Trip Report: Timbavati Photo Safari

Andrew Beck Uncategorized 6 Comments

Having just returned from a recent safari to the Timbavati I thought I’d share a Trip Report with a slightly different focus. Rather than a day by day account, I thought I’d share images and stories around the lessons that our group learnt during our 4 night stay.

Here it go’s!

There is no substitute for good light

One of our very first sightings of the safari was of a herd of around 30 elephant. They were very relaxed and slowly feeding on the grasses and shrubs in the late afternoon light. We anticipated their movements and positioned the vehicle in an area that we felt would give us the best opportunity to photograph them without the distracting bushes and branches in the foreground.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves surrounded by the herd with a setting sun sinking low on the horizon. Our position gave us the ideal opportunity to photograph both backlit and frontlit images without even having to move an inch.

We spent more than an hour with the herd and were kept entertained by the antics of the young calves as they played around the feet of the adults.

Looking back on all the images taken in this sigthing it was very clear how the light changed and got progressively better. Almost all of the initial images appeared dull and plain in comparison to the incredible combination of the last rays of light and dust. There is quite simply no substitute for good light.

You have to be in the right place at the right time

Literally straight after our time with the Elephants we joined a sighting of a female leopard. She was on the move and kept us working hard in terms of being able to photograph her in low light whilst not pausing and continuously changing direction.

She was clearly on the hunt and we watched as she flushed and chased a scrub hare before she continuing on her mission. She was obviously pregnant and we very quickly realised that her technique at this stage of the game was more than likely simply trying to flush a small and easy to catch prey item.

We gave her some space and moved around into an opening where we anticipated her to move and allowed her to walk onto us rather than continuously moving alongside or behind her so as not to influence her hunting attempts.

We had barely switched off the vehicle when she appeared around the side of a shrub and dropped down into a stalking position.

She slowly re-adjusted and gave that unmistakable twitch of the tail that leopards do when they are excited.

She leapt forward landing less than a meter from the rear left tyre of the vehicle before emerging with a mouth-full of feathers.

Her prey, a Red Crested Korhaan.

By no means a very filling meal but at this stage of her pregnancy, a meal nonetheless.

There was no way of predicting where this leopard would find her quarry but we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was a real treat to see the opportunism of leopards on full display and to have witnessed a kill take place just a meter way fro the vehicle.

This wasn’t the last we saw of this old girl as we caught of with her a couple of days later resting in the shade besides another small kill. It was during this sighting that I was able to fill the movement of the cubs inside her belly, a very special moment which you can see for yourself in the highlights video at the end of the post.

Patience Pays

We had seen a pride of lions feeding on a giraffe carcass earlier in the day and were on our way back to check on them when we found two of the lioness’ walking away from a pan where they had quenched their thirst. Our immediate thought was that the males would surely follow suite and so we headed back to the area where we had seen them earlier that day to get a location of them.

Sure enough they were there, starting to get active and it wasn’t long before they started to move off in the direction of the pan. We hedged our bets and shot ahead, evaluating the scene and debating where they would drink so that we could settle into the best possible position. We sat and waited for more than 40 minutes but alas, no sign of the males.

The group made a call to head back to the lodge and it was on our drive back to camp that we cam across one of the males walking down the road in the direction of the pan. We followed him for a while, watching him scent mark and roar as he edged closer and closer to the pan. It wasn’t long before our original hopes were confirmed and he walked down a game path which led directly to the pan.

We shot around and took up our position…

He approached and drank exactly where we had though he would.

We sat as the only vehicle and listened to him lapping up the water from the pan and, just as we thought it couldnt get any better, the second male approached.

The sighting ended with the two magnificent males staking their claim to the territory through a series of roars which left us all in awe of their power. Whilst things don’t always pan out the way we want them to in the bush, if you have the time and patience, you are often rewarded with some special.

You never know what lies around the next corner…

I’ve shared more on what was an absolute first for me in this post but, a rather quirt afternoon took a sudden change of pace when we rounded a corner and found these guys.

These caterpillars are the larvae of the moth named Reticulate Bagnet (Anaphe reticulata). They become conspicuous not only because they congregate in groups on tree trunks but they are also noticeable for following each other head to tail in long single-file trails, hence the collective name for this type of caterpillar: processionary caterpillar. 

In our sighting, the line ran for about 10-15 metres directly across the road. We wasted no time in getting out of the vehicle and photographing the scene the best way possible – flat on our bellies!

I’ve spent a lot of time in the field and this was an absolute first for me. A reminder that even on a quiet drive,  you never know what lies around the next corner!

Sometimes you just get lucky

On our final morning this were very quiet. It was overcast and the wind was blowing – not a great combination for game viewing yet alone photography. We had been tracking a female leopard but had lost her tracks and were slowly making our way to where we had seen a male leopard the previous evening when suddenly a flash of mottled brown, black and white raced across the road in front of us.

Wild Dog.

On the hunt.

We raced to catch up and found the pack with an impala kill which had been made less than 5 minutes before our arrival.

We sat and watched the interaction between the pack as they fed, kept an eye on a nearby Tawny Eagle and White Backed Vulture, and even chased off a marauding Hyaena who was attempting to share in the spoils.

The location in the riverbed provided limited opportunities but our luck changed when the pack started to make their way to a nearby dam.

It was here where a great sighting developed into a spectacular sighting as we enjoyed eye-level interaction with clean foregrounds and distant backgrounds as the pack interacted on the dam wall.

This was yet another reminder of how suddenly things can change in the bush. No-one had even seen the Wild Dogs in the previous four days that we were in the region and we had no clue where they were. It was pure luck that we stumbled upon one of them mid hunt and finished the safari on an incredible high.

Whilst these lessons contain most of the highlights of the safari we enjoyed loads more photographic opportunities throughout the 4 night stay, some of which I’ve shared below.

The Timbavati is one of those destinations which provides incredible value for money and consistently delivers quality photographic and learning opportunities. Here’s a short video with some of the other moments on safari.

Join us in the Timbavati

Join a group of just 3 guests for 5 nights in the Timbavati in July 2018!

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Andrew Beck

About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

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  1. Martha Myers

    How I loved this recap of our Timbavati safari, Andrew! You captured every bit of the excitement and every single “lesson learned” during those far too short days. And the images spoke volumes!

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