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Two in One


Having lived in Africa my whole life and not having seen, let alone photograph, two of Africa's creatures was driving me in insane (especially since my profession involves photographing wildlife duh!). From the age of 10 years old I have been a keen bird watcher and Southern Africa has only one Owl that fishes. I had been searching for the Pel's Fishing Owl for over twenty years and when I finally found it, was worth the weight (keep reading below). Then, even more frustrating than the elusive Pel's, I have endured years of torment at the hands of a mystical creature called a Pangolin (and at the hands of anyone else who had in fact seen one). This creature (more of a phantom really) is a nocturnal denizen of the bush and even though I moved to the bush at the age of 18 years, it took me another 18 to find my own Pangolin...


'My' Pel's

I was preparing for my trip to the Okavango Delta and checking the moon calendar; I could hardly contain my excitement when I realised that my trip was coinciding not just with a full moon, but a rare 'super moon'. 'August is far into the dry season and the bush fires would be in full swing', I thought. This meant that the super moon might also be a 'blood moon' due to all the smoke in the air. I knew that the camp that I was staying in had a resident pair of Pel's Fishing Owls that hung around camp. I knew this because I had searched in this same camp for them before, and I had come up with the same result as the previous 20 years - absolutely nada! Lying in the pilot's tent the evening prior, I knew that the next morning would be my best chance to get a photo as the moon would be setting at around 5am in the west and that the sun would only be rising much later. I set my alarm clock for 4am and it seemed a little odd that although I was pursuing an avian subject, I was waking up long before the birds. You see, the Pel's fishing owl is nocturnal and it is more importantly (or more frustratingly) the rarest owl in Southern Africa. An interesting side note is that it is also the only large owl that makes a noise when it flies. All our other owls have a frayed leading edge to their wing that allows for perfectly silent flight so that they can swoop down on their prey. But, since fishes don't have ears, the Pel's swoops down like a Boeing with the air roaring over its wings. By the way, Boeing jets stay in the air the same way birds do, but that is an entirely different conversation for another time. Climbing off the deck of my tent and into the marsh below was not all that pleasant but scanning the tree branches above me I noticed two large silhouettes. I had been fooled, numerous times, by silhouettes of large owls which had disappointed me in being only eagle owls (not that they aren't wonderful but you know what I mean). I gingerly switched my torch on and shone up at the grey shapes. My torch's beam revealed two distinctly tawny blobs and my heart skipped a beat. Memories flooded in of the numerous occasions in my life where I developed a crick in my neck looking for what was now sitting right above me. The moment of elation was however short lived as I now need to get an image of my subjects with the setting moon. I moved around ever so slowly and got into position. Strapping my torch to my lens's hood and adjusting my flash setting, I took about 1000 frames (not that I was counting). Just as my buffer was about to blow up in my hands, one of the owl's swooped down to catch a fish and returned to a different and even better perch. It so rarely works out for a wildlife photographer as we have zero control over almost everything (including birds and moons) so this shot was a rare and personal victory. When my guide greeted me standing around the morning fire with a coffee in my hand, he must have spotted the big grin on my face in the light of the flickering flames as he asked why I looked so happy? "Naa, just love coffee", I said, not yet able to put my feelings into words.


Curiosity and the Cat
 
 I am an African by birth and I have been visiting the bush on holidays since before I could walk. What’s more, I had spent the last 18 years working in the safari industry, and I had never ever seen a pangolin (not a single #%^ one). As far as I was concerned the pangolin was a mythical beast that existed only in the minds of my safari guide colleagues, who seemed to always magically spot one after sun-downers. 'Maybe one too many sun-downers' was my standard retort. That was until one evening, when we approached a pride of lion who were just starting to wake. All, that is, except this young cub who was already very awake, seemingly preoccupied with a rock? Lifting my binoculars to my face, I noticed that the rock had scales! Hardly able to control my excitement I grabbed my camera and began photographing frantically, while yelling at the top of my voice "It has scales, that rock has SCALES"! I had the mystical beast in my sights, it DID in fact exist and the look of curiosity on my face was similar to this young male lion's. I know it is said that curiosity killed the cat but in this case it appeared as if the pangolin was the one in the proverbial hot water. As evidenced by the adult lions of the same pride, that completely ignored the pangolin, the young cub’s inquisitive nature was simply getting the better of him, as the pangolin remained impenetrable. So now, I need to set my sites on another even rarer creature but which one? I have heard rumours of a Tree Pangolin residing in the impenetrable jungles of West Africa? Am I a sucker for torture or what!

The end.
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