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South Africa wildlife VIII: Safari!

We’ve lived in South Africa for over 4 years, and still hadn’t been on a safari… Until last week, that is!

We planned to go to the Kruger National Park (one of the best places in the world to see wild African wildlife) this year, but my recovery after the knee surgery has taken a lot longer than expected, and I’m not up to being quite that adventurous just yet, so we’ve to start small(er) and work our way up to Kruger. There are smaller private game reserves that are much closer to home. We decided to visit the closest one, Aquila, for a day trip, as it’s just a 2 hour drive from Cape Town into the wilds of the Karoo.

Game reserves are nothing like ‘safari parks’ you may have visited elsewhere in the world, which are just open-plan zoos where you can drive your car through the animals’ enclosures. A game reserve is a wild area protected for conservation, where the animals (‘game’) can live wild and free in their natural environment, but safe from hunters and land development. There are no roads, only tracks, and the game drives are conducted by experienced rangers to keep everyone safe – these are true wild animals, and could be dangerous if not treated with respect.

African Elephants on safari
My favourite photo from the safari: these elephants walked right past our vehicle!

We headed out for our game drive in the 10,000 hectare reserve in an open-sided 4×4 safari vehicle driven by our ranger and guide. The Karoo is a stunning natural environment, and we saw zebra, hippopotamus, wildebeest, buffalo, white rhinoceros, lions, giraffe, springbok, eland, and of course elephants! It was an absolutely amazing experience and quite emotional for me (especially seeing wild rhinos and knowing how prevalent the poaching problem is and that these animals could be killed for their horns, despite everything that’s being done to try to stop the poachers).

Photo Gallery

I’m trying something new with my photos this time – I’ve installed a new photo gallery so you can see much larger versions of my photos. This page should load quickly with thumbnails of all the pictures (below) to give you a taste, so I can include more photos without slowing down the site. If you click any photo, the gallery will open and let you see them all super-sized – much larger than my previous photos (like the elephants above, which you can also see larger, as part of the gallery below).

I really hope you enjoy the larger photos; if you like the new gallery feature, please do let me know. (I’d like to update my previous wildlife posts with larger versions over time, if you’d appreciate seeing them too?)

This trip was an unbelievable experience, and (although of course photos don’t convey how it feels to have the privilege of getting close to some of the most amazing animals in the world, living wild and uncaged) I’m glad I can share a glimpse of it with you.

I hope this will be the first of many safaris for me in the coming years; there are lots of other private game reserves to visit, and I’m still hoping to get to Kruger one day.

Please let me know if you’ve enjoyed my photos (and the new gallery)…

Comments (16)

South Africa wildlife VII: Durban

Last weekend, I took the opportunity to travel with Dave, as he had an astronomy conference in Durban, on the other side of the country. South Africa is so huge that it takes 2 hours to fly from coast to coast, from Cape Town to Durban. We stayed at Umhlanga Rocks, a resort village just north of the city of Durban.

durban_from_cape_town

Cape Town is on the cold Atlantic Ocean, and Durban is on the warm Indian Ocean, so the climate is quite different. We’re in the middle of winter at the moment, and it can get pretty cold in Cape Town, but this is Durban’s weather:

durban1

Not a horrible place to come for a winter weekend break! And waking up to this gorgeous sunrise over the ocean was quite nice too…

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While Dave was working, I walked along the promenade by the beach and hunted for wildlife. It’s amazing what you can find, when you really look. What’s that on the roof of that hotel?

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It’s a monkey!

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Vervet monkeys are common in Durban. We saw some from the car as we were leaving the airport, but I couldn’t stop on the highway to take photos, so I was secretly hoping I’d be able to spot one when I had my camera ready. I got lucky with this thoughtful-looking windswept monkey – doesn’t his fur look soft?

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I also spotted lots of birds that I recognised as being related to ones I know from Cape Town, but different regional varieties. I had to look them all up when I got home, like this stunning Spectacled Weaver:

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And this happy little guy is an African Pied Wagtail:

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A sunbathing skink:

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A handsome Dark-Capped Bulbul (the Cape Bulbuls I see in my garden have white rings around their eyes):

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And Common Mynas, which I didn’t expect to see in South Africa!

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I was amazed to spot this wild bee hive half-hidden beneath the leaves of an aloe:

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And very happy to see my first Speckled Mousebird (it’s hard to see in the photo, but its long tail feathers extend right down to the bottom left of the picture):

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But possibly best of all was when I spotted a pod of dolphins, swimming together in the sea!

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Although my photos don’t really capture the magic, it was just beautiful to watch as they came up to the surface and dipped under again as they swam…

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It was a lovely, if very short, getaway. My knee held up to a lot of walking, and didn’t hurt at all provided I stayed on flat, paved surfaces. So I’m definitely not up to hiking just yet, but I think I’m ready to cautiously resume my quest for wildlife. :)

And I’m also consciously working to improve my wildlife photography skills – I don’t know if you can tell that from these photos, but I’m trying! I’ll only ever be an enthusiastic amateur in this area, and there’s a lot of luck involved in wildlife photography, but I’m happy that I managed to capture almost everything I saw last weekend in a fairly pleasing portrait. I think I’ll keep improving with more practice and trying to be more aware of lighting, surroundings, etc.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little window into some of the wildlife on the east coast of South Africa!

Comments (6)

South Africa wildlife VI: the magic of water

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sit comfortably at my computer and edit wildlife photos, so I’m easing back into things with an update of some of the everyday (but still special!) wildlife in my own garden here in Cape Town.

Today I’d like to show you the power of water for attracting and photographing wildlife. Giving garden birds a supply of fresh water for drinking and bathing is obviously very important during the hot dry summer months, but keeping the bird bath full year-round helps attract a wide variety of birds to my garden:

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The local meeting place: laughing doves, a common starling and a Cape sparrow enjoying a drink and a bathe together.

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Photo op! Olive thrushes, like most birds (except doves) have to raise their heads to swallow water, so it’s the perfect moment to snap a photo.

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And sometimes things get slightly ridiculous – this hadeda ibis is a) not a garden bird and b) far too large to bathe in my birdbath… but he didn’t care!

I also have a nectar (sugar water) feeder to attract sunbirds – the African equivalent of hummingbirds, and just as pretty.

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The female southern double-collared sunbird has brown plumage, but she’s still tiny, fast, and gorgeous!

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The male looks very similar to a male hummingbird, in stunning jewel tones.

But it’s not just sunbirds who appreciate the nectar (and fight over it)…

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Cape weaver enjoying a sweet treat.

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Male sunbird (left) and Cape white-eye (right) having a shouting contest.

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Southern masked weaver has a drink while Cape bulbul demands his turn.

And water doesn’t just attract birds to the garden – by happy accident, I discovered a few weeks ago that if you put a wet branch or leaf in front of a Cape Dwarf Chameleon, it’ll lick the water off it:

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Lick!

So now, every time I find a chameleon, I offer him a drop of water on a leaf…

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Ooh, a wet leaf… 

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Slurp!

So much fun! (And much easier than trying to catch grasshoppers to feed to them…)

I had another happy discovery this weekend. I’m trying to make a wildlife area at the bottom of the garden, but my new indigenous plants need some extra water to help them get settled in, so I turned on the sprinkler and sat outside for a while….

wildlife enjoying water in my garden
Just sprinkling the garden…

Almost immediately, over a dozen Cape White-Eyes flew in and started hopping from branch to branch under the spray of the sprinkler, fluffing up their feathers, preening, shaking, and enjoying a good shower:

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Fluffy white-eyes!

Luckily I have a good zoom on my new camera, as white-eyes are tiny and these were down at the very bottom of the garden, but I managed to get a little video for you to enjoy:

For the best experience, play the video at Full 1080p HD quality and fullscreen it.

Aren’t they sweet?

I hope you enjoyed another glimpse into my local wildlife – I’ll have more to share with you once I’ve had a chance to go through the past few months of photos. :)

And if you’d like to encourage more wildlife into your own garden, I suggest adding a bird bath, a pond, or a water feature – it really works!

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South Africa wildlife V: baby Chameleons!

I had a truly magical wildlife experience last week, and I just had to share it with you. Every day, I check the bushes in my garden for Cape Dwarf Chameleons – they’ve been absent for the past year, but made up for it when they finally returned last week, as I got to spend a day with 6 teeny tiny newborn baby chameleons who were each barely an inch long (excluding tail)!

If you’re short on time, here’s a collage of my baby chameleon photos:

baby chameleons

And scroll to the end of this post if you’d like to see my baby chameleon video. But, if you have the time, let me share some bigger photos and more details with you first:

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Comments (15)

Borneo Wildlife

I thought you’d like to see some of the animals I saw on my trip to Malaysian Borneo last month! As this is a craft (and wildlife) blog, I’m keeping this post to just my wildlife photos, but, if you’re interested in knowing more about my trip, I’ve written it up separately as a travel journal with lots more pics: A Bornean Adventure.

We were privileged to get to watch these two rescued orphan orangutan babies in training. Once they’re old enough and have learned how to survive in the wild, they’ll be released back into the forest. (I’ve written more about the orangutan rescue and rehabilitation in my travel journal.)

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But, although this would have been enough, we saw far more than just orangutans…

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Comments (15)

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    June Gilbank

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