Day Two – Nechisar National Park. What’s a Dik-Dik?

by John Downey

Drove a mere 100km yesteray but took 8.5 hours to do it, in Nechisar NP, verdant host to the Plains Zebra, Grants Gazelle, Olive Baboon, Black Backed Jackal, and numerous other species.  Not just a great day for photography, but spending time with family and sharing some one-of-a-kind experiences on the high plains inside the park was fantastic.

We hired a Tillahun, an Ethiopian Defense Force sergeant, equipped with an old Russian SKS and eight 5.56 rounds – better served as mantle relics.  His English was marginal, but then again, our Amharic is less, so we learned a few new words along the drive, like wontz (river) and wudegra (go right).

One downside – when he asked if we wanted to see another section of the park and we agreed, he got out and led us off-trail for an hour, into the middle of a grass-covered lava bed, full of holes and deep ruts, which was a bit unnerving (and at times, boring) but we made it back in one piece.

Driving midday is the worst time for viewing wildlife.  Following the previous day’s drive, we all needed rest and got a late start.  Safaris should always be made around feeding time, dawn or dusk.  On our way back in the afternoon, there were twice as many things eating or being eaten than when we left.

Couple of photography issues came to mind today, especially related to a late start.  If you’re pressed to shoot in harsh, midday sun, marked by strong shadows and blown-out highlights, lower the in-camera contrast setting to its lowest.  In post, you can go back and adjust the middtone contrast to pull everything back together.

Zooming out to show wildlife habitat is just as convincing as getting a close up of a head shot (you can do that in a zoo).  Even with a 200mm lens, I could only get  so close – the animals in Nechisar are not as habituated to tourists as in Kenyan game parks.

I felt like I was close enough (within 100m) of these hippos. Better to not push my luck with an animal the size of a Landcruiser, equipped with front tusks that are more like horseshoe stakes.  One of the best scenes was watching Ella’s jaw drop when we heard the hippos grunt – bass deep enough to resonate all the way to the back of the spine.

So, what is a Dik-dik anyway?  It’s a small antelope about the size and weight of a medium house cat, deriving its name from short, sharp “dik-dik” warning calls.  I didn’t get any good shots of one out in the open, but this one shows the underbrush where it feeds off shrubs, which worked out well anyway.  For this shot, using auto focus would only cause bouts of Turrets disease, so I switched to manual to get him clear behind the underbrush.  Chigger yelim (no problem)!

Today, Day Three – on our way, 300km southeast to Jinka.

Cheers from Arba Minch,

John

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