SA Trip – Aug 16-24,2014

Being with elephants is definitely a mystical experience.  Actually, being in the vastness of nature with all the plants and wildlife is the most soul-connecting-welcome-home experience I’ve ever had. Rounding a corner to find a mother elephant and junior grazing on the bushes next to the road is heart stopping.  IMG_6218 IMG_6246Then out of nowhere, the huge male comes lumbering out of the bushes,IMG_6309 only to disappear in front of your eyes on the other side. You never know what’s just inside the bush beyond the first layer.  The thrill of discovery is noticing the cork-screw horn of a kudu in the bushes long before you see the body.IMG_6037IMG_6055IMG_6047 It’s very difficult to put this experience into words, so mostly I’ll just post the photographs with only some comments to point out behaviors and dynamics that a still just can’t capture. The first morning of our game drive, we saw the elephants from a distance only, IMG_5828 but with my lens, I could still enjoy some ‘close’ looks. IMG_5835There were several babies in the first fairly large group of females and calves that we saw. From a beginning of Addo Elephant National Park in 1931 with only 11 elephants who survived the concerted effort to exterminate all elephants in this region, and introducing some bulls from the Kruger for more genetic diversity, there are now 600+ elephants in Addo, and they looked very healthy. The park covers a vast area of 1,640 km2 (630 sq mi) with abundant scrub for all the various animals,IMG_2298and it’s managed well by rotating areas to preserve the food supply, as elephants can be quite destructive. Our first day was cold (I’m talking 4 C or 39 F), damp and overcast (and we weren’t dressed at all warmly enough; thank goodness for blankets),IMG_1206 and the light for photographing was just ‘ok.’ We had a great guide, David, with Crisscross Adventures, (the middle two are Menno and Jorike from Holland)IMG_2292IMG_2294 offered by Chrislin African Lodge outside of Addo Park IMG_2345  IMG_2341IMG_1192where we stayed in a mud hut (ours is on the right).IMG_2343IMG_6526IMG_6529View from our window in the am.IMG_5770 Can you image riding in an open Land Rover on the main country road at 45-50 mph in shirt sleeves (Michael) and a light sweat shirt jacket (me)? I could hardly hold my camera when we got to Addo. Lesson learned.  Anyway, David was very knowledgeable and passionate about educating us about the animals he loves. This showed up particularly when we drove past an adder which had been run over. IMG_6005He was quite disgusted and upset that anyone would do that within the park and notified the rangers. It was unconscionable to him that someone would kill an animal in the park. Elephants, kudus, Burchell’s zebras, jackals, warthogs and various birds, which I’ll name individually later, were the main wildlife we saw on Tuesday. Besides encountering the animals themselves, the thrill of a game drive in an open Land Rover is the ‘discovery’ or ‘sightings,’ actually spotting the animals in the bush, perhaps even up close.IMG_5895As I said, you just never know when elephants will come out of the bush to cross the road or be feeding next to the road around a blind corner.IMG_6321 IMG_6305 You drive slowly! The kudu, called ‘ghost spirits’, by the locals here, are magical, because they suddenly appear and just as suddenly disappear – now you see them; now you don’t. Exquisite animals they are! IMG_5897IMG_5899These young Nyala females below were spotted outside the park on our way up the Zuurberg Mountain Village. Notice the short horns in the juvenile in the second picture.IMG_2276  IMG_2273 Watching elephants at a distance is ok, but up close is much better. The first day, we saw close up only a solitary male or two at one or two different watering holes,IMG_5928 or small groups of females and their calves just leaving.IMG_5921 The second day was a completely different experience. The skies were clear; it was warmer and dryer (better for photography), and we were in our own car, at our own pace. It was fantastic! We watched elephants up close for over an hourIMG_6410IMG_6400 IMG_6406 and a solitary old bull who took a mud bath at the watering hole.  IMG_6419IMG_6427He had to make sure he got is facial mud pack also and then rub it off his horns. A yellow mongoose is visible crossing in back of the buffalo only on the video I took (but it still counts as a siting!). Then a Black-backed jackal showed up to drinkIMG_6442IMG_6454 and a young female whom the bull would not allow close to his herd.IMG_6461 Then more thirsty elephants came running down the hill for their turn to at the waterhole.IMG_6480 Later, we saw a huge herd of about 50 buffalo just leaving an area as we arrived.IMG_6269 But when one event is over, another begins. Warthogs were everywhere, and very curious,IMG_6073IMG_6497 and more zebrasIMG_6285 One way to anticipate the elephants in an area is fresh dung on the road, and with this, you can expect the endangered Flightless dung beetle (wings have fused together). IMG_6248IMG_6254There are numerous warnings in the Park not to drive over the dung because of these beetles and their endangered status. In addition to the baby elephants, we spotted a baby zebra.IMG_6137IMG_6142 IMG_6148 IMG_6147 IMG_6158 Termite moundsIMG_6213Webs built by moths IMG_6215 IMG_6214 A Leopard tortoise just at the side of the roadIMG_6508 One great joy at the watering hole where we spent so much time watching and photographing elephants, the old buffalo, a yellow mongoose and the jackal (this sounds like an African tale) was meeting Joan Young,IMG_2330 the photographer, ecologist, as we watched the buffalo come to the waterhole. What a special lady, living out of her car to travel, photograph and educate about the wonders of nature. Her blog: She guides game drives (safaris) also, so if you ever want to visit Kruger or the many other parks here, she’s the one to contact. Of the Big Five (Elephants, Buffalo, Lions, Giraffes and Rhino), we only missed seeing the rhino. Next time. And then there are the birds we spotted in the Park: Bokmakierie.IMG_5807They sing the most beautiful duet.IMG_5793Common Fiscal (shrike) were all over the park .IMG_5806IMG_6204 Grey HeronIMG_5949 Black headed HeronIMG_6273 Cattle EgretIMG_6383 Southern Chanting Goshawk IMG_6196 African HoopoeIMG_6364 IMG_6368Blacksmith Plover IMG_5877 Crowned lapwingIMG_5998Speckled MousebirdIMG_6125 Robin chat (Cape Robin)IMG_6014that fans its rufous tail feathers. IMG_6009 Cape SparrowIMG_6120 Pied Crows on a mating flightIMG_6173 Masked WeaverIMG_6100and its basket woven amongst the thorns.IMG_6134Fork-tailed DrongoIMG_6206Greater Doubled Collared SunbirdIMG_6239 IMG_6236 On way back home to East London, we stopped in Alexandria as we had been told about the Quin Sculpture Garden. We were not disappointed. Now in her mid 80s and internationally renowned, Maureen Quin is a remarkable sculptor.IMG_6548Her styles are varied and all exquisite. IMG_6533IMG_6536IMG_6550  IMG_6547IMG_6539IMG_6543I especially love her ability to capture facial expressions and moods. IMG_6546 IMG_6545  IMG_6540  IMG_6538   IMG_6535  IMG_6537 An amazing trip overall and fitting end to our South African exploration. Our appetite for this vast and amazing country has only just been whetted. We still have several places on our list for the future: Kruger Park, Lesotho, Soweto township, the Karoo, Cape Town…shall I go on?

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2 Responses to SA Trip – Aug 16-24,2014

  1. Anna B says:

    Thanks for sharing your photos and stories, wonderful! Hope to see you soon.


  2. pluciaphoto says:

    Great photos–love the corkscrew horn through the bushes!


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