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!