Community | Jun 2022

OBSERVING NATURE AT TSWALU

Written by Field Guide, Barry Peiser

Wildlife photography was Barry Peiser’s focus throughout the autumn and winter of 2020, while living and working on the reserve during South Africa’s lockdown. In an unusual year for tourism, characterised by travel bans and fewer guests, he took the opportunity to document the dramatic changes to the landscape and record some of the iconic wildlife sightings. His creative and inspiring visual content was, and continues to be, shared with the Tswalu community and on social media.

During lockdown in South Africa, I had the luxury of time to spend hours in different locations at Tswalu Kalahari with my camera. On many clear, cold winter days, I camped out under a warm blanket next to a waterhole waiting for birds and animals to come down to the water’s edge to bathe and drink.

One morning, I was surprised by a giraffe silently appearing close to me. Seemingly unperturbed by my presence, this beautiful creature inched closer. The giraffe must have seen me long before I saw her. After watching me for some time, and realising that I was not going to spring to my feet and chase her, she approached the water. Just when I thought this was a treat, another giraffe appeared to my right, followed by another, all heading to the water. The calves were hesitant, less sure, staring down at me as giraffes do. Eventually I counted around 13 giraffe and spent the next hour watching and appreciating their presence. What a privilege to be with these incredible animals as they found their place at the water’s edge, spreading their long front legs awkwardly to reach down and drink with loud slurps. Warthog and oryx (gemsbok) followed, finding their place between the giraffe. Immersed in nature, observing the sounds and sights of different wildlife sharing space, was therapeutic and a reminder of what is important to me. Despite everything to do with the pandemic that was going on in the world beyond Tswalu, I was able to just ‘be’ and appreciate the beauty and the time alone in nature.

 

A journey of giraffe by Barry Peiser

 

I believe we see differently when we have time to linger and appreciate the colours, textures, shapes and sounds around us in the natural world. Against the earth tones of arid savannah, so typical of the southern Kalahari, a Crimson breasted shrike and the iridescence of a Cape glossy starling stand out (below left). Then there are the blue skies and colourful clouds at sunset.

 

The resilient landscapes of Tswalu

 

Observing the changes in the seasons becomes another marker of time, especially when you’re in a place like the Kalahari known for its extremes. The end of lockdown coincided with drought-breaking rainfall in the Northern Cape, transforming Tswalu from dry and dusty to the abundance and lushness associated with the Green Kalahari. Plenty of rain in summer 2020 was followed by even more rain in 2021. The resilience of the environment to bounce back from bare, sandy landscapes to grass a metre high was as refreshing to witness as the rains brought by dramatic thunderstorms that swept over the Korannaberg and the dunes in the west.

Before the rains transformed everything, typically elusive animals were unable to hide and were more easily tracked due to the absence of grass cover, but there were so many benefits. I saw animals fattening up on good grazing and lots of new life, from meerkat pups swelling the size of family groups to playful lion cubs. I even tolerated the explosion of armoured ground crickets and was fascinated by the swarm of brown locusts that flew over the reserve from south to north in huge clouds. I saw birds that have never been recorded at Tswalu before, and was able to share many of these sightings with my guests.

 

Elusive animals are more easily seen in the winter landscape

 

I have grown to love this ancient land, the Kalahari, a land of ‘great thirst’, where watching animals survive and thrive through seasonal extremes is humbling.

In the 10 years that I’ve guided guests at Tswalu, I still appreciate the wide, open spaces and the immense skies, the landscapes that draw my focus and make me daydream, and the stars at night that leave me in awe of the wonders of our world. Spending time in the Kalahari fills my soul with continued hope.

 

All images by Barry Peiser. Follow Tswalu on Instagram to see more of Barry’s images and videos. Read more stories from our guides in our Wildlife Journal.

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