Sunday, November 23

An abundance of leopard

It was one of those safaris...............

This morning I had to re-read my safari diary to remind me what else we saw:- multiple sightings of lion, two cheetah, an amazing hyena interaction, a honey badger with cub, massive buffalo herds, dozens of elephant, rhinos.....

But it will always be remembered for the SIX different leopard we saw (a personal record!).

On a cool, dark and drizzly day late in September I picked Thomas & Wendy up from the airport outside Nelspruit. Our first night in Kruger was at Bergendal in the south, so we descended down through the Crocodile River Gorge to enter at Malelane gate.

After spending 15 excited minutes on the bridge seeing our first elephant, hippo, crocodiles and many birds, we cleared the gate and started our game drive.

To be totally honest I wasn't expecting the first drive to be a particularly good one. The weather was miserable (thank goodness we were in a closed vehicle!) and this particular area of Kruger had been very quiet the last few times I had been through.

An hour later, my fears were being realised, when we spotted our first giraffe some distance ahead of us down the dirt road!

I coasted slowly down the road, not wanting to scare them away before we could get a good picture, and on the lookout on both sides to see if there were any other giraffe closer to us.......

And there on top of a rock I saw a leopard!!

It was keeping a low profile and a wary eye on the giraffe....... and if we had come in from the other side we may not have seen it either!

Perhaps the giraffe could sense potential danger, they moved off very quickly as we got closer, although I will admit that we weren't paying much attention to them at that stage!

The leopard came out and sat up for us once the giraffe were out of sight, and for the next 10 minutes we watched, admired and waited........

All the while only a couple of other cars came past, spent a minute or so and then drove off again.

Two more cars heading south towards us, stopped about 100m down the road. We couldn't see what they were observing so once it became obvious that our leopard was settled in on the rock we went to see what else was going on.

Another leopard!!

On the opposite side of the road, in clear view but much further away.......

Still only 100m or so from our first leopard!!

We didn't have long. It came down the tree within a couple of minutes and started moving south, parallel to the road but out of sight.

I took a chance and we reversed back to our previous position next to leopard number 1.

 And from his vantage point he obviously spotted the second leopard moving past on the other side from us.

We only had a minute of him staring straight over us when he leaped down the rock and bounded towards and past us to cross the road and disappear himself.

Wendy who was the only one of us not focusing through a camera view finder got an incredible adrenalin rush seeing that leopard coming straight for her before it swerved to avoid the car.

What an incredible experience!! Two leopards, next to each other, within an hour of entering Kruger. That had never happened to me before!

We were on a total high from then on.

Great sightings of rhino and elephant followed.

And then our THIRD leopard of the afternoon / safari.

It was getting quite dark by now but she was posing so beautifully in this Marula tree for all of us.....

It was obviously an excellent day for leopards to be out looking for food from high vantage points.

Having seen three leopards on the first afternoon game drive of the safari (the first time for me) I was not going to go out of my way to find leopard on the rest of the trip. 

As I mentioned right at the top we had some excellent sightings of many other animals, but the leopards just kept on popping up!

None of the subsequent leopard sightings could compete in excitement or quality to the first one, but on any typical safari they would have all been classified as good or excellent.

Just to prove the point, here are the next 3 leopards we saw......

Day 2 - leopard no. 4

Day 3 - leopard no.5

Day 3 - leopard no.6
As I mentioned at the top, a new personal record was set with 6 leopards in one safari. The previous record was 5 and that was quite a long time ago!

Many thanks to Thomas and Wendy for coming on safari - I wouldn't have been there if they hadn't, and thanks to Thomas for contributing some great photos of those leopards.

Thursday, November 13

Babies, babies everywhere?

Impala ewe & lamb, November 2013

The anticipation is building.......

Impala lambing season is starting any second now......

And then you won't be able to see the bush for the babies!

In the meantime, there are many other young mammals to be seen......

Not many of Krugers mammals are strictly seasonal but it is definitely noticeable that more babies arrive at this time of the year than in other months.

Here are just a few that we've seen over the last few weeks.

This was a great sighting! Hippo mothers usually keep their young well away from human presence.

Thankfully the rains have arrived not too many weeks after the extensive wildfires of late September.

This elephant mothers gaunt appearance is probably due to the lack of suitable food (end of October).
She should recover quickly now that the bush is becoming greener.

White Rhino calf

This young rhino like many youngsters was quite curious about us.....

Fortunately for us the number of tourists & vehicles in Kruger dropped quite significantly in the first week of November, so we had 15 uninterrupted minutes with this calf and it's mother whilst they took their time crossing the road.

Vervet Monkey

Baby Chacma Baboon

The primates are some of my favourite animals - just so human-like without any of our inhibitions.

The babies are particularly cute.

(Which is why so many people "adopt" baby Vervets & then abandon them when they become not so cute adults!)

Warthog (aka Pumba)

And then I laughed and laughed.....

These three, 4-day old "hoglets" were careering around like maniacs whilst their mother was chomping away as fast as she could on the lush green lawn of the lodge we were staying at.

Sorry, folks, it was almost impossible to get a "sharp" photo of these little ones. They hardly stopped moving.

And of course that's one of the joys of the baby season.

It's just amazing, and hilarious, to watch all those new, innocent animals bounding around with very little fear or caution.

I'm so looking forward to seeing the 2014 crop of impala lambs!

For more baby pics check out my posting on the same topic last year. (click on the link below)

It's baby time in Kruger

Thursday, November 6

My new camera, and some birds!

White-bellied Sunbird on Cape Honeysuckle
I bought my first digital SLR (DSLR) camera 8 years ago, just before starting my career as a safari guide.

After much research I had decided on the Pentax K10D for 3 main reasons:-

1) on it was rated the best in it's class and price range
2) it had weather/dust seals and promised to suit rugged conditions
3) I still had a couple of Pentax lenses from the days of my film SLR camera.........

and overall I've never regretted that decision.

Crowned Hornbill
Approximately 36,000 clicks of the shutter later I knew I needed to upgrade. I was getting more & more frustrated with the limitations of my camera and this in turn meant that I was losing interest and inspiration in my photography.

A couple of years ago I acquired a Sigma 18-250mm super zoom lens and this gave me a boost for a while but I was always a little disappointed that it hadn't delivered as much as I thought it should....

Well after a few months of research & dithering I've just bought the Pentax K-3 DSLR, and WOW!!

African Open-bill

I mean it's obviously going to be better, just look at the difference in some of the specs......

a) K10D = 10 megapixels           K-3 = 24 megapixels

b) K10D = max ISO 1600           K-3 = max ISO 51200

c) K10D - released in 2006        K-3 released in 2013

The huge increase in megapixels plus the ability to increase my shutter speeds (to reduce my shake!!) and the reduction in noise at higher ISO values has definitely improved the sharpness of my photos in the usual outdoor, safari shooting conditions (the pictures above...) and has also given me the ability to take more advantage of low lighting..... (for example this pic taken at dusk of the Black-collared Barbet in it's nesting hole).

Another big improvement is the colour and white balance of the JPEGs produced by my new camera.

African Fish Eagle
Photo editing/processing really doesn't turn me on, except in exceptional cases. I have an old (very) version of ACDSee with which I crop as required, mildly sharpen, resize down to 100+/- kB and watermark before publication. With the old K10D I also had to do a fair amount of contrast, high and low lighting adjustments plus some colour correction. With the new K-3 this has significantly reduced and in cases where I've been lucky enough to have optimal lighting conditions I haven't had to do any adjustments on the JPEG at all :)

The new camera has all the pluses that took me the Pentax DSLR route in the first place plus a lot of the new features that the modern DSLRs have (video, larger screen etc.). And thankfully the buttons on the back are almost in the same places so I haven't had to re-acquire muscle memory for rapid shooting......

The only potential downside of the upgrade is that the average JPEG size has increased from 3 MB to 12 MB, so my disc drives are filling up rapidly and the software I use is now very slow...... more upgrades are obviously in the pipeline!!

Green-backed Heron

Kori Bustard

Bateleur Eagle (immature)

Grey Go-away Bird

Yellow-billed Stork
Well, I hope you like the results of my new camera as much as I do. In the 3 weeks that I've had it I've already taken 1300 shots and I keep looking for new subjects to capture even whilst sitting at home like now!

Tuesday, October 7

Those elusive animals of Kruger National Park

An uncommon sighting, Common Reedbuck in a typical pose

If you want to know what's really hard to find in Kruger National Park you just need to watch out for a guides over-the-top response to an animal (usually of a smaller size) sighting.

It's unusual for any first time visitor to Kruger or the African bush, to know what's common and what's rare. Muddling the issue, animals that are rare in Kruger are not always uncommon in other National Parks in Southern Africa, and animals rarely seen "in the wild" can often be seen scavenging in & around human habitation (too influenced by humans to be truly wild in my opinion).

And then to confuse things further, one can have a month like I did in September where I saw more Serval and Honey Badger over just a few weeks than I have seen in 30 years of visiting the bush and 7 years of working in Kruger.

So going back to my opening paragraph - look out for the guides reaction..........

At the end of August I saw my first Sable Antelope for the year. The view was not even as good as this one (pic taken in 2009) and my clients were quite puzzled by my exclamations over a rather obscure dark blob in the long grass.......

Tsessebe near Phabeni Gate

Tsessebe are rare in Kruger, although on a safari back in 2008, Allison, Simon and Lu didn't believe me at all after seeing these graceful antelope on every game drive we did out from Mopani Rest Camp......

Sharpes Grysbok

The Sharpes Grysbok is only found in the far north of Kruger (although I have seen it near Mopani). But even there, it is hard to find. This was my last sighting - September 2011 (and also the last time I was that far north!).

Common Reedbuck

And back to the not-so Common Reedbuck. Not a particularly dramatic looking antelope so my clients are always a little puzzled as to my excitement! We saw a small family herd a few weeks ago on the burnt veld near Pretoriuskop, but before that I hadn't had a good sighting for several years.

The most exciting action I had in the last two weeks was 4 different sightings of Honey Badger. In Kruger I had only seen these famous, courageous  creatures twice before!

At both Satara and Orpen Rest camps they upset rubbish bins and raid kitchens and can a be a real nuisance - but to see them acting more naturally in-the-wild is most uncommon!

Note the distinct markings on the back of Serval ears

And so to the predators............

Most visitors understandably know about and want to see Africas large cats - lion, leopard and cheetah.....

Most guides and regular visitors to the bush get really excited about Serval, Caracal and African Wild Cat - the "small" cats of Kruger.

I still haven't seen caracal in the wild and have only had a handful of partial sightings of African Wild Cat.

In September we had two great sightings of Serval (4th and 5th lifetime sightings!)

When I spotted my fifth Serval, sitting calmly on the side of road we all almost fell off our seats I braked so hard.

African Wild Cat

The list of Kruger animals that I'm still to find is long - Aardvark, Pangolin, Roan Antelope, Eland (in Kruger), many of the birds, reptiles, snakes.......... but what's life without some challenges?

Sunday, September 7

My 100th posting, celebrating 900+ days on safari

It's taken me a while to decide how to celebrate my 100th blog posting.

First I thought to emulate a blog buddy of mine by publishing a selection from my photos that are numbered #100 (too restrictive & not many good ones).

Then I tried selecting every 100th of all the ones I've taken whilst on safari (way too many.....!!)

And finally the method that struck a nice balance between the first 2 - a selection of photos & memories of each 100th day on safari!

It's ended up being quite a lengthy posting, but it's also quite a nice outline of my guiding life for the last, almost 7, years so I hope you make it through to the end.......

100th day on safari (Spring 2008)

Most safaris that start/end in Johannesburg include a side trip along the edge of the Mpumalanga escarpment, aka The Panorama. With some tour operators this is on the first day, for others the last day and on some different tours this is done en route between Kruger and a private game reserve.

My 100th day on safari was the last day of a 5 Day Kruger "Classic" and we did the Panorama on the way back to Jo'burg.

It was springtime and the Common Sugar bush was in full flower along the mountains.....

(Clients:- Ronnie, Nina & Peggy from the USA)

200th day on safari (Mid summer 2008/09)

The first day of another 5 Day Kruger Classic marked my 200th on safari. I don't always have my camera ready on the first day but on this day I managed to capture this European Roller waiting to spot a tasty insect.

(I might add that on this particular trip I managed to get the minibus stuck in a muddy hole on a very remote road north of Letaba camp). It took me a few hours to get a ride back to camp and the tow service back to pull us out. I don't think Craig & Marcel will ever forget that little adventure in the depths of Africa - no photos thank goodness!).

300th day on safari (Late winter 2009)

Slender mongoose

The south west section of Kruger is where I spent my 300th day on safari with Lucia and Andrea from Italy.

We had some great sightings but the highlights were the Slender Mongoose posing (very unusual) for us on the road and the small elephant herd that came to drink right next to the bird hide at Lake Panic.

400th d.o.s. (Late summer 2010)

I was very lucky with the first safari company I worked for, in that many of the safaris I did also visited northern Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.
My 400th day was spent doing a morning game drive in Kruger National Park and riding along as a passenger on the afternoon game drive in Sabi Sand PGR.
Martial Eagle with Monitor Lizard kill

These are two of the highlights of that day (with my clients Krikkor & Alean from Canada).
A beautiful Sabi Sand leopard

Day 500 !! (Late winter 2010)

I wish I had been counting the days at the time so I could have celebrated my half millennium on safari a little more "vigorously", but it was still a very special day - if not specifically planned that way!
Blue wildebeest

I had my brother and nephew from the UK on safari and it was such a pleasure to be able to share my passion with close family.

Nile crocodile

My first 499 days on safari were done as a full-time employee of the first safari company I worked for.
Then I went free lance.
Freelancing in 2011 was mostly as a Dive Master in Southern Mozambique - which I loved - but was not quite as fulfilling as safari work.
So early in 2012 I started seriously looking for work in Kruger again. Life is definitely not as hectic now as it was in my first 3 years as a guide so the days are not racking up quite as fast - but I am definitely having more fun!

Day 600 (Autumn 2012)

For much of 2012 the safaris I did were based in Guernsey PGR from where we did day trips into Kruger via the Orpen Gate. Although the days were long it was a great opportunity to explore and get familiar with this amazing part of Kruger.

Day 600 was the first day of a 5 Day Tour with Agata and Zbigniew from Poland. It was a stunningly beautiful, clear, sunny day on the Panorama and I had a great time with my camera........
Pilgrims Rest
Insect life in the Cloud Forest

Upstream from Lisbon Falls
Full moon over Guernsey Nature Reserve
Day 700 (Mid summer 2012/13)

By early 2013 I was spending more time back in the south of Kruger, where mid summer is hot, sticky, and lushly vibrant with colours of green, blue, grey, scarlet, yellow......

Amanda & Rachel from the USA had joined me for a quick 3 day safari and despite all the rain and thick bush we managed to find the "Big 5" in the first 2 days. So on Day 3 (my 700th) we relaxed, stopped at Lake Panic Bird Hide and drove leisurely out on Doispane Road (one of my favourite routes).....

Giant African land snail
Grey Heron

looking west towards the mountains

Day 800 (Spring 2013)

October is usually very hot and very dry, but sometimes the rains start early and then the animal sightings become very unpredictable. Day 800 was the first full day in Kruger for me and my 6 clients (Eric, Steve & Elvira from USA, and Sina, Andrea and Antonia from Germany) and we struggled to find many of the big animals but we did have some special encounters.......
White Rhino
Boomslang in roadside tree

 And finally.... Day 900 (Late winter 2014)

 And so we come to my 900th day on safari. That was only a few weeks ago and typical for this time of the year it was one day amongst many that we had great lion sightings.....
The grass is still quite long in many places this year (perhaps due to the late rains in March?) so I have not been getting very good "photographic" views of the animals from where I sit in the drivers seat of the open safari vehicle, but here are a couple of the shots I did manage to get.
(Clients:- Nerijus, Sigita, Jurgita & Steffani via Luxembourg & USA)

a rather bemused looking, young, Spotted Hyena
Wary Nyala

So that winds up what is probably one of my longest posts. Fitting I hope for the 100th one!?

It may take a bit longer to get to 200 as I am not posting quite as often as I did in the early years, but then we never really know what's going to happen tomorrow do we?

I hope you continue to tune in to read my posts and enjoy the photos. I especially thank all of you for your interest and support, especially those of you who take the time to leave comments.