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Karen Denton

What did the African Harrier Hawk Catch? …

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Dawie Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

Being our final full day on this safari we were out bright and early and hunting for the pride of lions that we photographed late yesterday. We found tracks close to the Lodge and started to follow them. Then we heard the unmistakable sounds of baboon alarm calls. We followed the sounds and could see lion tracks everywhere, but to our surprise we found not the lions but the couple of mating leopards.

Because the leopards were on an open plain in front of the Lodge we spent some quality time photographing them as they continued mating. They were right next to our vehicle and we were able to get some fine close ups of the two.

We did a loop to allow another vehicle to spend time with the cats. As we drove around we spotted a large herd of giraffe. They looked really wonderful against the early, colourful sky.

An African Harrier Hawk was next. He was hunting in some dead trees. He repeatedly pushed his talons into spaces in the trees and pulled out various types of prey to eat. At one stage he pulled out what looked like a bat, and devoured it quickly.

We returned to the mating leopards for more photography in different light as the sun was quite high by then. And then after a coffee break in the bush we returned to the Lodge.

This afternoon we tried to find the leopard with the single cub again. We spent ages searching and could see nothing when our tracker pointed into the far distance. We looked, searched and took out our binoculars. It was the leopard cub, up in a tree.

We drew closer, and with a brilliant dark blue sky with a few tinges that hinted at sunset, the stage was set for some adorable images. We were the only vehicle in the area and we remained with the youngster for the entire afternoon. And wow! Was it ever worth it! The cub was very active, and prowled all around tree. Every rustling leave was stalked, every bird became possible prey, and any insect was chased. She kept busy until dark. Anything that landed, perched, or moved in the tree became a target. It was fabulous to watch.

As night approached we moved on and saw a pod of hippos in a dam. Then we returned to the lions. They were sprawled around on a dam wall, and once again we used different and creative lighting to compose different, interesting photos.

During the night and early morning there was quite a deluge. Within moments we were damp! Or soaked may be a more accurate adjective.

We headed directly to where we saw the very active cub alone on the evening game drive. She was with her mother, close to a waterhole. They walked along and played in the rain, and although it was difficult to photograph, it was a wonderful experience to watch the two together. When they reached a termite mound they settled to rest. But then the mother spotted a Scrub Hare and chased it. We were a little surprised when the mother carried on walking after failing to catch her prey, leaving her cub alone and quite exposed on the termite mound.

When we returned to the Lodge our guide spotted a Boomslang. Being quite an expert he was able to grab it and place it on a convenient branch for photos, with a warning not to try this at home! We used wide angle lenses to capture the amazing moment.

After an amazing trip, crammed with fabulous sightings and wonderful memories, everyone is understandably reluctant to leave this paradise – with all promising to return as soon as possible ….

Up Close with A Puff Adder …

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Dawie Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

When we set out for our early morning game drive our first intention was to return to the mating leopard couple. We found them and as they were in full view on a sandy patch in a riverbed, we spent more that an hour and a half with them.

When the two moved into a thicket we moved back towards the Lodge area. As we meandered around we photographed different Plains animals including kudu, impala, and also some hyenas that were very interested in the mating leopards.

We found tracks of the mother leopard with the single cub, and decided to enjoy a quick coffee break before we followed the tracks. Our (very welcome) break meant that another group found the leopards before we did, but we caught up with them soon after. The two leopards played boisterously in a dry river bed and again our memory cards filled quickly as the two jumped onto each other, rolled in the sand, leaped around, and seemed to have endless energy.

After Lightroom tuition back at the Lodge we headed out again. We found the leopard youngster sleeping peacefully on tree branch, out of reach of danger from the ground. Because the mother was not around we left the cub to sleep undisturbed.

We tried to find the other leopard family – the mother with two cubs. Very little was left of their kill, and although we searched the area thoroughly we could only see the mother. The two cubs were out of sight.

We found a herd of elephants, and after some bird photography that included a Wahlberg’s Eagle, our Ranger (Darren) pointed out a Puff Adder. He did a demonstration for us and we were able to photograph the reptile up close. Hearing that the lions had been spotted again we headed to them, and spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening with them – until it was time to return to the Lodge.

Our days have been so full that one can hardly begin to imagine what tomorrow will bring …

An Amorous Leopard vs Hyenas …

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Dawie Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

What a special day we experienced today!

It all started when we left the Lodge early in the morning and headed straight to the male leopard with the kill that we saw previously. When we arrived we found not one, but two leopards. A female leopard had arrived and we watched to see what would happen. We wondered if the male originally stole the kill from her, and that she was keen to get it back. But whatever the reason, the female was very flirtatious, and she tried repeatedly to get the rather reluctant male to mate with her.

We spent quite a long time with the two. And not only were there the amorous advances to watch, the hyenas still lurked around and kept trying to approach. Each time the hyenas came a little closer they were met with vicious sounding snarls, bared teeth, ferocious growls – two very angry leopards!

Wondering what happened to the kill on the ground where we saw the mother leopard feeding with her two cubs, we headed to the area we had last seen them. We arrived at the spot and after checking around we spotted the kill up in a tree. When we arrived we noticed hyenas on the scene, and one of the cubs dashed into some thick bush for safety while the second cub, accompanied by his mother, leaped into the tree with the kill. Mother and cub immediately started to feed on the carcass.

On the way to the leopard with her cubs we stopped to photograph elephants. They had small babies with them and as always it was a joy to watch them.

We made our way back to the Lodge and almost reached our destination when we received a call. A leopard was in the riverbed right in front of the Lodge. He headed there and to our amazement – and delight – we found the mother leopard with the single cub. They were way up in a Jackalberry tree, but after a short while they descended from the tree and walked close to us, side by side in the sandy riverbed.

After lunch and a flash workshop we headed out for our afternoon game drive. Having already seen seven leopards during the morning drive, we were content to experience anything at all that the bush would reveal.

We started by trying to track the mother leopard with her cub, and we found her quite a distance from where we left her. They were walking to the south of the Lodge and at first we only saw the mother and her prints. There were no cub tracks. But suddenly the cub popped out and the two crossed over to the road where they played, and kept us entertained for ages.

We thought that it would be a good idea to check on the amorous leopard with the male from the morning, and when we reached them they were both fast asleep. Just as we decided to move on the two leopards got up and moved to a nearby mud wallow.

We pulled closer to them and saw them having a face-off with the hyenas again, followed by a drink at the mud wallow. As darkness settled in we used our flashes and spotlights to capture nighttime shots.

A visit to the pride of lions came next. Once again other vehicles from neighbouring lodges helped us with lighting and we not only captured those iconic rim-lit and side-lit shots, the lions also decided to climb a Jackalberry tree! That was really fabulous to witness.

On the way back to the Lodge we stopped for a few moments and switched off our engines to enjoy the nighttime sounds, and to watch as a bank of thunderous clouds rolled in.

There should be rain tonight with that thunderstorm building up so dramatically, and in the morning we expect a very different, wet world around us …

From Leopards to Lizards – and …

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Dawie Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

Our final game drive for group one started with a visit to a large male leopard with a kill. Someone spotted him late yesterday and we found him quickly based on their information.

The leopard was way out of reach in a tree with his kill while hyenas around the tree yipped, circled, and leaped upward in frustration. We watched the scene for quite some time. The large tree branches were very comfortable and the satiated cat didn’t move for ages. The bright blue sky behind the tree looked beautiful and with some fill-in flash we captured some memorable shots. Eventually the leopard decided to jump down from the tree to lie in a riverbed.

We left the male cat to sleep and then noticed a set of female leopard tracks very close by. We followed these, and although they were fresh we had no luck.

During our coffee break we had fun photographing Giant Plated Lizards as they drank from small puddles in the rocks.

During our short coffee stop we received two calls about different female leopards. We decided to split up and the one Tusk vehicle visited the one while the other followed up on the second sighting.

Both sightings were the mother leopards, one with one cub, the other with two. We found the mother playing in the sand with her young cub. The area was very open and we had a very clear view of the two as they rolled around, chased each other, and played as young cats do.

The other vehicle found the mother with the two cubs. The mother had killed an impala and the three were feeding when our group arrived. The kill was on the ground and mom gave the cubs plenty of time to feed while she stood guard.

This afternoon, after the new safari group had checked in, had lunch and joined us for a briefing, we all headed back to the mother with her cub in the riverbed. We found them playing again, and this time the cub was particularly energetic. He played, ran around non-stop, jumped in and out of trees, and ran circles around his mother.

We eventually left the leopards to see what else we could spot. We stopped to photograph a herd of elephants enjoying a dust bath.

Next we decided to visit the male leopard that we had seen early in the morning with his kill. We searched for him for a while and found him snoozing next to a mud wallow. He roused himself at one stage for a drink and then settled down to sleep again.

Hearing that lions had been spotted, we left the leopard in favour of the lions. They walked towards us and looked really terrific in our spotlights. Once again, having two vehicles, we were able to use different lighting techniques and angles for some superb shots.

And to end our day, on the way back to the Lodge we stopped to photograph a chameleon.

Tomorrow we really have so many choices to start our day …


Wild Dogs Chase Warthogs Chase Wild Dogs …

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Dawie Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

After welcome hot coffee with rusks in the predawn darkness we set out for our morning game drive. Having seen so much already we were content to simply see what the day would bring, but we did hope for cats. We also decided that our two vehicles should go in different directions so that each vehicle could cover a different area of the reserve.

We found leopard tracks and were just about to start following these when our second vehicle alerted us to the presence of a male leopard. We immediately set off towards that sighting and were distracted when we found a pride of lions. We didn’t tarry for long because they were very inactive and disinclined to move – and we were very keen to reach the male leopard.

What a busy fellow the leopard was. He walked from a dam after a drink, and as he walked he checked and scent-marked his territory. When he spotted a herd of impala he went into hunting mode. This was when we left him, partly because we didn’t want to interfere with his hunt, but more importantly, we received a call about a pack of Wild Dogs not too far distant.

On the way to the dogs we saw plenty of Plains animals again, kudu, zebra, and impala. We hardly stopped for a couple of rhino as we were intent on finding the dogs.

When we reached the Wild Dogs they were lounging around, sprawled across the veld as they soaked up the morning sun.

But that changed in a flash. A warthog family strolled onto the scene and within a split second the dogs were up, and the chase was on. There they went, the dogs after the Warthogs. But wait! It turned around! Now the Warthogs chased the Wild Dogs! We thought that there would be a standoff, but no! The dogs settled down in the grass and went back to sleep while the Warthogs went their peaceful way!

We returned to the Lodge via the lions, but other than yawning and lifting a head occasionally, they continued their morning doze.

We headed back to the lions in the afternoon and found them much closer to the Lodge. They were on an open plain in front of the Lodge, and although they showed some interest in a number of rutting impalas, they didn’t actually hunt. They were just not hungry enough yet.

We moved on to a Leopard with her cub in a tree. However, they were quite obscured by the foliage and although it was great to see the two as they peeped through the leaves, it wasn’t the best sighting for photography.

As darkness fell we returned to the lions to find that the pride had actually killed an impala during our absence. They noise that they made while interacting and feeding attracted a number of hyenas. Nearly twenty hyenas surrounded the lions, and now and again the bush erupted when a lion broke away from the kill to chase hyenas. The drama together with the noise created a really awesome experience!

After so many brilliant sightings again we are back at the Lodge, ready for dinner, and thinking that the morning may find us back at the lion kill …


Leopard Family Games …

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Brendon Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

Shortly after we left the Lodge early in the morning we found two Rhinos. They were fast asleep just next to the road, and we were able to photograph them as they woke up.

When they noticed us sitting there quietly they ambled up to the vehicle, giving us great opportunities for wide angle work.

We drove off and were lucky enough to come across another two Rhinos close by. We didn’t spend much time with them as the sighting wasn’t quite as good as the first. (We really are quite spoiled!).

When we found leopard tracks we followed the spoor, but there was no luck there. The tracks actually disappeared into a neighbouring reserve.

But then a very welcome call alerted us to a female leopard with her two cubs. We shot off in that direction, but when we arrived the leopard disappeared into thick bush. Hoping that she would reappear we hung around the area, keeping a keen watch for her, and our patience and persistence was rewarded. The leopard appeared and we spent a delightful morning with her. We followed her and her cubs as they went about their entertaining morning business. They walked around, played, climbed a termite mound, and posed for us in every possible position. They chased each other around, rolled in the grass and sand, stalked tails and seemed to just enjoy the morning sun.

During our lunch break we heard about lions that were moving into the reserve and decided to check on them. On the way we took a quick detour to check on the leopard trio. The mother had left and we could only see one of the cubs. He peered at us curiously through the long grass, and then disappeared. After a few minutes the little head appeared again as the cub looked at us, and then decided to come and see what we were doing. After a quick look, discretion dictated a fast return to the long grass.

We left the cub and as we arrived at the area where we expected to find the lions we came across a solitary young male walking along the road. We spent time with him, but then returned to see if the other lions were around. We found tracks of a larger male and two females that led us towards a pan, and within seconds there was a large, handsome male with two lionesses.

The lions stopped at the pan and as evening approached we took out the spotlights for photography. The lions didn’t remain for too long, and soon after sunset they made their way back to the neighbouring reserve.

It was really special to see such a large male lion in the area, and the sightings of the leopards and rhino meant that we had a very successful day. Although I highlighted the big game, of course we saw plenty of other animals including impala, zebra, and giraffe.

In the morning we plan to return again to the leopard cub to check whether all three will have met up again …


Our First Game Drive with Playing Leopards, Busy Lions …

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Dawie Jacobs Shares from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

After we arrived at Elephant Plains, enjoyed lunch and a briefing we were ready for our first superb game drive.

Within moments we saw plenty of Plains animals. Impalas, kudus, and then a Saddle Billed Stork kept us occupied for a short time, but we didn’t linger because we had received reports of a female leopard and were keen to find her.

Then a call came through. The leopard had been spotted. We found her at a small puddle that she examined but she didn’t stop to drink. Maybe the water was just too muddy to be refreshing. We followed the cat as she strolled down the road towards a largish termite mound. As she neared the mound two little heads suddenly popped out – her cubs! The cubs are about four to five months old and very playful.

They all greeted each other enthusiastically and then chased mom, while mom chased them. It was such fun to watch the little family as they hid friends m each other, and pounced on moving leaves. The interaction was heartwarming and we remained with them for much of the afternoon.

We heard a report about lions and quickly headed to them. However, they were flat and as they showed no inclination so we moved on again.

Another call alerted us to the presence of a male leopard in the southern section of the reserve. What a delightful sighting that turned out to be. The male had met up with a female and the two were following each other up and down, back and forth.

As evening approached we returned to the lions. They were on their way to a waterhole and we used our spotlights to illuminate them as they walked along and then stopped for a long, thirsty drink. Another vehicle added light from the side, creating a beautiful scene.

That really was an almost perfect start to our safari and we are quite keen to check up on the lions the morning …