By now I was so used to getting up at 4.30 (to depart at 5AM) that a wake-up call at 5.30AM and departing at 6AM seemed like a total waste of valuable time 🙂
If you think that’s a crazy attitude; so does Hans 🙂
So we went out at 6 and even before we crossed the Sand River (the Mala Mala reserve is split by the river, but about 80% of the reserve is located east of it) , Matt found the tracks of a big male leopard. Leopards are territiorial but in this particular section of the reserve, the territories of two big dominant males overlap; my all time favorite leopard, the Bicycle Crossing Male, and the one that over the past few years has gained more and more ground upon his opponent, the Emsegwen Male. We found the latter, big and well fed, strolling along the bank of the Sand River. We could follow it for some time, before he just fell over and went to sleep (and did so for the rest of the day! 🙂
After four consequent years of visiting Mala Mala, the leopards become sort of familiar faces, and following their lives is like watching a soap opera (only with longer intervals between the episodes). Of all the leopards I saw over the past years, lots of them are dead by now, killed by lions, wild dogs, old age or disease. Same with the lion prides. The only difference there is that they almost all got killed by other lions. But some seem to outlive it all. Like these two, the Bicycle Crossing and the Emsegwen Male. With the females, my favorites the Kikilezi Female and the Ostrich Koppies female are – to my relief – also still alive and doing well.
When crossing the river a Pied Kingfisher was hovering just next to the causeway. In previous years I managed a couple of shots of this bird, but never anything special. So I was thrilled that it did just about everything a Kingfisher does; fishing, flying, hovering, diving, allowing me shot after shot.
Mala Mala never disappoints. Game viewing is among the best in Africa, at least as far as I can judge after 20 years of travelling in many different African countries and having been on more game drives than I can count.
Before this day ended, we saw all of the Big 5 animals, Leopard, Lion, Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo. One of the most beautiful sightings was a young female leopard, the Tamboti Female. When I remember correctly, she is a daughter of the Bicycle Crossing Male, hence her striking beauty 🙂
Maybe I’m just sentimental, but I feel so very privileged to share a moment of the lives of these magnificent animals that every time I feel totally humbled.
By now the feeling of loneliness had totally gone and I was enjoying myself enormously. One of the biggest thrills is that you just never know what you’ll encounter. Around every corner, behind every bush, a new fantastic sighting can be waiting.
A lonely Hippo bull sat in a pool that seemed way too small for him. Only on a closer look we saw that he had been rather roughed up so probably he was either chased away by an ever bigger bull or he had wisely retreated for a while, until his wounds were healed.
When the evening fell on this very first day at Mala Mala, we were treated to a couple of breathtakingly beautiful sightings. We found two of the Lionesses of the Styx pride, seperated from their pride, drinking in one of the pools while the sun was setting, bathing her in the most beautiful light.
When crossing the river again, this time taking the bridge, the Emsegwen Male leopard was lying totally relaxed high up a little hill, perfectly lit by the warm African light.
Just before it got totally dark, passing the airstrip, the Impala rams made a beautiful picture against the sunset.
And in that same area, Matt all of a sudden hit the brakes and shone the spotlight on the most curious looking bird; a Pennant Winged Night Jar. It sat on the ground and its feathers were the longest I’ve ever seen! When I crawled out of the vehicle to try and get a ground-level shot, it flew off. With the spotlight illuminating its flight, it looked like a ghost, or maybe a flying bride.. The body itself was almost invisible, but the long white feathers on its wings looked like waving white veils against the dark night sky.. Beautiful!!
And that ended a perfect first day at Mala Mala..