Tuesday evening’s talk 20 April: A day in the life with Dave Atkinson

  1. Last meeting: A Day in the Life with Dave Atkinson


Dave gave us an illustrated tour of a day in the life of the inhabitants of the Zimanga private game reserve which lies north of Durban in South Africa. The reserve is 70 square kilometres of bush veld and fever tree forest and is bisected by the Mkuze river.


Morning: starting very early in the morning Dave was on a pre-dawn journey to a hide when his party came across a couple of lions. One of the vehicles shone a light on one of the lions and Dave caught the lion back-lit. It is a stunning shot, the lion is rim lit and has a dark ruddy red aura. This photo has done very well in competitions – and this was just the start of the day. He showed us shots of nyala in silhouette with sunbursts, oxpeckers on buffaloes’ heads, a very cute lion cub with mother, hawk on a branch with a fantastic backdrop of trees and many other animals as he was driven around the reserve. There was also a low angle shot of the giraffe whose neck appeared to be extra elongated. There were also shots of birds, pied kingfishers feeding, a heron reflected in the lagoon, jacana and a black crake.


We were then taken to the scavenger hide. This is a hide in front of a hole where frozen meat has been place. The meat thaws throughout the day and different scavenger birds feed as the sun melts the meat, which takes about four hours. It’s a prime spot for scavengers and who ever holds the territory get the best bits. Dave had great shots of a tawny eagle fighting off other diners as it protected its place at the table. A pair of white neck ravens strutted around trying to distract the eagle, as the eagle saw off one the other one nipped in to get a beak full. It didn’t always work. A vulture turned up which the eagle saw off then came the very cunning pied crows who would peck at the eagle’s tail feathers, the eagle would chase the bird away while the rest of the crows go their fill.


Afternoon: the reserve is not big and has a pride of lions which has two alpha males. The future of any juvenal males is precarious as they cannot leave as the reserve is too small and they are not strong enough to usurp the alpha males. Dave showed very graphically this predicament. We followed a female and an alpha male lion on the search for one of the younger males. The female was leading the way. Eventually they come across the younger male and a fight began. The younger male put up a good fight against the two of them but finally took a subservient pose and the alpha male kicked sand over his younger rival to show who is boss around here.


We were then back to a lagoon watching birds such as egrets, close up shot of a hamerkop with remarkable shallow depth of field, pied kingfishers very close up pecking at the hide’s window as it saw its reflection in the glass and several sacred ibises. The birds get very close up and Dave had a great shot of an oxpecker very close up photo-bombing a giraffe.


Late afternoon: Dave’s party turned up at the water hole hide only to find a pride of lions relaxing close to the entrance. Walking past a pride of lions they took shots of the pride thinking that while the pride was around there would be no animals at the water hole. The pride was soon up and away as some warthogs passed by and the lions gave chase. There were very few animals around the waterhole so it was back in the 4×4 for a drive around and a walk on foot to see some cheetahs who had just finished a kill and blood could be seen on their whiskers.


Back to the hide and Dave showed a sequence of a lion cub coming to the water hole to drink. He shot with a silent mirrorless camera which did not disturb the cub. Those with DSLRs which has noisy shutters have to wait until the animal settles before they can get their shots. The cub drinking has been very good in competitions for Dave and it won the crowd vote in the Year of the Lion photographic competition.


Night: the evening through to morning was spent in the waterhole hide – 18 hours in total. The hide is equipped with kitchen, toilet, beds and an alarm bell to wake you up when any animal approached the waterhole. The water hole is fairly small and the animals are very close to the viewing window meaning that a wide angle lens is needed at times. The shots were spectacular, cape buffaloes drinking, rhinos, impalas, nyalas – females first to make sure all is safe then the male – and magnificent lions. Superb photos. In the morning birds arrive, eagles, iridescent starlings, beautiful emerald-spotted wood doves, canaries, hornbill and more.


This was a thoroughly enthralling evening and if you want to experience the wildlife yourself Dave said that Norfolk Wildlife Photography has a few places in January and June next year for trips to Zimanga.

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