Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mashatu Photo Workshop Report by Villiers Steyn

September is one of the best months for game viewing in Africa and this is no exception in Mashatu. After the late rains in April this year the reserve had much more water in the riverbeds than we had anticipated, attracting a massive variety of water birds, including pied and giant kingfishers, Egyptian geese, white-breasted cormorants and a host of small waders. We also came across a few very relaxed saddle-billed storks, which allowed us to photograph them whilst they were fishing!

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

Mashatu remains one of the best (if not the best) places in the world to photograph elephants. On our second game drive we found two breeding herds walking down the Matabole River. We must have spent an hour with 30-odd individuals that walked within metres of our vehicle and drank at the natural pools in the riverbed. It was a photographer’s dream! Because they were so relaxed we were able to pull up right next to them, allowing us to get close-up photos of their wrinkled skin and amazing eyes.

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

Predator sightings were equally impressive. On our second afternoon we were treated to a sighting of a cheetah mother with two 2 month-old cubs. The little ones still looked like honey badgers (dark with a ridge of white hairs on their backs), a wonderful trick of nature to scare off other predators. The mother was extremely attentive and even focussed on a small herd of impala rams for a moment. We sat with the small cheetah family for a full 40 minutes!

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

We were also able to photograph lions in perfect morning sunlight and found a lioness with tiny cubs late one afternoon! The highlight, however, was photographing a young male leopard in a thorn tree, whilst two spotlights lit him up from behind. The result was a series of very dramatic back- and side-lit images. Of course we also used our own spotlight for a few stunning front light shots!

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

It was not only the large animals with sharp teeth that made us reach for our cameras. We also photographed a variety of small creatures, including an extremely well camouflaged double-banded sandgrouse chick in the road. The birdbath at Mashatu Tent Camp also attracted countless small bird species such as blue waxbills, lesser honeyguides and green-winged pytilias, to name but a few.

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

Sunrises and sunsets were especially spectacular on this trip due to the September dust in the air, making for some postcard shots around dawn and dusk.

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,

It’s always worth mentioning the invaluable skills and help of our rangers, Richard and Jakes, who always got us into the best possible positions for photography. There’s no substitute for experience and when you’ve guided on Mashatu for 22 years, like Richard has, you develop an intimate knowledge of the place and the animals that live in it. Thanks guys for making this yet another unforgettable Mashatu photo workshop!

Oh, and did I mention…our last sighting of the trip was of another cheetah mother with a year-old cub feeding on a fresh impala carcass right outside camp! Pure Mashatu magic!

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,
Gary Parker photographing a baobab with a wide-angle lens

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,
Judith Gawhen enjoying the morning with the elephant herd

mashatu, photo workshop, c4 images and safaris,
Guide, Albie Venter, concentrating on getting the perfect cheetah shot.

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