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Tswalu Kalahari and Phinda: August/September 2015


Alexander33

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Alexander33

Absolutely adore those Turaco shots, fantastic! How close was it?

 

@@michael-ibk

 

Close enough – I’d say maybe 25-30 feet (about 7.6-9.1 meters) away – plus, they’re large birds, which always helps!

 

Our deck had an infinity edge plunge pool (I know, we were really roughing it, right?). There was a dense thicket on two sides lengthwise and then an open view of the bushveld at the far end, where the water spilled over into a lower catch basin. (I’ll try to remember to post some photos of the scene in my overview at the end of the report).

 

The turaco was skulking in the brush most of the time, but at one point he came into open view in the branches, checking out the pool. He then hopped down to the edge at the far end, and, for a few seconds, drank from the shallow water there, with the bushveld behind him providing a clean background. That’s when I managed to get the portrait.

 

We saw this species several times during our stay, but they are surprisingly shy and elusive. This was one of those rare occasions where everything just seemed to come together, and I was really excited to get those shots.

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@@Alexander33

 

Indeed photographing birds in the rain forest is more demanding. But based on your photos I am quite sure you will have some splendid shots to beautify your upcoming trip report.

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pomkiwi

Love the cheetah sequence. I love the fact that cheetahs always seem to be alert and on the move. I guess only the lions are confident enough to spend all that time asleep...

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I felt bad for the lovely manager who was trying to orient us to the place, because I immediately dropped my bags and just started taking photographs. But can you blame me for being distracted?

 

 

This made me laugh, as I've been guilty of the same...although I imagine most managers are quite accustomed to it!

Lovely birds.

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ZaminOz

Love the line of elephants walking away down the road!

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Alexander33

@@pomkiwi

 

I love the fact that cheetahs always seem to be alert and on the move. I guess only the lions are confident enough to spend all that time asleep...

 

If that's the case, then it means we had some supremely confident lions!

 

I truly developed a love of cheetahs on this trip. And there are more on the way.....

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Alexander33

I was afraid that this report might leach into the midst of holiday preparations and celebrations, and that is exactly what happened. (Or maybe, subconsciously, I just didn’t want to bring the report to an end, just as I didn’t want the safari to end.)

 

In any event, the end was upon us. It was our last afternoon at Phinda.

 

After two drives where we had the vehicle just to ourselves, we were back to the full capacity of 6 guests. The two couples who joined us had just arrived from a four-night stay in Sabi Sand. They had enjoyed a fruitful safari there, but, unsurprisingly, they had not yet encountered cheetah (which are rather scarce there). That was welcome news to us, as time with cheetahs would be the perfect way to end our last full day at Phinda.

 

There still was no report on the whereabouts of the three male siblings. We evidently were the last to have seen them. But since the female and her five cubs had missed out on kudu for dinner the night before, I thought it might be worthwhile looking for them again. Unfortunately, they, too, had disappeared.

 

We made our way farther south than ever before, and the landscape became more hilly and lush. To our relief, our new vehicle mates were pleasant, enthusiastic, and, like us, interested in everything. But cheetah was what we were after, so we were fortunate to receive news of yet a third cheetah family, this one a female and her three cubs (these very quickly closing on adulthood).

 

We found them in an unusual spot – both in terms of geography and situation. They were on a narrow peninsula of land, surrounded on three sides by a waterway that was created by the dam of a small river. We were positioned in front of a rivulet, facing the peninsula lengthwise, with the main river on the far side. The mother had her eye on some nyala does that were on our side of the shore, and she kept walking off, as if she wanted to leave the peninsula and pursue them. But none of her cubs would follow, as they were too entranced by an intruder – a large crocodile that had had the nerve to climb out of the river and catch the evening breeze and that had the even greater gall to not be bothered by any of them in the least.

 

The cubs exhibited appeared to be completely flummoxed. They would stare intently at the croc, as if trying to figure out exactly what this strange creature was.

 

Investigation

 

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Sibling Showdown

 

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Plea for Maternal Reinforcement?

 

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At times, all three would gather together in front of the crocodile, as if in caucus about exactly how they should handle this alien.

 

 

Not a Promising Meal

 

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Anyone Else Bothered by this Thing?

 

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I'd Prefer Nyala

 

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Let's Go Hunting

 

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Final Offer

 

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Nyala Nearby!

 

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We're Not Leaving Until He Does

 

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Befuddled?

 

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Losing Patience

 

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The cubs charged the crocodile several times, but rather than fleeing or going into some kind of defense mode, the crocodile just sat there impassively, acting as if they didn’t even exist.

 

 

Plotting the Next Move

 

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Blockade

 

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Frustration

 

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The Swipe

 

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Alexander33

The crocodile's attitude really threw the cubs. They would sit down, and then look back at their mother, or one another, seemingly asking for reassurance. The crocodile would simply respond with impassive eyes and an almost maniacal-looking smile.

 

 

Okay, Now What?

 

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Regrouping

 

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Out of Ideas

 

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A Mother's Reassurance

 

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Looking Toward Greener Pastures

 

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At one point, it seemed that the mother had finally succeeded in getting her cubs to leave with her, but at the moment they were on the brink of exiting the peninsula, one of the cubs stopped.

 

 

Let the Hunt Begin

 

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I'm Not Leaving

 

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The two siblings then ran back to the crocodile for a stare-down. The crocodile responded by opening its mouth and displaying its teeth, but otherwise didn’t move.

 

 

Sibling Showdown, Round 2

 

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Maternal Support

 

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Maternal Exasperation

 

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On Their Own

 

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Second Thoughts

 

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Resolve

 

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Doubt

 

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One-on-One

 

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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

 

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Two Against One

 

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Same Result

 

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And so the whole charade began anew. Stare. Charge. Be Mystified. We were rapidly losing light at this point, and so we left the trio and their mother with the crocodile. I will always wonder if these strange bedfellows decided to spend the night together on that peninsula.

 

It was a lovely way to end our last full day at Phinda. The photographs we managed of the cheetahs aren’t that great, simply because the physical landscape prevented us from getting any closer and the light was already waning when we arrived, but it was a fascinating spectacle of animal behavior that both Dylan and Mr. T. could not recall having ever seen before.

 

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As I had hoped at the outset, Phinda had yielded cheetahs galore.

 

Now, about those lions…..

 

 

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Atravelynn

At least you saw and got a photo of the Pink-throated Twinspot. And you saw more than one. How cool! Am I having déjà vu or did we discuss this bird before you left?

 

The Turaco was so close. It was the water that enticed him. Great shots of his bright colors.

 

Cheetahs and a croc, what a novel combination. "it was a fascinating spectacle of animal behavior that both Dylan and Mr. T. could not recall having ever seen before." Not surprised.

Edited by Atravelynn
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michael-ibk

You caught some fascinating interaction there! Great sequence. I would have been very worried about the young Cheetahs, though - glad the Croc was so lethargic.

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What a great interaction between the cheetah and the crocodile - though a good job that the crocodile did not wish to be more actively involved!

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Alexander33

At least you saw and got a photo of the Pink-throated Twinspot. And you saw more than one. How cool! Am I having déjà vu or did we discuss this bird before you left?

 

@@Atravelynn

 

Indeed, we did talk about it beforehand. Good memory! And I'm glad I saw them.

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Alexander33

I would have been very worried about the young Cheetahs, though - glad the Croc was so lethargic.

 

 

What a great interaction between the cheetah and the crocodile - though a good job that the crocodile did not wish to be more actively involved!

 

@@michael-ibk

@@TonyQ

 

You know, it didn't even occur to me that the croc would have been aggressive toward them. Yikes. Maybe it's because he was on land? Closer to the water, and perhaps I would have thought otherwise. I will just assume that, whatever the story, it had a happy ending. Thanks again for following along.

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Atravelynn

What a life lesson for those cheetah cubs.

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Strange bedfellows, indeed! Great photos of this unusual and amusing interaction.

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elefromoz

@@Alexander33, Im only as far as Tswalu and am so "wowed" with the more unusual animals you've seen and been able to photograph. The Black Rhino photos are so good, and what to say about Roan and Sable lazing about the accommodation area.Those three alone would make me very happy. What an amazing diverse location for some lesser seen animals. Im heading for a second safari soon and hope I get lucky with some new species and experiences, and hope too, I find it as exciting and inspiring as I did first time round. Maybe there is a bit of a "pre second safari syndrome", the fear of things not quite measuring up, until proven otherwise. Sure hope Im as lucky as you have been.

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elefromoz

The Cheetah and her 5 cubs, beautiful. Those cheeky little cubs are just so cute, poor Mum surely has here work cut out for her, I think Cheetah mothers do it really tough, on their own and multiple cubs to try and keep safe. Mr Blackie photos brilliant, what a beast with his impressive horns and curly tail in the air seeing off the wimpy Whites. Fantastic sequence of photos. At the risk of labouring a point, gee you were lucky!

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Alexander33

@@elefromoz

 

Thank you so much for your kind words. Tswalu really was a fascinating experience, and the place only left me thirsting for more. And Phinda truly came through with the cheetahs, especially.

 

Im heading for a second safari soon and hope I get lucky with some new species and experiences, and hope too, I find it as exciting and inspiring as I did first time round. Maybe there is a bit of a "pre second safari syndrome", the fear of things not quite measuring up, until proven otherwise. Sure hope Im as lucky as you have been.

 

It's only a hunch, but your enthusiasm shines through, and on account of that, I'm feeling quite confident that you won't find your second safari a letdown at all (or your third, or your fourth.....). Where are you going, if I may ask?

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Kitsafari

@@Alexander33 brilliant photos capturing all the cheetahs. The last set really made me laugh, although I'm sure they'll be able to sprint away if the croc did snap. That may give them a valuable piece of life lesson!

 

Forgot to add - wonderful pix of the turaco and what a cute lil fella the pink throated twinspot is.

Edited by Kitsafari
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Really enjoying this story of your safari. Wonderful bird photographs and the great playfulness and interactions captured beautifully with both the lion and the cheetah cubs. The purple-crested turaco would distract us all. Who would want to sign papers when in the presence of a bird like that?

 

Thank so much for sharing.

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elefromoz

@@Alexander33 "Where are you going, if I may ask?" We are doing a short safari of just nine nights in the Greater Kruger.New territory for us, 3 nghts Klaserie, and 6 nights split between 2 camp/lodges in Timbavati.

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Alexander33

@@Marks

@@Terry

 

Thanks so much for your interest and for your kind comments.

 

 

@@Kitsafari, welcome back! I can't wait to hear about India once you have recovered from the trip.

 

 

@@Alexander33 "Where are you going, if I may ask?" We are doing a short safari of just nine nights in the Greater Kruger.New territory for us, 3 nghts Klaserie, and 6 nights split between 2 camp/lodges in Timbavati.

 

@@elefromoz

 

I live for the day I will be able to say that "just" 9 nights is a "short safari." Timbavati holds a special place in my heart, as that (Ngala Tented Camp) was the launching point of our first safari. It changed our lives and the nature of our travel thereafter (no pun intended). Have a wonderful time!

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Alexander33

While the cheetahs had been most cooperative, the lions had stuck to something more cat-like: snoozing.

 

Therefore, on our final morning drive at Phinda we were delighted to find the entire North Pride in an open area north of the lodge doing something other than just sleeping. Mr. T. had spotted the enormous lioness (the lady friend who had sauntered off with the male on his adventures south when we had first arrived) first, and she and the male were holding court.

 

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King and Queen

 

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The Royal Family

 

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As the morning progressed, maternal instincts kicked in, and the females began leading their cubs out of the open area and back south to a more densely covered area that afforded greater protection.

 

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The kids wanted to play, but Mom was not in the mood.

 

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She had serious business at hand: making sure the entire group stayed together. Auntie brought up the rear.

 

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Eventually the male and his favorite wife caught up with the rest of the group. I could never get enough of these two – they were just magnificent.

 

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Once they had rested, though, it was time to put the little ones to bed in the shade of thicker brush, and so the journey resumed.

 

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The Embodiment of Mischief

 

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The Future

 

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We enjoyed spending time with this same Pride over the course of our stay. I feel that it allowed us to have a more intimate lion experience than we would have if we had encountered several different prides.

 

As the females and their cubs made their way into more and more dense vegetation, one could have concluded that they were bidding us goodbye. But, in fact, it was the other way around. It was time for us to leave. In a sense we had come full circle: our first sighting had been the same as our last: the North Pride. I wish them well.

 

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Alexander33

Overall Impressions of Phinda

 

As I mentioned before, there are only 6 suites at Vlei Lodge, and they all look out over the bushveld, which attracted warthogs and various other plains game (and, one morning while we were all still out on our drive, the big female lion from the North Pride). Each suite is well-appointed with a covered deck, an infinity-edge plunge pool and chaises longues. Very nice. Ours was #2, which had the distinction of being the only cabin with an outdoor shower in addition to the one indoors.

 

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However, if you have the option, book #6, which is famous for attracting elephants that like to drink from its pool.

 

Nevertheless, the view from our own plunge pool, and the wildlife that it attracted, were enjoyable enough.

 

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The food was uniformly good – lunches were pleasingly light. Meals were served in a central building with a deck overlooking the veld. The staff was competent and very friendly. They also all had decent aim with the sling-shot used to shoo away the vervet monkeys, whose favorite meal appears to be bread, especially when toasted and placed in a fabric-lined basket on a guest’s table.

 

 

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Alexander33

When planning this trip (with the help of Safaritalkers, of course), I had been warned that after having a private vehicle, guide and tracker at Tswalu, it would be hard to go back to the more typical shared vehicle. Sure, there were a few occasions where someone’s cap or elbow made its way into a photograph. But, in general, our guide, Dylan, did a commendable job in situating the vehicle ideally for optimum viewing at each sighting, to the extent possible.

 

I should also mention that we were lucky in that the lodge was not filled to capacity the entire time we were there: out of our 10 drives, on only 4 of them were we at the maximum of six guests. On another 4 drives, it was just the two of us with another couple, and on two of the drives, it was just us two – a private vehicle, guide and tracker by default!

 

Our usual schedule was to meet at the lodge at 6:00 AM for coffee and depart on the morning drive by 6:30. We’d return around 10:00 or 10:30 and have breakfast, then shower and take it easy until lunch. Far from being overly regimented, lunch was served from 1:30 on, and we usually opted to wait until 2:30. A high tea of sorts was served in the main lodge at 3:00, and we typically would finish lunch and immediately join everyone there. The afternoon drive would depart by 3:30, and we usually returned for dinner around 7:00 or 7:30. Fortunately, our vehicle mates throughout our stay were uniformly enthusiastic about being on safari, and we almost always departed for game drives earlier than the specified times.

 

And, of course, we always enjoyed breaks during our drives, stopping for coffee mid-morning before the return to breakfast and then for sundowners in the evening.

 

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One very nice tradition at Phinda was a brief cocktail hour before dinner, for which the guides and the lodge manager would join us. (This must be an &Beyond thing, because we had the same experience at Ngala Tented Camp in Timbavati). We really enjoyed mixing with the other guests and their guide, catching up on the highlights of their day and, in general, just having a few minutes of comradery with everyone. Some guests were on their first-ever safari and others were very experienced safarigoers, and the range of perspectives and experiences served as the ground for lively and interesting conversations each evening.

 

I felt that our five-night stay at Vlei was ideal. I think that a stay at one lodge in the North and then another in the South would be a very interesting way to get a more complete feel for Phinda, in the whole, and by this, I mean five nights at one lodge on one trip, and then five nights at another lodge on a subsequent trip, and not a single 2-3 split. The South seemed to have a more interesting landscape, although the North has that unique sand forest. Having had a very enjoyable experience at Vlei Lodge in the North, if I ever have the opportunity for a return visit, I probably would elect to stay at Rock Lodge (6 suites, just like Vlei), which is the more intimate lodge in the South.

Edited by Alexander33
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