Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mashatu Trip Report - Part 1

The name “Mashatu” originated from the local people describing the area’s Nyala berry trees and the danger of big snakes lurking in them. On the recent C4 Images and Safaris photographic workshop at Mashatu, I was wondering if this name didn’t have to do with leopards instead. The sightings we had of leopards were plentiful, exquisite and a privilege to see so much of their behaviour -something that I will remember this trip by... This tour was lead by Isak Pretorius. All text and images by Isak.

c4 images and safaris, isak pretorius, mashatu, photographic workshop, photography

The group of photographers on our trip was very keen on exploring all genres of nature photography. It was a joy to work with them and we fed off each other’s energy doing everything from standard wildlife portraits, wide angle portraits, slow shutter speed motion blur, zoom blur, landscapes, backlit, flash photography, star photography and star trails. Of course it makes life very easy when a reserve like Mashatu offer these opportunities in bucket loads and we have a guide like Daniel who is just as keen about us “getting the shots”. The highlight of our trip was an incident between a leopard and baboons and although it was a great photographic opportunity it was probably a “once in a lifetime” natural history moment that we will never forget. Read more about this in the breakdown of our game drives below.

c4 images and safaris, isak pretorius, mashatu, photographic workshop, photography

Game drive 1, Saturday afternoon: A bit of drizzle could not dampen our enthusiasm and at 3:30pm we were off on our first game drive. Not far into the drive we stumbled upon a familiar face. It was the young male leopard we had seen earlier in the year, famous for the incident where he had been inquisitive about a porcupine. He is probably the most beautiful leopard I’ve seen – perfect skin, and getting quite muscular now, with loads of character. He did not disappoint! We found him on the bank of the Nyaswe River grooming himself and getting into the most interesting positions physically – something the most flexible athlete could not do. After the grooming session he walked around looking for impala and climed into a couple of trees to gain vantage point. This turned out to be a mistake as he had wondered into another big male leopard’s territory who spotted the intruder in one of the trees. The young male got chased away by the other bigger male and soon both of them disappeared over a hill. Not far from that we came across a female leopard with a freshly caught impala which was to big to get into a tree. She was sitting under a lead wood tree trying to eat some of the impala to reduce the weight to drag it into the tree. A few attempts to get the impala into the tree failed and then she lost the kill to the big male leopard that also tried to get it into the tree but failed. He then dragged the kill to a nearby bush and that was the end of an exciting first game drive.

c4 images and safaris, isak pretorius, mashatu, photographic workshop, photography

Game drive 2, Sunday morning: We woke up with the sound of raindrops falling on dry leaves, but luckily photographers is a different species altogether and with raincoats on we left camp excited about the opportunities that rainy weather brings. We found some rain soaked impalas standing under a tree and made the most of ground hornbills and painted snipes in a dry riverbed before there was a break in the clouds. Our gamble with the weather paid off when we found the young male leopard in a Mashatu tree trying to stay dry. This ended off our game drive on a high note.

c4 images and safaris, isak pretorius, mashatu, photographic workshop, photography

Game drive 3, Sunday afternoon: After the first of our afternoon workshops on digital workflow and Lightroom, and a piece of Magret’s famous lemon meringue pie, our afternoon drive commenced. Spring has sprung at Mashatu and the creative juices got flowing when we photographed newly sprouted mopane leaves backlit against the sun and the shadow of a hill. Other highlights of the game drive included following a large flock of redbilled queleas and a klipspringer. We were photographing the klipspringer in beautiful soft light when he started staring intensely in one direction and making alarm calls. Our guide, Daniel, had not finished his sentence telling us that this is typical behaviour when a klipspringer sees a predator, when down the hill came a leopard walking straight towards us and climbing into the tree next to us. The game drive finished with drinks at a sloping hill with a beautiful baobab tree where we did a star trail.

c4 images and safaris, isak pretorius, mashatu, photographic workshop, photography

Game drive 4, Monday morning: At camp there was talk about a pride of lions in the Southern part of the reserve and that became our objective for the game drive. After photographing some of the usual stuff on our way there, we found the lions doing what they do best… lying around! A few portrait shots later we were off and stumbled upon a breeding herd of elephants. The elephants at Mashatu are the most tranquil elephants you'll find anywhere. We positioned ourselves a hundred meters or so away from, but right in the way of the moving herd.
The elephants walked past us, only meters from the vehicle. This is photography bliss! We found several herds moving in an easterly direction and after getting all the standard shots it gave us the opportunity to try several different kind of shots as well… low angle wide shots, motion blur and zoom blur.

Read part 2 of the Photo Workshop feedback here.
Or view a video taken whilst on workshop in Mashatu here.

c4 images and safaris, isak pretorius, mashatu, photographic workshop, photography

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