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.

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.

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 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.

Click any photo to enlarge

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.