This is one of my favorite images from 2012.
Last June I spent a week exploring the beautiful Columbia River Gorge Wilderness in Oregon. My friend Mark suggested that the we hiked to rarely visited Ruckel Creek falls. He tried it once but lost his way and never made it to the falls.
We left the motel at 3.30AM and started the hike using our head lights. We want to be at the top of the mountain at sunrise so the most dangerous part of the hike could be done during day light. The day turned out to be overcast, windy and rainy. The trail is unmarked, steep and not for the faint of foot. The decent to the river was treacherous on loose lava rocks but with good hiking poles and help from Mark I made it to the bottom of the creek. Then we hiked along the river upstream hoping to find the falls. It reminded me of a Jurassic forest. The greenery was out of this world. After about an hour hike I could hear the waterfall. Once we reached the spot, the challenge was to find a composition that I liked. Wind and the constant drizzle didn’t help. We first took few test shots and decided on this particular angle. I took many frames. After each shot I had to clean the front element of the lens to get rid of the water drops. The umbrella that I took was a great help to protect the camera from the constant slow down pour.
Here is the final result.
After a 20 minute bush plane ride we arrived at Kwara camp. The pilot was nice enough to fly low( 3000 feet) so we could see the wildlife below. In this picture you could see a herd of elephants near a water hole..
Kwara camp is located within one of the largest( Half a million acres) private concession areas in Botswana. Kwara is part of the legendary Kwando camps, known for their hard-core dedication for game viewing.
On our way from the airstrip to the camp ( 10 minutes) we saw several elephants, giraffes, one sidestriped jackal and a herd of zebras.
The camp over looks a beautiful lagoon. At any give time I could count at least two dozen hippos very close to the shore. Giraffes and Zebras were often seen on the other side of the lagoon. A platoon of Olive Baboons would patrol the camp on a regular basis. We were warned to lock up everything to prevent them from stealing.
In the afternoon we decided to take the boat to see the rookeries.
As you can see from the picture below the boat had plenty of room for tripods and our gear. The upper deck could hold at least 5 people with tripods.
We navigated many channels of the Okavango Delta to get to the rookery which was a good hour ride from our camp.
There were many hippos inhabiting these narrow channels and some in large open waters.
Rockery was not at the peak activity but we still saw many birds coming to roost. Tripod set up at the upper deck gave eye level shots of the nesting birds. This particular day was very windy and the upper deck of the boat was rocking from the choppy waters making the conditions not ideal for good photography.
The vehicles here are open top and different from other camps. The staff was kind enough to modify the vehicles so we can place our bean bags over the poles.
There is a small seat secured to the front of the vehicle where the tracker sits. When a predator is spotted he moves inside the vehicle.
At dawn I could hear the distant roaring lions.
The morning cereal and coffee was offered around a wooden fire. Within minutes of leaving the camp, we saw a lioness and her cub resting. Due to thick growth of tall grass we could barely see them. The other highlights were the hyena den we visited and a ground hornbill nest.
At one point we saw a dozen giraffes grazing.
In the afternoon we decided to go to the rookery. It was a perfectly calm day but the roosting birds came rather late. The light was vanishing fast. We had a better session yesterday in spite of bad weather. Birds are calmer with much less territorial fights between them.
Sunset over the delta
This morning our guide suggested we go north looking for three cheetahs sometimes found in that area. The sunrise was beautiful with a thin vail of fog covering the tall grass.
Around 6.30AM one of the other guides radioed in the sighting of three wild dogs. Since they were moving fast we rushed to the area. We had about 2-3 minutes with the small pack before they disappeared in to the bush. These hunters were magnificent specimens and I was not disappointed even though I only managed to get few shots. The 200-400 zoom lens proved its versatility . I was able to take a head shot as well as group shots without changing the lens.
Elusive Wild Dog
After the encounter with the wild dogs we continued north looking for cheetahs. One of the other guides spotted the cheetahs and we started speeding towards the area. In the rush I lost my unsecured bean bag. It flew off the vehicle and fell into a muddy pool of water. The vehicle behind recovered the bag from the water . Mean time the cheetahs were pursuing a reed buck. The other group witnessed the kill. By the time we got there, the kill was completed. We watched them dinning on the reed buck . Within 45 minutes vultures started arriving by the dozen. We left after spending about an hour with the cheetahs.
On our way to the camp we saw a hippo laying in a small pool of water. It appeared very lethargic and sick. We got very close to see if it was still breathing and it was. I hope the poor creature survives.
During the afternoon drive we discovered fresh lion tracks. We followed them for a while and found three handsome lions and a lioness. They were intruders from an adjacent concessions and were trying to establish a new territory here.
The other highlight of the evening drive was a group of ground horn bills hunting for insects and frogs.
The sundowner was always fun.
We did a toast to a fantastic day and great guiding. I managed to get a few shots of the evening sky while enjoying a glass of red wine. On the way to the camp we did a night drive using a powerful spot light. Few hippos going out to grace, black backed jackal, many impalas and topis were seen.
I had too much fun today and feeling little dizzy after drinking 4 glasses of wine.
This morning the plan was to look for lion pride we found yesterday. With less than 45 minutes into the game drive we found them. It was fantastic. When I saw one lion laying down but looking towards us I asked the driver to position our vehicle so his mane was back lit. Then the unthinkable happened. The pride started roaring.
I could see the breath coming out of his mouth every time he roared . I was pressing my shutter like crazy. Then my camera slowed down at the worst time. My fast cf card was full and the camera is writing to the slower sd card. I still managed few good shots. The other honeymooning couple was resting on a termite mound. The morning soft golden light was hitting them just right.
We photographed them for almost 40 minutes before they decided to leave.
It was time to say good-by to Kuvara camp staff. Tom, KG, Bate and the other guides did a wonderful job. We couldn’t have ask for better.
Our baggage and bean bags at the Guest lounge, Kwara airstrip
The flight to Kwando Lagoon camp was bumpy. Five of us flew in a 8 seater and our luggage came in a smaller plane. The camp has 8 spacious tents each facing the Kwado river. The other side of the river is Namibia.
The vehicles in this camp had roofs but otherwise very similar to Kwara camp.
This camp is well-known for its pack of wild dogs.
Just outside the pool area we found a pair of little bee eaters that posed nicely for us. I used 200-400 with 1.4tc and 1.5 crop on d800 to get nearly full frame shots.
The afternoon drive was unremarkable. We concentrated on finding wild dogs. The trackers found the tracks towards the end of the day but we never found the pack. On our way to the camp we saw a barn owl and a bush baby under a spot light. The camp was full, with people from USA, Germany, England and South Africa . Our guides suggested that we start morning game drive earlier than usual in the pursuit of wild dogs.
Search for the elusive wild dogs started around 6am and lasted several hours. No tracks were found. Apart from few landscape shots and other game we found, it was a slow morning.
Afternoon was spent exploring the eastern side of the concession. The habitat was sage with low grass and river running through it. The area was supposed to be very good for leopards. None were found. We saw a herd of elephants gracing, many antelopes and a group of male kudus. The highlight of the evening was the night game drive. We saw two wild cats ( one with a kitten), crocodile , porcupine, hippo with two babies, impalas, python and other antelopes .
Today is the last chance to see wild dogs. The guide decided to go to the adjoining concession ( Labella) that is also operated by the same company. As soon as we left the camp we spotted a pair of hyenas scavenging on an impala carcass. The lighting was gorgeous. The we heard that one of the other vehicle has spotted a pack of wild dogs. After nearly one and a half hour drive we came across 16 wild dogs. They were resting near a water hole. We watched the puppies playing and interacting with each other. Some of them got into the water and splashed around. After spending about two hours with them some of us needed a bathroom break. We were only gone for less than twenty minutes. When we came back the dogs were gone. We searched for nearly an hour with no luck.
The wild dog pack
Curious young pup
On our way to the camp I could see brewing thunderstorm in a distance. The guides provided us with good rain gear and a garbage bags to cover the camera gear.
The evening we pent looking for leopards. The trackers found fresh tracks and we followed them all evening with no sighting.
James and Paul carefully studying leopard tracks.
The sky was dramatic with intense colors.
After the sundowner we started our night drive. The other vehicle found a leopard on a termite mound very close to where we had the sundowner. We were able to follow it through the bushes for another half an hour before it disappeared into the darkness.
Today is our last day. It brings tears to my eyes to leave this beautiful place and people. Our flight leaves at 11.15am. We decided to spent our last game drive looking for the leopard we found yesterday. He was nowhere to be found. I guess I have to come again.