I thought I’d share a short slide show of images from our safari to South Africa.
I thought I’d share a short slide show of images from our safari to South Africa.
Humble apologies to my gentle readers. Due to travel to the Midwest, Christmas and a nasty cold I have fallen behind in my postings. However, I’m back with the final day of our South African Safari.
We awoke on this, the 12th, and last day of our safari with both a sense of sorrow and relief. Sorrow because we did not want the experience to end. We had seen so many incredible sights and animals in the past 2 weeks and yet it was time to go home. Home to our own bed and our own wildlife (our 3 cats, Casper, Jasmine and Bosco).
It was an absolutely beautiful morning with golden light. The animals seemed to be energized, everything was moving. We almost immediately passed some rhinos grazing in the field. As always, they were accompanied by oxpeckers. With their bright bill and eyes I never tire of looking at them.
Our ranger headed the land rover toward the river to see if the overstuffed lions we observed the previous day were still there. He was driving at a pretty good clip as we passed a watering hole with a grey heron in it. The light on the pond was incredible. The water looked like liquid gold. We were yelling at our driver to stop but he kept going. We finally got him to stop and back up so that we could get the shot. It was worth it.
Leaving the heron behind we found a spotted hyena, sculking through the tall grass, that clearly had the scent of something. We continued on to the river and sure enough, the lions were still there. Still looking over stuffed and lethargic. It was clear that we would see no action out of this group today so we moved on.
Click on any image to enlarge it. Hover over an image to reveal the caption.
When we left the lions it was still early, about 6:40 am. We sighted a small herd of impala and then some steenbok. Steenboks are really cute but hard to photograph. They are very shy and hide when approached. However today we were lucky. The steenboks chose to hide in the tall golden grasses that lined the road. With the beautiful lighting that we had that morning we got some wonderful shots of steenboks backlit by the morning light and surrounded by the dry golden grass.
We heard via the radio that there were leopards in the area and headed off in the direction of where the reports were coming from. It took about an hour to get there and find the leopards. There were 3 of them, 2 males and 1 female. According to our ranger the female also had one or more cubs although they were hidden. We got there just after the female and one of the males had a fight. Apparently the male was interested in mating and the female was most definitely not interested. In this case the male came out on the loosing end.
The bloodied and beaten male attends to his wounds.
We continued to track and watch the leopards for almost an hour. The other male was also interested in mating but the female continued to show that there would be no fooling around today. It was fascinating to watch the interplay between the male and female and how the female controlled the situation even though she was much smaller than the male suitor.
And thus ended our 12 day safari. We had to head back to camp so that we could catch our flight to Johannesburg. However, our adventure was not quite over yet. From Johannesburg we would fly to Cape Town for a 3 day visit to this jewel of the African coast. During our visit there we would see penguins, fur seals, whales, sharks as well as visit incredible wineries and some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen. Stay tuned.
As we roll out of bed this morning we realize that this is our last full day on safari. Hopefully it will bring lots of exciting new discoveries.
We headed down to the river. Our ranger had heard there were lions there that had made a kill the night before. What a sight. I have never seen a group of lions with such extended bellies in my life. They could barely lie on their stomachs. Most lay on their backs with their feet extended in the air. Needles to say they weren’t very active. Comical but not active. We hung around for about 30 minutes photographing these lethargic beasts before moving on.
Driving around we spot a few zebras. Zebras are among the most beautiful of Africa’s animals. However, they photograph much better on the savanna of Masai Mara that the brush of the lowveld. It doesn’t help that this is the dry season and there is no green to contrast with their beautiful stripes. It does give an idea of how well the zebra’s stripes can serve as camouflage under the right conditions. We were also fortunate to spot a couple of endangered ground hornbills.
We headed over to a large water hole and spotted a hyena, and before we knew it there was a whole pack of them, including a couple of youngsters. We parked the land rover and watched these guys cavort in the water and chase each other for over 30 minutes. The main behavior of the pack seems to be checking out each others genitalia. The hyena is unique in that the female has a pseudo-penis. The female is also slightly larger than the male and they live in a female dominated pack. It was also astonishing the number of vocalizations that these animals made. It was downright noisy.
After the hyenas moved on we joined up with others from our group for our morning bush breakfast. These brief interludes each morning were highly civilized and gave us a chance to get to know our rangers and trackers better. And besides – they make great coffee!
As we wound our way back to camp we saw a crested francolin, a yellow billed hornbill, a warhog and a Nyala taking a rest in the shade. A pretty good morning overall.
Lunch was a special treat on this day. Our host at King’s Camp, Tristan, is the proud keeper of an African Wildcat. As this was our last lunch at King’s Camp he promised to bring the cat out for us to see. I wasn’t sure what an African Wildcat was but I was looking forward to seeing one. It turns out that the African Wildcat, to my eye, is indistinguishable from a common tabby. And for good reason. The house cat was probably domesticated from the African Wildcat about 9000 years ago in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. If you’d like to know more about what domestic cats have in common with the African Wildcat click here.
The weather was stunning as we left for our afternoon drive. We observed giraffes, including a young giraffe, more zebra and saw how birds can protect their nests by building them inside of a very thorny Acacia tree.
The afternoon, however, belonged to the elephants. We followed a large herd through the trees, brush and river bed for close to an hour. Our ranger, Remember, and our tracker, Elvis, did a good job of keeping us positioned to get some great shots. I never tire of watching these incredible animals.
Once the elephants had finished with us we drove to the river where a large concrete dam had been built years ago to control the flow of the river. There lying on top of the concrete, basking in the golden glow of the setting sun was a beautiful leopard. He seemed completely unconcerned with anything other than having a comfortable nap. As the sun set we could see hippos swimming in the river and shore birds on the river bank. One last surprise awaited us as we exited the area. A scrub hare was laying by the road, just waiting for us to take its photograph. A lovely way to end an exciting day!
What day 10 lacked in variety it made up for in quantity. One again we started the day by tracking a pride of lions on the hunt. It was clear that they sensed nearby prey but we never figured out what they were after. We stayed with them for over 30 minutes and they stalked through the dry grass before moving on.
Click on any image to enlarge it.
We explored the veldt for about 40 minutes before coming upon a few elephants at a watering hole. Unlike yesterday the light was good and we stopped to watch these magnificent animals.
We moved on but almost immediately came upon the rest of the herd. For a moment we thought we were going to see a scuffle as two males challenged each other. However, the smaller of the males showed good sense and backed down.
We drove ahead of the herd and parked at a second water hole and waited. Within minutes the herd arrived and began to fill up. Along with the herd was one baby elephant. It was so young it had not yet learned how to use its trunk to drink. It was so cute as the baby got down on its knees to drink water directly with its mouth. The adults kept the baby surrounded at all times in what was clearly a protective maneuver. There was lots of other activity around the water as well. There was some pushing and shoving by some of the elephants. Some waded directly into the water while the others remained on the bank. This continued for about 30 minutes. Then the herd reversed course and headed back into the bush.
With the departure of the elephants we resumed our search. We came across a few Cape Buffalo. I must admit that I find these beasts fascinating.
After about 50 minutes of exploration we found a leopard hidden in the bush with fresh prey. (An antelope or Impala I think.) We watched as the leopard ripped the fur from the carcass and then tore in to the meat. Despite the grisly scene in front of us you could not help but admire the beauty of this animal.
Our afternoon drive began with more elephants. It was probably part of the same herd that we saw this morning. We grabbed a few shots and moved on.
We decided to see if the leopard from this morning was still there – and she was. She was still working over her prey. A somewhat older cub briefly made an appearance but then quickly disappeared back into the bush.
As we drove around we spotted a few rhinos but not much else. Finally, around 5 pm, we came across a pride of lions. They of course were doing what lions do best – rest. We watched them lay about and groom each other. Then slowly they started to show some signs of life, eventually heading over to the water for a drink. By this time the sun was down and it was starting to get dark. (i.e.: some of the following shots were taken at ISO 12800) We left them as they were getting ready for their evening’s adventures.
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.
Click on any photo to enlarge
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.
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!
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.
Click on any photo to enlarge
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.
688 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
.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!
After leaving the rhino we sighted a herd of elephants in the river bed and headed off in that direction.
The 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.
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.
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.
Click on any image to enlarge
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!