I have been having such an excellent time down here at Lower Sabie and from a game viewing perspective it is proving to be the most successful quarter of the trip.
Lots of lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant, giraffe and buck. Hogs, Civet, porcupine, African hawks, tawny eagles, snake eagles, falcons, kites, 9 hippo together grazing out of the water, hyaenas…and so much more.
The weather has been perfect, although there have been blue skies and it has been hot and a bit humid there has mostly been cloud cover which makes the heat much easier to handle and tends to keep the animals up and about more as well.
As usual with me, as I start to get to the last part of my trip I spend more and more of each day out there, especially when it is a weekend as the weekenders pull in, and lower Sabie is probably the favourite camp overall for the short trips from Joburg, Pretoria, Mozambique visitors and many others. Even from Natal where they can drive straight up through Swaziland.
There have been a few little people but in all fairness I have to say that they have been ok. Lower Sabie is a much more compact campsite than many, and although most of the sites are very private…mine in particular being shielded by well established growth, it is fairly intimate in the sense that you can easily hear a lot of what is going on around you and I have been enjoying a couple of glasses of wine after my supper just enjoying the full moon and listening to people. Even some of the kids have been amusing. How different we all are though!! Quite incredible how diverse people are in their ways. I noticed one couple camped close to the ablution block, and on a few occasions all I have seen them do in the evenings is read the bible to each other…I am not knocking it, not at all, I just find it interesting to discover how people pass their time.
I have been doing a fair bit of travelling again, there are so many ‘nooks and crannies’ down here, although for these last two days I have been drawn to the savannah lands to north east of sabie along the lebombo mountains and Mlondozi river areas. Today, after a drive around this morning, I have spent the whole day parked up by the water…..but that is also because lions are here waiting in ambush!
After driving around the Muntshe hill this morning where I saw a porcupine, civet and hyaena amongst other things I parked up at a river crossing over the mlondozi for an early breakfast.
I did not see much whilst there but it is such a lovely spot. Open lands with a few bush willow trees and others dotted around, trickling water from pool to pool, flat bedrocks along the way, it is like something out of a fairy tale book.
From there I carried on north continuing through the savannah, passing by a big herd of buffalo, more rhino and several kudu before I turned onto a dirt road heading west to this waterhole where I have been sitting all day.
I have sat here many times before and seen many things from game to predators, a lion kill once, many birds, reptiles and insects, but most importantly this place gets very few cars passing by which I like. Not that I am some sort of weirdo who wants to be alone all the time, but here in the bush it is about me and the surroundings. I hate hearing the noise of other engines, and that is even worse when you are actually seeing something happening. Sometimes on the busier roads, if something really exciting is going on it can get to be like Piccadilly Circus which is dreadful. It can also be very irritating at times when one parks up somewhere and anyone passing by pulls up to see what you are doing or looking at. It is inevitable of course, and I would be a liar if I said I have never done it…I still do sometimes. However, it is lovely to get away from all that and just find a spot off the road less travelled where you can sit, watch, hear and smell everything going on around you in total peace.
This place is perfect, it is well off the beaten track and does not show on any maps….not the ones I have anyway.
It is a fairly large natural water hole, probably about the size of a large public swimming pool that appears to be ‘fed’ by an offshoot of the Mlondozi River. With very little vegetation around it is very easy to park up and see the water’s edge all around as well as anything approaching from every direction. Currently the long grass prevents that to a large extent but it is certainly possible to see elephants from 500metres in most directions, and to the south, east and west of me I can see the horizon which between 2 to 5 kilometres away.
As I approached the water hole this morning at around 8am on what is little more than a farm track, way off the popular routes and very rarely used by most visitors I spotted a young male lion at the edge of the grass to my right, it was a good ‘spot’ as he only had his front paws stretched out in front of him that were clearly visible outside the edge of the long grass, I could very easily have missed him. He was very light in colour with a fairly sparse but full mane. I rolled up to within a couple of metres from him very slowly and was well pleased to see him settle after I switched the engine off.
Within a few minutes I saw a young female to my left…just 4 or 5 metres from me, but virtually impossible to see. Her colour was also very light and I wondered if they were a mating couple or were related.
I got some nice pics for about 30 minutes before I realised that were another two to my right, no more than 4 metres from where I was sat, I only saw them because I heard them move. One leap from me and I had not seen a thing!!
These two eventually got up and stretched themselves and I saw that they were bigger and older than the first two, one a big male with a kind of a Mohican mane, maybe 6 years old and her about 4 or 5 years old. I got to thinking that the first two were siblings although not from the same litter.
At one point the bigger female came behind me for a while and was calling softly and I heard a reply from somewhere deeper into the long grass. It was not the reply of small cubs but other adults.
It is such a privilege to see and hear such things!!
A large breeding herd of about 70 elephants came down through the grass from the north east and crossed the track about 75 metres ahead. There were many young ones and they certainly had the attention of the lions. I think I have got some nice shots of the lions in the foreground checking out the elephants in the back ground intently!!.
I realised that they were looking out for prey and moved the 50 metres or so down to water hole which was upwind from the lions.
As I rolled up next to the water I was chased off by the last of the elephants that was just finishing off his drink. I got too close and he swung his head at me with a flap of the ears, raised his trunk spilling water all over the place and gave me little ‘piss off’ trumpet!! I backed off and after a few minutes he was on his way, I guess he was the back marker for the breeding herd that had just passed through.
I settled down, poured some coffee and decided to spend the day.
I was busy writing when about 2 hours later they moved down to the water, I was able to get some lovely shots of them at the water’s edge. The one male who I had seen first sat for a long time at the very edge of the water. There was a piece of a branch protruding slightly above the surface a couple of metres from the edge and I am convinced he thought, and indeed was hoping it was a small croc that would go for him so he could take it and provide everyone with a snack for breakfast!!
After about 30 minutes or so they made their way, one by one, to the deeper cover of a small group of bushes about 20 metres up the slope and away from the water.
They were ideally placed to see, and go for anything that might come down for a drink. The decision for me to stay for the day was finalised.
It was 11.30 by now so I decided to go on to Tshokwane for some pap and wors, thinking that if anything was going to happen it would probably be later in the day. I did exactly that, had a bit of a freshen up at the same time and was back just after 1pm
Just after 2pm two more young males showed up, very young, probably less than 3 years old, I figured they were who the lioness had been talking to earlier that morning. They must surely of been, they took a drink no more than thirty metres away from where the others were plotted up but there was no reaction whatsoever from any of them.
I must admit I had been typing so I did not actually see them arrive, they may have greeted the others first but I suspect not. After drinking they moved off to the other side of the water from the first lot and I lost them as they disappeared into the long grass. They appeared to be heading to another small clump of bushes about 100 metres away and I was quite sure it was all part of an arranged ambush.
I have seen it before on numerous occasions, every time I do it strengthens my believe that although they do talk to each other, and although their instincts, habits and training kicks in I am sure that they can communicate through some sort of telepathy as well. Admittedly, this time I was not totally concentrating on them, but I am quite sure of it within myself.
Nothing came through though.
I sat until after 5pm but apart from a bull tusker who came down and had a very ‘nervous’ drink there was no other game at all. I could not even see anything when I scanned the plains with my binoculars.
It is still exciting to see it taking shape all the same, knowing that if anything does happen you have a front seat so to speak, and I thoroughly enjoyed the day, seeing the lions in the first place, watching some falcons and kites hunting, and the solitude. I saw only two other cars passing by in all of the 8 hours or so that I spent here.
I had a lovely cruise back to camp too. Spending a bit of time getting some more nice shots of an African hawk eagle, dealing with a big bull ellie that was walking down the road directly towards me and showing no sign of budging, a large herd of buffalo and a nice heavy shower that lasted for just five minutes before scudding away to the north.
The evening was very nice too, the camp had half emptied out and it was perfectly calm and still as I knocked up a small salad for supper whilst I planned to return here first thing this morning to see if I could see any action, who knows, maybe even find the pride on a buffalo kill or something.
I was up early and really enjoyed the light of the full moon as I prepared my coffee and self for the quick drive here.
I was out at 5.25 and zoomed along at 50kph (the speed limit on the tar roads). Elephants, jackals, hyaenas. The morning was stunning, as the sun came up (behind a low bank of cloud unfortunately) the mist from the shower late yesterday rose from the ground giving everything that wonderful ethereal effect. I stopped and took a couple of shots but I don’t have the right lens to capture that particular type of beauty unfortunately.
Soon after stopping to take those shots I was lucky enough to see a leopard by the side of the road ahead of me. She was a beauty (most of them are) vey dark in colour and not so old either by the look of her. It was not a photo opportunity sadly, I should of stopped immediately and viewed her properly through the binocs, but I pushed it a little too far and she disappeared into the grass and bushes as I approached about twenty metres or so away. Fool!! It is exciting to see them though, and much easier said than done to just stop there and then and not try and get closer.
I hung around for a couple of hours this morning but not much action and no sign of the lions or of them having had any luck during the night. The only spoor I could see that was fresh was those of some big tuskers and as much as I am sure the lions would of liked to tuck into them I don’t think that just four have much chance at all, even if two or four of them are males!
So at about 9am I decided to head slowly back to camp along the dirt tracks and have a good shower, change my clothes and eat some lunch which I did…as well as grab 45 minutes napping.
Actually the highlight of the morning happened on the way back although I did not realise it at the time. As I was driving along I saw a tiny little bird that seemed to be caught on something at the edge of the grass line bordering the track…I almost ran over it in fact. I stopped and reversed thinking it might be some kind of spider’s web or indeed a spider itself.
I leant out and took a couple of shots of the poor little thing, the terror in its eyes was very clear and I am sure that will show in my shots.
Anyway, when I got out to investigate I found that somehow it had got caught up in some tangle weed and I guess that with it panicking it had become completely tangled. I gently snapped the main bit of weed holding it and lifted it up into the air at which point she seemed to free her feet and flew off at speed twittering away like nobody’s business!….not even a thank you….lol
After a couple of hours chilling out in camp, watching the birds around the thicket I am camped in and a lizard that come dashing out of the undergrowth to snatch a beetle that came tootling by. Amazing to watch, and then it almost seemed as if the lizard was showing me his catch proudly before standing up on his front legs eating the thing right in front of me. I headed north again, I felt the lions had moved on but I wanted to be doubly sure. So here I sit again after another very pleasant and busy drive back. It is 3.30pm now and I am going to finish up here and cruise very slowly back in the direction of Sabie.
Another wonderful afternoon drive. I did some filming on the way back of the scenery with elephants in the foreground, I think that this area is possibly one of the nicest in the park.
Amazingly I saw three snakes on the way back, a green mamba, a black mamba and what I think was a Mozambique spitting cobra, all within a couple of klicks of each other as they crossed the road in front of me. I have seen several on this trip as is normal but I cannot remember seeing so many in virtually one go!
The sunset was superb, I parked up on the bridge over the Sabie River for much of it before heading slowly into camp for the last 5 minutes and stopping every couple of hundred metres for a different angled shot. I found a perfect spot where I shall be sitting for my last remaining 3 nights here at Sabie in the hope that I can get the sunset shot with a nice elephant or giraffe silhouette…a shot I have for looking for many years. I have had a little success but not that perfect one I want.
There is always something to strive for here in the bush.