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Something old, something new: Part 1 - Dulini Lodge, South Africa


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Other animals that were benefiting (at least temporarily) from the drought included some of the water birds, who had an easy time finding prey in the shallow water. These were the only "kills" we saw during our trip -- which I'm really OK with. Later in the trip, in Botswana, there were some near-misses by some lions, but I'll get to that in due time.


Here is a saddle-billed stork with a catfish:




And here is a hammerkop with a tiny frog.






The hammerkop was part of a lovely evening drive by the Sand River, part of the larger territory that Dulini can drive on, and increasingly, my favorite place for a game drive. In fact, I am beginning to build up a couple of "fantasy drives" in my head, and one would be spending the entire day driving around the Sand River, and just watching the animals come down to drink.


On this drive, we started out with elephants grazing near the river. I was glad to see that, despite the drought, they did not have the dark mark on the sides of their faces that indicate stress gland production.








By the river, I was thrilled to see a giraffe drinking. I had been secretly hoping to try to capture something like Xelas and Zvezda did in this post. I just love how Zvezda (I think this is her series of photos) caught the s-shaped droplets in the light. I didn't get it quite right, but that's just another reason to go back and keep practicing, right? :)








Here's the sun setting over the river.




With the last light of the day still lingering, we were the last to go to see a leopard, Thangisa, who was known to have two young cubs. (I have noticed that this is a common technique Fred uses: if there's a virtual "line" to see something, he'll try to go last, so we have the most time with the animal.)


The cubs were around the age of the cub I had seen last year (about five months). They were both boys -- apparently, they used to have a sister, but it is feared that they may have killed her with their rough play. (Brothers, be nice to your sisters!)


My mom worried that there wasn't enough light to take pictures, but there was plenty to get a couple of lovely blue-lit portrait of Thangisa, as well as a few more blurry pictures of the more active cubs. :rolleyes: Thangisa's name, by the way, means "playful" -- and as we would learn on a later game drive, it suited her well.
































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Hyena and leopard pics are superb...

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Love the photos of the adorable hyena cubs, but very disturbed to hear about the hippo graveyards.


Thangsia is such a lovely leopard!


just read your dispatches and thoroughly enjoyed it. that's such a beautiful picture of you and your mum and the guide, all of you beaming with contentment of a safari.

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@@xelas, I just realized that I forgot to put the "@" in front of your name in my last post, and I don't know how to go back and edit that in. Sorry about that!


@@gagan, thank you!


@@Kitsafari, Thangisa is lovely, isn't she? And I'm so happy that I'm starting to know the names of the leopards! I love it when I read on SafariTalk things like, "oh, do you remember that lion with the really dark mane and the limp in the 90's?" "No, I but think I saw his brother a few miles over, didn't he form a pride with that large lioness ..." Maybe one day, I might be able to say something similar about a couple of leopards.


I am also disturbed about the hippos. I take it that the vegetation is so low/dry/lacking in nutrients that the hippos have to wander farther and farther from water at night, and then sometimes don't make it back in time. If anyone else saw the hippo mounds or knows more about them, I would be very curious to hear what you know.

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No worries there, @@hannahcat !


You really have a bond with those leopards; very expressive photos. As for the "droplets S" ... you can practise with a hose in the backyard ... but doing it in Africa is much more fun :D !

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The next morning, we headed out to the river again -- and again towards the leopards! On the way to the leopards, we saw some lovely birdlife, some of which I'm even starting to be able to identify. (Though please do correct me if I get it wrong.)


We were very pleased to see the not-often-spotted half-collared kingfisher.




And I was also pleased to get nice pics of the pied kingfisher, although for some reason the colors are all muted in the third picture, which otherwise would be my favorite. I'm not sure what happened here -- maybe a camera malfunction of some kind? It's like a mist fell over the picture. If anyone has any ideas (and ideas on how to avoid this), I would be all ears. Thanks!










I think it's nice having the pied kingfisher and the grey heron, each doing their own thing, together in this picture.




We also stopped for a lovely breakfast by the river.




Martin had had a family emergency come up, so his trainee took his place. (The trainee did a fine job, making some good spottings throughout the day.) I was worried that I wouldn't have a chance to say good-bye to Martin, but fortunately, the family emergency was resolved quickly and, so I heard, to everyone's satisfaction, and Martin was back the next day.


Here's my mom at breakfast, looking relaxed and happy (which made me relaxed and happy).




We also saw some lovely waterbuck.




And then we were on to the leopard cubs ...









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I think I am going to have to apologize in advance. These next few posts are going to be leopard-fests. Not just leopard-fests -- they are going to be leopard-apalooza, leopard-xplosion, leopard-mania. Even the most leopard-loving of you may get tired of looking at leopards. If so, again, my apologies. I was going through the pictures, and what can I say? The leopards cubs are just so adorable! I had a hard time pruning my selections.


I think I'll break the pictures into three posts, since there were three different "moods" of the leopards when we were there. Again, this is Thangsia and her two cubs, who are about the same age as the cub I saw the first time I visited Dulini, about five months. However, they have each other to play with, and are therefore much more prone to wrestling and playing than was the first cub I saw.


Or at least, one of the cubs is more prone to wresting and playing; in fact, he was a bit of a bully, I must say, always taking his brother by ambush and clearly trying to humiliate him. (You'll see exactly what I mean in the pictures.) The other cub was much more of a mama's boy -- he was OK with a bit of playing, but he also seemed to love nothing more than bath time with mom. So far, the cubs don't have names, but it doesn't matter -- you'll know exactly which one is which in the pictures.


When we arrived, just as the day was getting a bit cooler, the leopards were all waking up and just beginning to move about. The first "mood" was one of resting and bath time.





I really like this one, when Thangsia uses one of her cubs (Mama's Boy, I'm thinking) as a pillow. Why have cubs if you can't sleep on them sometimes?






Bath time.
















At this point, the cubs were mostly hanging out separately. One of them tried swatting something in the air -- I could never figure out what it was. A gnat? Anyway, he found it a bit frustrating, clearly.














The other cub became fascinated with a butterfly, though he didn't seem to know what to do with it.












After a while, though the two cubs became more active, and the more aggressive of the two started pouncing on his brother.



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Here is the little bit of "I'm stronger than you nah-nah-nah" aggression that we saw from the one cub especially -- and the other cub is clearly quite distressed about it.




And here they are wrestling afterwards -- this time, the less aggressive brother has attacked in revenge.








But he can't stay mad for long -- eventually, he begins grooming his brother instead of wrestling with him:




And here they are again. I'm not sure who attacked who in this one -- I think the more aggressive one attacked, but I'm not sure.








I really love their expressions here. You can definitely tell which one's the more aggressive one.






Until finally they just begin slapping each other.














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By this time, Thangsia had had enough. She stepped in to separate the cubs, and then played with them individually. Whenever I think back on that moment, I am just stunned at Thangsia's motherhood skills. She also, and I swear this is true, looked a lot like the character "Tiger" from the Winnie-the-Pooh books: she would always take a few theatrical bounces before play-pouncing on one of the cubs -- I've never seen, nor expected to see, anything like it. I suppose the play-bounces were to warn the cub of her approach so that they could be "fierce" when she got there, and it was one of the most amazing and adorable things I've ever experienced.


Here's her wresting with her cubs.
























After a while, though, things began to wind down. At first, she played a bit with both cubs at once, and then they ended up just sitting together looking, if I may be so bold, tired but content.
















And then, as the evening wore on, the leopards relaxed even further, seeming to want nothing more than each other's company and, perhaps, a little snack later that night.












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A splendid treat whilst eating my breakfast!

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Indeed plenty of spotted cats ... but who am I to complain about?! Beautiful photos, and as I have said once already, you must have a real thing going on with leopards!

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@@hannahcat I'm afraid your kingfisher is a juvenile malachite, not a half-collared :(

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Great work @@hannahcat with the leopard pics, what an amazing sighting.

Love the pied kingfisher pics as well.

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What a fantastic Leopard sighting! All great pictures, but the cub with the butterfly is just priceless.

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These photos of leopards are an outstanding way to begin the morning. I just adore all of them.

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@@hannahcat A lovely sequence of leopard pictures - it sounds like a lovely relaxed sighting. I'm not sure what the fogging on the kingfisher picture is unless you were turning closer to the angle of the sun?? It might be worth trying the 'dehaze' tool in Lightroom if you have it - I've just given it a try (forgive the presumption) and it has helped a little I think.

As @@xelas was saying a camera 'upgrade' would give you more range with the photo opportunities - perhaps particularly in low light. If a D500 is a stretch too far it's introduction has made the D7200 more affordable especially used :) The photos you are getting with the D3300 are superb though.



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@@pomkiwi Thank you so much! The de-hazing tool improves the picture quite a bit, and I didn't even know that was an option. I do have Lightroom, so I'll go give that a try. Funnily enough, @@xelas also recommended to me privately that I look into purchasing a used 7200 -- when the same idea gets votes from you both, I know it's a good one. I'll start haunting the used camera boards of B&H and similar. Thanks again.


@@optig That is so kind of you to say. I really adore them too -- thanks for validating my inability to cut out any of them. :rolleyes:


@@michael-ibk Thanks! I really like the series with the butterfly too. I couldn't believe it when I saw it happening -- I thought a leopard cub playing with a butterfly could potentially upset the physical laws of the universe with a cuteness overload. However, the universe seems to have survived, if only just, and it was wonderful to see them together.


Thank you so much, @@Hads! I'm so glad I brightened your breakfast, @Towlerson safari!


@@Tdgraves -- Brilliant. Thanks very much. I was looking at the beak (black instead of red), but you're right of course, it is a juvenile malachite kingfisher. No regrets about it, though -- that's still a neat sighting for me.


@@xelas I'm getting a little worried about jinxing it. Maybe I'll see all the leopards I'll ever see up front, and then never see another leopard on safari again? I really, really hope not, because I really have fallen in love a bit. They are such amazing creatures! And Thangsia -- she's something else. :)

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No apologies necessary for leopard-apalooza. Fantastic!

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No such thing as too many pics of leopards, especially when they are as photogenic as these rambunctious cubs are and as great pictures as yours are!

Edited by Kitsafari
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Thanks, @@Alexander33 and @@Kitsafari! Believe it or not, I actually have one more leopard surprise from the Dulini portion of the trip, but it'll have to wait for a just a little bit. :)


These elephant pictures are from an earlier morning drive, when we were privileged to have them graze ever closer to the truck. Being so close really made me appreciate how incredible those trunks are at plucking out exactly what the elephant wants to eat and directing it into the mouth.












As I mentioned above, the drought was bringing animals from near and far to the Sand River that flows through the northern part of the territory that Dulini is allowed to drive. We therefore began spending more and more time at the river, and also more and more time with elephants, who seemed relatively unaffected (so far) by the drought. One magical afternoon drive, these two elements came together, and we saw elephants by the river! I thought I would have to go to Botswana to see elephants in water, but as it turned out, I saw them in South Africa but not in Botswana. So much for planning! :rolleyes:


Here is a family coming down for a drink. I just love the way one of the little ones seems so excited about getting near water!










As you can probably tell from the angle of the pictures, we were up a pretty steep bank on the other side of the river, and I assumed that the elephants would drink and bathe, and then continue on on the same side of the river. After all, elephants can't climb, can they? What a ridiculous thought, of course elephants can't climb ... whoa, here one comes up over the edge of the bank!




Clearly, I was wrong, wrong, wrong, though it did look easier for some than others.












Climbing seemed to have made the adolescent males want to show off their strength in other ways, and they started pushing each other around -- right in front of the truck! Fred and Martin assured us that it was all in fun and not a real fight, but it was the first time that I could really imagine something going quite badly wrong on a safari drive. A tusk stuck through the vehicle, even in jest, is still a tusk.


A much more minor worry was that the elephants were way too close for my lens -- and even if I could get my lens to focus, everyone's hats and the antenna of the truck were in the way. On the one hand, it felt amazing, like being a National Geographic photographer, and on the other, I was secretly relieved when the elephants' horseplay started taking them a little farther from our truck.













After a while, the male elephants had gotten a little ways away from our road, and Fred and Martin decided to drive forward. Fred warned us that, after we passed, one of the elephants might mock charge us, and that is exactly what happened, but even I could tell by then that the elephant didn't really have his heart in it -- he just took a few steps toward us, then went back to playing with his mates.


On the way home, I was able to capture a few bird pictures, one of (I believe) a white-fronted bee eater, and another of a yellow hornbill.







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I've really been looking forward to this post! Some of you might remember that in my first trip to South Africa, I was so delighted to see a leopard and her five-month-old cub together -- in fact, they were the first animals I ever saw on safari. It's not too strong a statement to say that that sighting changed my life in ways that are still playing out for me today.


Believe it or not, I got to see the mother (Xikavi) and her cub again this year! I learned that leopard cubs stay with their moms for upwards of two years, so it's not odd to see a 14-month-old with his mother (though I feel like I do see some teenager-y expressions of dissent coming into his eyes). But, I do feel incredibly lucky that (1) the cub is still alive and (2) they're still in the same area.


So, the good news is that I was incredibly moved by this and sat up in the third tier of seats, grateful that I was by myself (mom was sitting by Fred), and tearing up quite a lot. The bad news is that, in all of this emotion, I didn't get the greatest pictures. That's OK with me, though -- I was never going to replicate those first pictures anyway, and I was just glad to experience the moment.


Here are the pictures I do have.






This is where I feel like I can begin to see that unmistakable drawing-away look that teenagers all share.








It's still nice to cuddle with mom sometimes.




Is it just me, or does he look a little mortified that his mom is still bathing him?




A picture of the cub by himself (I don't think he has a name yet). He's going to be a very handsome fellow.






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But, as is so often the case in nature, what was at one moment beautiful and touching became farce in the next, as a hyena, spotting the leopards' kill and noticing that neither leopard was paying much attention, came in and stole it from under their noses. The cub went into hiding, and Xikavi sat on the sidelines, not quite up to challenging the large hyena, but waiting to see if his attention would wander.






By this point, a number of other vehicles were all waiting to see the leopards, and now the hyena too -- in fact, I suspect Fred had been putting them off for some time, seeing that this particular sighting was really important for me. But, of course, we couldn't be sighting hogs forever -- I wouldn't want to be a sighting hog either -- and so it was time to move on.


On our way from the sighting, we saw this lost, but rather uniquely friendly-looking zebra, and told him not to go in the direction of the leopards and hyena.




As night fell, we passed by the pride of lions we had been seen several times on our trip so far, and once again, they were flat. My mom was particularly touched, though, by a male lion who was following one particular female everywhere she went. If she moved to the other side of the road, so did he; if she opened her eyes, so did he. Surely, for the lions, it was because the lioness was shortly to go into estrous, but from the way my mom talked about them afterwards, I knew she was thinking of my father and the 40-year relationship they had had.






That night, we had dinner in the bush, which was just lovely.




And then after that, Fred had agreed to take me out to a field to try a little night photography. Unfortunately, my starter camera (a Nikon D3300) is not the best at taking timed shots, and neither of us had ever tried night photography before. However, I had done a little reading/video watching, and Fred really kindly had watched a few videos himself to prep for the evening, and so we headed out.


It was, I must say, a little odd suddenly being in the middle of a field at night, in a place where you know for sure there are predators about, and getting out of the vehicle. Fred was comfortable -- from his stories, it's clear that he goes camping a lot, and I guess if you grow up in South Africa, it doesn't seem odd. But, if you've been warned a number of times to Never. Stand. In. The. Vehicle. and then you find yourself, blind as a bat, stumbling over the pock-marked rodent-hole-ridden ground that you've only ever driven on, and then trying to develop an expertise in night photography while listening for the rustle of a stalking big cat -- let's just say that it's thrilling and frightening and I probably should have had a few more beers at dinner.


Anyway, here are the results; the last one looks like a shooting star but actually was taken when the tripod fell over due to one leg falling into a rodent warren of some kind, and at that point, we decided that enough was enough.






Fred tried a little painting with light on the tree with this one.




Here's the "shooting star."




The crazy thing is, I'd love to do it again. I mean, it was odd, and awkward, and made me realize how incredibly mind-numbingly little I know about all these animals I thought I had been coming to know from the safety of the vehicle -- but that just made me want to know about them more. Maybe one day I will.







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Really enjoying both the photos and words! You have had some wonderful sightings - love the leopard cub with butterfly and the contrast of the two brothers. How funny that I was thinking of Winnie the Pooh in Michael's trip report in response to your comment about the rat, and you were also thinking of it here in your own report about the Mom leopard! Love the little ele excited for the water, and how great to see the leopard Mom and her cub a year later! The night photography came out really well, I think.

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Super you found "your" Leopard family again - I still remember that post from your first report. Beautiful star photography, well done!

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How exciting to find Xikavi and her cub again. I wouldn't worry too much about the photos of them this time around -- they're actually perfectly wonderful, but you are so right -- how could you top what you captured last time, and as your first sighting, no less? Like an author who has just come off a best-selling masterpiece, you will always pursue the new, but you know that some things are unlikely to ever be bested again -- but you never know.....and so you keep at it. So glad you were able to make their acquaintance again.


I think your D3300 did really well on the night photography. I've never tried it, but am inspired to now, especially now that I know the trick of knocking over your tripod for good effect!

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