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Monday, September 26, 2011

Kruger 2011 - the second bit

Now I may have gone on a bit in the first half of the trip report so I will try and keep it short, and clean, this time. 

After a pretty fruitless evening out from Shingwedzi we retired for our grill and bed. 

Day nine
This far north I had little in the way of expectations, large bull elephants perhaps but that was about it. Today did not really make me alter that opinion. We spent the morning seeing nothing then headed out at 10am in one car. We stopped for five minutes to shoot a very large example of the elephant species resting at a concrete waterhole. Yes it was hot and sunny, the concrete looks about as natural as Pamela Anderson and all the shots are crap but we were desperate! 
Then on the road north a car slowed and told us about a cheetah kill not far up. Woah! As we arrived we noticed cars, leaving. We were then told, to our obvious joy, that the cheetahs had just that minute left the kill and wandered off. Five minutes with an old elephant had cost us dearly, should always trust your instinct especially when shooting concrete water holes! 

Later on we were entertained by an ostrich and a baby elephant. 

We met up with a couple from the Sanparks forum that night and had dinner with them. We were informed that Pafuri picnic spot was a great place for birds, this from a birder, and so we decided on a trip up north which we could combine with Crooks Corner as none of us had been so far north. 

Day ten
With a long drive ahead of us we were sticking to the main tar road, Sue decided she was coming with me to try and change our luck! At 6.50am we stopped besides a very small water hole as a pick-up was pulled in and all the passengers looking out. A LEOPARD was down there somewhere. So we stopped the engine and waited. Suddenly there he was, looking back at us from under a huge log. Brilliant. 

We had the usual problem of grass but were undaunted. The leopard vanished as quickly as it had arrived. By now other vehicles had arrived and moving around was impossible. We noticed Andrew set off as soon as the original pick-up left, he had top spot!

We stuck around, leopards are known for sticking to favourite water holes. Suddenly the reeds started to crash around, like hurricane son-of-a-bitch just hit them. What I thought was a huge rat set off at high speed into the bush, then all was quite. We figured the leopard had missed its chance and started to breath again. 
Of course, you can sometimes (99% for us) get it wrong. 

Mr leopard appeared with a huge, now identified, cane rat in his teeth. He then proceeded to jump onto the log and run across it, disappearing once more into the thick bush. It was the last we saw of him and my view was mostly tree and leaves. I had also left my 1D set to f8, not 5.6, so nearly got some sharp shots but at least one did turn out OK. 

So on a high we drove onwards.

After more elephants and zebra we arrived at Pafuri but after the long drive were expecting more in the way of bird species. On the upside we got to see the other side of Kruger, where less grass grows and the soil is red. Crooks Corner was interesting to see, the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa border. There is an obvious lack of fence but then the river was home to a multitude of deterrents, hippos and crocodiles a plenty.

We arrived back at camp, exhausted.

Day eleven
Today we had an even longer drive, down to Satara. According to my images we didn't see anything but grass the whole way. Except perhaps for this young fellow by the road. 

Oh and a few million buffalo near a water hole.

So, we checked in at Satara and made our way down the S100, the fabled and amazing road which had given me so much the last time I was here. 
But this time it kind of failed. We did see a couple of male lions lazing around too far away. But that was about it. We stayed with the lions as long as we could, but they did not wish to move.

We headed back to camp, once again, gutted.

Day twelve
We spent the first thirty minutes one the s100 again but apart from a lone jackal nothing else made itself apparent. 

Through the course of the day we became more desperate, even stopping to look at some lions near Nsmani dam, but that was uneventful due to grass and distance. 
We headed back to camp for a drink and met up with a couple Sue knew from the Sanparks forum. They were also a bit depressed and agreed there seemed to be less lions and other carnivores this year. After they left we entertained ourselves a while with the hoopoe grubbing around near the bungalow. 

After another brief trip out and seeing nothing we came back to camp to meet up for the sunset drive. Before we set off to reception however John and Poppy came by the bungalow to tell us about a lion kill they had seen....arghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Sunset drive (to hell and back),

It was with some reluctance that I boarded the jeep with our fellow travellers. Firstly because they had seen a kill and we had time to get there in the car, to be sure we would get there and see it. Secondly I hate safari jeeps, you are too high up and most often on the wrong side! But John explained to the driver that there was a recent kill and where, the driver replied enthusiastically with “Yis, noooo prooooooblem”. Expecting a little more hastiness, once this nugget of information had been received, we were shocked to have to wait a little longer. Typically someone was late. 
Before setting off we had the pleasure of listening to the jeep full of young American citizens, safari virgins, taking photos of themselves; in the jeep. “Smile….and look scared!”, oh yes, we were really hoping to spend an evening with those guys in tow! On leaving the gates more than a few of us could be heard muttering “Turn off on the S100, turn off….pleeeeeeeease”… and they did. Little did we realize we had been infiltrated, safari virgins were everywhere! 

Now, a select few of us were party to the knowledge that a kill was 12KM down the road. The select few included the driver who, we knew by the fact he avoided the S100, was heading for it. We also predicted, in a collective bout of stupidity, that he might head there in a brisk manner. What we had not accounted for was the freshly arrived SV (I will refer to him as a safari virgin) who took great please in absolutely everything, that includes vegetarians! The first kudu we came to a screeching, as best as one can describe it at 5MPH, halt. We were then given the natural history of the kudu, its feeding habits, its habitats, how to age it from the curvature of the horns and of course the life span. Onwards, with haste, the light doth fail us!

Please excuse the lack of pictures, I was far too busy chewing the side of the jeep by this point.

Then we stopped for the incredibly rare and endangered sand grouse, we had not seen one for over five minutes, in fact we had not only seen a couple of thousand the whole trip so were jolly impressed when the SV pointed it out. Without further a do we were off again, until he spotted a roller, then an impala and a frankolin. 
Now on my side of the jeep I had spotted many vegetarians, small and large, but kept stumm in case we were given a lesson on each of them. Eventually, with the wind behind us we reached a top speed that would make any snail envious, we turned onto the S126 some 12km (about three days drive) later. We could see cars ahead, only fifty metres until we get to see …….. “Oh yeeees, der is a vultcha in da trhi!” some foolish tourist had spotted a bird. Fuck. A stone’s throw from a pride of lions munching away on a male kudu and we were getting a lesson on the Kruger vulture population. I know how many species there are, how big they grow and the PH of their feces but what I don’t yet know is how lions look in the fading light whilst eating a kudu.
I never will know, since the only lions left in the golden light were sat down, bloated from too much protein and as I was at the back I couldn’t see squat. Eventually the driver moved forward and I had a shot of the lazy lions in the last of the light. But I was on a jeep, so about twenty feet too high for my liking. I really wanted a beer and a baseball bat, but then again the driver did have a gun (perhaps to protect him from pissed off photographers?).

Anyway, the buzz in the jeep eventually wore off and the driver decided to continue up the road.
We did see hyenas, arriving for the kill of course, and the usual host of nocturnals including genets, sivets and a white rhino. A large breeding herd of elephants could be seen heading towards the kill site and the driver was of the opinion that the lions would be scared off eventually. 
Later brought the real action. Another pride of lions moved in on the kill, we could not see much with the onboard lamps but what we did see was far out done by the roaring of the females and the male. The original pride were run off the kill, although by now they must have had a fair fill. The roaring alone made the drive pretty memorable, shame about the beginning.

Day thirteen
First thing we headed for the kill hoping something would have hung around. But it was mostly vultures picking at the kudu carcass (which had been dragged almost behind the grass!). 
There were still lions down the road but they soon wandered off before the masses arrived. We saw a passing glimpse as they disappeared. 

We left Satara and headed for our last camp, Skukuza. I have fond memories of the area, Lake Panic and the river always providing a sighting of some kind. So I was a bit miffed to find Lake Panic had been taken over by darters, which meant the kingfishers were perched elsewhere :( But they did flit in and out occasionally. Plenty of herons around too but nothing to write home about.

Other shots of note were some (gnus)wildebeest running around and an ibis.

That evening Sue decided to come with me leaving Andrew back at camp to drink tea and sort out his shots. Would we get lucky a third time? 
Not far from camp a pick-up stopped us and told us to hit the un-mapped road on the right. So we did. Bingo. 

Three males and three females sat upon a small hillock giving us quite a nice angle. There were lots of cars and we left as late as we could. As usual it was rather dark but we did our best. Unfortunately, for us, one male decided to mate with a female but the hill obscured our no mating shot :( 
Our biggest problem was, however, what to tell Andrew?

Day fourteen
Not much to show for our last full day in the park, some hippos asleep at Panic Lake just about topped the charts for the day. There were some elephants along the way of course but I have lost the will to process.

Day fifteen
I will cut our exit from the park short. It was cloudy and cold and the highlight was the weir at Biyamiti. Then we left.

The rest of the photos will be added here in due time kruger 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kruger trip report, part One

It all begins at Malelane gate, the previous sixteen hours of travelling, watching films, not sleeping a wink and marching through airports are forgotten. Now in the park, now we are ever watchful, concentrated, looking for the precious!
 Unfortunately by the time I arrived at Biyamiti camp I had seen the sum total of bugger all, which means I probably saw some impala, a roller and the odd frankolin but had forgotten by the time I got around to writing this. Next time I might well write a daily account, as I used to, but as I am here to take pictures I should forget feelings and totals and just look back for the best shots, right? Right, which is why I cannot remember much but I will do my best to re-cap.

 Day One.
 As I remember it the only brilliant pictures came from Biyamiti weir, a fabulous spot where the car can be parked right in front of the weir, in the water, and anything on the weir is at eye level. Perfect, well it would be were there any hippos, lions or leopards down there. As it was there were a few birds and the odd mongoose knocking about. In the branches around us we were delighted to find bee-eaters, a species I had not yet seen here. Naturally they always landed on the wrong branch, that is to say with some form of obstacle between us and them. The giant kingfishers too were entertaining, but had a habit of landing on concrete posts rather than natural perches.

 Click on any image to get the larger version!

Day Two.
 We spent some more time at the weir but we could hear the lions way off in the distance, perhaps we should have turned left at the camp? Such is life in Kruger, one wrong turn and you miss out on everything.

After an hour or so we headed off in search of larger prey which we eventually found, along with half of Africa, in the form of a cheetah with cubs. The cubs were hiding in the (too) long grass and the sun was making a huge effort to soften all my shots, but we do our best (then when we get back we delete them).

I am pretty sure we saw a leopard on this day, right at the side of the road but from the back of the queue we could only see it through a bush. By the time things started to move... What I mean is, by the time the stupid great camper van that was parked by the leopard and blocking just about everyone's view moved, the leopard wandered off. I am not usually one for taking shots of bums disappearing into the bush, so I didn't.

We did a sunset drive from Biyamiti, the bad side is that it is mostly dark and pictures are almost impossible. On the upside though you do get to see loads of nocturnals you would otherwise never see. Such as gennets, civits and a serval (which was a treat). We also saw a couple of leopards and a hyena or two.

Day Three and Four.
 Lots of fish eagles flying around and above the causeway at Lower Sabie, looked like two parents with at least five juveniles. Was a pretty quiet day with no cheetahs showing on the S128 from Crocodile Bridge, in fact nothing showed anywhere. Highlight of the day was most likely a white rhino on the drive up from Croc Bridge, not to mention an ostrich or two.

 Next day started on the causeway for me. Hippos had moved down and looked glorious in the pink glowing water.

Come the afternoon, we split up. I got to see two lions through thick bush, behind a queue of cars, which were asleep (the lions). Sue and Andrew faired little better, following a small look about an hour after me they saw a leopard stalking impala at VERY close range. By late afternoon I had almost completed my noose and found a strong branch when Sue and Andrew returned to camp (to show me their pictures). Andrew decided to stay back at camp to sort out his shots and Sue jumped in my car, as my last ditch attempt at something was to drive to Skukuza on that famous river road. Always something on there.

 By the time we reached the bridge turning we had seen, you guessed it, very little of note. So we sat and took baboons leaping across the river on rocks in decent enough light. A giant kingfisher perched on a branch kept us busy for another three seconds until the light departed.

We left with enough time to get back to camp, we were a long way up the road, but the lord be praised and hallelujah we can see a group of vehicles down the road. We get really very excited upon spotting a group of hyenas and start the machine gun fire, even though the light has gone and most of the shots will have to be mono. But I do notice that most lenses are actually pointed up the tree, not down at the hyenas. We very quickly realize why the hyenas are so interested in the tree. We can clearly, through most of the tree, see a leopard with an impala kill. The safari jeep in front of us has prime position and all we have are branches. We are also running late for our drive back to camp.
 Eventually the jeep left, he has to be back on time too, and we scramble for a better shot. We get it but the light is fading to black and the sky is a bright flashing highlight. We do our best, swap cameras, get close, take wider, take lots of shots and hope something comes out sharp. Times like this I am glad to have image stabilization!
The drive back to camp was a "steady" one, we followed the jeep and used it as a shield against ballerina elephants and lemming impala's. Sue must have been excited by the sighting as she put on her seat belt to avoid shaking.
 We made it in one piece, and have some shots to prove it.

Day Five and Six

The long drive to Tamboti was made far longer by the distinct lack of cats. We did eventually see a leopard, briefly, through the trees, a long way off in the grass. But we were fortunate to see some incredibly rare and endangered ground hornbills! Did it make up for the lack of cats? How could it not. I also managed (gasp) a grass free steenbok shot!

Tamboti holds much promise. The road to the camp is for guests only, therefore not very busy. Leopards and wild dogs are common there, and guess what we saw? The evening entertainment was good though, the resident honey badgers coming out after dark to vandalise the wheelie bins for anything they could find. These fellows are not only strong and intelligent, they are somewhat unapproachable ;) Try cuddling one next time you are there!

From Tamboti we once again bummed out, seeing little but elephants, the odd eagle munching on scrub hare and some vegetarians.

One nice suprise was an early morning pearl spotted owlet. Something I had not seen on previous trips.

Day Seven

The drive to Olifants was, shall we say, void of predatory animals. I really should get my a**e around to processing some vegetarians since 99% of my shots are of them but I just cannot do it. Once you have tasted blood there is no going back! Anyway, I get sidetracked. We checked in and then Andrew decided to stay back, have a cuppa and relax. So it was Sue and me once again. We headed down to the river and shot some birds, perhaps my best heron shot of the trip (and herons are technically predators).

On the drive back up hill we encountered a hyena, but by that time it was almost dark and my camera had decided to shoot at f22, damn that 7D and its sloppy dial! I do remember thinking that Nick Brandt probably has the same problem. Tomorrow is, thankfully, another day.

 Day Eight

Began with a shot of the sunrise from our bungalow, missed sunset due tot he hyena. The view from Olifants camp never fails to floor me. It is brilliant.

We had planned to drop down to the causeway first and do the river loop before heading to Bateleur camp. Just before we turned off left we noticed a couple of cars further up, investigation was called for and we were soon watching a leopard, through thick bush. I do hope shooting at f4 helped reduce the distracting nature of the branches?

But the leopard started to walk towards us, down the hill. I wanted to move but was hemmed in by another vehicle, looks like Sue and Andrew would get the cream on this one! I had also left my 1DIII in 5shot exposure compensation mode, so the first couple of the leopard running were OK, the rest were a wonderful tone of bright white or a lovely shade of black. I just know Andy Rouse does similar stupid things, it is how we pros keep it real!

Needless to say it was downhill from then on. We kept ourselves entertained on the drive up mostly with birds. Birds in trees, birds in camps and birds on the floor. We did see two lions from a distance but the sun was so strong that pictures were impossible.