Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Serengeti NP Day 4: A day of spots

Up again at the crack of dawn, we were ready to go at 6am even though it was still dark.  But it was an hour’s drive to the leopard, so we left in the dark hoping to be one of the first at the leopard.  In the end, we were the second car to be on the scene, the other being a guided tour vehicle with one guy with a massive lens – he no doubt had the same idea as us.

The leopard was still in the same position sleeping although we could see he had eaten a bit of the gazelle in the night.  So we settled in with our coffee to wait him out in the hopes that he would get up to eat. Soon enough we thought we’d get some excitement when a spotted hyena arrived, seeming to have smelt the kill, but left soon after.

Keeping an eye on the leopard
An hour, an entertaining lilac-breasted roller and more cars later, he started to move around, and eventually got up and moved towards the kill.  He actually lay over the gazelle and started plucking the fur, an interesting sight to see.  Finally, he started to eat from the back and we were in the perfect position to photograph it in nice morning light.  (Even the guy with the big camera didn’t have as good a position as ours ;))

Morning snack
He spent a long time eating, even dropping a bit of the insides onto the ground and we happily photographed, videoed and watched him eat – it helped that our decision this morning had been right and went some way to making up for the wrong decisions we’d made yesterday ;)

And a bit more...
After an hour of eating, he went back to his branch and lay down again, and looked like he was drifting off to sleep again.  We were planning to wait him out for a bit longer, but then we noticed that the big lens photographer was leaving. 

Now this is always a dilemma for us as we’re not hooked up on radio so have no idea of the potential sightings out there.  So we were in a quandary but figured that is a man with a big lens – obviously a professional or very serious amateur – was prepared to leave a leopard with a kill in a tree, there must be something good out there.  So we decided we’d follow them and hope that it wasn’t just that he needed to get to the airstrip in time to get his flight out ;)

Was he leaving?
Before we left, Dru just wanted to move forward a bit as he could get a nice clear shot of the leopard’s face, but just after the photos were taken, the leopard decided to get up again and get down the tree – so our quandary had now been solved – stay put!

Unfortunately, we weren’t in a good position as he got down on the opposite side of the tree, but we were glad we weren’t on that side otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to catch him eating. 

The leopard got down and stared into the plains, before heading that way.  He looked like he would just disappear and many of the cars figured the same, as they started to move off, but we weren’t going anywhere just in case he came back.
Eating the leftovers
And he did – hoorah!  He slowly made his way back and then headed around the tree and straight towards our car, for us to get nice head on shots. He stopped under the tree and started eating the bits and pieces of gazelle that he’d dropped when eating.  We were in the perfect position to photograph this while he ate facing us.  Having finished most of it, he did what most cats do – he started covering it up with dirt; we assume that this was to hide the scent from other predators.

Covering up his meal
Done with his impromptu walkabout, he lay down at the base of the tree keeping his back to the road and staring in the veld.  We figured sooner or later he’d get back up so decided to wait a bit longer. 

We were just joking that we needed a hyena to come around now, when someone from another car said “Look, a hyena!”  Sure enough, a hyena appeared from the veld, and was slowly heading towards the leopard.  The leopard didn’t appear to have seen him, neither had the hyena seen the leopard.  They finally spotted each other, but it appeared that the hyena wasn’t prepared to take on the leopard by himself because he soon slunk off and disappeared between the cars and into the ravine.

Posing nicely for us
The leopard meanwhile had decided that it would be better to be back up in the tree, so jumped up into the branches, but not before laying down in the fork of the tree and staring straight at us – awesome!  It was then up onto one branch before lying down for a while, not being happy with that position, jumping to the next branch, before ending up in the same position that we’d found him when we’d got there about 3 hours ago. 

Changing branches

We debated what to do and decided that we’d seen everything that we’d wanted to, and it was all in very good light.  By now it was almost 10am and the light was harsh, any more photos would probably not be nearly as good as what we’d seen in the morning.  So, very satisfied with our morning sighting, we decided to leave him to sleep and head to the visitors’ centre. 

Tommy drinking
Because we’d got back to camp late the previous night, we hadn’t been able to put diesel in the car, so we wanted to buy some diesel at the fuel stop before heading further than the immediate Seronera area.  A quick stop at the visitors’ centre when we had a brunch of biscotti and bananas, we stopped to buy fuel before heading to near Mawe Meupe again, still in the hopes of catching the cheetahs. 

Hippos in a row
As we were nearing the turnoff, we noticed some cars at a kopje.  Thinking it may be the cheetahs that had so far eluded us, we headed that way, only to find that it was another leopard fast asleep at the base of the kopje.

Unfortunately, although he was close to the road, he was in a bad position for shooting as not many cars could get a good sighting at once, so you had to wait in a queue to get a quick shot.  We decided to leave him, and instead take the scenic route towards Lake Magadi after hearing that no one had seen the cheetahs in the morning.

Not a great sighting, but our own leopard!
The drive is quite scenic along a river or a freshwater spring, and we were pleasantly surprised to spot a leopard in a tree on the side of the road – again.  It’s always nice to spot one on your own, not relying on the tour guides’ sharp eyes, but this leopard was pretty shy and didn’t want to show himself. 

We stopped and had lunch there while waiting for him to get down or move into a better position, but by the time we’d finished eating he hadn’t moved, and we decided to leave him.
Yellow-throated longclaw
We meandered along the river only seeing a nice large herd of buffalo and a big congregation of sacred ibis and yellow-billed storks flying overhead.  After getting back onto the main (corrugated) road to Lake Magadi, we came across a nice herd of elephants before turning off to head to the lake.  Not long after that, we found a solitary car stopped.  Not seeing what they were watching they point towards a tree and we both swear they said cheetah.  Maybe that was just our wishful thinking, but it turned out not to be a cheetah, but another leopard!  
Young leopard asleep
This one was a young leopard lying on a log next to the tree.  He was pretty relaxed and we sat with him while he slept.  Then all of a sudden it was as if he’d spotted something and was trying to figure out whether it was friend or foe, because he went stiff and stared intently ahead of him.  In the end whatever had startled him seemed to disappear, because he relaxed and then jumped off the log and into the tall grass, melting away soon enough.  We decided not to wait but to head to the lake as we weren’t sure of the time that it would take to get back.

Something attracted his attention
Lake Magadi seemed fuller than previous years as we couldn’t get close to the shore birds, but we did have some nice close up sightings of lesser flamingos, who were just walking around the shore and trying to suck any algae found in the little puddles of water.

Lesser flamingos feeding
We weren’t planning to go any further than the lake so headed back the same way we’d come, hoping to catch the young leopard again.  And luck was with us, because this time he was sitting in the fork of the tree next to the log.  The light was pretty poor and he refused to look back towards us, so we took a few shots of his back and then left him to do the drive back to Seronera.

Close up feeding
The road was again pretty corrugated and we made slow going but arrived earlier than we had expected after not seeing anything of interest to make us stop.  Now back in the area, we made a beeline for the leopard with the kill again, but he was fast asleep and knowing we wouldn’t get any better photos than we had in the morning because of the light, we decided to head towards the hyena dens and see if we could catch the pups up and about.

Olive baboon youngster hitching a ride
Unfortunately, when we got to the den we found that it had been abandoned, and there was no sign of the hyenas around.  Luckily soon after we found their new den.  This one wasn’t as close to the road however, and though we could see the youngsters playing around they weren’t close enough to get any good shots.  We were amused that there was a large warthog happily grazing near the den with plenty of hyenas around, but they didn’t seem to bother him, and when they got too close to him, he just swished his tusks around and they scattered.

Common moorhen
Cruising back to the campsite, we got into camp a lot earlier than expected.  But it was just as well, as we soon discovered that our back door wasn’t opening.  This had happened before, and normally some WD40 spray fixes the problem, but this time no matter how hard we tried – it just wouldn’t open.  This was a big problem for us, because not only do we access all our stuff from the back, but the bottom of the door also serves as our table. 

Straited heron

This called for a repacking of our car, so that we could access the most used stuff from the back seat – all in all, it took us an hour to get repacked and sorted – luckily we were back when there was still light as doing this in the dark would have been a nightmare, especially since there were a few dagga boys (old male buffaloes) hanging around close to our camp.

Cape buffalo with yellow-billed oxpecker
And later in the night they got even closer, giving us a bit of a scare as they walked just outside the ring of light that our lantern shone.  We actually saw the next morning that there were buffalo pats right outside the toilet block door – not the kind of animal that you’d want to encounter in the middle of the night!!

Look closely - a leopard, a kill and a hyena
 - what you dream about in the Serengeti!
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Day 5: Chasing after cheetahs >>

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