Safari Redux

I thought I’d share a short slide show of images from our safari to South Africa.

Enjoy!

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South Africa Safari – Day 8

The morning of October 2nd was to be our last game drive at Mala Mala. After an abbreviated drive  we would move to our final safari destination, Kings Camp in the Timbavati game preserve.

We were out before 6 am as usual and found the usual herd of Impala grazing near the camp. It was quite chilly that morning. Continuing on we came across a termite mound. Between our Kenya trip and this one we had seen dozens of termite mounds. What was unique about this one was that it was clearly active with steam rising from the mound and condensing in the cold morning air.

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Active termite mound.

Active termite mound.

At about 6:15 we spotted a bush buck. We watched him for a while and then came across a beautiful African fish eagle and a male kudu.

Around 7:30 we spotted a pride of lions at the “green slime” watering hole. One lioness was pacing at the edge of the water and staring out to the center where an animal carcass was stuck. It appeared to be a Nyala but how it got there I don’t know. What I did know was that the lioness wanted it and was trying to figure out how to get it.

We watched her try to figure out how she could get to the carcass and drag it to shore. Finally, almost without warning, she leaped into the pond only to find herself chest deep in mud. This was a nasty turn of events that clearly displeased her. When we left about a half hour later she was still lying at the edge of the water hole trying to figure out how to get the carcass.

After leaving the lions at the water hole we found another leopard. This handsome cat spent most of the time either under a tree or creeping through the brush. We followed the cat for about a half hour but then needed to head back to camp. On the way back to camp we did get a photo of a water buck. We had been trying to get a good shot of a water buck ever since we went to Kenya.

We got back to camp, packed our bags and loaded into a small bus for the 2 hour drive to King’s Camp. The drive was interesting. We were a long way from the urban centers yet we saw a lot of residential construction. Most of the homes are very small and made from concrete blocks. Most were unfinished. Apparently people would buy construction materials as they could afford them and then continue building their homes as they were able to.

We arrived at Kings Camp, our final destination for this safari, and were warmly welcomed, as usual, by the owners and staff. Unlike Londolozi and Mala Mala, which were unfenced, Kings Camp was surrounded by a wide electric fence to discourage the wildlife from entering the compound and snacking on the tourists! Despite the fence, we were warned not to roam the camp unescorted at night.

It was almost 4 pm by the time we began our afternoon drive. Our Ranger/Driver for King’s Camp was “Remember” and our tracker’s name was Elvis. Almost immediately we discovered a giraffe busy munching on trees nearby. With that long neck and horns on its head the giraffe always appears rather cartoon-like. Continuing on our way we soon came across a pride of lions. They appeared to be tracking some nearby wildlife. They were clearly attentive but unhurried. The largest male had a large abscess or growth on his left front leg. Eventually they settled down in the grass and do what lions do so well much of the time – nothing.

We saw a herd of Cape Buffalo nearby and headed in that direction. After watching the herd for a short while Remember mentioned that there was a watering hole nearby and the herd seemed to be slowly moving in that direction. He suggested that we go down to the watering hole and wait for the herd there. We arrived at the watering hole and positioned ourselves strategically such that we would have good light when the buffalo arrived. Remember was correct. Within 10 minutes the herd was meandering towards the water for an afternoon drink. And we were in the perfect position to capture nature in action.

The Cape Buffalo finished up and wandered off about 5:15 so we took off in search of other animals. In short order we came across a spotted hyena. Hyenas are very odd animals, looking like they were built with left over spare parts of other animals. Some people consider them to be ugly, but I just think they look kind of strange.

As we were driving around I spotted a tree with whitish/yellow roots growing on top of a boulder. I asked Remember what type of tree it was. It was a Large-leaved Rock Fig tree (Ficus abutilifolia), a member of the mulberry family. They characteristically grow out of the rocks with their roots penetrating the cracks, searching for water. The fruit is said to be quite tasty.

By now it was almost sunset. One thing about southern Africa is that the sunsets are typically spectacular. Presumably this is due to the presence of the Kalahari desert to the west which kicks up lots of dust into the atmosphere. Whatever the cause, the colors are incredible.

Sunset

Sunset

On the way back to camp we lucked upon another leopard. This cat was definitely on the prowl for its dinner. We followed it in the gathering darkness for about 20 minutes. To our surprise it headed for our camp! When it came to the electric fence the cat was not deterred in the least. With one easy leap he soared over the fence and into the camp. Now I understood the warning about not roaming around the camp unescorted at night!

South Africa Safari – Day 7

When we rolled out of bed at 5:00 am on day 7 we had no idea what an exciting and  interesting day was in store for us. As usual, we were on the trail before 6 o’clock. It was a beautiful morning and the light was magnificent. We had barely gotten out of camp when we came across a small herd of impala. Even though we had lots of impala photos the light was so golden we had to stop and snap a few photos.

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We left the impala behind and headed down to the river.  As we were crossing the river we spotted two saddle billed storks a couple hundred yards away. We had only seen these birds once before, and that was 2 years ago in Kenya. They are tall, colorful and spectacular. We watched and photographed them for over 30 minutes, although it seemed a lot longer. It was fascinating to watch them catch fish and then toss them down their throats. While watching the storks we also spotted some three banded plovers and Pied Kingfishers.

Leaving the storks behind we began to explore and see what else we could find. It was only 7 o’clock and the light was still good. As we drove under a tall tree a Vervet monkey issued warning calls. We drove through an area of rocky outcroppings hoping to spot leopards. Instead we spotted something ever less common, a Klipspringer (rock jumper). The Klipspringer is a very small antelope that has adapted to the rocky outcroppings as its home. He was very cute as he stood proud on the edge of a boulder surveying his domain.

Shortly thereafter we came across another pride of sleepy lions. We watched for a short time and realized that this group had no intention of moving anytime in the near future so we left. Our ranger Ross mentioned that a rhino had been killed by a poacher the day before and the rhino’s horn sawed off. We asked if the rhino was nearby and if we could see it. We took off for a short drive. We spotted conclusive signs that we were getting close.

We arrived at the rhino carcass and got to witness first hand the horror of poaching. The rhino was killed, the horn sawed off and the animal left for dead. It also appeared that one leg had been cut off, for reasons unknown.

rhino carcass, poaching, dead, Mala Mala688 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013, half of those were in the area of Kruger and Mala Mala.This one made it 689. To find out a bit more about this incident take a look at my blog of October 14th.

The rhino carcass had already been partially eaten by scavengers. When we arrived there were just a few vultures present. Then a leopard showed up to help himself to a piece of rhino flesh before heading off to the bush. With the leopard gone the vultures moved in with a fury. It was fascinating to watch nature at work. As the following photos show, there were times when so many vultures were fighting for food that you couldn’t see the carcass.

If you would like to really see what a feeding frenzy this was you can check out some video of the scene on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbfbbSrrMJ4

We spent over an hour at the site. It was one of the most meaningful and relevant experiences of the trip in many ways. But it was time to move on.

As we started exploring again we came across a waterhole with an Egyptian goose and a hippopotamus immersed in green slime. Not real photogenic so we moved on. We also found some wildebeest, an elephant and a male and female kudu in the brush.

Our next discovery really impressed me. I am always astonished at how good our rangers and trackers are at spotting hidden animals. As we were driving along the trail at a pretty good speed, Ross all of a sudden pulls over by a tree and holds up his hand for silence. He takes out his binoculars and stares intently into the tree for a few seconds and then turns to us, points and says “white faced owl”. And sure enough, hidden in the branches of this dense tree was a smallish owl. The owl flew from place to place in the tree before settling down. It took us a bit of maneuvering to finally get in position where we could get a photograph of it. It was gorgeous with white and grey feathers and bright orange eyes

Southern White Faced Scops Owl

Southern White Faced Scops Owl

.As we started to make our way back to camp we came across a herd of Cape buffalo. These animals are interesting. In the two trips that I’ve taken to Africa the Cape Buffalo has shown the temperament of a cow, yet it is renowned to be among the fiercest of animals. I guess I should be happy I haven’t seen that side of their personality.

We had seen a record number of species during the morning drive. Fifteen different animals by my count. We had also seen nature in action as the vultures moved in to clean up the rhino carcass. Could the afternoon possibly keep pace?

Shortly after taking off we “bumped” into a grazing white rhino. You can get pretty close to these guys as long as they are not defending turf or females. This is why the recent announcement by the Dallas Safari Club that it was going to auction off the trophy rights to kill a black rhino (endangered, only 5000 left in the world) makes no sense. It takes no great skill to kill a rhino. You drive up to it and shoot it!

See also Black Rhino to be Killed by Dallas Safari Club

After leaving the rhino we sighted a herd of elephants in the river bed and headed off in that direction.

Elephant, Mala MalaThe herd included elephants of all ages and sizes. One was so young and small that it had not yet learned to fully control its trunk. Mom was going up the bank by the river and junior was trying to follow but couldn’t quite make it. Mom had to turn around and pull him up the bank with her trunk.

Mother pulls baby up the river bank with her trunk.

Mother pulls baby up the river bank with her trunk.

There were a number of large bulls that looked menacing and some teenagers that tried to look tough. We did see a couple of males fighting over a female. It wasn’t a death match but it wasn’t play time either.

After leaving the elephants we spotted a leopard, who for the most part was content to just lie in the grass. We watched and tracked it for about an hour before moving on.

Even though we had seen a number of male kudus we hadn’t yet captured a really great photo of one. It was just about 5 pm, an hour before sunset and the light was great, when we spotted a beautiful male. We started to follow him and managed to get a great shot that took advantage of the “golden hour” lighting. We also captured another lilac breasted roller in this same light.

In the morning we found a pride of sleepy lions. We decided to check up on them before returning to camp, hoping that they were awake and ready for action. While we caught a few nice portraits in the golden evening light, most of the lions were still catching zzz’s.

Thus ended day 7. As the sun went down we caught one last photograph in memory of a great day.

Sunset, silouette, Mala Mala

South Africa Safari – Day 6 Mala Mala

When we went to bed the previous evening it was unclear if the weather was going to cooperate with us for our game drive in the morning. When we woke up, as we feared, it was still raining, although it had slowed to a drizzle.  We got together at 5:30 am as usual but decided against going out. The forecast was for clearing skies and we decided to wait it out.

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We had a hearty breakfast and the rain did indeed clear. We were out by shortly after 9 am. That’s not to say that the weather was perfect. Even the animals seemed to be complaining. We came across a number of birds desperately trying to dry out. A lilac breasted roller was fluffed up like a cotton ball. An entire tree was filled with white backed vultures with wings extended trying to dry out. An a yellow horn bill was looking very bedraggled – like Richard Lewis after a hard night on the town. We were also fortunate to see a Brown Hooded Kingfisher and a Warburg’s Eagle.

Just to round out the day’s birding we also came across a red-billed oxpecker taking a bath in a mud puddle, a helmeted guinea fowl and a beautiful Greater Blue-eared Starling. Although not a member of the avian kingdom we did come across another of Africa’s smaller mammals – the dwarf mongoose.

One  of the most fascinating creatures in all of Africa has to be the giraffe. It is almost without comparison throughout the rest of the world. One would think that that long neck and spindly legs would make it unstable and ready prey to lions and other carnivores. Yet we watched a few giraffes take off at a full “gallop” and they are both fast and graceful. Last weekend I was watching a National Geography special on TV and saw a giraffe kick an attacking lion with it’s hind legs about 15 feet into the air. Male giraffes will battle for supremacy by “necking” or swinging their heads and necks at each other. On this particular morning we got to watch a couple of males “necking”.

The sun was out fully now and we could appreciate the beauty of the landscape. In addition, the animals were starting to move about.

It was now about 11:30 and we came across a pride of lions doing what they do best – nothing. They were obviously well fed and resting in the mid-day sun. Not much to do but watch and enjoy their beauty.

After watching the lions lounge about for a while we decided it was time to head back to camp. Our ranger and driver Ross was flying down the trail when JoAnn called out “Leopard”. Sure enough, right by the road was a leopard resting under a tree. Of course we had to stop for photos. Shortly after we stopped, the leopard decided he didn’t want company and took off. By then a second land rover had joined us and we followed this fellow for quite a while. He made us work for our photographs but in the end it was worth it.

After tracking the leopard we broke for lunch but resumed our drive at the usual time of 3:30 pm. We saw a number of animals that afternoon but one of the coolest was a mother white rhino and her young calf. It’s hard to describe the calf as “cute” but no other word fits.

We stayed out until sundown as usual. On our way back to the camp in the dark we had two very rare sightings. The first was a large spotted Genet. Although not endangered they are not often sighted because they are nocturnal. The second sighting was extremely rare – an endangered white-tailed mongoose. We were thrilled to have captured photos of both!

South Africa Safari – Day 3

Day 3 rolled around and it was another great day in the bush. Within the first hour we had already seen and photographed impala, a crocodile, a malachite kingfisher, an Egyptian goose, a fish eagle, a lilac breasted roller and a spotted hyena. Not bad for the first hour.

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Then Richard got a call on the radio that one of the other rangers had spotted a female leopard with 2 cubs. The opportunity to see leopards was one of the primary reasons that we had come to South Africa, so we were very excited.

When we arrived at the location we found out that the cubs were hiding and that mom was out hunting. This was disappointing because the rules in the preserve state that if cubs are unattended you can only stay for 10 minutes. To hang around longer than that might draw attention to the cubs and put them at risk from other predators. However, just at that moment we saw some movement and up popped one little head. The cubs were moving. For the next 5 minutes or so we got to watch as they climbed around on the rocks and through the heavy brush. These two were just beautiful. However, we had to leave.

For the next couple of hours we continued our explorations. Shortly after leaving the cubs we came across some steenbok, the smallest antelope in South Africa. They are also very skittish and take off quickly when approached. White-backed vultures, impala and warthogs rounded out the first part of the morning.

Each morning we would finds a nice shady spot, that appeared to be devoid of man-eating carnivores, and pull over for some coffee and a bush breakfast. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat. Our boxed breakfast usually consisted of a croissant, yogurt, juice, a few other items and coffee. It was always tasty and enough to stave off starvation until we returned for lunch.

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

We heard of the radio that the mother leopard had returned to her cubs so we headed back to where we had left them earlier. We arrived to find that mom was back and she had brought a kill back with her for the cubs to eat. Only mom and one cub were visible and they were both under some bushes and hard to see. We were also the 3rd vehicle on site and really could not get a very good angle to see them. We found the best spot that we could, parked and observed. Even though we weren’t in a great spot for photography we were able to watch the mother and cub interact. After a while the other cub came out of hiding and began to nurse.

Eventually mom decided to move over to a large rock and rest. She was posed perfectly for a photograph but once again we were at a bad angle. Richard put the land rover into gear and crashed through the under brush and over some sizable trees to get us to where we could have a good view.

And there she was in all her splendor. We had the opportunity to photograph her unimpeded by branches and bushes. Eventually she left. It was time to go hunting again.

The other two land rovers left first and then Richard started ours. Problem! In driving over the trees to get us into position they had wedged at an angle under the vehicle making it impossible to back up. Unfortunately in front of the land rover was a sand filled wash. If we went forward we would almost certainly get stuck in the wash, but backing up was impossible.

Richard put the land rover into its lowest gear and struggled forward. After much lurching and bouncing about we freed ourselves from the trees and dropped into the wash…where we promptly became stuck in the sand. Richard and Like tried for about 10 minutes to get us out with no success. Richard asked us to get out of the vehicle and walked us through the brush to the nearby trail that served as a road and told us to wait there for them. He then went back and he and Like pulled out a Come-Along hand winch to try and pull the land rover from the wash. I thought about asking him to leave his rifle with us but he was already gone.

So Tom, Cathy and I are left standing in the middle of the road all by ourselves wondering if momma leopard is going to return at any minutes. I was also thinking “why don’t they just call one of the other land rovers back to pull us out of the wash.” I figured that it had something to do with male bravado and a code of independence in the bush. However, having tourists eaten by leopards couldn’t be good for business.

Finally we heard the land rover start up and saw Richard come bouncing through the brush and out onto the road. On the drive back to camp I asked Richard why he didn’t call for help to get out of the wash. His reply was along the lines of what I expected. Apparently there are no consequences to getting stuck at Londolozi, as long as you can free yourself. However, if you have to call for help the leather ammo pouch that each ranger carries on his belt is replaced by a pink ammo pouch for a month!

Our afternoon game drive could be named the day of elephants. They were everywhere that we went. We did see some other animals such as nyala, cape buffalo, a maribou stork, giraffes and wildebeest, but largely the afternoon was devoted to observing elephants.

We saw several herds of elephants that afternoon. There were large bull elephants and young ones too. The young ones were cute. One was so young that he had not yet figured out how to control his trunk.

We stayed out past sunset on this day. It was already dark as we were heading back to camp when Richard stopped the land rover and turned the key off. We looked ahead of us and about 30 yards away was another herd of elephants, walking down the road directly toward us. Richard whispered to remain silent and to not move. The elephants continued to come directly toward us, lead by a large bull. As the elephants approached the land rover they split into two columns, one on each side of us. As each one passed, it turned its head slightly to look at us, and continued on. What was amazing was that this all took place in almost complete silence. All we heard was the slight rustle of grass from the elephants walking by. These huge animals passing silently by us in the dark,only a few feet away was one of the most spiritual moments of the trip.

sunset, elephant, LondoloziThe evening meal at camp was always an elaborate affair with gourmet food and wine. Every two or three days we would have a bush dinner to create a special atmosphere. These were indeed special (although sometimes a bit cold) and memorable.

Dinner at Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa.

South Africa Safari – Day 2

Cathy photographing Londolozi lion pride.

Cathy photographing Londolozi lion pride.

5:00 in the morning comes early in the bush. It seems that my head had just hit the pillow when the alarm rang. Time to get up, brush our teeth, grab our gear and head out. We met on the deck at the camp for a quick cup of coffee and a biscuit. No one wanted to drink too much since we would be out in the Land Rovers for 3 to 4 hours driving on bumpy trails. And you never know what might be behind the bush you choose!

It was a beautiful morning although the sun was not yet up. We had been driving for about 20 minutes when Richard stopped the Land Rover and shut it off. On the trail, about 30 yards in front of us was a pride of lions consisting of 4 adult females and 9 cubs! And they were headed directly for us. The sound of shutters clicking was like the sound of machine gun fire as we all started taking pictures. The little ones were just so damned cute. They veered off the path as they got near to us and headed down to the river. Richard repositioned the land rover and we got some fantastic shots of the lions drinking from a water hole. They then moved to the dry river bed for a morning of playing, grooming, nursing and sleeping. We spent about an hour and 15 minutes observing and photographing these guys.

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Once the cubs settled down for a nap we took off. As we drove around we spotted various animals including some Impala and a Warburg eagle.

We stopped in one area and Richard was describing leadwood trees to us. Leadwood is very dense, termite resistant and doesn’t float on water. The tree itself may live for 1000 years. However, as Richard was explaining all of this Like held up his hand. He had heard a bird give an alert call and then he said he heard a leopard in the distance. While the rest of us piled into the land rover and headed off in one direction, Like grabbed a hand-held radio and took off on foot. Within minutes Richard got a call from Like that he had spotted the leopard (no pun intended). Richard turned the land rover around, left the trail and started crashing through the underbrush, following Like’s radioed directions.

Like

Our tracker – Like

Talk about great tracking. Using his hearing and tracking abilities Like had guided us directly to our first leopard. It was a beautiful female. However, she was restless and didn’t stay in one place for very long. We tracked her for a while and they lost her in the brush. However, we located her again a short while later by the river bed. Watching this magnificent animal was a thrill and we spent almost 2 hours with her.

As would be the pattern, we had lunch back at camp every day at about 1:30. No sandwiches here. Every day was as elaborately prepared lunch. We were usually accompanied by a number of vervet monkeys that were always looking for an opportune moment to swoop in and make off with some goodies.

Having seen a leopard in the morning we went looking for a cheetah on our afternoon drive. We took off at about 3:45 and after driving around for about 30 minutes we located our prey. It did not require expert tracking, though. This cheetah looked like it had just finished eating a cape buffalo by itself. I don’t think that this animal had any intention of moving in the next 18 hours. So much for getting to see a cheetah stalk and bring down an antelope.

Hope you’re enjoying our story and photos. Come back tomorrow for day 3.

Day 2 animals:
Lions, impala, leopards, vervet monkeys, cheetah, Warburg’s eagle, little bee eater, chacma baboon.