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Fruits of my Labour

I was recently sent out to Savuti camp to lend a hand to the camp managers.  I used to be a camp manager but I much preferred guiding, and nothing has changed with that. I never found it too much fun listening to stories of all the things the guides and guests had seen each day, whilst as a manager, I was mostly stuck in camp.

On the other hand, there is always some wildlife around camp itself. At Savuti, there were a pair of Bradfields hornbills nesting in a dead tree, right in the camp parking area. Bradfields hornbills are not that common, so I thought it might present an opportunity to photograph the birds feeding activities. I immediately began laying out my plan for the photo shoot. Cloudy mornings and some rain put paid to my first three mornings attempts, but day four began perfectly. I could see the picture in my mind, bird in flight, pin-sharp focus, with an insect or lizard in it’s bill.

I waved the guests off on their morning game drive with barely concealed anticipation, and ran off to get a Landrover. This vehicle I parked in careful alignment with the nest hole in the tree, and the sun. I then clambered onto the canvas canopy of the vehicle, camera in hand, in order to get myself on a level with the nest, and got ready. Earlier I had seen the hornbill visit the nest with a big, juicy green dragonfly in its bill, and I was hoping for something just as interesting to happen. I waited. A small flock of woodpeckers moved past, just too far for me to photograph. Still I waited. I tried to keep still. The lens got heavier and heavier in my hands.  The sun came through a cloud, lighting up the tree perfectly.  Still I waited.  I tried to endure the flies that were buzzing into my ears and nose and eyes.  Where was the hornbill?  Next moment a shadow passed over me, and the hornbill flew right up to the nest cavity.  It fluttered in front of the hole. I fired off some frames and then the bird was gone.  I headed back to the office, eager to check my images on the computer, and with a feeling of accomplishment. The plan had worked.

At first the images looked promising, the bird in flight, the prerequisite glint in the eye, prey in the beak, but hang on..what was the prey item?  It turned out to be a perfectly fine, round, dried apricot slice, courtesy of our camp breakfast table buffet. The young hornbill in the nest must have loved it, but my ideal wildlife picture was ruined.

As it turned out, I had to leave for another camp next morning, and never had another chance at the hornbills. I have a new plan though, for next time. I think a nice big bowl of dead dragonflies, grasshoppers and frogs, strategically placed on the breakfast table, ought to do the trick.

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I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page