General

Sleep Interrupted?

After enjoying a midday take-away toasted sandwich and an ice cold cider on the terrace overlooking the dam at Berg en Dal, our route back to our lodgings at Lower Sabie took us along the Crocodile River dirt road, direction East.

It was sunny, cloudless and stinking hot, with very little going on.

A squirrel sprinted across the road a little way ahead of us, so I slowed down and stopped to see if it was up to anything.

The squirrel had stopped in the short grass on the edge of the road, and when it realized that we were watching, it quickly scampered up a dead Hardekool (Leadwood) tree nearby and disappeared into a hole some 4 meters above the ground.

Having decided that there was nothing more to see, I was just about to move on when a small face with two huge honey coloured eyes located between two even bigger pink ears popped out of the hole, followed in quick time by a round bushy body and a long tail. It was obviously not the squirrel, but it still took a second or two to realize that the squirrel had ejected a bushbaby it probably time-shared the hollow tree truck with. We were still digesting this all when a second bushbaby popped out of the hole a few seconds later.

The two bushbabies appeared to be pretty distressed about having been unceremoniously ejected into the very bright sunlight at a time of day not quite compliant with contract conditions. With both bushbabies circling aimlessly around the hole a few times, one decided it had had enough and took the lead by popping back into the sleeping quarters, to be closely followed by the other.

Nothing further happened for happened after that, so we assumed that the two bushbabies had managed to come to some sort of agreement regarding sleeping arrangements with the squirrel.

What an unusual and special sighting – and all over within about 20 seconds.

General

Blinded by Concentration?

While lazily driving westwards along the Crocodile River road towards Malelane one morning, Silvia and I noticed two cars stopped on the left shoulder of the gravel road. We slowed down and stopped behind them.

A warthog sow was grazing in a small clearing some 15 meters from us while her three half-grown piglets ran around chasing and pushing each other – a perfect setting for possibly getting an interesting action shot or two. Silvia sat well back in the passenger seat to take her photos with the camera lens up against the car door window frame pillar, providing me with sufficient space to comfortably shoot past her without interference.

While we sat there enjoying the piglet’s antics, the 2 other cars eventually both moved off, while over a period of about 5 minutes one or two further cars stopped briefly and then drove off again. Obviously the warthogs were of no real interest to anyone else but us. A little while later the sow decided to walk off to our left, the piglets following closely behind.

My camera was on my lap and I was about to start the car, when my senses were suddenly bombarded by very loud panicked warthogs’ squealing. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed two beige blurs accelerating towards our car from about 30 meters behind where the warthog family had just been. All I could do was shout “cheetahs”, snatch my camera, remove and drop the lens cap, and shoot a short burst of high speed frames as a cat ran towards me on a trajectory to take it past the front of the car as it chased one of the piglets.

Silvia also managed to just get in a short rapid fire burst as the second cheetah passed behind the car chasing another piglet.

After 2 seconds it was basically all over. We could still hear the intermittent squealing of petrified piglets being chased deep in the dense bush on the opposite side of the road for another 10 seconds or so, then abruptly, absolute silence. We both just sat there totally overwhelmed by what had just happened. To calm myself I started reviewing the shots that I had managed to take of the cheetah at full tilt – not too bad considering I had been totally unprepared.

A car drove up and stopped alongside our’s. In the absence of any obvious wildlife, the driver, as is custom in the Kruger, asked me what we had stopped for. I was still trembling a from all the adrenalin, and so all I could do was pick up my camera and show him the LCD screen on the back showing a cheetah in full flight. After I had calmed down a bit more, I told the couple in the car the story as it happened, emphasising that the cheetahs had “appeared out of nothing”. To confirm their existence, both cheetahs then reappeared from the dense vegetation about 50 meters from us, skulking away parallel to the road. The two piglets had obviously both survived to live another day.

When we drove off a while later to find a large male lion that the couple had just seen a few kilometres further along the road, Silvia innocently mentioned to me that she had a sneaking suspicion that the cheetahs had not just appeared “out of nothing” as I had insisted during my narrative of the cheetah chase. She was convinced that the cheetahs had been hiding in plain sight at the time we were enjoying the warthog piglets’ antics – why else would the attack have taken place just as the warthogs had turned their back to the direction the cheetahs had come from? I responded with a “do you think I’m blind?” defence. I was pretty uptight just thinking about this possibility, especially all the resulting “what-if” scenarios coursing through my head. I also thought about a hunter friend that had lost out on bagging a prize animal because he was concentrating so intently on his quarry that he completely shut out other much closer animals which then bolted and spooked his intended target. As the day wore on however, the many other wonderful sightings helped somewhat to take my mind off “that” subject.

When we got back to camp that evening, my routine was, as always, to start downloading the files from the cameras’ CFast cards onto the laptop and prepare drinks to celebrate the day. Once the data transfer was complete, we then impatiently scrolled through to the initial images of the warthog family running around in the clearing to see whether or not Silvia’s theory was correct….….

A question. How many of you had to go back to the first photo for a second take?

General

A Photographer’s Dream

Latish one afternoon while booked in at Lower Sabie, Silvia and I decided to do a “quick” loop north over the S29 gravel road, planning to return back south to the camp on the tarred H10 road.

The drive up past Mlondozi Dam was pretty uneventful, with some interesting bird sightings interspaced with numerous elephants, distant rhinos and other plains herbivores. On reaching the intersection with the tar road, I turned sharply left onto the H10 for a relaxed return drive to Lower Sabie, including a quick visit to Sunset Dam to get some shots of the hippos posing before settling down for the night. We checked our watches and found we still had over an hour and a half left to do the 12 km back to camp before the gates closed.

Less than 500 meters after turning onto the tarred road, Silvia spotted a cheetah sitting tall in the grass some 150 meters to our left. As we stopped, the cheetah started walking swiftly away from us towards the east. I turned the car around and drove back towards the S29. Silvia at that stage was not very happy, as she had wanted to take some long range shots of the cat sitting up in the long grass.

We turned into the S29 and slowly drove south for about 300m until we saw two male cheetahs emerging from the tallish grass and acacia bushes ahead of us on the right.

The two cats quickly crossed the road and approached a 3 meter tall ironwood stump about 15 meters off the road to our left. They sniffed around in the tallish grass around the stump for quite a while, before both generously started spray-marking the base of stump. When they were finished spray-marking, one cat lay down in the grass to relax, and his obvious alpha brother jumped up onto the top of the stump from which to survey his territory and complete the territorial marking procedure.

The late afternoon sun was absolutely perfect as it bathed the elegant cat in its golden glow, creating a wonderful contrast against the darkening bluish backdrop of the sky above the tree covered Lebombo Mountains in the east. A photographer’s dream setting!

The cheetah continued to pose patiently for us for quite some time, before it gracefully dismounted and joined its brother in the grass. We sat there in our car totally enthralled by what we had just seen.

After a while the two cats got up, and returned to the road to lie down amongst the various parked cars to continue grooming one another. While it was wonderful to watch them grooming each other, the setting was unfortunately not very condusive to expressive photography due to the shade and the fading light.

The driver of a car that started moving off reminded us that we only had some 25 minutes to return to camp before the gates close. There was total panic as I quickly completed the basic math in my head. Driving at the speed limit of 50 km/h would require at least 16 minutes to drive the approximately 13 km back to camp, barring unforeseen live “roadblocks” underway. We thus drove off back to the H10, and then set off south in the direction of the camp at the maximum allowed speed.

Murphy is the one Irishman I absolutely detest. In the Kruger he regularly conspires to find things or create situations with which to confirm to me why my utter dislike of him is absolutely justified.

This time was no different. It included two obstinate but pretty laid-back elephant herds hogging the road, as well as a huge female white rhino and her calf, all determined to delay us such that the guard at the camp gate literally had to wait to close the gates behind us. I won’t divulge any more lest I incriminate myself.

While we got so many wonderful images of the cheetah, due to the stressful nature of our interaction with the rhino mother and calf we missed out totally on getting any images of them. This really “hurt”, especially as the mother was a magnificent animal equipped with an about 120 cm long horn.

In the Kruger one must accept the rule that you win some and lose some.

General

Are you going to use that thing?

The S100 along the N’wanetsi River is one of our favourite Kruger drives, especially first thing in the morning immediately after the camp gates at Satara are opened.

Normally we take things easy, letting all the “lion hunters” speed off ahead of us while we enjoy the experience of the sun’s wonderful red orb slowly peeping out through the mist strands shrouding the wonderful large ironwood and marula sculptures to the east.


On this particular morning things were exceptionally quiet as far as wildlife was concerned along this gravel road which follows the meanders of the river. Even the pools of water in the mostly dry riverbed were deserted, other than for a few laughing doves taking a quick drink and the odd terrapin poking its head up out of the water. Perfect for a relaxing cup of coffee and a rusk while enjoying the birds singing from the tree canopy above.

After some time we decided to continue slowly driving in the direction of the N’wanetsi picnic spot. Although the light was not ideal for photography, my camera was, as always, ready for action while resting on my lap.

A few minutes later we noticed a family of around 5 ground hornbills walking in the grass along the right hand edge of the road. I very slowly drove a few meters past them and parked on the right side of the road, expecting them to walk towards our car. While the other hornbills detoured about 6 meters further into the grass in their search for food, one very confident bird walked right up alongside my car window and started pecking around in the dense grass not 2 meters from where I was sitting. I just sat there marvelling at the eyelashes most women would be envious of as they framed the beautifully clear yellowish eyes set in a crimson red bare face attached to a huge heavy black beak.

Suddenly my senses were assaulted by an ear-piercing squeal, as if someone was slitting a pig’s throat right next to where I was sitting. I just stared open-mouthed and paralysed at the hornbill as it held a screaming baby scrub hare up in its huge beak. The hornbill continued manoeuvring the hare around in its beak for at least 10 seconds, throwing the poor thing in the air and catching it, while I just sat there frozen, staring at what was unfolding right in front of my eyes. I was abruptly woken from my stupor when Silvia elbowed me “gently” in the ribs and asked me very sweetly if I was intending to “use that thing” to photograph what could be considered a once in a lifetime experience. If not, she asked me to just move back a bit in my seat so that she at least could do the honours.

I had enough time to raise the camera and take a single shot, after which the bird turned and flapped off with its prize, family in close pursuit.


The rest of the day was spent discussing embarrassing ‘what-if’ scenarios….

General

Love is Deaf

The last week of our trip to the Kruger in October 2017 was based at the Biyamiti Bush Camp.

We had been there for a few days already, and had during this time developed quite a good rapport with the very knowledgeable assistant camp manager Bridgeman Zulu. Frequently we would see him out on a game drive with his paying customers. He would stop to have a chat with us and exchange news of interesting nearby sightings.

On this particular morning we were enjoying extended eyeball to eyeball contact with the resident hippo at the Biyamiti Weir. Bridgeman, on his way back to camp from his early morning game drive, stopped for a quick chin wag. He informed us of a pair of honeymooning lions some 6 km further along the road, and to top it all, he confirmed they were on the road, and, most importantly, without any spectators. Duly noting the information received, we drove slowly in the direction of the amorous felines.

Sure enough, we eventually found the two lovebirds. The male was lying under a small tree, and the lioness about 30 meters further along under a bush right at the edge of the road.

We were the only people there, so we decided to park our vehicle on the opposite side of the road to where the lioness was lying and wait for the action to start. After 10 minutes or so there was still no action, other than the arrival of two jeep jockeys with their overseas visitors and two further cars. The 5 vehicles formed a concentric amphitheatre with the lioness on centre stage, with us occupying the best seats in the house.

After a while the male came ambling towards the lioness, entering stage right from behind one of the jeeps. The tourists on the jeep could have, if they had been brave or mad enough, stroked him while he passed by. They just sat there frozen, not uttering a sound.

As the male approached the lioness, she turned to face us head-on. The male walked up behind her, turned, and then got on with his job.

All you could hear was cameras clicking away furiously, our’s included.

Suddenly all hell broke loose. A car’s alarm system decided to go off at the height of the nuptials.

Apparently the Toyota Fortuner that we had rented has some or other feature that automatically activates the alarm if the car is switched off and stationary for a specific amount of time. When we moved around inside the car it must have set off the alarm – resulting in total panic, which obviously, is not very conducive to activating the logical thought processes necessary to rectify the problem quickly. It took at least 10 seconds until I did something that miraculously stopped the racket.

Sheepishly I acknowledged my “guilt” and gestured my deep apologies and embarrassment while at least 20 pairs of eyes stared daggers at us.

Turning my attention to where I had last seen the lions, I saw they were still there and still very much in love. From comments received later from the others, the two had evidently just continued with their business during the commotion as if nothing was happening.

They say “love is blind” – I on the other hand have proof that love is in fact totally deaf.

A quick question. Am I the only one that thinks that the male lion looks absolutely ridiculous during his performance? Silvia and I couldn’t stop laughing when we first saw the shots we had taken.

General

Putting Down Roots in Panama

Silvia and I have finally taken the plunge and emigrated to Panama. We arrived on the 8th January and since then we’ve learned a lot about our new home and ourselves.

Putting down roots here in Boquete is pretty easy if you really want to. We have found the people in Greater Boquete to be very open and friendly, with everyone offering to help us with everything. Our learning experience was that one needs to have a network of contacts to get things done here – we’ve really been enormously lucky to have met the correct people who could point us is the right direction to get the basics sorted efficiently.

The finca we purchased is finally registered in our name at the deeds office, and our residence visa application is due to commence imminently once a single outstanding requirement is fulfilled. The process is no longer in our hands.

The process itself has not been easy, as, understandably, both Switzerland and Panama have internal procedures that must be complied with – we found it best to jump through all the hoops as they were placed before us and to take things easy. Its all just a matter of going through all the necessary administrative processes one step at a time.

Although Panama is situated generally between 8° and 9° North of the Equator, we have experienced Volcancito Arriba (Boquete) to be a little cooler than we expected, with maximum daytime temperatures of between 20°C to 23°C and night time temperatures of around 15°C to 17°C. When the sun goes down behind Volcan Baru in the latter part of afternoon, temperatures drop pretty fast. Considering we are living at 1’600m (5’250 ft) above sea level, this is not totally unexpected. We are currently in the dry season (the locals call it «summer»), marked by constantly strong northerly winds coming down from the Caribbean Sea over the Continental Divide. The cooler temperatures are however much more pleasant than the very hot (+35°C) and humid weather in David some half an hour’s drive down towards the Pacific.  Up to now we’ve experienced the «dry» season – we’ll see what the wet season is all about once it starts towards the end of April.

On the photography front we have not managed to do all that much over the past 2 and a half months – we were far too busy getting the residence visa process sorted as well as supervising a number of building projects at the finca. We have however seen and photographed huge «squadrons» of pelicans at close range during our occasional visits to the beaches at Las Olas and Las Lahas.  We’ve also had great sightings of American Oystercatchers, which means that we have great images to complement the beautiful images we already have of African as well as European Oystercatchers, which probably will result in a posting soon showcasing all three species.

Our large garden shows a lot of potential for future bird photography – a number of hummingbird species frequent the various flowering bushes and tanagers visit the trees that are currently fruiting. We’ve decided to remove the majority of the coffee trees to create a more traditional tropical garden with flowering indigenous trees and shrubs to attract even more species birds. The many fruit trees will also be doing their part.

There is a lot of work ahead for us, but also many opportunities for learning about what Central America has to offer in the way of wildlife and nature in general. Hopefully we will be able to take advantage of this great location to complement our already wonderful wildlife image collection and to share these with you all in the future.

 

 

General

Nhlanganini Baby Snatcher

While I didn’t actually shoot the images provided below, this story is one of the pivotal moments which lead to my passion for wildlife photography.

I originally uploaded this story to the South African National Parks «Travel Tales» forum. Jeff Gordon subsequently invited me to submit the story for possible publication in his book «101 Kruger Tales: Extraordinary Stories from Ordinary Visitors to the Kruger National Park», which he compiled and edited. The story made it into the 101 tales eventually published.

 

Having had the privilege of growing up and working in Phalaborwa – on the door step to the Kruger National Park’s western border – I’ve made more trips into the Kruger than I can remember.

There is however one trip in particular, way back in the early 1970s, that is deeply imprinted in my psyche.

It was early Sunday morning and my father loaded us kids into the car to take a drive through the Park down to Olifants Camp for lunch.  After a couple of relatively uneventful hours on the dusty road to Letaba, my father turned right onto the short loop that hugs the dry Nhlanganini riverbed which, from experience, often proved a rewarding detour for us. After rounding the kopje on the right we approached the first drift through the riverbed. A car was already parked in middle of the drift on a flattish rocky area just off the left edge of the road, so we approached slowly with four pairs of eyes eagerly scanning the riverbed for whatever it was they had stopped for. There was nothing. My father eventually asked the driver of the car what he had seen. Rather mysteriously the man refused to be drawn on exactly what it was but rather suggested we be patient as the subject of interest would hopefully soon be back.

My father pulled up behind the parked car, switched off the engine and there we all waited impatiently.

Sure enough, after a few minutes an adolescent male baboon dropped down into the riverbed from the trees on the opposite bank with what appeared to be something under its arm. It strolled slowly over to where we were parked, stopping about five metres from the cars and then extravagantly revealed to us that which it had been holding under its arm: a tiny and very noisy young leopard cub.

We couldn’t believe our eyes; this idiot baboon had got itself a toy, and, was it proud of itself!

Nhlanganini baby snatcher. Kruger Park. Jo Fankhauser Wildlife Photography. Baboon with Leopard Cub. Bushfever.com. Bushfever. South Africa.

We watched amazed as the baboon nuzzled the cub and clumsily tried to mother it, squeezing it up against its chest so hard we thought the cub might die. Every now and again, he would hold the leopard aloft, as if to show off his prize.

Of course we all immediately started formulating plans of how we could liberate the poor cub from this thug; one idea being to sacrifice some of our packed breakfast to entice it closer to the car in the hope that it would drop the cub in panic when we suddenly open the doors. No such luck; the baboon was onto us long before we could even think of putting any such rescue plan into action. It must have known we were up to something, because it simply stood up, walked a few paces, and plonked itself down again, this time a good 10 metres away, and continued its showboating.

Nhlanganini baby snatcher. Kruger Park. Jo Fankhauser Wildlife Photography. Baboon with Leopard Cub. Bushfever.com. Bushfever. South Africa.

The leopard cub was clearly not happy and increasingly began to make its feelings known to everyone within earshot. The squealing did not appear to be going down at all well with its captor who was getting edgy and had begun making nervous glances in the direction of the nearby kopje. After several minutes, the baboon decided that the show could no longer go on with all this racket so it stood up, turned around and made off back to the
safety of its troop in the trees, with the still-screeching cub firmly under its arm.

We stayed on for some considerable time hoping for a curtain call, but that was it – the show was over.

There was probably no happy end for the leopard cub, but I suppose that’s the way nature works.

There was no happy end for my father either. He had taken a number of shots of this unique encounter with his Pentax SLR (the one that I «inherited») and was pretty sure that he would soon be making a small killing when he sold them to the highest bidder. However, when he got the slides back after developing and mounting, he was hugely disappointed to find that in all the excitement he had forgotten to close the lens’ aperture ring and had got the exposure horribly wrong. The photos were just passable enough to allow him to prove the authenticity of the sighting to everyone he had earlier bragged about it to, but his dream of a financial windfall and international wildlife photography accolades remained that – a dream.

Notes:

  1. In the above story, I have as far as practicable tried to revert to the original text which I sent to Jeff for consideration in early 2013. Geff – thanks for all the improvements that I have retained.
  2. Modern digital technology has allowed me to resurrect the old prints and optimize the images sufficiently for this story. My dad preferred to have his photographs printed using a matt finish, hence the grainy pattern.
  3. The book 101 Kruger Tales: Extraordinary Stories from Ordinary Visitors to the Kruger National Park is available from Amazon

General

We’re on-line!

 Sealene Kopje. Phalaborwa. Sealene. Bushfever. Jo Fankhauser Wildlife Photography. South Africa.

 

After many months of hard work, the Bushfever.com website is finally ready for it’s on-line launch.

This has been a long time coming, mainly due to initial difficulty defining exactly how I wanted to present my work in a way that would reflect who I am, and the message I want to put out to the world.

After much trial and error, and recognizing what is and is not possible in consideration of my IT skills limitations, I realised that probably my best bet is just to keep things fresh and simple.

In this vein, I’m looking forward in the months and years ahead to share with you all the interesting background stories to some of the images that I have successfully (or as in numerous cases not so brilliantly) captured, and of course keeping you updated on what Silvia and I are up to.

I hope that you will enjoy our journey with us, and look forward to your constructive feedback emails as this platform website develops.

Wishing you all happy browsing.

Jo & Silvia Fankhauser