Guests were treated to some fabulous sights today, they really were!
Fans of the big cats saw both cheetahs and lions feasting on a baby wildebeest. That's rare and incredible.
White rhinos were grazing and sitting in the warm sun, a young giraffe was using a bush to scratch an itch on its rump whilst another was sitting quietly with a red billed ox-pecker perched on its back. Beautiful, that's African nature at its most stunning.
Other birds sighted were a cape gloss starling, a stepped eagle, a white backed vulture and a three banded plover, all posing nicely for the camera.
Other sightings included male kudu with their spectacular corks-screw horns, baboons drinking from water puddles in the river bed, black backed jackals, zebra, warthog and two shy waterbuck hiding in the bush.
I am posting the best shots of the many that were taken today, but I would saw a good dozen truly amazing sightings happened today, which is incredible. Our guests were treated to many of Africa's rarest or most iconic animals, in one single day. The Vuyani Safari Lodge at its very best, I'd say. Well done to Themba and Uyai for their excellent work, today was spectacular.
It's a difficult one ... but I would say it is Togara and his guests that are photobombing here. The cheetahs didn't eke their way into the photo by surprise. I think this photo illustrates exactly what I mean by "as close-up as a safari gets". This is nature as palpable as one could possibly imagine it, I think.
A great experience for our guests, and something so unique that it is breathtaking. Only 300 cheetahs are left in the wild in South Africa, so to get this close to two of them (in a country twice the size of France!), that's quite something.
As we say in South Africa: you must enjoy!
Just as I thought it couldn't get any better, it did ... I am amazed about the quality and variety of close-up sightings we have had the last 2 days on our reserve while out on safari with our guests. They are seeing some of the best one can see in Africa, they really do.
Our days started out with the "usual" – wildebeest, Giraffe, a Goshawk, then we spotted a Chameleon crossing the road. We sat with him for quite some time watching him inch his way to the other side. He was blending in very well with his surroundings.Very cool.
We picked up the tracks of the Cheetah and it led us right to the cutline at Khaya Ndlovu – the riverbed where we managed to spot them is called Martin’s Drift. They were taking a nap as per usual and we stayed with them for a good 30 – 40 minutes. They looked up at us a couple of times for some photos but didn’t move much. That's pretty much the closest you can get to cheetahs in the wild. This is one of those super exciting sightings, much rarer than most other sightings, and that includes the Big 5.
The next day Uyai was back in the tracker seat and the guests were very keen to see Elephants. Uyai is not the type of guy who likes to disappoint that is for sure! We tracked the Ellies from Muruti where MRL reported the last activity. It took us a considerable time but Uyai found them! The Matriarch was in the clearing with the rest of the herd in some VERY thick bushes. She hung around for a while posing very beautifully for photos. We waited around 45 minutes to see if the herd would move into the clearing but unfortunately this didn’t happen. Togara and Uyai both decided that with the temper of the Bull it was not safe to move into a more dense area. We watched the Elephant Cow for a while longer and then moved on.
We also sat watching a masked weaver (Female) inspecting a nest built by the male.
If she doesn’t like the look of the nest she will move on to another male. Tough life for the Male weaver. next time!
The males have a very bright yellow and black face, where the females are more of dull brown/grey and yellow colour.
I often get a very poignant question: "What can I expect to see? What does one see on your safaris?"
We live in a world that is shaped according to our human needs, and one of those is predictability. It is something that we hold onto, that is dear to us, in a world that seems (it just seems that way, because it has always been like that) more chaotic.
The thing is, nature is totally chaotic. It has its rhythm, yes, but it is rather unpredictable. You cannot time things at all with nature, and one most certainly cannot "guarantee" anything. While I always say that, it is hard for urban humans to fully grasp the concept of "anything can happen". It is true, sometimes (this is VERY rare!) guests arrive, and on their first safari they see a lion kill. Well, I have never seen one. But many seem to think that this is "normal", only to find out that the next day they see mainly plain game. That's nature, and it is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you are going to get.
What I can promise our guests though is that they will see a LOT if they stay 5-7 nights. A heck of a lot actually, and no safari will ever be boring. It is the unexpected that is the thrill of it all! That's the adventure. Every day is totally different.
To give our prospective guests an idea of what one can see, I am posting here some photos of what we have seen over the last 2 days, which is quite typical in terms of spectrum of wildlife and also proximity to animals. I could look at some of these photos for hours, one is more stunning that the other.
Well, here the are. Enjoy! And welcome to South Africa if you are visiting us this year! We are looking forward to hosting you here for a safari adventure that you will talk about to your grand-children.
After tracking down the Lions for the past two days Themba and Uyai found them. They were taking a nice little nap on Impala "Road" (it's more of a dirt road of course) in an area we call "Leopards Bend". We spent quite some time with them as this was the first time the current guests staying with us got up close and personal. The one Lioness gave us a bit of a yoga stretch and Themba snapped the photo at just the right moment. Awesome!
That's all I could think when I saw today's safari photos.
Our guests had a truly wonderful day today, with many amazing sightings. I don't even mention the plains game, or the odd jackal resting on the dirt road, or the many antelopes all over ...
Our guests took some amazing shots of the lion pride, which was resting in an open area ... getting ready for yet another nightly hunt. The photos show how freshly green nature now has become after the strong rains we had about 10 days ago. The rains were so unusually strong that all perennial rivers started flowing, and I am sure they will flow every time it rains a bit for the rest of the season. As soon as the water table reaches a certain level, these rivers start flowing every time it rains, even if it is just for a few hours at night. That said, rain at this time of year is usually short, but strong.
Anyhow, we also found this rather gory giraffe carcass ... we are not sure if it had died of natural causes, or because it was killed. Not that the vultures cared much ... a meal's a meal right? One can't be picky.
We then also had a flat tyre on the way back, and quickly it was changed. This is always part of a safari adventure, with some guests testing their powerlifting strength ... it's all good fun, and everyone's having a great time over here!
We've had a huge amount of amazing sightings this year already, but before I go into the many lion, cheetah, rhino etc etc sightings, I have decided to kick off the new year with something very sweet: a Leopard Tortoise that we saw earlier on today.
So first off, what's the difference between a turtle and a tortoise? Well, Turtles live in water, and Tortoises live on land. Go figure why the Ninja Turtles are not called Ninja Tortoises, given that they seem to be on land pretty much all the time, but hey, maybe the creators should have gone on safari first to educate themselves. Speaking of which ... I read somewhere a few years ago that the creators of "Lion King" were sent to Africa for several weeks after they submitted the draft drawings to the Disney studio bosses. Posh as they are, the bosses had, of course, been to Africa before on a swanky safari, and so they immediately saw that what they saw didn't capture the magic of Africa at all, and shipped them all over. Well, the rest is history. Africa's charm (they went to South Africa actually, I think) wasn't lost on them, and they went on to produce Disney's most successful film ... ever! It is still running as a musical in several places now, about 20 years on.
I digressed a little, my apologies, so back to the Tortoise:
Well, this one is called a Leopard Tortoise. It is not too clear on this photo, but their checkered pattern of the carapace looks like a Leopard's fur. The eat mostly grass and other plants, and they are home to most of Southern Africa. We have quite a few around on our reserve. They can live up to 100 years, so these guys have seen it all ... and with their carapace protection, they are fairly safe of predators. They are still scared sometimes, and there is nothing funnier than seeing a tortoise trying to "run" away from you. It's the sort of thing that makes you feel sorry for them.
That said, they can grow quite large, up to 80cm actually, and with their large carapace domes, they can leave many of our guests well impressed. These are not tiny animals, far from it. They are also clever. For a reason or another, noone knows really how they do it, but they are rain predictors. When we see them out and about, you can bet that in a few hours it will rain, even if the sky is blue and the sun booms down on you. They know what's coming. When I was told this I didn't believe it myself, but over the years, I have come to believe this to be true. Somehow, every time I see a few out, that same evening it rains. It really works, incredibly enough. When you are on visit here, do remember this when you see them, and check if it is true ... you'll be amazed.
Enough talk, here the photo!
Wow ... what an amazing year has come to an end!
Lots of fun safaris, lots of changes at the lodge, and lots of improvements. And LOTS of amazing reviews, showing how well all of these changes have been received by our many guests and fans. We are now rated officially as one of the top 10 safari lodges in South Africa, and that says something, because there are about 400 fully fledged safari lodges operating in South Africa. All of this bodes well for yet another exciting and successful year here at the Vuyani Safari Lodge, and we can't wait to welcome all our many guests who are set to visit us. Welcome to South Africa, and all our best wishes for a Happy New Year!
The festive season is also always a particularly busy time of year for us, but we always get caught up in the festive mood too, and it is a fun and uplifting time indeed.
This year things were even more complicated: we got several days of very serious rain fall, and a flood on the reserve (all perennial rivers are flowing by the way) caused a supply pipe to the main water reservoir to be washed away, and as a consequence we were without water. That's obviously a big problem, so Craig had our own water reservoir built, within 15 hours, and connected to our own Water Mains. Phew, that was a challenge! The thing is, where most lodges just give up, we don't, and we go the extra mile to make sure our guests have the best quality stay possible.
We also had some amazing sightings on the last day of last year, so that made for a perfect day out here in South Africa, and a send-off of 2014 in true style and beauty. Here photos of some of the animals we saw yesterday:
As promised in earlier posts, I will introduce more bird life onto this blog, as I think it is completely wrong to just focus on the silly notion of "Big 5 only". Our guests are usually much more discerning and educated than that, and they are not after a "zoo"-like experience, but after a true adventure and learning experience. And we want to show and teach about all of African wildlife, not just a few cliche animals and leave the rest as if it wasn't interesting, beautiful or, even worse, unimportant. All animals are equally important to the eco-system, and in my eyes they are also all beautiful. There is nothing cuter than an up-close sighting of a bush baby, there is nothing more mysterious than an intense encounter with an owl at night, and there is nothing more elegant than a cheetah. And yet none of them rank highly on the average travel agency's websites (ok, maybe the cheetahs do), but they tend to leave the strongest impressions with our guests. And none of them form part of the Big5, not even the cheetah.
So, in that spirit, here 3 birds we saw on our reserve over the last 48 hours, just to give you a glimpse of what one can spot here. By any stretch of the imagination, do not think that these are the only birds we saw, very, very far from it actually. We see a couple of dozen bird species every day, if not more, but I picked these as they are special, and Uyai managed really nice photos.
So, first off, the White Backed Vulture:
Admittedly maybe not the prettiest of all birds, but nonetheless a fascinating one, and a crucially important link in the food chain. And one that has entered the endangered list, so it is great to see them do so well on our reserve. Just 15 years ago, it was considered to be of "least concern" from a conservation point of view. Well, no more. They are in trouble now. Thank God for reserves such as ours, as they help them in a pivotal manner. You will see quite a few of these when you visit here, and it is always good fun.
Next up, the Knob Billed Duck:
OK, the photo explains the name. No further explanation is required I would say.
This is a very unusual duck species, in fact it is the only member of an entire family, the Sarkidiornis. It is not easy to spot them, and they need lots of fresh water areas to do well. And with our 30+ lakes, we are a perfect place for them. Their numbers are locally declining in Africa and Asia, but they are not considered as endangered ... yet. On our reserve their numbers seem to be on the up. Great news!
Finally, a very mysterious kind of bird, the Eagle Owl:
The full name is Spotted Eagle Owl, as the Eagle Owl is a Eurasian Owl, and not present in Africa.
We sometimes get lucky, and we have a sighting of these owls just a few yards away from us. It's always a fascinating moment to observe these elegant and silent birds in their nightly pursuits.
These owls are quite large, up to 45 cm. They mate for life! Eggs take 32 days to hatch, and it takes the chicks only 7 weeks to go to being able to fly. Wow, I wish it was that quick and easy with my own offspring.
In the wild they can live up to 10 years, in captivity up to 20. And they do make good pets, and they are very affectionate then. But feeding them is very complicated, as they need a very varied and odd kind of diet. Best left in the wild, I say.
I hope you enjoyed the introduction of these three birds. More will follow in the coming weeks and months.
Togara had been looking for the lions for a couple of day, and yesterday, he struck it lucky! He found them, and he spent quite a bit of time observing them with the guests.
Today was even better: cheetahs! Now that's the cherry on top.
All reserves have their "chef d'oeuvre" sightings, like a signature type of animal that one sees often there, but is otherwise usually very rare. For us that is the cheetahs, hands down. It is rare to see these rarest of all animals as relaxed and up-close as here.
Our guests were truly ecstatic and spent a lot of time with the cheetahs, observing them going about their daily lives. Just beautiful.
Not everyone is exstatic to see these two though, this one for instance wishes he/she had not run into them.