News of the Day from Villiers:
(All images from back of Villiers’ Camera)
We woke up to overcast conditions and a cooler day that can be great for photography. We thought that we would start at Big Dam where we left the Tsalala Lion Pride last night, hoping that they would be playing and tumbling around.
As we traveled towards Big Dam Derek, our tracker, pointed out the tracks of a large herd of buffalo heading in the same direction. Neil Coetzer, our ranger, and I started some hopeful speculation about what may await us at Big Dam …
We arrived at Big Dam exactly as the first sun rays pierced the clouds, creating a beautiful golden scene in front of us. Two of the lions were drinking and playing at the dam. As we pulled closer to photograph the boisterous two, we saw that their mouths were smeared with blood. So there must be a kill? …
We followed the lions as they left the dam and walked over the dam wall, …
… whereupon they led us straight to a very fresh buffalo carcass – a buffalo cow that they killed early this morning. We couln’t believe our luck as we watched as the whole pride alternately ate and played. We were in a perfect position to see and to photograph them and their nonstop actvities. The two lionesses and three young males roughed around, then stoppped to feed before stopping for yet another game. One of the young males left to enjoy a drink at the dam so we followed him to add the drinking images to our gowing collections.
We returned to the kill to see one of the males grip the carcass with his powerful front paw and claws and pull and tug with all his brutal might to get at some extra tasty bits.
We could not have asked for a better start to the day and finally left to make way for another vehicle to get a view of the action. We took the opportunity to visit the area where we left Tiyane yesterday and found drag marks where she had dragged her kill to another spot under a tree. Tiyane was lying in the sandy river bed – and there was Salayexe, feeding on the carcass.
Tiyane posed for photographs before trying to join her mother for a quick bite to eat – but when Salayexe let out a very ominous growl Tiyane backed off, turned around and strutted off.
We left the two leopards and had a coffee break near a small water hole at Our Father’s Crossing, where a small herd of Nyalas arrived for a drink.
And to crown a spectacular morning we also saw a very special bird – a rather rare Thick-billed Cuckoo … so once again, luck was on our side!
This afternoon we decided to concentrate on the animals we have been ignoring and just driving past, which was very successful indeed. We started with a large buffalo herd heading to Simbambeli dam, and parked to meet them there, but they surprised us when they headed straight past the dam. But we were right in the middle of the herd which allowed us to photograph the Red-billed Oxpeckers and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on their backs and heads.
We headed further and saw a very relaxed Kudu Bull and then found a Rhino Bull following a female with a small calf. The calf was very playful, running up and down and around its mother and we captured some great shots of all three.
Our last sundowner together was enjoyed at the Knobthorn Tree, where we again savoured and spoke about our amazing days here, before we just had to go back to Big Dam. The Tsalala lions were resting at the dam, but one stretched, got up, and strolled across the dam wall back to the kill. When he arrived at the kill he was furious to find a hyena tucking into the remains and he gave chase. Not a perfunctory little warning off, either – he chased him far, far away! Then he returned to the carcass and glared at the vultures gathering in the surrounding trees before he started to feed. He wasn’t too hungry, and took his time to get the choicest bits. He even dragged the carcass to a tree to get leverage to help him to secure the best pieces.
Sitting there in the dark we could hear the bones crunching as the lion chewed and hyenas calling nearby. We also heard the unmistakable, melodious sounds of a Fiery-necked Nightjar – that ‘Good Lord deliver us’ call. Inbetween the hippos grunted in the dam and Water Thick-knees gave their whistling call into the night.
What a special way it was to end our final evening here, but at least we still have our drive in the morning to look forward to …