5. First Full Drive

Waking up above the savannah as dawn appears is a joy. With no clouds in the sky there’s no big drama to it, just the subtle rise of light, and with it a somewhat colored Eastern sky. 

Out at the water hole a lone elephant is doing its morning ablutions. The sun rises behind the platforms, so the animals at the watering hole itself are nicely lit from the front. Here’s what the top of the platforms looks like this morning:

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Besides taking a few photos of the setting, I use this time to do a quick AF Fine Tune. If you know what you’re doing and what to look for, you don’t need a test chart. After a few minutes, I’ve decided upon +8, which seems about right for what I thought I saw through the viewfinder.

Fortunately, moments later two jackal came down to the water allowing me to test and verify my tuning. Sure enough, +8 looks quite good. If it’s not right, the correct value can’t be more than one on either side of it. 

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After some morning photography from the platforms and a hearty campfire breakfast, it’s off for the first true game drive of the trip. With the morning temperature being so cold, even the doves aren’t making noise at 9am: everything is still asleep or waiting to warm up. Other than a couple of elephant and a couple of birds, not much is up and moving.

We decide to do a bit of driving and cross over to an area where we know there’s a wild dog den with pups. Sure enough, the dogs are there, though it’s just the adults taking naps while the pups are still down in the den. 

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While we sit on the site for over an hour along with some other vehicles, all we get is some minimal dog action that occurs as the adults overheat in the sun and then move to the shade; but then they get too cool in the shade and move back into the sun. This goes ad finitum. 

So we break for lunch and a mid-day rest, and will head back out later this afternoon.

As I write this, a squirrel chase has suddenly started here on the lounge deck. We’re careful enough to not leave any scraps from lunch, but that won’t stop them from making sure. But apparently this part of the lounge is contested territory, so while one group has come from the West via the air, another group appeared on the ground from the East. Thus the chasing. (Minutes later: the Eastern group has prevailed, pushing the air invaders back out into the pan from whence they came.) 

(Excuse me a moment, two elephants have shown up at the watering hole right in front of the lounge area where I’m sitting typing this. Picks up camera, presses shutter release…goes back to writing...) 

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After lunch it was back to the wild dog den. 

The pups weren’t out yet, but we decided to wait and see what happens. All the other vehicles that had been there have left. And then I saw it: the two moms running towards each other heads low to the ground and with their jaws open while making some sort of rumbling growl. This is the sign that it’s time to bring out the pups, and that’s exactly what happened next. Wild dog pups boiled out of the ground and suddenly we had a dozen new active subjects to shoot.

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For most of the afternoon, Tony and I were in wild dog pup heaven. As in probably thousands of shots. We saw disciplining (top image), we saw playing, we saw general wandering and curiosity, we saw plenty of pup interactions (bottom images). All this lasted quite some time, and we pretty much had it all to ourselves the entire time. Our most difficult problem was getting the vehicle re-positioned with clear views as the pups gallivanted all over the landscape around us. 

All good things must come to an end, though, and eventually the parents got up and called the pups out on a mock hunt and the den area became quiet and abandoned. We eventually left to go explore other areas in Khwai, but really didn’t see anything of great interest. Certainly nothing as interesting and productive as the wild dog pups had been. 

On the way back to the lodge, we got a nice post sunset three planet alignment with the newish moon (hard to see in this quick JPEG I took with my shirt pocket camera). An enjoyable end to an enjoyable day.

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