Category Archives: Animals

Mthethomusha Safari

I’ve just returned from a fantastic 17 day trip to South Africa and, as always, my first priority – to the chagrin of my long-suffering boyfriend, who would rather I was emptying my suitcase or helping to clean the flat – has been to edit down my several hundred photos. Here, I present to you: Part I. Yes, that means there will be more to follow.

The trip started with four days on safari in the Mthethomusha game reserve, just outside Kruger National Park. We stayed in Bongani Mountain Lodge, perched high above the valley and enjoying breathtaking views across to the Drakensberg mountain range. Impala and baboons were frequent visitors around the lodge, elephants roamed the hills, and from the lookout you could often see zebra and wildebeest drinking from the watering hole. We even saw two male giraffes fighting whilst relaxing one day by the pool – David Attenborough eat your heart out!

Our regular guide was Johnson, a big, serious guy, who insisted on running through umpteen safety procedures before each drive and yet had no qualms about taking himself off on foot into the bush in search of lions. He was an excellent tracker and got us up close to rhino, buffalo, kudu, giraffe, nyala and a whole host of other animals, as well as spotting much smaller creatures…such as the tiny chameleon he clocked on a tree branch from a fast-moving jeep one evening, after the sun had already set! Yeah, he was impressive. The drives themselves, all off-road on bumpy, dusty tracks at dawn and dusk each day, were fantastic. I never want to forget how it felt to climb to the highest point in the area to stop and stretch our legs, taking in the incredible views and listening to the stillness as the sun rose.

The lions eluded Johnson though, to his frustration. It wasn’t until our trip into Kruger itself that we managed to see them up close: three males and a sleeping female. Seeing them in the wild is actually a little scarier than I was expecting; you realise how exposed you are in a topless jeep! Kruger was mind-blowing. Bigger than Wales (why is it always Wales?), the flat landscape stretching into infinity in all directions and the undergrowth teeming with animals. In addition to what we’d already encountered in Mthethomusha, we saw elands, hyenas, hippos, warthogs, bushbucks, vultures, tortoises, purple starlings, lizards and vervet monkeys. It was such an exciting and memorable experience.  And that evening we returned to the lodge for a braai (Afrikaans for ‘barbecue’) in the boma, a large circular eating space with open fire. Perfect!

So, four out of the ‘Big Five’ ain’t bad. Here are a small selection from my ridiculous number of photos…

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Sloth Bear

An India addendum, as promised: some photos from Ranthambore National Park, originally the hunting ground of the maharajas of Jaipur and now an official tiger reserve and wildlife haven. Bigger in size than both Edinburgh and Glasgow put together, it lies between the Aravalli and Vindhya mountain ranges in the Sawai Madhopur district of southeastern Rajasthan. While staying in the area, we went on three different safari drives and were lucky enough to have one of the best guides in the park. Hemraj Meena has won several awards as best birder and trekker in the region, as well as being one of the foremost promoters of ecotourism in India and a film assistant on two BBC wildlife programmes on Ranthambore.

While we failed to spot the elusive (and nocturnal) sloth bear, we did see a range of fantastic wildlife. Rising at dawn for the morning drives, and returning after sunset on our later foray, we spotted sambar stags, peacocks, marsh crocodiles, a turtle, storks, various wading birds, monkeys, an assortment of deers and antelopes, a warthog, and (the tail of) a mongoose. The scenery was just as impressive, sometimes more so. Majestic banyan trees, ruined forts and pavilions, stark African-like plains, and the stunningly beautiful Rajbagh Talao lake.

But what you really want to see is a tiger. There are only 56 in the park, so I didn’t hold out much hope. Happily, though, November is one of the best times to spot them, and we weren’t disappointed. After straining to see a distant cub (not more than a faint orange smudge in the distance) on our first drive, we were eventually rewarded with an up-close-and-personal encounter as our second trip was drawing to a close. The mother of the cub, Noor (or T-39, to use her official designation), emerged from the tall reeds and casually crossed the track in front of our jeep. Amazing! The real highlight of the holiday.

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Raptors

Yesterday we drove into the Bedfordshire countryside for my long-awaited trip to the English School of Falconry. A whole day of watching, photographing and handling birds of prey: extremely exciting! As well as flying eagles and owls, I also got to hold a kestrel, hug a pelican, and witness a buzzard fight. Now that’s what I call a good birthday present…

IMG_6379American Barn Owl

IMG_6382Gry x Saker Hybrid Falcon

IMG_6660Eurasian Eagle Owl (Credit: Paul Adnitt)

IMG_6409American Bald Eagle

IMG_6497American Barn Owl in Flight

IMG_6352Steppe Eagle

IMG_6405Snowy Owl

IMG_6632Chilean Blue Eagle (Credit: Paul Adnitt)

IMG_6550American Bald Eagle in flight

IMG_6416Great Grey Owl

IMG_6394Red-Tail Buzzard

IMG_6364Great Horned Owl

IMG_6511American Bald Eagle in flight (Credit: Paul Adnitt)

IMG_6628Chilean Blue Eagle

All Creatures Great and Small

The lion stood there: waiting;
She did not move – she was not dead, but as if turned to stone.
Muscles taut but motionless;
Eyes fiery and alert, unblinking.
And then –
Slowly, very slowly, she began to stalk;
Advancing quietly, reeds parting to let her through.
The power, the focus, the majesty –
She did not doubt that victory would be hers.
But I did not flee; I did not flinch.
For I was safe with my kind –
In the Antelope House.

– Victoria Wood, Age 10

IMG_6102Wrinkles (Port Lympne: 2011)

pelicanReflecting on the Situation (Sydney: 2011)

IMG_5863Calm and Collected (Kent: 2011)

CockI Will Be Heard! (Mudchute City Farm: 2013)

IMG_5767You Looking at Me? (Port Lympne: 2011)

IMG_5920Disinterest (Port Lympne: 2011)

zoo069Wisdom in Youth (London Zoo: 2013)

‘Cocks & ‘Hens

Peacocks are probably my third favourite bird, after penguins and flamingos.  WaitI forgot owlsand toucanshmm, maybe peacocks are my fifth favourite bird.  Anyway, I’m getting side-tracked.  They are very pretty in any case.  I’ve yet to capture a male displaying his train of feathers – surely the holy grail of peacock shots – but here is a collection of my favourite photos to date.

IMG_07871Beak-to-Beak (Palazzo Borromeo, Isola Bella) (Credit: Paul Adnitt)

IMG_45191True blue (Castle of São Jorge, Lisbon)

Others21Bum shot (Leeds Castle, Kent)

IMG_45121Not So Drab (Lisbon, Portugal)

IMG_4491Tentative Chicks (Lisbon)

IMG_42301Snow White (Isola Bella, Italy)

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The Train (Holland Park, London)

IMG_4551Elegant Snooze (Castle of São Jorge, Lisbon)

IMG_07921Strut (Isola Bella, Italy) (Credit: Paul Adnitt)

Fauna (Part 2)

I told you that Part 1 could only mean one thing. Feels slightly cheating, though, given I did a series of ZSL posts in between. But you can never have enough animal shots, that’s what I say

Squirrel 1

Startled Tree-Dweller (Greenwich Park: 2013)

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Nosy Youth (Temple Newsam: 2012)

IMG_2135Graceful Departure (Lindisfarne: 2009)

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Portrait Shot (London Zoo: 2013)

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Dragon Bug (London Wetland Centre: 2009)

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Always Alert (London Zoo: 2013)

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Cub Waiting (Kent: 2012)

kookoburraLaugh, Kookaburra, Laugh (Melbourne: 2011)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWeb of Intrigue (Phuket, Thailand: 2008)

ZSL: Penguins and other lesser birds

So, even though other birds can’t really hold a candle to the mighty penguin, there are some pretty cool ones out there.  Flamingos are ace, for example.  And there are lots of other awesome ones at London Zoo.  Can’t remember their names, sorry.  What do you think I am, a walking ornithology guide?

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