In this blog, we thought we would keep you "on the road" and "in the bush" with us if you have not been able to join one of our adventures. This will be added to as we go so feel free to save the link and to come back to it from time to time and also to share it with adventurers.
The magic about these adventures is not only photography. It's also about the places, the people, the happenings, the stories, some just plain funny, some a bit on the edgy side, mostly making great campfire stories. We will write mainly about our hosted adventures but will certainly include great snippets from our own family adventures and other adventures which we go on.
So far, by May in '21, we have been to 'berg 3 times, Pilanesburg, tested a Sony camera (check out our "in hand" chat on that one), judged a couple of competitions, met some interesting people, been to Zimanga, are about to hit Savanna and Djuma in Sabi Sand and Grietjie Nature Reserve, and begun our '22 planning.
Pilanesburg at dawn.
Southern Red Bishop in Flight at Pilanesburg.
The 'berg is a very interesting place of many varied landscapes and even a few animals such as baboons, eland and other small antelope. We have been privileged to visit Castleburn and Lake Naverone as well as Lake Kenmo, a scenic paradise, especially in autumn.
A brief after sunset view from Castleburn.
During our stay at Lake Naverone, a number of camera club members attended and I Marc, gave a chat on landscape photography. A landscape photography competition was held which I judged after the event. This received some really good entries which gave me a hard judging task. Saw some familiar faces and met some interesting people there. On our way in, we took the opportunity to stay at Himeville and photograph the great and well known Kenmo. The wind was a bit unkind to us and the leaves had yet to peak their autumn colours but great still. A few of us recently went back to a peaked Kenmo.
Autumn View from Lake Kenmo.
Before going to Kenmo, we hosted a group to Zimanga. This was a group of talented and fun photographers. We had hoped to do some astro photography during this time but that was not to be, both from the phase of the moon as well as the cloud cover. That still gave us time to chat over this great subject. The images from this adventure were really great and daily we are still seeing the results from our lovely guests.
Images from the April '21 Zimanga adventure.
During the latest visit to Lake Kenmo, we met some interesting people and found that we both know a number of people. Always a bit tense when a stranger walks up to you in darkness but when you begin to talk photography, you know you've met a friend.
Where to next? We now head to "Leopardland", the Sabi Sand. You probably all know this but this has one of the highest leopard densities on earth. Savanna Lodge is in the Western part of this amazing piece of SA and without doubt one of the best. The expectations? Leopards and more with a top lodge experience. The challenges? The summer has produced much rain. That has left thick vegetation making for difficult sightings and we have in our group two persons who have yet to see a wild leopard. We then go to Djuma. This place is in the northern part of Sabi Sand and well known as the place from which TV broadcasts are made and leopards from those parts have become "household names".
Leopard at Djuma 2020.
We then leave for Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide. What will await us there........
This adventure began with a tiring drive and Stella and I got the the Kruger for an overnighter on 12th. We were at Lower Sabie in a safari tent overlooking the Sabie River. We had a quiet dinner on the deck and settled in to shower and rest. I looked up at the sky and its magic held me. That's it, I am photographing this I said I decided to wait for other guests to switch off.....and realised that my tripod was so deeply "buried" that my great idea had been just that....a great idea. After listening to the amazing sounds of a bush night and soaking in the tranquility and then went to bed. We arose to an amazing orange sky which gave way to the sun as we began to make our way, meeting our fellow guests en route over a refreshing drink. We saw little on the way although little in quantity does not have to mean poor quality. We arrive dat Savanna and were give a true Savanna welcome. The team at Savanna just knows how to do it with guests. Our late lunch followed by our first drive awaits. Wish list? As we have 2 guests who have yet to see a wild leopard, guess that one.....and watch this space.
Yesterday we left for an afternoon drive and soon enough found 6 lionesses and sub adult. They were doing what lions do, sleeping. They have 5 small cubs and they were stashed. Soon enough we left them and sought a male leopard who left many tracks.....but no presence. We paused to see a mud soaked rhino, a few elephant and general game and birds. After dark we saw an owl with prey and a flap necked chameleon. We the returned to the lodge to a sumptuous dinner after which we all settled in for the night. We are due to leave early today (14 May) in our quest for the leopards which include 2 females who have 2 cubs each......
AND THEN IT HAPPENED
The day began with the usual optimism which greets a new day in the wild. We had begun to feel some apprehension as the previous day had not produced a leopard and we were determined to see our valued guests who had not seen a wild leopard see one. Very soon we found 3 young lions and a lioness and the light was amazing. We then saw a hippo out of water return to water in a huge splash (honestly, we had a small and in that) which is great light, produced a great sight....then came the great search...we then heard that a leopard and cubs were found but their position was not great. We planned to get there later in the hope that things would improve. We eventually joined another vehicle and there they were, not easy to see but mother and 2 cubs. Patiently we waited and eventually, we saw them clearly as they posed and played with mom before settling. We left and checked on the foursome of lions which were "flat catting" and then....another leopard, a very skittish female. To have witnessed the looks on the faces of the newest members of "Wild Leopard society" members was something not to be easily forgotten.
Hippo entering the water in a splash.
Regal lioness in early light.
What followed can only be described as an afternoon and evening of wonder and perfection. We left the lodge on a warm and sunny afternoon and pretty soon found the foursome of 3 lions and a lioness we had found early. They were fairly interesting, scaring a herd of impala away. We positioned ourselves well and enjoyed some great moments with them. We then enjoyed an impromptu show from a lone hippo in the waterhole at which we had found the lions. We left the lions and saw general game while we followed up on a distant male leopard we had heard of. The time to get to him seemed endless and he was on the boarder of a neighboring property which meant we could lose him at any time, harrowing indeed. We eventually reached him and to our delight, he seemed to be hunting. We watched this and followed him while he got a herd if impala to leave noisily and spooked a herd of zebra before we left him.
Leopard in hunt action.
We then decided to follow up on a pair of mating lions. We duly found them and they entertained us not mating as well as roaring to other nearby lions. In jubilation, we stopped for a celebratory drink before we moved on.
Intensity of passion
As a surprise, we were taken to a bush dinner, just another part of the "Savanna touch" and what makes this the place it is.
Early today, 15 June 2021, was time to enjoy our past drive at Savanna and move on to Djuma. Savanna certainly did not disappoint, again! We had an epic sighting of 10 spotted Hyena's doing their thing, running, fighting, greeting, vocalising, playing, swimming for long in perfect early light, in short a photographers dream. We then moved on and found a young leopard, Shangwe, who really made us work by his constant movement in thick vegetation, pausing rather briefly on a termite mound and so allowing some decent photography. We then had to say our goodbye's, end at Savanna and move to Djuma. We went there uneventfully where we met our chef, guide, tracker and after settling in and a light lunch, set off for our first drive. That started off really quietly with only the Talamati pride of lions being "flat cats" and even the normally rather active radio was eerily silent. After some time of this, the radio came to life with the words you want to hear "madoda ingwe" (male leopard). we made our way there for what felt like and age and there found a super male called Nhlanguleni. He made us work our way through thick vegetation while the light changed and we lost him. We anticipated his movements and one of our wonderful guests found him as day turned into night. We then enjoyed a very active sighting of him with some very enjoyable night photography before returning to the lodge for a great evening with a great dinner.
This morning 16 June, began really well. Chilly crisp air fanned our faces as we went over a shooting approach and changing light and it was early when we spotted a wild dog at Sydney's Dam. In the water was a lone impala and we saw what that meant. Cameras began to click as the dog went to the waters edge. Several times the impala fearfully changed course and the dog charged in to the water and subdued his hapless victim and left it, only to go to the far side and this time it was over as Africa's fearsome hunter took charge and dragged his prey to the shallows and overcame him. He then proceeded to feed in a total frenzy, pausing a few times only to look for any danger and finally leaving. It was almost immediate and hyena arrived and took the remains of the kill, in a dramatic manner which included running. We left them and were on our way to a pride of lions when we spotted a male leopard in the thickets. we followed him and he saw an impala ram and started to stalk it. His patience was amazing but alas, he was eventually spotted by his prey putting and end to that. We returned to camp to a sumptuous breakfast followed by a well deserved rest. What will the afternoon bring us?
The afternoon began as a hot one. Sadly hot it did not remain in terms of sightings and temperature later. We found an inactive pack of wild dogs and all out other calls were jaded, our only consolation being that the dogs did get a bit active. The thought this brings to mind is that wildlife is unpredictable and creative energy must be kept going. We returned to camp to a delicious dinner and after a pleasant chat, settled in for the night.
Wild dog at kill.
What will 17th bring us?.
The 17th began with another not too eventful drive. We looked around and spike to others out on drive and found the Torchwood pride which consisted of lionesses. Sadly they had already settled in for a lazy day so our enjoyment of them was limited to watching some fleeting expressions and one of them wanting to groom them all. Some seemed to be accepting of this whereas others were just only tolerant. After a short coffee and comfort stop, we headed back to camp where a tasty breakfast beckoned. After breakfast a few of us had a chat about editing and we then took some needed rest. In the afternoon, we set out and were soon enough told of a large male leopard who may have killed a warthog. He was found quite easily and obligingly posed on a termite mound next to a warthog burrow. He had blood around his face which seemed to suggest that he had hunted. There were also hyena nearby which further seemed to mean he had killed. He waited patiently. Suddenly, the warthog emerged and a swift interaction took place with the warthog managing to get back into the hole. Again he waited patiently as we did too. Well after sunset and a few blue hour shots captured, Aubrey our guide thought the warthog would not emerge, so we left, pausing for a drink en route, to a lovely supper of Spring Rolls, Moroccan lamb and a granadilla desert.
Quarantine male leopard
Low angled mover.
The 18th began really well. we found the Talamati pride early with an Avoca male. They were initially not too active and that did not last as the got mobile. We stayed with the male and photographed him as he moved. We then caught the females and sub adult males who would stop and then move. Our guide Aubrey anticipated them superbly which made for a really great sighting. After an enjoyable coffee stop, we again found them but by that stage, they were rather "flat" so we came back to a tasty breakfast, a photography chat on editing nd then some rest. After a tasty lunch, we left for the afternoon. We again found the Talamati pride who had caught and feasted on a waterbuck ram and they were full, fat and flat. After a short time with them, we left in search for a female leopard with a cub. That was not to be and as dark set in, we were told of a male leopard on a dam wall. With some haste and determination, we got to him in time to see him leave the dam wall and head to some vegetation where he lay down. Looking at his flat belly, we concluded that he would settle so we left for a drinks stop an then made for the camo where we were welcomed and enjoyed a great dinner and fireside chat, before settling in.
Avoca male at low angle.
The 19th was another of those epic days. It was the coldest morning so far. Within minutes we had located the Talamati pride not far from their previous kill but they were not giving us much to see. We were then alerted to a male leopard on the the Sydney's Dam wall and made our way there, the light getting more appealing by the moment. As we arrived he left the wall, a bit disappointing. We followed him and our guide extraordinaire though he had a kill nearby. Correct! There in the Marula tree was a well consumed impala. He came near but did not climb the tree. We positioned ourselves perfectly with the light and tree trunk and patiently waited. During this time, we saw that an impala was near. The drama expected could almost be felt, but little did we know that it would even surpass our expectations. After some time, he leapt into the tree to the accompaniment of the camera shutters. We moved around as he positioned and ate from the kill.....and the hyena got closer. He then left the tree with the kill in the face of the oncoming hyena. We knew what was coming next as he saw the hyena and retreated and again climbed the tree with the kill. He ate a bit more and rested and then tried it all over again. This time the hyena would not take no for an answer and after a brief scuffle, it was all over and the kill was lost to the hyena. We left the sighting for a deserved coffee stop, or celebration rather, all excited at what we had experienced. We stopped in at the lions on the way back to camp, but they were near where we had left them and doing what lions do best, resting, so we returned to camp, a hearty breakfast and some editing and tuition.
The afternoon was just not like the morning. That is how it happens in the wild, it has what can only be described as an unpredictability. As a host this can be stressful but it is what it is. We looked diligently and bar the "flat cats" which we briefly visited, we had to be content with a magical afternoon in nature, a stop for a drink in a scenic dusk and a return to camp enjoy a drink and delicious meal in the company of the Djuma manager.
Refreshment in the wild being enjoyed by a great group of people.
The 20th began a bit quietly as we checked up on tracks and signs, always very interesting as we witness experts interpret the "language" of nature. After a time, we found the Talamati pride of lions in an area inaccessible to us. We had to be content to look from a distance and leave, Aubrey assuring us that they would cross to where we could get to them, and so advising that we stay close, which we did. We were then told that a male and female leopard had been spotted nearby and began to make out way there. We sadly arrived to no sign of the male and the female high up in a tree. As we looked at this, the lions had come and were headed for where we were. we witnessed them at the foot of the tree in question, moaning and scratching at the tree trunk before they carried on moving into the Manyaleti area pausing many times and so giving us many great photographic opportunities. After a coffee break nearby, we went back to the female leopard. We awaited at the tree where she was, still quite concealed. Our patience was rewarded as she came down the tree and we followed her. She paused on a termite mound and with the light getting rather hard, we left her and we went back to the camp for a super breakfast and some well deserved rest before setting out for the afternoon. The warm afternoon began quietly as we looked for signs, hoping to find the areas dominant male leopard whose tracks had been seen but that was not to be. We stayed fairly close to where a leopard pair had been seen in the afternoon. There had also been wild dogs in the area which we hoped would come to where we could view them. Suddenly we were told of their presence and they appeared near water and on the move. We followed them briefly at sunset but sadly they disappeared into the Manyaleti but not after giving us some great opportunities. We then had a drink stop and looked for more game before heading back to camp to enjoy a wonderful fireside chat and dinner of Moroccan lamb Tagine as our main course. That brought an end to the late drives at Djuma as after a morning drive on 21st, we leave for Antares and Umgede Hide.
Dog on the move.
On our way back to camp, Pearl Spotted Owlet in night light.
Apologies for the lull in updates. Data signal was poor and then we travelled back. Anyway, out last drive at Djuma was rather quiet to begin with. Oh well, we thought as we stopped for a drink. There had been a few murmurs of tracks from Tingana, the dominant male from the north. We followed up his tracks and in a dense area, our guide and tracker went on foot. we suddenly saw Aubrey pumping the air with his fist and we knew it.....they had not only found him but he had just killed a duiker. We got to him in very dense bush where he was resting. He then proceeded to begin to eat snarling at us menacingly and protectively. After a while, we left him and got back to camp where a lovely breakfast awaited us after which it was time to pack up and say goodbye to the Djuma team and 2 of the group. We then headed for Antares Bush Campo and Umgede Hide in the Grietjie Nature Reserve, part of Balule. There we were pleasantly received and spent time in the hide. Not too much was seen and yours truly (Marc) decided to spend the night there. Not much seen yet exhausted but its a case of being there to enjoy the bush and face the prospects which may arise.
The next morning saw 2 of the group go on a drive and the rest of us spend time in the hide again where we on and off spent the day. Birds in decent numbers and variety and impala with great reflections were our subjects. The next morning, we aid goodbye to some of the group, spent more time in the hide, chased some elusive wild dogs in a vehicle and left. We passed by some friends in Hoedspruit and then on to Skukuza where we spent the night. On 24th we did the long drive home. Feel free to take a look at our Facebook page and Instagram where we will post images from this great adventure.
So that concludes the May adventure. Rich in opportunities and photos and now we look to June at Savanna and Antares.
So we began this adventure on 4 June by driving to Crocodile Bridge. That was safely done and we checked into that rest camp and unpacked. We then went for a quiet drive which was quite uneventful, the only highlight being a "flat cat" male lion. We then settled in to a quiet evening amidst the night sounds and special tranquility which the bush just seems to bring.
Up bright and early, packed and on the road on 5th June, little did we know what awaited us. We had hardly left camp when we saw a pair of wild dogs. We spent some time with them. We then moved on and found a male cheetah. That was followed by the rest of the magnificent seven after we had collected Gerald and Marie at the Skukuza airport. Ironically the last of them to be seen were the elephants.
We arrived at the awesome Savanna and after check in and a great lunch, set out. The predators bar a hyena which gave us great slow shutter panning eluded us as the wind blew. We saw numerous other game and came back to the lodge to a real Savanna spoil dinner which was accompanied by laughter, rounding off a real fun evening.
6 June started off really well. Well actually not really but anyway, we immediately saw evidence of cheetah. We followed up on that but were cheated by just not finding the cheetah we sought. A bit disappointed, all suddenly changed when we found a male cheetah. He gave us what we can only describe as a show as he ascended and posed on a "xidulu". He then left and went into some thick vegetation. We followed him and eventually saw why he had gone there...a herd of impala was near. The weather turned and we followed him. Our patience was soon enough rewarded as he thundered into a herd of impala, sadly missing his target. We stayed with him and while and then we returned to camp where a hearty breakfast awaited us. We then rested and, met for an early lunch as we had heard of a lion pride with cubs on a kudu kill. We left in search of them, pausing for a few sightings of interest. Life, our tracker, insisted we go to a usually barren area and was soon vindicated when we found another pride which had killed a buffalo and were lazing nearby. They gave us some opportunities and then we heard of a dominant male leopard which we decided to check out. This was towards sunset and rewarded us greatly. He had killed a baby monkey which he ate and then he moved and posed for us. Our delighted guests stopped for a sundowner as light rain began, so we decided to head back to camp to a delightful dinner, accompanied by light banter.
Cheetah on top of a xidulu.
If this morning (7 June) had a headline, it would be something like "Sublime Savanna's lionistic morning". We left Savanna Lodge on a slightly subdued morning and went back to the pride, known as the Mangene pride. This time they were very active, the 2 smallest cubs stealing the show as they growled, fed on the carcass and interacted with the lionesses, to our delight and photographic pleasure. After a time with them, Dan, our ranger extraordinaire, Dan, suggested we check out the Mangene Pride which had been on a kudu kill. This just delivered magic with perfect timing. We arrived to see 3 small (14 weeks or so) cubs interact with mom play fight, run, jump and just generally give us an action session second to none. Not to be outdone, this foursome were joined by another lioness and they began to move, the cubs bouncing along in animated play while doing so. Dan anticipated them correctly and thought they were off to drink. They duly did this and our perfect position ensured that we got the lionesses drinking with great reflections with the cubs around them while they did so. One of the cubs had a drink despite them being on milk, to our utter delight. We stopped at a very scenic spot for a comport and "celebratory" coffee break after which we looked for a leopard that we did not locate and so we headed back to the lodge for a sumptuous breakfast and a well deserved rest. The few guests images we saw said one thing......what a great morning it was.
Cub in mid air.
The afternoon announced itself as a rather moody one. After the morning we had, an air of expectation was to be expected. We travelled fairly far having been told that a leopard female and 2 cubs were visible and active. Sadly, that was not to be ad they were in very thick vegetation where they were in a den. We then went to look on some lions which we found on a dam wall. The sun had set by then but even so, there was no activity and so we left. Savanna being Savanna, we were surprised by a meal in the bush. The sight of the lanterns in the midst of the bush, the trailer which holds flushing bathrooms and the amazing food and service accompanied by the wines presented to us by Ken Forrester wines made for a most enjoyable and magical evening.
Well if yesterday was lions galore, this morning (8 June) was the same, yet different. We left on a crystal clear morning and headed to check out the Mangene pride and they were still at their kill, which is now nearing its end. This time the cubs put on an appreciated show as they played and fought with some feeding from mom and carcass as well. We also saw some discipline in action and that was all very early.
We spent a good time with them and left to check on the Ottawa who we had heard were in a river bed. They to gave us a great show which included 3 males in company, one of which protected the cubs from another, a noisy if dramatic treat. we then found an older male leopard but he has rested up so we had a comfort and coffee stop and then slowly headed back to camp in time for a great breakfast, aiming to get back to him later, hoping he will get active. We left on drive on a slightly cloudy and very scenic afternoon. We soon enough arrived where we had left our leopard and he had left. One of the lodged in the area had scraped the path which made tracking him challenging. We did not find him and others who were out had no better luck on leopards which really does show that it's all about being in the right place at the right time and of course skilled rangers and trackers help greatly. We still had a great drive seeing rhino, elephant, general game and after dark a spotted eagle owl and a naughty young hyena. We also stopped to photograph a majestic sunset over a waterhole. We later returned to the lodge where the managing couple, Ian and Natasha joined us for a most pleasant dinner rounding off a really great evening.
9 June can only be called "Leopard day". We left to a cold morning. After a while of following up on tracks, all while seeing a great sunrise and a few other species, the best of which was a hyena who we shot with slow shutter speeds, we found a beautiful male leopard called Thamba who posed on a mound making for some great photography. He then moved on to a property to which we lack access, sadly ending out sighting. We were then told of a mating pair of leopards together and so made our way to that. We found them on a dam wall and witnessed them mating, a true spectacle which we are hoping to see more of.
And so it was!!! When we thought it was unlikely to get better, IT DID!! We went out and looked around, finding a good bit of general game and a threesome of rhinos which did us a treat. we then found the mating pair of leopards and they positioned just as we would have wanted for us TWICE, giving us amazing shots of them mating and stopping. We were OVER THE MOON as the saying goes. We then left them and were called in to a huge crocodile who had a large impala in his mouth. We then stopped for a celebratory drink and small sunset photo opportunity of our amazing group before returning to the lodge where a super meal in the boma, accompanied by top class local entertainment awaited us.
The morning of 10 June of course stared with some expectation, and some apprehension for the hosts. True to what had become form now, Dan and Life did not disappoint and soon enough, we were within reach of the Ottawa lions pride......but unable to fine them. Their tracks suggested that they had not moved, hardly the norm for lions after a ew days on a kill. Anyway we soon enough located them, helped out by a few nervous zebra, who had reason to be as they moved into a clearing near the zebra. The light was just fantastic and so the cameras had much to do. They then moved into some dense vegetation and we followed them in. There on a cut line, we got entertained to a cub display of playfulness and photographic opportunities which delighted everyone. We then decided to leave them in search of two male leopards some way away. On our way, we changed plan as we heard that the mating leopards had been located closer to us. Our last drive's end was fast approaching. We found them and witnessed the power of them mating twice before leaving them and stopping for some elephant. It then came to the end. After a Savanna breakfast, that means awesome, we packed and said our sad goodbyes and left for Antares.
We stopped to collect a replacement camera and some provisions in Hoedspruit and arrived at Antares in the late afternoon. Our late afternoon and evening were rather photographically quiet but nothing a nice drink and great meal could not help.
We awoke, well, those of us who did not stay up all night or so, to a splendid but fairly quiet early part of day. Then came the magic. Up close and personal, at the Umgede hide we were treated to no less than 6 elephant appearances. These ranged from a single bull, a pair and 4 herds who treated us. We got it all, reflections, displays, varied behaviour, young and everything in between. WE WERE IN OUR ELEMENT!!! Just insane!! I will not forget a guests comment "well, more to download now" and that was not after the last sighting of them either.