The other guests decided to sleep in so I was the only guest in the vehicle and ranger Matt and I left earlier than what would be ‘normal’ . Can’t help it but I absolutely love that so the day began already perfect. Maybe it was an omen for things to come..
The game drive started off with the old(est) Styx lioness more or less ón the road near the remains of yesterday’s buffalo kill. Which by now smelled quite.. matured. Apparently the waiting Vultures didn’t care too much about the odor. I guess the lioness stuffed herself to the max, made an effort to walk away but was too full and just fell over. Have a look at the picture on the right; have you ever seen a lion this fat?
After a while we went on. We were checking a couple of roads, (all of the rangers tended to stay a little bit in the neighborhood of the airstrip just in case the dogs would return :-)) when all of a sudden my eye caught spots on the move… Leopard!
After so many drives together with Hans I know better than to shout out loud when I see something but I haven’t reached the desired “oh .. eh.. leopard at 11 o’clock, dear” just yet. In stead I grab the ranger’s arm and squeeze… And in this case, I squeezed hàrd! Not one but two leopards!! We found my favorite lady, the Kikelezi Female ànd her daughter. Apparently the Kikelezi had come to get her daughter to feed because when we arrived, they were just greeting each other. The baby rubbed herself against her mother and there was a lot of hugging and kissing. (picture left). Really heart melting to see. After a while they went off together and while mom was keeping a watchful eye out, the baby was kind of frolicking her way forward, clearly feeling quite safe with mom around.
Frankly, I didn’t know where and what to shoot first or last. I knew, as it was still very early, around 6AM, that there wouldn’t be light enough to catch fast movement so I just raised iso and shot what I could. I don’t think I breathed much in between 🙂 It was so absolutely gorgeous!!
After a while, the two of them went in the direction of a ‘koppie’, the Afrikaans word for a rocky outcrop. It took some fancy climbing with the big Landrover to follow them but Matt did great. (In fact I think all of the rangers just love off-road driving, and the more difficult it is, the more fun it is!). They went to the top of the rocks and one after the other, jumped down the rock into the sandy riverbed. Matt plunged the Landrover down the rock and we were just in time to see the baby jump down. After they had a drink in a small pool, we decided to leave them to it, as they left in bush so thick, that it was almost impossible to follow. But what an incredibly beautiful sighting. And on top of that, my second (well second and third) own leopard find ever!
High on adrenalin we went on. Whatever happened, this was already a fantastic day.
But as so often, once a day starts off good, it only gets better and it did. All of the bird species that I really wanted to capture but so far hadn’t managed really well, just seemed to line up. Blue Waxwing, Hoopoo, Plum Colored Starling, they all co-operated!
We saw the crazy cousin of the equally crazy Black-Bellied Bustard, the Red-Crested Korhaan do his ridiculous mating dance; to attract the ladies he shoots off in the air like a rocket and at the highest point folds in his wings and comes plummeting out of the sky like a stone. Just before it hits the ground it unfolds its wings again to break the fall. Weird family!
The morning had one more surprise in stock as, when we were on our way towards breakfast we encountered this perfect line-up of 4 female White Rhinos (who aren’t white at all obviouosly, but are called that way because of the shape of their lip; they used to be called wide-lip in afrikaans and it got translated into english as white). They were ‘guarded’ by an enormous male – whos motivation to do so might not be altogether unselfish – and the largest of the females made it quite clear to him that the ladies could perfectly well take care of their own…
And this was only the morning drive!!
The afternoon drive was equally stunning as we bumped into a large herd of elephant just after we left the camp. They were so close that at one point I thought this one would actually touch ranger Matt. The shot was taken with a wide-angle lens, in reality I could almost touch it!
Everytime I see a big pile of Elephant dung, while I’m in Africa, I’m secretely thrilled..
Because where there’s elephant dung, there are dung beetles!
It’s always hard to explain to rangers that I rèally want to ly down in the dust (and what else) and try to capture them from a low angle to show how great they really are.
I just love those little busy critters. It is hilarious to watch the antics of these funny creatures, rolling their dung balls with their girlfriends attached to it, playing the gladiatior when some other nasty little dung beetle tries to cheat and steel his dung ball away from him.
We visited the Hyena Den in the south and sure enough (how could it not be on a day like this..) the little baby was out of the den. it was just too cute with its huge pink ears!!
We had parked the car at the base of the sloping rock and the little one just went down and watched us. Totally adorable.
It was already clear that this day had to end in a special way. It just had to. And who would be more fit to close this terrific day off than my favorite leopard, the Bicycle Crossing Male. He made a beautiful appearance during sunset, when he walked straight at us through the reeds. He is just so confident, so impressive with his stocky, massive body and the fearless look in his eyes.
A perfect end to a perfect day..