Seen from a hide
Much can happen in a day in the arid surrounds of Bushmanland...
To get good photographs of birds, one cannot simply rely on a lucky occurrence now and again. I have throughout my almost lifelong involvement in bird photography always put up a hide whenever I found an interesting nest. These hides sometimes required some ingenuity: one was on top of a pole 25 metres high (to get the first-ever pictures of the Palm-nut Vulture on its nest on top of a palm tree); others were in trees or secured against rock faces. Once a hide was up, the birds would normally accept it and go about their business, allowing one to take pictures of their behaviour.
Sitting in a hide, of course, requires patience, and then some more patience. If the birds leave their nest to hunt during the day, one can work in relays, but often it simply means sitting in a cramped space for the entire day, often for a number of days to record, for instance, the hatching and fledging process. When I was trying to get a picture of the furtive Buff-spotted Flufftail, which had not been photographed at that stage, I spent a total of 118 hours in a hide spread over many days (when the bird finally did appear, I had time for exactly one exposure!).
The pictures on these and the following pages record a day in a hide in Bushmanland, a land of many surprises. [In the magazine the article ran over four pages.]
On a piece of land of about 5 hectares, amongst many clay and rocky ridges, I put up a hide at the nests of a Double-banded Courser and a Blackbacked Sparrowlark about 3 metres apart. There were also holes of small animals in the soft sand.
I went in the hide just before sunrise, and 5 minutes later the first animal to pop up from his borough was a striped ground squirrel. He ran off into the veld. The birds were still sitting on their nests. Ten minutes later the ground squirrel came back carrying a donkey dropping in his mouth. Then the female squirrel popped out and grabbed the dropping, which she immediately started eating, with a sound like someone eating potato crisps. In a few minutes she had devoured the titbit.
Then next to pop up was a yellow mongoose. It immediately ran off to the veld. Meanwhile the birds were just sitting. Then out popped a suricate (meerkat). The sun was beginning to warm things now, so I thought it was just sunning itself. Then out popped number two and so on, one at a time, until there were six in a row. Then I realized they were looking at something just past my hide. After 5 minutes of them staring at something, I could not help but risk swinging my camera round to try and see what was going on. I focused just in time to see what was happening.
The male squirrel had not run off into the veld to collect a donkey dropping just for fun; he was now collecting his reward for hard work.
By this time the temperature had risen to over 40°C. In the shade of the only big acacia tree for 25 kilometres around, a herd of springbok were sheltering from the sun. As the sun moved, so the springbok moved to stay in the shade. This went on until late in the afternoon, when they moved out to go and feed. I watched the goings-on until sunset and then I was called when my transport home had arrived. Thus ended another wonderful day waiting in a hide in Bushmanland!
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