It was the morning of 7 June 2012 and our two week trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape, South Africa was coming to an end.
We had another night camping at Nossob rest camp and one more night at Twee Rivieren rest camp, after which we had to leave the peace and tranquility of the Kalahari for the hustle and bustle of the city again.
The Kgalagadi is a sacred place to me. It is a place where you can find yourself again as a person (and as a photographer) in the vast open spaces and sometimes deafening silence of the Kalahari Desert. From a photographic point-of-view, the Kgalagadi is heaven on earth! If you want to photograph the big cats like lion, cheetah and leopard, the Kgalagadi is the place to be but more often than not it is the smaller gems that make this must-go photographic destination so special…
Our vehicle was the first to leave the Nossob rest camp when the gate opened at 07H30. As usual my wife, Lindie, was my designated driver while I kept my hands on my Canon 7D and 500mm F4 L lens, ready for whatever the Kalahari might surprise me with. We drove north and planned to greet the day by sitting at the Cubitje Quap waterhole for an hour or so. We’d already had some incredible sightings at this waterhole during the preceding days, which included a leopardess in the golden first light of the day.
One of the biggest spectacles at specifically Cubitje Quap, is the thousands of cape turtle doves that crowd the trees around the waterhole while others drink their fill. My plan was a simple one, but difficult none the less – capturing one of the lanner falcons that prey on the doves in flight – idealy shortly before or after it had hit one of the doves. I knew it would be very difficult as I did not have a gimbal head and only made use of a sturdy bean bag. But, if there is one thing I have learned in wildlife photography over the last few years, it is the role of good old-fashioned patience and luck. Well, luck was not on my side in the way I had hoped for and I am still waiting for that in-flight image of a lanner falcon with a fresh kill.
My patience did however pay dividends when lady luck threw me a curve ball at about 08H02… I did not see the lanner falcon at all, but just heard the muffled, but definite sound of a hit. My eyes scanned the area and I was just in time to see the lanner falcon landing in the dirt road with a dove in its talons. I quickly positioned myself in the vehicle and the 7D burst away at 8 frames per second.
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Unfortunately, the falcon was having its breakfast slightly behind me and our vehicle. Besides having been in rather uncomfortable sitting position, I realised that I was shooting slightly into the sun. I had to make a difficult choice – stay in this position and hope for the best, or ask my wife to move the vehicle slightly back and to the one side and run the risk of scaring the falcon off. I opted to stay in that position for another couple of minutes, after which I requested Lindie move the vehicle. I was lucky and the falcon stayed put.
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I took more than 300 images in just under 15 minutes of the lanner falcon devouring its prey, while it raised its head every now and then, scanning the surroundings. The reason for this behaviour only became apparent later.
Almost nothing but a few feathers of the dove was left and the falcon was cleaning its talons when there was a sudden commotion in my view finder. I instinctively pressed the shutter of my camera and after only 7 frames (less than a second), it was all over. I looked up and saw a southern pale chanting goshawk disappearing behind the trees.
I franticly pressed the review button on my camera and was pleasantly surprised with what lady luck placed on my memory card…
The image was captured at 1/4000s, F4 and ISO 400. It is almost full frame and I just cropped it slightly at the bottom and right. It was also slightly under exposed for some or other reason, but I could make the necessary adjustments in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6, seeing that I always shoot in RAW.
I also had a good laugh when I saw the expression on the goshawk’s face after its unsuccessful attempt to snatch an easy meal – It just could not believe that the falcon got away with the last scraps as well!
The Kgalagadi once again proved that it is not just the big five that make for great photographic opportunities…
All photos and text by Rudi van den Heever: http://www.linruphotography.com/