Wednesday, 3 October 2018

An African Adventure September 2018

First an explanation for anyone who followed my blog, I have not had time for updates - as simple as that. Other matters became of more importance and limited my time, both for getting out with the camera and the time necessary for writing.

I will endeavour to get back to posting updates regularly, we had a lot of interest when we let it become known we would be visiting South Africa for a safari holiday and the blog seems the best way to summarize the trip.

The trip was discussed at length with our local travel agents, details were tweaked and plans finalised a good few months ago. Contact was established with the game reserve so that any questions could be answered quickly.

A continent that has fascinated me since I was a child and grainy footage from Armand and Michaela Denis was shown in documentaries, expectations of the species we may see were kept low just in case of disappointment but hopes were high!

The big day arrived and high winds around the north of England meant our flight to Heathrow was delayed, arrived at Heathrow to find our flight to Johannesburg was delayed, arrived at Johannesburg to find our flight to Port Elizabeth was...delayed! None of the delays was drastic so all in all not too bad.

A driver was at Port Elizabeth to take us the hour and a half or so journey to the Amakhala Game Reserve, some interesting local history from the driver and our mounting excitement kept us awake.

Soon enough we reached Woodbury Lodge, one of several lodges within the fenced reserve. After completing the necessary booking we were shown to our home for five nights, well equipped and very clean with a balcony looking out over foliage and plains, splendid!

A game drive would be departing soon we were told, we had a brief chat and decided to pass on that one to get some rest after our 24 hour journey, our bodies told us that being fresh and ready for an early start the next day would be beneficial.

                                         Baboons on the hillside opposite the lodge.

A superb evening meal was enjoyed and we met our guide for the next few days a very personable young man named Seamus, South African born but schooled at Sedbergh not far from us while his parents were working in England.

A schedule was established, 5.15am alarm time for a wash and a morning brew then out in the jeeps at 6.00am for three hours plus morning drive. Back for breakfast, then a  shower and then some time to ourselves until lunch at 2.00pm. Afternoon/evening drive at 3.30pm and out until darkness fell, dinner at 7.30....a routine we came to know well!

So on with the adventure and some photographs...

                                   Water buffalo with attendant oxpeckers

                                                                  Yellow canary

                                                       Glossy starling

                                                Lion family group

                                                                         Male lion

The morning drives were cold, the dark nights and the African spring hardly under way meant hat, gloves and padded jacket were necessary, research well rewarded.

Seamus was a keen birder and was only too happy to stop the jeep to point out some of the spectacular birds he spotted or indeed to help identify ones we or other guests saw alongside the rutted tracks we bounced along, heads or hands outside the vehicle were strongly advised against as we scraped through sharp thornbushes!

                                                     A lovely cape longclaw

                                                           Red hartebeest


                                                        Fiscal flycatcher

                                                            Ververt monkey

Next up was a surprise and prolonged view of a yellow mongoose hunting in some scrub, it came really close as we watched.

That was it for our morning drive but what a fabulous start and plenty more to look forward to.

One of the daytime activities we had looked forward to was a riverboat cruise, drought conditions in preceeding weeks meant water levels were too low so observing the plains from the elevated sun decks and our balcony were good ways to spend our leisure time. Zebra, giraffe and various antelope could be seen plus lots of birds nearby.

The afternoon drive started in warm sunshine but would end in cold darkness so the cold weather gear was packed in readiness.

                                                         An african hoopoe was a great start

                                             A lovely jackal out scavenging

                                                                   Grazing zebras

                                                Giraffe views as the sun got lower

Time for our dinner/evening meal when we got back, another splendid meal. Alarm set and ready to go again!

                                                 Sunrise as two zebra graze on the plains


                                                                  African stonechat female

The drivers from the various lodges are all in radio contact for two reasons, to share knowledge and to minimise stress on the animals. Only two vehicles are allowed in the vicinity of the larger animals, a code was used so the species name could not be overheard by passengers. Seamus steered us towards an area of long whispy grass, no thorns and little cover to be seen...why?

                                                   A magnificent male cheetah, stunning camouflage.

Next, something a little larger!

                                                        African elephant

Driving straight into the sun we see two large birds showing display signs, fellow photographers will know the difficulty of taking shots into the sun...I went into experimental mode!

                                                       They are secretary birds

We attempted to pass by so slowly they would not be disturbed but as expected one took off but landed nearby.

                                                              Truly spectacular

                                                                Karoo prinia

                                                                Fiscal shrike

Great rhinocerous sighting the following day, anti poaching units are out 24 hours a day on the reserve and they have not suffered a poaching loss for quite a few years. A neighbouring reserve had an incident the previous week, the vigilance is necessary.

Many guests are doing the Garden Route which starts at Capetown and only stay a day or two on the reserve so there was a constant flow of new people to meet and chat with, all with an interest in wildlife and surprisingly few in photography so my photographs became "in demand".

                                                    Southern double collared sunbird
                                            Elephant enjoying a muddy splash


                                           Elephant close ups
                                                               Wildebeest on the move

                                                 Elegant giraffe crossing the track

We then had a mini drama as an elephant herd inadvertently almost had us encircled, the guides are ever so vigilant but on this occasion everyone on the jeep had to keep an eye on their section of view as one animal disappeared in a direction which was our way out. Fortunately we edged our way through with no scares!


                                                             Black headed oriole
                                                   Cape longclaw

                                                          Brown hooded kingfisher

A pair of hippopatamus, fairly new to the reserve they were introduced only a few weeks ago and we were among the first visitors to see them, a great privilege.

A male lion in the morning sun, better was to follow as he had a kill of a kudu (large antelope) nearby.

The power and strength he possesses was evident as he dragged the carcass down a damp hillside towards his family.

He checks to see if any threats await before proceeding.

Before depositing the kill in thick scrub where one of the young females is prowling.



Elephants enjoying a mudbath whilst taking extraordinary care not to harm the infant, incredible to see!

                                                           Fork tailed drongo

Another cheetah sighting, dozing in the shade of a bush but ever so alert!

Serval are small secretive wildcats, sightings are not rare but prolonged sightings are extremely scarce. Lucky or a reward for patience and constant scanning? I like to think maybe a bit of both, but what views we had...

                                         Spotted thick knee, much like stone curlew

Our last morning and Seamus is trying to get me a sighting of a spectacular bird which does a display flight around sunrise. We head up to the rim of the bowl, formerly a lake the Bushman River is a remnant of those times.

Mist abounds, shutter speed tests are not good but I am as ready as I can be......

                                                 The magnificent long tailed widowbird

                                                       Brown hooded kingfisher

                                  A jackal in the sun, and now time to move on.

After a hearty breakfast we bade a moist eyed farewell to the team at Woodbury Lodge especially Seamus with whom we enjoyed some memorable times. Our packing had been started the previous day in preparation so the rest was fairly easy.

Our driver arrived on time and the journey to St Francis commenced, more local history as we travelled.

St Francis Bay and Cape St Frances sit adjacently as their names suggest, the Indian Ocean pounds in on beaches popular with surfers but also some nice rocky scrub/heath for birders!

Our accomodation was at Sandals Bed and Breakfast, we were shown to a lovely garden apartment, no need to unpack much for a three night stay. A restaurant five minutes walk away was recommended and with a Spar shop a few minutes away too shopping was easy.

                                                 First bird by the sea, African oystercatcher

                                                     Pied kingfisher

What followed as we sat on rocks looking out to see will live with us forever, a head popped up..."Josie there might be a seal"   " Do seals have tails?" " No!!!" An african clawless otter, then its mate with a live octopus which they feasted on less than five yards away, one even came close to sniff the air as we sat motionless, it seemed fascinated by the click of the camera.

A nice relaxing couple of days, Sandals provided a driver for us to enjoy a meal a little further away. 8oz fillet steak approx £10 large glass of wine (tumbler size) £2....well fed and a sore head!

More beach watching...

                                                              Scrub robin chat
I was patrolling the pools looking for waders when Josie ran down to alert me to breaching whales!

                                                          Humpbacks, what an experience!!
And to end our all creatures great and small expedition..........what else but the tiny but mighty dung beetle :)

Shoving crap uphill will be all too familiar to many, this little guy does by necessity and instinct and has my admiration.

My photograph of the holiday?

                                                        Fiscal flycatcher

So the journey was reversed, a small part of our hearts left forever in Africa, superb wildlife and accomodation, above all lovely friendly people and memories that will last forever

So dreams can become reality, keep your dreams alive, one day they may happen.

Many thanks to all who read the blog, please don't forget if you do comment they come to me first for  moderation.