I last went to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in 1993, although back then I think it was still the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. That’s 20 years ago for the less mathematically inclined amongst us. That was way before I developed a passion for photography, yet I still have vivid memories of the things we saw; the ground squirrels and yellow mongooses in camp, the stately Kori Bustards moving through the riverbeds, and the beautiful red sand of the Kalahari dunes, turning almost the colour of blood as the sun descended in the Western desert sky.
Since moving to the bush and immersing myself in the Lowveld’s flora and fauna at Londolozi, it has always been my desire to return to the desert, and after a number of Londolozi rangers travelled to the Kgalagadi on a couple of different trips over the past year, I decided it was time to travel there myself, so on my last leave a couple of us from Londolozi made the long drive westwards, arriving at the gates of the Park one Thursday evening.
We had left our booking quite late and as a result only managed to stay 4 nights in the park, yet saw fantastic game. The birdlife in particular is very unique to this arid part of the world, and as almost all the watering points are concentrated in the two main riverbeds, the Nossob and the Aoub, the wildlife is concentrated there too.
Cheetahs on a kill vs about 25 blackbacked jackals, enormous Sociable Weavers nests and lionesses hunting on the dunes were just a few of the highlights, but just driving through the incredible stark riverbeds was an experience in itself.
Here are a few photo highlights of the trip…
Many visitors to Londolozi would have seen Fork-Tailed Drongos following herds of large herbivores around, waiting to catch insects stirred up as the animals pass through the grass. They are not averse to scavenging as well, as this one in the Twee Rivieren rest camp shows as it feeds on a dead Sociable Weaver. f4, 1/1600, ISO 400
Red-headed finches, ugly looking birds when you see them up close, are very aware of how vulnerable they are when leaning down to drink at a waterhole. This flock would perch in a nearby Camelthorn tree, quickly dive down to drink for a few seconds, and then flutter back up to the safety of the foliage within a few seconds. The arrival of a Lanner Falcon a few minutes after this photo was taken made their caution justified. f5.6, 1/2000, ISO 200
The ridge-lines and dune-crests of the Kalahari offer some unrivaled opportunities for silhouette and profile photographs, with animals standing out nicely against the blue background. Here, two Gemsbok pause before descending to the Nossob riverbed. f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 100
Ground squirrels are fairly common in the park, and have infact set up colonies in some of the camps. This one was stretching during his early morning forage just outside the gates of Twee Rivieren. f8, 1/3200, ISO 640
Waterholes are the focal points for much activity in the Kalahari. This black-backed jackal had been trying his luck at dove hunting, without much success, so decided to make do with a drink before he trotted off into the dunes. f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 200
A meerkat stands guard over it’s troop. Ever vigilant, these little members of the mongoose family are very aware of danger approaching from the air in particular, and an eagle flying overhead will send them scurrying for safety. f2.8, 1/2500, ISO 125
Birdlife in the Kalahari is very different to that of the Lowveld. Some wonderful raptor species are found there, with the Pale Chanting Goshawk, pictured here, being amongst the more common. f5, 1/4000, ISO 500
A secretary bird that had made its nest atop an abandoned sociable weaver’s nest. These large predatory birds are excellent hunters, often stunning prey by stamping on it with powerful legs, then moving in to finish it off with their sharp beaks. f5, 1/2000, ISO 800
Sociable Weavers build some of the most impressive nests in the world. The nests are cunningly designed with the entrances underneath to make it much harder for predators to gain access. f4, 1/2000, ISO 1000
A Speckled pigeon perches above the Orange River Gorge below the Augrabies Falls. f4, 1/3200, ISO 160
Dawn light filters through the dust kicked up by a herd of wildebeest as they feed in the Auob Riverbed. f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 100
A wildebeest scrapes the ground, marking territory with his interdigital glands and stirring up the dust in the Nossob Riverbed on a windy evening. f5, 1/1000, ISO 800
A herd of Burchell’s Zebra enjoy the sunset from a dune crest overlooking the Tswalu Game Reserve. f5.6, 1/1600, ISO 200
A cheetah chases off two black-backed jackals that had strayed too close to its kill. Two cheetahs (the other one can just be seen feeding on the carcass in the bottom left of the screen) had brought down this wildebeest minutes before we arrived, and we watched them throughout the day as an ever-increasing number of jackals arrived to torment them, eventually driving the two cats away just before sunset. f7.1, 1/2000, IS0 400
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell