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It's always good to end on a high note! I'm in the last week of my stint here at Ulusaba and it's nothing but good times and adventure. I won't lie, working as a trainee guide here in the Sabi Sand Reserve it has been truly amazing, even on the "bad days" (if there is such a thing here).
My last week has been even more special though. The combination of game drives with Trevor and Sam, six amazing guests, unbelievable sightings, the beauty of the bush in the winter, and a top notch birding mission makes for a winning combination. We started off with a few drives with four repeat guests before being joined by two young Irish newlyweds. It's always nice driving with return guests; it seems appreciation and love for this place grows with every moment spent here. Add a few newbies to the mix and you're ready to have a good time.
The sightings we had started off nicely and never slowed down. We found the male lions one evening lying up by the river, relaxed in the fading golden light. Three of the males were all lying together with their heads on each other, looking quite comfortable. It was one of those times you wish you could hop out of the land rover and lay down with them, but it doesn't take a year in Africa to know that's a bad idea. Later in the night we were fortunate to find a young large spotted genet, busy exploring the road, and later a spotted eagle owl perched in a tree, eagerly watching for dinner. The next night however, our drive would be even better after dark. In a 100 meter stretch of road we saw another large spotted genet, a side striped jackal, and a porcupine! This was the first time I'd seen the prickly rodent here in the Sands, and to my disbelief it was very relaxed, gnawing on a bone in the bush just off the road. We were able to spend a few minutes with the porcupine; I didn't get any great shots, but enough to prove that we saw it. Later in the week we found the male lions with a buffalo they had killed, and a young leopard eating a porcupine. I'd claim to have seen two porcupines in the week, but one being dead; I think we'll call it one and a half.
There were great elephant sightings, two young bulls drinking from a dam and then playing with each other by the water's edge. We found a small breeding herd by the river with one very energetic youngster. Even though he was the smallest of the group, he was picking fights with the other young elephants, and some of the older ones, as he ran circles through the reeds. All this despite what seemed to be a few chastising rumbles from mom.
We spent some time with buffalo, big herds as well as some old daggaboys. One morning we stopped for a coffee and cookie break by a dam. The experience of Trevor and Sam lead to a great sight as a herd of 400 or more came down to the dam to drink. We sat and watched for a while and the guests got a little extra enjoyment out of watching me crawl around trying to get the perfect picture. Their shot of me looking like a caterpillar turned out to be the winner. We also saw quite a few hippos, some out of the water, some with great big yawns, and a young one resting its head on moms back in the water.
One morning's efforts lead us to leopards mating in some thick bush near one of the dry riverbeds. It was tough to take photos through the guarris, but even without photographic evidence, being so close and witnessing such a sight is a powerful enough memory alone. If that wasn't enough we tracked down a male and female lion another morning and found them laying up the sand of the Boulders. They had found each other the night before and were in the early stages of mating. The female got up and ran off up the bank and out of sight, with the male close behind, to begin their three days of "romance".
We saw zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, nyala, bushbuck, vervets and baboons, four types of mongoose, kudu, and of course, impala. Both prides of females were found, and the males were kind enough to roar for us one evening. The best sighting of the week was one morning spent with a male leopard.
We followed him as he made his way toward Rock Lodge, stopping at a small pan to drink. Then things got special as he climbed onto a large flat rock in front of the lodge and sat there, seemingly surveying his land. It was an unbelievable opportunity for pictures and as a group at least 500 shots must have been taken, myself accounting for a good portion of that, especially when Trevor was kind enough to let me borrow his lens. There was no hunt, no mating, no calling; it was simply one of those moments where you forget the cold, the strain in your neck, and just about everything outside that place; where the beauty of nature overwhelms you, brings tears to your eyes, and a smile to your face when you draw the image back into your mind with eyes closed in a quiet place.
If the sightings weren't enough to make the week special, there was, believe it or not more. We took two walks through the bush. The first was a short and not too far from Rock Lodge. We came upon a few giraffe in an open clearing and decided to make an approach. Often if you get close to giraffe and crouch down they will come and investigate. We got to about 20 meters of one of the giraffe and stopped and crouched. It was a young male and he showed some interest, but never came to close as he moved around us. More interested was a small family of warthogs. The female was particularly inquisitive and came very close, giving small grunts and snorts, wondering what we were doing. Parfume de Warthog may not have been the best choice for the morning.
On our second walk we went to the southern side of the property. It was a fairly quiet hour as we moved through the bush, taking note of tracks, flowers, and trees along the way. We came across two particularly interesting sites; the remaining, green, jeweled and shimmering exoskeleton of a beetle, and the head of an equally unfortunate striped kingfisher. The best moment of the walk for me was when a female bateleur teetered gently over our heads as we walked through an open clearing.
That was one of the many birds we saw in our week of bush adventure. It's always nice to have a few keen birders on board, and for our drives we set a goal of finding 100 different species. The first few drives were a huge success with the first 60 coming quite easily. With 9 sets of eyes looking for birds we were doing quite well; fish eagle, gabar goshawk, brown hooded kingfisher, natal spurfowl, crested francolin and an orange breasted bush shrike. I won't go on and name the other 95 species. The last bird of the mission was quite special however, a common fiscal, which contrary to the name, is very seldom found in this area.
With all the great wildlife, birds, scenery of the winter bush including some unbelievable sunrises and sunsets, it was hard not to enjoy the week. The thing that made it such a success, and such a pleasure, however, were the people. Six fantastic guests made for long drink stops filled with chit chat, laughter, and of course a few Sam Specials. With all the talk and jokes on the vehicle it was impressive that we managed to see so much. So a big thank you to Jacks and Peter, Karen and Marc, and Kathy and Kevin, you made this job way to easy.
I hope you are all having a great time with the next of life's adventures, and please, be ready for an even more complete discussion of the "Connecticut Theory of Microclimates and Temperature Change" and of course, how impalas stay warm in the morning.
Until we next meet,
Ulusaba – Bush Telegraph
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