaranteed !
I got out of bed to investigate and half expected something fairly large, but no, it was a pair of Hartlaub's Spurfowl
I grabbed the camera and lay on the balcony floor to get the shot but the light was so poor I had to use the bare 600mm wide open at f4 with a shutter speed of only 1/100. The result was an ISO of 12,800 so it's testament to the camera's ability that it's possible to get a reasonable image.
They weren't there for long but the light got a little better and with the shutter speed reduced to a ridiculous 1/40th I managed to reduce the auto-iso to 4000.
That will do, my only sighting and a special one too.
Anyway, by the time we got down to breakfast we realised that most residents had already eaten and were on there way to wherever they were heading. Most people seem to stay as part of a tour group and they use Dolomite as a stop over on the way east. Staying for just one night is missing out on the opportunity to have a good look around the region and see what you can find . That was my plan for the day and I soon realised that there were hardly any people to be seen, the waterholes were all deserted, I had them all to myself. Well, not quite. Claire was coming with me.
While she was doing what women do.... taking ages to get ready!!..... I decided to have a go at the Swifts that were flying low and around the hillside. The 7D and 100-400 makes a lightweight easily handholdable combination but it does lack reach when you are used to a bigger lens. The light was poor too which doesn't help but the camera coped quite well.
Photographing Swifts, Swallows and Martins in flight is one of the most frustrating pastimes you can engage in. I was pleased when Claire said she was ready to go.
We hadn't gone far when we came across a small herd of Greater Kudu which was an unusual sight, the first we'd seen since Grootberg. What a difference too, these beasts were obviously well fed.
We sat and watched as one particular specimen decided to have a mad few minutes.
He was half hidden behind the bush
and he was really going for it. I haven't a clue what the motive is but eventually the Kudu moved in to the open.
That's a better view!
For a change there was some action to be captured, most of the subject matter had been seen either grazing, drinking or simply stood still doing nothing at all.
Moving on I decided to go straight to Klippan Waterhole. Hopefully the Rhino takes a morning drink too! If he had it was too early for us. The waterhole was totally deserted save the Egyptian Goose which now had acquired a friend too.
Along the roadside there though we had caught sight of another Yellow Mongoose
and very photogenic they are too.
Back to Rateldraf, another blank, even the Coursers and Zebras had gone AWOL.
Head on south to Renostervlei. My notes said mid morning best, chance of Lion,Rhino, Cheetah.
Fat chance !
The waterhole was occupied though.
but not for long, I think our arrival had them in flight within a few seconds. Fortunately Claire was driving and I was in the back so thus able to grab a quick shot before they were off.
On to Jakkalswater then ! Here the light was supposedly good from mid morning to afternoon with a chance of Rhino, Lion and Elephants. Oh and Squirrel. The Squirrel duly obliged.
It looked quite surprised to see a visitor too!
The viewing was poor, the light was poor, it was all disappointing. Claire was still suffering with sinusitis and feeling a bit under the weather so we headed back to Dolomite.
On the way we did get a couple of sights though.
but best of all our first Warthog sighting.
A pair , the male stood looking us over for a few moments before heading off in to the bush.
This wasn't the only first though, we also spotted some Dung Beetles.
The perfect examples of team players! They must have some strength to handle that ball between just three of them.
Another good sight was a Leopard Tortoise which was crossing the road.
Once again we waited to make sure he got over safely. Bit daft I know but you just have to don't you?
Birdwise we didn't see too much but a moment of brightness and we had views of this Steppe Buzzard. No confusion about that one for me.
With little else to photograph I decided to have a go at this Pale Chanting Goshawk, the most common raptor of our trip.
The weather wasn't ideal for Claire but I have to say, it makes photography easier than in the bright mid day sun.
Back at Dolomite I went for a wander to explore the full length of the camp. I was surprise just how far it is too. The previous night I had heard a group complaining that the vehicle to take them back to their room wasn't to be seen. Now you might think that is pure idleness but in fairness I heard one lady say that they make you sign a disclaimer accepting the fact the camp isn't fenced etc, telling you to retreat and stay in your rooms after dinner from a safety point of view yet you have to walk 100m in the dark. Well, the path is lit dimly. They had a point.
Anyway, it was daylight now and the only creatures on four legs were no threat at all.
Well not to me anyway.
There were some interesting ones on two legs though, some new species too.
and I'll stick my neck out on this one. Chinspot Batis.
No black spots on the white belly?
Anyway, I also got some great views of one or two previously seen birds but these photos are better.
African Red-eyed Bulbul.
A male Great Sparrow
A whole flock of Chestnut Weavers
and Dusky Sunbird too.
Oh, I almost forgot, another pair of four legged critters.
It wasn't sunbathing weather but it was still a magnificent viewpoint from the rocks next to our room!
Not a bad hour or so's work. Like Grootberg before, the rocky outcrops of the small hill attract birds you might not see lower down...perhaps. Maybe they are just easier to see!
I asked Claire if she wanted to have an afternoon run out in the car but she decided to stay behind and read a book.
Off I went on my own. I decided to head straight for the distant waterholes of Jakkalswater and Okawao. One thing you need to be mindful of is your fuel supply but I had figured out I had more than enough to get me back to Okaukuejo , the nearest convenient petrol station. It's easy to knock up 100 kms just popping in and out of the waterholes.
Anyway, not far from Rateldraf I came across a parked car that was obviously looking at something. I stopped to look for myself and the driver pointed out there was an Elephant in the bushes.
I had heard one had been seen the previous day so this was great news. First Ellie of the trip! Typical luck, Claire would miss it again. I thanked the driver and complimented him on the sighting, I'd have missed it no doubt had he not been there. The Elephant was pretty well hidden.
The other car left me to it but despite reversing backwards then forwards I couldn't get a decent shot so I moved on.
Jakkalswater first then Okawao. I'm struggling to remember which it was but I got great views of a Warthog family. Initially they were very suspicious and looked like they would make a run for it.
But after making a huge circle of the car they returned to enjoy a drink and a quick play in the mud.
Must admit they are a favourite.
Otherwise there was nothing except for the Squirrels. At least they were reliable .
I headed back towards Klippan in the hope that the Rhino would make another appearance at the same time as the previous evening but as I was heading in that direction I spotted something interesting.
My one and only Brown Snake Eagle of the trip! A bit distant but doable with the 2x TC on my lens.
The next sighting would have been hard to miss!
The Elephant had moved on and was in fairly open ground. The 100-400 lens was needed here and it just happened to be ready mounted on the 7D! That last shot was at 148mm. At 310mm it was pretty close.
The Ellie was quite contentedly munching his dinner but obviously decided to move on.
Straight towards me!
Now I have had an interesting experience with a rather testosterone fuelled young male Elephant in the past. Then I was with an experienced driver guide who knew what to do.
I was on my own here! The Elephant looked calm and collected but he had given me the eye! I was on his patch blocking his way across the road and he must have been no more than 20 metres away. I'd just seen him headbutt a small tree to knock it over ! Fat chance me in a tin can if he decided to push me out of his way.
I was torn between reaching for the Olympus point and shoot so as to get the whole picture but decided instead that caution was the better option.
The Elephant had already decided his next move though and luckily I wasn't part of it!
As I moved off he crossed over behind me and proceeded to carry on with dinner.
Quite an exciting encounter for this safari novice. My photographer's guide had mentioned that you should always have an exit plan and that is indeed sound advice.Just how near to you allow the Elephant or Rhino to approach before you action the plan though?
My final shot as taken at a safe distance with the 600mm!
You'll notice the Elephant has a broken tusk, and in fact the other isn't too big either. Etosha Elephants suffer from a poor diet and their mineral deficient tusks are also poor as a result. Hopefully they are not worth poaching then!!
I continued on, spotting another Ellie a short distance afterwards. I wonder which waterhole they frequent, Rateldraf was easily the nearest. No mention in the book about seeing them there though.
Arriving at Klippan it was a different scene altogether. Deserted. The diversion had proved worthwhile though as I got my first ever photo opportunity for African Hoopoe.
I had seen them earlier in the trip but too distant, this time there were three in a roadside tree.
I gave the Rhino 30 minutes to make an appearance but it was still a no show. Whilst I was sat there though I did spot one solitary bird in the far distance. Ludwig's Bustard.
A shame it was so far away, even with my 2x TC it was still a mere dot! Another lifer for the trip though so at least I had a record.
My only problem now was going back to tell Claire what she had missed!