The wetlands of the Okavango River in northern Namibia was recently declared as a Ramsar conservation bird area. This means it's a area of international significance for the protection and conservation of local birds. This is wonderful news as it means these birds will probably be there for our kids to see one day. In this area there are about 420 species of birds. And boy are there a few colourful ones. The best part of the day is when the chorus of birds wake you up in the morning with their wonderful and unique songs. To live among these fantastic birds make you realise how lucky we are to part of creation.
Carmine Bee eater
White Fronted Bee eater
The majestic African Fish Eagle
A juvenile Saddle Billed Stork
Blue -Cheeked Bee -eater
Red Winged Pranticole
Wildlife photography is a game of patience, patience and yes more patience. Once in a while something extraordinary happens and you are lucky enough to witness and capture it. Then there is the once in a lifetime event not only once in your own lifetime but in anybody's lifetime. When something like this happens to you, you feel humbled and extremely lucky. Well this is exactly what happened to me.
This is my story:
As a family we decided to spend my farther's 70th birthday at Erindi Private Game Reserve. We love camping and we really had a super time enjoying some rare family time. My mother was recently diagnosed with Parkinsons disease and any time possible is special time spent with the folks.
On Sunday 13 October 2013 we decided to treat our parents for a Sunday lunch at the upmarket lodge about 25 km from our campsite. It was an extremely hot spring day and we sat on the wooden deck overlooking the waterhole . The hippos were lazing around in the cool water and the crocks were lying on the banks totally immobile catching some sun. After lunch the tourists and my parents decided to go for a siesta. Bonnie, my fiance, my brother Herbie, Louis my fiance's son and I decided to walk around the waterhole to get some shots of the hippos. We were sitting there for about an hour sipping on a good Chardonay with the sun beating down on us when we were about to call it a day the Erindi staff came with their truck with feed for the hippos. Namibia is currently in a severe drought and there is absolutely nothing for the hippos to eat. As soon as the hippos heard the truck they started making their way out of the water and up the bank where they found the sweet fresh grass.
They were happily grazing when a big elephant bull appeared from the nearby bush. It almost seemed as if the elephant was smelling the grass and ran close to where the hippos were feeding.
He started grazing amongst the hippos although both kept their distances. The elephant made a few mock charges when the hippos ventured to close to him.
Elephant mock charges towards the hippos
This went on for a while. I could see the old bull was getting more and more agitated. The feed was getting less and the space was getting smaller.
Then came the big event. This time mother hippo with her young one ventured too close to the bull. We thought it would be another mock charge but this time the elephant had another agenda. It started charging with real intent. Mother hippo was standing her ground while the baby hippo started scampering away.
Elephant hippo charging while mother hippo stood her ground. Then came the hit.....Bang!!
This all happened in my viewfinder so fast, but I just kept my finger on the shutter. The hit was loud and vibrating in the hot stifled air. I didn't really realise what was happening, all I knew was that this was something special. The entire event happened only in a few seconds although it felt like a long time. It was as though time stood still for a while respecting this standoff between these two heavyweights.
As if mother hippo is asking, what are you doing?
While chewing grass, rolling over...
....rolling down the hill....
The mother flipped over with a big thump and quickly tried to roll over to her feet. The sound of this was overwhelming and the ground vibrated from where we were standing a mere 25 m away. After regaining her footing she quickly ran into the water. Baby hippo which ran in the other direction was now a distance away from its mother. The mother stayed in the water for about 5 min and then reappeared with a minor scratch on her side and soon reunited with her calf.
We were standing there for a while absorbing what had just happened. I felt for the mother hippo but also realised that this is nature and that it can be really cruel at times. I realised how strong this mother hippo's love for her calf is to do something this daring. I also realised that this was a once in a lifetime experience .
The elephant bull continued grazing and eventually moved down to the water making a few crocodiles extremely uncomfortable.
The other hippos soon started showing extreme aggression towards the mother and baby hippo as to ask her why did you let that happen. Mother and baby moved to the side keeping their distance from the others.
The other hippos showing aggression towards mother hippo.
Crocodile: " You're on my turf, mate."
Elephant bull taking a dust bath after the ordeal.
Exciting things happened after I captured this event. The publicity was enormous. The story made news in 6 UK papers and others all around the world. It changed my life in a real way. It made me realise that this is what I want to do with my life. As until now I am a GP in a small town in Namibia, taking photos in my spare time. Now I really need to make more time to get into the bush trying to find the next special wildlife event. I am under no illusions. Something like this will probably never happen to me on this scale again, but if I don't go out there looking for it I will never know. Join me on my journey. I'm so excited!
Last weekend I again was truly blessed to be on my little boat on the magical Okavango River. I was there to find the colourful Carmine bee-eaters which come once a year to make their nests in sandbanks on the river. I also was given a show from the other river inhabitants. I also found the African Skimmers nesting on a small island. These birds are facing extinction due to overgrazing and local fishermen. I was lucky enough to see them mating. I just love it to be close to these lovely creatures.
African Skimmers foreplay
African Skimmer in flight
African Skimmers mating
Hop on mate
White faced ducks
Peeking Camine bee-eater
Up up and away
Grey Heron for lift off
And what will images of the Okavango River be without a hippo?
....and now I'm going to have a snooze.
Last week I had the privilege to visit the sewerage works in Walvisbay. Well it doesn't sound very idilic if you call it like that. Well it is actually the clean runoff water that comes from the sewerage plant. In reality it is a water bird paradise. The kaleidoscope of colours are absolutely mind blowing. There are tens of thousands of greater and lesser flamingoes, pelicans, black winged stilts, plovers and all sorts of other waterbirds . Then for the backdrop you get the majestic dunes of the Namib desert. What more do want if you like visual stimulations?
Lesser Flamingo coming into land.
Lesser Flamingoes with the dunes growing out of the water.
Lesser Flamingo in flight.
Black Winged Stilt in flight.
Single Flamingo in a dune oasis.
Grey Headed Gulls in flight
Lesser and greater Flamingoes with the Namib desert as a backdrop.
A water bird oasis
Hartlaub's Gull in flight
Lesser Flamingoes ready for take off.
Coming in for the landing.
My name is Rian van Schalkwyk and this is my website. I trust you find it interesting so far. My passion for the outdoors basically began at a really early age, not as much as actively taking photos, but having a fondness for the estetic scenes around me in nature and enjoying the interaction with animals.
For the past 11 years I have been working as a family doctor in a small town called Rundu on the Okavango river in northern Namibia. For the first 9 of these 11 years I was in a sole practice and didn't have much time for anything else but work. Two years ago I amalgamated with the other practice in town and then since realised I had more time available to pursue my dreams. One thing about photography is, one needs time to do it well. I then decided, wait a minute, why not capture these amazing animals, birds and insects right here on my doorstep.
I completed a photography course on the internet to get started on the finer aspects of capturing photos. From then onwards I began photographing the birdlife around my house. Slowly but surely I got to grips of what and what not to do in photography. I also then started following a few great wildlife photographers on the net. I progressed on to photographing wildlife. On a regular basis I visit nature parks in Namibia to do what I enjoy most.
My journey has only just started. I can't wait to get out into the bush again to capture the next beautiful moment.
Enjoy my site and the journey.