I have to admit that it was nice to get into a proper bed…not only was out like a light but I slept till almost 5.30!!..I had woken at 4 as usual but just turned over and enjoyed the luxury. A slow coffee as ever then out by 6.15 I aimlessly went east down the tar road without any real plan…I think I was probably still half asleep for a while to be honest.
By the time I reached the Malelane road I had decided against doing much mileage and headed north towards traders post, still not absolutely sure of my route. I was tempted to spend the day up on the biyamati, maybe park up near the weir somewhere, maybe pull into traders for some breakfast…it all seemed far though and requiring lots of effort…and I was the weekend after all.
By the time I reached the top of the hill at the foot of Tilhalabye I had made my mind up and planned to just take the dirt track west that runs along the northern side of the Matjulu which I total gave me a travel loop of just 25 klicks and kept me close to camp at all times, it was time to chill a bit.
As I approached the top of the hill I could see a whole bunch of cars and game viewers…maybe 7 or 8 vehicles in total parked all over the place…it had to be something and I pulled in to ask.
Leopard stalking impala…fantastic. I just had to block out the fact that I was one of many as best I could because this was something really worth watching and enjoyed the scene for the next couple of hours, managing to get a few ok pictures of the leopard stalking through the grass just 10 metres or so away from where I was sat. I did not have the best position, one of the game viewers did so once I got my pics I pulled out of the melee a bit and backed up a few metres to a break in the bushes to my left where the cat was…hoping that he may come that way….highly likely in my opinion based on the wind, but obviously dependant on the impala and what they did. They had obviously got an idea the cat was nearby as there had been a few warning snorts at the back of some dense bush between us throughout my time spent there. I could tell where the cat was because of the cameras in front of me and occasional glimpses of the impala through the bushes to my left. The cat had clearly lain up for a while.
Maybe an hour later the cat did move again and sure enough he came my way and I suddenly found myself in pole position as far as viewing vehicles were concerned….amazing how used to vehicles these cats have become…I got a good view of the leopards face as he crept through the bush…totally focused on the bushes to the rear. I reversed slowly for a short way as the cat moved and saw him settle again the thicket below a dead wood tree where he disappeared from sight altogether.
The cars all stared to disappear too and within 10 minutes or so I was alone at the scene. That obviously suited me fine and even though I could not see the cat I knew its position and I could see the herd, I just sat for another hour or so…seeing nothing but thoroughly enjoying the surroundings and sounds of the bush.
It started getting hot soon after 9am and I moved off well pleased with the sighting with no effort required whatsoever. Turning left and west onto the dirt track I cruised slowly along, not really worried about seeing any animals but just enjoying the scenery, the granite koppies, the ups and downs, the foliage, the birds and occasional kudu, zebra and buck along the way…a small tortoise hobbling along the track towards me. At the end of the track I headed north for a kilometre where I parked up by the Matjulu waterhole for a while.
I was going to spend some time there writing but the breeze was blowing the dust up into the cab a bit and I decided I would rather do that in the comfort of my chalet later.
There was quite a bit going on there in fact to keep me occupied. Two rhinos were slumped up on the edge of the water hole, mother and daughter…half in and half out of the water. After a while the young daughter started moving around talking to mum…it was quite clear that she was bored and wanted to move on or do something!!…mum was having none of it, and the squeaking calls of the youngster became funnier and funnier. After a while she tried to play with a marabou stork that was resident for the morning but the stork was not too interested…however a bit of bill clapping and it was the rhino that went running off back to mum!!hilarious.
The bird had a particularly bright red ‘sac’ on the back of its neck…I am not sure but I think it is something to do with mating time…I must try to check somewhere…my books don’t mention it.
A small group of about 7/8 male impalas were hovering around nearby and I was wondering why they seemed so nervy but eventually decided it was just the main ram asserting himself within the group. A couple of warthogs came down for a quick drink and all the while a snake eagle sat above in a dead wood tree surveying everything intently looking for breakfast.
I left just after 11 am and crawled slowly along the 4 klicks of track back to camp. A little bit over a kilometre from camp I came across a hare along the side of the track who had found some greenery where he was having a good nibble. Amazingly he did not seem too fazed by me at all and I was able to park up virtually next to him where I sat for 15 minutes or so with him getting some lovely pics. I could not help wondering what he was doing out at this time of day and why he seemed so relaxed. Is that what I could see?…then as I watched him I started wondering it was something completely different…maybe he had lost his mate earlier to some predator and was in some kind of shock.. I moved off saying to him out loud that he really should be finding some cover for the day. This absolutely the truth.
Less than fifty metres further on as the track was about to take a sharp bend I looked in my wing mirror …just in time to see a dark shape come swooping down from the sky and smash the poor hare into the ground…I could hardly believe my eyes. I was only going at 10kph so it was easy to stop…quickly doing a three point turn and heading back to the spot. About twenty metres away I pilled up and was able to get a couple of great shots of what I think is a Wahlbergs Eagle pinning the hare into the ground with its talons firmly dug into the side of the little I had just moments before been watching and photographing from a few feet away.
Silly me…after taking a few shots I put the camera down and crept a bit closer…too close and the bird gripped the hare in its claws and took off, unfortunately for the bird the hare was either too heavy or it had not gripped it so well and six inches off the ground the hare fell back to ground…the eagle obviously panicked a little and perched in a short bush tree just a couple of metres away where I got some stunning pictures of it.
I felt bad though about disturbing him like one of the idiots I get so upset with sometimes!!…I reversed up for about twenty metres and sat for an hour, then another ten metres for another hour.
The bird had moved around a little bit from tree to tree all about fifty metres or more away. On a couple of occasions two other smaller buzzards of some sort came flying by and the eagle immediately took off from wherever he was perched and chased them off with lots of dive bombing from the smaller birds and lots of angry shouts and yelps from the eagle…wonderful stuff to watch as they all soared above in a breathtakingly blue sky.
At times the eagle soared off further seemingly covering a distance of at least a kilometre in a few seconds. It was testimony to his eyesight as I always felt that he had a sharp eye on the hare and a sharper eye on me!
By 2pm I realised that he was not going to come back while I was still around and I decided to leave him to it. I pulled up at the now stiff hare and flicked him with my cane into some longer grass just off the track and under a sparse bush that was just there.
Back to camp for a couple of hours with all god intentions of fixing myself a nice salad….suddenly the cafeteria seemed sooo convenient though!! (besides that, it must be said that the Berg n Dal Cafeteria is by far the best in the south of the park, and together with Punda, the best)
So, I pigged out and sat writing for a while in comfort before heading out again for my last evening drive. I took exactly the same route as I had in the morning which was nice, sitting at the ‘leopard’ spot for a while with a cold beer…where I found other like minded people arriving with the same idea!!
I stopped at the spot where the eagle had taken the hare and was surprised to find that the bird (I assume) had eaten it there as opposed to carrying it off. It was clearly eaten by the bird, I could tell by the way the fur had been pulled out and indeed by how much was left, then when I looked up the eagle was wheeling around above me. Had he recognised me and the landy returning I wondered. I bid my farewells and left him in peace to finish his meal.
Returning to camp on the stroke of 6.30, I sat blogging for a while before crashing soon after 9pm.
My last morning I also woke up late, close to 6am and thoroughly enjoyed my last coffee there sitting under the Natal Mahogany trees that were shading my chalet, happily listening to the bush and indeed some lions talking to each other not too far away.
I was out by 7 and on my way. I did not expect to see much and had no intention of hanging around for any period of time, it was home time and rather than try to delay the moment I wanted to get on the road while all was quiet and rather have a few quality hours upon arrival.
So just a few klicks before I hit the Malelane road I was absolutely delighted to see a bull ellie at a marula tree. As I approached he went up close to the tree, raised his trunk pressing high up the tree trunk before giving the tree a good shake!….such incredible power, mesmerising every time I see it!!
The marulas rained down around him and I was sorry I had not reached for my cam corder especially, not even my camera. I stopped to watch him but he did not like it and turned towards me with a shake of his head…”Go Home” he said, flapping his ears in front of me. I thought back to the poor Elephant that had been shot at Lower Sabie and felt sad. Heeding his message I moved off saying “ciao ciao…next time old buddy”
Then, and most visitors to the park will not believe this, but I do have the pictures to prove it, I go another couple of klicks down the road and see a couple of cars parked up..what do I find?…another leopard!!…fast asleep in the lower boughs of a tree, legs either side with the tail hooked over another branch. A fantastic leopard picture, just as many people picture them and dream about seeing them. I could see the sugar cane fields in the far background and was just so chuffed to get such a great farewell sighting for the trip.
It was done, I did not even stop on the bridge over the Croc river as usual, my boots were full and I was leaving a very happy trekker.
It is going to take a week or two to go through and edit all my photos but rest assured they will be on here very soon and I shall send out the usual mail when done.