Monday, December 15

a busy December


It’s been a while since I last sent any update as it has been a busy period on safari and in the few days here and there that I have had at home I haven’t felt creative enough to put “pen to paper”!

From the scheduling board at the office it looks as if January will be just as busy, but I will try to get something out soon, I promise….. My head is full of words and stories, I just hope none of them slip away before I can get them out.

Impala with lamb

The bush is looking so wonderful at the moment, the rains in the south of Kruger have been good and the luminous spring green is turning to the dark emerald of full fledged summer. The impala lambs are now old enough to start pronking at the slightest temptation and their fathers and older brothers are getting all excited and clashing horns in anticipation of the new rutting season.
Thirsty lionesses

On my last safari, we spent the first night up in the north of Kruger (where I hadn’t been since mid November) and it was distressing to see how barren it was. The brief rains of a few weeks ago already a dry and dusty memory. The Mopani trees are out in full leaf (where they haven’t been stripped bare by the Mopani worms) but not a blade of green grass anywhere. If the rains don’t come soon life will become desperate up there north of the Olifants River.

Plains Zebra with foal

I will be away on safari from Tuesday through to Sunday with a brief overnight in Johannesburg on Christmas night, so while I am on the road and in the bush I will be thinking of you and wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a wonderful, joyous time with your families and friends around you. I will miss being with you but I will be in a place that I truly love.





the largest warthog tusks I've ever seen

Sunset in the Sabi Sand













African buffalo in the rain















Handsome young White rhino



















My first clear sighting of Wild Dog in Kruger















We had 5 running in the road for half an hour





























Kruger primates and their babies......














Friday, October 31

Anatomy of a Kill - A Kruger Waterhole in October

It’s the end of October and the rains are late. The waterhole has shrunk to a muddy fraction of its wet season fullness. The dry, straw coloured grass is more an illusion than fact. With a closer look one can see that it is not grass at all but the dry, sunburnt remnants of the black jacks, khaki weed and other “herbs” that were so effective at concealing the animals during the wet season.  

The earth at the waterhole’s edge was only a few months ago the muddy silty bottom a metre deep under the water. It is now baked into an unforgiving hardness that only gives rise to a choking cloud of dust under the cloven hooves of the antelope when they come down to drink. 

Across the waterhole to the left, a tense, milling mass of grey. Elephant matriarchs, aunts, cousins, sisters and their young are standing, bunched up, out in the open, far from both food and water, a picture of indecisiveness, uncertainty. The calves lie down on the dusty ground, tired of not moving, not drinking, not playing. 

A flicker of movement from the right, and the reason for elephant uneasiness is revealed. A lioness, superbly camouflaged by the dry reed stalks lies relaxed on a low rise, still cooled by the fast disappearing morning fog. More movement and four cubs tumble over her back and clumsily seek her attention. As the late morning air gradually warms, the rest of the pride slowly comes into focus. One young male lies on the far right, mostly obscured by the dead stalks, but obviously chewing on the remnants of an impala kill. Other lionesses, attended by their energetic and playful cubs, rest along the top of the rise. 


A herd of impala slowly threads its way down to the water’s edge on the far right. They are downwind of the pride so must be aware of it’s presence but seem oblivious? They must be confident in their ability to out run the lion or are they just too thirsty to care – or both? 

A white-backed vulture glides into perch on the dead tree rising high above the mud whilst at its foot the small shape of a black-backed jackal darts here and there with its nose alternately close to the ground or high, sniffing the air. 


Another young male lion rises to his feet and starts walking through the reeds to the waterhole edge. His short, blonde, tufty mane is ruffled by a light gust of air. He ignores the impala. The elephant herd silently, quickly, and unnoticed, fade away into the distant bush. 




 One by one, litter by litter, the rest of the pride rise and pad purposefully towards the water. They spread out along the far side of the water hole, fifteen cubs, six lionesses and three young “sub-adult” males. An amazingsight as they all drink, clustered together in four or five groups. Another white backed vulture flies in overhead, perhaps sensing an opportunity to get to what ever remains of the impala carcase.




Then to the disbelief of some and surprise of all, entering “stage left” come a group of six old buffalo, lumbering slowly but thirstily down the slope towards the water hole. They’re upwind and their eyesight must be dim, as they literally walk straight into the jaws of the pride. 

From the first raising of the lion heads to the drawn out finale, is a blur of dust, tawny feline shapes in rapid motion, desperate scattering of the large black buffalo, and the last frantic run of the selected victim. 
It seems an interminable two minutes for the eight lion to bring down the massive buffalo bull. To the onlookers it always seems possible that such a large animal will be able to shake off his attackers and get away, but no, the inevitable happens and he suddenly collapses, forelegs splayed out in front of him and he disappears from sight under the cats.





As the killers are still subduing the prone buffalo, the cubs file in from the left. They all look hungry, with hollow flanks, and are keen to get their share of the kill. The adult lion have obviously fed recently as the cubs are allowed in straight away to tear at the softer skin of the hind quarters and belly. 





At the waterhole, the impala return to the water’s edge, the vultures wait high on the dead tree, and the normal rhythm of life resumes. 



(to Kelly, Matt and Peter, who were there with me on this incredible occasion)


Wednesday, October 22

A REALLY Good Day in the Life of a Safari Guide



These photos were taken on the first day's drive into camp - so before our REALLY good day even started!


(click on photos to enlarge)
Sharpes Grysbok



For me, every day in the bush, especially in Kruger National Park, is “good”, but every now and again a day stands out, for many reasons, but usually for the combination of excellent sightings and the company one is seeing them in. On my last safari, I had one of those days. Here are some of the highlights ………
 
Letaba Rest Camp
04h00 : Half an hour before my alarm is due to go off, the magnificent roar of the lion reverberates through the predawn darkness unfiltered by brick walls or thatched roof. Over the next 10 minutes he repeats his territorial calling as he patrols on down the river. I eventually give up any thought of sleeping on and roll out of my sleeping bag to start my day.
 
05h00 : While trying to cadge a cup of coffee from fellow guide Michael, the Apple Leaf tree above our heads shakes, showering pale purple flowers down on our heads. A Thick Tailed Bush Baby jumps across into the next tree, where, with less leaves he is clearly silhouetted against the paling sky. I start to follow him, on the ground of course, and he pauses to look down on us, decides not to stay and on he goes, from branch to branch across the tree tops of the camp site to his bed for the day. Reluctantly we decide that we also need to carry on with the business of the day. 
05h30 : Coffee (at last!), rusks and the bright, excited chatter of my guests looking forward to the new day of an already awesome safari. We have already had 3 lion sightings (on the previous days) and a glimpse of the rare Sharpe's Grysbok.
The sun has just shown itself above the Lebombo Mountains, and the morning is becoming gloriously clear and warm.


The Olifants River, N’wamanzi Lookout Point
07h45 : A wonderful contrast to the dry, barren stunted Mopani bushveld surrounding Letaba. Silvery channels of water winding through banks of wet sand and glistening black boulders, edged by the tall evergreen Leadwood, Jackalberry, and Natal Mahogany trees. The water is low, the rains have still not arrived, and the hippo are now crowded into smaller and smaller pools, made edgy by the stressful conditions and frequently feeling the need to vocalize. I love the local name(s) for this deceptively mild looking animal. Luvuvhu or Mvhuvhu – so descriptive of their call, which many of us feel is one of Africa’s classic sounds.
 
A sudden flurry of white, as a flock of Spoonbills rise from the water, only to land a little further downstream. They bob and sweep with their bills in perfect unison, as they hunt for food in the sluggish stream.

Crested Barbet
 The sudden brrbrrbrrrring of the Crested Barbet, and the shadow of the Yellow Billed Kite angling overhead, both looking for scraps dropped by careless tourists.

The Olifants River, high level road bridge
08h00 : The stream flows clear and steadily over the sandy river bed beneath the bridge. We have an overhead view of crocodiles undulating gently with the motion of the water, waiting for the day to warm enough for basking on the sandbanks.
 




Letaba - Satara Rd / Ngotso Weir Rd - Cross Roads
08h15 : Yes!! Despite the lateness of the hour a hyena is out in the open close to it’s den in the culvert under the cross roads. What a contrast though, normally when out of their den the hyena of this clan are lying prone either ignoring the cars or looking at us soulfully from their liquid black eyes. Today, this individual is chewing and tearing away at what looks like a large piece of thick, tough, blubbery hide. Both the animal and the hide are covered in saliva and other nameless, slimy things. It certainly doesn’t look as “cute and cuddly” today, but much more it’s real nature and role in the bush, scavenger and “cleaner up” supreme.

Ngotso North Waterhole
08h45 : We are in a hurry, word has already spread up and down the road of two leopard on a kill a little further south. But we cannot resist pausing for a few minutes – plains zebra, brindled gnu, baboons, impala are all making their way, in single file, down to the waterhole so very near to the road. Giraffe hesitate in the distance, very exciting as it is our first good view of giraffe on this safari.

Ngotso River 
09h00 : Like all animals in the bush, we become expert spotters of spotters. A traffic jam up ahead – is it lion or is it the leopard sighting? After a bit of manoeuvring, we spot the impala carcase high up in an Apple Leaf tree 50 metres from the road, and after a few more moments of searching we can just detect the distinctive pattern of a leopard through the leaves! Will we get a better view? We settle down patiently to see what happens, and keep an eye on the small elephant herd that is feeding it’s way slowly through the grass and reeds towards us on the same side of the road. 
 
Wow! a flash of gold & black spots and a second leopard leaps up into the tree and settles on a lower branch in clear view. Soon enough we understand exactly what is happening as a large female from the elephant herd suddenly trumpets and rushes the tree giving it a solid head butt. The young leopard sways precariously on his narrow perch, only just beyond the reach of the elephant. The impala carcase is hoisted further up into the tree by the invisible leopard (the mother, we presume), into a more secure position. An impasse is reached, elephant and leopard facing each other, neither moving for a seeming eternity. We all let out a huge breath of wonder and disbelief at what we had just witnessed.

While all the fuss has been going on, the rest of the elephant herd carry on eating, tearing at the grass and reeds, seemingly oblivious to the leopards.

Satara Rest Camp and surrounds
11h00 : And the birds! A few kilometres north of Satara we see our third group (in three days) of the endangered (?) Southern Ground Hornbill. Incredibly long-lashed black eyes quizzically glancing at us before resuming the constant search for food. This group also has a juvenile, with a shorter beak and no red skin on the face, he trails behind the adult birds plaintively bleating and looking altogether pathetic.

In Satara Camp itself, after a welcome break from the road, driving and the heat, I start watching the bird watchers. Whenever we stop here there is inevitably a group or two of avid twitchers, necks craning as they search in the tree canopies for birds. I have 15 minutes to spare before my guests return to the car, so I start watching the birds rather than the people. I get a lovely photograph of the female Bennett’s Woodpecker that is frequently seen foraging on the ground in the parking area, and then hearing some excited whispering I join a couple who have found an African Scops Owl nestled up high against the trunk of a densely foliaged tree.
This is my first Scops Owl and it is also in a relatively good position for a photograph – loverrrrly! My guests manage to track me down and we all have another fun 15 minutes looking at the wonderful birdlife in this little patch of green vegetation on the dry, grassy plains of central Kruger. 




Close to Sweni River & waterhole
12h00 : Now the heat is really beginning to build up, but this first few kilometres south of Satara is good for wildlife including lion, and we are not disappointed. The buffalo had been killed the night before and we first see a male lion and 2 lionesses deep in the grassy shade under a Knobthorn. Not far from the road but, as usual, not clearly visible. A little further down the road, we find the buffalo carcase, a young Hooded Vulture perched on it’s side and a large male lion sitting in the shade of a bush not far off. 

Before we could get our cameras ready and without any warning, the lion leaps out from his patch of shade to chase the vulture off! Standing out in the open with an obviously full belly, he looks undecided - how much more energy must he expend to safeguard his next meal? He then proceeds to show us all how strong he is by pulling the carcase a few feet closer to his shady patch, where he collapses after a few minutes of heavy exertion in the midday sun.





Sabie River, close to Skukuza Rest Camp 
16h30 : We are all looking forward to the end of a long hot day on the road, over 190 kilometres covered and some pretty intense experiences, when we see another small line of cars in the distance. It takes a little while of searching the sandy river bed, reeds and bushes on the far bank when “aha” I spot the lioness. On closer inspection through the binoculars I am delighted to see three very young cubs, their little faces looking wrinkly and surprised, playing clumsily, unsteady on their feet still, around their mother. They don’t stay long in sight, but what an end to an exhilarating day!

Needless to say, I do not have the time (nor inclination) to describe the large herds of zebra, continual sightings of elephant, the rare sighting of Common Reedbuck, the baby baboons, and the numerous other antelope and birds that we saw on this very special day. That will have to wait for another time, perhaps…….




Friday, September 26

Kruger Memories

  • The delight and wonder on the faces of the five blind and five deaf children on their first visit to Kruger.
Spot the snake!
  • The Black Mamba crossing the road in front of us and then climbing and moving around a couple of small Mopani’s close to the road.

  • An African Rock Python coiled in an untidy heap below the road next to the Sabie River.

  • The snore of an exhausted lioness during a break in mating.

  • A fleeting glimpse of the Sable Antelope’s scimitar horns near Pretoriuskop Rest Camp.


  • Multiple sightings of the “rare” tsessebe over a 36 hour period near Mopani Rest Camp.

  • Eighty buffalo silhouetted against the setting sun, kicking up the dust in their run down to the waterhole.

  • The huge bull elephant rolling like a kid in the mud at the edge of Nsime Dam.
 
  • The antics of a baboon troop on the banks of the Olifants River.



  • A Ground Hornbill feasting on a tortoise, tossing it into the air as it tries to get it’s beak into the head and leg openings.
 
  • The baby elephants rolling over and over in the shallows of the waterhole.


  • The troop of Banded Mongoose scampering down to drink at the waterhole with the baboons and two old bull elephants. 
 
  •  The majestic “King of the Jungle” surveying his domain in the setting sun.







  • A massive crocodile chasing fish in the shallows, with the young Fish Eagle hovering above waiting for a chance to grab the fish as it desperately leaps out of the water.


  • The wonderful people from all over the world that have shared with me all these experiences over the last 3 months.