Updated: Aug 12, 2022
All the planning was done. The cameras that I planned to use for the day, (a Nikon D850 outfitted with a 150 -600 mm lens and battery grip and Nikon D810 outfitted with a standard 28-120 mm lens) were in my backpack. Lunch and rain jackets were in a front-pack. We climbed in the jeep and began our Safari. It wasn’t long before we saw that giraffe.
In the bushes, we saw a small dark animal with copper-colored eyes called the Dwarf Mongoose all 7-10 inches of him. It is the smallest African carnivore subsisting on insects.
We saw another small animal, a tiny antelope with enormous eyes and long thick black eyelashes, two horns that protruded from his head and oversized ears called a steenbok staring at us. Some members of our tour group ate one of these for lunch the following day. I mused that it hopefully was a farmed one, not one of the cute ones that we saw. That immediately prompted this adage from my dear travel partner. “Sheep can spend their entire lives worrying about a wolf only to end up eaten by the shepherd.” Clearly our minds wander in different directions out here in the wild.
While I was excited to see every animal that passed by or hid in the savannah, safari enthusiasts want to see the big 5. I thought the big 5 meant the largest animals in Africa but no; it means what was once thought the most dangerous. The big 5 are:
Not long after the steenbok, we saw a colossal lone elephant which our guide said was probably male. Females usually travel in a group and tend to be smaller than this guy. First of the big 5.
It is possible to drive a private vehicle within the park but an advantage of going with professionals, beside their ability to spot game, is that they all cooperate with each other. Our guide got a call that lions had been spotted in the open. Getting the coordinates we headed to find them. My heart skipped a beat and I became trigger happy. Armed with a power grip on my Nikon I rattled what seemed like a thousand shots in minutes. Later I would have to go through them to look for subtle differences. Knowing that people go on many safaris without seeing a lion, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to take an image home with me.
To see more of my lion photographs please go to: https://mariamarkatos.smugmug.com/Animals/Wildlife/Lion/
After seeing the lions we stopped for breakfast,surprisingly at an outdoor area. I asked what kept the animals from coming into the picnic area and was told by the park rangers, “they generally don’t go where there are a lot of people.”
What I found interesting and a little unnerving was the sign near the picnic area
After a quick bite and bathroom break we were back in our jeep.
We soon came upon a group of African buffalo. Below is a photo of one that was sorta looking my way.
Our guide, knowing how much I love birds, stopped the jeep so that I could capture some Hornbills. What a beautiful bird.
I saw a grey bird in a tree that I had never seen before and when I asked if we could stop for a second. I heard a laugh and the comment that this is a very common bird. To appease me, the guide stopped momentarily. His name says it all.
Poaching has depleted the number of rhinoceros in South Africa. To stop the killing of these majestic creatures for their horns, the park services have captured these animals, anesthetized them and surgically removed the horn. Once the animal has recovered from surgery it is released back into the wild. The White Rhinoceros in this photo are examples of those with amputated horns. And #4 of my big 5 sightings for the day and it's not lunch-time yet
The phone is ringing again and off we go to another sighting, this time to see a leopard “resting” in a tree.
Tired from his recent kill, which fortunately we did not see as it happened, this leopard is waiting to devour his catch of the day. If you click on the link below, you’ll see dinner. The cat was # 5 of my big 5.
While on Safari sometimes you stop to see what is on the side of the road and sometimes just to let traffic go by. This traffic was well worth stopping for. I cannot believe how cute the baby elephant is lifting his trunk as he is walking behind his mama.
Now for lunch. We went back to the picnic area that we stopped at earlier but selected a different table, one at the far edge of the picnic area - MISTAKE –
As I walked around the table to take photos of the area, my husband went to use the bathroom. When nature calls, nature calls but now I was somewhat alone. All of a sudden I had company. Coming in my direction was what my mind told me was an oversized dog, but was way too big, mean-looking and just wrong. Alarms were going off in my head. At the pavilion a few meters away, which seemed like miles at the time, was a man who happened to be a park ranger. I safely made it over to where he was fearful of becoming the next thing on the menu for this hyena. I don’t know if they said this to reassure me so that I would not die of a panic attack, but supposedly there were a few things in my favor. It was still light out and wild animals generally go after their prey at night. The hyena is a pack animal and this one was alone. Finally, this was probably an old rejected one that would prefer stealing food from lunch bags or the garbage rather than struggling to kill me. Super.
Soon the picnic tables started filling up with people and the Vervet monkeys came into the picnic grounds. The other members of our group traveling in the jeep with us ate in the pavilion. I did not tell them but chose not to eat there because there were about 20 bats hanging from the ceiling. Soon I noticed the group engaged in conversation, but I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
They caught the attention of a Vervet Monkey who stole a banana out of one of the lunch bags. Below is a photo of him in the tree with the pilfered banana.
The rangers chased the hyena from the picnic area but he was still lurking about. Here he is in the parking lot by our guides
Once the Hyena was out of eyesight we went to our jeep and off we went. So many animals to see so little time. Soon we saw some Kudus, members of the antelope family...
…and some beautiful zebras, but wait I thought Zebras were black and white. This one has thin bronze colored stripes between his black stripes. One of the species of zebra in South Africa, is the Plains or Burchell's Zebra and this has shades of brown in its striping.
It rained on the second day of our safari. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to bring rain gear with you so that you remain dry and comfortable. But what about your cameras? Your cell phone which is somewhat waterproof and most underwater cameras do not have the reach needed to capture wildlife. Thankfully, having been stuck in the rain on more occasions than I care to count, I purchased an inexpensive solution. A pack of two Ruggard RC-P18 Rain Cover for DSLR with Lens up to 18"
Will set you back about $6.50. Definitely worth it.
There is something about the rain, especially with breaks of sun, that can create the best photos. Below is a photo of a rain soaked young hyena. Definitely much cuter than the scrounge animal that I saw in the picnic area.
Well it's not just elephants that cause traffic jams. Sometimes baboons like to play in the street.
Eventually the older baboons get the little ones to go to the side of the road.
To see more photos of the Chacma Baboon please go to: https://mariamarkatos.smugmug.com/Animals/Wildlife/Chacma-Baboon/
So the second day we took a different route and stopped at a different place for lunch. I was so excited to see and capture this little bird and did not realize until I returned to the USA that it was a really common bird in South Africa. Just because it is common does not mean that it is any less beautiful. And yet another reason to visit South Africa.
After eating, I decided to photograph a bridge with a red train on it. The train is not operating and there are plans to make it a hotel. Of course all my husband had to say about that was “Someone is going to have a long walk to their room after checking in.” I didn’t notice until I looked at my photos in the evening that there were Nile crocodiles in and around the sand on the right side of my photo. Can you see them?
After lunch we were off to see more crocodiles. We spotted a large one. I was so afraid that they would get too close and be zebra tartare. Of course I was also being told “This could end as a pretty cool National Geographic moment. Get ready.” Fortunately, for the zebras, they noticed it too.
Technically not one of the big five, but probably as dangerous or more dangerous than several of them, is the hippopotamus. Below is a photo of a few hippos in the water.
A bridge over another river and I thought I saw a new wading bird, but I was wrong. The bird I saw, the Hamerkop, is actually a type of Pelican.
There are also dogs in Kruger. I am glad to have been in a tall jeep.
To see more wildlife photographs from Kruger National Park be sure to visit:
The next day, we left Hazyview and headed back to the Johannesburg airport to catch a flight to Cape Town. I snapped a photo of a cute little sunbird on our way out. The sunbird is about the same size as the hummingbird, flies in a similar way, drinks nectar from flowers, seems to like the color red, but is a passerine in the Necteridae family.
Between Hazyview, Mpumalanga and the airport in Johannesburg is the Alzu Petroport, Middelburg. This is a rest area with a shopping mall and lots of places to eat set in a nature preserve. While the animals in this setting are not truly wild, they can look as if they are. Additionally there is a fake elephant that is quite realistic coming out of one of the stores.
To see photos from this stop please go to the link below: https://mariamarkatos.smugmug.com/South-Africa/Alzu-Petroport-Middleburg-Mpumalanga/
Our next and final stop in the northern part of South Africa was Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three capitals. Cape Town and Bloemfontein are the other two. The more the merrier.
Completed in 1913 and located on the highest point in Pretoria, the Union Buildings are a symbol of power and the place that houses the presidency of the country. When built, it was the largest building in South Africa. This imposing building has a large statue of Nelson Mandela who represents hope to a once divided country. Below is a photograph of that building.
To be continued.....
Join us in our next blog segment "South Africa - Part 3 - Off to Cape Town"
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