Hennie van Heerden's Wildlife Diary

November 30, 2010

The dogs are out!!

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 5:35 am
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When I woke up it seemed like a glorious dry and sunny day.  All night lions had been roaring all around camp, so I was brimming to go out and find them, certainly after yesterday. But the first thing we found was a rather disturbing discovery… A stray dog!! Now in many areas a stray dog is nothing to worry about and part of every day life, but in an African Game reserve, it’s something to raise high alarm. Not only is it a predatory threat to many animals but it may carry something much more dangerous; rabies! South Africa still suffers highly from this disease, thousands of people get infected and each year dozens of people still die from it; let alone the number of animals that suffer from it. A bite from this stray could have a devastating effect on the wildlife within the reserve.  Any responsible person just can’t take that risk!
This seemed to be a poacher’s dog (as I was told). His ears were clipped in a strange way.. I could have chosen not to mention it here, but it is part of every day life in a game reserve in South Africa and I think we, as guests, have to respect that.  Mala Mala does all it can to ban rabies from their territory and took part in a huge and costly vaccination program against rabies just last year and it has the right, no, even the duty, to protect all the animals (and people) on their premises as good as they can.
We stayed with the dog, which pretty much behaved like a proper Wild Dog, starting an endless seemingly effortless trot, stopping here and there to see if there was something to hunt, until the head ranger arrived…

Still, despite the fact that I totally understand and agree, we were a little shook-up when we went on our way.
But… as so often is the case.. pretty soon something happened to change our moods completely.

Wild Dogs!
The same hunting pack, consisting of 7 dogs were on the premises! Same as a week ago, all signs went on red… 🙂
We tried to get to the scene as quickly as possible and found the pack heading for the river. It is just impossible to describe the feeling of seeing those magnificent animals. Their energy, their social interaction, their playfulness, it is mindblowing to watch!

We followed the pack until we reached the river. The pack seemed quite anxious to cross; understandable as there are many dangers like crocs and hippos. And there seemed to be something in the water that kept them from crossing. They trotted up and down the bank but didn’t dare to get into the water.
At a certain moment, we had to make way for other vehicles according to Mala Mala’s strict 3 cars maximum policy. But Matt had a brainwave; you could almost see the flashing light bulb above his head :-). He quickly turned the car and we crossed the river a bit further on. We circled around until we were on the opposite bank of the river where the dogs were still trying to cross, facing us directly. What a wonderful sight!!  In the end, the dogs decided against crossing and moved on. But thanks to Matt, it sure was a memorable sighting!! Rangers like this make all the difference….

After breakfast, Matt suggested to go out again as we would have new guests arriving in the afternoon (and so the chance to stop at the ‘little things’ or spend time with a bird for instance, would be limited). Although it may sound a little weird, we had a great time watching a tiny little newborn Impala getting the hang of sanitary breaks, mimicking his mother in everything she did. When mam peed, the baby did too, nearly falling over on wobbly legs; when she poo’d, the baby did too, completely toppling over 🙂 Too cute and funny!
We found the old Styx pride lioness up north resting and spent some time with a beautiful male Waterbuck, having a quiet little siesta.
A herd of Elephants was slowly making its way through the bush. Every time I’m amazed how a herd of dozens of massive elephants can move in such a silent way..

Just after lunch the new guests arrived and everyone was just brimming with enthusiasm to go out, right after tea, hoping of course for another sighting of the dogs. But first there was another surprise in store!

Not long after we went out, we stumbled upon the Kikilezi Female and her daughter, both together. Mom had made a kill; a baby impala but they didn’t seem in a particular hurry to eat it. Not surprising given the number of kill she made over tha past few days. In stead the baby used it as practice material;

 “killing it’ over and over again. It was jumping up and down, snarling at it, growling, throwing it in the air and practicing different ways of the ‘killer-bite”. Everytime it had mastered a new tactics, it proudly showed it to mom, who was resting in the shade nearby, keeping an eye out for the many possible dangers around. What a sight!!!!

And as always, when a day is so full of the most beautiful sightings, it wan’t over yet. When the sun was about to go down, we received a call on the radio; The dogs were back!!! And apparently they had hunted succesfully because when we arrived, they were all lying around, covered in blood from top to toe and helping eachother with the cleaning of the fur. Hyenas were surrounding the pack, hoping for scraps, but were ferociously kept at bay by the pack of dogs. We stayed with the dogs for a while while it got dark. When we drove back to camp we were just talking about how incredible the day had been. It was at that moment that the lovely Tamboti Female Leopard topped off the day by her appearance.  On the move, hunting, it was impossible to get a decent shot of her, but I kind of like the motion blur in the shot below, when she was walking in front of us, with the headlights of the other car on the scene as backlight. What a day!!!!!

November 29, 2010

More rain…

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 1:44 pm

 It was raining cats and dogs when we went out in the morning but at least we did go out. Only to be flushed back into camp about an hour later, after having found out that the provided raincapes only held the rain off of your skin for about 10 minutes before they started seeping through. The rows behind the front seats are benches and a bit convex so the water just drips off. The 2 front seats however are a bit hollow resulting in both Matt and me sitting in a puddle of water, which grew deeper by the minute.  Ok, I hate to admit it but we gave up. After a nice warm shower and a warm hearty breakfast we all felt better again.

I passed the time, waiting for the rain to stop, photographing the Glossy Starlings on the deck of Main Camp, that checked if there still was something edible under the tables.

But it looked like clearing up and Mala Mala is flexible. So lunch was served a bit earlier and pretty soon after it was dry. So out we went. Close to camp we found a big male Cheetah lying around quite listlessly. Guess he had been in a puddle all morning as well 🙂
But as we stood there another sound caught our attention. It was the frantic flapping of wings and we looked around if we could find what was going on. The sound came from a Night Jar; a bird you normally only see at night in your headlights. The birds seem real Kamikaze pilots as they only fly up when you are almost on top of them. But now he was acting strangely and it seemed injured. It went about flapping and dragging its wings on the ground.  Many birds try to lure predators away from their nests  by acting lame and injured, hoping to lure the enemy’s attention on to themselves and away from the vulnurable eggs or chicks. We recognized the behaviour and realized that, unintentionally of course, we had come too close to the poor birds nest. So while we were retreating, I quickly shot a few pictures as this was probably my only chance of photographing a Night Jar in daylight!!

As we went on, we found the 2 lionesses of the Styx pride, looking hungry. And my handsome favorite leopard the Bicycle Crossing Male was looking quite grumpy too 🙂
Only the Waterbucks and the Hippo seemed happy ..

Ah well, the rain is good for the land..

November 28, 2010

The Martial and the Moon

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 11:29 am

Early morning is definitively my favorite time of the day for photography. The cool light brings out the lovely colors so much better than for instance the hard light in the afternoon. And for photography there is no better light than that. Try it out for yourself: take for instance a brightly colored flower and photograph it early in the morning, then late in the morning, beginning of the afternoon, mid afternoon, late afternoon, sunset and just after sunset. Even though you photograph it from exactly the same standpoint, the effect is totally different each time. You’ll find that early morning light gives the best results for colors with the least reflection on shiny feathers or fur. Of course the soft light of the sunset gives warmer colors and a totally different feel, but it does tend to change the true colors. Mid day is the worst for photography as the harsh light gets reflected in feathers and fur, turning the shine into white while hard shadows blacken whole parts of an animal.

In this case the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove and the Baby Impala stood out perfectly in that crisp cool light while a European Roller did his early morning airobics just alongside the road. We spent the morning with a big herd of Elephants and a rather grumpy big bull Rhino.

When we cruised along we spotted a beautiful Martial Eagle in the top branch of a dead tree. With a possible wingspan of over 2m, the Martial Eagle is one of the biggest Eagles of Africa and to see it flying is an incredible experience. Its diet consists of birds as big as storks and small mammals like hares, but it can even take on baby Impala or other small antilopes!! What a majestic bird!!

As soon as it saw us it took off, sailing the skies above us. I took a couple of shots and Matt was about to move on. But then I saw the Moon in the sky and asked Matt to wait a bit more. I tried to follow the mighty eagle with my camera, hoping, praying that it would fly ‘through’ the moon. It came closer and closer until finally, it flew straight through the moon! Only one time, but I got it!! As soon as I shot it, I just knew that this shot was going to be one of my favorite shots of the entire trip. So happy with it!!

Today the Big Cats seemed to be having an ‘off-day’ as far as you can say that when you see both lion and leopard (The Kikilezi Female) but they were all lazily lying around, full and well fed, so not much action going on there.

When the day came to an end, the sun went down in the most beautiful way. A perfect setting for having “sundowners”. To me, that’s always a moment to look forward to; after having been in the moving vehicle for several hours, being tossed around on dozens of dirt roads, it’s lovely to stretch your legs in one or the other beautiful part of the reserve, always on a spot with a great view. Lovely to watch the sun going down with a nice glass of cool white wine in your hand. At those moments I feel perfectly happy!!

But the surprises of the day weren’t over yet…
Normally when you go on a first game drive, the ranger will ask you what you are keen on seeing. Of course in my case, for 16 years the answer had been: leopard. But ever since coming to Mala Mala, that answer seems rather redundant, as you will see those wonderful cats anyway. So I had to think of something more difficult, so the last 4 years the answer has invariably been: Aardvark and Serval! And each year this is met with the same sigh……… In Mala Mala, with all those big predators around, Aardvark is almost impossible; it’s nocturnal and lives a very secluded life (as it’s an easy prey for most of those predators). Serval is equally difficult; also nocturnal and quite rare in MM (as opposed to the Serengeti where I’ve seen several).

But tonight one of my wishes came true!! Serval!! Alright, you’ll have to use a lot of imagination to distinguish Serval out of this (highly cropped) picture, but it’s there!! One down, one to go 🙂

And the last surprise of the day came in the form of a beautiful little Owl.. I’ve looked it up in my Bird of Prey book and to the best of my knowledge it seems that were dealing with a Southern white faced Scops Owl. (I think..)

November 27, 2010

Ladies day

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 8:47 am

The day started overcast but even before we reached the bridge over the Sand River, we were treated to a lot of animals along the way. The Impala were doing their morning gymnastics, stretching their legs and going through their morning rituals, helped by the Red-billed Oxpeckers, who did a bit of fur-maintenance for them.
The weather started to clear up quickly and the Pied Kingfishers at the bridge clearly had ‘spring’ in their heads as the male did his best to impress the female by a beautiful air-acrobatics performance. She showed her appreciation for his skills by shrieking loudly everytime he hovered in front of her. Well, at least that’s my explanation of the scene 🙂

A little further we were greeted by a small herd of elephants; females and youngsters. The young males in the herd were playing around, mock fighting and splashing around in the river. A little further a big lone Bull was checking us out, not really amused by our presence. Matt remained very cautious and kept a safe distance, but the Bu

ll kept on coming at us. Everytime we moved a little further away to give him as much space as he clearly demanded. At one point he was resting his trunk on his tusks while staring hard at us; a sign that he’s thinking about what to do. We were in a clearing

with no real trees around and it was kind of funny to see that his solution to get rid of our annoying presence was to ‘hide’ behind one of the dead trees in that clearing.  “I don’t see you, so you don’t see me!” 🙂
We decided to give him a break and moved on.

Much to our surprise we stumbled upon a new Female Leopard, at least new to me. Matt called her Iris as the has a very distinctive dark spot in the iris of her right eye. (hope you can see that in the picture to the left). She looked beautiful and seemed totally at ease. She went down alongside the road with the sun beautifully behind here. A most wonderful sight!!

 The afternoon drive started with the Pied Kingfishers again; this time hovering right next to the car. The rains sure made their lives easier with all the water around. But that you don’t necessarily need water to take a bath proved the Oxpeckers on the road, taking a lovely sandbath.
As the day went on it seemed that it would become a real ladies day as we came across another female leopard beauty: the Tamboti Female; a beautiful young lady who, when I recall right, is the daughter of the Bicycle Crossing Male. 

Of course the pictures in this blog are only a fraction of all the beautiful things you see when you are on a game drive. If I would post every picture I made, of every animal I saw this blog would become absolutely endless! With all the big cats around you almost forget that there are so many, maybe less imaginative animals making an appearance. For instance the beautiful elegant Klipspringers that really do their name justice. They jump over the rocks as if they were on solid ground, totally in balance on those tiny little hooves.

The day ended with the sighting of yet another female leopard; The Flockfield female. I’ve seen her before on a previous trip but only a short glimpse. It was a shame that it was already so dark now, as I would have loved to add her portrait to the, quite extensive already, portrait gallery I keep of the Mala Mala leopards.
It sure was ladies day today!!

November 26, 2010

MalaMalachite Kingfisher

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 4:32 pm

Could anyone wish for a more beautiful beginning of a day?  To the left you see the sunrise over the airstrip in Mala Mala. With a start like that, it just had to become a fantastic day… And so it did.

Everywhere in the reserve you see gigantic termite mounts. The constructions are enormous and can be as much as a hundred years old. They serve multiple purposes. They are look out posts for many animals like Cheetah, Leopard and even Lions. And often enough it’s not only termites that live in them. I’ve seen Jackal and Hyena that had dug out their den in them. But it is often also home to a very small and ever so cute little animal: the Dwarf Mongoose. By the way, what would you say is the plurial of Mongoose in english? Mongoose, Mongooses, Mongeese? It’s a question that comes up every time I’m in Africa and nobody seems to know the answer to 🙂

This morning we passed a huge mount and all of a sudden two tiny little ears stuck out. A little face appeared just over the rim of one of the larger holes in the mount. And then another, and another. So cute!! As many as 5 of them appeared at once but I bet there were still at least as many of them hiding underground. Lovely little line-up.

One of the things I had been ‘harassing’ Matt about was Kingfishers. Any species of them, but favorite of all are Malachite and Pygmee. Both of them tiny and hard to spot. But this morning we were really successful! A wonderful Malachite jumped from one reed stem to another. Difficult to capture, but just the sight of it was magnificent! So for the next visit to Mala Mala, only the Pygmee remains to be wished for 🙂

As we went on we drove over a dirt road with rather high grass on either side. Nobody was really expecting something there when a tiny movement caused us to stop. Still it was hard to see what was in the grass…
Until he lifted his beautiful head! The son of the Matshipiri Female Leopard was lying there, totally silent, hoping we would move on. In recent posts I’ve already told the story of this ever so gorgeous, but a bit lazy little gentleman. But he is so absolutely beautiful, he could get away with murder (so to speak).

But our little hero is, without his mother, not yet entirely confident yet and he was clearly ill at ease in our company. So quite soon we left him alone. Sure I would have liked to spend a little more time with him, but I don’t believe in getting a picture at the expense of the well-being of the animal. I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time in Mala Mala. He looks like he’ll become the favorite of the females pretty soon and I’m sure that one day, he’ll dominate many of them soon. So, we’ll meet again!

Still the surprises of the morning drive weren’t over yet. We found a Side-Striped Jackal which is pretty special in Mala Mala (good for another 200 points, see previous posts). The Black-backed Jackal is common but the Side striped I’ve only seen once before. He’s much bigger than the Black-backed, and is about the size of a Coyote (I guess, as I’ve never seen a real wild Coyote before). We only had a very short chance as the Jackal took off immediately the minute he saw us. But still….

During the afternoon drive we spent time with an enormous but gentle looking White Rhino, who was having guests.. Red Billed Oxpeckers cleaned his ears, his nose and even…. eh, let’s not go there.. 🙂 But it seems like a good co-operation where both host as guests seem pretty content with.

When the day started to end, we arrived at the beautiful Windmill area. Much to our surprise we found 3 of the Styx pride lions there. Apparently they came back from the south to join again with their big sisters. They were relaxing in the late afternoon sun and formed quite a pretty picture. To the right the young male as he was slowly dozing off in the warm sun rays.

One of the nice things of having dinner at Mala Mala is that when you enter the bar for pre-dinner drinks, all of the rangers stand up for the ladies that enter. Wow.. I really could get used to that!! It really makes you feel special, certainly since we, as females, are totally so not used to that anymore. I’m sure that many people think it’s old-fashioned or out-of-date, but I secretely admit that I enjoyed it every evening! 🙂

November 25, 2010

The Jakkalsdraai Female..

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 3:04 pm

Unfortunately, my days of having Matt to myself were over but I must say the people I shared the vehicle with were fantastic and enthusiastic company. The only downside for me of having newcomers in the car is that the hunt for the Big 5 starts anew, while I think there’s so much more to enjoy on a safari. But hey, that’s how it goes. And so far, I couldn’t complain at all as I’ve had more than my fair share of sole-use of vehicles.

When we drove off in the morning, we stumbled upon a big herd of Buffalo. This big male was not impressed by our presence at all and met us with quite the attitude :-). The morning went on but because of the drizzle there wasn’t much to see. Matt did his best and drove us all the way south, but it seemed that all the animals were hiding out until the rain would stop. It’s such an amazing thing, one day the reserve is just swarming with animals and the next day they all seem to have vanished into thin air! Where do they all go!! I mean we’re talking thousands of animals here!!

Well anyway, we drove on and everyone sort of dozed away a bit for lack of anything to see. As I had nothing better to do I started scanning the trees to see if I could find leopard. Given the fact that in 20 years I only found 3, my hopes were not very high. But all of a sudden I sat up straight.. I thought I saw something; a shape on a branch. I grabbed Mattt’s arm to get him to stop. And there she was!! The Jakkalsdraai Female Leopard lying totally motionless in the fork of a tree. On Matt’s “Niiiice fiind!!”  my chest grew a couple of inches :-).

The Jakkalsdraai Female is also an old acquintance. I saw here on 2 occasions in the last 4 years. She has had cubs earlier in the year (beautifully captured by Max Waugh) but one cub was killed and the other one was also believed to be dead. Fortunately, Mala Mala’s cyberdiary recently brought fantastic news; the second cub is alive and well). This day however, the Jakkalsdraai Female was on her own. I was really happy to find here alive and seemingly healthy and well-fed. Good for her!!

It also goes to show that you better stay awake at a game drive.. 🙂

It did seem like a particularly good period for all of the big cats in Mala Mala, as within the first week after I arrived, all of the impala dropped their young. They were all over the place!! A charming sight to see all those youngsters jumping around; all legs and not knowing yet what to do with it. Really funny to watch. And of course it’s party time for the predators with all those clumsy little babies around.  Yes, it may seem cruel to us but there’s a purpose for everything in nature. If every Impala born would stay alive, soon the whole ecosystem would be imbalanced and all wildlife would suffer from it.

When finally we moved on my spirits had lifted enormously. That’s what seeing a beautiful animal does to you. When we were slowly making our way back to camp we found a couple of bateleur eagles high up in a dead tree. The curves of the branches made for a nice graphic setting for them. I blew up one of the shots of one of the juvenile birds to the maximum to show the amazing face mask of these gorgeous birds! They are completely different from the adults, but quite impressive already I would say!

When we crossed the bridge over the Sand River it became clear how much water had come down the previous day. When I arrived at Mala Mala there was hardly any water in the river and several sand banks were visible. Now, not a patch of bare sand was there anymore as it was all fast flowing water! To the left the equipe of today; ranger Matt and the 3 other guests I shared the vehicle with.

The birds seem to come back first after the rains. Of course the Lilac Breasted Roller makes for a brilliant photo opportunity as it, in my view, is one of the most colorful birds of Africa. But also the – at first glance – bit more dull colored birds as the Starling, turn out to have fantastic colors on closer inspection. Their shiny coats bare all kinds of beautiful sheens of green and blue.

The day ended in a beautiful sunset turning the entire world around us golden. Even the Gnu, permanent resident of the area around the airstrip, seemed to enjoy the perfect light.

November 24, 2010

Rain..

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 6:09 pm

Ok, I admit… I’m a whimp..
But when I woke up in the morning, massive thunderstorms poured down on Mala Mala soil. And my bed was so warm and comfortable!! So yes, I went out but only to warn Matt that I was going to sleep in 🙂

But.. it cleared up and right after breakfast we went out. It still was quiet out in the field but still managed some lovely shots…

One of the bird species I really wanted to capture was the Hoopoo but so far I never got a good shot. Like this one, also because of the dappled bright green background. The Jackals at the den up north were home and when I carefully crept out of the vehicle (hope MM management doesn’t read this! 🙂 one of the adults actually made his way towards me to check me out. Cool!!

I really love eye-level shots and this was all I could ask for. Great feeling to look this one straight into his eyes! But what they were doing in the second shot is beyond me. Well, at least the one to the left seemed to enjoy it 🙂

November 23, 2010

Lions and Leopards

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 5:25 pm

The day started with a drizzle and at first the game drive started quietly. Well. let’s face it, a  quiet day in Mala Mala is still stuff dreams are made off 🙂

The Red Billed Oxpecker to the left showed us his most beautiful side,  and the Pied Kingfisher sat right next to the causeway.  A Rock Monitor Lizard was bathing himself in the early morning sun. Not a bad start at all!!
It got really interesting when we found the Kikilezi Female Leopard a little further on! She was totally relaxed and we could watch her resting, jumping up a tree and generally ignoring us completely 🙂 I can’t really explain what a thrill it is everytime I see one of these magnificent cats. The sight of them leaves me breathless every time..

In Mala Mala main camp a scoreboard is kept behind the bar, listing all the sightings in the reserve on that particular day. There are points for all the animals you see, and the rarer the higher the score. The fact that leopard is the same number of points as for instance a porcupine says something about the number of sightings of leopard in Mala Mala..Every evening it’s exciting to see if we beat yesterday’s score. Today our marks were  higher than usual as we saw an animal that wasn’t even on the blackboard; Reedbuck! Good for 200 points 🙂  Although the antilope is quite common in countries to the north of South Africa, it is a rare sighting in Mala Mala so everyone was quite excited having seen both a male and a female together.

When we continued our drive, our path was blocked by one of the most beautiful roadblocks you can imagine. 4 White Rhinos were not in a particular hurry to make way for us. Seeing those impressive animals always makes me choke a bit; the recent poaching numbers in South Africa are devastating. It seemed they were doing so good after almost having been extinct. Now, a new revival of poaching seems to be going on with a sad high score of over 300 of these animals poached in 2010 alone. And all of that because men feel the need to prove their masculinity….. How sad is that. In China rhino horn is grounded into potency potions – which doesn’t help of course as rhino horn is nothing else than clustered keratin – the same stuff where fingernails or human hair is made of. So Chinese men who read this and consider buying a potion like that: why not just bite your nails or suck on a pony tail before having sex!! The end result is the same…
A further demand for Rhino horn comes from Jemen. There, adolescent boys get a Rhino Horn handled dagger when they come into manhood. As if the possesion of a dagger made from poaching an animal that has more history on this earth than man, will make you more of a man! In this era, and with the awareness of responsibility we have now, quite the opposite I would think. I really hope that the South African government – and with them a lot of other African countries too where poaching is far from over – listens to the calls of millions of people to stop this madness. I wish more African countries would follow the example of Botswana where very strict wildlife protection rules are in place; and with success!

The sun was about to set when we found the 3 members of the Styx pride that had fled away from the encounter with the Manyelethi males. The young male was there together with his year older sister and an old lioness. They looked rested and well fed so they had done well for themself, even without the help of the 2 leading lionesses of the pride (that were still keeping the Manyelethi males busy elsewhere). 2 years ago I photographed the young male as a tiny little cub and I’m so happy to see him alive and well, especially since all of his siblings are dead now. 2 years ago there were 11 cubs, but they all were killed by either dominant male lions – they tend to kill earlier offspring of lionesses to get them to mate with them – of by leopards. Good for him that he made it!!

We ended the day with another encounter with 3 of the Manyelethi male lions and the Emsegwen male leopard. Now I really suck at making videos and I don’t have a clue on how to edit them, but I really would like to give you an idea of how it is when you are out there, on a game drive, when it’s pitch dark and you see an animal as majestic like this walking by, just a few meters away from you. I tried to insert 2 little videos I shot during that night, but so far, haven’t been able to figure out how. Will be continued! 🙂

November 22, 2010

Red feet….

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 11:32 am

Another day with the car and ranger all to myself!! Fantastic.
We weren’t even a mile outside of camp when the first surprise came in sight: Or rather, we heared all the birds go bezerk; a sure sign that there is a predator somewhere. Matt found the evil-doer: A gigantic Black Mamba nested high up in a tree!! Must admit I was kind of glad that it remained there and that Matt didn’t park the car underneath it !
A little further a Yellow-Billed Hornbill dug into his breakfast; a big scorpion. Hmm.. must be an acquired taste 🙂

The big hippo was still alone in his pool. Meanwhile he was looking a bit better as the slashes in his skin had started to heal. Apparently so had his ego because when we tried to get a little closer to the pool’s side he snorted moodily at us. Kind of funny to see a huge animal like that blowing bubbles from his nostrils..

  We found one of the Styx pride lioness still in the company of a Manyelethi male. The rest of the Styx pride was nowhere in sight which probably meant that they were still in the south, hiding for the Manyelethi brotherhood. Good for them. It’s not safe when the big males are around.
But the lions where not the only cats out that morning!! Much to my excitement we found the Ostrich Koppies Female leopard! Also she is an old friend. I’ve seen her at least 3 out of the 4 visits to Mala Mala. Apparently she had had 3 cubs earlier in the year but unfortunately 2 of them had been killed. The last remaining cub was nowhere to be found for months and believed to also been killed. Fortunately, according to Mala Mala’s Cyberdiary the cub is alive and well and was seen just a couple of weeks ago. But this sighting the Ostrich Koppies Female was alone. She seemed totally relaxed, walked around a bit, jumped up a tree and looked down at us unimpressed 🙂

 We started the afternoon drive at an open space where 2 Bateleur Birds of Prey were sitting in a tree. The light was awesome and I happily snapped away until Matt started to voice-over the movements of the Birds. Juvenile Bateleurs’ feet, when they are still young, are grey but the adult birds have bright red feet. This one’s feet had already changed into bright orange and they seem to hold a magical amazement to the young bird as he kept on looking at them. With Matt’s commentary in the background “Hey dude, check me out, I’ve got red feet. Red Feet!! Cool! I’ve got awesome RED FEET!!!” I was soon reduced to helpless giggles. I was shaking so hard with laughter; no way I could keep the red auto-focus square in the middle!! I’m pretty sure I will never be able to look at a Bateleur again without hearing that squeaky little voice cooing “Red Feet!” in my head 🙂

When we were driving on an agitated sound caught our attention. We saw a couple of Senegal Plovers frantically dancing around, screeming their heads off. An alarm call like that can only mean that there is danger around. On closer inspection we found the reason for the bird’s distress: a snake had slithered towards the nest and threatened the eggs. Incredible how brave these little birds are in defending their nest! The danced around the snake’s head while the serpent attacked time after time.. Unfortunately it was too far away and already too dark to get a real good shot.

As we went on we were surprised by a large herd of elephants bathing in the glow of the afternoon sun. Like I said before, I don’t think that there is a sight as beautiful and mezmerizing as playing elephants. They really seem to be having fun and I swear you can see them smiling.

Our friend the Black-Bellied Korhaan entertained us yet again with his rediculous call while the world turned golden all around us. In Africa it’s only a matter of 15 minutes from sunset to total darkness. So when we drove back into camp across the causeway it was pitch dark. So the rare White-Backed Night Heron was almost impossible to catch.

November 21, 2010

Spots everywhere!

Filed under: 2010,November — Hennie van Heerden @ 9:43 am

 Yesterday had been such a magnificent day and I was still dazzled by all the wonderful sightings we had when Matt and I took off in the morning. Fortunately for me, we were in between other guests and I had the car to myself the whole day (hurray!!)

I had woken up with the sound of lions roaring. It sounded not too far from camp and we decided to have a look if we could find them. As the roaring continued that wasn’t really hard. 2 Styx pride lionesses had joined up with the Blacknose Manyelethi male lion while his brothers were waiting just around the corner.  It was a bit strange as one of the lionesses was heavily pregnant and the other one was seen mating a couple of weeks earlier (although I’ve been told that the success rate of lion mating ending in pregnancy isn’t that big). But in this case it might well be that the lionesses lured the 4 brothers away from the other members of the Styx pride, a very old lioness and 2 sub-adults, all vulnerable and likely to be killed by the brothers. Well it worked as a call came in through the radio that the these Styx lions were seen down south, so they were safe.

We heard that up North a coalition of 4 Cheetah brothers had been seen the previous day so we made our way there. Matt already warned me that they might well have gone back to Kruger but as we arrived much to our suprise one of the brothers was lying on the road! No sign of the other 3

though. Unfortunately, after just a minute or so, the Cheetah stood up and wandered off straight across the border with Kruger where Mala Mala vehicles are not allowed. Well, at least we had seen one!
 In that area up north there is also a Black-backed Jackal den. Last year they had several cubs but now only one. The cub was nowhere to be seen but the adults were there. They look like friendly little doggies 🙂 Must admit that on seeing them I was feeling a bit homesick for my own two dogs at home.. We also found a Lilac Breasted Roller nest in a dead tree and spent some time there trying to capture it in flight, but the birds invariably fly off away from you. In previous year I’ve never managed to get a good one flying.

When we slowly made our way back to camp another suprise stepped out of the bushes; leopard! It seemed that we had a lucky stroke with leopards the last couple of days as we had found several of them ourselves. It’s always nice to be the one to spot leopards in stead of following up a call on the radio. In this case it was a beautiful big male leopard and it turned out to be the son of the Matshipiri Female. As he doesn’t have an own territory yet, he hasn’t got a ‘real’ name yet, as the leopards in Mala Mala are named after their territories. And in this case it might well take another while before he’ll have a proper name as this pampered 3-year old is still living with his mom! She does all the hunting and the little brat just lies around lazily waiting for her call and than eats the majority of the prey, leaving almost nothing for her! But he is stunningly beautiful so I baptized him ‘the Italian’ as he reminded me of an Italian ex boyfriend of mine: a great looker, but an utter momma’s boy, impossibly spoiled who stayed living with his parents until he was well in his thirties and than I got him… (I hope he doesn’t read this 🙂

As if the morning hadn’t been eventful enough we were treated to a delightful sighting; a mother White Rhino with a tiny little baby. The moment they saw us they ran off but I got one quick shot of them. So cute!! What was not so cute but still special to see was a male Boomslang crawling through the grass, also allowing me only one shot before it moved off.

Quite an eventful morning game drive I would say!! Little did I know that the day would only get better and better..

As we had the car to ourselves, Matt and I went off straight after lunch, in stead of me taking a little nap as normal guests do.(Guess I’m every ranger’s nightmare.. 🙂
But immediately after we drove out of camp, a call came in; the camp manager and a few rangers were at work in the bush and had just seen the Kikelezi Female leopard making a kill! We knew she had a cub and would more than likely call her daughter ‘for dinner’ so while we kept radio contact on her whereabouts, we rushed to the sighting.
When we arrived the beautiful leopard was indeed searching for her daughter, softly calling and walking through thick bush, which didn’t make it easy to follow her. After a while of ploughing through shrubs and branches we suddenly saw her pricking up her ears and there she was! The reunion of mother and daughter was fantastic to see. They greeted each other as if they hadn’t seen each other for ages.

Together they went off in the direction of where the Kikilezi Female had hidden the kill. At a small pool they stopped and had a drink. What a fantastic sight to see these two beautiful creatures reflected in the water. This is what you hope to see when you go on safari!

 Meanwhile 2 more vehicles had joined us and as the two leopards continued their walk towards the prey, we all followed as quietly as we could. As yesterday, while the mother was constantly alert and watched out for dangers, the baby sort of danced along, playfully biting her tail. And than it happened… An excited whisper went from car to car: “Impala!”. A mother and baby Impala had seperated themselves from the safe(r) herd and were walking through the bush as the two leopards approached. The Kikilezi Female immediately went on her haunches in stalking mode the second she spotted the Impala. Matt and I had one car in front of us and the driver of that vehicle hadn’t seen what went on. Matt didn’t hesitate for a second and stepped on the accelerator, steered around the stationary vehicle in front of us, exactly at the moment the leopard leaped forward and grabbed the baby Impala. She caught it!! Right next to the car. Within 10 seconds it was all over for the little Impala.

While mom was resting after the two kills she made within half an hour, the cub did some killing practice with the prey; picking it up, throwing it down again, jumping right on top of it and ferociously shaking it, after each ‘kill’ showing it to mom “Look ma, I killed it once again!” 🙂 For some people maybe hard to watch, but I guess leopards cannot afford the luxury of sentiments over food..

This fantastic and thrilling sighting brought the day to an end. Unbelievable that we saw the Kikilezi Female ad her daughter two days in a row!!

 

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