Kelly & Martin's Excellent Adventures

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Our Honeymoon in South Africa!! PART TWO - DAY FOUR & FIVE...


Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all.  ~Brian Jackman

Friday, February 13, 2009

2/13 AM
It started off chilly and cloudy, but at least it wasn't raining. Drizzled some in the early morning, then by 9am, the drizzle had stopped, the clouds broke, and the sun came out!


We woke up at around 5am to the sound of a hippo snorting.  We knew he was close to our khaya because the noise was so loud, but unfortunately we were unable to find him. 

At 6am, we started off on our morning game drive.  First, we drove out toward the airport, where we found three grazing Cape Buffaloes.  We watched them for a while.

Videos: Cape Buffaloes.... and some commentary by Gareth


Photos: Cape Buffalo and a Red-Billed Oxpecker


Shortly after leaving the buffaloes, we saw 2 more side-striped jackals in the tall grass near the airport runway...


There was a call  on the radio reporting that the leopard was back in the tree with his nyala kill from 2 nights ago. We went to see if he was feeding on it, which he was – pulling at the meat and licking it off the bone.  Not the most appetizing thing to watch at 6:30 in the morning...

Photos: I'll try to ease you into it... =)



Video: the leopard eating -

WARNING: this video might turn your stomach a little (if the pictures haven't already!)  =)

After a while, the leopard decided to come down from the tree, and as he did, we heard a bushbuck start barking nearby.

Video: the leopard coming down from the tree and the sound of the bushbuck barking

We weren’t sure if there was a new predator or if the bushback had simply seen the leopard we were watching come down from the tree. We drove in that direction to see if we could find the bushbuck. We drove all over along the hillside in grass almost taller than the vehicle, but there was no sign of the bushback.

We came back toward the leopard and as we turned the corner to go back down to where we had left the leopard, we saw a male bushback right by where we had left the leopard just a few minutes ago. As soon as he saw us, the bushback ran off. The leopard was nowhere to be found.

Gareth said that with meat still on his nyala in the tree, he would not actively hunt, but if another bushback or other animal walked right into him like that, he would definitely kill him. We were wondering if we would hear or see a kill, but we didn’t, and we soon drove off.


                               Soon we came upon a troop of baboons...

...and a bushbuck who thought he was a baboon (watch the video above).

We followed them for a short while, then continued on. We went to the south part of the property and didn’t see much – we did see a troop of vervet monkeys playing in a tree... well as loads of beautiful birds...

Photos: Carmine Bee-eater


Photo: Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Photo: Lilac-Breasted Roller

Photo: the same Lilac-Breasted Roller in flight. 

These birds are so beautiful - especially the back of their wings, which are a glorious royal blue (and of which, unfortunately, we weren't able to get a photo).


On our way back into camp for breakfast, there were 3 waterbucks right near the front fence with the herd of impalas that are always there by the front gate.



Before we went in for breakfast, we took our photo with Steve, Marsha, and Gareth.


It’s now after breakfast, and I am writing in this journal on the back porch of our khaya...

...I just saw an elephant pass by on the other side of the river.

2/13 PM
Beautiful, warm and sunny

Over lunch, we watched as a herd of elephants walked along the riverbank on the other side of the river from Rattray's. It was quite a site, especially when they all started getting into the water, one by one. They completely immersed themselves, trunk included, and then the trunk would pop out of the surface of the water.

There were two playing in the water next to each other, and they seemed to be completely enjoying themselves. It is a rare sight, as Martin pointed out, to see adult animals doing anything in the bush simply out of pleasure. Then there was a family of four – two adults and 2 very young calves – that crossed the river. It was quite a site, and we watched them for a while.

Photo & videos: elephants crossing the river & playing in the river, as seen from the back deck at Rattray's main building.



Heading out on our afternoon game drive...

It was a beautiful day... we saw two young elephants shortly after leaving the Rattray's gate...

We hadn't seen hippos yet, so Gareth made a point of seeking them out for us today.  We found them in the river, all underwater except for the tops of their heads.  We watched them slowly bob up and down, in and out of the water, for a little while.  Unfortunately we didn't get Steve's photos from this day, or we'd have some better ones of the hippos, I'm sure...

We saw lots of impalas....

...including two different herds of impalas with a wildebeest and small herd of zebra as company. 

The first group was a group of all male impalas (a “bachelorhood”) and the zebras had 2 young colts and 5 adults I believe.



The second group was a breeding herd of impalas (very few males with many females and young/baby impalas) with 4 full-grown zebras, 3 younger zebras, and a White Stork.


Other than that, we saw a few more giraffes, an occasional elephant, and a beautiful sunset, ...



On our way back to camp, we stopped at the infamous tree where the leopard was stashing his dead nyala, to see if we could find him. We were all looking up at the tree, where the rest of the nyala still hung (only the head and forelegs were really left at this point), when Martin said, “Hey, he’s right there on the ground!” The leopard was lying in an open patch of grass right in front of us, a few meters in front of the tree. We pulled up and watched him for a few minutes, and he was panting a lot, which according to Gareth, was because leopards will gorge themselves, and when they digest the food, they require extra oxygen...


After a few minutes, he got up and gracefully (what a sight to watch) climbed back up into the tree...

(unfortunately not great quality video though)

...and gnawed on the carcass again.

At one point, he dropped a piece of meat, looked up at us, and hiccupped. It was really funny.

After a few minutes, we had to leave, as another vehicle was on its way to the sighting.


For all of our pictures & videos from this day, click here

Saturday, February 14, 2009 (Valentine's Day!)

2/14 AM
Warm and sunny!

We started out on our morning drive and soon found ourselves heading north on the road that runs up the western border of MalaMala. We stopped to watch a giraffe, and then stopped again while Gareth told us a story of how bad the roads had been after the heavy rains the previous week and how, at this spot we were at, just off the road, one off-road vehicle after another kept getting stuck trying to help each other out of the mud.   A vehicle from the neighbor’s camp then stopped on the road and the guests watched and took pictures of all the stuck, struggling vehicles like it was an animal sighting.

As he was telling us this story, a vehicle from the other camp drove up and stopped next to us. They mentioned they had seen a pack of wild dogs back down the road entering MalaMala. We really wanted to see wild dogs, so we drove north along the road until Gareth picked up the tracks of the wild dogs on the dirt road. He followed the tracks for a bit, then they turned off into the brush. We drove the rest of the western border road and onto the northernmost border road. We zig-zagged back and forth throughout this northern section of the reserve trying to find the pack of dogs, but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Some of the sights we DID see that morning:

A herd of impalas and a wildebeest on the airport runway (that's why they must have a ranger standing by whenever a plane lands at the MalaMala airport!)...

...a pair of gray duikers,... elephant,...

...We also saw a troop of baboons with 3 waterbucks, and another elephant.

Eventually we found ourselves in some thick brush looking for the Styx pride, which another vehicle had found shortly prior. We found the pride and watched them for just a few minutes...

...before the roller coaster male and one of the lionesses got up and started wandering off back toward the road we had just come from. The rest of the pride followed and we started the vehicle again to follow them. A couple of minutes of driving, and the vehicle stalled. It wouldn’t restart – seemed to be the same problem we had had on our first game drive – a bad fuse. Gareth called for a replacement vehicle.

While we waited, we admired another Golden Orbweb Spider and her web, which were right next to the vehicle -

Photo: female Golden Orbweb Spider...  Interestingly, she devours the "boys" after they have served their purpose on their honeymoon! (notice the smaller male spider on the lower left)

Eventually the other ranger came, and we switched vehicles and drove off. Soon after, we re-found the Styx pride laying in the middle of the road at a stream bed.

We watched them for a while, then went to look for more animals...

After not finding much, we decided to head back to camp for breakfast.  On the way, we saw 4 white rhinos on the river bank,...

...and some dung beetles rolling balls of dung to entice their females to mate. (how sexy, right?)

Apparently the male dung beetle rolls the first ball and give it to the female as a gift; the second ball he rolls, they eat together; and after he rolls the third ball, the female lays her eggs inside of it, and the male buries the dung ball and eggs. When the eggs hatch, they eat their way out of the dung ball and eventually grow up to be big dung beetles…


After the appetizing story of the dung beetles, we came back to camp and had breakfast.  On our walk back to our khaya, Martin spotted this cool-looking grasshopper and snapped this great photo of him.

After lunch, we had another half hour or so then it was time to say goodbye to Rattray's.  We packed up our things and headed back to the main building.  We got into a different, covered vehicle, and Gareth drove us out to the MalaMala airport.

 Photo: the MalaMala airport...

(yes it's really an airport... even though there are no... uh, buildings... It even has an airport code: AAM)

When we asked Gareth the day before, "Is there security at the airport?”, he replied “Yeah - one of the rangers puts on a yellow vest and acts important."  

Photo & video: MalaMala Airport Security



Photo: view of MalaMala and the Sand River from the plane...

Rattray's is right in the center of the photo - you can kind of make out the little blue roofs to the right of the river

...Until we meet again, Rattray's!!  I can't WAIT to go back!!


For all of our pictures & videos from this day, click here

Monday, March 16, 2009

Our Honeymoon in South Africa!! PART TWO - DAY THREE...


“The highest aim of travel is not to see new sights, but to gain new eyes.” - Proust

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2/12 AM
Windy, cloudy day, some light rain throughout the day

First we went to the tree that the leopard had dragged his kill up the previous night. There was another vehicle viewing the dead nyala, and as we waited, Gareth spotted the leopard lying in the grass just down the hill. We pulled up next to the leopard, and the leopard got up and walked back a meter or so into some thicker brush and lay back down.

Photo: Can you spot the leopard in the grass?

After the other vehicle came down to see the leopard, we drove back up the hill 10 meters or so to the tree where the nyala was. He had been placed perfectly in the tree so that he would not fall out, and his neck was cut open and his tongue hanging out and some of his guts hanging out below him.

Photo: the tree where the leopard had stashed his nyala kill...

...and the lovely site we found in the tree...


                                                                                         We snapped a few photos of this lovely site and drove on.

Next we went to the site where the Styx lion pride had been seen. There were 4 cubs and 1 lioness.  The 4 cubs were all hanging out in the middle of the road.





We watched them a few minutes, then drove off. We quickly ran into another portion of the pride down the road. There were 4 lionesses with the roller coaster male. We’re not sure where the other 2 lionesses and 5 cubs were, but I’m sure they weren't far.

Other notable sites we saw that morning -

A giraffe having a snack...


...and a good head-scratch.


A male elephant who huffed and puffed as we approached and did a half-hearted mock charge as we drove past...


   This shy little guy...


Four white rhino grazing...



...Two kudus off in the distance on a hillside...

Martin spotted a waterbuck on a hillside – we could see the white circle on his hindquarters from a distance...


These spiders are everywhere... they are about the size of my palm...

...This is a female Golden Orbweb Spider. She spins the most beautiful strong golden web and has a number of (much smaller spiders) males around her in the web. Interestingly she devours the "boys" after they have served their purpose on their honeymoon!

(thanks Tanya!)



                  ...15 million impalas... ok maybe not quite that many...

...but close.

...Dwarf mongooses...

...even one nursing, which Gareth had never seen before!  (unfortunately this is the best pic we got of it)


...An African fish eagle flying overhead (looks like a bald eagle from a distance, with a dark brown body and white head)

We tried to find hippos at some of their normal water pools, but they were not around, probably because it was cloudy enough that they could be out of the water without harming their sensitive skin.


We saw our old friends by the river again...

...and we also saw another wildebeest hanging out with a heard of impalas (we weren't sure if it was the same herd and wildebeest as yesterday or not)...

       ...A troop of chacma baboons...


On our way back to camp for breakfast (yes, we saw all of these animals before 10am!!), we stopped at the leopard's tree to see if he and/or his kill were still there.  They were both indeed in the tree.  The leopard was sleeping hard, his nose tucked between some branches.

Photo: the tree where the leopard was sleeping (can you see him?)... amazingly camouflaged...

2/12 PM
On our afternoon game drive, we first checked the leopard's tree again. Now the leopard was nowhere to be found, and the nyala was gone from the tree. Gareth thought the leopard probably pulled the nyala down and was eating it under a shrub nearby.

While we had been back at camp during the late morning & early afternoon, the Styx pride of lions had made a kill and were seen eating it by some of the standby rangers. We went to see them. The area was surrounded by vultures...

Photo: White-Backed Vultures at the crime scene

Photo: a Hooded Vulture cruisin' for leftovers 


All the lions looked fat and happy, and one of the cubs was gnawing on a bone - the only evidence left from the kill.

Photo: the little guy on the upper right was the one working on a bone...



After a few minutes, a rhino wandered into the lions' midst.  The lions soon noticed him and watched as he walked nearer to them. 

But the rhino wandered past them without much disturbance, and they went back to their peaceful sleep.

We watched them resting for a few more minutes, then decided to go look for more animals.


We drove quite a while without seeing anything, as the rain was picking up...

Finally Martin spotted a leopard straight ahead of us on the road!

Video: sorry this video so shaky at first... but I think it's pretty cool...

He was an old male leopard. He had a swollen eye and lots of open sores all over his body, especially on his back legs and near his anus. He didn't seem to be limping, but he would stop every minute or so and lick his wounds, especially around his anus, which really seemed to be bothering him. He must have been in a fight, and the wounds on his hindquarters indicate that he had probably been running away…

...not a good sign for a leopard.

He seemed to be very hungry, and we followed him for a while, hoping we would come across a herd of impalas. Of course, the one time you hope to see impalas, you don’t.


Video: Gareth tells us he believes this leopard is the Newton male - a very old (11-year old), nomadic leopard. 

At one point, he jumped up into a tree – so gracefully, what a beautiful sight – to look around for any potential prey.



He saw something that caught his attention for a few seconds, but we couldn’t tell what he was looking at.

After a few minutes, he climbed down from the tree...


...and started walking down the road again.

We continued following him, and eventually he cut off the road into the brush, and after a few minutes he lay down for a while in some tall grass, and we stopped and watched him and waited for awhile.  When another vehicle eventually arrived to see him, we finally left.


It had finally stopped raining by this point. Not too far down the road, we spotted a herd of impalas, including one baby who was limping. If the wounded leopard has any shot of catching dinner, it was probably that little guy.

Near the herd of impalas, we saw the same 4 white rhinos we had seen earlier in the day, as well as 2 giraffes up the hill.

We chose to go up the hill to see the giraffes,...

...and after watching them for a while, we eventually drove away and found another road nearby. We drove again for a while without seeing anything, and eventually it grew darker and darker.

We were following the westernmost border of MalaMala, when I noticed a black shape that looked like the side & rear of a cow. I called out to Gareth, and he reversed back to where I had seen it. It was our first Cape Buffalo! 

Photo: Horrible photo, but proof nonetheless!


We hade officially seen all 5 of the Big Five (Rhino, African Elephant, Lion, Leopard, and Cape Buffalo) in one day!  WOOHOO!!  [These animals are collectively called the Big Five because in the hunting days, these were the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.]

It was too dark to take any good pictures of the Cape Buffalo, but we watched him for a minute as we listened to some impalas go a bit crazy on the neighboring reserve to MalaMala. There must have been some predator shaking them up, because they were snorting in alarm for quite a while. Too bad we couldn’t drive onto their property to investigate!

For all of our pictures & videos from this day, click here