SAFARI!!! Right, out the gate at 6:00am as soon as it opened. Today we had an open safari vehicle, driven by a local guide.
We headed north from Satara camp in the cold predawn, our first sighting a flock of guineafowl in the middle of the road. We continued on, having great luck with views of a porcupine running of across the savannah, quills bobbing up and down as it went. They are relatively uncommon so this was a very good sighting.
Just past the porcupine we came to a massacre of guineafowl on the road. Some idiot had ploughed right through a whole flock, killing eight and injuring a couple more. The local wasn't too happy, and took photos to report the incident, he also found the number plate from the vehicle lying on the road, covered in blood and feathers, pretty damning evidence.
Throughout the course of the morning we saw steenbok (a small antelope), waterbuck (a large fluffy grey antelope), many impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, Southern Ground Hornbill, Harlequin Quail and a small herd of elephant right by the road which we stopped and spent a little time with.
Further along we stopped at a bird hide, and yes, we got out of the vehicle! We entered the hide and scanned the river, finding a couple of Nile Crocodile lazing on the banks. Out of the hide, we birded around the vehicle for ten minutes or so, picking up a few new species such as Green-backed Camaroptera.
Back in the vehicle, about a kilometre down the road we pulled up to scan the same river and this time we spotted three lions! There is absolutely no reason these lions couldn't have eaten us should they have happened to be a bit closer to our previous location. These were adolescent lions, two males and a female. The local guide said they were most likely young males chased off by their parents as is the way with lions, but that when they ran their sister went with them. If she rejoins with the pride in a day or two she will be accepted back, any longer and they will reject her and she won't survive. The wild is a harsh and unforgiving place.
A few kilometres further on we stopped at Timbavati Picnic Spot, and again we got out of the vehicle by the same river. A little crazy, but it's the done thing and a bit of a rush too. (Yes, I know you're all now wondering if we saw any white lions, as the Timbavati pride is where that mutation originated, and yes there is currently a sub-adult male white running with the pride but unfortunately we didn't see him. Another pride further south has two white females, fingers crossed for tomorrow). At the picnic spot we ate breakfast and got close-up views of some friendly Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Cape Glossy Starling, Greater Blue-eared Starling and also saw a Striped Tree Squirrel.
We stopped at another bird hide by a river, this time picking up Black Crake for our bird list. We were also very fortunate in that we saw a hippo amble down the river bank and head into the water. Hippo are nocturnal and it's quite rare to see them out of the water in the day. He yawned for us too, a display just to remind us how very big his teeth are. At this spot we also saw a female waterbuck come down to drink which was great. I'm quite taken with the waterbuck, they might even be my favourite animals here, though the impala are pretty cool too.
As the sun began to set we headed back towards camp, stopping at the cheetah site again. This time a head popped up out of the grass and we were on. The cheetah sat there for a moment then stood up, walked about twenty metres giving us a brilliant view, then plopped back down in the grass becoming invisible again. A very special sighting and a fantastic end to an exceptional day on safari.