A Colorful Fish Trap

    A Colorful Fish Trap

    The eyes and gullet of this Great White Pelican are enhanced by strong afternoon sun and a background of dark vegetation!

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    Don't Mess With the Boss!

    Don’t Mess With the Boss!

    A Long Tailed Macaque bares its fangs as a warning that it’s not going to accept any encroachment on it’s space.

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    Winter Down Under

    Winter Down Under

    No one stops to photograph kangaroos in Australia but the light and colour of these two posing in the dry winter outback grass was too much to resist.

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    An Eye for Pademelons

    Pademelons are small Australian forest marsupials with a shy quiet demeanor which made them easy prey for the early settlers who hunted them for food and their soft fur.

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    Grevillea Honey

    Grevillea Honey

    There is nothing more Australian than a Brown Honeyeater feeding on a Grevillea.

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    Hanging Out

    Hanging Out

    An Eastern Grey Joey enjoying the view from the comfort of his mothers pouch.

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    Blog Roll

    I Spider Spider

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    If you want snakes, flies and spiders then Australia is the place for you. These critters are everywhere and there is no escaping them. Just look and you’ll see them. They’re everywhere. Some are nice and some are not.But that’s Australia and it’s spiders!

    A nice example of nice is this Green Jumping Spider (Mopus Mormon) plucked off our lime tree where it was hiding under the new spring foliage. This small guy, less than 5mm in size, is a beautiful example of the smaller spiders you can find if you look. While photographing it out on the glass patio table (now you know my secret for a reflective look) the resident tame Magpie dropped in on the adjacent chair to see what was going on and scrounge a tit bit. Instantaneously the spider ducked under the leaf indicating it has incredible eyesight and an instinct for danger; something I never expected to witness. But then what we humans know about nature is close to zero, so maybe I shouldn’t be so naive.




    Photographing this guy was not that easy as he was not interested in staying still for very long, especially when he was away from the safety of the leaf and out on the glass table. But all in all, I was quite pleased with the outcome, and especially the table reflective shots.

    Who knows maybe I’ll try and find a few more critters to show!


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    Aussie Rainbows

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    Bee Eaters have to be one of the most addictive birds to photograph. It does not matter how many shots you may have of these birds, when you see them perched in colorful glory you just have to score a few more!

    Today, while on a stroll round Sandy Camp Wetlands, a favorite birders location in Brisbane we came across a pair of Rainbow Bee Eaters, Australia’s resident species. Although we have seen these birds before we have never photographed them because either we never had a camera ready or they were just too far off. Today they sat, posed. The background wasn’t too bad and thelight was good. So we snapped and came away with another bee eater species in the bag.





    Beautiful birds, simply beautiful!!

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    A Two Tick Outback Trip

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    Sometimes you just have to close the door get in the car and drive nine hundred km’s for a break!

    If you want to really get away from it all in Australia then this is the minimum distance required to leave all the city slickers behind. At first the plan was to head north up to Cairns to photograph Riflebirds near Atherton, but when I called looking for accommodation I just got laughed at and told I need to book at least four months ahead at this time of the year. It was the same thing at Carnarvon Gorge another place on the “want to hit list”, leaving Cunnamulla and the nearby Bowra Sanctuary as the next best option. So back to Bowra it was!

    Driving from Brisbane to Cunnamulla is a set of three hour stages. The first step is to reach the small farming town of Dalby one hour on the other side of Toowoomba which is the biggest pain in the ass town you never want to drive through because every intersection is a traffic light and they are all red. But you know, things don’t happen that fast there, so the locals don’t see it as a problem. After Dalby, its basically three hours to St George with a quick pit stop at the Moonie Roadhouse, and then the last three hours to Cunnamulla with another stop at the small town of Bollon to break the journey. The last two hours from Bollon to Cunnamulla is absolutely the worst. You just never seem to be getting closer to the end, and when you finally arrive you are quite thankful it’s all over.

    How things changed in four months since the Easter trip. Then it was dry, very dry. And while it’s still dry some recent rain has started to transform the bush and patches of fresh young green grass and shoots are visible. The creeks also have more water and the birds and animals somehow don’t look as ratty and parched as they did before.

    The plus side of dry bush is you only have to find a waterhole and wait and eventually something will fly or wander up for a drink. Like last time, I found it interesting to waste a few frames on Emu’s drinking. Like everything in photography, its a process of refinement, and this time I added a few more not too bad close ups of an Emu as it scooped a drink not at all fussed by my presence close by. They are still not what I really want, but for sure, with a bit of luck one day I’m going to get the mother of all shots of these birds quenching their thirst.


    Wary of ticks this time we spent less time wandering and standing in the very dry woodlands of Bowra and concentrated more on the area near the waterhole and pump near the old farmhouse. It was a good plan that worked out quite well because I only had to dig out two buggers busily burrowing into my knee. Lynette escaped tick free with only one picked off her shirt before it could start to chew.

    A tip to anyone wanting to get rid of blood sucking parasites such as leeches or ticks is to dab them with hand sanitiser. They absolutely hate the alcohol in the sanitiser and can’t get off your skin fast enough. Trust me it works!

    We always knew Bowra to be a place to photograph Red Capped Robins, but never saw them. This time they were all over the place, and best of all posing. While I was chasing parrots Lynette was busy photographing these guys. As is common with brightly colored males the female is a pale tan with only a hint of red on the forehead. I think you will agree they are absolutely stunning little bush birds.




    Sharing the same territory as the robins was a family of Splendid Fairy Wrens. Splendid is probably the only word to describe these delightful little birds and Lynette did well to get some nice shot’s, a first of these species for us.



    Another common resident of Bowra are Speckled Bowerbirds. This shot of a delicate balancing act is a bit different, so in it comes to the blog.


    If you want raptors then outback Australia is the place to find them. It’s no brain surgery. All you have to do is find a nice splattered kangaroo road kill and sit and wait and sure enough something will fly over to investigate. One afternoon on our way to another birders waterhole along the main road between Cunnamulla and Eulo we came across roadkill with a good group of birds feeding on it. The outcome was a number of shots of a Whistling Kite as it lazily surveyed the carcass waiting for us to move on.




    Always a sucker for flying shots I spent a lot of effort and wasted frames trying to photograph a Restless Flycatcher as it hovered and swooped before eventually coming away with a few of this quite interesting bird worth posting.



    One of the gems and must get birds of Bowra is the Bourke’s Parrot and it’s no wonder it’s much sought after. Most of the Australian parrots are brightly colored. The Bourke’s Parrot is dull, almost dove-like in appearance, but with a wonderful pale pink underside and blue wing feathers. We hunted Bowra for this bird with no luck before driving eighty kilometers from Cunnamulla on the road to Eulo to a small bird spot just off the road to get them. As usual, you struggle to spot and photograph them once and you then see them everywhere. Unfortunately the photos I took don’t do justice to this wonderful little guy. But we’ll get them next time for sure!


    Another welcome and colorful capture were a few frames of Mulga Parrots. Like the Bourke’s we chased these guys all over the place, and then after basically giving up, a pair landed five meters from where we were standing and proceeded to eat the buds of some small ground cover. What surprised me was that for some strange reason these guys had no problem with the camera, whereas all the rest took flight the moment we got anywhere near being close enough to photograph them. It’s strange how things turn up when you least expect them.




    On that colorful note it’s time to stop the verbiage and have some lunch! But as we have said on previous posts about Bowra. It’s a must visit on any bird photographers list.





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    Pitta Pader

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    Work travel the past few weeks has screwed up my bird photography, so getting to grips with the cold we crawled out of bed at 4.30 am this morning and headed up to Lamington National Park to see what we could get.

    We had hardly started walking the top boardwalk when we were surprised by a posing Noisy Pitta quietly sitting right next to the pathway. Now, for me to see a Pitta, never mind photograph one, is an extremely rare event. The last Pitta we saw was fifteen years ago in our garden in Malaysia. These birds generally inhabit dense vegetation so to find one sitting out in the relative open is an event not likely to be repeated for a long while. Not being ones to walk past a rare gem like this we spent the next four hours quietly watching and photographing it as it scratched the dry forest floor for food, it’s olive green back and rusty brown and black head blending perfectly with the forest vegetation.  It may be named as Noisy, but this is one silent forest dweller. The whole time we were watching it, it never uttered a sound. No wonder we find it impossible to find these birds.




    While watching the Pitta we were also pleased to be able to photograph a Pademelon, another small quiet Australian forest dweller. Pademelons are small marsupials that inhabit dense forests. They are very shy animals that usually take flight when they hear you approaching. But obviously up at Lamington they are more used to humans, and this little guy was not at all fussed by our presence. My first Pademelon portrait in the bag!


    Besides the Pitta and Pademelon we were also blessed to have an Eastern Whip Bird pose out in the open. Whip Birds are often heard, but not that often seen. Usually all you hear is their loud whip and crack calls which sound exactly like a whip being cracked.  What many don’t realize is that the whip is the call of one bird and the crack, the immediate response of the other in a pair. Interesting stuff don’t you think?


    So that was today. A day of noisy as well as supposed noisy but silent Australian forest dwellers posing for Sunday shot’s.


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    Seafood or See Birds

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    For a country surrounded by sea, finding good fresh seafood in Brisbane can be a bit of a mission. Tonight is seafood night and we needed to hit a fresh fish market to make sure we got our catch of the day early. But Sunday is also photography day, and sometimes time flies and the freshest fish and prawns are gone. To solve the dilemma and fit both in we decided to take a stroll round Tinchi Tamba Wetlands, the nearest photography spot to our Brisbane home, with a strict time limit to get something for this weeks blog.

    We arrived to find the wetlands blanketed by low lying fog punctuated by patches of bright early morning sun. Absolutely perfect light for photography. We had hardly gone more than a few hundred meters when we came across a bunch of Eastern Grey Kangaroos suspiciously watching us. One in particular was almost perfectly positioned in one of the light patches and it didn’t need more than a few seconds to get him in the bag!

    Shortly afterwards the mist lifted and the overall light improved. Perfect for bird photography. And as luck would have it a family of Red Backed fairy Wrens were feeding next to the trail. God was smiling on me today because just then a male and female decided to warm themselves on a nicely exposed branch. To tell you the truth, despite these birds being common I don’t have very many good shots of them because not only are they fidgety they always seem to be in thick vegetation when I’m passing. But not today. Once again, after a few minutes I has enough good shots to thank god and move on.





    Next stop down the path was a hide overlooking a section of coastal mangroves. The tide was in and it was still very early so there was not much happening out on the water. No sooner had I sat down to take a look round an Egret landed in knee deep water fairly far out and systematically worked its way right in front of the lens. Shadows from the mangroves were a challenge in terms of white balance settings, but a bit of adjustment and I got a few reasonable shots of this bird as well.




    With these in the bag it was back to the car and off to the fish market. Not too bad for just over an hours effort, don’t you think!



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    Oxley Creek Mistletoe

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    Today was the day I finally got to photograph a Mistletoe Bird. And let me tell you, these tiny almost robin-like birds are real beauties, well worth some time and patience.

    Looking through the lens the back of the bird looks black, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that in fact the wings of the male are a rich glossy blue. Absolutely nice looking guys! The females are more plain but still very attractive. Feeding down at ground level on some black berries the birds were not at all shy and eventually patience paid off as they perched on a low branch and posed with their breakfast. Happy Days!



    Winter has arrived in Brisbane and the bird pickings, whilst slim at the best of times has been really dry. The highland birds and some migrants from the south are supposed to come to town this time of the year, but we haven’t seen evidence of it yet. So who knows what is going on.

    Undecided where to go we chose to head off to Oxley Creek Common a well known birding spot on the south side of Brisbane. It’s a nice walk, with open grassland on one side of the track and thick riverine bush on the other. So the potential for a mix of species is there. The few times we have been there before have not been productive, and I would say today was not too exiting although in the end we managed to come away with a few nice shots of a variety of birds.

    As the sun rose Golden Cisticola’s warmed themselves on high grass stalks oblivious to the cameras a few meters away; the golden light of the sun perfectly lighting their plumage.


    Feeding nearby the Cisticola’s were flocks of Fairy Wrens always a target for the lens. Despite a few years of photographing these birds I’m embarrassed to say I still don’t have a few first class shots. For some reason I can never catch them posing clean of vegetation, and when they do I’m always just too slow to focus and press the shutter. The other problem is the stark contrast between the dark and colored plumage of these birds means it is essential to get the white balance settings correct, something thats just one finger and one second too difficult for me to achieve at the same time as focusing. Anyway beggars can’t be choosers, and whist todays efforts were above average they still fall short of where they have to be to portray these little gems the way they deserve.

    The best shots of the morning were of some male Red Backed Fairy Wrens. Nice little jewels don’t you think?



    I also managed a few shots of a Superb Fairy Wren that perched on a wire fence. The light was behind him, so the shot is not the best but at least you get to see the difference with his red cousin.


    So that was the result of a few km’s of heavy lifting at Oxley Creek this morning. To my friends in South Africa, be happy. Even on bad days you always have hundreds of species to photograph. In Australia it’s sparse by comparison. So stop whinging and keep shooting, you don’t know how lucky you are!!



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    Walking on Water

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    Sometimes you get lucky when what looks like being a dog of a day comes alive when out of the blue a kind bird floats in and positions itself in good light right in front of the lens. Well, today was one of those days.

    It was a cool 15 degrees when we arrived at the hide at Buckley’s hole this morning. The hide is surrounded by tree’s that shades the water early in the morning. The openings in the hide did nothing to shield the fresh breeze, and inside it was cold. Looking out, apart from a few ducks way out in the water, there was nothing to photograph. Absolutely nothing. It looked like it was going to be one of those dog days. But Buckley’s Hole has surprised in the past, so we hung around drinking tea to warm up, hoping that as the sun climbed the birds would fly in. After 30 minutes of still nothing my mind was thinking whether we should just pack it in.

    Just then a pair of Comb Crested Jacanas ambled across the lillie pads in front of the hide, getting closer and closer, to both the hide as well as patches of early sunlight filtering through the trees. Even a dummy could not fail to photograph these guys. This is the bird photography I like. No heavy lifting and tough hikes. Just park it and shoot. Perfect, absolutely perfect!




    Comb Crested Jacanas are found all the way up the Australian eastern seaboard and across the top end. Like all Jacanas they spend their time wading across water lilies using their wide toes to spread their body weight while looking for small something to eat. With a reddy-orange comb capping their heads they are quite photogenic guys. Definitely worth freezing the crown jewels for!


    As they always say, photography is all about composition and light. Today, the birds were accommodating and the light was perfect. You could not have shone a spotlight more accurately if you wanted to.

    Twenty minutes later, the birds ambled off and so did we, photos in the pocket!

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    Galahs Galore

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    It’s getting late. You are sitting at a waterhole and the Boss has had enough of dust and flies and want’s to leave. Then a bunch of thirty or so Galahs flock in to drink. It’s only Galahs, but the light from the setting sun is absolutely perfect. What do you do….listen to the boss or go man deaf and start taking photos?

    Sometimes being man deaf can be advantageous!


    When it comes to Australian birds Galahs are as Australian as you can get. These birds are everywhere. So if you are a bird photographer and don’t have a decent Galah shot there is something wrong with you, not the camera.When they flock to water they are something to see. It’s a mass of feathers squabbling over every free millimeter of perch close to the water. Galahs are colorful. But bunched together in good light they are absolutely beautiful.






    The word Galah originates from the Aboriginal Yuwaalaraay word Gilaa. It’s also Aussie slang for someone who is a bit thick and has difficulty figuring things out! But one thing is for sure. These birds may be noisy, but they are not thick. In fact to survive and proliferate in some of the most inhospitable parts of Australia they must be quite intelligent.



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    Outback Queensland And One Sharp Stone Too Many!

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    You drive enough on gravel roads and one day you are sure to get a puncture. But two punctures in three days, with only one spare and a long distance to the only tyre shop for hundreds of kms is one puncture too many!

    I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at big Nissans and Toyotas all nicely kitted out for off-road driving and wondered is it all really necessary. Well, lets say this…after this last Easter weekends tyre problems I reckon if you are heading out to the bush anywhere in Africa or Australia you can’t be too equipped. Until now Lynette’s comment would be that it’s just boy’s toys, but after getting stuck on the road miles from nowhere even she’ll reluctantly agree that when you travel out back some toys are necessities.

    Let’s start from the beginning. This Easter we planned another photography trip out to the far west of Queensland. The idea was to check out the freshwater and saltwater lakes at Currawinya National Park near the small town of Hungerford about a thousand kms west of Brisbane. The trip out was not too bad. After leaving at 4.00am we arrived at 3.00pm. Typical for Australia, the further you get away from the cities the less traffic you have on the road. It’s a nice thing when everything goes well, but when there’s a problem, a car every half hour or so is not the best.

    Leaving the tarred road at the small town of Eulo, the last 120kms to Hungerford is dirt. Mostly it’s red clay which if it’s not corrugated is nice to drive in the dry. Judging from sections of the road still deeply rutted from the wet season, it’s clearly not a road to travel when it’s been raining. To solve the problem the local authorities have begun a process of repairing the worst sections by reconstructing with coarse quartz gravel. So the trip is one of alternating from fairly smooth dusty red stuff to rumbling along rough stones punctuated every ten kms or so with cattle grids. Anyway, the trip down to Hungerford was uneventful and we eventually pitched up at the Royal Mail Hotel, our base for the weekend. The Hungerford Hotel is a typical outback Australian establishment and the center of attraction in the town which has a grand population of 13. Run by Graham Fitch, a genial Aussie bloke who is very welcoming to visitors who take the time to stop off to stay the night or have a drink. Graham’s home style TBone steaks washed down by a cold XXXX were the perfect end to a long day on the road.


    The Pub with the best cold beer for hundreds of kilometers. Donations to the Flying Doctor Service are thrown up and pinned to the ceiling.



    Some old hotel guests waiting for the bus that never comes!


    Sunrise over the Dingo Barrier fence that forms the boundary between New South Wales and Queensland. Part of a series of fences originally built in the 1880’s to contain the spread of rabbits, the fences were joined together in 1940 to form a continuous 1,864 km structure which until 1980 when it was shortened to todays length of 5,614 kms it was the longest fence in the world.

    The next day we were up early off to explore the bush and hopefully get some rare birds in the lens. The main attraction, Lake Wyara a salt lake, and Lake Numulla a freshwater lake are a short dirt road drive north west of Hungerford. When full, Lake Wyara is a haven for migratory birds and we were hoping to get some good sightings on it. Unfortunately due to the drought in outback Queensland, now in its third year Wyara is basically dry. Lake Numulla although a good 2-3 m below it’s optimum water level still has a lot of water, but apart from a few pelicans, miles out of range, the bird life was scarce.


    A Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater taking a dip.


    A Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo marching over the red dirt of Hungerford.

    Heading back up the road to Eulo to check out the Currawinya camp sites along the Paroo River we crossed a cattle grid and all hell broke loose. I would say if you want to want to shred a tyre, do it in style like we did…except when you are 180kms from the nearest tyre guy on sharp quartz gravel roads you should at least have two additional spares. So next time you see a boy with a toy with two tyres on the back, he has them there for a reason, not to look Macho!


    Anyway, after changing on our only spare, we decided to drive 180kms back to Cunnamulla, the nearest town with a tyre guy, only to find everything closed for Easter, and no after hours number available anywhere. So, what else could we do, nothing except to head back the 180kms to Hungerford and hope to god we never got another puncture.

    The next day, Sunday, after hearing Graham’s horror stories of having seven punctures in two weeks we decided it was too risky to stay in Hungerford and checked out and headed back again to Cunnamulla with the intention to base up there and spend Monday at the Bowra Nature Conservancy which is known as being one of the best bird photography sites in Queensland. The assumption was that the Bowra roads could not be as aggressive as the Hungerford road, and worse come to worse, Bowra was not too far from Cunnamulla.

    Sunday was uneventful, except for the experience of having hundreds of small ticks crawl all over us as we sat under the shade of a tree next to a waterhole having lunch. African ticks are bad enough, but basically they drop off when they have sucked their fill. Australian ticks are real bastards. The crawl over you in their hundreds and then burrow down and make themselves comfortable. Last year, after the last visit to Bowra I had a tick bite on the back of my leg that took nine months to heal…so with that fresh in the memory you can imagine us jumping around like idiots flapping and scratching at everything that crawled. In such times you wish for a tame monkey or baboon that could sit and pick them all, because man’s fingers are designed for holding beer, not picking ticks!

    On Monday the tyre shop was still closed so it was back to Bowra for more bird photography. But this time we stayed well clear of the tick spot and eventually set up at another waterhole hoping to photograph birds as they came to drink. It was a good move, because we did come away with good shots of Emus and a huge flock of Galahs drinking. But, as usual there always has to be a BUT to spoil a good thing and this time it was in the form of a violent mid-afternoon dust storm which quickly blew in over the open ground behind the waterhole. Before we could really react and cover things the wind blew over Brother-in-law John’s tripod smashing his lens. Not good!!!




    An Emu and Galah’s enjoying a late afternoon drink at a Bowra waterhole.

    Leaving the waterhole we had just crossed the cattle grid gate and were a mere twenty meters on the tar road heading to Cunnamulla when we had our second puncture. Damn!!! You can’t imagine the disbelief. Getting punctured on gravel…but not on tar with night quickly approaching miles from anywhere and with no spare tyre. It’s not a good feeling. Anyway after trying to re-inflate the tyre Lynette and myself set out to walk the six kilometers back to the Bowra station house where a bunch of birders who were banding birds were staying, to get help, leaving John to stay with the Landrover. We had hardly walked a kilometer when a farm truck drove up. We hopped in the back and a short while later were back at the Landrover and with camera gear and punctured tyre in the back on our way into Cunnamulla thanks to the kindness of an American birder Allison Roberts. In times like this, your faith in humanity returns. Thanks a million Allison..we will never forget your help.

    Early Tuesday morning we were the first at the tyre shop and shortly after that back on the way to the Landrover with a new spare from  Dux Tyres, Cunnamulla. Talking to the Dux tyre guys we came to the realization that we will not be the last he sees with shredded tyres compliments of the Hungerford road. His comment was that road alone is worth at least 3-4 tyres a week in business. Interestingly, his reply to me when I asked him which is the best brand of tyre to handle rough Aussie outback roads, was that it does not matter whether you have a $200 tyre or a $500 tyre, they all get chewed up……Good to know from a guy who makes a living solving tyre problems!

    So, the moral of the story is. If you are planning a bush trip, get organized. At least have two good spares and a high lift jack. Recovery tracks for deep rutted mud, and a winch are probably also a good idea. And as they always say, have enough food and water with you in case you have to sweat it out a bit before you get rescued. Common sense to most…but in our case, common sense learnt the hard way!

    Oh…and make sure you spray your legs with bug spray to stop the ticks crawling up!

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    Emu Super Scoopers

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    They say, find a waterhole and Africa comes to you. Well, it seems this old adage applies equally well in Australia!

    While driving round the Bowra Conservancy near Cunnamulla over Easter we came across a waterhole with great photography potential and settled down to see what turns up. After an unsuccessful attempt to use a camouflage sheet as a hide the day before, I decided to set up in plain sight at the waters edge and use the sheet as a cover from the flies and dust. Surprisingly it worked. Well..sort of worked. While some birds and kangaroos, although clearly thirsty, backed off from the strange apparition other birds and a small group of emus were not fussed.


    The outcome was some great close-up shots of emu’s quenching their thirst. Despite years photographing in Africa we have never seen an ostrich drink, so it was interesting to see their emu cousins squat down with lower legs splayed forwards and drink in a deep scooping motion that filled their beaks with water, all the while looking directly at the camera. After long hot dry days swatting flies, which in the Australian bush bug you by the thousands this was the sort of lucky break we needed to make the trip worthwhile.







    While the drinking motion took up most of my attention, I did manage to also grab a few classic portrait shots of typical emu hairstyles which are always interesting.


    Shortly after the emu’s departed we were treated to the spectacle of a large flock of galahs drinking, but this will be the topic of the next blog!




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    Finding Eden in Africa

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    When it rains in Africa everything is transformed from a pallet of dry brown to a rich green interspersed with splashes of colour. Lenses usually focused on wildlife and birds quickly get distracted by the mirage of flowering grass blowing in the wind. Sometimes when you are lucky, you even get the chance to photograph and animal enjoying this short lived splash of colour.

    Look closely and you can’t help but be amazed by the complex beauty of some of the wild flowers that are there, right next to the side of the road if you just open your eyes. This yellow flower for instance looks almost orchid-like in its appearance. Stunning!



    Another wild roadside flower which caught my eye was this beautiful purple Watsonia-like plant which judging by all the ants must have had a sweet nectar.


    To most of us grass is just grass. But obviously there are thousands of different grasses each with its own individual blooming head and unique colour pallet.



    As they used to say at school …flowers are for pansies. But when there is a wild animal sitting among them, who cares if someone calls me a pansie. I just want the shot!






    Flowers can also be beds of fun and a place for scheming Vervet Monkeys to hide while they plot amongst themselves how they are going to get into your lodge. This thieving bugger below tried and tried, but unfortunately for him, the fact that he was hiding in flowers meant he was the point of focus. Eventually he went next door and robbed some trusting French people who left their door open!


    Next time you are driving the grasslands stop and take a closer look at what exactly it is you are driving past and you will be amazed at the complexity of simple stuff like grass!


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    The Flight of the Bumblebee Bird

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    Yellow Bishop Birds have to be one of the great South African grassland birds. Looking a little like overgrown bumble bee’s these bishops along with their red cousins bring a dash of color to the fields of grass throughout the highveld.

    Being small, with deeply contrasting feathers yellow bishops are not the easiest to photograph with short lenses as you need to get fairly close to be able to pick up any feather detail. Having a bigger lens than I was able to fly with would have been an advantage. But sometimes you do what you have to do with what you got and hope for the best.



    It took a good few hours of frustratingly chasing birds through waist high grass, before it finally dawned on me that like red bishops, male yellow bishops regularly return to a favorite perch. Once I’d figured this out it was a case of slowly advancing on the perch until I was close enough to photograph and not chase the birds off. More often than not the temptation to take another step and then another one too many was my downfall and the birds would take off before I could focus and shoot.




    Fortunately the birds are slow flyers, with an erratic forward hovering type flight action than you typically see and looking every bit a big yellow bee rather than a bird getting away from a camera. So as luck would have it I managed a few birds-in-flight shots that I was pleased to come away with.

    So, if you are a birder and in South Africa during the summer, take your camera and pick up your car and head out to one of the local grassland bird sanctuaries and shoot some bee’s!!

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    Beautiful Bees

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    There are many bird species that are eye catching, but one the most eye catching has to be Bee Eaters. It does not matter where in the world they are, these bird’s are stunning. And from a photography perspective the great thing about them is they are posers and generally allow you to get close enough for good shots.

    This last trip to South Africa was an opportunity to put a few more gigs of nice bee eater shots in the files, so I thought why not feature them in a blog.

    Just on the outskirts of Pretoria and only a 40 minute drive from Johannesburg is Rietvlei Nature Reserve a 3,800 hectare nature park supporting 270 species of birds and a variety of wildlife. It’s a great location to photograph both grassland and waterbirds. And obviously a superb place to get good White Fronted Bee Eater shots, especially along the edges of the rivers where there are a lot of insects and dragonfly’s. The birds are so prolific it’s basically a Bee Eater for Dummies photo location.




    During the rainy season the grasslands of Rietvlei are lush and rich with flowers providing opportunities to add color by mixing and matching the birds with various blooming plants.


    For birders Kruger national Park has to be one of the world’s top photography locations. The size of the park and great diversity of flora and fauna means supports a huge diversity of species, and if you are not photographing animals there is always a bird or two catching your eye. This last trip in late December and early January meant the park was full of migratory birds not seen during the cooler dryer months and we were very pleased to have the opportunity to photograph Southern Carmine Bee Eaters, European Bee Eaters, Little Bee Eaters and of course White Fronted. On some occasions we had all four species perched and feeding together…..happy days!

    Southern Carmine Bee Eaters are really beautiful. These and Malaysia’s Chestnut Headed species are my favorites, so whenever we saw them we had to stop and put away another few hundred shots…..but what the hell, it’s like eating oysters, why stop at six if you can pig out on a dozen!

    When you have so many good shots in the files, The problem is choosing which ones to post. So, it’s a tough day in the office today!





    The female Southern Carmine is a dull orange but still a very nice looking bird.


    European Bee Eaters are migrants from Southern Europe and North Africa that winter down in the warmer climates of southern Africa. They are also very colorful birds, but somehow a little more shy and quicker to fly than the other species. So my shots of this bird were not as prolific and not as good as the others.




    Little Bee Eaters like their name suggests are the smallest of Africa’s bee eater species. Very similar in head and chest color to Swallow Tailed Bee Eaters they are also very, very attractive. My dream shot would be to get a bunch of these all sitting together on a branch, but that’s a dream that will have to wait for the next trip to see whether it gets booked.



    So if you are a birder who likes a whole lot of honey, head to South Africa and poke your lens in the direction of it’s bee eaters. You simply cannot fail to come away with some  great shots worth posting!!



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    Kruger in the Wet

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    Kruger in the rainy season is a totally different experience to the dry season. The wet season may be a time of plenty for the wildlife but it’s a time of drought when it comes to good photography opportunities.

    The bush throughout the park during this time of year is a lush green with small pools of water everywhere. Consequently the animals disperse over a wide area, and what is available to photograph is often obscured by dense vegetation.  In the northern reaches of the park where animal densities are generally lower than in the south the Mopani bush is very thick and you have to work hard to find suitable photo opportunities. With hindsight we should have missed the top end all together and planned a more central and southern centered trip. But hindsight only comes with hindsight.

    Letaba and Sirheni

    Crossing into the middle section of park from Phalaborwa on the first day it was hot, very hot. The Mopani was green but the underlying grass was all dry which gave us hope for a good few days. It was a hope that quickly turned to excitement when less than ten kilometers from the gate we came across a male and two female lions resting in the shade of a Mopani tree right next to the road….things were looking up.


    But as usual with us what goes up quickly comes down because shortly after checking into Letaba, our camp for the first night, it started to rain and continued raining on and off for the next five days. Not at all what we wanted. But as luck would have it, just as we crossed the Letaba bridge early the next morning the light changed and we were greeted by the sight of a magnificent double rainbow to our front and a spectacular sunrise to our right.


    Our main base for the northern part of our trip was Sirheni Bush Camp. It’s a nice camp but with the rain came muddy washed out roads and the whole time we were there they were wet and muddy. The constant rain the first few days was miserable for everyone and everything. Most of the side roads in the middle and northern sections of the park were closed. This meant game viewing options were limited, but balanced out by some interesting sightings in the form of a Serval Cat in the middle of the road early one morning and a totally wet and bedraggled juvenile Bateleur Eagle below.


    Early one morning after a night of constant drizzle we came across a troop of Baboons that were really wet and feeling very sorry for themselves. Some were huddled in groups under trees trying their best to keep each other warn. Others were huddled in tight balls fast asleep and not moving.




    Later as the day wore on we came across another troop which were really enjoying themselves. While some groomed, a group of youngsters were having a ball chasing each other through a big puddle just like a bunch of naughty kids.



    Sirheni at this time of the year is great for birding and the camp was awash with Paradise Flycatchers. Some simple quiet observation quickly identified a frequently attended branch. Focusing the lens  revealed a nest under construction. After this there was no more frustrated chasing of birds up and down the camp. I just lent back in the shade of the nearest lodge wall and waited for the birds to come to me. Just the type of photography of fidgety birds that I like.




    Also within the camp were some Red Headed Weaver nests and another great opportunity not to be missed.


    Sadly, the downside of Sirheni is the fact that the dam downstream from the camp was washed away during the February 2014 floods, so the nice water frontage the camp is famous for is now just all sand and reeds. But it’s still a quiet and restful place and the accommodation is excellent.

    Side Trip to Pafuri

    On the third day of our Sirheni stay, thinking we would escape the rain  we woke up at 4.00am and were out the gate at 5.00, with some lucky beans in our pockets heading up to Pafuri with the idea to do some birding with Frank Mbasa at the Pafuri rest stop. Two and a half hours of wet driving later we arrived to find all the Luvuvu river side roads to the Pafuri rest stop and Crooks Corner closed. The lucky beans were not working! The bush about a km to the Luvuvu bridge has been totally devastated by the Feb 2014 floods (the same ones that took out Shingwedzi and Sirheni) and repairs to the road are still going on. I don’t know if Pafuri is yet to re-open after the floods or was just closed for that day because of all the rain. Hopefully it was just a temporary closure, because the Pafuri rest stop is one of the best in the park.

    Reluctant to turn round and drive back we hung around the bridge area photographing Swallows and some White Fronted Bee Eaters. All the while we could hear a Hyena but couldn’t see it. Then all of a sudden we spotted it chasing two Waterbuck behind some thick bush next to the river. The waterbuck emerged a few seconds later, but there was no sign of the Hyena. Presumably it decided to give up the chase. We also decided to give up on Pafuri and started back towards Punda Maria.

    Just south of the Punda Maria turn-off the rain stopped and our luck changed as we arrived on a bunch of Carmine and European Bee Eaters feasting on insects. Let’s face it, you can’t ask for better looking birds when it comes to these two species, and there were no complaints from my side. The Carmines were particularly good posers and not at all fussed by our driving up close. The Europeans were more complicated and preferred a greater distance. But what the hell, beggars can’t be choosers! What followed was one and a half hours of non-stop Bee Eater action and 24 Gigs of good stuff in the pocket!




    A bit further down the road in the vicinity of the Babalala rest stop we stopped to photograph some Waterbuck testing their male stupidity when a car heading south driven by a French guy pulled up and asked how much further he had to go to get to the Pafuri gate. We just had to laugh when we saw his face as we told him not only was he heading in the wrong direction and had to go the other way, but he was at least a hundred km’s or so from the gate.  It turned out he had taken a loop road and lost his bearings, which just goes to show what happens when you grow up driving on the wrong side of the road. Considering we were not far from the Babalala rest stop and it was already after 4.00pm it would be interesting to know if he made it back to Pafuri before the gate closed.

    For a day that started out dull it ended with a laugh and a good haul of nice shots in the camera!

    Talamati & Surrounding

    From Sirheni we moved south to the Talamati and Satara area. While the bush was still very lush and green as we headed south it opened up and with it the sightings and photo opportunities improved significantly.

    Talamati is a camp well known for its excellent accommodation and superb wildlife photo opportunities from the two spotlight lit camp hides and surrounding side roads. But it’s a reputation that is based on the dry season, not the wet. Sadly the nice camp and good accommodation was offset by very bad roads. One particular 10km section to the south of the camp was so bad it was almost un-driveable except for heavy duty 4×4’s. Needless to say we only drove this once because I was worried I would have to hand back a vehicle to Avis minus doors and other stuff if I drove it twice.

    But Talamati delivered a few surprises. The first one was in the form of two Green Bush Snakes just meters apart and only a few meters from the lodge veranda. These snakes are often mistaken for Green Mambas and this was our first thought. A closer look at the head shape and eyes through the camera lens, and we relaxed.


    We also had a great and very funny Cheetah sighting which I’ll write about in a later blog, but as a teaser here’s one of the nice shots of this animal taken by Lynette.


    A lot of the Talamati day hours were spent riding the main road between Orpen and Satara hoping and hoping we would see the 36 pack wild dog family that inhabits the area and which everyone, except us had been seeing. But it was not to be. Long sections of the road are quite open, so when things got boring and we came across an interesting tree we stopped to try our hand at photographing the landscape and it’s moods.



    Interestingly while we were at Talamati we were stopped early each and every morning by anti poaching rangers checking we were normal camp visitors and not poachers heading home after a night of illicit business in the bush. After the second day, we became firm friends and started exchanging info on sightings. Clearly, when you see this level of activity it is evident that poaching is a very serious problem. In fact over the time we were in Kruger we saw rangers in a number of places in the bush as well as quite a large number of military vehicles. So the authorities efforts to clamp down on the problem is visible which is a good thing.

    I would definitely recommend the camp in the dry season but not in the wet. But, whilst pickings were slim, it was not all bad.


    The next stop Satara as usual lived up to its reputation as a superb wildlife viewing base that resulted in a number of great lion and other sightings. We had hardly unpacked when we heard about a Buffalo kill by the large lion pride that hangs around Satara just up the road. Unfortunately we were a day too late and the kill site was just inhabited by vultures. Another afternoon in the far western edge of Kruger in the Lebombo region we came across a huge pride of lions resting just off the road.

    Satara is always good for wildlife, and arguably the best camp in Kruger for lions and buffalo. But this trip the best part of our Satara stay was the opportunity to photograph the family of African Wild Cats that inhabits the camp. I don’t know how many times we have stayed in this camp and until this trip we never knew it had a resident group of wild cats. At first when we first saw a cat near our hut we thought it was a long legged domesticated Moggie belonging to one of the staff. But as soon as the neighbors cameras came out we realized that there was more to the cat than first met the eye.


    As we drove the roads round Satara and to the south the number of elephant viewing increased and we had a few occasions when the thick bush obscured the animals until we were right on them. One time we saw an old bull with no tusks and on a few other occasions came across bulls with only one tusk. Similarly the further south we went the greater the number of Rhinos we saw. On one day alone we saw sixteen separate Rhino and one with a magnificent horn, that would have been close to a meter long. Absolutely wonderful!!




    Lower Sabie

    No trip to Kruger should be without a few days at Lower Sabie. This time we booked tented accommodation. The tents are located in an area aside and away from the main camp, each with their own piece of bush. It’s a nice idea, but one that is spoiled by poor maintenance. While Kruger management talks about upgrading services it is failing to maintain facilities in the camps and the roads which surround them. Keeping kettles and hot plates in good working order is basic stuff. As with any business, fail the basics and you fail, full stop! The same goes for road maintenance. Simply grading a road is not maintenance unless it’s watered and compacted.

    I don’t know how many times during the trip we drove down a steep recently graded incline of loose gravel already badly eroded by rainwater. Now, if I’d had a 4×4, no sweat. It would be adventure. But when you are in a normal car after 2 weeks you get tired of navigating roads so rough your teeth are falling out. If Sanparks can’t fix the problem they should simply close roads like this to normal traffic but keep them open for 4×4’s and then the engineer responsible for road maintenance can continue sleeping his life away !!


    A recently “repaired” section of road


    The tented accommodation at Lower Sabie is nice, but was spoiled by poor maintenance of basic facilities.


    But one good development since the last time we were there a few years back is the replacement of the useless old restaurant operators at Letaba, Satara and Lower Sabie by new Mugg & Bean outlets. So, at least in these camps it’s now possible to have a good meal for a reasonable price. Good stuff Sanparks…but now do us a favor and get rid of the useless operators in the other camps especially those running Punda Maria.

    Bitching aside, one of my favorite photographic locations in the Lower Sabie area is Sunset Dam. Over the years this waterhole has never failed to deliver good Hippo and other photographs, and this trip was no exception. The Hippo were not as accommodating as they sometimes are, preferring to stay on the other side well out of camera range, but when two lion decide to walk along the edge of the water and then flop down right next to your car who cares about Hippo!



    As with every trip in the past we spent hours at Sunset photographing Pied and Giant Kingfishers fishing from a dead stick 3m from a good parking spot and a bunch of weavers and a pair of Purple Herons busily building their nests nearby.




    If it was not Sunset dam, it was the roads around Lower Sabie that delivered unexpected gems. From the bridge came a Leopard, Hippos in the water on the dam side and also downstream of the rapids, as well as a myriad of different species of Swallows.


    From the roads round the camp we got huge herds of Buffalo and Elephant and two lion sightings. One of the issues with thick bush is sometimes on narrow gravel roads you are right on the elephants before you see them. In this case you have to make a quick decision whether to back off or just keep going and hope that there are no others further along. Be quick with the lens and the proximity can yield some nice gems.



    One of our best lion sightings of the trip was of two young male lions that ambled along the main road from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie for seven kilometers causing untold traffic chaos as cars leaving Lower Sabie and others arriving from Crocodile Bridge piled up. Fortunately for us we were an early arrival and were perfectly placed when they finally decided to turn off and walk right up to our car. So close I could have reached out and touched them…just perfect!

    Although they were still young animals you could already see evidence of harsh bush living. One was missing the end of his tail and the other blind in one eye and battered. Obviously being at the top of the food chain is no walk in the park!




    It was also just outside of Lower Sabie, after a heavy rain shower that I managed some great photos of a Fish Eagle drying himself off at the top of a dead tree not too far off the road. So, despite poor camp maintenance Lower Sabie once again delivered the goods!



    The final leg of our trip was a few days at Biyamiti, one of the best of Krugers bush camps. Again, superb accommodation was let down by a poor road that spoiled the mood every time we left the camp. Anyone who has driven this road knows it’s a sandy gravel affair characterized by quite steep hills with creek crossings at the bottoms. On the second day a grader graded the road with the logic that scraping and spreading the gravel solves the problem when in fact all it does is makes it almost impossible to climb steep hills in a non 4×4. The upside, I’m now an expert in driving a hired Toyota on crappy roads. So no worries!



    But good sightings make for a good mood and you quickly forget the bad stuff. The good sightings were a fleeting but nice sighting of five Wild Dogs that agitated an already edgy bull elephant in must, our first in more than thirty years being one of the highlights of our trip.


    We also had a good lion sighting with six females sleeping on the road early one morning and on the birding side of things, we came away with some interesting photos of a Three Banded Plover feeding on the very edge of water flowing over the Biyamiti weir. How it did not get swept over I’ll never know. Simple things maybe. But simple things that kept us happy.


    The absolute highlight of the Biyamiti leg of the trip and one of the best of the trip overall was that of a huge flock of thousands and thousands of Quelias on the main road just north of Crocodile Bridge. Quelias are legendary for their large swarming flocks but it’s a long time since we saw something this big. In fact it’s by far the biggest flock I think we have ever seen. It’s hard to describe what a flock of thousands and thousands of Quelia stretching for hundreds of meters looks like and a single camera frame just does not do them justice. In fact it is very difficult to photograph birds like this. So, what do you do. You pick a spot and you shoot and hope for the best. Fortunately in between rain showers a big bunch of birds settled to dry out on a bush very close to where we were parked resulting in some great shots going into the bag.




    As mentioned before, Biyamiti has to be one of the best small camps in Kruger. The layout of the camp overlooking the Biyamiti river and the quality of accommodation is absolutely superb. It’s no wonder it’s always booked out and getting reservations in the camp is so difficult. One warning. The resident troop of Vervets are expert thieves. Leave anything laying around even for a few minutes and it’s gone!


    The view out over the Biyamiti river.


    Living the Biyamiti high life…fantastic!


    Biyamiti camp itself is not without interest. One evening I managed some nice photos of a Chameleon and the next a baby Tortoise barely an inch in size that wandered in front of our hut. It’s stuff like this, like the snake in Talamati that make a trip. Of course the lions and leopards are what it’s all about, but the small stuff is equally fascinating.



    Leaving Biyamiti on the way out back to Johannesburg we came across the resident troop of baboons fooling around in the cool of early morning, and Lynette shot this absolutely nice frame of a very young baboon intrigued by the camera and us watching it.


    It was a very fitting end to a very wet but relaxing trip. Hitting the main road it took me nearly an hour to get to 100km/hr. For a speeder this is a sign of a good holiday!


    Summing up what can I say. If you are a local anytime is a good time to visit Kruger. If you are an overseas visitor the rainy season is not the best time to visit this park. July to October when the bush is dry and the scarcity of water draws the animals together would be preferable and more productive. But in saying this, if you are a birder then I feel the wet season is when the variety of species is strongest and every thing is in their breeding colors.

    If I were to come again during this period I would go for a heavier vehicle because a small light car is just not good enough for the badly rutted and rough rain season roads. During the dry season, basically any vehicle can be used.

    Although game densities this time of the year are reduced by the dispersing of game due to availability of water Krugers wildlife didn’t disappoint. One of the great things about Kruger is that it’s a park where provided you are prepared to hit the road early and slowly and methodically trawl its roads and tracks you have a high chance of seeing something good every day and the big five more than once and numerous times over a week. Besides the big stuff, there is also always lots of small gems whether they be antelope or insects to look at and it is a park with phenomenal bird life, especially in the north.

    Kruger’s accommodation is generally good and clean and camps within the park safe. Booking is easy and can be done online directly with Sanparks (www.sanparks.org) I recommend you book directly yourself and avoid travel agents or tour companies. Kruger is a national park where self drive is absolutely possible and is safe.

    However, I have to say that having visited many times over the years there is a sense that standards are dropping. Some of the facilities in some camps need to be replaced and maintenance and daily management is clearly an issue. For personal friendly service and advice the small camps are by far the best. If you want service, then just forget the big camps like Skukuza….sadly service is just not a concept that camp staff there understand.

    In general the game rangers do a good job on game drives. Obviously drives out of the small camps is much more personal than is possible in the bigger camps where more people need to be accommodated and larger vehicles are used. Over the years I have had some really good, almost personally focused drives by rangers that really know their stuff. And of course. No trip should miss at least one night drive.

    My utmost respect goes to the rangers on anti poaching patrol. Clearly its a huge problem, but those guys are doing a superb job. The good thing is now you see them, either in their vehicles checking you are not up to illicit stuff or sitting on the side of the road at the end of their patrol waiting pick-up or standing in an elevated spot scanning the surrounding bush. They are doing a great job and need to know the public support their efforts!

    Will we be back again. Certainly!









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    Boys Will Be Boys

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    Watching a troop of baboons is like watching a big dysfunctional family that has no choice but to function as a group in order to survive. It’s a parade of macho manpower, women picking fleas and gossiping, young adults chasing girls and young girls enticing young males and naughty kids running wild. It has all the hallmarks of a family soap opera with plots, sub-plots, scandal and abuse.

    So, spot a troop of baboons and you just have to stop and watch the show!

    On this last trip to Kruger it had just stopped raining when we came across a troop of baboons drying themselves off next to the road. As usual the males were hanging their stuff out hoping to entice the hot young females, the older mothers were picking fleas and socializing and the kids were being kids chasing each other through the trees; basically typical extended baboon family activity. But what was really interesting to see was a small group of youngsters enjoying playing in a big pool of rainwater.

    Until now we had the impression baboons hated water. But, when you are young and stupid…what the hell…boys have got to be boys and in the bush there is nothing better than a puddle to play in.




    Of course, in every group of personalities there is one guy who is smarter than the rest. So while some were distracted by the water one young guy ducked off to try his luck with a sexy young female in the middle of the road.


    It only takes one look at the expression on her face to understand what she told him to do with himself!




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