It is wonderful being a wildlife photographer out in the field. The joy of the anticipation, the capture and the result combine to make it a very rewarding pastime. What is even more pleasing to see is how photography ignites passion and enthusiasm in other people. Two people I know who have bucket loads of these attributes are Kyle de Nogbrega and Ruth Nussbaum, who work for C4 Photo Safaris managing the underground photo hides up at Mashatu. It is easy to get caught up in ‘work mode’ whilst taking clients on daily trips to the hides, but it takes a special couple to be so dedicated to their craft that they are out at every given opportunity to try and capture excellent, fresh and unique images in the environment they call home. Mashatu offers so much potential but it needs to be worked on diligently and persistently. Nature never offers her gifts up easily. Kyle and Ruth do exactly that- they are up at 4am some mornings to drive to the vlei and they stay out in the bush to try and get elusive night images. It is hard work, yet they are always working on a specific shot or imagined scene.
It is thus especially rewarding to see the fruits of their labour in the Botswana wildlife photographer of the year awards. This year, they collectively earned 9 awards in the competition, completely dominating the competition; making their mark on the Botswana wildlife photography industry, showing the excellent photographic opportunities of Mashatu and announcing them as a photographic force in Africa.
Passion is one thing, backing it up with results is the mark of a great photographer. Ruth and Kyle have done this in the best possible way. It is extremely rewarding to see these two photographers making such a success of their careers.
Enjoy the images below and the stories behind them.
Bird behaviour – 1st place – Conned Life of Starlings – Kyle de Nobrega
Perhaps the greatest form of con artistry is in the form of brood parasitism practiced in a few bird families. No other group of birds is this art of trickery more studied and understood that is shown by the family of Cuckoos.
This was no exception and ironically during a photographic workshop, this duo of a Great spotted Cuckoo juvenile being raised by its foster parents, Meves Starling, was discovered. In short, Great spotted Cuckoo’s lay their eggs in Crow nests and Starlings are second in line. Once the Starling has left the nest for just a brief moment, the laden female cuckoo swiftly moves in, lays her egg, and is out before being discovered. The starling returns to find nothing unusual as the cuckoo egg will match the starling egg identically, part of their species specific success, and carries on raising her now slightly larger clutch. The maternal instincts apparently override the starlings ability to recognize that her chicks look different, and as the cuckoo will be the only chick as they kill or kick out the starling chicks, she raises her demanding chick as per normal.
We spent a total 4 days photographing this unlikely pair, of which we had a great privilege to record this spectacular behaviour. After a few visits the birds became so used to us being there that we could literally park under the tree with the birds 2 metres above us.
Bird behaviour – runner up – Mating Bee eaters – Ruth Nussbaum
Having spent endless hours sitting in our semi permanent Bee eater hide, the action always is most exciting during the breeding season. In August these birds frantically court, display and breed to allow for the chicks to fledge before the flood season arrives, which ultimately break away at their riverbank nesting sites. Positioning the hide can be an art, and we managed to find an angle allowing for the ridge of a grassy hill to provide the perfect backdrop. A low f-stop at f4 isolated the contrasting reds and greens of this courting behaviour against the soft hues of yellow as a backdrop.
Bird portrait – runner up – Kwhai river Dawn – Kyle de Nobrega
The infamous Khwai game Reserve adjoining the Okavango Delta is famous for the high density of predators and the congregation of elephant bulls that align its watercourses in the dry season.
Birdlife is prolific and species drawn to water such as this African Openbill feed along the variety of channels that converge into the main Khwai river system. Cool and diffused light predominate in the pre sunrise hour, and the iridescent sheen that is seldom seen in bright light on the feathers of an openbill are exaggerated at dawn. The obliging yet wary hippo set a backdrop as I lay a safe distance from the water’s edge.
Landscape – 3rd place – Hill of Kingdoms – Kyle de Nobrega
There is stretch of ancient sandstone that runs for approximately 250kms east-east along the border of eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. This region is well known to have seen the rise and fall of some of Africa’s greatest kingdoms.
This particular Baobab is known affectionately as Rhodes Baobab as it is thought to have the initials of this great pioneer inscribed in its bark. That aside, this is probably one of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes and the sun setting on the horizon at the perfect spot makes it unrivalled for landscape photographers. Trying to find unique angles and compositions of a well covered subject can be difficult. The shape of this small Rock Fig draw my attention, and only when I was trying to identify what particular rock fig it may be, did I see the potential of this composition. Using a high f-stop I to create the sunburst, the baobab as the focal point and the fig tree as an anchor, the elements all come together as the sun set over this exceptional location.