Tuesday, 14 June 2011

11th June – The Absolute Perfect Day

Photo of the Day
The perfect moment...the perfect day!
Morning Drive
(Chad and Herald)
7 x wild dogs – Kings, Eagle Owl Plains
12 x lions (Machaton Pride – 3 x lionesses and 12 x cubs) – Kings, Cheetah Plains
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Mbali, Western Cutline
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Peru, Giraffe Kill Lookout

Afternoon Drive
(Chad and Herald)
7 x wild dogs – Kings, Eagle Owl Plains
12 x lions (Machaton Pride – 3 x lionesses and 12 x cubs – killed an impala) – Kings, Cheetah Plains
1 x leopard (Thumbela female with White Tailed Mongoose kill) – Vielmetter, Bluewaxbill
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Motswari, Camp Trough
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Java, Western Cutline
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Kings, Eagle Owl Plains
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Kings, Cheetah Plains

Daily Synopsis
We always say that every day is different in the bush, and one never knows what to expect.  Last week I wrote a blog post for a travel magazine (http://blog.getaway.co.za/photography/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-game-ranger/) and spoke about a pretty special day in the bush from a few months back.  Not my best day ever, but just one where everything seemed to go right.  I can tell you though, that had I written that story this week, I would have a whole new day to write about!
While we all love the big stuff in the bush, I learnt today that it is not only about seeing them, but also experiencing them in a different way.  Today was filled with the most amazing experiences for my guests and I, and it goes down as possibly my best ever day in the bush.  Driving back to the lodge at the end of drive, I just couldn’t stop shaking my head in disbelief about what we had experienced today.  At that point, there was no place on earth I would rather have been than in my own seat living this amazing dream.
Waking up on Saturday didn’t suggest that things would be any different from any other day, and when it started off a bit slow, we possibly thought that yesterday afternoons drive was not going to be matched.  There were scatterings of impala around as we made our way towards where the male leopard had hoisted his kill up a large weeping boer bean.
Arriving there, we saw the kill resting peacefully on a large horizontal branch, but there was no sign of the leopard, or the hyenas that had been there earlier.  However, it didn’t take long before one hyena wandered up to the tree and then, realising that she was not going to get anything without the leopard in the tree, she ambled over towards us and lay down next to the road.
We left her resting there and carried on to look for some elephants along the Nhlaralumi.  There were plenty of nice birds flapping about, as well as a lone kudu bull on the riverbank as we approached Illegal Crossing.  I then saw some elephant droppings in the road, that looked fresh, so decided to show my guests how to do the “finger test” to determine how old the droppings are!
When some branches broke in the mopane thicket to our left, I realised that they were clearly older than the 2h14 minutes I had guestimated them to be!  We made our way around the thicket and soon found a small herd of elephants that quickly left the mopanes and went down into the riverbed to feed on the sedge, scaring off the kudu in the process.

Elephant and kudu
Realising that they were heading towards Giraffe Kill Lookout, I jumped ahead and went and set up our coffee there, and we all then went and sat on a large rock on the river bank and spent almost an hour watching the herd as they dug in the sand to get at fresh water, and then continued feeding.

Elephant herd joining us for coffee
As I said, today became about experiences, and to be able to sit maybe 30-40m from a herd of elephants, in the open, bathed in warm morning light as they went about their business totally oblivious to our presence was something extremely special to all of us!

Guests enjoying the experience
It was only when we stood up to walk back to the car that the elephants noticed us and moved off a bit.  Getting an update after our extended coffee break, I heard that in the south, both the Machaton Pride of lions and a pack of wild dogs had been found on Kings, and they had kindly invited us to go and view them, and Herold took them up on their offer as he was in the south already. 
I skipped on them for the morning and decided I would head down there in the afternoon when the sightings would be a bit quieter and hopefully more active.  So I carried on back north towards Concrete Crossing and then back to the lodge.  We saw waterbuck, impala, kudus and warthogs along the way.

Warthogs at Trade Entrance Dam, and guineafowl at Concrete Crossing
After breakfast, I took my guests out for a bushwalk, and decided to drive to Argyle Dam again following my rather enjoyable walk there last week.  I knew I was probably going to be disappointed as I wouldn’t see as much.  I was right, we didn’t.  But it is not always about quantity!
We walked along the southern bank of the dam towards the west and Piva Plains.  While stopping to talk about some more droppings, which I am seemingly an expert on, we saw a couple of giraffes feeding near Lover’s Leap.  We headed in their direction and approached slowly, and while they saw us, they paid no attention to us.  We circled around to the clearing side, and despite only being 25m from them, all three giraffes carried on feeding as if we weren’t there!  It was just awesome to see, and just as we had discussed at dinner last night, it is not until you are standing near them that you really appreciate just how large they are!
We spent our time with them, and not wanting to overstay our welcome, carried on back down towards the riverbed and Lover’s Leap.  We paused to look at the giraffe on our left who had now come down into the riverbed.  At the same time, a hippo appeared on our right.  Both animals were making their way towards the water, and neither seemed to notice us, or if they did, they paid us no attention.
We just stood there, all still besides our swinging heads, glancing from one animal to another.  It was surreal.  It was emotional.  Well, at least for myself anyway!  LOL!  I don’t know what it was, but it was a moment that will live on with me forever.  Words cannot describe it.  I had never felt so close to nature or so privileged to be in this position that I was in.  I was literally overcome with emotion, and I’m only partially embarrassed to share this, but my eyes started welling up with tears!  I kid you not!  Thank goodness for sunglasses; I might just have ruined the “macho game ranger” image!!!
The hippo arrived at the water first, had a drink, then disappeared into.  The giraffe approached more cautiously, but not because of us, but because that is how giraffes do things.  The large giraffe bull arrived at the water, at a distance of probably 15-20m from us.  He looked around continuously, but almost never paused to focus on us.  He then bent down to drink, putting himself in an extremely vulnerable position, yet he did this with us standing there.  In the open.  I was shocked and amazed that he was so comfortable with us there!  It was only when the hippo surfaced 25m away and gave a grunt at realising he had company that the giraffe got a fright and moved off!  We took this as our cue to move off too, and as we walked back to the Land Rover, we were all just beaming with massive smiles, totally in awe of what we had just experienced...I know that I definitely had never experienced something like that!
Even when I arrived for lunch, my guests were still talking about it, and everyone joked about how on earth I was going to top that experience.  To be honest, I didn’t quite know myself, but I had some friends who I hoped could help!
Knowing what was waiting down south, we left a bit early, and wanting to get there with daylight to spare, we headed straight south along western cutline seeing impalas and warthogs, then eventually turning off to go and check around Vielmetter Camp and Hide Dam for a leopard whose tracks were seen there in the morning after losing her kill to hyenas.
As I was driving along the riverbed, we saw a tracker on foot and a land rover driving into the bush; a bit confused at first, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but eventually got in touch with the guide after a few minutes and confirmed my suspicions that they had found a leopard.  As I heard a second vehicle already approaching the sighting (whose tracker we had seen), I decided not to wait around, as that wasn’t my main mission this afternoon.  In fact, I was quite pleased that they had found a leopard, as that would take the attention away from my other friends.
We saw quite a few groups of giraffe in the area, including some females and calves, then some mature bulls, and then a herd of young males drinking at Hide Dam in the late afternoon light before moving off.

Giraffe calves, old giraffe bulls, and giraffe bulls drinking at Hide Dam with oxpeckers
We moved off too and headed towards Eagle Owl Plains, where the wild dogs had been left in the morning.  Approaching the southern end of the clearing we found a breeding herd of elephants coming out of the riverbed onto the clearing, and spent a bit of time watching them before going to look for the dogs.

A few minutes later we stopped them running along the road on the eastern side of Eagle Owl Plains and followed them for a bit while they interacted before all lying down again.  It was a tough decision for me to leave the dogs at this time, as they were no doubt about to get active to go on a hunt.  And I really love wild dogs.  I waited for Patrick from Kings to arrive, and then I decided to rather leave them to go and see the lions about a kilometre away on Cheetah Plains.

Pack of wild dogs getting ready for the afternoon hunt
When we arrived, we found the lionesses and cubs of the Machaton Pride all lying out in the middle of the clearing.  In the open.  In the last rays of golden light of the day.  I had made the right choice!

Machaton Pride on Cheetah Plains
As my guests were quite enthusiastic photographers as well, we all clicked away in delight, all relishing the amazing light bathing the scene in front of us.

Golden light lions
Slowly the cubs got active and wandered over to mom to groom and show their affection.

Dream sighting, light and setting!
The golden glow slowly faded as the cubs began suckling and curiously watching a breeding herd of elephants that were moving about at the bush-line on the northern end of the plains.

Cubs drinking milk
The lionesses then spotted something and all sat up alert; and it wasn’t the two black-backed jackals that were running around on the plain.  It was impala.  As no one else was coming, we decided to follow the pride as they ran off into the bushes.  The older cubs were doing their best to keep up with the mothers, but obediently the five young cubs all stayed on the plains. 

We could never see what the lionesses were after, but we followed through the easily traversable woodland, seeing them moving ahead of us from time to time.  Petros then spotted them and said that they just appeared to be walking, and I was going to go around to try and cut them off.

The hunt begins
I got a glimpse as I went past a gap in the vegetation, and stopped and reversed to see why on earth the one lioness appeared to be standing dead still.  I then saw that 10m in front of her, another lioness was standing dead still, and both had their stares fixed on a spot somewhere between them.  I had no sooner stopped when they both simultaneously ran at whatever had caught their attention.  It turned out to be an impala, and in a split second, this unfortunate antelope that had caught their attention had now caught more than that...like a bunch of claws and teeth!  We had just witnessed a kill right in front of us!  I laughed to myself as just the night before, we were talking about kills and how rare it was to see one happen.  I’m sure now my guests thought I was lying!

We raced around to witness the feeding frenzy, and in the short time it took us to relocate them, the aroma of the disembowelled stomach content was already filling the air – at least the death was quick this time. 
We arrived and watched as the cubs and lionesses all fought over the carcass – while they had unfortunately run into a small bush, we could still see and more impressively, hear the chaos of the fight for each mouthful!  The growling and snarling was as amazing as seeing the kill itself!

Lions with an impala kill
After a few minutes the smaller cubs, drawn by the growls, eventually came trotting up to the kill, and joined in in the frenzy!  I don’t know if they realised how dangerous that journey could have been, as any hyenas within ear shot would no doubt also have been drawn there!  Fortunately there didn’t appear to be any such hyenas, and we left all twelve lions to fight over their meal as we made our way back to the north.  Magic!  Not even hearing that Giyani had found the wild dogs with an impala kill shortly after we left them was enough to put a dampener on my day!  And it wasn’t over...

Every lion for itself
Herold, having seen the wild dogs and lions in the morning, opted instead to go and see the leopard that had been found.  It turned out to be Thumbela female, and she had herself a white-tailed mongoose kill.  Sadly she had finished it by the time we moved into the area and relocated her sleeping off a reasonably full belly.
We didn’t see much action besides one head lift and one position change, but after what we had seen and experienced today, I don’t think anyone was complaining!

Sleepy Thumbela after finishing her kill
On the way back to the lodge, all still in awe of what we had seen and experienced today, we found a breeding herd of elephants creating a bit of a road block, but we didn’t mind at all!
So that was it!  Probably not as exciting to read about it as to live through it, but it was just such a special day for all of us, and one that I won’t reasonably expect to see any time soon!  The problem now is, how on earth can I follow up on that tomorrow???!!!


  1. Incredible action for 1 day...superb!

  2. WOW!!! What a great dream you had Chad,
    now you can tell us how the day actually went!

    Great stuff Chad, and that with guests that is in the wild for the first time, unbelievable. They surely think it is a piece of cake to find all these lovely animals... :)
    Good luck following up on this day.


  3. Oh yeah, and I love the light you had with the lions, special sighting with the cubs as well.


  4. Exceptional photography, Chad. Well done!!

  5. Wow Chad! I love the oxpecker with the giraffe spray droplets, what an awesome day for u!!