Tuesday, April 19

Quality time with a leopard

The second trip I did to Kruger last week couldn't have been more different from the first! The first major cold front of the winter swept north eastwards across South Africa from the Southern Ocean, bringing rain and a major drop in temperatures.

So from a sunny, balmy start to the week, by Thursday the skies were gloomy and everywhere damp.

Big changes in weather make the animal sightings even more unpredictable, and this time it was to produce for me (and my guests) an unforgettable 2 days.

I had had a very early start in Johannesburg, picking up guests from 3 distant points across the city, but we were on our way eastwards eventually. After a quick lunch outside Kruger we did the "short" game drive in to camp so the guests could catch the afternoon drive in the open landrover. We were almost too late! The usual 30 minute drive in turned into an hour, as we stopped for excellent sightings of giraffe, zebra and then a huge old elephant bull, in musth, who was finding the cars passing on the road extremely annoying and kept on shaking his head and giving us short warning charges. We reluctantly left him eventually and rushed to check in at camp.

An hour later, after seeing our guests on to their game drives, tired as I was after 10 hours of driving, I decided to visit a small waterhole a few k's from camp, to just sit, relax and enjoy the silence of the bush for half an hour or so. I was the only vehicle there and it was beautifully quiet, except for the birdsong................  when enter stage left, a long, lean, tawny shadow, with a flick of a white tipped tail, stole through the long thick grass down towards the water.

She disappeared into the long grass by the water's edge for 5 minutes, but my patience was rewarded when she reappeared and walked across the open area in front of me. For the next 20 minutes I followed, watching this beautiful young female leopard go about her business of getting ready for the night's hunting.


And next....... Wild Dog!

More rain over night but by the time we were drinking our pre dawn coffee it had gone. As we started our game drive out of the park the sunrise over the river was framed by thick heavy clouds, warning of further rain to come.

The guests I was driving back to Johannesburg had not yet seen lion, so there was a bit of pressure, but with a limit to where and for how long we could do the game drive, I knew not to let that worry me. If the lions were there, then we would be lucky, if they were not, well there is not much one can do about it.

An excellent start to the drive was a small herd of elephant, two adult females, a juvenile and two babies. They browsed in the bushes next to the road for a while, hesitating to cross, another  vehicle in their way, before scurrying over in a bunch.  Then two spotted hyaenas lying in the middle of the road, seemingly relaxed but keeping a wary eye on the cars negotiating a way around them. Soon after that, a stretch of road with giraffe and zebra, on both sides and crossing ahead of us. Who would believe that it can often be difficult to find these two animals in the south at this time of the year?!


Around the next two corners, and there running towards us down the road were six Wild Dog! What an excitement! These critically endangered predators are a rare sighting indeed!

And we were so lucky, half an hour later we were still in the “front row” watching them play, rest, look interested in some far off impala and wildebeest, roll in their own regurgitated muck ……


Well, we had a plane to catch in Jo’burg, and still a very long way to go, so we moved on at last, leaving the Wild Dog to continue their early morning antics, and, can you believe it, after another 30 minutes of driving we meet another nine Wild Dogs running towards us! No stopping this time though, and we left them to the other tourists to enjoy……..


In the last few kilometres before the Kruger exit, a distant white rhino and two old buffalo bulls showed themselves, and still no lion. But we were all so stunned at the awesome drive we had had, that the lack of lion did not seem so important any more.

Well, that was the end of my week in Kruger – what a wrap up!

Wednesday, April 13

A quiet afternoon on the Sabie River

It is now that change of seasons between summer and winter, or in this part of the world, the wet season is easing into the dry season. The intense heat of only a week ago has suddenly become bearable. The days are sunny and warm, the evenings pleasantly cool. The bush is still gloriously lush and verdant thanks to the good rainfall of the summer.

Down by the Sabie River, the trees are not showing any hint of yellow yet, but the grasses are tall and golden, the animals fat and sleek.

Late Monday afternoon I went for a lazy drive along the river. Impala, baboons, vervet monkeys and guinea fowl were pretty much the only animals to be seen, but with warm yellow sunshine, crystal clear air, dramatic grey white puffy clouds in a blue sky and always the rushing noise of water over rocks, I didn’t much care.

(Fortunately for our safari guests, they were out on a game drive in the opposite direction, and had great sightings of elephant and lionesses with cubs!)

I had fun with my camera anyway …….

Thursday, April 7

Calls of the Wild

For those of us who spend time in the cities, we get so bombarded with the never ending white noise of machinery and people in motion that we forget how to really listen, how to hear the “real” sounds of the world around us.

Silence, just silence, is one of the most immediate impacts on first-time visitors to the African bush. Of course, as with all things in life, silence is a relative and variable quality and unless you are in a truly empty part of the world there is hardly ever a total lack of sound – the trick is to listen!

The wonderful thing about our sense of hearing is that once you have “tuned in” to a particular sound, you will always hear it again, and every time you do, you wonder why on earth you hadn’t ever heard it before that “first time”?

In particular, there are two “calls of the wild” that stir my emotions deeply when I hear them in the depths of the black African night or greeting the arrival of dawn after the long perilous hours of darkness. No matter how deep my sleep is, no matter how far and faint the call is, I am so tuned in that I instantly awake to listen and marvel.

Much has been written, filmed, recorded and described about the “roar” of the African lion. But I can seriously say that until you have heard it yourself, out in the bush, you cannot truly appreciate the majesty of this awesome animal.

To actually witness a lion whilst it is calling is an exceptional event. After all we are generally hiding safely in bed, like most sensible “prey”, when the lion is at its most active. For the few times that I have been fortunate enough to “be there” I have been deeply moved and had tears pricking my eyes on at least one occasion. Some of you reading these words right now have been there with me and you will know exactly where I am coming from.

Sabi Sand 2008, for Cynthia & Elizabeth

Moving on, reluctantly, from the lion’s call, I realise that I have digressed somewhat from the original intent of this posting, which was to share with you some thoughts on a distinctive bird that we are fortunate enough to see quite often in Kruger – the Southern ground hornbill.

Apart from it’s unique looks, interesting habits and gorgeous eye lashes, it produces my most favourite bird call of them all.

Early in the pre-dawn darkness is when I most often hear the booming, haunting melody of a parcel of ground hornbills, making their territorial calls, usually while still roosting in a favoured large tree.

In pitch, the ground hornbills call is very close to that of a lion, a deep bass, just on the edge of human hearing, not easily picked up by the un-tuned ear, but still detectable through all the other higher pitched, every day sounds that are present as the camp wakes up for the new day.

Nothing beats that wake up call for me, nothing.

Southern Ground Hornbill