Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Kruger: The final chapter

It was with some great sadness that I found myself enjoying the last few days of my Kruger stay. It's always a surprise how quickly time seems to have gone when you get to the end of a trip, although looking back, some of the memories feel so far away. What a trip it has been! Not only because I was alone for the most part, but because I could relax as I drove, appreciating smaller things without the rush of knowing you only have a few days to find your photographic targets.

The two images below are of a Yellow Billed hornbill whose nest I found. Hornbill females are coaxed into the hollowed out tree trunk, and they pull out their feathers to make a soft lining for the eggs. The male then seals the female and eggs inside, so that no predators can get to them, and he becomes responsible for feeding them until he unseals the nest chamber. This means that he is constantly flying back and forth carrying food to his new family!

One of my last three nights was spent with a friend's parents who were also staying at Satara. We braaied and chatted well into the night, and I only fell asleep somewhere around 12.30am. Being that there were only two full days left, we woke at 4am, tired, slightly hungover and yet not wanting to miss a moment out in the park. Shortly after leaving camp we came across a pride of lions in the road, 1 male, 4 females and 2 cubs. Being first on the scene we were able to set the 'stopping distance' a respectable way off, and watched them for nearly half an hour before someone decided they should push forward, eventually forcing the lions off the road into the bushes. Our last morning the same lions were again seen, but this time the cars who arrived first drove straight up onto them, causing the male to panic and run wildly away, the cubs in hot pursuit. We left then.

We had some beautiful light, some very good lion sightings, and even a leopard. While watching one pride of lions, a male and female walked up to the only small car in sight, which had just arrived on the scene, and began to peer through the back window of it. I could not believe my eyes! I think I would have been pleased to have it happen to me, but the person in the little car did not look very impressed when we drove past him afterwards.

We were also fortunate enough to come across a new born Wildbeest calf. It was still wet, with afterbirth on it and the mother, and we must have missed the birth by about 5 minutes, as the baby was still learning to stand. It was quite exciting though, watching it taking its tentative first steps, trying to suckle and learning that it could run (even if not in the direction it intended)

My final day in the park, I wished for a leopard in a tree. Not having been specific enough in my wish, Kruger provided a leopard in a tree, just not the right tree for photography :) lesson learnt!

When we did leave the park, I felt sad, tired and excited for sushi and a duvet, and to see my dog. Sushi is one of those things I cannot help but crave, given a week without it. And there is nothing better than a soft duvet on a bed, even if it is wet from a certain Golden Retriever who likes to dry himself off on it after a swim.

I think that the six weeks in the park were the best thing I could have done, as it gave me time to think, time to relax, time to try and improve my photography. Hopefully one day I will be able to call some great wilderness area home, but until then at least I have my travels!

Two young waterbuck testing their strength at sunset

Dwarf Mongoose at home

Vulture at sunrise

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Satara and the lions: My last stop in Kruger

Sunrise on the S100

Satara: One of my favourite camps, and the last on my Kruger route. It is however very busy at this time of year! The stay started extremely well, with a little bit of the magic that the S100 road is known for. We drove the road as soon as the gates opened, without too many other cars, and soon enough we came across a lone male lion in the distance. The light was low, and he was slowly moving away, so we moved off. Not long after that a few hyena materialized in front of us, carrying the horns and skin of what looked like a Wildebeest, and running, each pulling in a different direction. As our eyes got used to the light, we saw more hyena running about, apparently quite excited, with their tails raised, occasionally emitting yelps or giggles. One of the hyena began to call, a low call, followed by a high pitched one, which is done with their heads close to the ground, possibly to magnify the sound. It is a call which is often done when they are calling in reinforcements, as it can be heard over long distances. We couldn't see what could have required reinforcements, but the hyenas' excitement was enough that we sat watching them as they argued over legs and skin, chasing each other about. 

Before long, two male lion rumps appeared in the air, apparently eating in the longish grass off to the side - the hyena kept drawing nearer to them, but were relatively tentative. We sat there, watching the scene when someone pointed out that there were lions. We told them we knew. They then pointed behind us. As we turned, we saw another two males, with very impressive manes and stature marching purposefully out of the river bed. They had clearly heard the commotion, and were there to investigate. it took them about ten minutes before they noticed the two feeding lions. We had presumed they were a coalition, but suddenly they were on edge, unsure of whether to back away, or move forward. They stood a while, watching, with the other two lions completely unaware. All of a sudden they began to stalk towards the lion rumps in the grass. One obviously spotted the danger, and disappeared quickly, the other still completely unawares. Before he could register his brother's absence, the two newcomers were off after him, and they sprinted across the dusty S100, with us struggling to keep up, and keep them in sight. It is one exciting thing to see a male lion in full tilt - gone were the sleepy images of male lions who barely lift a head in acknowledgement of your presence: these were impressive killers, their gait powerful and their strides each full of intent. 

We lost them a few kilometres later, but did find yet another male lion, keeping his head low as he smelt the bushes and ground where he walked. 

The prudent male who kept his head low and out of the way

Alarming Impala

Wood textures
Many of our drives around Satara have produced large herds of buffalo and elephant. One herd of buffalo must have had upward of 400 animals, many calves, and some huge old bulls in it. They are very impressive, as the they materialize out of the trees, and continue to do so for ages, a seemingly never ending supply of horns and hooves. In the sighting pictured below, the animals took turns drinking and swimming in a large dam. A hippo was not well pleased with their presence, and would swim right up to them, stopped centimeters from their legs and yawn and open his mouth in a very disgruntled manner. He gave up when a big herd of elephant began streaming down on the opposite side of the dam, obviously realizing there would be no peace until they decided to leave of their own accord.

Satara camp
Cheetah just after sunset

Clearly the cats have been good in the area, and in the three days we have spent here so far we have had a number of lion sightings, as well as two cheetah late one night, and a leopard early one morning. The leopard sighting was the result of what I call (jokingly) my 'Mad Bush Skills'. I had heard some guinea fowl making a 'brrrrrrr kakakaka' sound repetitively, and had a vague recollection of hearing this sound before while watching a leopard in Etosha National Park. Guinea fowl are noisy animals, with many calls, but this time I was sure that the call meant 'predator'.  We sat for about 10 minutes, scouring the bush, before out on the road infront of us popped a beautiful female leopard, her eyes bright and round in the predawn light. She didn't stick around for very long, but it was rewarding none the less, and seieng this cat is always a great thrill!

The S100 delivered again on our second day at Satara, this time with a sighting of two male lions and a female. One of them was presumably keen on mating with her, as she kept on slapping him away whenever he came too close. I had my head out of the window while photographing, up until the point when the lions head filled the frame and I realized he was moving past out vehicle not a meter away from me. 

A bit close for comfort

New Years Day on the tropic of Capricorn
It has been wonderful having someone to share driving with, and to braai with - I have really enjoyed the evening sitting out on the stoep, stars above and the smell of braai wafting past my nose, having a chat about the day, and looking forward to the next. I even had the opportunity to test out my new telescope, and got some serious close up views of the moon's craters, crystal clear and bright in the night sky. I cannot wait to get a night where there is less of a moon, to look at some stars close up! The memories I have of Sossusvlei and the telescope there (although a lot bigger than mine) and the incredible time I had!