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…….


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,
we got your blog address from Hans Glunz, our old friend from Hamburg.
He told us that we go together on safari to Etosha, that would be very nice.
I hope we make a lot of wildlife photos together as you did all the time on your trips in the bush. We like your blog very much.
see you soon in JHB
Dieter&Mary from Greece.

Coral Wild said...

Hi Dieter, Mary, I am glad that you enjoy my blog. I look forward to our trip to Etosha together. I am sure we will have many great moments.