Life on the open tented camp was always guaranteed to be exciting as animals had a right of way through the camp. During the day time we were treated to viewing of small animals, butterflies and birds and at night as the sun set and the moon had risen things started to happen on camp.......
But let me first recall the day time activities. Although we had three drives a day there was still time to sit and relax and take in the wildlife sights. We soon had spotted a small veranda overlooking the river and for the most part the four of us were the only humans sitting there. But we were never alone. As we sat there was endless bird sightings, but the most memorable was the elegant Malachite Kingfisher that sat patiently on a nearby tree whilst I changed lens and finally focussed on the beautiful plumage of this stunning bird and its impressive red beak. It seemed happy to present its best profile to the camera and I happily obliged with a few paparazzi shots.
Of course this wasn’t the only bird that showed up although many of the others seemed more camera shy and it required greater patience to capture them on film. However, as I practiced to be a "great hunter", creeping through the bushes close to the river I came across a whole host of butterflies. They all seemed to be attracted to this particular bush and not only were there loads of them flapping from flower to flower, but there were many varieties. Now if I thought the challenge of catching birds on film was great the photography of butterflies seemed supremely difficult. Just as I got a decent focus they’d flap off to another flower leaving me with a perfectly focused leaf! Still I wasn’t to be distracted and waited patiently for another to settle before pressing the shutter.
Now I don’t claim that they’re the best ever photographs of butterflies but I was pretty chuffed with the end product especially one where I captured two different species almost side by side. I paused momentarily to watch an elephant pick its way down the steep slope to the water’s edge and marveled at how such a large beast could move so gratefully. However, as it crashed its way through the undergrowth a group of three water birds clearly believed it was time to vacate their section of the water and with a certain amount of grace opened their impressive wings and took off down-stream.
Returning to MY butterflies (I was the only person seemingly to have "discovered" them) I now seemed to have mastered the photographic art and as I clambered up the steep slope from the water’s edge I spotted a bird balancing precariously on a thin branch of a tree. This was to be my next photographic target, but a slight stumble and some appropriately muttered profanities ensured that the bird escaped my camera lens. My camera and I escaped damage and I vowed to be a little more careful as I climbed the few remaining paces to the flatter ground. I made a dramatic exit from the undergrowth as I tripped on an exposed root – so much for my added care- and there in the middle of the camp were a group of mongoose. These were the dwarf mongoose and were scurrying around the open ground and pushing their way through the fallen leaves in search of food.
They appeared to be fairly at ease in this open environment but as soon as I took a step forward they scattered to the safety of the nearby bushes. Having learnt patience from my recent "butterfly experience" I sat patiently close to the open grass area and slowly but surely the mongooses (not mongeese as some people seem to prefer) emerged and were soon busy seeking for insects or small lizards. Capturing them on film was easy and one had the audacity to approach me closely staring down the camera lens. I moved to get up and, as if by magic, the grass which had been host to several mongooses was again devoid of wildlife.
But not so the nearby trees these were playing host to several species of small birds sporting many different colours: bright orange breasts, vibrant canary yellow, subtle shades of green. Even the birds with a pure matt black plumage looked more exotic than the black crows that I used to seeing back home in the UK. I managed several photographs but unfortunately I’m not too good on bird recognition so all their identities will remain unknown to me. Finally I completed my "circuit of discovery" to return to my wife and friends. I’d been gone, they explained, for quite some time and they claimed that they were beginning to wonder where I’d got to. Not that this concern was evident as they’d almost finished a cafetiere of coffee and were enjoying yet another glass of wine!
One evening, as we drank our evening nightcap we heard a great deal of noise at the watering hole. I finally focused on an elephants at the water’s edge and pointed it out to my friend. We were mesmerized by the elephant and in turn pointed it out to our respective wives who surprisingly were unimpressed. We were somewhat surprised at their lack of enthusiasm and returned to our observation of the elephant. After a time we heard a considerable amount of noise to our left and saw a group of hippos grazing on the grass just inside our camp. They were only a matter of yards away from us and the guards appeared with their flashlights to herd them away from us. It was at that point, as the lights shone down to the water’s edge that I saw "my stationary elephant". He wasn’t moving at all which I guess is unsurprising as this animal turned out to be a rock and a wizened tree. Just shows the tricks the light can play on you! The hippos had moved on a little and soon there was a group of visitors standing behind the ever vigilant guards enjoying the sight of a group of grazing hippos.
Life is never dull on safari and even when we were "off duty" there was plenty of wildlife to see.