Crested Guineafowl

The Best of 2022 ~ A Year in Wildlife Photographs

Thank you so much for subscribing to my newsletters! The feedback, encouragement and engagement over the last 25 editions has been far more than I could ever have hoped for. It is such a privilege to share my passion and love for birds, Africa and photography with you! I hope that my future newsletters will continue to create awareness for our birds, encourage and inspire fellow photographers and hopefully leave a positive deposit behind, however small it may be.

2022 has been a remarkable year for Eileen, Joshua and I. At the end of 2021 I resigned from my job as the CEO of a Fintech business in South Africa. From a family perspective, we wanted to use this time to focus on the really important things; our faith, each other, our health and the desires we have had on our hearts for over a decade.

I can honestly say that it has been one of the most meaningful years of my life and one in which I have grown and changed the most. Time is such a valuable commodity! Time to pray, think, connect, be still, be present, listen, dream and start taking small steps in what feels like the right direction. Although the future is still a little hazy, albeit becoming clearer, I am so grateful for the decision and for the unbelievable privilege of this time.

The newsletter that follows looks back at the year that was in wildlife pictures and reveals some of my most memorable moments in nature. As always, I look forward to hearing what you think?!

Please Vote! Wildlife Photographer of the Year ~ People’s Choice

Before we take a trip down memory lane, however, please do me a huge favour and consider voting in Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s People’s Choice Award. Winning this would be the cherry on top of a dream come true! You can vote for my image of the Crested Guineafowl titled “That’s the spot!” at the following link: The People’s Choice Award

When I was teenager my Dad and Mom took me to the Natural History Museum in London. One of the standout memories from that visit was their exhibition showing the winning images from Wildlife Photographer of the Year. They were truly remarkable and captured my imagination. Hence, when I started to develop as a wildlife photographer, I often wondered whether an image of mine would ever make it into those famed halls. This year that dream was realised when I received an email saying “Your image will be digitally displayed in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London.”

My image has been chosen as one of the 25 images for the People’s Choice Award. Photographs were chosen from 38,575 entries across 93 countries. Based on your vote, the top five images will be displayed online, joining the winners of the fifty-eighth competition announced earlier this year and chosen by an esteemed panel of judges!

Please join in the voting!

The Best of 2022 (and a little of 2021)
My year in pictures!

I thought it would be both meaningful and fun to add a few months to my year in pictures and include the months of October, November and December 2021. October 2021 marks the start of my break from the corporate world and this three month period brought some incredible moments and memories. So here goes!

My time could not have gotten off to a better start from a bird photography perspective! I still can’t believe that this elusive bird; probably one of the toughest birds to see and photograph in southern Africa, literally walked into my viewfinder while I was trying to capture the environment I had seen it walk past some minutes earlier. I don’t think I will ever try to photograph a Striped Flufftail again, as I seriously don’t believe this will happen twice. Thanks again to the Mbona Nature Reserve board and Adam Riley for allowing me the privilege of photographing birds in this magical reserve. It was a wonderful oasis and I not only took away some wonderful photographs but also some deep revelations of the heart. Talking of Adam Riley, if you haven’t seen his latest book on the “Birds of South Africa”, it is a great addition to any birding library, awesome for birders starting off and covers 340 of the most regularly seen birds in our country. (You can find it here: Birds of South Africa by Adam Riley)

October and early November brought some awesome moments with my family as I got to be immersed in all of Joshua’s daily routine; early morning card games, school drop offs, homework, family dinners, sport, night time reading and wrestling and so much more. I also had plenty of time to explore some lesser known patches of the Natal Midlands with no-one else around, as I could go mid-week. Time without disturbance is a wonderful catalyst for creativity and awesome moments. One such moment took place while birding the Lower Mpushini Conservancy near Pietermaritzburg where I bumped into this very affectionate pair of Turacos. At the time I knew it was a special moment but had no idea it would appear in publications across the world in September this year. This image also led to a recent article I wrote for Nature TTL on the “Best Bird Photography Locations in Africa”.

After a month at home with Eileen and Joshua, I was blessed to go on a three week adventure to the Pafuri and Punda Maria regions of the Kruger National Park. This was a trip I have always wanted to embark on and allowed for some deep soul searching as well as some incredible moments with some of Africa’s most iconic birds and cats. For the first two weeks I decided to stay on my own at Punda Maria rest camp. I wanted to be still (i.e. not have to talk to anyone at all) and be free to go wherever the wind blew. One afternoon this meant following a flock of Crested Guineafowls around camp. I would walk ahead of them and just lie down and wait for them to move slowly towards me. They became very relaxed in my presence; to the point that a pair of them shared a hilarious moment a few paces from my camera. Little did I know that this image was going to help fulfill a childhood dream and be my most awarded image to date. Besides the guineafowls, I also had some very special moments with some of Africa’s cats; including the very alert African Wild Cat pictured above.

After two weeks in Punda Maria and before departing to Pafuri I sent a WhatsApp to my partner in crime and now friend; Warren Deyzel, with a list of six birds I hoped to photograph while staying at the Pafuri Border camp. I felt to include not just the bird but also the background and scene I hoped to capture. I still laugh at Warren’s reply when we met up “Rich, what is with the backgrounds and stuff, these birds are hard enough to see let alone decide on the details of how you want to photograph them”. This was one of the six scenes I WhatsApped Warren: “Pels fishing owl perched and framed (ideally during the day in a yellow fever forest but more likely in the evening on a river bank tree)”. I didn’t capture him during the day but I don’t think I should complain!

Another scene was a “Racket tailed roller interacting with another (at a nest site) with exquisite light and mopane hues”. Although I only got a photograph of one Racket-tailed Roller interacting at a nest site, you have to give some credit for the boldness of the vision, especially when these birds hadn’t been seen for a few weeks before our arrival. I still remember Mandla’s words when I showed him this image; “Richard, God is with you”. As much as the trip was about bird photography, it was just as much about new friendships and meaningful connections.

An additional ambition for the trip was to take images that would show off the magnificent Mopane Woodlands, which make up a large portion of northern Kruger. This was no easy task as anyone familiar with Mopane will know that it is not famous for its volume of animals or bird sightings. Persistence, however, eventually beat resistance and I was able to capture a few frames of this Magpie or Long-tailed Shrike in perfect habitat. The scene and the delightful shades of red, yellow, green and orange encapsulate so much of what I love about this unique biome.

Over the last three years I have had the incredible fortune and privilege of building a friendship with John and Jen Robinson; the custodians of Benvie Gardens in the Karkloof. Benvie is undoubtedly the best place in the world to find and photograph Orange Ground Thrushes and is only an hour from my home in the Midlands. Hence, with more time on my hands I spoke to John about doing a photographic project on the thrushes during their breeding season. I got my first call in August to say that the first eggs had been laid and from that early start we found another 6 nests within the boundaries of the gardens and farm. I got to see just about every aspect of the breeding process; from incubation to nest bound chicks to hungry fledglings chasing after their parents in search of worms. It was a truly fantastic experience and one I got to share with John as well as my good friend and fellow photographer; Skye Hartog. I will not soon forget the first day Skye and I discovered two baby chicks running after their parents in broad daylight and completely out in the open.

There were some local birds that I was determined to track down in the first few months of my break. One of them was the striking African Emerald Cuckoo. Thanks to Adam Cruikshank, I was given some awesome information on where to find two of these birds near Pietermaritzburg and was fortunate to locate them exactly where Adam had said. They must rank as one of the most striking species that Africa has to offer!

With Joshua on holiday, December afforded us the opportunity to get away as a family. We decided to try something a little different and booked a spot on the coastline of South Africa and in a small nature reserve called Ballot’s Bay; a couple of kilometres from Wilderness. Our days were filled with swimming, hiking and time at the beach, but there was always time for a little photography before Eileen and Joshua started their day.

The reserve was located in pristine fynbos and right next to the ocean, which meant I could pop out for an hour or two each morning, do some photography and still get back in time for breakfast and family activities. Relatively early into our stay I found this very friendly Cape Grassbird a few hundred metres from our accommodation. By the end of our time together, he was almost completely oblivious to my 6 foot 3 frame and was happy for me to move slowly in with a wide angle lens to get this unique perspective. Spending so much time with one species made me appreciate the importance of “falling in love” with your subject and allowing time for new ideas and creativity to bloom.

Having loved my time in Kruger in November and hearing about the awesome rain the park had experienced in December and January, I made the decision to do a quick week long trip to the Southern Kruger in February. The park was alive with insects, migratory birds and incredible moments! This image of a radiant European Roller with her massive centipede catch was one of my most cherished moments from the time.

In late February, a discussion with William Steel forged a new vision for “habitat shots”, which was both daunting and exciting. We wanted to combine iconic African landscapes with the birds that call them home. This ambitious vision led to a birthday trip to Giant’s Castle to experiment with the concept for the first time. What I thought was purely a “recce” mission turned into my most exciting bird photography moment and image to date! This photograph of a Bearded Vulture was a true answer to prayer and has been such an incredible encouragement to me in my own personal walk as well as from a creative and photographic perspective.

Encouraged by my experience with a Bearded Vulture, I was excited to persevere with some other iconic landscapes and birds, as if a Bearded Vulture could arrive on the scene at just the right time, then there was no doubt other birds could do the same too. Mbona Nature Reserve has some of the most beautiful vistas in the Karkloof and proved to be the site of my next project. Knowing the behaviour of Buff-streaked Chats I felt there was a good chance I could use their curiosity to my advantage and capture another beautiful scene and species. After identifying the ideal viewpoint, it took months of observation and perseverance to finally get the bird and the landscape to work together and produce my second image of the series; “The Magical Karkloof”.

May was a special month for us as we got to see my parents and sister after 2 years of whatsapp and facetime. If anything, Covid has taught us the value of family and friends and that a virtual hug doesn’t have anything on a real one! We spent a week together in the Kalahari and had some incredible wildlife moments; including this encounter with a pack of endangered African Wild Dogs.

I have spent many mornings during the last 12 months walking around our home estate in Balgowan. Regular walks and a healthy diet has also meant that I have reached my goal weight and shed 14 kilograms! Hooray! Often we walk together or take the dogs, but at least once a week I will set off with just myself, a pair of binoculars and a camera. These outings often produce some unique sightings. On this occasion, I stumbled across three Fork-tailed Drongos taking part in a feeding frenzy. It was raining and a herd of cattle were moving through some open fields. As they grazed they would disturb an array of bugs, which had clearly caught the eye of the hungry Drongos. The birds would sit on a few preferred perches on the sidelines and every few minutes dart in to catch and an unsuspecting insect. On this occasion one of the Drongos successfully plucked a grasshopper from midair only to lose control of it as he returned to his perch. I decided to convert the image to Black and White to increase the drama of the scene.

Due to Covid, all our planned trips from 2020 were moved to 2022; just in time for my escape from the corporate world. The timing could not have been better and the first big adventure was a 10 day trip to Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda. With 27 of the 31 Albertine rift endemics waiting to be photographed on the 15 well maintained forest trails, this was a trip of a lifetime. One of the many highlights was spending quality time with my key target; Red-collared Mountain Babblers, high up on the Bigugu Trail. Claver; my phenomenal guide, had found two flocks feeding in the canopy and after a couple of hours of observation, one of the birds flew down to eye level and landed right in front of me. We walked back that day with an extra spring in our steps!

In July we set off on another family adventure to visit our great friends; Jen and John Whittal, in Hermanus. We decided to make a road trip of it and stopped off in the Tankwa Karoo for a few days to meet up with equally wonderful friends from Cradock. This adventure led to the discovery of my favourite bird photography destination in the Tankwa Karoo; Tierkloof Mountain Cottages, and the discovery of their first ever Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.

Soon after getting home from the Tankwa Karoo I was kindly invited by Carmen Demmer on a field outing to observe and photograph the subject of her master’s project; the endangered Grey-crowned Cranes, near Himeville. The location turned out to be breath-taking and the cranes equally so! I also got to learn about Carmen’s incredible passion for these birds and how her study hopes to aid their conservation. To find out more about her work please go here: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/carmen-demmer

After a few weeks at home, the Flack family then set off in October on another amazing three week adventure to the north of Kenya. I won’t say much more here, as my previous newsletter provided all the details, but let’s just say that Joshua describes El Karama as “the best game reserve he has ever been to” and can’t wait to go back. This trip was just another reminder of how much I love Africa and its people as well as how fulfilling it can be to share your knowledge and expertise with others. Spending time with Vulturine Guineafowl and Kori Bustards on the dry, open plains of the El Karama Wilderness Conservancy were just some of the many photographic highlights, but it was undoubtedly the people we met and the relationships we built that made the trip so special.

Our time in Kenya brought to a close our African adventures for 2022. It was a ground-breaking year, it was a relationship building year and it was a year in which we were truly blessed as a family!

EXCITING NEWS FOR 2023

A Photography Mentorship Programme to Grow and Inspire!

Are you looking to grow and develop as a photographer? Are you hoping to improve your images from good to great? Do you feel you don’t know what you don’t know? Do you want to move from a hobbyist to award winning? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then this may well be the programme for you!

I love teaching, I love seeing people grow and reach their potential and I love birds, wildlife and photography. This programme brings this all together and combines my 13 years of experience and insights with a deep desire to see others grow and develop in their God-given talents. It is a programme that is as much about the mentee and his or her development as it is about the wonderful gem stones I have been fortunate to pick up along my own journey; from clueless happy snapper to international award winning photographer.

Mentorship Programme

The programme is vastly different to an online course or youtube video, as it involves meaningful one on one discussions around the photographer’s purpose and what they hope to achieve through their work, practical homework to test concepts applied in each part of the programme as well as regular and constructive feedback on the photographer’s own images and approach. It won’t cover the basics of how to use your camera, or how to master flash or how to do complex post processing, as I truly believe these can be found far more cost effectively online or in books. Instead it will focus on what I would have loved to know when I started my own journey, what I think are the essentials for taking good images, what has made my post processing easy yet effective and what I believe are deep and helpful insights into different genres, light, composition and creativity. It also aims to help attendees develop their own eye for detail and will share what I have learned about selecting images for competitions and print.

The 8 part program is currently in progress for this year and early next year, but I plan to take in new photographers around March/April. Currently the program is done remotely on zoom or google meets and on a one to one mentorship basis.

Interested photographers can choose from a single coaching session to a full 8 part programme that aims to inform, equip and inspire.

“I have just started working with Richard through his mentorship programme, and all I can say is I’ve already found immense value in it! With Richard’s expert guidance, in just two sessions I have a clearer outline of my ‘why?’ in photography, and a deeper understanding of what goes into making great bird photos. I’m now very excited to put what I’m learning into practice!”

If you want to learn more about the options, pricing and timing, please send an email to: richard@theflacks.co.za and I will send you further details and keep you informed of the new dates. You can also go to the Mentorship Programme to find out more.

The program has been designed for any aspiring wildlife or bird photographers who have started their journey, know the basics of their camera and want to learn, grow and be inspired to push their boundaries even further. Please feel free to send this to anyone who may be interested!

As we move into the festive season, I hope you have an incredibly special time with family and friends. Rest well and travel safe! I look forward to being in contact in 2023 and welcoming in another awesome year in Africa! God bless you!

Yours in bird photography,

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