Distress Call

Waking up to the early morning sounds of the bush remains an incredible experience. However, hearing the distress call of an antelope, a few hundred meters outside of your lodge, immediately heightens all of your senses.

I’ve spent a wonderful week in paradise at the striking Toro Yaka Bush lodge in the Balule Private Game Reserve. While getting ready for one of the game drives at 5:20 am, I heard a distress call of what I first thought to be an Impala just outside the gate of the lodge. I knew something had gone down. The ranger quickly assembled all the guests and we headed off in search of this unnerving sound.

We circled one of the blocks, but couldn’t see anything through the thicket. Some impala were looking attentively in the direction from where the sound came. My adrenaline started pumping and excitement kicked in. Could it have been a kill? Was it a leopard?

We came through the block for a second round. Then all of a sudden the ranger paused, peered through the thick vegetation and remarked eagerly, “Wild Dogs on a kill”.

I couldn’t believe my luck! We approached the sighting and saw a pack of wild dogs frantically scurrying around. Barks and squeals consumed the air around us. It was manic, yet sensational. Then we spotted the victim. It was a female Kudu and there was already hardly anything left of her. This all happened in the space of around 20 minutes and the sun had only just started to reveal itself over the horizon.

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At this point I had to compose myself and take a moment to reflect on what it was that I was experiencing. I had only been fortunate enough to see these highly endangered wild dogs once before. Let alone feeding on a fresh kill.

The canines were moving around in all directions. Each one seemed to be carrying a bone or licking blood off of another family member.

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We witnessed the efficiency with which these dogs hunt and feed and it is astounding. They seemed to be content with their meal and started getting ready to move off while the crushing of a few bones was still heard in the back ground. We moved out of the sighting and carried on with our drive.

This was an incredibly rare event to witness and I will always cherish the memory of standing at the gates of Toro Yaka and being startled by that mysterious, thrilling sound.

Embarrassed Lioness

When the bush decides to deliver, it really delivers. Even during a thunderstorm.

I had the opportunity to go on a night drive after a lion sighting was called in over the radio. It was extremely hot with temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius. About 20 minutes into the drive, the storms clouds started to build and the temperature quickly dropped.

We made our way to the waterhole where the lions were spotted. Just before we got there, it started pouring down with rain. When approaching the sighting, I saw something much larger than a lion at the waterhole. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Black Rhino standing in the open. We hastily made our way towards it. Then we stopped.

Close to the rhino we saw two male lions lying down. Then two lionesses approached the rhino. They circled it and tried to look for a gap. The rhino stood its ground and ensured that the lionesses understood where they stand. The felines backed down and the rhino exited the area.

The clouds had developed to its fullest and a thunderstorm had broken out over the horizon. I was still sitting in the rain at this point.

After taking a quick water break, the lionesses wouldn’t give up. There was a lone wildebeest nearby. Both cats went into stalk mode and tried their luck. Unfortunately the wildebeest saw them coming from afar and headed off. At this point the males retreated into the bush so I lost sight of them.

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The felines looked as if they were going to call it quits for the night. As lions do, they plonked down, yawned and proceeded to have a nap.

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Or so I thought.

The duo got up again and moved off to another clearing. Unfortunately they messed up with some impala and a zebra yet again. To me it seemed as if they were becoming despondent and desperate. One of the females moved off towards a tree. Then she climbed up the tree and sat in it for a while.

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This looked like great fun, so the other female also wanted to join the action. She made her way up the tree too. Unfortunately for her, she fell out soon after.

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I didn’t see them attempt to hunt any further that night. It was such an incredible experience being able to watch these lions in action with the dramatic backdrop of the thunderstorms over the horizon.

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Warning 

One of the most fascinating aspects of being in the bush must be a sense of the unknown.

Tracking animals and eventually finding them feels like one of the most rewarding activities. My Friday morning started with some signs of elephants and there was word that they were fairly deep into the reserve. So this became the mission for the day.

After some time trying to navigate the map and following piles of dung, a trumpeting call echoed through the bush. I stumbled across a small herd of around five elephants. They seemed really relaxed and content. 

I watched as they casually fed amongst the trees and slowly made their way across the road and back. All of a sudden, a young male bull emerged from the thicket and wanted to investigate. These young guys are rather haughty and love trying to intimidate you with any chance they get. It approached the safari vehicle, flapped its ears, grabbed a trunk full of sand and threw it all over the vehicle. 



Feeling very proud with its accomplishments, the youngster walked past me and wandered off into the bush.

It still amazes me how quiet and stealthy these giant beasts are. Sometimes they’ll be standing right next to you in between some bushes and you can hardly see or hear them. If it wasn’t for the cracking of branches and the odd rumbling, it would be as if they were nonexistent.

Peek a boo

The New Year has kicked off with a bang and I find myself in a very different part of the country starting a completely new adventure.

I have started training and studying as a field guide close to the Makalali Private Nature Reserve in the Limpopo Province. I have finally settled in and the surroundings are becoming more familiar to me. Opportunity waits around every corner and around every corner you might find something a little bit more curious than yourself.

I woke up this morning and took a step outside. Taking in the sound of the bountiful bird calls and insect screeches, I noticed something moving around close to my room.

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This little Dwarf Mongoose was very curious as to who was living out in the bush with it. It stood cautiously behind the wall for quite some time. Once it saw that I posed no threat to it, the creature revealed itself and moved casually across my courtyard.

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There are many interesting things going on around camp and the reserve and soon there will be more exciting stories to tell.

Blacksmith Lapwing Nesting

There are often times that we look, but we don’t see. This was the case for me one morning when viewing an all too familiar scene.

Intaka Island created a new little sand based island in one of the ponds. This attracts many birds who use it to either dry off some feathers, preen themselves, dustbathe or simply take a quick break from flying around.

For about two weeks I’ve noticed a pair of Blacksmith Lapwings who frequent this dirty little island. I’ve witnessed them mating on it and they’ve recently started acting very hostile towards some of the ducks and herons that come too close to it. I know that these birds don’t like their space to be invaded, but it seemed as if they were protecting something. They were getting rather aggressive towards the others.

After taking a couple of sunrise shots of the female, I noticed something in the dirt when I zoomed in on my camera screen. At first I didn’t even see it until I looked properly.

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There in the middle of the island laid an egg. It was perfectly camouflaged and hardly noticeable.

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Lapwings usually lay their eggs on the open ground and they are placed on nothing more than a little scrape in the ground. The eggs are speckled like dirt and blend in very well with its environment. The protective strategy of the parents is to pretend that there aren’t any eggs around and they try to divert any predators or passers-by away from the eggs, even if by force.

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Once the parents are happy that nobody is going to disturb the eggs, they will go nest and attend to the eggs.

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I can’t wait to see the chick hatch. Unfortunately the parents picked a terrible spot to nest as this is a tiny, unprotected and popular island. The chick won’t be able to leave the island (unless it learns to swim) and will be completely exposed when the parents leave to get some food. Only time will tell and I can’t wait to look and see how this scenario plays out.

Night Heron at dawn

With the summer season quickly approaching, the sun is rising earlier and earlier each morning. This provides me with a great opportunity to catch some of the action of the more elusive birds and wildlife before the sun rises.

It has been a long while since I’ve seen the Black Crowned Night Herons at Intaka Island. After walking around the reserve for a bit I managed to find them nesting in a tree. It was rather far away from the boardwalk and I really was hoping that I could get a closer shot of them. I could see the adults with at least two, possibly three juveniles.

I made my way to the hide very early one morning before sunrise. As I walked in I saw one of the juveniles sitting on one of the perches. I could hardly contain my excitement, but I had to tread carefully. These birds are rather skittish and any sudden movement could send it flying away.

For some reason this night heron seemed content in having me around and simply sat there, waiting for the sun to rise. I got quite a few shots of it before the sun appeared.

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Eventually the sun peeped over the bushes at the hide and illuminated the heron. It relished in soaking up the morning rays. Once it had warmed up it decided to take flight.

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The juvenile night herons have since started to learn how to catch their own fish. It would be lovely to see them in action on another early, sunny morning.

Spring day at Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is currently exploding with colour and teeming with animal activity.

With all the flowers that are blossoming, there is a prolific amount of birds around the gardens. I had a couple of first time sightings again, which is always exciting when spending time outside.

One of these sightings occured at the start of the trip already. I saw a couple of small Swee Waxbills on the lawn. To my surprise I saw them numerous times around the garden, throughout the day.

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One of my goals for the day was to capture some great action around the protea and pincushion sections. I had not seen the King Protea in the garden before so I really wanted to pay a visit there. I really hoped that I might see a Sugarbird or Malachite Sunbird feeding from the King Protea. To my delight, a male Cape Sugarbird actually paid a visit and spent a brief moment on the King Protea.

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The Cape Sugarbirds were very active during the morning and I spent a considerable amount of time with them.

One of the more common birds that a lot of people might ignore, or find a nuisance, is the Helmeted Guineafowl. I find these birds to be highly entertaining and actually very photogenic. In my opinion they must be one of the most beautifully ugly birds around.

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One of the birds that I haven’t seen for ages was the pair of Spotted Eagle Owls that nest in the gardens. I got really excited when I managed to spot these raptors. The male was napping in the tree and the female was hidden in the bushes at the nest sight.

I managed to capture a shot of the owl just peeking at me during its snooze.

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Every time I visit the Afromontane forest section, aka The Braille Trail, I see something truly amazing. I was really hoping that the visit this day wouldn’t disappoint. It was around lunchtime and it was starting to get pretty hot in the sun. I knew that it would be a good idea to get some shade and just relax there in the forest. After sitting quietly for a while, a noticed a flash of orange fly through the forest.

I didn’t get a clear view of what it was, but I knew it would be worth investigating. I had wishful idea of what it might be, but wasn’t too hopeful in my search. It was very shady in the forest so I had to search diligently. Eventually I saw that iconic orange body that I was so hopeful for. It was a female African Paradise Flycatcher. I had never seen one and was ecstatic when I found it.

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It was a very productive day in the garden and with the wonderful spring weather that we’ve been having, I can’t wait for summer to arrive.