Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On safari with Curtis from 19 October 2014

19 October 2014

The start of a new tour and after driving down from Nelspruit we checked in to Nkambeni lodge. The first activity was a sundowner drive which is a nice relaxing way for the guests to acclimatize to the safari way of life. Luckily after a week of rain the sun had come out and everyone got to see a beautiful sunset overlooking the dam where pods of hippos are getting ready to leave the water for their evening munch. On the drive back to the lodge impala, kudu, buffalo, rhino and giraffe were spotted.

20 October 2014

The next morning, after a good cooked breakie it was time to get out on the road. Straight away on numbi we came upon three separate sightings of buffalo. First two dagga boys and then a small herd and then a much larger herd of more than a hundred. Immediately after two male elephants crossed the road in front of us and further along we found a group of giraffe. We headed to the spot where the leopard cubs have been seen recently, but before that another great elephant sighting, this time a female herd with a tiny little baby just a few months old. At the leopard den we were to be disappointed as the cubs were hidden away from all the cars outside. Although disappointed by this we would forget this blow by the end of the day. Along Napi it was fairly quiet with few sightings of elephant, buffalo,impala, kudu and a couple of steenbok. A fellow guide informed us of a lion sighting so we made haste and headed that way. We were in luck as as we drove onto the bridge we found four lions sat on the bank, to our left. Three lionesses and a lovely black - manned male lion. As one lioness got up and disappeared into the shade something caught my eye to the right and as I turned I saw a leopard walking out of the grass and across the river bed before disappearing back into the grass. With the excitement of seeing the leopard we, just for a minute, forgot about the lions which one by one got up and moved away from view. After all the joy of seeing the two cats at the same sighting we moved off down to Skukuza for a quick break.
Back on the road we headed down along the sabie river where we found African wild dog. Two deep in the bush and then eight others close to the road. At first they just were lying down resting but then they all jumped up and enabled us a much better sighting. From then on, all the way to lower sabie we had lots of wonderful elephants and plenty of hippos, baboons and vervets on the road as well as the impalas, kudus and Bushbuck. We stopped at sunset dam to look at the hippo and lots of crocodiles and also spend a bit of time looking at the birdlife around the water which included plovers and lapwings, storks and herons and those very noisy geese.
At lunch I was informed off a possible cheetah sighting just a short drive from lower sabie so after lunch we headed straight down there. We were lucky to find them hiding in the shade of a tree. We were informed that there were three but we only spotted two. Although they spent most of the time in the grass. They were kind enough to sit up occasionally giving us the opportunity to get some nice photos.

Time to head back to the lodge and as we drove back down the river we found a young male lion lying hidden. It seemed like he was trying to hunt impala but was quickly spotted and so started to walk along the river bank. We spent ten minutes or so following him before he moved into the reeds. Further along we found more ellies and a mother and calf rhino before we came across another lion sighting,  this time two females taking cover from the sun which was now burning down on us. We were now running out of time and so we just drove pointing out all the ellies and buffalo,  impala, kudu, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and Warthog we saw along the way. We did stop a couple of times for rhinos and we had one final surprise as we came across two more leopards. One sat in a tree and the second sat at the bottom of it. Unfortunately time was running out and we had to make a dash for the gate before we got locked in.

21 October 2014

This morning we drove with the intention of hopefully finding the leopard cubs at their den. We passed buffalo, zebra and giraffe before we actually got to the den. Once there we were in luck as all three tiny cubs were outside playing a game of rough and tumble with each other. There was not too many cars at the sighting but as you can imagine this is a rare sighting and everyone wants to get some great pictures. Patience was needed and it took over half an hour before we were in a prime position to enjoy the sighting. As the number of cars decreased we were allowed to enjoy this beautiful sighting for an hour more watching  as the three cubs stalked and pounced on each other, playing around as all kittens do, getting valuable practice in for when they are much bigger. A truly great sighting which the guests and myself will relive time and time again. Finally we decided it was time in giving others an opportunity to view the cubs and we headed down Napi. We got lots of general game, all the different antelopes as well as three big bull ellies who were debating with each other who had dominance. When they had finally agreed they then went about their own business which means they resumed eating. We also had a first glimpse of a klipspringer for this tour as well as a few very nice rhino sightings close to the road. 
But this morning belonged to three tiny little leopard cubs!!!!
This afternoon we went out for a just short drive. Firstly we headed down Napi where we found a couple of buffalo in the drainage line but then our attention was turned to a hyena which moved off quite abruptly as the buffalo got closer. We watched as he found a nice bush to lie back down and got little more than the occasional head looking up. We then turned around and headed back to the leopard den. This afternoon the cubs weren't in such a playful way with just one popping it's head up and looking around. The other two were hiding with mum further in the bush and after quite a bit of time and effort searching for them we spotted mum. Unfortunately it was the briefest of looks as she sloped away into the undergrowth.

22 October 2014

This morning we welcomed two new guests to the tour and after breakfast headed out on another drive. Immediately along numbi we spotted plenty of animals all enjoying some fresh greens such as zebra, wildebeest, warthog, buffalo, impala and kudu. Along Napi we had some good elephant sightings both of bachelor groups and also female herds. Then we came across a lovely crash off three rhino close to the road including a young calf just a few months old. After this we turned around and headed down to shithave dam where we found a male lion lying on the dam wall. We sat watching him for quite a time but not much movement, just the occasional head looking up and rolling over and a couple of stretches. Not even a hippo or a Waterbuck could interest him. Then it was time to say goodbye to Michael and Liz, it was great having you on the tour and I know just how much you have enjoyed yourself on safari. Hope you find the time to go through all those photos you took!!!
This afternoon just a short drive around the area where we found baboons, vervets monkeys, common duiker, steenbok, common reedbuck and giraffe as well as lots of buffaloes and a herd of elephants down at the dam.

23 October 2014
Setting off this morning, with a cup of coffee in the guests hand, we headed down Napi where we found impala, elephant, kudu and a nice herd of buffalo to start with. We then came up to the flat rocks where we found a couple of stationary vehicles, after scouting around we found their point of interest. 4 hyenas relaxing in the grass close to the road. We watched as they just chilled before one by one they moved off out of view. Carrying on we came across more antelope and a couple of elephants before taking a turn down to Transport dam. The dam was relatively quiet today with just the hippos, a few impala and the water birds. Planning to stop at the golf course for breakie we took a detour where we found four more hyena lying next to the road. A fifth was hiding in the grass but we saw nothing than its ear. Again we watched until they disappeared into the grass. Carrying on we came upon two rhino sighting, the first a lone male relaxing in the dirt and then two more close by. We turned onto Kruger road where we got the first two amazing cat sightings today. It started with one of the guests shouting "stop" because there on the right was a huge male leopard spraying a bush in his territory. We turned the vehicle as he walked to the road and crossed in front of us. As he walked into the grass on the other side it appeared it was going to be a brief sighting but this fellow had other ideas!!! He started to walk parallel to the road sometimes coming close and then walking a bit further into the bush. We therefore were able to anticipate his direction and could position the car, around all the others by this time, in the more open spaces getting some shots of him. At one stage he climbed up on a small rock and posed for us before walking within a meter of the car and looking up at us. After roughly thirty minutes and 1.3kms he had enough and crossed over the road again and moved into the bush to end a great viewing. He gave us such an opportunity to get a great photo or actually about 300 as my guests managed.
We stopped off at the golf course for breakie and while eating watched as the hippos came out of the water and stood on the sand bank as well as making a lot of hippo noise.
Back on the road we headed down along the river spotting our first Bushbuck and nyala for these guests. Seeing endless hippos and buffalo and a nice herd of elephants cross the road while we tried to take a photo of the impressive horns on a kudu, who by the way was very camera shy and hid behind an acacia tree.
We then heard about three cape clawless otters down at sabie bridge so we headed down there but to no luck, however it did give us an opportunity to see a couple of crocs sunbathing on the sandbanks.
We then headed to lunch at lower sabie where elephants and hippos could be seen from the restaurant deck. As we set back the way we came Karen called to say she had found lions just a couple of kilometers down the road so we made haste only to find them well hidden in the bush. We waited hoping that they would get up and move closer and our hopes were answered as slowly two adolescent males moved closer to us with a third just behind. They continued to move closer until they were standing next to the car on the road. For the next 5 kilometers and for nearly an hour we were able to follow them as they walked along the road. On a couple of occasions they took the opportunity to try and hunt impala both times failing miserably as the impala spotted them and alarmed call. Every now and again they would stop and we were able to drive up next to them and admire them as close as it gets. Having said that having a male lion look at you at eye level in an open vehicle can get the heartbeat beating a little bit quicker. Finally they started to walk into the bush and this was our cue to move on. After such an encounter time was running out and we had to make haste so we just drove. Sometimes it is nice to just sit and watch as the scenery passes you by and see what you can see. Endless amounts of impala, kudu and hippo we passed as well as a troop of baboons and vervets on the road before we turned onto Napi. This road was quiet this afternoon but we did find a nice sighting of klipspringer and lots of general game.
A great day out with lots of great sightings but with two encounters with the cats that no one will ever forget.

24 October 2014
After the success of the last couple of days we were in the lucky position of being able to be very choosy in the sightings we stopped at and so while we drove past a lot of different things we did stop at some very nice sightings. The first was a large bull elephant which was close to the road and hungry, he stopped at a large marula tree reached up stretching as high as he could and snapped down a branch. As everyone had turned off their engines we were able to hear fully the eerie sound of him chewing the branch and then he spat out the outer bark. We then moved onto a sighting of three rhino including the mother and calf. They started to move closer to the road into the open area and we got a look at the little calf which is usually hidden by the grass. As they moved to the road it became apparent they wanted to cross but a vehicle was blocking their way. Mum took a disliking to this and gave the car a slight nudge with her head. Maybe a good story for the driver in the future but not sure the hire car company will think so.  We then came to the flat rocks on Napi and found a traffic jam all looking at a cheetah which was laying down on a termite mound. It was quite far away but with binoculars we could get a clear look. After a break we headed down the river and came to a very interesting sighting of over 100 vultures and marabou stork lying in the sand. Its their favorite place to take a bath!!!
As we came up to lower sabie we found two lion sightings, the second was a group of five. A male and female lying in the shade of a tree with two females and a young male more hidden in the shade of the long grass. The first sighting though was a very different sighting. Two females and two young males had made their way along the river bed up to a large herd of buffalo getting within 30 meters before being seen. This created a standoff for about twenty minutes before the buffalo started to move off. This gave the lions a second opportunity and they took it moving closer and closer to a small group of buffalo which was lying in the water and slightly separated from the rest of herd. At about twenty meters from this smaller group the lions disappeared into the reeds and we waited......and waited....and waited some more!!! Then suddenly the buffaloes started to run. We watched as a buffalo started to run up a slight hill before the two female lions jumped on to its back, one of them biting into its back. The two young males too inexperienced didn't know what to do and stood around. Suddenly the buffalo started to cry out distress calls and then the rest of the herd changed direction turned and ran towards their comrade. Now when hundred tone of buffalo come charging it doesn't matter if you are a fearsome lion you run and that's exactly what these four did. Making their escape up onto some rocks but the buffalo weren't having that as they harassed and chased and challenged the lions on their rock. Eventually it calmed down and the buffalo stood their ground as the lions lay on the rocks with just a few meters separating the two groups of animals by now. We waited for twenty minutes to see what may happen and eventually the buffalo moved off with the lions staying put on the rock.
After lunch we passed the scene again and the buffalo were still there but the lions had taken cover in the reeds not to be seen. We drove back down alone the river stopping for families of baboon's and monkies which never get boring with their antics before we came to our third lion sighting. Two large males sitting next to a kill. They were a fair distance away but we still had a nice look with the binoculars. We then found two hyena next to their den who both moved on quickly into the grass. 
Our final sighting was of two rhino who walked up close into the open and then crossed the road just feet in front of us and then posed for photos on the other side.

25 October 2014
This morning was unfortunately the last day of this safari tour and we set off early to maximize the time we had left. We headed down Napi spotting buffalo and elephant when we heard about a cheetah sighting nearby. When we got to the area we found two cheetahs, the first lying at the side of the road and the second hidden away in the grass. So hidden it took quite a while to locate it. Although the cheetah popped his head up and occasionally looked around the sighting was amazing. Patience was required and so as other safari trucks and the public came and went we stayed put. In fact ourselves and a second vehicle stayed put for two hours and it was just us two who were there to notice a elephant walking along the hill in the far distance. Actually two others noticed the elephant and they were the cheetahs. Why a huge elephant would interest the smallest, most feeble of the large cats is beyond me. But it did and they started to get up and walk with intention. It didn't take too long for common sense to prevail and they decided to go back to their favorite pastime which was relaxing. Finally one of them disappeared into the grass and we left them to it. We went back to Pretoriouskop for some breakie and then a drive down Numbi where we saw impala, zebra, elephant and buffalo before we left the park. Thanks to Eric and Francis for a great five days. I know you enjoyed the wonderful sightings we had especially those of the leopard and lions. Safe travels to Cape Town.

More coming soon!!

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