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Do Look Up - a return to the Timbavati, November 2022


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A belated trip report for a safari that was also belated.


The original plan was for my son (who lives in Australia) and myself to head to the Timbavati in April 2020. As we all know Covid stopped all travel and when we tried to rearrange dates for October of the same year we were again frustrated by travel restrictions. The original cancellation was followed by a long fight with Singapore Airlines to get Matt's airfare returned and we never heard again from South African Airways about our domestic tickets. I elected to leave our deposit with the lodge and Kambaku were extremely flexible in allowing me to delay rebooking until mid-2022. 

It wasn't possible for Matt to come over and we decided that my wife would accompany me even though safari isn't really an interest of hers. we a were able to use some of our large stash of airmiles to book business class returns between London and Johannesburg with British Airways and chose to use Federal Air for our trip to and from Hoedspruit - although expensive it seemed the least unstable option at that point the main SA airlines all seeming to be going through restructuring or even bankruptcy. 

We stayed for 5 nights at Kambaku and had a private evehicle for half of our stay (that had been part of the original booking). Everything went smoothly and much was seen - a lot of it involving wildlife that seemed to prefer being in trees.







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Posted (edited)

Our overnight flight from London was uneventful and we were met at the aircraft gate by a fast track service that I had used on a couple of trips before Covid. It was soon clear that this was completely unnecessary as Johannesburg airport was eerily quiet and there were no queues at any stage. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Fed Air rep at arrivals so we made our way to their office in the bus station and waited for 15 minutes before someone turned up. This reflected our booking experience with Fed Air who kept changing schedules and even the destination airstrip much to the frustration of both us and Kambaku who were trying to sort transfers from the plane to the lodge. In the end we did fly into the public airport at Hoedspruit as usual and had a pleasant flight after an hour in the Fed Air lounge.

A minibus transferred us to the lodge where we were met by some old friends (although the head ranger has unfortunately moved on to a non-guiding job elsewhere as bills had to be paid). The lodge was looking in very good order and we learnt that they had spent a good deal of lockdown time repairing and renewing.

It was obviously still very quiet everywhere we went and the lodge was never more than half full during our stay - I'm pleased to say that looking at their website they seem almost completely full for this November however.


We were treated to lunch and then unpacked with a few minutes spent sorting out my cameras. As usual I took two bodies and two lenses. The main workhorse was my Nikon Z9 partnered with a 100-400 Nikon lens and 1.4 T/C giving me 140-560mm and lots of ability to crop from the 45 megapixel files. The second camera was a Z6ii with a 24-70 lens attached although that didn't get used much. One disadvantage to the Z9 setup I use is that the maximum aperture is f/8 but the Z9 is generally well mannered with high ISO and Topaz Denoise works wonders when it isn't. The 100-400 also has a short minimum focus distance and can do a passable imitation of a macro lens when needed


We set out on our first evening drive and our first sighting was (as would frequently be the case) up in a tree. As far as I can work out I think this is a fairly pale Tawny Eagle but would welcome confirmation or correction:




Edited by pomkiwi
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It’s a pale morph Wahlberg’s eagle @pomkiwi

our first flight back to SA after COVID was similar, although Heathrow was also eerily quiet (jan 22). I liked parking close to immigration in OR Tambo!

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Back in the Groove


The afternoon was cloudy but dry. After our first eagle we stopped for a small bachelor group of buffalo one of whom was happy to pose for a portrait:






Then some more tree life:








A solitary male elephant was untroubled by our presence:




Even the nyala and waterbuck were relaxed:






We then arrived for our turn with a pride of lions just as some were stirring:








Quite a few of the pride of 20+ were having a lie in:




However they soon started to wake and re-establish the family onds:






Fairly soon they decided to move off:






We were able to get to a position to watch one drinking (just):




However this position was luckily just below a small rise over which some more member of the pride were arriving:






Some of the adolescents decided to climb a small tree but unfortunately this was against what was left of the light:




It was clear that lions should really leave tree climbing to leopards as the process of getting down was tentative, slow and clumsy:




After this we elected not to try and follow the pride through the bush but instead found some water and enjoyed a late sundowner:




All in all a good return to safari after three years away.


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Posted (edited)

The Black Lions of the Timbavati?


Day 2 started clear and then sunny. Leaving the lodge the initial interest was in the trees:






We then had moments of excitement and disappointment only seconds apart:






For nearly two days both we (and I think even more so our guide) worried that this would be our leopard sighting for the week.


On our way in from the airport we had seen an old and very lame buffalo just off the road. We all agreed that he was in trouble if any lions bumped into him. Just how much trouble soon became clear:




This was not the same pride as the previous evening with fewer sub-adults and a number of much younger cubs. One of the two males was keeping control but all of the lions were filthy:




The cubs were looking for ways in:



Our views were limited and other vehicles had arrived to share the sighting. I asked if we could move over to the top of the adjacent dam as some of the pride had moved away in that direction. A couple of the young adults were settling down, although pretty dirty they didn't appear to be particularly full:




The cubs however seemed to auditioning as black bowling balls:



The cubs went down for a drink but frustratingly the light was very harsh and we could not get down to a positon for any reflection photos:






This seemed to be a good moment to move off and we found a spot for morning coffee with reason to elevate our glance:




Other occupants of the coffee spot that could have proved reason to look up disappointly stayed on the ground:





We continued on with encounters with a mongoose family and confiding steenbok:






I nearly managed a leopard reflection shot but was again disappointed:




A lilac breasted roller took off without rolling:






The drive finished with another dragonfly this time hanging off of the sunshade cable at the lodge and causing us to look up again:




Edited by pomkiwi
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Cleaner Lions


We returned to the buffalo kill at the start of our afternoon drive - the only vehicle to do so. A few of the lions were picking at the remains, mainly the younger cubs being watched over by a couple of the young adults:










The bulk of the pride were sleeping it off under some trees on top of the dam:




We were in a slightly better position to catch a reflection while the lioness was drinking (but still no way of getting head on):




As the light became golden one of the males woke and offered a lovely portrait opportunity:




The first reason to look up on this drive was to follow a marabou stork at takeoff:




We then had a gentle time finding some zebra and a hyena :






As the sun set we were with a small family group of elephants but I couldn't get the shot I wanted:






That night after dinner we transferred to a 2 story hide by a waterhole that had been converted to allow a luxury sleepout. As it turned out the night became quite stormy with brisk winds and lots of lightening but fortunately no rain. Before that happened we were treated with lovely views of a full moon.




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Day 3 - A Gentle Start


We were collected from the hide at around 6am and headed off on a gentle drive.There was a glimpse of sun as we rounded the corner to a family gropu of rhinos:




We had little option but to turn around as they appeared settled:



Usually I've found waterbuck to be quite skittish but this individual was relaxed:



Close to one of the dams there were weaver birds (southern masked I think) hard at work:







As well as a distant woodland kingfisher:



A kudu was looking up and feeding from the bushes:



We were initially able to look down at the giraffes as they were in a shallow valley but soon returned to the more usual situation of looking up:






The zebras were active although the cause wasn't obvious and they settled quickly:





A small batchelor group of buffalo managed to look suitably threatening.



Although it was quiet there had been reports of lions in the vicinity so we decided to wait for a little while before heading back to the lodge. A good decision as it turned out.

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Zebras, Lions and not Much Else


We sat with the zebras for a while and played at being creative:








Our ranger had been tipped off that a couple of male lions were on the move and we headed back down the road and waited. Ten minutes later one appeared:





He was followed by his brother who promptly sat down:



Fairly quickly they appeared to pick up the secnt of the zebras and moved purposely though the bush:







They both settled a couple of minutes before the zebras came into sight but it seemed pretty clear the hiding places were not very effective:





One of the lions quickly seemed to get bored and started a half charge:



The zebras scattered and stopped and looked a little sheepish:



The fun was clearly over and we headed back to the lodge for breakfast. 


The afternoon drive was as quiet as any I've had.



We looked up for the bee-eater:



A large monitor summed up the mood:



Even the previous days lions were still sleeping off their feed and the cubs were not in playing mood:




We headed for home and nobody was mentioning leopards.

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Lovely images and story!

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  • 5 weeks later...

Many lovely images @pomkiwiI love the way the zebra cooperated!  The weavers must have been mesmerizing as well!


Too bad the lions didn't have some patience.

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