House of Sand

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Driving Africas dirt roads is a hot dusty business especially in mid summer when everything seems to disappear under shade from mid morning to late afternoon. It’s very easy to become frustrated at not seeing anything and tempted to drive faster just to get the trip over and done with. Trust me. As an impatient guy this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. In times like these you have to force yourself to drive slower, or even stop and wait. Just because you can’t see anything does not mean there is nothing there. The bush is always alive.

A perfect example of this occurred one very hot morning on the road to the south of Mata Mata in Kgalgadi. It was hot. It was dusty and there was just not much action anywhere. To make it even more frustrating every time we would find something interesting to photograph some idiot would speed by and spoil the event by chasing away whatever it was we were after.

The day wasn’t going well at all. Then we spotted a pair of Fork Tailed Bee Eaters that were well situated in a dead tangle of branches right next to the road. Finally it seemed we had found a target worth some quality time.

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My appetite had been wet the day before by a quick road side chat with Gordon Arons, another wildlife photographer who told me he had found some swallow tailed bee eaters nesting in the side of the road. After listening to Gordon explain how he had shot tons of frames of the birds entering the nest I was envious. It was something I never expected to ever be able to do.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I just love Bee Eaters. Whether they be Australian, Asian or African in origin Bee Eaters are fantastic birds to photograph. Their colors are always spectacular and better still they often pose in very accessible spots. Not having much luck in getting too many shots of these birds in the days previous to this I was dead set on making sure I came away with something worth posting on the blog.

One of the Bee Eaters caught a dragonfly and proceeded to bash it to death but then never swallowed it. It was clearly agitated and flew from branch to branch but still never swallowed the dragonfly. Then it dived down right next to the rear drivers wheel before swooping back up to a branch….strange! Poking my head out the window I looked back to see a small hole in the sandy road edge right near the wheel. Then it dawned on me…a nest! The bird wanted to enter its nest and I was too close and blocking its entry.

Quickly moving the car I set up to watch the nesting hole. As luck would have it I missed the first entry as I fiddled with the camera. The second entry a few minutes later caught me completely by surprise and again I missed my chance. Thinking it would not be too long before they were back I settled down to wait, but this time pre-focused and finger ready to shoot. Sods Law…the birds had disappeared and were nowhere to be seen. Thirty minutes later after causing I don’t know how many vehicles to slow or stop wondering what the hell we were looking at the birds reappeared. But didn’t seem to have any intention of entering the nest. This was turning into a fiasco. It was starting to get hot and we were starting to cook. It seemed we were never going to get a shot of the birds at the nest.

Finally one and a half hours later they decided it was feeding time and condescended to give me a few shots for sitting it out.

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Under normal circumstances I would have sat a few hours more but there was no shade and it was so hot we just had to leave. Anyway, by that time the sun was so high and bright whatever I was going to take would not have come out well.

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The moral of the story is that in Africa the only time is Wild Time. If it looks like there is nothing to see you are dead wrong. There’s stuff there. It may even be right next to your back wheel. You just have to look for it!

 

 

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