Red-billed oxpeckers squabble over prime seating on the back of an African buffalo. These birds are famous for travelling on tolerant buffalo and other mammals, feeding on various insects on their hosts or nearby.
When the time comes, these birds build nests in tree cavities, which makes this photo all the more interesting. This group of birds seem to be using a rudimentary nest made out of mud and hair plucked from the back of this buffalo. This is the first time I have seen this and I haven’t been able to find any reports elsewhere, so if anyone has some insights into this behaviour, please share!
For good reason, the lilac-breasted roller is one of the most photographed birds in Eastern Africa. A stunningly colourful bird that I wanted to try to photograph in mid-flight. The hardest part was predicting the flight path, but with a bit of luck and a couple of attempts I came away with a few keepers.
This honey badger got into a very prickly situation when it decided to take on a crested porcupine! Before I had time to set up my camera, the porcupine made a mad dash directly towards our vehicle. With the badger momentarily distracted by the 17 massive, foot long quills protruding from its head, neck and shoulders, the porcupine sprinted (they can run pretty fast!) around the corner and escaped. The badger tried to follow its scent, but it was too late and it retreated back into the bush.
Honey badgers are known to be one the most fierce mammals around. They can withstand stings from hundreds of bees and multiple bites from highly venomous snakes. While this photo isn’t great (ISO 32000 to freeze the action in low light), I thought it was important to share since there are very few documented reports of honey badgers hunting porcupines. In fact, many state that honey badger skin is impervious to porcupine quills!
While not impervious, most of the quills were not deeply embedded; a testament to just how tough and thick badger skin is. I suspect that the likely outcome will be most of these quills will fall out on their own or will be scratched or bitten out by the badger. Long term, it might develop an infection, but given how tough these animals are, I also wouldn’t be surprised if keeps on going as if nothing happened!
Southern yellow-billed hornbills perched together in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
We lucked out with a close up leopard encounter along a river bed in Kruger. This impressive male had killed an adult male impala earlier in the morning and dragged it over 100 meters from the edge of the river, up a steep slope and into a small stand of trees right next to a pullout.
For the next few days we watched him off and on as he came back to feed in the early mornings. Such impressive animals and always a thrill to see them in the wild.
A common, but never dull sighting in Kruger National Park were the numerous turtles that used hippopotami as their basking platforms. With the hippos tired out from eating all night long they mostly rested in the water during the day, which gave the opportunistic turtles a perfect platform to grab some rays. Surprisingly, the notoriously cranky hippos didn’t seem to mind the reptilian free-loaders!
The extreme example of this was this dynamic duo. Not wanting to go back into the murky water, the turtle was determined to hang on while the hippo went for a stroll along the shore. I figured at some point it would either get scared and crawl off, or it would fall. However, I underestimated the determination of the turtle, who hung on and continued basking on the hippo’s back while being paraded around the watering hole! Always something new and interesting to see when watching wildlife.
The crested guineafowl, with bright red eyes and the the best feather mohawk I’ve seen, is one funky bird.
A flock of them visited our campsite in Kruger to take dust baths in the fine, dry soil right next to our tent.
The fine dirt is perfect for getting down between the feathers and to the skin to kill off lice, as well as to remove excess oils and keeps the feathers in good condition to allow for a quick escape from predators.
It’s been some time since my last post to say the least. Since April I’ve travelled to Tanzania for work and then onto South Africa for a holiday before eventually coming back to Canada. It had been a few years since I had been to this wonderful part of the world so it was great to get back. For the next little while I will post some images from my experiences there.
There was certainly no mistaking when this buffalo herd was nearby. Stretching for more than a kilometer, this large herd was a sight to be seen, kicking up dust with every step as they slowly made their way to one of the last remaining watering holes not dried up from the prolonged drought. Travelling along with them was their mini-ecosystem of assorted insects and birds.
Equally as impressive were the sounds. The constant rumble of their hooves pounding the dirt, periodically interrupted by snorting bulls crashing through bushes in their way, bawling calves, hordes of buzzing insects and flocks of squawking ox peckers.
Even when hidden from view and resting in the shade, getting downwind of them told me they had not gone far! Three adult lions were nearby, but they didn’t even bother getting up to investigate. With full stomachs and the hot sun beating down, they had no interest in testing the buffalo that day.
Sometimes spotting wildlife or for that matter, not spotting wildlife can be pretty dangerous. I remember floating down the Nile in Uganda minutes before an Egyptian cobra swam past the raft I had just jumped back into. On this occasion, the most venomous land snake in Africa and one of the most feared snakes in the world peers out at me in a tree where it’s was beautifully camouflaged. Black mambas are known to be very aggressive and are not to be taken lightly. Needless to say, I gave this one all the space it wanted.
If your options were a pride of half sleeping lions along a riverbed surrounded by buffalo, waterbuck and giraffe or a warthog carcass hanging in the tree next to a major park road with no leopard in sight, where would you choose to park your car? Not a bad decision to make but that was the choice I was facing late one afternoon near the Satara campsite. It was about 4pm, which meant there were only a two hours left before everyone had to be back into campsites for the 6pm curfew. Though I never got an official answer as to why the 6pm curfew, I’m almost certain it is mainly because of poaching within the park. With no other vehicles driving around it would be very easy for park wardens to spot any flashlights, headlights, etc. out in the park and catch any poachers (which unfortunately continue to be quiet a problem within the park). An added benefit is that is gives the animals a night of piece and quiet away from all the tourists. It seemed unlikely that the leopard would come back during the day and so we returned to the pride of lions, which included adult and sub-adult males and females were resting under some large trees adjacent to a river bed. Periodically one would get up, walk a few steps and flop back down into the grass. Buffalo and waterbuck knew they were there but they also wanted to get a drink. A few brave ones kept their eyes on the lions while they quickly grabbed a drink from the opposite side of the bank. Two male giraffe were off in the distance ‘necking’ which is where the males stand side by side and swing their heads out and down until they collide against each other as a way of determining strength and dominance. The lions showed a bit of interest but even though they didn’t look like they had recently fed, they did not make any attempts to go in for a kill. After watching them for some time, it was clear they were not going to go hunting anytime soon so we decided to drive back to check if the leopard had come back to claim it’s prize. While there had been a few cars parked along the road patiently waiting for the leopard to return the first time we passed by, this time there was a traffic jam! Sure enough, a big male leopard was laying overtop of his prize gazing down at all us and periodically licking the hide like a content house cat after catching a mouse. He took a few bites but seemed restless and within a few minutes he got up and jumped down out of the tree. To my surprise a hyena was lopping under the tree gazing up at the fresh meat when the leopard came down but neither of them paid any attention to the other. The leopard walk 20 meters away and laid down in the open savannah and the hyena continued to make circles under the tree. I had lost track of time but when I looked up all the cars were gone and it was 6pm. At that point we were already going to be late to the campsite. While I couldn’t remember exactly what the punishment for being late was, the fine was surely not going to be more than $20 dollars so what was a few more minutes? We watch the leopard as he cleaned off his face and paws and the hyena eventually gave up and wondered off. As the last bit of sunlight vanished from the sky we figured it was time to get back to the campsite and so with great hesitation I turned the car around, took one last glace at the leopard and raced back to the campsite. We were 14 minutes late. The gates were locked and a stern looking guard with a rifle was standing next to the gate. He took down our licence plate in case there were future transgressions and after a stern warning he let us in!
After taking a deep breath the young bull dunked his head under the water and rolled up onto his back. With his feet straight up into the air, he rolled back and forth as if he was using the bottom to scratch his back.
After fully coating himself in mud, this young bull elephant rolled himself up onto his feet before leisurely getting up to rejoin the rest of the bachelor herd. A few minutes later about 10 adult females and their calves emerged from the dense forest to have their turn at the watering whole. In the course of about an hour over 30 elephants stopped by the watering hole for some refreshment and play time. It was amazing to sit and watch them without them having a care in the world that we were there.
Two huge bull elephants cross the road in front of us. The rental car could have driven between their legs without touching them (although I wouldn’t recommend that you try!). The bull in the back was ancient as you can see by the length of his tusks, which grow throughout their lives. He also had very significant foot problems, especially on the left rear leg. He gingerly made his way across the road and down the slight decline. Foot problems in elephants are well documented in captivity but recent reports indicate that they are also a major cause of disease in wild elephants. In captivity, elephants receive daily foot care to maintain their feet in good condition and to recognize problems early. In the wild minor infections will heal on their own but this male had a deep infection in the left rear inner toe with a significant portion of the tissue missing which was obviously quite painful for him. Over time the infection will reach the bone causing osteomyelitis and could lead to the eventual demise of this magnificent animal.