Tuesday, May 8, 2018

African Post: Raptor Retreat - Day of the Lions

Our third and final day here at Raptor Retreat felt great. Mood is up beat. With a full moon last night, I thought the animals should be moving around today. If they are moving, the more opportunities we will have to see them.

Leaving the lodge we turn right on the main road and head for the far end of the preserve. By the time we get there, a call comes over, "Lions Spotted".  Where?  Near our Lodge! What?

Quickly we turn the rig around and race back to the lodge. Arriving we find the safari rig who placed the call watching two lions resting on the roadway at the entrance to Raptor Retreat.


 If we had turned left instead to right this morning, we would have run over them.


Searching the long grass and brush, we locate three more lions, a pride of five in all are traveling together.  We stay photographing them until they wander off into the bush.




This is the battle scarred female of the pride.
 A history of fierce struggles, wisdom and character are etched in that face.



Am surprised how nonchalant they are with us busily snapping photos and whispering.  
They don't see us as a threat and...  thankfully nor as food.

After a period of time they started getting restless. moving about, some wandering off. 
Finally the others follow. 



The largest male was the last to leave.



To give you an idea how close we were to them,  a lion crosses directly behind a safari rig. He then proceeded to get closer and smell the tire of the truck. The people inside were freaking out, paralyzed with fear.  Satisfied there was nothing to eat, he turned and walked off. 

Note that there are no sides or top on this rig. If that lion had wanted to jump in, there was nothing to stop him. This is what is called an adventure. A story for your grandchildren.



After all of that high tension excitement, here is a dull photo. 

A tall termite mound towers over twice my height. 
One sees termite mounds everywhere in the bush, most are not this tall.




Returning back to the far corners of the preserve, we encountered a large bachelor herd of Impalas. 
A lot of jealous males here as only a few of the males have gathered up 
all the available females into harems. Sorry guys. maybe next year.



With the morning drive complete, we return to lodge for a siesta. 
No lions near the entrance..., that we can see.




Going out for the final animal drive this afternoon, only the elusive leopard remains to be photographed. Arina takes us to a known leopard area, but no sign of movement. They may be only moving at night as there has been a bright full moon this week.



During my few days here, no leopard sightings have been reported by the other guides 
or by the game warden.

We watch as a huge flock of small birds called the Cape Wagtail swoop thru the treetops, alighting here and there for a minute or two then on to the next tree. They are clearing the bush of insects and larvas that can strip a tree of its new growth, killing it.


Is impressive to see these birds work together in a flock of hundreds. 

A dark wave suddenly appears as if it is one large dark shape-shifting mist before you realize it is hundred of these birds flying together. The cloud rolls across the terrain at treetop level, in the trees, then back out of them. Rising, falling, down to water's edge and aloft again. Hundreds of birds in flight while hundreds more have landed on branches and twigs to grab an insect or a larva for lunch. Impressive in numbers alone, there seems to be no leader of the flock. The flock is its leader, a group activity, safety in numbers for survival.


Back to driving the dirt roads, we spot a lonely Impala buck.
 He may have lost his harem to a bigger stronger male. 
Hey buddy, there is always next year. Practice and grow strong.



A male Kudu still has his harem. If you are wondering why so many animal harems are seen, this is the time of year for breeding in the Kruger. The animals normally mate during the rut or breeding season when the females are in heat. The strongest males will fight off the other males in order to pass on the best and strongest genes. That is how nature works,. The strongest survives. Only the healthiest and strongest reproduces. Passing on their genes ensures the survival of the species. 



Late in the afternoon we get a call that the pride of lions we saw this morning have killed an impala. Once again they are near the entrance to our lodge. We race back to see them. 

The light is fading fast and this is the only decent shot I could get. The lioness is holding the leg of the Impala under her paw.  We can hear the breaking of bone as she bites down on it.


Reality sets in. We now realize why Yolande was so adamant about our safety in and around the lodge. These lions have been hanging around this spot all day, maybe last night too. 
Where they made the impala kill is only a hundred yards or so from where we are sleeping. 

The Raptor Retreat Lodge really is in the middle of Big Five country.

Just before racing back to see the lions, I captured another elephant image. 
Shading his eyes from the sun, looks like he needs some Ray-Bans.


and thus concludes my African Photo Safari.

Scorecard
African Big Five
 BUSH ELEPHANT - check
CAPE BUFFALO - check
LION - check
RHINOCEROS - check
LEOPARD - ______

Four out of five is not bad. I knew before going in that the leopard would be the most elusive of all the Big Five. During the time there, no calls came in of a leopard sighting.  Well, all the more reason to return to Africa another day.

And so ends my African story. In the morning I fly to Johannesburg to catch a flight to the States, arriving back home in Texas the day after tomorrow.

When you make your trip to Raptor Retreat, say Hello to Arina, Yolande, Sharmaine and Keith from me. Their warm hospitality will make you feel special, then...
 they'll show you the awesome Big Five of Africa.
http://www.raptorretreatlodge.co.za


The End.

Ride safe my friends, 
Riding life's horizon really is an adventure 
if you are willing to brave it.


CCjon



Thursday, May 3, 2018

African Post: Raptor Retreat - Day of the Buffalo

The Mexican Mariachi music on my iPhone alarm awakens me at 5:30.  A quick teeth brushing and off we go in the dark to see what we will see.

A dozing jackal is first spotted by Robbert from Holland.  The light is still dim, foreground weeds throw off the auto-focusing on the camera, but a shot is captured.



Here is a typical scene where an elephant has recently toppled a tree. So recent, the elephant dung in the middle of the road is still wet with urine. Look at the diameter of the broken tree and think about the force an elephant must use to snap a tree of that size, just to eat a few leaves.

Not all the roads we are driving are gravel. Am glad it has not been raining, 
because this road would be a muddy mess if it had.



A breeding herd of Impala are spotted hiding in the bush.  A nice trophy buck with tall horns works hard to keep his harem intact. Can you spot him?



If one is thinking about wandering around a bit on foot in the bush, reconsider it!  There are many thorns, long and short, on the bushes that one must navigate. Arina warned us to not try and push away any branch that might swing into the rig when we pass by as most have sharp thorns. She was right, as a small sharp thorn snatched my hat off in an instant.



Mid-morning we make a rest stop at an overlook for bush coffee. The coffee is brewed then Amarula, an African liquor made from the fruit of the Marula tree is added. There are tales even videos about elephants or other animals getting drunk on the fermented marula fruit. Arina says those are staged events. An animal could not eat enough fermented marula fruit in the wild to get drunk. 

Today the three honeymoon couples on the drive are from New York, Holland and Italy. Raptor Retreat is an popular honeymoon getaway. Small, warm personal attention, isolated location with luxury decor deep in the Big Five country. 



Three Zebra refuse to come out into the open, checking us out as we snap their portrait.



A large Elephant herd crosses an opening then disappears into the bush. 
Can you spot the baby in the group? 
It is absolutely amazing how these huge animals can quickly fade away into the bush.



The two oxpecker birds at work cleaning the giraffe's hide of ticks and insects. Oxpeckers can be seen on every big animal here that tolerates the birds riding on their backs. 
In reality these birds are very beneficial to their host animal.



A shy Steenbok forest deer is spotted. No horns so is a female.



Back at the lodge, the warthogs are roaming, rooting for food.



What a luxurious mane of hair with such an ugly face.


On the other hand, anyone know a good barber?


Now at the lodge, we take a siesta before heading back out for the afternoon drive



First turn out of the lodge this afternoon, Arina points out a
Dark Chanting Goshawk perched high in a dead tree.
Not sleeping, but searching for his next meal.



A baby giraffe dozes while mother keeps watch. Notice the change in pattern shapes on the adult giraffe's hide. The shapes on the hind quarters and legs look more like leaves than the larger patches on its back and neck. Better to blend in with the shorter vegetation while she feeds. 
Nature's evolution in camouflage.



Now up, even a toddler Giraffe stands taller than my two meters.



Captured a photo our first and only Waterbuck hiding in the bush. 
Not with any females, so he has no harem.



We drive to visit a remote watering hole to see if anything has come in.  
Michelle from Holland once again spots an animal before anyone else. This afternoon she has seen the most animals before Robbert, her new husband or I can spot them. 
She is a high school english teacher so has experience spotting students texting in class. 

A herd of thirsty Cape Buffalo make their way single file down a dusty trail to the watering hole. 
Nothing will stop their quest for water when thirsty.



Boys, did you hear the one about two giraffes and a zebra walk into a bar?



Another brilliant African sunset reflects off the Olilfants River.



A fading sun silhouettes a Giraffe



On the road back to the lodge, a Mama with two baby elephants are caught in the spotlight. Arina says elephants don't normally have twins, so either this is very unusual or...
the other mama is back in the bush.


Thus concludes the second day of Big Game photography. 
One day remains to capture images of the final two of the Big Five.

Scorecard
African Big Five
 BUSH ELEPHANT - check
CAPE BUFFALO - check
LION
RHINOCEROS - check
LEOPARD

 Sleep well tonight, tomorrow we drive again.


CCjon






Tuesday, May 1, 2018

African Post: Raptor Retreat - Day of the Elephants

Day One: Day of the Elephants

The two - three hour Morning Drive starts with alarm music blaring at 5:15 AM. 
Brush the teeth, get dressed and head over to the waiting safari rig. Two other couples decide to join the search.

The first animal Arina spots for us is a partially hidden elephant. The more drives we make, the better we get at seeing the animals ourselves.



Arina knows her animals. Parking the rig then cutting off the motor, 
she starts talking softly to the elephant.
"Come here, baby.    Come on.    Come on out." she coos.

Of course the elephant is not understanding, but Arina knows in which direction he is headed and has parked where we can get a good view of him if he decides to cross a clearing.
After several minutes of quietly waiting as he continues eating from tree to tree, he finally emerges into an opening. 

Cameras ready, we get his portrait with the morning sun highlighting his back. 



Our first giraffe was easy to spot. Towering over us, he is standing in the middle of the road 
as we come around a curve.

Beautiful, graceful animals with a mean kick. Arina says they can kick hard in any direction. 
So lions are wary of the adult giraffe, but will try to catch a young one if they can.



As we continue driving the dirt roads, a breeding herd of elephants crosses the road in front of us. Noisily they move thru the bush. Many times you will hear the elephants feeding before you see them as they easily snap trees with a loud cracking noise, like matchsticks being broken. 

Needing to consume 250-300 lbs of food each day, elephants are constantly on the move. 
Eating as they go. Elephants will push over or break down trees in order to eat the more succulent leaves at the top.  Some areas looked like a tornado passed thru with all the downed trees. Elephants don't completely strip a tree of leaves, but grab a bite or two then move to the next tree or shrub. Though it looks like a huge waste, knocking over a tree to eat just a few branches, leaving the rest. Arina said the smaller animals in the bush benefit from a downed tree with easier access to the leaves plus a downed tree provides shade and shelter under the thicket of top branches now on the ground. We spotted places where smaller animals had made themselves a shady cave under a downed tree.


Arina stops the rig in a safe stop so as not to be caught in the middle of this herd of eight.  She says there are reports of elephants pushing over safari rigs that have caught up in the middle. 
Breeding elephants attack or push over a rig thinking they are protecting their young.


Speaking of which, a baby elephant pops out from the bush. This youngster is following his mother, 
learning what to eat, how to live and survive in the wild.



The herd matriarch chooses the direction and sets the pace for the constantly moving herd.



In an open power line road, we spot Giraffes with Zebras. Arina says it is very common for giraffe and zebra to travel together. They rely on each other to spot predators approaching, giving safety to both groups.


That concludes our first morning drive.

Scorecard:
African Big Five
 BUSH ELEPHANT - check
CAPE BUFFALO
LION
RHINOCEROS
LEOPARD



The Afternoon Drive started at 4 PM, when we head toward a remote area of the park. Each time we go out, we never know what we will see. We can drive thru an area, see nothing and five minutes later a herd of elephants will cross the road behind us. Luck will determine what we see or don't see each day.

While this is a smooth gravel road, others are quite rough and steep that require
having a 4X4 vehicle to navigate. There are only a few roads here open to the public. Many are restricted to authorized safari outfitters.



A mama elephant with her baby are spotted without a herd. They stayed in the bush.



Word comes over the guide radio that a Rhinoceros has been spotted in a far section of the park.  We make the decision to drive quickly over there in hopes he is still there when we arrive. 
There are no guarantees the animal will wait.

Luck is with us today. The solo Rhino is still hanging around the watering hole when we pull up. Rhinos are the most closely monitored, tracked and protected animal in the preserve because of the serious poaching problem. Poachers will kill a Rhino just to cut off the horn, leaving the rest of the animal to rot.

This is a White Rhinoceros. Doesn't look white does he?  Well, the difference between a white and a black rhinoceros is the shape of their top lip. When the British came here, they understood WHITE when they people were saying WIDE rhino. This is a wide mouth rhino, the other type is a pointed lip rhino. All rhinos are the same color. The misunderstanding has stuck, so this is a WHITE Rhinoceros.



The guide who called in the Rhino sighting is parked nearby. These animals are not afraid of the safari rigs. Arina explains that the animals do not see the safari rigs as a metal can full of individuals but as just one large animal roaming the bush. All the human faces and arms inside are just part of a natural animal's camouflage. That is why we are cautioned to not lean out of the rig,  do not stand up,
make no sudden movements and stay quiet.



The permitted guides in the Parson's preserve stay in contact with each other for both safety reasons and to inform each other where they are and what they see.  They also assist the game warden and his team if any poachers are seen or heard.

Rhinoceros poaching is a serious threat to the remaining rhino population and are protected within the Kruger and adjoining preserves. The fees we pay for a photography safari helps to fund the game wardens and their staff.

Thus concludes a great first day, two Big Game animals photographed and three to go.

Scorecard
African Big Five
 BUSH ELEPHANT - check
CAPE BUFFALO
LION
RHINOCEROS - check
LEOPARD

Stopping for a cool refreshment near a watering hole, we watch the African sun set over the bush




A great first day comes to an end.



Full moon rising over the African bush.


Back in the lodge, another delicious five course dinner awaits. 
Spirits are high with the successful photos captured today.

Did not wake up more than three times during the night.

CCjon