I was thrilled with the opportunity to photograph these graceful birds, and the time ran away with me whilst I sat in the boat gazing out at the nature surrounding me.
Once the Eagles have caught the fish, they quickly turn like a boomerang and soar back to the tree they swooped from. It is here that they carefully place the fish on a branch and clamp their talons on, whilst they tear at the scaly flesh with their razor sharp beak.
The fisherman slowly paddled towards the shoreline so I could take some close up shots of the bird consuming its meal. We were no more that 10 feet from the banks and the stillness was surreal again. Gaining the trust from a wild creature is soothing to ones soul, it helps you appreciate the simple factors in life and reflect on the demands we place on ourself in ‘normal’ day to day lives. I mention this quite often in my articles but it really is pertinent to me; Rarely am I happier and more at peace than when I am with nature. It requires great patience and belief, but these moments are ones that you will treasure.
We continued our fishing trip and as we ran short of fish, approached our final Eagle to feed. He glided down from the trees and extended his talons, snatching the fish like an assailant would snatch an unsuspecting victims bag, then flew back to the tree.
One last time we slowly paddled to shore and I glanced up through the piercing sunlight to take my final shots of the day. As we sat there in the silence of nature an almighty groan and sound of water splashing echoed through my ears. No more than 12 feet from us was a fully grown Hippo, jaws wide open!!!
How we did not fall into the water I will never know…. as we both literally almost jumped out of our seating.
My Fisherman friend, quickly started to paddle away from it but then stopped as it dropped back under water. “Look for bubbles” he shouted to me. I was confused and scared for our lives, I have read many times before that Hippos are accountable for more deaths per annum across Africa than any other animal. The stark reality of the danger we were in was evident in his voice and facial expression as he once gain told me to look for bubbles and pointed at the water surrounding us.
I then realised what he was getting at, Hippos must surface for air regularly and cannot actually go very deep in the waters. Seeing as we were so close to shore we could effectively be floating on its head! I sat and surveyed all waters around me watching bubbles slowly surface and then directing my guide to move away from them slowly. We saw around eight different sets of bubbles over the short minutes we were trapped, but with time and patience, eventually managed to escape back into the deeper depths.
One of the most terrifying aspects of the Hippo encounter for me was the fact that I could not see my foe. It is one thing to feel anxiety and fear when you are being approached by a Lion or swam at by a Shark. These experiences are laid bare in front of you and whilst the overriding sensation is one of sheer panic and fear, there is a sense of hope almost because you feel some security in being able to see them and react accordingly. When you cannot see the beast, it is a whole different feeling… trust me!
Watching bubbles elegantly pop in groups around you, with a calm breeze circulating and no sound….it’s eery…unnerving.
Yet again, this experience has given me an insight into the wonders and dangers of nature at close proximity. I was never aware or advised prior, that Hippos are only shallow water creatures and that particular attention must therefore be taken when paddling at shore. When you see locals bathing in the shallows with Crocodiles there it did not factor in my mind that Hippos could also dwell there. Surely the local people would not take those risks daily….it is a sad and sobering reality that it is not really a choice for them…it is a necessity. A good lesson was learnt that day.
With my face burnt to a crisp, my camera full of images and my heart bursting with adrenaline and joy I returned to shore and hugged my guide. A gentle soul who I hope one day I will see again and reminisce upon our adventure that day.
Graham Seaholme is an Award Winning Professional Nature Photographer based in the United Kingdom. He travels extensively around the world photographing nature in its purest forms.
Find more about Graham @ www.lifefrozen.com