JHP Newsletter - 2005, No. 3, 30 March
My trip to South Africa was great!
Equipment: Sigma 120-300 f2.8 APO EX IF HSM
I'm less pleased with the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 APO EX IF HSM than I was in the last newsletter. A couple of days after I sent out the last newsletter, I discovered that the finish was starting to wear off in some high-wear areas. I've never had the basic finish wear off a lens before. I've had some of the lettering start to wear off after a couple of years, but never the basic finish. So, I'm still less than impressed with Sigma lenses.
Equipment: Molar Bag
The Molar bag is a beanbag specially designed to be used on a window of a vehicle. I bought one for the trip to Africa, and it's great. It's a lot easier to travel with than a metal window camera support because it weighs a lot less and takes up a lot less space. When it's loaded with beans, however, it weighs a ton because it holds about as many beans as three normal beanbags. If you're interested in a window support for your camera, check it out at www.vertexphoto.com/BeanBag.aspx.
Equipment: Visible Dust
I've been using the digital camera sensor cleaning system from Visible Dust, and it works well. They have a line of brushes specially designed to take dust off the sensor, as well as a cleaning solution for stubborn dirt. Check it out at www.visibledust.com. I'm sure you'll be pleased.
Travel: South Africa
Immediately after the East Africa leg of my African safari, I went to South Africa for a month by myself. Shooting from my own vehicle allowed more flexibility and control to set up shots, and the lower shooting position, compared to that from a Land Rover or Land Cruiser, was advantageous most of the time. There were a few times where a higher shooting position would have let me shoot over some high grass, but being closer to eye level of the animals is nice.
First stop was three days in Pilanesberg National Park to the NW of Johannesburg. It was my first time there, and I went because the short blurb in the Lonely Planet guidebook says they have African Wild dogs, a species I've never seen before. I wasn't expecting to see them, but it was enough to get me to check out the park. I was glad I went because just about the first thing I saw was a mother and baby white rhino cross the road about 10 yds away. It was the smallest rhino baby I've seen, and I got some half decent shots of it. At the end of my second day, as I was racing to get out of the park before the gates closed, I came across a pack of about a dozen African wild dogs trotting along the road in the same direction I was heading! I slowed, and they kept trotting along, not particularly bothered by my presence. As I came right up next to them, they stopped, and after I got my camera ready, they parted so I could drive through them and get some shots. Because the gate was supposed to be closing when I got to the dogs, I didn't have time to work them, and only got a few snap shots. I looked for the dogs the next morning, but they were nowhere to be found. I wish I would have taken the time to get more shots, and then found out what would happen if I was late getting to the gate.
Then I made a one-night stop in the Blyde River Canyon area, shortened by one night to make up for the delay getting to South Africa. I had hoped to check out some of the viewpoints that were obscured by fog in 2001, but only had time to go to Bourke's Luck Potholes. The main attraction is a gorge with potholes (round holes) in the rock, and I've always found the small set of falls on a side stream to be more photogenic.
Then I went to Kruger National Park for five nights. The place was a roller paradise: almost every day I saw a dozen or so shootable lilac-breasted and European rollers. If that wasn't special enough, one day I saw, for the first time, giraffes drinking — not only once, but in two different locations! Because they have to bend their front legs awkwardly to drink, which makes them vulnerable, they're very skittish, and even approaching zebras interrupted their drinking. On my last afternoon in the park, as I was heading back to camp, I came across two lionesses lying on the road. I slowly drove right up to them, and they didn't mind me stopping right next to them as I got a few shots. It was very exciting to be about eight feet away from those big cats as they wondered what I was doing. I'm glad they didn't stick their noses into the window to get a better look.
Next stop was Hluhluwe/Imfolozi park for three nights. These side-by-side parks are great for white rhino, and this time I saw several young ones too. The most interesting thing about this visit was that I saw two different groups of nyala, a rare antelope, before I saw any zebra or impala, two very common species.
I spent two nights just outside Royal Natal National Park, and had hoped to go hiking in the park. However, almost continuous rain kept me in the chalet where I was staying, and I spent the time editing images.
Then it was one night in Addo Elephant National Park, where of course I saw lots of elephants, including several really young ones. As I was getting some shots of a black-headed heron while it was hunting, it snagged a lizard and I got a great shot of the lizard's panic when he was picked up.
Next I went to Mountain Zebra National Park, which of course specializes in mountain zebras, a rare species. They are stockier than the common zebra, and have brown stripes on their nose and a dewlap on their neck. I also saw lots of bontebok, another rare species, and red hartebeest, including some males fighting.
Then I spent a day at Karoo National Park. I had gotten some good shots of mountain zebra here before, but this time they were all too far from the roads. I did get some nice shots of gray rhebok though.
I ended the trip with three nights in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which encompasses the former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. It had rained before I got there, which made my visit very different than before. It really kept the dust down from the dirt roads, which was nice, and caused the wildflowers to bloom, which was spectacular! It also rained one afternoon while I was there, and created ponds in the dirt roads, which made travel, in my regular front-wheel-drive car, interesting at times. This is probably the best park in South Africa in which to see lions because of the open terrain, and I saw shootable lions three different times. One was a lone male that is the coolest lion I've ever seen. He had a big mane that was blonde in front and black in back that made him look like he had a gray beard and a black vest. On the last afternoon in the park, as I was heading towards the gate, I spotted a lioness walking along the top of a ridge, just w/in shooting distance. I followed her, and she went to a group of lions that was resting. After a while, the pride of eight lions, including a big male, came down off the ridge, through a nice patch of wildflowers, walked along the road for a while, then crossed the road and walked along a dry riverbed parallel to the road for a while. It was an awesome way to end the trip.
"Take Time to Eat the Flowers"
James Hager Photography :: www.jameshagerphoto.com