Nelis Wolmarans is a South African Wildlife photographer and the Grand Prize Winner of the 2018 Windland Smith Rice International Awards photo competition. He has been my guide for several birding trips to African countries and has also become a dear friend. He has taken the time to thoughtfully contribute some of his advice in order to get the best bird photos. Nelis has contributed to other posts on our blog, Basic Tips for Bird Photography and Advanced Tips for Bird Photography.
On the search for African Owls
Rona, Owen and myself arrived at our 2nd property on a two-week Botswana photo safari, the beautiful Kwetsani. The camp is located in the center of the game rich Jao Concession in Botswana’s world-renowned Okavango Delta. After check-in and lunch, we left for our first afternoon safari. We spotted a large Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, which made for great photo opportunities. As we drove away, Owen mentioned very excitedly just how much he loves owls and was hoping we would find a few more owl species to photograph. Be careful what you wish for!
African Barred Owlet Starts Calling
Our first of the three nights here was awarded with a good night’s sleep and that was, unfortunately, the last. We sat down for dinner on our second night and we could hear the repetitive call of an African Barred Owlet. It was beautiful and exciting at first but became a bit much after a while. After dinner, Rona and Owen settled in for the night in their elevated tent, mine was right next to theirs. Unbeknown to us, the little Owlet from dinner also settled in for the night, returning to his favorite spot, a dry branch right above Owen and Rona’s tent.
Oh boy!!! This little guy had a set of lungs on him and an incurable case of verbal diarrhea. He did not shut up, not even for a second. I eventually buried my head under two pillows, almost suffocating myself and yet the high-pitch screeching was still annoyingly audible. It was a long night. Bleary-eyed I stumbled out of my bedroom at daybreak. At the same time, Owen and Rona emerged from their accommodation and it was evident that they had suffered the same fate. African Barred Owlet 1 and Owen, Rona and Nelis 0.
The ordeal from the night made up for most of the conversation during breakfast and well into our morning drive. The rest of the day went along beautifully and amongst all the colorful bird photography, we were treated to a beautiful leopard sighting and soon the suffering of the night before faded from our memories.
An Exhausting Day of Bird Photography
What an amazing first full day here. Pretty exhausted, we opted for an early dinner and an attempt to make up for the lack of sleep from the night before. I had barely dozed off when an all too familiar broadcast filled the room, he was back! Enough was enough. I made my way to the main lodge and asked the manager if they perhaps had other rooms open, so as to offer Owen and Rona with an alternative away from this tenacious little feather-ball. Unfortunately for us, the camp was full and we were going to have to grin and bear it.
Squirt Gun vs. Owl
I spotted a rather large kiddies’ water pistol sticking out from behind the bar counter. I asked the manager if I could borrow this until the morning to which he happily agreed. Filled with water to the brim, I was going to be quick to resolve this dilemma, or so I thought. Perched on his branch-like he owned it, the little devil glared down at me. I took aim and much to my surprise, amongst all of his other abilities, this little owlet had amazing reflexes as well. He would simply lean to the side to avoid the water or at best scoot over a few inches. Unbelievable! I almost got the impression that he found this rather entertaining.
In a height of frustration and no other alternatives, I lobbed my shoe at it and man was my aim off. Now we have a screeching owlet and I was down a shoe. I hobbled to my room, shut everything up as tight as possible and prepared for another sleepless night. I kept telling myself that it was only one more sleep, just one more sleep. We all woke up the next morning, less amused but looking forward to a strong coffee and a good breakfast. To lighten the mood, we were greeted by the best morning light and trees filled with birdlife. Seems that there is some truth to the silver-lining prophecy. Before departing, Owen and myself left Rona at breakfast and found a comfortable spot in the boma (An outside dining area with a large firepit as a centerpiece, surrounded with old tree stumps). We had birds flying in and out and made for very enjoyable photography. Here, we photographed, Dark-capped Bulbul, Crested Barbet, Kurrichane Thrush and Arrow-marked Babblers to name a few. All-in-all a very enjoyable stay and great photo-opportunities.