Simply Irresistible

_MG_4829asmThis is a rare sight; a group of five Southern Ground Hornbills all out in the open together.

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The Ground Hornbill is not quite officially endangered, but it is listed as vulnerable. They’re seen moderately often in Kruger, but usually only 2 or 3 at a time, stealthily stalking through the bush. You rarely get an up-close encounter like this.

These are big birds. They are about a metre long, and weigh several kilograms. But in spite of their size and their name, they can fly when they need to. And they do nest in trees.

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But most of the time the Ground Hornbill is down on the ground looking for lizards, snakes and small mammals up to about squirrel size. And they are expert hunters, and lethal killers with their heavily clawed feet and that massive, deadly bill.

These birds live to about 70 years! So there are some Ground Hornbills out there who are older than rock & roll. Sometimes you can pick out the oldest individuals, because they are the ones humming The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B by the Andrews Sisters, and muttering about the good old days.

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But this time they reminded Les of something a little closer to contemporary. Robert Palmer’s Simply Irresistible.

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Anyway, we love them. Love seeing them stalking along, love hearing their foghorn-like booming calls. Ground Hornbills rock! Even the ones that’re older than that.

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After Midnight

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This is a camera trap.

It’s a movement-activated camera that takes still pictures and movies; conventional images by day and infra-red images by night.

The infra-red flash/spotlight is invisible to animals, so they aren’t even aware they’re on camera.

It’s paparazzi for critters.

And here’s a short nighttime movie showing a large-spotted genet making an after hours visit to Birdsong recently. We’d placed a few nibbles in the tree that overhangs the swimming pool, and set up the camera for a trial run. And the genet obligingly pitched up and took a few unwitting selfies.

The large-spotted genet is a cat (obviously), about half a metre long. So rather bigger than a domestic cat. And very beautifully marked. Nocturnal, and a good tree climber, it generally eats rodents and small mammals.  And it enjoys nibbles by the pool.  It’s a cool cat.

Next on our cam-trap ‘trophy’ list; a leopard. All we need to do is tie a live baby goat to the tree. Just kidding. Maybe a pork chop or two.

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Age Lines

Yesterday was my birthday.  I’m about 45 I think.  I know it has a 5 in it somewhere.

Les took me to Kruger, and as we drove along we talked about our first trip to the African bush together, exactly 5 years ago, when I’d had another birthday in the bush.  I was just about 35 then.

Anyway, there we were on our favourite Kruger back road, trundling along and looking for trouble.

Close by to our left is a shallow valley; an old stream bed but just a depression now.  Grass and scattered small trees.  _MG_2416s

A big mixed herd of zebras and wildebeest, maybe 60 or more in total, are grazing.  We notice a few heads turning together in the same direction, north.  Steady gazes and flicking tails; frozen in mid-chew.

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The wildebeest herd bull notices too, although he’s way down at the southern end.  He lopes all the way to the northern flank, head erect and purposeful, tail tossing; moving fast enough to get there quickly, but steadily enough to not panic the others.

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The bull wildebeest, having covered about 400 metres, is now standing a hundred metres north of his herd, staring intently into the light bush.  Off to his right, a line of zebras, every gaze locked onto the same place, every ear pricked forward, every tail flicking in agitation.

And there it is!  A single lioness, walking steadily through the long grass; grass the identical colour to her coat.  No wonder lions can get close when they wish to … she could be 5 metres away in this grass, and invisible._MG_2502as

But today she has other things on her mind, and the wildebeest and zebras know it.  They watch her closely, shuffle uncomfortably for any few seconds that she drops out of sight.  She passes, north to south, sometimes coming to almost within striking distance.  But ‘almost’ is everything here; they all know they can escape her if they need to, and they sense that they won’t need to.

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Nevertheless, once or twice some less experienced animal panics, startled by a phantom, and the herd dashes away for a few seconds, everyone keen to be no worse than second-slowest.

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The lioness glances at them as she passes by, but shows no interest.  She turns west, up the slope on the other side, where she spooks three spotted hyaenas into a clumsy dash away over the hill.

And then she’s gone.  She’s over there somewhere, and so probably is the rest of her pride, lolling in the shade of a tree. But we see nothing, and the zebras and wildebeest start cautiously chewing on the forgotten bites of grass they’d been holding in their mouths untouched for the past ten minutes.

Happy Birthday to me.

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Gloria

So long since we have posted anything new.  Busy with Birdsong, busy with many visitors for Christmas & New Year, busy with stuff.  So the excuse to break this radio silence has to be good, and it is.

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Les took these beautiful pictures yesterday of a young female kudu she’d named Gloria.

_MG_1288movieGloria had been appearing at our house, alone, for a few days.  We’d never seen a female kudu alone before; they are always part of a group, and the groups seem very close-knit too.  So we were concerned about Gloria.  Was she sick?  Or had she been banished for some social blunder?

Yesterday we caught a brief glimpse of the reason.  Gloria is a new mother!  She has a beautiful but tiny baby.  The smallest kudu we have ever seen.  We’d guess that it’s just a week old at most.

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_MG_1327movieSome research told the story,  Kudu females reach sexual maturity between 1 and 3 years, and give birth to a single calf weighing about 15kg, nine months after the date with the candles and the Barry White CD.

The expectant mother leaves the group to give birth, and then keeps her calf hidden in the bush for 4 to 5 weeks.  She leaves it concealed while she browses nearby (or in Gloria’s case, to mooch game pellets from the blonde chick with the camera and the bald guy), but returns to check on it, and to feed it, frequently.

_MG_1433movieSo the anxiety we saw on Gloria’s face wasn’t illness as we’d first thought, but rather the maternal instincts of a new mother, as well as the uncertainty of being away from the safety of her family group for several weeks.

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Les is now keeping the camera close, because soon we hope to get more than a glimpse of Gloria’s baby.

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If you’re interested in meeting Gloria and her baby yourself, or experiencing any of the other amazing wildlife close encounters that we write about here, then here’s the place to do it … our guest lodge “Birdsong”:

Birdsong Africa Lodge

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Varklets

The Afrikaans word for pig is vark, so the lovely/unlovely warthog, or vlakvark, is often referred to simply as a vark (pronounced “fark”).

So we reckon that makes the babies varklets.

_MG_9365as4They’re the cutest little varkers that you can imagine!

_MG_9356 for paulThis mom and her four wee varklets came to visit us last evening, and while mom munched some game pellets by the pool, the kids romped about, tried in vain to eat the game pellets, tumbled all over each other, chased a couple of guinea fowl, and had a great old time being kids.

The mother warthog has four teats, and normally gives birth to a litter of four, each of whom has their own personal teat. If one should perish (it’s a high-risk world for a varklet), the others won’t use the teat of the departed sibling.

_MG_9360s fpThey suckle for four months, but also start to graze at two months. We’re not sure how old these are, perhaps a week or two? But they already know the warthog trick of kneeling to feed.

Now’s the time for baby warthogs, and also the time for baby impala who are also preposterously cute little critters.

There’ll be plenty of ”Agh, Shaaaaame!” moments around our house for the next few weeks.

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In other news, our Birdsong Africa Lodge is just a couple of weeks from completion. Look for pictures very soon! In the meantime, here’s a beautiful recent visitor posing against a Birdsong backdrop.

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And finally, a rhino beetle. Got the horn and everything.  It looks amazingly like a large slightly kitsch brooch.  Until it moves, of course.

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Diabolique

On a trip along the Lower Sabie River, during our sister Caz’s recent visit, we saw a pretty graphic event.  A group of four lions killing and eating a warthog.

In real life, with the screams and the blood, it’s not quite like the wildlife documentaries on TV.  It’s the natural circle of life in the bush, but it’s still a most sobering sight, and everybody present was very quiet for some time afterwards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of days later I was talking about it with our friend Cliff, who is a professional guide taking tourists into Kruger in an open safari vehicle.

Cliff said, “Everybody wants to see a lion kill up close.  Until they do.”

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Caz

IMG_2102We’ve just had a lovely visit from our sister Caz, making her third visit to Kruger from Australia.  But it was her first visit that included staying at our house in the bush at Marloth Park.

IMG_2223We had a great time!  Plenty of visits to Kruger of course, plus some local sights and a trip into Swaziland.  Caz was thrilled nearly beyond words when she had daily visitors at home, including zebras, kudu, impala, giraffes, warthogs and a wildebeest called Wilbur (in spite of being a lady wildebeest).

In Kruger we saw just about everything you can see; all the big five (lions, elephants, buffalo, rhino and leopard) as well as the fabulous but little-seen wild dogs.  Alas no cheetahs, but that just means she has an extra incentive to return again for her next holiday.

We also saw the fairly sobering sight of a lion kill, but let’s discuss that in a separate blog post because the pictures and description aren’t going to be in the festive spirit that marked Caz’s visit.

She a keen – and good – photographer, as is our sister Janelle (also known as our other brother Darryl) who visited us earlier in the year.  And there was an unseemly level of competition evident in some of the remarks passed while capturing wildlife shots in Kruger:

Caz:  Oh wow, that’s awesome!  Did Janelle get this shot?

Us:  Yes.

Caz:  But not as close right?

Us:  About the same.

Caz:  No, it couldn’t have been this close.  Could it.  Think carefully.

Us:  No, on reflection it was not this close.

 Caz:  Yes, I though as much.  That’s OK then.  What’s next?

Here’s a few shots taken on one of our several treks into Kruger.

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And here’s one of Caz’s own shots; and it’s a beauty, of a Wild Dog.

SONY DSCCome back soon, Caz!

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