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Nottens Bush camp, Sabi Sands May and September 2015


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@@Terry Thank-you I currently have a large black and wite print on my wall from the March trip, not sure I can fit this one in as well! Just composing the next installment whilst en-route to the Indian Ocean and hoping to photograph some Manta Rays - does ST have an underwater safari section?

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After an absence of several years I returned to South Africa twice in 2015 for stays at Nottens Bush camp in the Sabi Sands. Both were short trips as my wife doesn’t share my interest in wildlife or

Just a quiet evening – zebra, giraffe, rhino and a few more lions…   It felt like a short break between our leopard delayed breakfast and heading back out in the late afternoon. It felt very easy t

This safari lark is easy – wild dog and cheetah on first drive J   After a quick swim I was sitting on the deck when movement caught my eye. A lone male elephant was headed towards the lodge at a fa

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Wild dogs or painted dogs (I prefer the former) are probably the biggest discovery I have made in my two trips to the Sabi Sands. Beforehand I knew little about them aprat from the fact that they are under extreme pressure and as such may be infrequently seen. Having had the great fortune to see them 3 times in 8 days of safari (twice active once sleeping) I find myself fascinated and impressed. I find their cohesion as a group impressive and love observing the social interaction - there is always a subtle (or obvious) demonsrtation of relationship and status to be observed.


On this evening our intial scout was followed quickly by one who had obviously dined recently.







We went in the direction they had come from and found the rest of the pack in a river bed with the rapidly diminishing carcase of an impala.

It seemed to my untrained eye that whilst many of the pack (including the sub-adults fed) other were on sentry duty.





We witnessed some play (possibly rehearsing for dispays of dominence when they got older?).







3 of the dogs looked in unison towards something interesting but it was not interesting enough to bother moving.




After 20 minutes or so we moved off as the pack were clearly settled and the light was fading. I have been happy with some of the images not least as the camera was set to ISO 2000 and retained an acceptble degree of sharpness of image.



We returned to our leopard but she was still on the ground and looking as though staying awake was too much effort really.




On our way home after dark we briefly stopped to witness two brothers grooming each other but they were fairly deep in the trees and the main positive to say about these images is that they are interpretable with an iSO set to 5000. This still feels alien to one whose roots are in film cameras.







Then it was home to another excellent Nottens dinner with the smug feeling that comes form having a good drive (even though all we'd done was to be passengers).

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I think a trip report of Manta Rays would go wonderfully in the Worldwide Trip forum. We snorkeled with Manta Rays a few years back. Would love to see your pictures of them.


Great pictures of the wild dogs here.



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Lions at night just seem so appropriate - in their element. Nice photos!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Apologies for the sporadic nature of this report. I’ve been away and made the fatal mistake of starting another report about that trip before finishing this one.


The following day dawned grey but dry (at this point I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t see sun again until Johannesburg). We set out with no objectives apart from a return to see ‘our’ leopard in the tree which would become a part of every drive. First up was a small family group of elephants who were contentedly browsing around the road. They were in no hurry to move on and we spent nearly 30 minutes with them.








One baby was suckling.




Another young elephant almost seemed to delight in making us wait our turn.




During the wait I got to study some of the wear and tear suffered by a mature pair of tusks.




There was also the opportunity for eye contact.







And marvel at the dexterity of the trunk.





All of this in relative silence punctuated by the wonderful low rumble that is felt as much as heard.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Nice trunk detail. Awesome animals indeed.

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Wet weather days


I am returning to finish this report over the next few days having completed my dalliance with (and report of) the warm water and exotic fish of the Indian Ocean. The rest of my stay at Nottens was grey and at times quite wet. On reviewing my photos it is apparent that my camera was not as much used as previously and this accords with my memory of a couple of shortened drives as the animals were mainly hiding and clearly as cold and damp as we were.

However there were some good bits including trip into the Kruger to provide some variety (and a closed vehicle) as well as frequent returns to see the leopard in and out of the tree. I will try and depart from the drive accounts and organise the rest of the report around specific animals or events.







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On a morning drive we were a fair way from the lodge and had seen little all morning. We were touring waterholes in a sprit of hope rather than expectation. We drove down a small hill towards the water and saw a large group of buffalo approaching from the other side.


We watched as they started coming through the trees.




They kept coming.




And coming.




Before long we found ourselves surrounded by buffalo of varying ages.




Most but not all spent some time drinking.








Not all the other residents appreciated the company.






We were there for about 25 minutes with an almost constant flow of buffalo. All in all we estimated the size of the herd as somewhere between 500 and 600 head.



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Every report needs a dose of large cats (well wild dogs are a suitable substitute but you’ve had already had those in this report). We had two further lion sightings during the September visit to Nottens.

The first was a visit to a group of three females who were well set for a day of serious rest. They didn’t even bother with any grooming or any other interaction – the photo below shows them almost pointedly ignoring one another.




I amused myself by trying for some creative approaches to flat cats.




I know it is only a yawn but it's still impressive.




Deceptively soft.





The second encounter was much more exciting and had a flavour of true safari – a journey/expedition to see or hunt an animal. It was late in our last drive which had been fairly damp with intermittent light rain. We had gone a long way and found elephant, giraffe and rhino but it had felt like hard work. We headed up to the airstrip as lion had been reported there the previous day. We glimpsed a small group but they were moving quickly through dense bush. There was a tense pursuit informed by our tracker’s observation (none of the guests saw anything useful).




We stopped as a single lioness had split from the group but seemed to be following something.






This turned out to be a small group of impala (we were told) who were unaware of her and not bothered by us. She then patiently followed them for a few hundred metres and although clearly tense at times never got close enough to launch an attempt.






We were constantly moving - alternately cutting across blocks of bush or alternatively going around them as she walked purposefully on.






Eventually she tired of the effort and settled down to rest on her own – we puzzled why she did not try and rejoin the others. It is easy to see how one might trip over a lion without noticing it was there though….





Not necessarily the most technically accomplished set of photos but I hope they convey a little of the anticipation of those few minutes. I was surprised by how tense the whole episode was - even though we never really saw the prey there was an air of something about to happen - until suddenly it was sleep time!

Edited by pomkiwi
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I like this one in particular. Really gives you the sense of following her through the bush.

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@@Marks Thank-you. My favourite is the one where she is looking straight at the camera through the trees - a sense of being scrutinised! It was a fascinating 20 minutes or so.

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Kruger Interlude


As mentioned earlier the weather was not great – in fact it was cold, grey and damp (varying between mist and heavy rain). Game drives in open vehicles were rather closer to endurance tests than relaxing voyages of exploration. Those who have experienced them will realise that weatherproofs provided by safari lodges tend to be flimsy and porous. Fortunately I had bought a lightweight jacket designed for English conditions so I was reasonably dry if not warm.

However Nottens offer an excursion into the Kruger in the hours between morning and evening drives. Although the idea is mainly for couples in a 4x4 they were happy to bundle most of the guests into a minibus for essentially the same cost and we headed off.


Once through the gate we headed off. It was clear that the constraints of working inside a vehicle would need consideration….





We stopped to sympathise with a soggy martial eagle






It was good however to spend some time at the river as Nottens traversing area does not cover rivers that flow strongly during the dry season.


We were limited by distance and most shots used all of zoom offered by the 80-400 lens as well as some cropping.


A few crocodile were seen.




We spent 20 minutes watching a large group of hippos wandering around, floating quietly and interacting.









All in all a good way to spend a wet Saturday….

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Damp Sightings


The main characteristics of the game drives for the last couple of days was that they were grey, wet and variously shortened (mainly because most animals were too sensible to be out and sometimes when we were soaked through). I will finish this report with a few of the animals we did see over a couple of days but will not attempt to give an account of each drive.


Vervet monkeys hung around the lodge and delighted in chewing the fruit and then dropping it on the roof, the chairs and the people.








We found a Verraux’s Eagle Owl hanging on to its meal of an unlucky frog






A couple of male Kudu gave opportunities for some portrait shots.






Finally a rather splendid Waterbuck was taking it easy.



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The second trip to Nottens had a pleasing plethora of giraffe with a number of close sightings.




I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that as not too much else was going on we were able to spend more time than I have done previously observing them.




We saw a couple of family groups.










One had a fairly young offspring who was interested in exploring.




It showed off the flexibility of the neck.




Unsuccessfully tried to photobomb a pair of kudu.




In another group a male was clearly assessing the availability of a female.




Oxpeckers were enjoying the feeding opportunities.




Finally a couple of compulsory Lightroom conversions of photos of giraffe in poor light.





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Peter Connan

That Oxpecker!



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@ Peter Connan Thank-you. I would love to say it was carefully planned and set up but in reality it was mainly that I was in the right place at the right time. A faster shutter speed would have been ideal (this was 1/1000 at f6.3 ISO 800 with my 80-400 at 400mm) but I had really set myself up for the relatively peaceful giraffes!

Edited by pomkiwi
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Peter Connan

That is how nature photography works. You set up for one thing, something else happens...

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That is a lovely sequence of giraffe shots - it is good to have the time time to watch such animals

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That little one is very cute, lovely shots.

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I will finish this report of the two trips to Nottens with a few images of a female leopard that we went to see on every day of the second trip. This was partly a reflection of the poor weather which reduced options somewhat but also because it was rewarding to visit throughout a week and observe both her behaviour and the interaction with three extremely patient hyenas (I think they ended up with little or no return on the investment of time).


One of the sightings I had hoped for was of a leopard in a tree. This was achieved but the impact was slightly reduced by the fact that the tree in question was a rather scruffy and thorn filled bush – so no sights of a feline disporting herself lazily over a large bough.







She had pulled her kill, an impala, into the tree and wedged it securely. We did not get a clear view but it appears she made good progress with it over the week.




One afternoon she came down for a sleep but was consistently annoyed by a fly – leading to several unsuccessful (and to the human audience amusing) attempts to catch it.










After our last drive we popped in one last time and she was appearing very relaxed in her domain.



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The giraffe may have been showing off its flexible neck, but the first kudu in post #88 also struck me with its long, slender neck.

Impressive leopard.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@@pomkiwi, fantastic reports and photos. There are many iconic shots there. I hope you have enough walls in your house to hang your favorites :) .


I too have the D7100 and am about about to pull the trigger on the Nikkor 200-500 for upcoming trips (not Africa yet...still researching). Glad to hear that you like the 80-400 though.


Sabi Sands is a possible future destination so thanks for sharing such good information about Nottens.



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Game Warden

@@Atdahl Please do write up a review of your new Nikkor lens when you get it.


Thanks, Matt.

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@@pomkiwi, glad you got to finish your "double" trip report, you and @@Tom Kellie are starting a new "bundling" trend, finishing off a trip report from a return visit.

Really enjoyed the Lioness amongst the trees, very beautiful, and the Leopard in the tree, making you work hard for your shot.

Not enough Rhino though. :(

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