White-Throated Swallow

This little fellow, I think, has the confidence to speak for himself.

Photographed from a hide at Marievale, with the Nikon D500 and Nikon 200 – 500 mm lens. The more I shoot with it, the more I love this combo!

White-throated swallow # 2

Life goes on, and then it gets better

It has been a busy week. Last weekend we were in Cape Town, Rob and I, staying in Constantia with my mom: high tea at the Cape Grace Hotel, on a perfect afternoon at the V&A Waterfront, was a treat for us all. Sunday it was brunch with old friends Ian and Pam at the Gardener’s Cottage in Newlands – golden sunlight streaming through oaks, the blue outline of Devils Peak giving way to the bluer sky beyond.

Monday was business: meetings with colleagues from UCT and the Harvard Kennedy School, decisions to be made with a provincial government department. Then a flight back to Johannesburg, on Tuesday night, to finish writing up a six-monthly report on our programme for a steering committee meeting next week.

And then, late this morning, after I had sent off the agenda and report and various other docs came a message on WhatsApp: the Madikwe gang has secured a booking for our next safari (as our overseas friends and family like to call it) for next year, for four days in October.

I didn’t consult with Rob – I simply replied ‘we’re in.’ And here are some photos from this year’s visit to Madikwe to celebrate.

Life goes on, and then it gets better.

Spotted Eagle Owl

We were returning from the far side of the Madikwe Game Reserve, after dark, after a long drive to see the wild dogs. As we neared our lodge the ranger shone his light on this owl – a Great Eagle Owl, he said.

I checked the SASOL Birds of South Africa yesterday, after processing this photo, and (bird expert that I am not) thought it was a Spotted Eagle Owl, not a Great – though still great to observe, in the darkness, staring down at us with those huge yellow eyes.

So I posted the image on the BirdLife South Africa FaceBook page, with a request for help with identification.

‘Definitely a Spotty,’ was the birding consensus.

‘A blinded owl,’ said some wag.

Point taken.

Eagle Owl

Rhino Scatalogical

From the sublime (black-shouldered kite stooping, early morning, sunlit) to the frankly scatalogical: rhino pooping.

Like many of us, I have seen more rhino poop on my many game drives over the years than you can shake a stick at, as the saying goes – but I have never actually caught one of these beasts in flagrante. Madikwe, of course, with its many treats and surprises, would be the place to do so – and indeed, we came upon this leviathan on the job, one sunny afternoon, and I simply had to take photos.

Kite Stooping

We were out early one morning, in the open Landcruiser, on a game drive in Madikwe, when suddenly I saw this black-shouldered kite stooping, hovering over one spot, then moving away a bit and stopping once more to hover, the rising sun under its wings – a moment of real beauty, edged with menace.

I grabbed the Nikon, with the still somewhat unfamiliar 200-500mm lens, and fired off a series of shots – handheld, from the back of the safari vehicle.

Would like to do better, but ok I hope for a first effort.

Cheetah hunting – twenty one images

We spent about two hours, I guess, that bright winter morning in Madikwe, waiting our turn to see the two cheetahs, and then moving with them, in careful stages, as they worked their way through the tall grass in an easterly arc around the flank of an approaching herd of grazing zebra.

It seemed at one point (I think I have said this before, in a previous blog) that they would make a run at a young one, but they gave it a pass. And then, finally, they saw what they wanted – a young zebra foal with its mother. We watched, as the cheetahs watched, the foal feeding from its mother, and then trotting after – and suddenly the cheetahs were off, and we were off too, crashing through the grass and thorn trees in a wild, careening blur of sky and foliage.

By the time we came across the pair of hunters the foal was already dead, the cheetahs at its throat, making sure of it. It was all very intense, both the still waiting, and the mad chase, and then the kill and the aftermath. These twenty one images – both individually and in their cumulative effect, I hope give you some sense of it.

Madikwe Elephants – Seven Images

Towards the end of our game drive, one evening at Madikwe, we pulled up on the opposite side of a large waterhole, across the water, and watched as a herd of elephants with their babies trooped in, and frolicked and drank, and then, on some invisible signal, turned and filed off again, as the sky turned from pink to purple and the shadows deepened.

Madikwe Magic

It is hard to describe our experience at the Madikwe Game Reserve up near Botswana – Rob and I have been on many other game-viewing trips, in the Kruger Park, the Pilanesberg, Marakele, the St Lucia Wetlands and more, but never anything like this.

Two examples will suffice, at least for now. On one of the afternoons when we did not go on a game drive, we were entertained for hours at the waterhole right in front of our (unfenced) lodge at Mooifontein, by buffalo, giraffe, impala, kudu and – most thrilling of all – a standoff between a rhino and a herd of elephants. The elephants were at the waterhole, drinking, when the rhino emerged from the tree-line, stage right, and headed in their direction. As he saw, or smelled, the elephants, he hesitated, and in a moment the herd took off in a cloud of dust, almost like a flock of birds, if you can imagine elephants as birds, while the largest of the elephants turned to face the rhino, and charged him down. The rhino backed away, and backed, and backed, until finally it turned tail and ran. It was hours before it returned to the waterhole, and then only with extreme caution.

On the last of our morning game drives – this is the second story – we spent maybe two hours waiting and watching as a pair of male cheetahs carefully worked their way around a zebra herd, approaching through the long grass, pausing and moving on, as the herd drew closer and closer. At one point two healthy-looking young zebra came into range and we were sure the cheetahs would make a run at them, but they didn’t, and we feared they had given up. And then, from the left, came a female zebra with a foal – exactly what the cheetahs were waiting for. You could see the sudden stiffening and attention, the sense of sinews coiling, as they watched – as we watched with them – the foal suckling. And you knew, as you watched, that the foal had only minutes to live – and then the mother trotted on, and the foal trotted behind it – and the two cheetahs took off.

Our game ranger, Lucas, yelled at me to sit, and threw the LandCruiser into gear, flinging it at a mad, careening, crashing pace in an arc through the bushes – over thorn trees and logs, bouncing and lurching, until we came, within a matter of minutes, upon the cheetahs with their prey – jaws clamped upon the zebra foal’s throat, paws draped almost lovingly across its neck, pinning it down, holding it fast. It was already dead, but they were taking no chances.

That’s enough, perhaps, at least for now, to give you a sense of Madikwe magic. Except of course for the photos.

There will be more of those, photos I mean, a series of series – an elephant series, a lion series, a cheetah series, a rhino series, a series of images of a black-shouldered kite hovering, poised in the air, over the next weeks, and possibly months, as I find time to work on them. And some text too, perhaps.