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Baby elephant attempting to give mama some water

Baby Elephant attempting to give Mama a drink from the riverbed. The water level is high so the elephants don’t have to dig too deep to get fresh water.

A little over six weeks ago, we drove out of Umlani Bush Camp and made our way back to Johannesburg. We had a plane heading for London to catch the next day. Not going to lie, both my daughter and I had a tear in our eye as we left the magical Timbavati Private Reserve. This safari was everything I dreamed it would be but I was also a sad/angry that a lot of the animals are at risk from poachers. Thankfully, there are those willing to fight against them but it seems like a losing battle sometimes. As with drugs, the demand for animal parts needs to be stopped but oh, what a complicated weave that is.

There were so many wonderful memories from our nine days there and below is a recap in photos. My heart is happy when I look at them…

Bird Colorful

The lilac-breasted roller in South Africa.

Monkey with blue balls

Vervet Monkey, males are known for their bright blue scrotum and vivid red penis. They have a complicated vocal communication system. For example, one screech will indicate a predatory bird and all the vervets will scan the sky. Likewise, a snake call will have all looking at the ground. 

Steenbok running

The Steenbok is a small, brown antelope. Females don’t have horns. They zig-zag as they run when avoiding a predator.

Giraffes three

Always a thrill to see Giraffes ~ they are such interesting creatures. Where there are giraffes, there are usually zebras. And like the zebra stripes, the brown and white pattern on the giraffe is unique to each individual. These are males because their stumps are bald. The females are tufts.

Sunset in The Timbavati

Sunset in South Africa

If you’d like to see additional safari photos, follow along on instagram @beachbums88

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Of all the animals we saw on safari, the leopard was the most beautiful and my favorite to watch prowl. They are graceful creatures, with stunningly intense gazes. Their eyes are amazing to watch as they stare at either food or foe.

Leopards prefer hiding in the bush and are so stealth, we considered ourselves very lucky to have experienced seven different leopard sightings during our nine-day stay in the Timbavati. On our first early morning drive, Cabinet, the Umlani tracker, pointed to a female leopard hiding in a bushy area staring intently in one direction:

leopard bloody whiskers.JPG

She still had blood on her long beautiful whiskers which indicated a fresh kill. As we drove around the corner to see if we could get a better view of her, we saw what held her impenetrable gaze:

Hyena eating the leopards kill

Hyena One Blind Eye II

A one-eye blind hyena was munching away on her recently killed impala. She was waiting to see if she could steal it back. Michael, our Wildeye Photographic guide, explained that hyenas are much stronger than the leopard, higher on the food chain and frequently steal their kills. Leopards attempt to get their meals into a tree and out of the reach of hyenas but this hyena was too quick for her.

As we watched the Hyena and Leopard, our Umlani guide said “Look, Ellies” ~ we turned around to see a large herd of elephants moving up to the waterhole. I was astounded that this was what we were witnessing on our first morning out. Absolutely amazing!!

Elephants at the waterhole

All creatures in the bush give a respectful wide berth to the elephants. No one wants to be on the receiving end of a elephant tusk or foot. As the herd came in, the leopard watched closely to see if the hyena would scurry away but unfortunately for her, he confronted her. She’s a little hard to see in the following video but look to the left ~ she’s snarling in the bush.  Her growl was enough to get the hyena to leave her alone

Any leopard sighting is thrilling because they are so secretive and prefer to stay undercover.

Our last morning drive we saw the same beautiful female leopard with a recently-killed grey duiker. We came full circle with her and I was pleased she finally got to eat the meal she caught.

Leopard with bloody nose

Female leopard with bloodied nose from eating a grey duiker

Leopard looking at the camera

 

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The term Big Five was originally coined by big game hunters but is now used by  those wanting to see and photograph the following in South Africa: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros and Cape Buffalo.

I went on safari without expectations of “must see” animals. But our guides were invaluable in finding us the Big Five within the first two days of our nine day safari. Michael from Wildeye, SA not only told us about animal behavior but could predict when they would get up, yawn, walk by us, etc. It helped a lot in capturing the animal’s behaviors. Always good to have a few seconds warning to get the camera ready when there might be only one chance to snap a photo.

A male leopard was the first of the Big Five we saw on our first drive out in the bush. Back at camp, before we started on the drive, some of the guests mentioned they had been waiting days for a leopard sighting. Guests on different vehicles would compare notes as to which animals had been spotted ~ reminded me of Apres Ski talk around the fire when skiers would brag about double-black diamonds & vertical feet. Except at Umlani. talk around the firepit is all about the animals!

We are all so excited when Shadrack pointed and said “leopard” ~

leopard at night ii

The rest of the Big Five were spotted numerous times over our nine day stay.

I’ve had some people question why I would spend the money traveling to a far-away country to see animals I can view at the zoo. Those are people who don’t know me well. I cry at zoos so I don’t go. The chance to view animals in their natural environment was priceless for me. The multiple sightings were fascinating because the behaviors changed each time. My idea of heaven on earth.

Here are some of our sightings of other Big Five:

Rhino large male

Lion eyes

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As we drove through the gates into the Private Reserve, I had to pinch myself ~ it was the start of a safari trip I’d been planning for several months, and had been dreaming about for years!

Our driver asked what animal we were most interested in seeing during our nine day visit and my daughter immediately said “Giraffe.”  No sooner had she said giraffe, we came around the corner and there was one munching on some leaves.  It was a fabulous way to begin our wildlife adventures.

Giraffe over the trees

We arrived at Umlani Bushcamp and were greeted by Michael Laubscher from Wildeye .

Umlani Patti, Logan and Michael at lunch

He would be our photographic guide for the entire time we were at our Africa lodge. Unfortunately, I broke my wrist two weeks prior to going on safari, but both my husband and daughter jumped in with both feet (or should I say “with both hands”) and learned as much as they could about photography from Michael. We didn’t keep track of who took which photos so all photos will be considered “Team Beachbums.”

I’m so glad we chose to go with a Wildeye private- guided safari. I knew personalities would be important and was relieved to find that Michael’s easy-going but professional style was perfect for us. Michael was a safari guide for many years before becoming a photographic guide and his ability to anticipate what an animal would do next was invaluable to getting the perfect photo.

The Bush Camp provided a private guide/driver (Shadrack) and tracker (Cabinet) for the duration of our stay. They were both incredible and I’m still amazed how they were able to see small creatures, sometimes at night, while riding in a vehicle and the animal blending in with their surroundings. Truly amazing.

It was so nice to have a private vehicle so we could spend as much time as we wanted at a sighting rather than being in a vehicle with others who preferred to chase the next Big 5 animal sighting.

The camp we stayed at blends in with the environment and was made from natural materials in a traditional African style. There is no electricity in the thatched rooms but there are solar lights which are placed on the nightstands. All accommodations have en-suite facilities including their open-air bush showers. There is also complimentary bottled water. The outdoor bathroom took a little getting use to but it was nice to shower under the warmth of the sun.

The very first animal we saw on safari was a Jackal. Beautiful but quick…

Jackel

…and then we saw our first of seven Leopard sightings. More on that next time.

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I’M GOING ON A SAFARI!!!!

A little over a year or so ago, I read about Gerry Van der Walt from Wild Eye Photo Safaris as being the one to watch on Periscope for wildlife. I started watching him on safari tours and it was amazing to see the lions, hippos, elephants, rhinos, big cats, etc ~ and all of it was live. But I became “hooked” when I switched over to Snapchat which is my preferred forum for seeing all the wildlife updates. Gerry posted lots of the baby animals. Seriously, what’s cuter than those amazing strong animals as tiny (and not so tiny) babies. Cue: Heart Melting!!

Gerry and the rest of the Wild Eye team are very consistent with updating their social media, so much so that when Gerry went quiet for a few days ~ I became worried something happened on one of the safaris. Those animals do get close to the vehicles. Turns out, I missed the snap where he said he was going somewhere without wifi and he would be off-line.

The photos and snap stories are so amazing and I shared many of them with my husband and daughter. Through Gerry’s instagram account, I found a youth photographer, David whose award-winning photo is now on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History’s Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit.  If you’re in Washington, DC and have an interest in wildlife/photography, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit. The “Leopards” photo was taken while David was on a safari in the Timbavati Private Reserve.

photo-young-boy-with-winning-youth-photo

Youth Photographer viewing “Youth Photographer” winners at the Museum of Natural History

I’ve dreamed about going on a safari ever since those Wild Kingdom TV shows back in the day. Whenever my husband and I discussed going, it always came down to time and money. Mostly money. It seemed out of our reach. And I’m not a fan of being on tour groups where I’m required to be around a lot of people and on their schedule. I was overwhelmed with the logistics, money and basic planning. I didn’t want to go on a trip of a lifetime and not enjoy it because I didn’t know what or where to go. It seemed too daunting to tackle.

Things changed this past fall when one day Gerry asked on Snapchat “What’s keeping YOU from going on a safari?” My first thought was “the logistics” and secondly, I thought about the cost. It must be common to everyone because he immediately addressed how Wild Eye can organize a tour based on a budget provided by the guest.

I took a chance and emailed my per-person budget along with possible dates. Gerry wrote back within hours and asked pertinent questions about my preferences: which were the top animals I wanted to see, luxury v. eco-lodge, and did I prefer to be with other people or on a private guide. A few days later, Gerry recommended we go on a privately guided safari in the Timbavati Private Preserve in South Africa with Michael from Wild-Eye. Having already seen David’s (youth photographer) great photos from Timbavati, I was sold.

Timbavati borders Kruger National Park and, because there are no fences, the animals go back and forth between the park and the preserve. Bottom line, we wouldn’t be going on this trip if I hadn’t stumbled onto Wild Eye through periscope. They’ve made it too easy to plan such a fabulous adventure.

More on the details of planning in my next post but if you want to follow Wild Eye to see their fabulous wildlife images, you have your pick of social media outlets:

  • Gerry (Wild Eye founder) is on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat as: Gerryvanderwalt
  • Gerry’s The Wildlife Photography Podcast is on Itunes/Soundcloud
  • Our guide is on Instagram and Snapchat as: Michael.Laubscher
  • For additional info on Wild Eye click here

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I had the opportunity to leave the social media realm and see several of my favorite photographers’ works in the real world. It got me thinking about why I follow certain photographers out of the millions who are on social media.

As a wildlife fan, I find myself skimming instagram, twitter, wordpress and snapchat for all things wildlife and nature oriented. But there are only five photographers I follow daily ~ they bring an extra dash of joy to my life with their amazing skills and ability to capture the essence of majestic creatures. All five have one essential quality in common which is required for me to follow them; they are all conservationists.

My most recent follow is @Davidrphoto on Instagram. Of the photographers I follow, he is by far the youngest, currently a student at Stanford and his photos are from his trips to Africa. His “Youth Photographer of the Year” award-winning photo is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is titled: The 21st Annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Smithsonian Exhibition. Windland Smith Rice was a nature photographer and conservationist.

photo-david-r

The exhibition includes short videos with footage of the moments the photographer captures the award-winning photo. I was completely enthalled watching the videos and blown away by the amazing talent. I’m especially impressed with the profound patience they possess which is required to capture the perfect shot.

photo-video-of-leopard-and-cub

Video of the “Youth Photographer of the Year” winner David Rosenzweig

If you have an interest in photography, I highly recommend attending the free exhibit when you’re in Washington DC. The current exhibit will be on display until Sept 2017. The museum is located along the National Mall at 1000 Madison Drive NW. The closest metro stop is Archives/Navy Museum (Yellow Line).

There’s more information at the Museum of Natural History and you can view the photos on Facebook. I promise you the images are stunning in person and well worth the trip to the museum.

photo-museum-of-natural-history

Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History ~ Exhibit Banners

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