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 Post subject: avon vosloo's Three weeks in Satara - Jan. '14
Unread postPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 6:50 pm 
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Location: Kempton Park
Satara sunset - How I wish I could remove that fence

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Once again we had the privilege to spend some time in the park in what has become one of our favorite destinations. A good friend of mine always say that we must remember that whatever we read on the internet is just one persons opinion. It may be well founded and thought out, but at the end of the day it is only one persons opinion. What we read will also be dependent upon the writers command of the language; as well as their ability to convey experiences accurately and their writing style. Keep that in mind when reading my attempt at describing some of the special moments and sharing some thoughts of that we have experienced.

I guess we all just try to share the magic of Kruger in our own way - Welcome aboard.

The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill's Revenge

During the floods of 2012 we had to move camp from Maroela to Satara,
(see TR over here):-http://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=59188

and that was when I first met Duncan (yes, I do recognize the same animal/bird from previous visits and yes I do tend to give them names). At the time I spend a few hours getting to know Duncan and we sorta started to tolerate one another. He had one habit that some humans already knew about. He likes to attack his own image in the reflection of a vehicles mirror and/or windscreen. Cute? maybe, but because I do not like photographs that include man-made objects in the same frame as an animal, I never thought about photographing him in action being that silly, ever, I promise.

Hornbill

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So what did I do in 2014? I got this shot of Duncan where it appears as if the "prawn" is jumping straight at him. You see, he got sick and tired of me chasing him away from my vehicle whenever I saw him fighting his imaginary rival and started what comes naturally - providing for his family. I really thought Duncan would be fine with such a stunning photograph of him at his best. One afternoon when we took a nap he took his chance and managed to somehow get a hold of the silicone strip of the wiper blade. He tore off the whole length and flew away proudly with his sixteen inch prize to show his lady friend. When we returned home I had the audacity to post his phodie all over the Internet, and somehow Duncan must have heard about it (probably on the Sightings Site) :wink: .

Wiperblade temporary fix

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Fast forward to 2014 - You guessed it, he did it again and cost me another set of wiper blades. Can you imagine driving all the way home in the rain with your head protruding out the side of the vehicle - you know - like you should not be doing in the park. This time he almost got away with it again, I found him out in the nick of time and managed to "fix" the wiper blade with believe it or not, a Band-Aid strip. For two weeks I diligently wrapped the wiper blades in plastic bags each and every time we arrived back at the campsite from a drive. Methinks Duncan finally met his match, but be careful out there, Duncan's cronies :wink: :wink: are already onto this TR.

Satara Sunset DSCN1903 - my wife's Coolpix phodie

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 Post subject: Re: Three weeks in Satara - January 2014
Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:26 pm 
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Buffalo

What do I know about buffalo other than what I have read elsewhere. Well, I have seen how temperamental a really old guy can be - he made the so-called king of the beasts run away like a whimpering kitten with his tail between his legs. I have also listened to some campsite stories about people that ran into the wrath of an old bull, usually with very bad endings. I once met someone that somehow survived such an attack - he barely remembers what really happened, only the fact that he opened his eyes in hospital. So, stories about these old guys I usually take with a pinch of salt, well OK, unless I have known the person telling the story for quite some time.

So I went looking for such an old guy from the relative comfort and safety of my vehicle.

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As luck would have it, he had his mud-bath in a rain-pool where I could not get any photographic evidence. Slowly, he emerged from behind the trees into the tall grass - at this stage of his life there is nothing that hurries him. Then good fortune stumbled upon him, in the form of a herd of his own kind of around a hundred crossing the road about a hundred meters ahead of him. He stood and watched in silence as the young guns lead the way up front. The cows and calves slowly followed and still he stood there motionless.

Then a few young heifers came into view and I swear I could see a change in his stance and I almost felt the same longing that he must have had. Feelings about the good old days when we both were still in our prime when young females of our own kind walked by - (that's when I took his picture). The back markers and current caretakers of the herd came into view. He shook his head almost in disgust, turned the other way and stumbled along on his way - alone once more.

Then there is the Dagha Boys.

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Slow and almost methodical, always watching each others back. I have watched them for hours, know quite a few of their habits, where and when they like to take a rest to lie down and ruminate. I can honestly say that I do recognize some of them - watching them slowly wandering past the fence to one of their favourite sleeping grounds. They pick this particular spot with some regularity, but by the time you think you have figured it out, they disappear for days, only to return unexpectedly with sometimes another new member, or sometimes one member less. Then you start to theorize about what happened to that guy, only to see him together with his mates a few days later at an unexpected place miles away from their regular campsite.

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Slower than usual, but methodical and bush wise - not to be messed with. They love their mud baths after the rain, turning their heads either away from or towards the falling rain and then just trying to catch up on some sleep whilst lying in the shallow mud-pools. I have never experienced any aggression from them, even when I accidentally drove past where they where sleeping within a meter of one of them. He jumped up so quickly and noisily that at first I thought I must have driven over his tail. He then just stared at me in disgust. Or, as someone once said:- "They always look at you as if you owe them a lot of money"

The drinking herd

Nsemani dam, H7 towards Orpen, No Entry road on the left, a shortish side road also on the left that runs down to the outlet of the dam. We saw them coming down the No Entry road - the biggest herd in the park. We watched them make their way towards the H7 and I decided if I want to have any chance of getting a picture of them drinking at the dam I had better go through the herd. At that point in time they were all over the man made junctions and people in other vehicles must have watched in awe or disgust of my "stupidity" to slowly herd my way right through the middle to be able to pick a spot for this shot.

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As you can see, by the time I got there, most have had their fill and most have left already.

My experience with driving through a herd of buffalo started way back, when I at first sat there waiting patiently for them to cross the road. Then one day I had to get moving or risk gate closing time. Myself and people in another vehicle waited as long as we could before starting to make our way through. IMHO and hindsight we must have waited a wee bit too long, the last back marker (maybe on the verge of becoming a Dagha Boy) walked up to the other vehicle, gave it a good shove with his horn and then walked off slowly. To this day I either go through the middle of the herd or I wait till I'm sure all of them have crossed.

Well, that's my buffalo story and I'm sticking to it.


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 Post subject: Re: Three weeks in Satara - January 2014
Unread postPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2014 11:59 am 
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Elephant behavior

We read books, we watch National Geographic, we visit the park and we observe them for hours. I start to wonder and question and if I do not try to put these into words those questions will forever be unanswered. How I wish I could spend even more time observing them for longer periods of time to see if there is any merit to these theories of mine. Like-minded people - please join in and help me learn even more.

February 1st, gate opening time changed, S90, single bull owns the road. I follow at a respectable distance of about fifty meters (I read somewhere in a book written by someone that has spend more time with ellies than I ever will that the danger zone, first warning signal will be at around ten meters) switching off the vehicle and just watching him feed. Slowly he moves from one side of the road to the other, picking his diet for the day almost carefully. He disappears around the bend and we follow slowly - the game continues for at least two kilometers.

If ever I missed an opportunity to capture that first warning signal, this was it. He eventually walked off the road and at a distance of around thirty meters stopped, turned sideways and continued grazing. It was is if he was trying to tell me to please stop following him and just be on my way. I switched on the vehicle and slowly eased forward. As we drew up alongside him, he turned to face me directly staring into my eyes, shook his head and flapped those ears. I did not panic at all, just continued at the same pace whilst watching him in the rear view mirror starting to feed again.

Less than five hundred meters up the road we encountered a small breeding herd and I had to spend about twenty minutes to make sure that we could pass them safely. I turned around and watched the old bull described above walking back along the S90 having had his drink whilst we were playing avoid the herd. He must have recognized us and this time he disappeared into the tall grass a lot sooner. Probably sick and tired of us spoiling February 1st - one of the few days in the year that he could do what he loves for just that little bit of extra time.

Four old bulls on the old main road not far from Gudzani west feeding on the tall grass after the recent rains. They start to walk away at the same time that I spot them. I switch off the vehicle and they settle down, almost immediately. They continue grazing and moved even closer to the vehicle, two crossed the road about twenty meters in front of us hardly giving us a glance. I start the vehicle and slowly drove past - about a hundred meters down the road we turned the vehicle around and drove past again with them still feeding peacefully on both sides of the road.

Mutual respect by those that remember the good old days? for lack of a better phrase/question.

An observation - I have witnessed this on a number of occasions during our 21 day visit. It appears as if most of the ellies (around Satara anyway) do not tolerate vehicles like they did in previous years. Yes, agreed, people do silly things - usually on the S100 - getting way too close - I watched an angry female storming off into the bush with her young one in tow when more and more vehicles started herding them. Could have turned nasty but fortunately it did not.

I have watched many ellies just making their way till out of sight a lot more regular and at a quicker pace than before? Because of the good rains experienced during the night it was easy to see if we were the first vehicle on the dirt road or not. During our stay we saw numerous signs of vehicle activity during the previous evening - probably the rangers and/or army vehicles doing patrols. If we were the first vehicle on the road, we had a better chance of experiencing the behavior described. Not always, but on a number of occasions at least we had a chance to put my theory into practice and it worked.

Then, as always nature will throw that curve ball. Have you ever watched those circus ellies getting up on their hind legs playing ball? Sad really, but we heard a trumpeting sound like I have never heard before. Stopped and switched off the vehicle immediately. At a distance of around a hundred meters there was this old guy having the time of his life in a mud-pool. Up on his hind legs, ears flapping, legs flailing. I just sat in awe drinking in those precious few moments. He must have realized that the sound of a vehicle that he thought he heard, but never saw had disappeared and he quickly walked away till out of sight. Another photo opportunity missed, another rather futile attempt to describe the experience.

The photos below are just a few of my favorites. There appears to be merit to the ten meter zone. This guy tolerated the wildebeest up to the point I took this picture.

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Feeding in the rain
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Breeding herd in the distance
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We will be visiting an old friend for a few days, but I will continue shortly.


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 Post subject: Re: Three weeks in Satara - January 2014
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:11 pm 
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OK I get it – This is supposed to be a TR and not a Q & A session :wink: :wink:

Firstly thank you for all the kind words from everyone. It makes the effort worthwhile and I will try to share a few more magic moments.

Cheetah2111 and Peregrine Falcon maybe one day I will share my thoughts on fences elsewhere on the forum. I’m still in the process of doing research and collecting/taking a few more photos on the subject.

Kaapsedraai, you have no idea how true your words are – those dagha boys sure smelled something all right. Being one of the older generation long distance motorbike riders, I know the risk of dehydration whilst out in the sun for long periods of time all too well. January in the park means you need to take more liquid in (unless you prefer the comfort of closed windows and air conditioning inside the vehicle), which in turn leads to more liquid that must go out. At a certain age the distance between porcelain points in the park gets a bit too far apart; for my body anyway, to handle comfortably. Throw in an ellie road-block and I’m in real trouble, basically having only two choices left……

I think it is called a calculated risk. I find the closest porcelain point on the GPS and get there as quickly as the speed limit will allow (always the first choice). If not possible I find some impala as quick as I can and get out right next to them. They get that almost amusing look on their faces, but I trust that because there are so many of them, a few will keep watching for danger instead of curiously admiring the view. Ja right :lol:

Both the above options failed on the day and I thought, why not, those are boys aren’t they? And I took my chance after having stretched my hearing to the limits, listening for that dreaded sound of an approaching vehicle. The wind direction changed and the dagha boys got up facing me, as if they knew what I was up to. They watched in silence as I got back into the vehicle and whilst I took their picture. I did not just write the above, nope, I’m sure I did not. :hmz: :)

Lion

Seen that I started on this Big Five thingy, let me share a few thoughts on lion. Over the years I have taken many pictures of them. From white lion in captivity, to stunning creatures in Kruger and even the Kgalagadi males could not escape my lens. Somewhere along the line I lost interest completely, how many pictures of lion is enough anyway?

I guess I went through the same process that everybody else does, firstly getting that evidence shot of what I like to call “plat leeus” - lion lying flat on the ground sleeping like they mostly do. I never got tempted to lure them into doing something that they aren’t supposed to be doing naturally. Trust me I have witnessed some very bad behavior from fellow members of the human race. Patience worked in my favor and after I while my pictures turned into something worth sharing.

I got picky, very picky, even a simple blade of grass could spoil a shot. Then on this trip I remembered the words of an old friend of mine: - “Avon, photography is just your hobby - the day you stop taking happy-snaps, is the day you must put your cameras away for good”. So, I’m almost back to where I started, taking pictures of “plat leeus” and lions hiding in the tall grass.

Full bellies
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Yawn
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Stare
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a Reasonably decent shot of territory marking
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Young male feeding
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In January you have to be one of the first vehicles out the gate at opening time every morning. From Satara any road, any direction will be good enough. Cats do not like to be wet and if they are close to a road they will use it to dry out quicker. Unless you are lucky enough to find them feeding next to the road or sleeping in a clearing you have very little chance of spending time with them. During our 21 day visit we had the opportunity to spend some time with two young brothers feeding on a buffalo. One day we had the good fortune to spend about an hour with two brothers all by ourselves until another vehicle approached. The older brother must have had a run in with the Nsemani pride male a few days earlier. We could hear them from the campsite, above the chattering noise from fellow campers, and we saw the Nsemani male limping and lying in the blazing sun the next day. Have a close look above the eye of the one male. Someone else at the campsite told us that the Nsemani male re-joined his females and were doing fine the day after I took the shots of the two brothers.

One morning we slowly approached a vehicle only to watch a few females and the male disappearing and lying down in the tall grass a mere fifteen meters off the road. The vehicle drove off probably furious because we somehow spoiled their sighting. We sat there enjoying a sandwich and a cuppa whilst another vehicle approached – they had heard about the lions on the road. We sat there chatting to the people for about half an hour, them not knowing that we knew exactly where the lions were lying down out of sight and the lions not moving at all. We left after another hour – still no movement from the lions.

21 days and 2800 kilometers inside the park - not even a glimpse of a leopard, there were no wild dogs on the H7 on the days we chose to be there and I’m not going to write anything about our rhino sightings.

Stay tuned, still a few more to come.


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 Post subject: Re: Three weeks in Satara - January 2014
Unread postPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:11 pm 
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Wild about cats this one is for you – meet Blondie the Zebra mare. She hangs around the Satara area together with the rest of the normal desperate housewife squad of her kind. At first I thought she just did not enjoy a mud bath after the recent rain, like most of the others, until I noticed another mare just as mud free as she was. I’m useless with Photoshop; so yes indeed she’s got a brownish mane and if you compare her to the younger mare right next to her even the color of her stripes show tints of brown mixed with the black.
Here’s a challenge – go find this un- or is that natural beauty?

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Some of our feathered friends

I want to start wrapping this up, but before I do I just want to share a few pictures of the feathered friends that shared some moments with us. I’ll stop the babbling and let the pictures tell the story.

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That’s it before I get fired – One more very special experience to follow.
Anyone want to venture a guess on the nightjar?


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 Post subject: Re: Three weeks in Satara - January 2014
Unread postPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:30 pm 
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Cheetah

Wonderful creatures; sleek, fast, beautiful and I wish I could find more words to describe them.

Like us humans, they do have certain instinctive behavior and habits – to recognize, confirm and be able to describe some of those takes many years of patience (unless you know someone that knows someone, that can provide you with unlimited access to a nature reserve where you can follow them on foot for days on end ).

Finding a collared female on foot in Mountain Zebra NR with the help of a guide and electronic gadgetry confirmed one of my observations. The guide with the antenna walked right past her without seeing the cat. I just froze when I saw the flicking of her tail right next to me – could not have been more than three meters away. She snarled audibly but still I had to call out the guides name to get his attention - scary? not really. We found another female which also tried to just blend in with the environment, until recognizing she has been spotted. Accustomed to humans because of the numerous guided walks tracking them, but, they would prefer not to be spotted.

Finding them in Kruger mid-summer I can only describe as a magical experience, for me anyway. For lack of a better word we had three “sightings” (I almost hate that word). We found a mom with three youngsters on two different occasions on the S41, a young couple also on the S41 and two brothers walking past us where we were parked at Girivana dam.

I spotted the young couple moving through the tall grass, stopped and switched off the vehicle immediately. Over the years I have figured out that they depend a lot on all their senses – hearing probably the most important one. They tolerate vehicles, but will simply walk away out of sight if they can only hear the engine noise of a vehicle. Have a look at the behavior that usually follows – at last I managed to capture it on camera:-

They froze immediately, the female even crouching down.
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The male looks back in the direction they came from – making sure there is no danger
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A re-assuring lick of affection – think we are ok
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Her majesty sits up
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Both on the lookout for danger
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How about the two brothers, walking on the open road being herded by another vehicle? As soon as my wife made eye contact with them, they froze and the exact same behavior followed. Well OK, no lick of affection this time round.
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Mom and youngsters – did the exact same but teenagers being teenagers they started acting more naturally – hope you enjoy these shots
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That’s it for Satara 2014. Once again thanks for all the kind words. When I look at the stunning photographs posted elsewhere on this forum I am truly humbled. Technically perfect, clear, sharp and just amazing; and then to get compliments such as the ones I got on this TR gives me hope to continue to try and capture those magical moments of animal behavior – no matter the subject.

Thanks to the mods for allowing the extra shots :thumbs_up:


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