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Bushveld Big Brother

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Camera trap action from a Lowveld birdbath

 

Words and photos by Villiers Steyn 

There are few things more exciting than downloading photos from a camera trap. Being able to see which creatures visited your campsite, waterhole or, in our case, the garden birdbath while you were out or asleep is exhilarating and, sometimes, simply mind-blowing. And ours isn’t just any old garden birdbath. It’s the width of a Daihatsu Terios’s boot and located in the heart of the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate, which is home to giraffe, kudu, impala and other general game. Or at least that’s what you think when you drive around the property… But wait until you see what else calls this estate home!

Aerial view of our garden in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate.
camera trap setup the Bushnell Trophy Cam next to The Pub

We got a Bushnell Trophy Cam HD Max Black LED camera trap as a wedding present late in March this year and since April we’ve been recording all the action at “The Pub”, our name for the birdbath, which is strategically placed in our garden. At first we set it to take photos, but almost immediately changed our mind and decided to have it record videos instead. Every time a bird or animal walks in front of the camera, it records a 20-second video clip, and the results have been astounding!

Warthogs lying in small waterhole
Aardvark quenches its thirst at waterhole
Vervet monkey drinking water from small waterhole

In the first week we recorded loads of birds and general game, but also genet, civet, porcupine and not one, but two different aardvark! A slit in the one’s ear helped us to differentiate between the two. Over the last three months we have recorded 22 different mammal species, including surprise visits from a water- and white-tailed mongoose.

Big Boy, the leopard, lies down for an early morning drink from small waterhole

As much as we enjoy capturing aardvark, the highlight has been filming two different leopards coming down to drink – a female and the local big male, Big Boy. On one occasion the female brushed the tip of her tail through low-hanging leaves above the birdbath, only for the male to go absolutely gaga five nights later when he came around on patrol. He smelled the leaves first and then reared up onto his hind legs to ‘hug’ the foliage and get his scent all over the obvious marking station. A month later he was back to do exactly the same thing. You can watch the action on Youtube here.

Civet drinking water from the small waterhole at night
Wildebeest come down to drink right throughout the day and night.
 go-away-bird and common duiker keep each other company at waterhole

Birds also frequent The Pub. We’ve captured crested barbets, southern black tits, arrow-marked babblers and even pearl-spotted- and barred owlets bathing, as well as spotted thick-knees and bronze-winged coursers at night.

Learning more about the area’s wildlife movements, especially under the cover of darkness, has been a real privilege and to do so without any impact or disturbance to the animals makes it even more rewarding. So if you, like us, have been uhm-ing and ah-ing about whether or not it’s worth buying a camera trap, I can say with absolute certainty, no matter where you are, just do it! You never know who you might find visiting your garden.

A herd of zebra can easily finish the water in one go
Porcupines are some of the most regular visitors at the waterhole at night
Two warthogs drinking from small waterhole

What makes the Bushnell Trophy Cam special?

Yes, it’s one of the more expensive units, but the quality is incredible, both photos and video!

After more than three months and 1000’s of video clips it’s still on its first set of batteries.

We bought the following model in the USA: http://www.amazon.com/Bushnell-Trophy-Camera-Vision-119576C/dp/B00AU6DZZG, but you can contact Chris Pearson on chris@cameratrap.co.za to order one in South Africa. He will also be able to help you with any technical questions about specific camera trap models.

All camera trap photos are screenshots from the video footage.

A pair of crested francolins on the edge of The Pub

About the Author:

Villiers Steyn is a freelance travel- and wildlife photographer based in Hoedspruit, South Africa. He leads photographic safaris for Tusk Photo and has had his work published in leading travel magazines, including go!, DriveOut, Getaway, Country Life and Travel Africa.

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