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MxM's solo photographic and birding tour. KTP, Oct/Nov. '13

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Mon Feb 17, 2014 10:32 pm

Hi all

Apologies for the long wait. Between standing in for the boss for 4 weeks, handling 2 significant issues on the plant, wading through 8556 shots, editing the best and posting these shots on the sites that need to pay for the trip, I have taken too long to get here. But be not afraid, there is much to be shared.

Over 500 images to come.

Day by day commentary with specifics from my experienced shared.

Please, if there are any questions or more detail requested on anything I write, just ask.
Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Mon Feb 17, 2014 10:49 pm

11. THE TRIP BLOW BY BLOW

11.1. Day 1 – Afternoon rush and road to Vryburg

Distance covered: 851 km
Route travelled: Secunda-N17-N3-N12-Potchefstroom-Wolmaransstad-Vryburg-Kuruman-VZR
Daily fuel consumption: 7.7 l/100km
Maximum temperature: 32oC
Food: nougat as on N17; breakfast burger and coffee in Potch; Springbok shank + malva pudding at restaurant
Highlights spotted: red-breasted swallow; N black korhaan; open highway
Favourite moment: leaving to officially be on holiday; eye of Kuruman; dead horse in VZR
Birding lifers: No pics means no official lifers

As is typical, in the anticipation of a magical journey, I could not sleep. But this is okay, I was excited. Having tried going to bed early (this is at 2200 as opposed to midnight for me), I at least fell asleep somewhere around 2300. Full of pending joy – you know what I mean. All this effort, only to be woken before my alarm by my little baby, Penelope. Perhaps she just wanted to says au revoir before I put the cameras and laptop in and headed out the gate. I left at 0358 (as opposed to the planned 0445), out the gate, on my way, holiday in the road ahead of me.

I stopped in Potch for some body fuel. I had made good time as I was lucky enough to avoid any traffic and more importantly, made no navigational errors through an area of the city I know poorly. NOW, I was on holiday! I had a simple yummy breakfast type chicken burger and cappuccino as well as a decent 40 min break. I was way ahead of schedule as the roads were quiet and the weather good; also, I knew the long stretch was still to come.

It is of value to note that the drive through Klerksdorp is really pretty long and slow, all the way through the main road. There may have been a better route, but neither I nor my GPS knew it.

Next I reached Wolmaransstad. Rather a typical not-so-rich type town that reminded me of Karoo towns in the Eastern Cape. It seemed rather litter-filled but had some really nice buildings on show. As a collectable, I take shots of moederkerke (traditionally the main NG church in a town). If I cannot find one, I sometimes declare a cathedral or nearest church I could find the moederkerk. The reason for the obsession, in SA at any rate, there is a moederkerk in pretty much every town, and they are there at 0400, and on Saturday evenings – unlike fridge magnets and spoons or similar, a photo of a moederkerk is an easy way to prove you were in a certain town/city. Fridge magnets I reserve for the SANParks and specific camps thereof. Wolmaransstad had a particularly appealing moederkerk building, but I cannot say I felt awfully safe getting out with my camera to snap it, but oh well, I had to have it so I made sure for a clear getaway and open vision while aligning my shot.

Wolmaransstad - tick
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All I had to do to get to Vryburg now was find the road to Schweizer Reneke (the spelling of which I constantly need to look up, so annoying). To do that I needed to either follow the sign, my trusty AA map or the signs. Signs usually work well for me in these little towns. However, as I had been fixated on making it to the steeple, I missed that I was on the right road to SR and went around the block to get back on the main road. All I did now was turn right and start leaving town, which made sense, all I now needed was a sin to say turn right to SR. All I saw was a giant military tank on a flatbed, an ostrich in a field next to the road and a policeman. So I pulled over, switched on the GPS (which I stupidly had switched off as I was keen to rely on my AA map and signs as I always had done on holidays) only to hear that friendly lady ask me to make a U-turn.

There you go
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Reaching a town I had previously considered overnighting in, SR, was a dream as the name was unique, its placement remote (you pretty much had to be on this exact route to get there) and there was something attractive about the idea of this place. It was okay. I got another church building after filling with some rather low quality 93. The petrol attendant was not sure where the church was, but a passerby was yelled at by the attendant and she told me that it was just 2 blocks away, “Turn left at the train on the grass.” Fine, I should not really quote as it was obviously in Afrikaans as is dictated by the area of the country, but that is what was said. Note, please note, not all fuel in this area produced the same power; this SR fuel was pretty weak. Luckily, all fuel I got in KTP was decent, the Nossob batch being the best! I used the church pic opportunity as a double whammy opportunity and stretched my body a bit. Typically I cannot drive for more than 2 hours a stretch, but owing to the low traffic, being on holiday and the sublime comfort of my CRV (with arm rests; I will now ALWAYS want these special arm rests!).

SR - tick
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No, it is not funny. Again I knew better and missed the turn. This time it was not so much my fault, although stupid not to be using the little lady’s voice, as the sign as gone.

Oh, I almost forgot, the train. It literally is a forlorn locomotive on a plain. There is also a banged up and I think partially burnt 1980’s (or so) car wreck with interesting graffiti on it in the same main drag. I really want to picture these some time, but the light was harsh, the crowds present and I really wanted to get a move on, so next time. It is good to leave something for next time.

The other side of SR had some, let’s call them challenges. The road was, well, partially there. After some really bad potholes (remember, I am from the coal area of Mpumalanga, we know potholes) the road works started. Thankfully, there was a new strip of sandy road to take while they built the new tar surface – time to test my off road courage I thought. Luckily the road had recently been graded and further dust settling and grading was ongoing while I drove it. Not too long and it was over.

While on the sand road, there was little traffic. So, as it is holiday, and I wanted to bask in the spirit thereof, I stopped for some random shots along the way. Just because. I also spotted a very rufous fronted swallow on a fence – knowing it is one of 2 possible species, after consulting my trusty Sasol guide I found it was the red-breasted swallow. But I was doing 80 at the time and was not going to make an emergency stop for a possible swallow shot, especially as reversing chows fuel in the CRV, and I wanted to make some records on this trip. For good fuel consumption, obviously. I later spotted a northern black korhaan, same story, same issue.

Road surface
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Random view shots
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Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Tue Feb 18, 2014 9:12 pm

day 1 continued...

Vryburg has the world’s most narrow lanes. The result is something like Kaapse Weg / Cape Road in PE during peak traffic. Anyhow, I made it through alive. While Potch and Klerksdorp were significantly bigger than I had thought, Wolmaransstad and SR were plainer and odder than I had thought, I liked these places. I was happy to have met them. Vryburg I just wanted to survive and forget. No wait, there was something to like: leaving Vryburg I saw a sign for panel beaters with the business name, “Write-off Panel Beaters” – me thinks, is that before or after they try and mend something?

Having turned towards Kuruman, the world quickly became quite arid. YES! The desert is coming…

While driving to Kuruman, I saw a really thin horse, but like seriously thin. Thought I should note that (even wrote it down in my daily notes which I updated at each stop; not sure why I noted this though, guess it was the holiday spirit).

Then I ticked one off the bucket list. A silly one, but one I had had for a while. The Eye of Kuruman – for some reason my young self thought this a significant place in the world. Done! Got the record shot (through the fence). Got a church too (did not really try and look for the main one, sure this one is the main one, please agree).

Eye of Kuruman
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Random Catholic church in Kuruman
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There were 2 long stop and gos heading north from Kuruman. But I was so insanely ahead of schedule, like 2 hours ahead, I didn’t really care.

I noticed numerous cow and horse skulls on fence posts as they went. Hope the previous horse got some grass and water in the afternoon.

Road to VZR
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What a special sign, not many people will see this one (taken 180 degrees from the previous shot)
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Road to KTP - if there is a sign advertising it, I had to be close
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O, o, o – excitement. LIGHTNING!!! Was I going to be so lucky as to see my first desert thunderstorm on my first afternoon there? I watched the line of the cold front pass from Botswana side, almost directly a line connecting me and Black Mountain.

Road to VZR, a little way in
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There is only a shortish sand section between the turnoff from civilisation and Van Zylsrus. I made some stops along the way to admire and photograph for memory what I saw. The rain did make speedy progress a challenge. To anyone driving this section, be very aware of sections where there is no hard surface – it is like suddenly driving into a long jump pit. Given, I had not yet bothered to deflate my tyres (but the next day I had and had the same experience) but staying calm and not forcing the steering will keep you safe. Funny how the cruise control just kicked out through these dips.

Some random shots from the journey having turned to VZR
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Each turn presented a more magnificent view than the previous. The sand, the dunes, the winding road, the trees, the clouded over sky, the rain, the fact that there was rain falling in a desert and I was there, all of it made the long drive vanish and it felt like I had just started to travel.

I made it to VZR, found the nondescript hotel and booked in (I had prebooked my place and meal, just in case). I then took a drive around to enjoy the sunset. First the one side of town then the other, just to enjoy the storm and the general scenery.

VZR - the official welcome
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I saw a dead horse on the side of the road. It had obviously been dragged from the roadside. Somehow it fitted in to the landscape, weird; this would normally make me sad, but there was something in the air that night.

Before entering a sandy area, I decided it was time to deflate the tyres, 1.7 bar. I realise this is more than most recommend, but my suspension is really pretty decent, so I thought I would test this rpessure and rather lower it if need be.

Another tick for me - VZR moederkerk (amazingly stunning building, more so considering the location)
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Now the start of a series of images form the VZR surrounds
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Another super random sign, in a side street (yes, there is more than a single road in VZR)
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(More images will be posted in a different post, still around 6 to come!)

After all the pictures, I went and enjoyed my supper, watched the Proteas play (last of any sort of such thing for me for a while, so I enjoyed it), put the aircon on and went bye-bye.

Oh, first I spoke with my SO. Reception was better when she phoned me, but the line was clear with only 2 breakages in connection over 30 minutes.
Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:41 pm

Here are some more images from the immediate VZR area (within 15 min drive at like 50 km/h max while rubbernecking for god spots). All these images were taken with my Canon 6D, 24-105, polarising filter, handheld (or rested on a post) and some were to test the in-camera HDR function, which, upon reviewing my images, I don't really like.

Towards what is called the municipal dune; although private property, this is where gatherings and community fun congregate
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In this area of the world, at around sunset, everywhere you look there is a special moment. A special vista. Something that makes you take notice and be happy you are there. The wilderness was truly full.
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I liked the rock. Sommer.
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The sky is huge. Here, the weak clouds late in the day seemed to fill the tree with leaves.
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Now I need to start typing the next day...
Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Fri Feb 21, 2014 9:45 pm

11.2. Day 2 – Sunrise drive and TR entry

Distance covered: 427 km
Route travelled: VZR-Koopan-TR / Nossob river-lower dune road-Auob river
Daily fuel consumption: 8.7 l/100km
Maximum temperature: 37oC
Food: half a packet of crisps, few glasses of melon flavoured game, venison pie (from the VZR hotel, ordered upon booking to ensure I got these special guys) and a trio of mini quiches (also from VZR hotel)
Highlights spotted: swallow-tailed bee-eater; numerous white-backed vultures (before even entering the park); vastness of Koopan; giant monitor lizard
Favourite moment: friendliness upon checking in; being chased by that monitor lizard
Birding lifers: northern black korhaan, swallow-tailed bee-eater, fawn-coloured lark, marico flycatcher, sociable weaver
List of birds for this trip: common ostrich, white-backed vulture, tawny eagle, kori bustard, northern black korhaan, spotted thick-knee, cape turtledove, namaqua dove, Eurasian bee-eater, swallow-tailed bee-eater, lilac-breasted roller, common scimitarbill, southern yellow-billed hornbill, fawn-coloured lark, spike-heeled lark, African red-eyed bulbul, familiar chat, anteating chat, black-chested prinia, marico flycatcher, common fiscal, Cape glossy starling, White-browed sparrow-weaver, sociable weaver, cape sparrow, scaly-feathered finch, southern masked-weaver, red-headed finch, yellow canary

I woke up really early (mostly as my alarm went off, I was quite tired from the long trip and early morning the previous day) to get some sunrise shots to complement the sunsets. Alas, the main gate was locked so I could not get out. I put it down to the charm of staying in a small hotel in an even smaller town. Quaint I muttered to myself. But this did give me some time to rest.

I had an early-ish breakfast, had booked it for 0730. Included in my stay was a breakfast, not a meal I usually bother with other than a cuppa, but, this was worth the pause. Yogurt and muesli accompanied by that coffee (and as I had missed some pictures I thought I would make up for the enjoyment by filling myself at this breakfast), then a plate with too much bacon (first time I ever thought that of a breakfsast served to me) and eggs (mine are scrambled as seeing the yolk puts me off – will eat a sheep, but don’t want to see a yolk – I know it is odd, but hey) and tomato and a giant cheesegriller and bangers. Yum.

Before setting off I calculated whether I needed fuel or not. Being almost sure that there would be at TR, I thought I might just go one time, then, as I went past the petrol station, I thought, what if, so I turned in and put in a tank of 93 – a tank that proved to be pretty powerful, no wait, not powerful. But the service was friendly for that time of a Saturday morning I thought.

So I drove out the town that I so dearly wanted to see, turned right at the sign, and was on my way to KTP.

I had decided that the holiday had already started so I could already take it easy and enjoy the trip. That said, there was so much to see on the way I would have had to have made this decision at some point. Within 1 km of town I already spotted a springbok. Then soon after, a ground squirrel feared my 50 km/h and flew into its hole. But then, something overhead. Something big. I stopped, pulled out the big lens (Canon 500 f4 with 1.4x on Canon 1D mkIV body), pointed it at the shadow in the sky, and wow, my first raptor, what I later made certain was a white-backed vulture.

And then another white-backed vulture.

And then a WBV flying with its buddy. Then 10 min later, a swarm of the things climbing the blue pit on one side of the road and floating over to the other. Here I stopped for a while to take some in flight shots as on occasion they came quite close. Magic. Any raptor is special, one that flies close is just something to treasure. It would be this type of moment that I would come to treasure over the next fortnight. True natural magic.

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Almost forgot to mention. While I was waiting for the giants that ride hot winds to swing back on by, a little fella caught my eye. This is not a bird I have seen often, but as black-chested pinias go, this is a serious black chest!

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Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Sat Feb 22, 2014 8:22 pm

Day 2 continued

Something eerie happened next. While minding my own business, trying to look past the fact that there were more WBV (these were quite far), looking at the scenery and enjoying the clean air (I enjoy driving with my window down – 9 years in the Boland in a school and varsity where aircons are something that you design more than see in operation will make anyone hardy to the heat; the chorus of the arid outside was more enchanting than a few degrees cooler breeze), right next to me, as in within 2 m of my window, a bee-eater flew at my speed for a few seconds and caught a bee. Like how seriously cool is that!

I think of myself as someone who is pretty knowledgeable about nature. Not game ranger material, but I know more than the Sandton crowd. However, the next experience taught me that knowing nothing about a specific occurring incident means that I can get myself into grave danger, easily. I saw what I first thought was a log in the road. Then I thought it was a monitor lizard. Then I was pretty certain it was just a logged, but slowed down anyway just to get a better look and make sure (and in case it did live and moved into my tracks). Then, as it did move, a bit, I was sure I would want to stop for this. I have never really seen one up close, but I was wary. That said, I wanted a different perspective to so many nature shots so I took my wider 24-105 lens on the 6D and went for a closer look. No issue, the oversized gecko let me get within a decent distance and I could get some acceptable shots. However, the sun was wrong and the angle too steep, so I wanted to try getting a really special shot. Then I must have moved that 2 inches too close as the giant killer lizard gave a wild hiss, jumped in my direction and gaped its jaws. Needless to say I ignored taking the shot and moved backwards and sideways as fast as I could. Neither did I know whether it was poisonous nor whether it was attacking or mocking, but I did not want some stupid idea to end in a medical issue somewhere between VZR and Ashkam. So, for the rest of the trip, I gave the sociable weavers fair space. All creatures were allowed to be over there when I painted them on my canvas (sounds more poetic than snapped them on my sensor then downloaded them and shared them on Facebook). Well, except for the 2 puff adders, but those stories come later.

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I saw a glossy starling (did not actually know they roamed these parts, but ok).

O, o, o, stop, stop, stop (well as I was alone, these were my thoughts, in a higher pitch than my natural voice though). I stopped from 70, reversed, and in the tree, next to the road, in imperfect light for a picture, was the super rare, yellow-billed hornbill. Not exactly what I thought, for some reason, when I saw it fly, I thought that was a cuckoo of sorts, guess that is what I wanted it to be.

The tyre pressure warning light came on. So I stopped, gave the car a walkaround and concluded that the sensors worked just fine but the tyres were ok.

When hurtling along the VZR-Ashkam road, 80 km/h is fine in the CRV, although I did need to slow for corners. Only the last 60 km or so were in a dodgy state but here too speed makes the bumps less. I am sure, for time planning purposes of others, the recommended 80-90 speed is fine, especially if you have a 4x4 or at least off road tyres.
Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Sun Feb 23, 2014 3:15 pm

Day 2 continued

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Now, having seen the sign saying KTP this way, I was beyond excited. I was around 90 min ahead of schedule, so I would even have some chance to rest before the big first drive. My trusty AA map noted that, having turned right from the end of the VZR-Ashkam road, I would end up at TR. NO – this is NOT how it works! There is another turn. Joy.

The reason this is an issue is that I was so engrossed by the general beauty around me, pumped up by the bagpipes blasting through my speakers (somehow rave music is annoying when loud, bagpipes are meant to be loud, even though I only had 7 tracks), watching for any foreign bodies like goats that may stray within my driving line, I did not notice a sign saying turn right here (again). What I did notice, was that after a while, there were no signs still telling me of how far to the KTP gate, but hey, I am on holiday, how many roads could there be here? I am surely on the right track.

My next clue as to something being amiss was seeing an expanse of land second to none I had seen before. Koopan. Go and see it. Plan a detour and see it. Seriously. See it. Point laboured. Now plan. In fact, a trip to KTP can be justified by this detour.

All that said, my tyres were still at sand road pressure, so I was only doing around 100 as the fuel consumption meter quickly made me realise this is the critical point of my speed to fuel usage curve. I was now still happy though. I did not remember this place from my first trip here, although I was in primary school at a time that we still spoke of standard not grade, and 2 decades had past, so I guessed I could have forgotten or been asleep at the time. Or not cared as I wanted to see a lion. But I stopped alongside this quiet road and gaped at the most open piece of nothing, a huge area within a valley where the only noticeable feature was a stripe of black tar through it. I took a bunch of pictures (apologies for so many of the same theme, but this place is still in my heart, months after the trip, and even though it was a mistake) and then continued on my way, surely close to the TR gate.

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Then I noticed more signs of other places I was nearing, but nothing about KTP, which was odd. So, just to make myself feel better, although it ruined the mood of a self-reliant and old school holiday, I pulled over to consult the pretty lady in the centre console. Umm, make a U-turn she said, drive for an hour and a half she said. Seriously! Now I would be more than an hour behind schedule. No longer was I happy.

However, so amazing was Koopan, on the way back I stopped at the picnic site to get some shots from the other side.

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Anyhow, with the GPS now plakked to my windscreen, no more brave soldier so special I can make it in the wild alone attitude, going 120 and ignoring the needle, I found the mysterious turn here intersection. It was odd as there is an enormous sign telling oncoming eager KTP visitors to turn but all I had seen the first time was the crossroads of a small rural settlement connecting to the highway. Having made it onto the path of the correctly navigated, I soon noticed that the speed signs were serious. If they say slow down to 60, it is not for an intersection or speed bump or shop you should frequent, is is for a corner you may not make if doing much more. I am sure others in better more suitable for adventurously fast driving may make the corners with ease, but I preferred to sort of listen rather. Anyhow, didn’t want to get in trouble before the holiday proper had started. Also, watch out for goats – hooting sometimes makes them move away, sometimes makes them cross the road, so rather just be careful.

As I wanted to feel I was making an entrance, I blasted me some good tunes (as someone who played a car radio to loudly would phrase it), Flower of Scotland! Having stopped, before turning the key to the off position, I switched off my radio, now it was time for the soundtrack of nature.

I got to the unassuming entrance after lunch (around 1500 I think). I had expected something more spectacular, like a light from the centre of the earth and marble buildings. Still, the building seemed fitting. Inside, however, was something spectacular – not the architecture, but the people. How nice it was, after a truly annoying last 90 min, to be greeted and helped by the staff, I felt like holiday again.

I was assigned hut 12, a well located one as it is just far enough from the main road that cars will not be a bother yet close enough that the shop is just round the corner.
Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Tue Feb 25, 2014 6:39 pm

Day 2 continued

I immediately started unpacking, or rather offloading as I merely took out what I did not need and did not want in the car any more than it needed to be (like the giant Coleman). I made a flask of juice and off I went. Map in hand, heart pounding. I was here, the place all great wildlife photographers come, the place where luck and patience collide to make art with nature as the subject. Finally, it was my turn. Now I would be able to benchmark myself (albeit knowing that I am still very green in the field only doing it seriously for 11 months) and evaluate how much of my life I would like to dedicate to this photography stuff – would I like to take it on as a career, and if so, full time or part time, and if full time, how long do I need to work at my current job to finance it? Excitement!

Still, leaving just around 1530, I figured that 4 h was ample time to do the lower circle. I would go up the Nossob bed and down the Auob (based on advice of when to be at specific waterholes from a guide I had read). The choice was fine, but doing it because a guide said so would soon become something I stopped doing. It is better to read nature, much as one would read currents when fishing, and make decisions based on what your inner self says, not some book or advise from a friend. As I would come to learn, things here change from one hour to the next, and patterns change one week to the next, so just listen to the wind, it has the answers.

Some general notes from the drive now before specific encounters and their stories. I spent too much time at the beginning looking at less significant things. Not that this matters, but then I should have been more careful with my speed choice further down. I was looking at doing somewhere between 25-30. Oops. As I was not really paying too much attention to time as I thought I had ample, I had misjudged just how far the roads are. When at Kij Gamies, oops, I realised I would need to drive 50 just to make the gate. To I put on the cruise control and looked ahead, no game spotting, I have only once in my life been late for a gate before and it was in Addo when a heard had blocked a road close to the main gate, but there were nearly 15 cars stranded – here I had no alibi, no excuse, and on my first day, no, I would not be in trouble! Then, having reached the Auob I saw a distance sign and quickly re-evaluated. Ag no man, lots of time to go, somehow I had made up enough time that I could make around 2 short photo stops, so leopards and lions were on the list of acceptable things to look for. Until, bigger oops, having foolishly made stops for something, I realised that I had miscalculated in my head and was going to end 10 km short, so again, focus and drive. I did not stop again but made it to the gate at exactly 1930. Only, I still needed to get my permit, so not sure how this works, is it 1930 at the gate or the permit office? No matter, no eyebrow raised as I obviously seemed ashamed of my tardiness, permit handed to me with a smile and enquiry as to whether I had a good first drive. Such nice people.

Now, some images.

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While I know that sociable weavers are a bit of a gimme in the park, I did not realise just how much so. At the first big colony, on the right hand side a km or so outside TR, I stopped and used up around 30 min with them. They were so playful, the light was pleasing, and they were new to me, so I was excited. Only later did I rue staying so long here when time started to catch me. But that is the way it goes on the first day or two in a SANPark, everything is so exciting!

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I know these guys are everywhere, but somehow, that first image of one, that first sighting IN the park, means that you have arrived, almost like a right of passage.

Brace yourselves, there are many landscape shots to come from the dune area.

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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Wed Feb 26, 2014 7:35 pm

Day 2 continued

I noticed a significant number of these special birds. At least once a day I spotted one, sometimes 3 sightings a day. Kori bustards, the largest flying bird (not that I have seen one fly yet) - always think this and am more amazed when I watch them.

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I was not aware of how many ostriches there were in KTP. This was a huge family, at least 7 other babies and the mother are out of shot.

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Now some more views of the dunes. The last one will lie with me for a long time as this is a typical KTP moment in my mind. Gotta love the classics. Storm and mascot in one shot, yeay KTP.

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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Fri Feb 28, 2014 10:20 pm

Day 2 continued

Yes, some more scenery. But how, when the clouds gather and the sand shines, does one not take notice, grab a camera and capture these fleeting moments. I only realised later in the trip just how special the clouds were on this day. On other days, the road looked the same, but, the sky is always changing.

From the LDR, I think
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This is a part of the park where a well known review gets it wrong. The road through the dunes from Auob to the Nossob road near TR, has some of the most magical views. Some are not photographically viable, but to see them and feel the sand-sky-twists-grass, wow, that short drive made me love this place - bare and unassuming, harsh yet esoterically captivating, this is, KTP. (of course, now looking at the sequence of my images, this may be from the LDR and not where I thought, but oh well, the point remains)

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There were so many of these guys around, one of the few larks I can now identify without a book - spike-heeled lark (of course if I am wrong I will look a right tropical fruit, but please let me know, might be a new tick for me).

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Double rainbows, something I didn't know was possible, but here I saw them 3 times on this same trip.

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What a legendary place (although I had no success there, I know it is special to so many others). On my trip, Nossob was the place to be, Auob was more like the grass in the riverbed during November - there, but not specially significant.

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And another kori bustard. Always special.

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The last image of the day, as I was approaching the gate. In fact, I think I was either just inside or could see the gate when taking this.

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And so ended my first day within the park. Little happened later in the day, just something to eat and then off to rest. I still downloaded all images, created the back-ups, IDed all birds I dared assign a name, deleted all blooper images and charged the batteries. I like a good procedure. So, this way, I was ready for the next day. I closed my eyes, full of anticipation but tired out by the day I had experienced. WOW, I was not only on holiday, but in KTP, yeay. Neither this day nor the next made for headline excitement, but, by building some anticipation I reached day 4, arguably the greatest day I had, one all of us dream of. But first, there were entrees to be enjoyed. Share them with me.
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Sat Mar 01, 2014 10:13 pm

11.3. Day 3 – Getting into nature’s rhythm

Distance covered: 151 km
Route travelled: Nossob river-lower dune road-Auob river
Daily fuel consumption: 8.6 l/100km
Maximum temperature: 40oC
Food: packet of crisps, oats biscuits, Rolo ice-cream, Coke Light, 2 pies (1 chicken and mushroom, 1 venison)
Highlights spotted: porcupine, brown hyena, bat-eared fox, hunting owl
Favourite moment: feeling of booking first ever SANParks activity – night drive
Birding lifers: black-chested snake-eagle, Kalahari scrub-robin, chat flycatcher
List of birds for this trip: black-headed heron, secretary bird, black-chested snake-eagle, rock kestrel, crowned lapwing, laughing dove, spotted eagle-owl, pearl-breasted swallow, cape crow, Kalahari scrub-robin, chat flycatcher, crimson-breasted shrike, dusky sunbird

As became my daily routine (although I prefer the word, tradition), I awoke at 0516 according to my cell – this is about 0511 regular time. I took a relatively cool shower (not only as it was not that hot, but also to save on power); this also kept the showers shorter which saved water, something I felt had some poetic justification being in the desert.

I was a touch low on fuel as the sandy roads were making me use significantly more fuel than expected (giving the driving speeds and style, on a flat tar road I would get closer to 7.6 than 8.6 l/100km – not that I wanted the tar roads, I was just not prepared for the increased fuel usage). As I was too late the previous evening to fill up and I did not want to wait until the pumps opened, I wanted to be out the gate to experience my first sunrise drive in KTP, I rather changed from the plan of doing the long upper dune road and did the LDR instead. Also, I was extremely tired. I was trying to balance being on holiday and doing some work, after all, it’s the few special images I hoped to get that would need to pay for the trip later. The heat was by no means unbearable as a rule, but I remember moving slowly when outside on this day, it was super scorching, and coming from a Paarl/Stellenbosch kid where the schools did not have aircon, this is noteworthy heat. The long driving was also taking a toll – I am accustomed to sharing the driving with SO doing most of the highway stints as she enjoys it, so doing all the km myself was just a little tiring I guess. Working until late (I would download, back up, ID birds and delete the bad images in the evening) and being up with the sun was also working my gizzard into a tickle. So, I decided, I can take it easy today, maybe even nap.

Let's now start with some images. First up are some general images of relatively common guys I saw near TR.

I prefer not to overlook the common: a brown bird or an everyday springbok - it is still a privilege to see wild animals in the wild!
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Much like kori bustards, I have a special liking for secretary birds. I reckon it stems from their unique look, but surely their dance when trying to catch a snake must add to their appeal? Anyhow, I saw quite a number of them, however, like so many animals/birds I encounter, that elusive "wow, that is the shot" photograph is still waiting for me on a different trip. This guy was hunting, but did not find his lunch at this bush.
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There was little wind so the flies were really a pest - luckily not for me (I did have my shower). Btw, here is a big photographic lesson. Study the picture and then read the rest of this paragraph... Did you see it? I have the white balance set on sunny when much of the time, like with this shot, it was overcast, hence the yellow hue. I like to use custom white balance settings where I actually set the temperature to a specific number based on what my eye sees. In this case, when I am taking many shots over a few hours where the light changes, conditions change, and the camera must be ready for that life changing sighting, I prefer auto white balance (also the only thing on my cameras that I leave on auto). The 1D4 does a good job. However, a week before the trip, while I was testing other equipment, I let a friend borrow my 1D4 while we shot birds together, he changed it. He said he let me know but I probably was more focused on the view from the hide than something about white balance. STUPID! I check battery levels, I check that the camera is in high burst mode, Av, all of it, but I assumed the AWB was fine as I had not adjusted it in a long time. Check, always check.
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Gotta love these little guys. I saw fewer than I thought I would outside the camps.
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Always a smile when I spot one. The only time I ever really got much success with these little guys was at MZNP last year when there were 4 near my chalet.
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First sighting of one for me. I was sure I would see many later, but hey, rather safe and get a shot in now. Anyhow, it's a new birdy for me.
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Let this be a hint to the first teeth and first totally exciting part of my trip. Son godin and the organised game drives saw the same guys a few times.
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Moments by Mullineux Photography
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Sun Mar 02, 2014 6:31 pm

Day 3 continued...

A group of five hyenas came down the hill and played next to and in the road. I was brave this day and allowed some light rain to hit my favourite lens. I threw a towel over it and luckily, as the rain was not too hard, the lens itself did not get wet. A general note, however, is that after such incidents, check for any droplets as not only will they leave waster marks but will also make a nice big dust spot as they dry. Keep a suitable lens cleaning cloth with you (I keep a spectacles microfiber cloth - standard type - in a plastic cover in the side of my car). It appeared to my less trained eye that the one was with child(ren). Anybody who could confirm?

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Somehow, these creatures manage to look devious most of the time, like they are about to help rob a bank.
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Ok, so here are two cases of them looking cute.
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Note that, especially with shots where there is little action, make sure you get some good eye contact and an detail of the face. Wait for good poses, especially ones that accentuate the shape and/or size of the subject: hyenas have an odd shape so a shot that is at least partially side-on will look interesting. But the eyes are the key. Rather wait for a good pose than take lots of pictures of angles that you could tell then are not worth the time - they just take up space on a hard drive and take time to delete while wading through.
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So, that concludes the first big stop for me. Light was dull, but by setting the camera to be a little lighter (exposure bias), all was well. Note that these images were all in late November - the rains were threatening their arrival but the ground was still dry and the vegetation seemed dead or non-existent.
Moments by Mullineux Photography
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Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Mon Mar 03, 2014 6:37 pm

Day 3 continued...

Sometimes I try and find a different perspective, a special shot of something that everyone else has taken. Sometimes they work, sometimes they are plain. I like the silhouette here, no special reason.
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There was already a lot of rain during the early part of my trip. I remain surprised each time I got wet in the desert, I wonder if David Attenborough knows about the rain? Anyhow, this PCG was having a right royal bath. Not much splashing but certainly lots of wetting and shaking.
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Stop (me thinks to meself)! Wow, a sandgrouse, again, so exciting! (Please read this without the sarcasm it appears to have, I was with hastened heart and trembling hands when I spotted these.) The males were having a slight disagreement, possibly something around the pros and cons of submersible pumps vs windmills - aesthetic value vs function and cost, you know, the usual sandgrouse watercooler banter.
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In the next post, my first leg stretch with fun and phobia...
Moments by Mullineux Photography
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:04 pm

Day 3 continued

I reached Melkvlei and decided to be an engineer. You know, follow procedure. I stopped and walked around the car to make sure that the tyres were fine and that nothing had mysteriously come loose and was hanging down. Yeay, all good.

I have a special spot for the ground squirrels. Now I know feeding animals is bad, I was brought up to know this. However, on my first (and only previous) trip I was much younger and less obedient (I listen to me most of the time these days, see, much more obedient). And there were mitigating factors. Now, I like to eat and have an appetite that would put most front rows (yes, I mean the three combined) to shame, especially when I was a growing boy, but, somethings are just not edible. I do not eat mieliepap (in case you would like to know, but not relevant here) and I detest bear bread (in fact, anything bitter). And there you have it, I was fed a bitter pretend food, so, so as not to waste the "food", my brother and I fed our portion to the obliging squirrels and pretended we were full. So, although I do not and will not feed them, I can still fondly remember the little guys that helped me out. Photographically speaking, I would like to note how not "zoomed in" this shot is. Although I have a very long lens, sometimes it is beneficial and striking to include some environment and area feel to an image - here the dry ground and burrow add to the story of the subject. Commonly people will complain that only if they had better longer equipment would they be able to get decent shots, sometimes an eye for art and a story is worth more than an expensive piece of glass. Also, the low angle makes the shot more interesting, I was lying on my oats biscuit filled belly for this (please check for thorns and poisonous biters before flattening yourself) - always try, as a default, to photograph a subject from eye level.
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Then I figures, I may as well use the facilities. There were gemsbok at the far waterhole and a few springbok at the nearby spot, but nothing seemed too dangerous so I pulled the car closer to the little hut and proceeded to check for lions. The design of the new facilities is impressive with it obvious that someone put some thought into how to let humans in by keep lions out. That said, there are always other possible dangers – like a lack of paper: this is why I always have my own stash of 2-ply in the cubbyhole. Well, a pleasing report is that this ablution, much like all the rest I inspected, was clean, functional, and endowed with some fresh paper. Still, I prefer my softer variety that makes even puppies play in advertisements.

But then, disaster, as in like I am about to die. Snakes I do, scorpions I can handle, spiders are nothing – all of these can easily be kept at a distance while you back away slowly, typically they will not follow. But what does follow and kills like the plague: wasps! Dirty big black super killer wasps that haunt you in dreams and are so scary that Disney shivers at the thought of using one as a baddy, yes, those wasps. Unfortunately, it flew in at an unfortunate time so I finished as quickly as possible and made a calm (by my standards) exit without hands flailing and voices yelping. Safe! Anyhow, the point is to look out for all dangers, like in the bowl etc. if you are lucky enough to be in the park – full inspection! Also, rather keep the doors to the car closed, you never know what may climb/crawl/fly in and murder you at your next lion sighting.

So, I continued a little was north, just to see what would happen where I came upon one of the birdies I had on my most wanted list, a swallow-tailed bee-eater. After more reversing, no a little forward, okay back again, I kept to a spot that may work and rather waited for the colourful beauty to perch nearby. Done, on my list!
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Then, moving along a little way, in a sad looking excuse of a tree, I found this guy pretending to cross the road (lame, I know, but he did look left and right and left again). Btw, I have this as a chat flycatcher, correct me if I am wrong - lbjs may fill my list but I am not their ID king. Anyhooo, another new guy to my list, albeit not one I was overly excited about beforehand, getting him now means another on the list, so yeay.
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As I approached Kij kij and the entrance to the LDR, I noted this lonely and scruffy springbok. I like different shots, the rain made him look different. To me at the time anyhow. As it had been a slow day, anything resembling a decent shot was a photograph worth taking.
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Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember

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MxM
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Re: KTP - a solo photographic and birding tour

Unread post by MxM » Wed Mar 05, 2014 7:19 pm

Day 3 continued

I was super surprised to see just how many tortoises there were in this arid world. The most I counted on 1 day was 27, which is around 5 times what I thought I would have seen on the whole trip. After a little while I figured I ought to give them a chance on a canvas of mine.
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Having cleared the dune road, where there was preciously little to see other than some special scenery, I spotted first a family of three spotted thickknees and then the smallest springbok ever. The dark stripe is barely visible.

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Now for some not so special but should be spotted feathered fellows. First an ant-eating chat (not one of my favourites, but hey, another bird for the list of the trip). Notice here how the preset "sunshine" white balance ruined the image as the subject was in too much shade causing the yellow cast.
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Look, an LBJ. I have pencilled this in as a fawn-coloured lark.
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And now for another lbj (be prepared to photograph many and sift through them later to ID, there are so many birds but mostly lbjs in the area). I am at least pretty sure that this is a spike-heeled lark.
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Wow, that concludes the morning drive. See, even for a slow day with what many would call nothing (no lions) there was much to notice. Later in the trip I started seeing even more, perhaps I was lucky, but I think I was just getting more accustomed to my surroundings.
Moments by Mullineux Photography
Photographer, nature lover, birder

Follow my solo KTP photographic and birding TRAVEL TALE

Photograph all moments of beauty not to forget, but treasure them in your heart to remember


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