Serengeti Cheetah and giraffe interaction

Still in the Western Corridor of the Serengeti and after a relatively unsuccessful previous day waiting for our “flat cats” to raise themselves and start moving and playing, we were up and on our way by 6h30 the next morning full of expectation that a fresh start would reveal something quite unexpected.

“Dance as if you got lost in the mystery and beauty of life.”
― Debasish Mridha

Our guide, Yona, told us that a cheetah female and her two cubs had been seen near Masira hill late the previous evening. We found the female and her two year old cubs lying in the open plain below Masira hill. It was cool early in the morning so they were in the open and had not yet sought shade. When cheetahs lie down their thin frame makes them difficult to see. Normally the only time you will see them from a distance is when either their head pops up to have a look around or you see a flick of the tail.

This morning the cheetahs were on the lookout for something to hunt but there was no prey anywhere near. A family group of warthogs could be seen in the trees below Masira hill which were about three hundred metres away but they drew only a brief glance from the cheetahs.

One of the key advantages of getting up early is that you get the low angle light which is warm in colour. This is the best time to get natural illumination in the cheetah’s eyes.

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”
~Frank Herbert

An important advantage of being in this part of the Serengeti in September was that the grass had been well and truly eaten down and it was relatively easy to see and photograph the cheetahs without grass in front of their faces.

The female and one of her cubs were lying next to each other. The youngster seemed to be much closer to its mother while the other one lay some distance off, and did not seem to seek the physical closeness of its mother.

The mutual preening is a bonding process and also provides a quick clean after the meal the day before.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
~Albert Einstein

Up on the Masira hill we had seen giraffe browsing on the tops of the trees. As time passed, we noticed that all the giraffe were walking down the hill towards the cheetahs. At first, we thought it was just coincidence, but it soon became apparent that they were gathering because of the cheetahs.

Eventually about fifteen giraffe came down from the Masira hill and started to gather in front of the cheetahs.

The mother cheetah had already moved to large area of shade under a bigger tree to the right of us. The cubs stayed put under small bushes in front of the giraffe gathering.

The standoff became intriguing. I had never before seen giraffe gather to intimidate cheetahs. In a previous post from Mashatu, I described how guineafowl had mobbed three young cheetahs driving them out of the area. The giraffe seemed to be doing a similar thing. Until now I had never realised that cheetah had such a tough time. I knew that lion, hyaena and leopard regularly stole their kills but I never realised how many savanna species actively drove off cheetahs.

The more the giraffe congregated the more intimidating they became not only because of their numbers but also their size. I am sure every cheetah knows only too well the power and danger of a giraffe kick. Eventually the young cheetahs were sufficiently intimidated and got up and walked, as confidently as they could, back to their mother.

The young cheetah did not run but walked nonchalantly trying to show they were not impressed by the show of force.

“People no longer try to decipher the mystery of life but choose instead to be a part of it.”
~Paulo Coelho

I never heard a sound from the giraffe but they certainly communicated to produce the gathering. It makes me think that giraffe communicate through infra sound, a low frequency sound which we cannot hear. I know the collective noun for giraffe is a tower of giraffe but after seeing this display I think a gathering is more apt.

Once the giraffe had made their point they dispersed and moved back to Masira hill to browse on the treetops and bushes.

We waited for quite a while that morning for the cheetah to start hunting but our patience never paid off.

“Let us remember that animals are not mere resources for human consumption. They are splendid beings in their own right, who have evolved alongside us as co-inheritors of all the beauty and abundance of life on this planet.”

~ Marc Bekoff

We returned later that afternoon and the cheetahs had moved only a short distance to get more shade. Patience in the afternoon was rewarded by the changing light. In the late afternoon, the sun lowers and the angle of the light continuously improves. This is the time when the cheetah’s eyes are best illuminated and you get to see the liquid amber colour of their eyes.

An iconic pose by an adult cheetah standing on an ant hill to get a better view of potential prey and threats in the distance.

Seeing is much more than having the subject move right in front of you. It is a sense, a revelation that comes from quietly looking for the subtle changes in the light or the animal’s behaviour. Just because nothing has happened for the past 30 minutes is no guide as to what will happen over the next half an hour. A francolin could wander by and startle the cheetahs; the apparently sleeping cheetah could suddenly pick up a scent on the wind which has changed direction, which catches its attention.

The late afternoon light casts a warm glow on the scene.

“How it is that animals understand things I do not know, but it is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul.”

~ Frances Hodgson Burnett

One of the fascinating aspects about being out in the bush is that you never know what you are likely to find and invariably new interactions between species are revealed. The ability to move or even rest unseen in the bush is not easy as there are so many eyes watching each predator and those eyes are very happy to alert every living thing around to the whereabouts of that predator. Cheetah choose to hunt mainly in the day while other key predators such as lions and hyaenas are sleeping, so there is less competition. They also need to see what they are doing when travelling at 120 kilometres per hour while in full chase of prey. The down side of daylight hunting is that cheetahs are visible to baboons, vervet monkeys, birds, squirrels and giraffe during the day so seldom get peace and solitude.

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

~Martin Buber

Hunting in the Serengeti is not as easy as would be assumed. One of the key risks is that hyaena spread out all over the plains and the scouts lie unseen in tufts of grass. As soon as anything unusual happens or a cheetah makes a kill, invariably (out of apparently nowhere) a hyaena appears on the scene. Only when the hyaena is outnumbered will it start “whooping” for reinforcements.

We left the cheetah family late that afternoon as the sun was setting and that was the last time we saw them. The plains are large and the predators move around looking for prey and to minimise competition from other predators. As we were one of two other vehicles out at that time there were few eyes to keep track of our wandering cheetahs. Once they lie flat, even the keenest eyes will not see then even in the short grass.

When you spend time quietly in the bush you become aware that there is a lot going on. You also realise that your human senses have become blunted compared to the wildlife you are watching. The subtle changes in the wind can herald all sorts of new reactions. We humans, especially the “townies”, with our dulled senses are blissfully unaware of these subtle changes. I think wildlife operates at a much more subtle sensual level than most human beings. What is clear that the guides who spend much of their time in the bush do tune into these subtleties.

“We patronize the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” 

~Henry Beston

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Serengeti lion gallery

I was privileged to be able to visit the Western Corridor of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in mid-September 2017 with CNP Safaris. We were based at the Grumeti Tented Camp.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all the while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote,

To travel is to live.”

~Han Christian Anderson

The Grumeti River courses its way along the 80 kilometres of Western Corridor of the Serengeti to Lake Victoria. Although a narrow wedge-shaped corridor, it is a diverse and fascinating area, which features dense groves of acacia trees interspersed with thick woodlands, and vast open plains with ranges of hills as their back drop. A dominant feature of the Western Corridor is the mysterious and treacherous Grumeti River. This river is not wide but is home to some of the largest Nile crocodiles the migrating wildlife will ever encounter. 

Besides wildebeest, the Western Corridor is also home to large numbers of resident wildlife, including Olive baboons, Colobus and Vervet  Monkeys, giraffe, buffalo, impala, topi, eland, Thomson’s gazelle, waterbuck and smaller antelope such as Dik-Diks and duikers. These resident animals support large concentrations of predators such as lion,  hyaena, and lesser seen cheetah and leopards. The Wildebeest Migration passes through the Western Corridor from late May to mid-July after the rains in April.

“One cannot resist the lure of Africa.”

~ Rudyard Kipling

By mid-September, the Wildebeest Migration had passed and I was intrigued to see how the predators coped with less prey. In the eight days we were traveling around the western corridor of the Serengeti with the Grumeti Tented Camp as our base, we were able to see 32 different lions. Apart from a wonderful camp, the best part was that there were very few vehicles in the national park at that time, but the down side was that keeping track of the predators was much more difficult.

We saw many cubs in the various prides we came across. On our first afternoon, we found our first pride, next to the river below the Grumeti Tented Camp. This pride comprised a large maned male, two lionesses and four cubs. 

There were three cubs which must have been about four months old and one much smaller one which seemed to struggle more than all the rest. This smallest cub can be seen suckling on a lower nipple underneath the closest upright cub.

This large male was with the lionesses and the father of the cubs.

The male moved away from his family so that he was not pestered by his cubs.

He was ever alert in the late afternoon. That evening we heard him roaring throughout the night. We did not see him again after that.

We were hoping to capture some interesting images of the cubs playing but they were quite subdued.

The cubs mostly comforted each other.

Beautiful but very vulnerable.

The warmth of the late afternoon sun appeared to be very somniferous.

The next day the male had moved off to probably patrol his territory while the lionesses moved the cubs from next to the river to a the Masira hill about two kilometres to the west.

One lioness walked in to reinforce her bond with the other lioness but was rebuffed as she was trying to rest. 

The cub in the front right was significantly smaller, and looked much worse for wear, than the other cubs. Those dark rings around its eyes outlined its story.

That little cub was plucky and did not hold back despite its poor state and small size.

As it turned out, the smallest most undernourished looking cub had its right back foot bitten off. The wound appeared to be clean but this youngster was battling. Among the many things I admire about wildlife is that it never seems to feel sorry for itself. This little cub with a missing back right leg must have had to walk the two kilometres from the river to Masira hill. Not only had it made the journey but was playing with its bigger cousins.

I am not  sure that this small cub would make it, but I gave it “100 -out -of -ten” for its determination to prevail. When it came to getting milk from its mother this little one had to fight for a nipple but always seemed to get there eventually. I really hope it survived but if it did its future would always be tenuous. It was wonderful to see how the cubs relied on each other for comfort and warmth.

The cubs sought attention and comfort from their mother whether she offered it or not.

We saw this lone cub in the bush along the side the road leading to Nyasiriro plains. We had briefly seen two lionesses just before this point. They looked to have been hunting and must have left the cub to seek refuge in a thicket nearby.

That afternoon, on the Kwanga plain near the Grumeti camp, below the Masira hill, we found four year-old cubs with their mother out in the open.  These cubs looked to be about nine months old.

We spent hours waiting for them to start playing but they never did. The best we got was one of the cubs trying to catch the tsetse flies which were biting him.

The cubs lay apart but never too far from each other. Their mother, on the other hand, lay some distance off, presumably to get some peace.

We spent the afternoon waiting for this family to wake up and get active. To no avail, they remained “flat cats” even as the clouds began rolling in threatening rain. (Double click on the panorama to get a full screen image).

As it started to cool in the late afternoon, the mother of the four sub-adult cubs woke up and, after stretching, came around from behind thicket and stood scanning the plain for prey. There was nothing close by. The next day we found that this lioness must had killed an ostrich in the night which filled their bellies.

Another two lionesses on their own down at Nyasiriro plain looking for prey. The lionesses were using the dips and drainage lines to approach their prey. They had their sights on prey which was some distance away from the road so we left them in peace to do what they do best.

On the way back to camp from the Nyasiriro plains we came across a family group of lionesses and cubs. Nothing unusual about the image except that I loved the perspective with the trees and hill in the background.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it?”

~ Brian Jackman

I am not sure why they were moving mid-morning, as lions are usually lying flat by this time of the day under the shade of a well leafed tree.

That afternoon down next to the road from the ranger’s camp in Nyasiriro plains we found this lone lioness. She was very muddy but being overcast she was resting in the open in the cool, lush grass next to a large pool of water dammed by the road embankment.

The reason she was muddy is that she must have ambushed a warthog as it came down to drink. The warthog was not muddy so we presumed she had bolted through water and muddy verge to attack the warthog. It’s partly consumed carcass lay underneath a nearby group of bushes.

Early the following morning while on our way to Nyasiriro plains, we found this lone large male lying in the open about fifty metres off the road.

Initially he was intrigued by us.

Then looked at us much more attentively. I am sure the large camera lenses must have looked like large eyes to him.

He did not like the large eyes looking at him from our photographic vehicle and decided to move into the bush behind him away from our glare.

He clearly had fed well the previous night.

Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”

~William Burchell

Including more of the background gives a sense of this large male lion’s environment.

This was a different male down next to the road from the ranger’s camp in Nyasiriro plains. This male was mating with a lioness but we did not manage to get any images of her.

The same male some distance off the road. This couple did not move too far while mating though we only had fleeting glimpses of the female.

Moving in and out of the shade in the morning light increased the photographic challenge.

On our second last day, we crossed the Grumeti and travelled on the southern side of the river. There was plenty of wildlife and close to the hot-air balloon camp we found two lionesses with their pride of cubs. It had rained each of the previous two nights so there was plenty of water on the plains.

The lionesses had killed a zebra, so the family was well fed. Once it had cooled down somewhat the lionesses and cubs went to one of the small pools of rainwater to drink.

The grazers like wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle move with the migrating herd. Not all of the grazers migrate but the vast majority do. The predators are territorial so stay behind. The competition for food intensifies for both the lion, hyaena and cheetahs. Mid-September was a good time to see and photograph the predators as the grass had been grazed very short by the migrating grazers. Unfortunately our predator subjects were not very active but it was still wonderful to be immersed in these vast beautiful, unspoilt areas which still teemed with wildlife.

“To witness that calm rhythm of life revives our worn souls and recaptures a feeling of belonging to the natural world. No one can return from the Serengeti unchanged, for tawny lions will forever prowl our memory and great herds throng our imagination.”

~ George Schaller

Explore,seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

 

Shalimpo

Apart from the diversity of wildlife, one thing which will strike you when game driving around Mashatu is the different landscapes you will come across. One unique area is Shalimpo. This post shows a few images I took on our trip down to Shalimpo, a conjoined name from Shashi and Limpopo. It is the point at which the Shashi and the Limpopo rivers join. It is also the confluence of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. There are no fences in this area so the game can move freely between Zimbabwe and Mashatu – SA is fenced.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life .
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.”
~Chief Seattle ( letter to President Franklin Pearce)

While the lack of fences is preferred from a wildlife point of view, when people get involved then there are problems. The Zimbabweans drive their cattle, goats and donkeys across the Shashi to graze in Shalimpo. In some respects this is understandable as sections of the Limpopo, around Shalimpo, offer the only available water for miles around in winter. Needless to say, the wildlife experience becomes like an over sized farmyard or so it seemed during our last visit to Shalimpo. The infiltration of Zimbabwean livestock has become an issue which has increased political tensions and with it security problems.

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.”

~ Samuel Johnson
If we look at nature and forget about the human intrusion, then the journey to Shalimpo is an worthwhile experience. From our camp it took about two hours driving time to get there as there are many stops on the way for wildlife. From Mashatu, we have to cross the Charter reserve to get to Shalimpo. On this occasion we came across many elephant. We had wondered where they were because we had only seen a few in Mashatu. They seemed to have spread out looking for food in winter.

“The highest realms of thought are impossible to reach without first attaining an understanding of compassion.”

~ Socrates

Elephants breed all year round so it was not unusual to see a few youngsters among this breeding herd.

The flora changes dramatically as you drive through Charter reserve into the Shalimpo area. Down near Shalimpo, the trees get bigger, there are more Lala palms and the bush becomes more dense. Once at Shalimpo, you drive to the end of the Botswana peninsula and it opens up onto a sea of sand. As we drove across from the peninsula onto an island we passed these three large Ana trees. The elephants love their seed pods.  The Ana trees were rooted in this sea of sand which was where the Shashi and Limpopo rivers meet. In the dry season, it looks like a vast stretch of sand. In the wet season this entire area of sand can be covered in flood waters – an impressive sight. These Ana trees must be deeply rooted in the sand to survive annual  flood waters.

Looking through two of the Ana trees out across this vast tract of sand riverbed.

“We’re certainly a dominant species, but that’s not the same as a keystone species. A keystone species is one that, when you remove it, the diversity collapses; we’re a species that when you add us, the diversity collapses. We can change everything, dictate everything and destroy everything.”

~Michael Soule

At the end of the Shalimpo peninsula there is a sand bar which you can walk across to get to a smaller island. As you cross the sand bar, looking to the south, you look across the Limpopo into the Mapungubwe reserve in South Africa.

Down at the end of the peninsula is an avenue of giants. These are mostly Mashatu trees, leadwoods and figtrees. There is something very serene and permanent about this avenue of giants.

“Lets take our hearts for a walk in the woods and listen to the magic whispers of old trees….”

~Unknown

On the Shalimpo island, is a lone large iconic Baobab tree. This specimen has hardly been touched by elephants.

There is something about this scene which warms my Zimbabwean roots. I think it is absolutely beautiful in an African way. Double click on these panorama images to get a better  look at the view.

A view looking south down the Limpopo river as it travels toward Messina and the north part of Kruger Park on its way down to Mozambique and the Indian ocean.

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery.
There is always more mystery.”

~Anais Nin

This is the scene looking north up the Shashi and up the Limpopo. I took this panorama standing next to the beacon on the Shalimpo island.

Looking down from the island beacon onto the last pools of water in the Limpopo river and across to Mapangubwe in South Africa.

“There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness.”

~Emily Carr

At the edge of the Shalimpo island. These large sandstone outcrops create an eternal aura about the place.

Standing next to the Limpopo river looking north west. It was mid-winter but there was still a reasonable amount of water in the river. In winter this river looks so tame. In summer when flooding it is a massive raging torrent. 

The rock outcrops on the Shalimpo island create a desert feel about the place. There are a few massive Baobab trees on the island. They call this “the upside down tree” because it looks like its roots are stretching out to the sky. This Baobab had been damaged by elephants digging their tusks into the trunk to dislodge the bark which they eat.

“Listen to the wind, it talks.
Listen to the silence, it speaks.
Listen to your heart, it knows.”

~Native American Proverb

Once out of Shalimpo and back in Mashatu we were traveling back to camp when our guide, Graphite, stopped the vehicle and said there was a leopard under that small acacia bush. This image was taken with a 200mm telephoto lens. How he saw this leopard I will never know. Once you become attuned to the subtleties in the bush. Your senses sharpen to the point where slightly unusual shapes and colours become more evident.  

There is no doubt that you need time in the bush to tune in. We come out of a so-called civilised society where the overloading of our five senses dulls them. A weekend in the bush is always good but to get the full benefit, especially as a wildlife photographer, you need at least five days to tune in enough to start seeing.

” I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my sense put in tune more more.”

~John Burroughs

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Mashatu baboons

It was late on a winter afternoon in August at one of the remaining pools of water in the Majale river in Mashatu Nature Reserve, the sun was low and shining fully onto the section of the river we were overlooking, when a troop of baboons came down to drink.

“Animals should not require our permission to live on earth. Animals were given the right to be here long before we arrived.”

~Anthony Douglas Williams

The boss was the first to arrive, a large dominant male baboon, presumably the troop leader. He walked with confidence and purpose.

Before getting to the pool he stopped sat down and just looked around, probably just assessing the lie of the land to make sure there were no potential threats to his troop.

“Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.
~ Suzy Kassem

This young male stopped in his walk to the pool and just stared at us. His mannerisms were so human-like, I could not help but smile.

The baboons were not the only ones keen to have a drink in the late afternoon. A small herd of impala also came down to sate their thirst. Baboon and impala will often be seen together as they work symbiotically and provide more eyes and ears to watch and listen for danger.

“Symbiosis is a much higher reflection of intelligent life.”
~Frederick Lenz

Three young baboons came down to drink. I am sure the water was did not taste clean and fresh, but there was no alternative. You can see they were looking over the water while drinking, ever alert.

This young male baboon was bathed in the warm afternoon sunlight.

This young lady was preoccupied with a little thigh  grooming.

“Well, best to remain vigilant. It’s when everything is calm that you need to be most alert.”
~ Brandon Sanderson

It was so peaceful and warm in the late afternoon sun that this male started to doze off while watching us. Obviously, the sun made more of an impression than we did, happily.

Mother and baby on the rocks above the pool. The sun has to be reasonably low in the late afternoon to get the baboons eyes fully illuminated because of their substantial forehead and eye brow.

These youngsters hang onto their mother’s hair which I am sure must hurt the mother.

“Don’t be intimidated by other people’s opinions. Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and do what you really want to do.”

~Unknown

This young female baboon was taking in the whole scene with serene acceptance.

I just loved the pose. She could have been on the beach in Saint Tropez with the camera crew all around her.

Unfazed and unperturbed, just soaking up the warm afternoon sun.

One of the youngsters must have done something wrong because it was about to be chastised.

Just like a human youngster, the young baboon screamed and shouted when being chased by a parent or adult.

“Baboons are incredibly social beings, and just like human families, they comfort and support each other, and squabble and fight!”

~Baboon Matters

This youngster was looking for some comfort and protection from the adult. I am not sure if the adult was the youngster’s parent because there was already a baby clinging to the adult’s belly.

The next day we found two families of baboon sitting on the ground warming up in the early winter morning sun. The adults were grooming each other while the youngsters played on the branches around them.

These young baboons are so strong, nimble and flexible. It is great fun to watch their antics.

Baboons provide endless entertainment and photographic opportunities for wildlife photographers when on a game drive. If you are camping they can be very destructive. The big males can be aggressive and should be treated with great respect. The adult male baboons are often twice the size of the female and develop huge canines which they display as a threat when needed.

“A baboon troop is a complex and fascinating hierarchy, where males are dominant but their ranking is tenuous and changes often, while females inherit their social status from their mothers.”

~Baboon Matters

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Lions of Mashatu

Winter is a time when predators prevail in Mashatu. This is a wild place in the south-east of Botswana, where game, notably the elephants and the lions, are free to move back and forth between Botswana and Zimbabwe. During our recent trip to Mashatu in mid-August, we were fortunate enough to see the lion on a number of occasions and the resident male lion in particular.

” The dust, the wafting fragrance of wild sage, the warm winter sun, the tingle of anticipation and that pungent smell of death are intoxicating as you approach the lion kill. The anticipation turns into awe when you finally see the huge black-maned lion at his dinner table.”

~Mike Haworth

This large male lion was lying in a grove of wild sage. It has a unique ‘herb” fragrance and you either like or you don’t. Dereck Joubert said in one of his wildlife films that when he and Beverly were flying high over the Botswana bush in their light aircraft that he could smell the wild sage and he knew he was going home. I feel the same sense of familiarity when I the smell the wild sage.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths?”

~Brian Jackman

This male lion was lying among the wild sage. Presumably the females had killed the eland which had been substantially eaten by the time we arrived. .

 

Despite being full, the male lion lay next to the eland carcass. It was not especially warm so was not too smelly

While lying in the sage bushes he could not see anything but judging from the way he turned his head and refocused he was sensing all the movement around him.

 

This is a big strong dominant male who has ruled this area for the last few years.  He is a lone male, so has no coalition partners to rely on if there was an invasion from a new coalition seeking  new territory.

“Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

~Maya Angelou

You are always told to sit quietly in the vehicle when near a predator and not to stand up or break the outline of the vehicle in any way.  The lion can definitely sense you are in the vehicle but somehow does not associate you as being separate to the vehicle. As a wildlife photographer somehow I am not so sure that the lions do necessarily see you as part of the vehicle. This male lion was directly focused on the “big eye” looking at him. The big eye being my 600mm lens. His small pupils showed that it was bright sunlight.

After watching the “big eye” for a while he lost interest and started to look around again, but every now and then he would stare deeply into my lens. A look that sent chills down my spine.

“We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.”

~Unknown

One of the reasons this male was looking around is that he had heard a family group of elephants approaching through the sage brush. They are not exactly quiet or fast. Interestingly the elephant did not pick up on the lion until they were quite close and then must have smelt them. The elephants did not have any youngsters in the herd so did not take too much notice of the lions.

The male lion decided to move around the other side of his meal to keep an eye on the approaching elephant.

“If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.” 
~ Pema Chödrön,

The two lionesses were out of the line of approach of the elephants so took no heed of them. The outstretched paw said it all.

At one point one of the lionesses looked up but only because we started our vehicle.

“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.”

~Unknown

Later that day, probably half a kilometre to the north of the eland kill, we found the dominant male lion and his lioness down at the water in the Majale river.

He seemed very relaxed just keeping an eye on us. When a large male lion looks at you like this, it does make you wonder what he is thinking.

He seemed to be the watchman while his lioness was having her drink. The pair seemed to be on their own so they could have been a mating couple.

“I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it was unexplored.”

~ David Attenborough

In the last light, I liked the various shades of bond in his mane.

The next day we found four young male lions on their own. I am not sure whether they had already been kicked out of the pride or whether the pride had just splintered for the time being.  Either way they were still in the dominant male’s turf which would be a problem in time. 

When you see a large male lion or large lioness in the wild it puts life into perspective. These are huge and immensely strong predators where a human would not be the slightest match. All of a sudden it dawns on you that you are not top of the food chain.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

~Pico Lyer

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Mashatu grazers and browsers

This is a fourth post from our recent trip to Mashatu Nature Reserve in south-eastern Botswana in mid-August 2017. In winter in Mashatu the grass dries and thins out. This forces grazers to become browsers but nature is bountiful. As one source of food disappears another more localised source appears.

” The earth is large enough for all to share, but mankind’s heart is not large enough to care.”

~Anthony Douglas Williams

An adult Kudu bull with the requisite two and a half twists in his horns. Kudus are browsers so seem to cope quite well in winter when the vegetation thins out.

This was a small group of Kudu bulls, the younger ones were a little more jittery and did not have the confidence of the older bulls. Not surprising as there are many predators in Mashatu.

Down at one of the few remaining pools of water in the Majale river. These pools are a magnet for thirsty animals and birds during winter. In summer there is more available water so the animals and birds spread out. Three young impala boys and two girls.

“What is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pool at night?”

~Chief Seattle

You will not often see an impala jump into the water. They know there are things which lurk below the surface and those things usually want to eat them.

“It is only when you come across animal behaviour that you have never seen or heard before that you realise that you are the one that still has much to learn. Beneath the visual surface lies a much more complex and fascinating web of knowledge which is slowly revealed to us if we take the time to look and think.”

~Mike Haworth

One of the more unusual sightings on this trip was this  young bull giraffe carefully smelling the bones of a fallen giraffe. He was smelling the metacarpal or metatarsal, third phalange and  hoof of one leg. I have seen a herd of elephants show great respect for the bones of one of their own, which makes us sense that elephants as sentient beings.

I have not heard of giraffe displaying the same care and reverence for a fallen comrade.  This giraffe spent some time smelling and even licking the bones. This was something out of the ordinary, as he was clearly assessing what had happened and for the first time I became aware of the sentience of this animal. One more element of the mystery of nature was unveiled and more respect given.

On of the smallest antelope in Mashatu, the Steenbok can usually be found in pairs. This was a male as distinguished by his horns. Those big ears help him to pick up the slightest sound around him, a skill he needs in Mashatu.

The female Steenbok has no horns but is a beautiful, small, dainty antelope which eats grass, berries and browses on the leaves of select bushes.

We found this lone male Klipspringer smelling  what must have been an olfactory signpost. His was making his way along the edge of the dry Majale river bed. There is a family group that lives in this area but I did not see the female or any of the offspring. Not surprising as they are well camouflaged, especially among the rocks and in the shade.

I have been going to Mashatu for the last six years and this was only the second time I have seen a wild pig and the first time out in the open.  It was early in the morning and we had just crossed the Majale river and had driven over to see what all the baboon commotion was about around a large Mashatu tree. The baboons must have slept in the tree the night before. There were a few youngsters being disciplined and making an almighty racket as a consequence. Below all the commotion was this wild pig. It is very unusual to see one out in the open like this in Mashatu.

This wild pig was nibbling at the Mashatu tree berries which the baboons had dislodged and had fallen to the ground. The wild pig was feasting on the berries and ignored us for a few minutes, then in usual form decided to melt away into the background.

“A wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

~Epictetus

There are surprises in the bush like the wild pig sighting and there are times when  a familiar animal in an unusual setting makes wonderful photography. This kudu bull was walking on the sand in a familiar section of the Majale river, which was now dry. We had seen bull elephants swimming in this section a few months before. The backlighting and dust just added that little something extra to the image.

In the low afternoon sun, the Kudu bull’s neck mane was highlighted as were his horns. The contrast of light and dark added a little shine to this image for me.

The Kudu bull then walked up onto the back of the dry river bed and I loved the scene with the bull looking off into the distance with highlighted leaves casting a real bush atmostphere.

” Seeing goes beyond looking, it is recognising the state of another being, grasping a deeper understanding of the context.”

~ Mike Haworth

This eland bull seemed to be very lack lustre and we assumed it was not well. Normally eland will run away, as they are very skittish. This bull ambled away and did not look to be all there.

These are huge antelope. He was on his own and something was not right. We did not see him again in the following days but thankfully did not see his carcass either.

“Life does calm down a little in winter, well just a little. Winter in southern Africa is a riot of browns, yellow, oranges and beiges, and complemented  with polarised blue skies. Stop for a minute and don’t look at things but sense the  colours, shapes and textures. It will bring a smile to your face!”

~Mike Haworth

Winter is a time of browns, oranges and beiges in Mashatu. Every now and then you might see black and white stripes or is that white and black stripes.

There are many small family groups of  Zebra in Mashatu so do not expect to see the big herds you will see in the Zebra migration in northern Botswana.

As photographers we wait for zebras bolting in the dust. Ideally not away away from us.

We are quick to seek the predators in our wildlife mix. You will be surprised to see great diversity, surprising adaption, strength, speed and beauty in the grazers and browsers in Africa.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. there is no end to the adventures we can have if we only seek them with our eyes open.”

~Jawaharial Nehru

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at is inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

Mashatu winter avian gallery

This is the third post from our recent trip to Mashatu in mid-August. It was winter, but surprisingly the weather was mild. We were expecting warm mid-days and cold evenings, not so, even the evenings were relatively warm.

“You can’t get mad at weather because weather’s not about you. Apply that lesson to most other aspects of life.”
~ Doug Coupland

Winter is a time when all the migrants fly north for warmer climes with the promise of more food, especially insect life. Despite the winter exodus, we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful variety of resident feathers.

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
~Emily Dickinson

In front of our camp was a small waterhole which proved to be an ideal winter watering spot for our avian friends. It was in shade for most of the day but between 13h30 and 15h00 the angle of the sun’s rays was just right to light up the pond. The images in this post are a selection of birds which we saw at the small waterhole and on our game drives. It is easy to see which were which.

Male Golden Breasted Bunting.

The adult male has a striking head pattern with a white crown, black lateral crown stripes, white supercilium and black-bordered white ear coverts. The supercilium is a plumage feature,  a stripe which runs from the base of the bird’s beak above its eye, finishing towards the rear of the bird’s head – like an eyebrow.

“Let me be as a feather. Strong with purpose.

Yet light at heart, able to bend.

And tho I might become frayed,

Able to pull myself together again.”

~Anita Sams

A male Namaqua Sandgrouse. The male has an orangish buff head, throat and chest delineated by a conspicuous narrow band of white and dark brown. The male and female  carry water  back to their chicks in their breast feathers .

A female Namaqua Sandgrouse is more cryptically coloured than the male. These sandgrouse live in dry sandy environments and are known to travel great distances for water.

Adult Red-billed Oxpecker waiting for a host. It seemed to have abandoned the impala for a drink but by the time it had finished the impala had moved off.

“May your spirit soar through the vast cathedral of your being,

May your mind whirl youthful cartwheels of creativity,

May your heart sing sweet lullabies of timelessness.”

~Jonathan Lockwood Huie

A  Tawny Eagle soaring between thermals.

Tawny Eagle in flight. Tawnys, Martial Eagles and African Hawk Eagles are residents in Mashatu. I have never seen a Bateleur Eagle soaring over Mashatu.

Black Stork maneuvering to avoid the Hammerkop stealing its catch. Nature always surprises. There was a small pool of water remaining in the Matabole river close to the weir. Remarkably, this Black stork caught about seven decent size fish in this pool. This stork did not try to kill the fish but just maneuvered them so they could be swallowed head first.

This Black Stork was not going to allow anyone to steal its catch.

The Black Stork was considerably more successful as a fisherman than the pair of Hammerkops. Its fishing technique was very much like a Yellow-billed Stork, swishing its beak back and forth as it walked and snapping shut as it felt its prey touch its beak. 

“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.”
~Rachel Carson

A young male Natal Spurfowl is similarly coloured to the female. 

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The male spurfowl has much bigger spurs on the back of its legs. You can tell how old the male is by the degree to which his spurs have been worn down through fighting.

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A male Natal Spurfowl has exquisite patterning on its breast and belly feathers.

A Burchell’s Coucal skulking in between thickets trying to keep up with the foraging elephants. This Coucal was feeding on the insects disturbed by the browsing elephants.

A Blue Waxbill.

Waxbills are an exceptionally colourful family of seed-eaters. These Blue Waxbills were no exception with their powder blue coloured breast and belly feathers.

A Southern Grey-headed Sparrow with its characteristic grey head and white bar on its shoulder

The sexes of the Grey-headed Sparrow are alike. The horn coloured beak is the non-breeding colour.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
~Rachel Carson

A adult male Green Winged Pytillia.

The Green winged Pytillia was previously called a Melba Finch of obvious reasons.

A female Green-winged Pytillia without the red forehead and throat and yellow breast of the male.

An adult Arrow-marked Babbler.

One of a small flock of adult Arrow-marked Babblers which noisily visited the small waterhole in front of the camp.

A male Red-headed Weaver taking on his breeding colours.

A female Red-headed Weaver with her reddish beak.

A silhouette of guineafowl walking down the river bank to the remaining pools of water.

Crimson-breasted Shrike.

This stunning coloured shrike is usually found in the acacia thorn veld.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
~Rachel Carson

Black-headed Oriole being buzzed by bees.

You will usually hear this bird before you see it.

Once in the sunlight, the vibrant yellow of the Black headed Oriole becomes a focal point.

A male Red-crested Korhaan judging from the white patch on the side of the breast.

The red crest is only displayed in courting.

A male Cinnamon -breasted Bunting

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A female Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. The male and female look similar but the female has the thinner and less defined black facial stripes. 

A male Cinnamon-breasted Bunting fluffed up in the wind. This was a male, identified by his thick black facial stripes.

A Go-away Bird or Grey Lourie

A Grey Lourie is not called a Turaco because its feet cannot reach its mouth, like a Turaco.

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry,
and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry
are equal in value no matter what their colour.
~Maya Angelou

A lone Southern Black Tit having a quiet drink.

A male Greater Honeyguide.

This bird is brood parasite laying its eggs in a the nest of woodpeckers, barbets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, woodhoopoes and starlings.

Part of a flock of six White Helmeted Shrikes.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
~Rachel Carson

White-fronted Bee-eaters starting to nest.

Colony living – not always easy to get along with your neighbours!.

A pied Babbler in the early morning light.

A Black Stork in the sunlight.

The Black Stork is a migrant but a few members of the flock obviously never got the departure call but seemed to be doing just fine.

“Today is your day to dance lightly with life,

sing wild songs of adventure,

soar your spirit,

unfurl your joy.”

~Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike