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MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:13 pm Unread post
So everyone; here is the story so far.

1. In Joburg getting set up WHILE STAYING WITH A FRIEND
A fair bit of today, to be honest, has been spent watching the diligent antics of a Southern Masked Weaver in my host’s garden. I recognise that we have a tendency to anthropomorphise all things non human, and indeed might have a tendency to do this even more so for birds, but I have been feeling sorry for the poor blighter in his efforts to court and secure a mate. These guys habitually spend a great deal of time building a fabulous cage of grass at the end of a long hanging thin branch over water. In this case, he is balanced at the end of a mulberry tree twig over the swimming pool. He weaves intricate webbing of further grasses until he has a suspended cage basket which he stuffs a little with soft and mossy bedding. He then works himself to death courtship dancing and calling for a female to take notice. Interestingly his rituals involve much fluttering of wings close to his body, much like the “feed-me” behaviour of chicks and fledglings among UK garden birds. He also hisses, chatters and clicks like a demented box of cicadas, grasshoppers and snapping twigs. From time to time, he hangs upside down as well, especially under the entrance to his wicker bower, hoping she will come in. Now and then he rushes off at terrific speed to pick up a lady and bring her back to his tree. Once she is sitting disinterestedly nearby, he performs his routine again, and again. Now and then his dowdy little bride-to-be will come on to the stringy ball and peck a little at it. I understand if, on inspection, she accepts, she will start to bring in some soft nesting materials and he will finish the job by constructing the standard tunnel entrance to the property. My industrious little guy has not had much luck yet. All his hopes have been dashed by the hard-to-get little madams with whom he has thus far been flirting; they feign higher taste in decor or manufacture or something and dash his dreams with a haughty dose of rejection. Barely missing a wing beat he sets about building an alternative abode and once its mainframe is established, he wrecks the old one, thoroughly destroying it completely. Probably feels good that bit, don’t you think fellas? Mind you, he is apt to reuse some of the old stuff before it goes groundward or wet in the tumble to the water’s surface.
One cannot help but admire the determination and resilience of the chap; many of us would be inclined to embrace celibacy for the rest of the year and tell her to bugger off!
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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:15 pm Unread post
10th September
During the many chats I had I was aware of a number of chaps telling stories that tended to centre on legal difficulties or administrative problems that had been settled and sorted by “going to Nigel”. I began to build a picture of Nigel being the local Mr Fixit who could sort out anything. I was wondering if he was an attorney or a gangster as time and time again, the denouement of some tragic tale was, “so I went to Nigel..” and all those around gave understanding nods and affirmations. It became more clear to me, however, through one of Rodney’s bike stories. While his wife was sporting her Harley Davison leather jacket, I was joshing him with mock surprise that he had not come to church on his bike to do wheelies on the road outside. He reminded me that he was still pursuing his learner’s license. He had found that all the area administrations around had long waiting list for tests and he had booked one quite some weeks hence. Then he thought of Nigel. Going to Nigel, he said, would mean he could take the test much quicker; he telephoned and was told he could turn up and get it out of the way same day, or book for two/three days hence. His problem, apparently, would be cancelling the booking which he had already made; with that booking still extant, a Nigel alternative date could not be fixed. It was dawning on me by this time, as it must be on you, dear reader, that Nigel is not a person, but a place. It is simply very small municipality some few miles away where, because of its lower density of population, it has the same rights as other jurisdictions but not the volume of applications for anything. Hence it is actually possible to arrive at six am and rush with the mob and get a test sorted on the same day. How glad I was not to have asked an earlier question as to what experience or qualification made this fellow Nigel so spectacular an “engineer”.


Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:36 pm Unread post
12th September
So at long last the adventure begins -I am here ready to sleep my first night in the Kruger.
I had only been in a couple of hundred yards and four of these ladies walked along!
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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:40 pm Unread post
Also 12th September
I had loads of lovely encounters; probably my favourite of the day was this young one.
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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:58 pm Unread post
13th September
I had an interesting morning getting out first thing to enjoy the special light when the rising sun is low in the sky. I know some visitors find it frustrating if they drive an hour or two with no great encounters. I guess I am lucky in that I really take pleasure in the landscapes of Africa on which my childish impressions were nutured by Rider Haggard novels and travelogues at the cinema which centred on the Ngoro-Ngoro basin and the great plains migrations of wildebeest and zebra. I also find the flora infinitely fascinating and I am struggling to identify some of the flowering trees I have come across.
That said I did see some lovely birds and mammals today.
The first I tried to snap that might interest you was this beautiful male kudu and this monumental rhino.
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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:17 pm Unread post
14th September
One experience also of today made me conjecture on the possibility of a modern day Aesop fable of the little chameleon; perhaps I will put it on facebook and invite contributors to state the moral?
A car ahead of me was stopped at a peculiar angle across the road. Because they were hanging out of their windows I was expecting that they had spotted something really impressive. Eventually after the customary hand signals and gestures and pointing augmented with those demented faces we pull on such occasions, I realised they were watching something on the surface of the road and taking zoom photographs of it. I eventually saw what it was, a small chameleon about 5 inches long that had decided to take its own dangerous long walk if not to freedom, to the world on the other side of the road. My goodness it was in danger of being mown down by what would be to the little jouneyfellow, a giant unknowing and unseeing tyre.
It struck me that it was following all the rules that a good chameleon Momma and Poppa could have instilled. She was making her skin colour and pattern mimic the surrounding background. She was also doing that slow rocking movement to look like something just waving slightly in the breeze and consequently making infinitesimal progress forward. Both, given the circumstances were a deadly risk and entirely inappropriate strategies. Drivers coming along at speed would not notice her; she was not going to be seen; she just didn’t stand out in shade or texture; her shape was no distinction. Her movement was not distinctive or speedy enough to register in a driver’s vision. She was doomed.
So, I wonder if she is ( I think of her as Chloe now, by the way) the subject of a new fable of Aesop? Suggestions for a suitable moral please? (He who sticks to the rules sticks to the tarmac? Or Playing safe sometimes isn’t?)


Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:31 pm Unread post
Also 14th September
Sunday was the first time this trip I encountered lion. I had been down at the waterhole signposted “Transport” and had enjoyed the company of hippo, large numbers of waterbuck and a particularly well balanced fish eagle on a promontory of dead tree stuck forward over the water like a ship’s prow. She turned this way and that and flexed her wings leading all observers to expect a spectacular rise and swoop onto the surface, winging her way nestwards with some great heavy fish. But she was only teasing. I was struck by the number of waterbuck lying about and spent quite a bit of time identifying, or attempting to, some of the very active water birds around.
Anyway, this being the second waterhole stopped by this morning, I thought I’d return to the main road. At the first I had been struck when a small group of allies came down to drink how the two largest ones put themselves as bookends with the smaller, more vulnerable ones in between.
As I turned back up the hill I noticed a large lioness walking down towards the water I had left behind. Manoeuvring a seven point turn and indicating to all the other cars leaving why I was turning around I got down to my viewpoint with the engine off in time to watch what was afoot. She came south downhill, much to the westward and downwind side of a large recumbent group of male and female waterbuck. Having got a long way south of them she turned around under the cover of the hill’s bole and crouched low and tense in the long grass. She then stealthily and with infinite modesty of movement took tiny advances up the hill. She waited long and absolutely still between coiled shuffling. At most of the time her black ear spots and darker central neckline were all we could discern. What was obviously happening was that her sister was coming south slowly and more directly upwind of the prey group because of a sudden they all stood and shot off east across the hill and not into the first lioness’ waiting paws as I now understood to have been the plan. The whole thing took about fifteen minutes to execute but was a failure and they wandered off to the west again. Towards, I recalled a large buffalo herd I had seen earlier. Does this not fit in with my theory that a large Buffalo herd will sustain at least one cabal of top predators and perhaps we had just seen sight of window shopping elsewhere? It does put paid to the assertion I have heard so often here in SA though that the waterbuck is not a prey species because its flesh is so greasy/oily. I think this is probably a projection of the humans who hunt with guns who find the species mostly unpalatable.

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:35 pm Unread post
15th September
I was reflecting on the real clown of the bush veldt earlier today; the yellow billed hornbill. With his cookie, short swooping flight path, his wings that seem too big for him and his seriously over sized tail as he moves through the air, he is just essentially comic. Then, of course, there is his very unbalanced landings, always like he has almost overshot and needs to whoops himself back a bit and rock or swing a bit too ungainly until he recovers. His course squark of a voice doesn't help and the oversized conk might not command him the respect he would like. I can see why they put him as the pompous, hopelessly feckless, Rowan Atkinson voiced, king's adjutant in that cartoon!
Still, his portrait is sometimes quite commanding, don't you think?

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:37 pm Unread post
15th September
Would you Like to read a story?
Then I'll begin...............................................
I was in the restaurant the other night here at the Pretoriuskop rest camp and it was not particularly full. However, directly opposite my usual table, (Yes I’ve been here so many nights I have a habitual place to sit!) were four excitable ladies. Well, they didn’t start the evening so effervescent; I suspect the white wine they were downing had something to do with that. One big-haired blonde had her back to me while two other auburn bouffants sat sideways to her and so the only one with direct eyeline to me was the greying brunette, further singular by her lack of padded shoulders. Once or twice when they became giggly and raucous she exchanged glances with me as if to disassociate herself from their antics.
As the meal progressed, it became more clear that the three were Afrikaans and the fourth was a UK visitor. Presumably in deference to her linguistic poverty they were conducting the conversation in English. They talked of their husbands and munched the burgers and slurped the booze. They talked of their children, and chomped the chips and ordered more Zinfandel. They talked of their mothers. HOW they talked of their mothers, pausing to shovel ice cream and sweetnesses between mouthful on mouthful of Stellenbosch. Then they recalled the rights of passage of their friendship. As each step was revealed, they became louder and faster, talking over one another and where one peppered the tale with a bit of Afrikaans another topped it with hilarity and they were almost chanting their Dutch settler punch lines. Usually one would remember the guest and repeat the story slowly, with the others nodding and mouthing English vocabulary helpfully to overcome the challenge of recalling just the right vocabulary to stitch the original word meanings and overtones into place. They ended on a polyphony of chuckles and chortles and hoots. The lady opposite would add her snort and titter as appropriate and look my way for sympathy; I gave it as anonymously best I could.
This ribald rise happened more frequently as the time wore on and the bottles kept on coming to be drained. Eventually there were tales of previous visits to the Kruger to share. Horror stories of dirty accommodation and rude service and even vignettes of impressive encounters with the wildlife. They were each out to do one another clearly; Lion, Elephant and Buffalo were all in the stakes being played in who would have the clinching tale. Then it shifted to the rare things, the sightings of the sparsest animals of the park. It ended, decisively, with the blonde’s extraordinary encounter.
I caught that she and her husband were on a walking safari here and they had volunteered to watch the fire second watch, Midnight to four am. She was learning forward and pacing the event for maximum effect but as ever, when she got close to the fat lady singing, she lost it in a mounting pitch and volume that every Afrikaans speaker in the room would understand although two of us did not. It must have been impressive because everyone was nodding and inarticulatingly making those noises of approval and admiration. One or two diners even clapped hands a little before embarrassment took them back to their own meals.
“So, in English?” asked the one of four.
“Yes, yes, yes.” She paused, thinking hard for just the right expressions and vernaculars. “Well there we were, quietly looking around the camp. We were next to the road down one side so thought the firelight would keep that clear. We heard some noises from the bush side and faced it very, -what’s the word? “ she turned to her friends and whispering something in her native tongue, got their combine advice.
“We faced the bush very apprehensive, yes?”
“Apprehensive,” the two agreed.
“Apprehensive, good word” my English friend enthused.
“So while we shone torches into the leaves and trees, imagine our surprise-“
“Excitement!” a companion volunteered.
“Delight!” suggested the other.
“Yes, all of those things, when a snarl came from behind us and we turned. Well my husband’s jaw dropped. He said he has never seen such a thing in twenty years of coming to the park. He has never seen one man or boy. In fact he’s pretty sure his father’s never seen one either. They had heard of them of course.”
“Imagine a Tierboskat came bouncing across the road! The prettiest you could imagine.”
“English!” the two sides women called out and they conferred. It took a while but they were sure they had it.
“Imagine,” the story teller spoke triumphantly;”we turned and saw the prettiest little Cervix come bouncing across the road! And neither of us had the camera.”
Now that would have been a picture, I thought!
Presumably they’d seen a Serval; at least I hope so or her husband (and his father) would have been traumatised.


Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:41 pm Unread post
17th September
So today the only really exciting sighting was of a wildcat but it was so brief I never even got to the camera before it was gone.
So my photo of the day is one of Kruger's eternal beauties; look at the lips; look at the dark eyes and those lashes.....

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:45 pm Unread post
18th September
Unusually this trip, nearly all the ellies I come upon are males, usually on their own as is their wont. Occasionally there are pairs and on one occasion I have seen three hanging out together. Story for another day I think.
However, I did have the pleasure of a little family this morning; the youngest was quite cute. Mind you, if you ever were worried about premature aging, just take a look at these wrinkles, already!

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Junior Virtual Ranger
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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:50 pm Unread post
20th September
Watching animal behaviour is fascinating but it does present some problems. Take for example when I was overlooking a lake area, actually the spot where “Battle in the Kruger” took place. If you have never seen it, set aside eight or nine minutes, look it up on Youtube and be prepared to be astonished and, don’t worry, there is a happy enough ending.
So, there I was when over the other side on a grassy slope descending to the water’s edge from some scrub trees came three bull elephants at various paces. Two were grey and one was brown. First question that popped into my head was, “Do they see in colour and does the skin pigment of individuals matter to them?” That essentially is my difficulty. You see I want to observe what they do but then I am moved to try to interpret that behaviour and how can I do that without giving in to the temptation to attribute motives and construe meanings based on what I know of human behaviour. My constant risk is to anthropormorphise at every turn.
Here is how it went. One elephant walked down to the water without stopping. The second walked halfway to the water and stopped. The third remained at the tree line while this went on. Does that make the first the leader, or is that me construing hierarchy because that might be typical of naked apes? Is the second hesitant or has he just halted a while? Now the first one drank quite a while and after some time elephant number two ( -and numbering them in itself seems to have indicated a descending status on the things.) walked towards the water and the first stopped drinking and turned round to face the oncoming second. There was a head waggle and a half hearted ear flapping from the elephant who had been drinking and the elephant who hadn’t took a step back and stopped again. By the time the third elephant wandered down the second had begun to drink but not next to the first as the original path direction would have implied but some yards away and he had got there by a less than direct route. See, what I mean; am I interpreting and therefore setting up a context into which i can judge and ascribe future behaviours or am I hjust observing and taking note. It is bloody difficult.
Anyway, most of the next 45 minutes was fascinating for me as I was definitely seeing three individuals who had formed some association sort out or maintain their pecking order. There was an interesting sequence of who went in the water first. What they did while in there; two ducked themselves completely, heads and all, while the third ducked and wallowed but never got the water above his eye line until he was “made to” by the bully-boy Number One elephant aforementioned. Thery seemed to have enormous fun pushing and joshing each other and who let whom out of the water in which order at the end was an extra scenario for analysis.
During their time in the communal bath there was some sexual horseplay I think too. (Where did that term “horse-play” come from by the way; i must look it up some time.) You may feel I have gone too far in my construings here but look, the dominant fellow took to mounting each of the other two while their heads were down and their backs were turned; how would you see that?

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:53 pm Unread post
22nd September
On one main road I was driving with my usual caution and became aware of a looming presence to the right hand side of the kerb ahead. It was a great grey elephant. A single bull. His tusks magnificent and long and white, he strained to take their weight high and long. Rumbling deep in his throat or his chest, he perched at the tarmac’s very edge. I stopped, assuming he would, as they usually do in such circumstances, cross the road and get on his way, destroying the vegetation of the bush. Not so; he decided to chomp at a tree on his side. I was in no hurry, and watching such individuals is why I’m here after all.
Well he stood so long I thought he was playing with me so i held to the far left and inched forward. At this he took a step out; the road was particularly narrow and it being the Kruger, he had right of way. Well he did step into the road but not across it. He took the middle point and paused, turned, sighed and turned his back to me. For the next fifteen minutes he did the slowest saunter imaginable, tracking to the slightest left he could.
Consequently i had a long time to study his rear and it was suddenly like being transported fifty years back to my childhood; it was Mr Arrowsmith!
Now some of you may not know who he is. Mr Arrowsmith was the plump and loose-lipped floor manager of the gentlemen’s outfitting section of our department store where I grew up. His sole3 function seemed to be to catch the eye of every regular customer who came into his territory and have the briefest of words before leading them to the assistant who would deal with the purchase, an assistant whom the customer could quite easily have approached on his or her own, it was patently obvious to me. The thing is that being a small boy, my eye line was rather lower than it is now and on the many safaris through the counters and stands of the store while he lead us single file, I was always immediately behind him and had full sight of his retreating bottom. He took the prime position very distinctly, speed would have been unseemly and he had an odd manner of lifting his knees a bit too high, making his wilting rear-end curtains of cloth ripple and flap. His grey flannel (summer) or grey woollen (winter) trousers seemed to swing from a voluminous waist in sad and sagging hangings down to his small ankles. While his front was very neat and sharply creased, as befits his station, his back was roomy and slightly the worse for wear. I often thought that the creases and folds and semi-inflated quality of his garment must have looked like that sloppy failing hot-air balloon that dumped the wizard in Oz. And here they were again, grey and floppy and dropping. This elephant had to be the reincarnation of Mr Arrowsmith didn’t he?

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:57 pm Unread post
23rd September
Now some days are just amazing; I have encountered a full African Bestiary on my way up to Shingwezi !
Most exciting to me, because I have seen them so rarely, was when from a high main road I was able, through binoculars mind, see three cheetahs sitting just under the shade of some scrub trees next to a large pan area of long grass. Stopped and with the engine switched off I was studying away, watching them lounge and pant in the heat. paw each other now and then and nudge each other face to face; I am guessing they were siblings. They were fully grown but still young looking.
Too far away for any decent photo to work; my zoom just wasn't up to it. But, so intent was I on ogling through the bins that I didn't notice the fourth cheetah walking across the open grass carrying a dead bird in her mouth; it was mum; until it was nearly too late to capture the moment.
Anyway, here she is and her three grown cubs are in the trees, honest. Just follow the line of her direction and you can see/imagine them.

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Re: MY YEAR IN THE KRUGER

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Tue Sep 30, 2014 12:11 am Unread post
24th September
A highlight today was to be driving along just gone six am by a more or less dry river bed (the river which washed an entire camp away in January 2013) when a smudge of darker sand caught my eye. Slowing down and finding a gap in the grasses on my side I was able to stop and realise that the dirtier patch of golden orange was, in fact, four lions munching on what was left of last night’s or this sunrise’s kill. I cut the engine and settled down to watch; very quickly I noticed two sleeping lions a little further up the bank and some time later, because I was scouting around with the binoculars (having learned my lesson with the cheetahs, of course,) found the other two sleeping a few yards further on. The four resting had presumably eaten their fill first; their stomachs certainly seemed suitably distended. I had been talking with Penny only yesterday about how I really ought to start getting the hang of the movie camera so, I removed it from its case and had a go.
Now, being a man, it is inevitable that if I take something in my hand, I am apt to wobble it. As yet I haven’t steadied the hold. However, I thought I would give uploading a few seconds a go! Enjoy the Shingwedzi Pride.

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Last edited by maxbullough on Tue Sep 30, 2014 12:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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