Nonstop Battles at the Elephant Carcass at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs from the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

 

Well, the new safari group duly arrived and of course, after listening to all the anecdotes of the previous days, they really hoped that their experiences would be as good.

And to everyone’s delight, the very first game drive was even more than anyone could have wished for.

We started at the elephant carcass – and because the action there was ongoing, entertaining, and at times quite thrilling, we remained there until darkness and time dictated our return to the Lodge.

The female leopard tried every trick, stealth, and multiple strategies to outwit the hyenas. She tried constantly to grab just a morsel, even a small snack, a bite, from the carcass.

But no, the ever – vigilant hyenas responded each time and she was forced to seek refuge in the tree. From there she looked down at the growing numbers of hyenas. At one stage there were 16 feeding greedily while the cat watched for any opportunity from above.

We photographed the leopard from every conceivable angle, every technique, using flash, spotlights, both flash and spotlight – any approach we could think of … it was fabulous!

Meanwhile the hyenas not only ate, they growled, chased each other, snarled, and generally seemed to behave as though that huge elephant carcass was not enough to share. These distractions gave the leopard the occasional a quick window of opportunity to maybe grab a bite or two. But no, the hyenas were not letting anything close to what they now considered their own private banquet.

Finally, on the way back to the Lodge for our dinner around a warm fire in the boma, we saw more hyenas and then watched the mysterious shapes of elephants moving so silently in the moonlight. What a perfect ending to the first game drive for the new Guests.

In the morning the unanimous decision was to return immediately to the elephant carcass, where we found that the leopard had finally given up and was presumably searching for a  more accessible meal elsewhere.

But the action at the elephant remains had intensified. The hyenas were still there, but now dozens of vultures had arrived, and the fierce interaction between the two species kept us enthralled until the sun peeped over the horizon to provide light for our photos. Our cameras were ultra busy as vultures came in to land, wstarted squabbling or feeding, or were chased by hyenas. There seemed to be clashes everywhere, with growls, snarls, screeches adding dramatic sound effects  to the ongoing dramas.

We left the carcass to explore a little more. We passed a herd of elephants in an open area and grabbed some great shots before they moved off into some thickets.

Along the boundaries we hoped to spot leopard tracks, but although we actually did find tracks, there were no leopards in sight.

We returned to the Lodge for breakfast, passing plenty of Plains animals along the way …

Vying For the Elephant Carcass at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs during the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

When we checked on the leopard with the kill she had finished the kill and had no reason to remain around there.

We moved on and enjoyed the many sightings of elephants and different Plains game.

A welcome alert about a male leopard arrived and we hurried over to see if we could catch up with him as well. Busily patrolling and scent – marking in the dark, he gave us ongoing opportunities for spot-lit photos. He arrived at a lovely open, unobscured spot and there he decided to rest for a while. That was when our creativity was able to be totally expressed. We used both vehicles to create a variety of lighting effects such as side-lighting, with some dramatic, awesome results. After quite a while the leopard melted away into the darkness as he entered a thick, bushy area.

Our morning drive started out very peacefully, which meant that we could really enjoy the glorious colours of the dawn, and soak up the serene atmosphere.

The call that interrupted this quiet time informed us about a leopard at the elephant carcass. Well, we thought, that is going to be a challenge. After so many days the stench could be quite overpowering.

But it was worth it. A female leopard tried again and again to creep up to the carcass, but hyenas had placed themselves as guards, and each time she tried to approach the hyenas chased her away. She fled to the safety of a tree, from where she gazed down at the hyenas feeding noisily and guarding their prize.

But again and again, when she decided to take a chance and approach stealthily, the hyenas chased her back to her safe, lofty perch.

We had to leave the very interactive scene as guests were departing, and a new group would be arriving, ready for news of our experiences, and hoping for a similar, amazing time with memories galore …

Another Busy Leopard-filled Day at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs from the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

Having seen the leopard in the tree with her kill, we were fairly sure that she would still be there when we started our afternoon drive, so we decided to be different and instead of returning to that leopard we chose to follow leopard tracks elsewhere. That was how we discovered a different cat. It was Xidulu, and she was scent marking all around an area with huge Marula trees. Eventually she found a termite mound where she rested and we photographed her at leisure. As the sun started to fade we took out our spotlights and that really gave us some wonderful scenes.

After Xidulu we returned to the leopard with the kill in the tree (Makomsava). She was resting  away from her kill, so we positioned ourselves in an ideal spot to photograph her if / when she returned to the tree. Suddenly she heard something and quickly went to investigate what caused the ongoing noise. It was impala, and even though she still had a kill in the tree, Makomsava leopard is young, energetic, and opportunistic. She was interested for a while, but as it was quite dark by then we left her.

On the way back to the Lodge we were delighted to see a Southern White-faced Owl with a centipede kill.

Our morning drive found us heading directly back to Makomsava, the female leopard. She rested next to a termite mound and not long after our arrival she got up, had a nice big stretch, and then climbed the tree where she settled to finish her kill.

After photographing giraffe, and then wildebeest, we bumped into Xidulu again. She went for a walk along a drainage line, rested on a termite mound for a while, and then went into an impenetrable, thick bushy area.

We certainly had collected some superb material for our photo editing session back at the Lodge …

What A Commotion – Who Was Chasing at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs while on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

Our afternoon drive started with no sign of a predator. But that ended when we visited a pack of Wild Dogs that was beginning to get moving. An wow! They gave us a challenge as they sprinted through grassy areas while we tried our best to keep up while trying, sometimes vainly, to focus on their running, frenetic dashing around. The excitement of the sighting was well worth the effort of keeping up.

A short while later we found a herd of elephants and then buffalo.

And then … !

We heard a leopard calling and when we went to see why, we found her way up in a tree. It was Ndzutini, and she looked down for a while from her lofty perch. When she decided to come down from the tree we’re able to photograph her from different angles.

And we thought, great! Super sighting, great, clear shots, who could ask for more. So let us move on again.

But what  was that?

There was a commotion! What was going on? And seconds later there was Ndzutini, up in another tree. She peered down. Why? Then we saw … Tiyane, her mother, was chasing her around, branch to branch, tree to tee. It was a fabulous sighting, and simply wonderful to see this interaction between the two leopards.

After coffee and rusks before dawn we set out for our morning experience. We found hyenas close to the Lodge, but as they were quite lazy in the early cold, we left them to doze.

Lion tracks attracted our attention, and before long we found a male lion relaxing in some long grass. It was an excellent opportunity for some unique close-up portrait photography.

We left the lion sighting to give another vehicle an opportunity to move in and went to check on reports of a leopard very close by. Soon after we arrived on the scene the cat jumped up into a Boer-bean tree where she had a Steenbok kill. She fed for a short while, then jumped down from the tree, and disappeared into the tall grass.

Just before we reached the Lodge in time for breakfast we stopped to photograph more elephants …

Down A Hole at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

 

It was lovely to see glorious lighting conditions when we set out for the first game drive with our new Tusk Safari Guests. And we didn’t need to look far for suitable photography material. A herd of elephants at a waterhole splashed and enjoyed a long drink while bathed in that late afternoon glow.

Realising that the lions we had seen earlier should be getting ready for their evening activities we visited them, and sure enough, they were waking and grooming one another before starting out. The golden light was perfect again for some superb shots, and to our delight some of the subadults were most inquisitive about us and scrutinised us thoroughly.

We moved on and saw a third member of the Big Five. A White Rhino accompanied by her calf proved to be a popular sighting with everyone.

It was quite dark by the time we decided to check on an elephant carcass. We found a lion feeding, and used our spotlights and flashes to illuminate him. After eating his fill he settled  close to the remains for a rest. We were able to continue photographing him until it was time to return to the Lodge for dinner and an early night.

During the night and early morning hours we heard lions calling again and again. We found them stalking a herd of impalas, and kept our distance so as not to interfere with any chance of success. However, they were unsuccessful anyway, and as we had a good view of the pride we remained with them for a while longer – until we heard more lion calls.

We decided to investigate these calls and found a solitary male lion as he arrived at a large waterhole. He stopped for a quick drink, and then continued his search for his brother, still calling repeatedly.

 

Now it was time for a leopard sighting. A report about a leopard on a termite mound had us scurrying to that area where we were rewarded with an amazing time with the beautiful animal. She cautiously started across a large open field where two male impalas battled furiously against each other. She watched the sparring intensely as horns clashed and as they pushed and shoved one another. However, she did not appear to be particularly hungry, and after watching the entertainment for a while she wandered over to a termite mound.

We could hardly believe what happened next ! …

 

The leopard suddenly disappeared into a hole into the termite mound. We watched, bemused, until a while later she resurfaced … not a sight that is seen too often!

 

After a stop and coffee at a dam we meandered back to the Lodge, ready for our photo editing session …

Stealing a Kill Back and Forth at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

After a break in communications, we can take off where we left off before.

If you recall from before, we had seen the leopard, Tiyane, during our morning drive and decided to head in that direction. We had hardly left the gates of the Lodge when we spotted fresh drag marks in the road. Our trackers were wonderful at following these, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before we found a kill – but no leopard in sight just then – and we realised that the kill had been stolen by hyenas that lurked around furtively.

Aha! The hyenas didn’t have the kill for very long, however. There came the rather disgruntled cat, and within moments she had secured her kill again. Oh dear! As she looked around and started to drag the kill to a safe area, there came the hyenas again! And of course they outnumbered the hapless leopard and were able to steal the carcass yet again. At this, the rueful cat slouched along to a waterhole where she spent the remainder of the afternoon.

We left the leopard to rest at the waterhole and continued our drive. And it was a fine decision because we were in luck and soon encountered Tortoise Pan, a male leopard. He was on patrol, busily checking his territory. When he passed a pond he stopped for a quick drink and then resumed his busy evening schedule.

Then he spotted a herd of impalas, and decided that it was time for a meal. He started to stalk them, but partly because it was late and partly because we did not want to spoil his chances by using lights, we wished him luck, and returned to the Lodge, stopping very briefly to see what a couple of hyenas were up to, followed by a brief pause to photograph nightjars again.

The morning brought a mist that covered the landscape. What a beautiful setting when we found wildebeest and photographed them in that eerie mist. And it seemed like moments later that lion tracks took us directly to some active lions.

Excitement! The lions were hunting! With tall grass around them, light beginning to shine through the mist, the scene was as beautiful as it was thrilling. The big cats were very keen to get close to a herd of impala, and although conditions looked favourable for a while, they had no luck.

We hoped that the lions would hunt again, but they were exhausted and keeled over to sleep.

While we photographed a rhino in a lovely open area, we received an update about a nearby leopard and hurried there. She gave us a brilliant show. She strolled past our vehicle many times as we pulled ahead again and again to make the most of her presence. Eventually she disappeared into a drainage line and we returned to the Lodge to prepare for our new guests …

A Surprise Visit from Tiyane at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

 

Our afternoon safari drive started with overcast, windy conditions, and we thought, oh well, we are in for a quiet time ..

Not so much!

After seeing Plains animals like kudu, wildebeest, and impala, and while checking some leopard tracks we were informed that Wild Dogs were calling not too far away from us. The sighting was quite a challenge from a photographic point of view because the dogs were running flat out through thick vegetation. The light wasn’t great, but we still managed to capture some amazing shots. Different techniques including panning shots, motion blur, and different scenarios kept us really busy with their frenetic chases. They ran in all directions keeping things quite hectic for a while.

We left the dogs to drive around further and decided that if our two vehicles split up we would cover more territory. The sound of impalas alarm calling plus leopard calls brought us together again. It was a challenge to find the leopard, but we found him walking past a dam, where cavorting hippos, scurrying hares, and noisy Thick-knees attracted his attention. He watched them carefully, and then walked over the dam to lie down next to a small pond.

It was time to return to the Lodge, and on the way we had a repeat of the evening before. We again saw a chameleon and a couple of nightjars.

The early morning started with our usual coffee and rusks. We had heard baboons alarm calling close to the Lodge, as well as some very unhappy monkeys – and an occasional leopard call. It sounded quite promising, and knowing that Tiyane was somewhere in the vicinity, we hoped to find her. We looped around and when we caught up with her she was walking along a drainage line towards an open area. She crossed the open plain and went into a thicket. We could hear two male impala fighting in that thicket, and the clashing of horns sounded extra loud emanating from the bush.

We were able to keep an eye on Tiyane as she crept closer and closer to the impalas. They were so intent on their battle that they didn’t seem to notice her. The tension on the vehicle was palpable as we watched, barely daring to breathe. She came within less than five meters from the struggling two, and then suddenly gave up. We realised afterwards that she had realised that hyenas had arrived close by, attracted by the noises of the feud.

But when we went for our coffee break in the bush a few minutes later we were given an extra special treat. Strolling unconcernedly right past us came Tiyane. That was another memorable, amazing moment for us and the perfect ending to another epic safari …

Tiyane, a Resident Leopard, has Cubs (too small to see yet) at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Experiences and Photographs on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

 

It is always amazing to experience how the vegetation changes here throughout the year, always revealing something unique, difference perspectives, and ongoing photography delights. The bright autumn colours at the moment are quite breathtaking.

Our afternoon game drive started with a check for leopards and we were thrilled when we stumbled across a beautiful young female leopard. She walked along the road and then posed beautifully on a termite mound. Once settled she scrutinised the area inquisitively, peered one way and other, looked directly at us, gave us profile shots, every possible pose. She behaved like a true professional model, enhancing our fill-in flash expertise. She proved to be a highlight, with those gorgeous, glowing autumn colours as a background.

We followed her when she started to hunt. She went after anything small without luck. The quail, mongoose, and mice all managed to scurry away into thick grass.

At sunset we moved to the male lion we had seen before, and had a decent sighting again. We parked our two vehicles at different angles to provide some creative lighting effects. Stopping at a ninety degree angle to one another allowed us to create very dramatic side-lighting on the lion, showing the features we wished to highlight. We also tried multiple exposures with the crescent moon as it rose into the dark sky.

We returned reluctantly to the Lodge, the evening was so prefect. But on the return trip we did see nightjars and a chameleon.

The lions were calling in the morning and we immediately went in search of them. On the way we found leopard tracks, and when we heard impalas calling, our tracker was able to lead us directly to Xidulu. She was hunting, and as we did not want to disturb her efforts in the thick vegetation, we left her to continue her hunt.

A very dark giraffe caught our attention next, and as he was very docile, we managed some superb shots.

We were interrupted by a call about another leopard and hurried over to find Tiyane, a resident female. She was very restless, and has suckle marks. So we could see that she has cubs that are a few days old, and we knew that she would not venture far from them. She changed direction often as she chased small prey. A few walk-by opportunities were capped by a stop at a small pan for a drink.

The wonderful sightings and experiences meant that our return to the Lodge for a meal and an editing workshop left us all with full memory cards, and wondering what the afternoon would reveal …

An Elephant Carcass, Hyenas, Lions, and Leopards at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Experiences and Photographs on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

Having enjoyed lunch, introductions, and a quick briefing, we were ready for our first safari drive. As we left we heard about leopard tracks close by. We found a female leopard. We photographed her as she ambled down the road, giving us opportunities for close-ups and many walk-by shots.

The lighting was perfect, with front lighting, and then back lighting that created a sheen in spots around her as the golden rays lit her fur and the surroundings. Eventually, after giving us a wonderful show she departed into thick bush.

After she disappeared, we tried to find a mating pair of leopards. While bumbling around we came across a herd of elephants. Everyone was delighted as we spent a wonderful time with them. We were further delayed in our search for the leopards when we stopped to photograph impala, kudus, and other Plains animals.

Eventually we were able to catch up with the amorous duo. They mated a few times while we were there. As it was already dark, we were able to practice our nocturnal photography skills.

From there we paid a visit to an elephant carcass. Because the elephant died very close to the hyena den, we expected to see hyenas there. And wow! They were out in full force! They milled around, busy, excited, feeding, nipping, growling.

Back at the Lodge, a very satisfied and rather tired group retired soon after our banquet under the stars, and it seemed like moments before the early morning call came to invite us for coffee and rusks before our early drive.

We went straight to the mating cats, and when we spotted tracks of a large lion we followed him. The tracks led us straight to the elephant carcass. We looked around, seeing plenty of tracks but no lions. We waited for a while and then we glimpsed a lion. However, the cat was very nervous, and when a call alerted us to other lions not too far away we visited them instead.

A large male basked in the morning sun in a lovely grassy field. The gorgeous morning light created a beautiful scene and we used every moment to capture images from all angles.

Our cue to return to Lodge came when the lion did what all lions like to do as the sun rises high in the sky – he flopped over to sleep …

Skirmishes, Confrontations, Anger, Discord, at Leopard Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Experiences and Photographs on the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

We thought it would be interesting to see if we could find the two male leopards again. There were tracks that led us directly to one of the males, heading steadfastly to a dam. At first he was not in an ideal photographic spot, although we did manage a few decent images, but we decided to wait in case he moved. Just as well! Having decided that the road area was easier to walk along he then rested on the road in beautiful evening light for a while. Feeling energised again he strolled further along the road, with plenty of walk-bys to fill our cameras.

After spending two hours with the leopard we realised that time was up and we should return to the Lodge. We stopped once only to photograph a chameleon.

Our two groups split up for the start of the early morning drive in order to cover more territory. One vehicle headed to the hyena den where drag marks led directly towards the den. A hyena clan was fairly close to the den site, but there was no further activity in the area. A call alerted us about a sighting of Tortoise Pan leopard. He was miles from where we had left him and one of our vehicles went to check.

Meanwhile we decided to follow the drag marks. Suddenly there was an almighty commotion! Elephants nearby were really in a state! The frenzied trumpeting and bellowing shook the air. We dashed there and found the herd chasing a pack of Wild Dogs. The interaction was spellbinding.

The Wild Dogs hunted in the gorgeous early morning golden light, and when hyenas appeared on the scene, there was even more drama as the two species sized each other up, glared and snarled!

After everything calmed down and the dogs decided to rest for the day, we left to visit Tortoise Pan. Unfortunately he was in a really thick bushy area and seemed disinclined to continue any type of show for us.

Instead we went towards a report of a nearby female leopard. She was on top of a large granite boulder, perfectly positioned like a model for photography. While we watched she started to hunt a lizard that braved joining her on the rock. We only left her when she abandoned her vantage point on the rock and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Although we were trying to find lions after spotting their tracks, our next stop was for a herd of buffalo. Some of the males were quite restless and a couple were having quite a battle. It looked quite terrifying as they tried to assert their dominance, heads lowered and tussling and clashing ominously.

After that epic morning we were ready to return to the Lodge, cameras and memories jam-packed! …