"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, July 20, 2018

The 2018 Africa Journals, Ch. 6, Finding Lions

In an act of bravery and defiance rarely witnessed by modern humankind, Marg carefully opens her door and steps out to brave the dangerous denizens of the dark.

Heart in mouth, she makes the long journey from her room to our room and ducks inside to safety, or as safe as one can be in a bungalow that a juvenile elephant may or may not have been intent on caving in the roof the night before.

It’s 4 A.M.  when Marg successfully makes the eight-foot passage from her room to ours.   She doesn’t trip over the bench that lies in wait, like I would have done.

Eight feet between Marg's room and ours?   Yeah, maybe less.

“Can you hear the lions?!” she says when she comes in.   “I’ve been awake since 2 o’clock, listening to them.”   

We can’t and didn’t.  We were asleep.  She starts back to her room, promising to return if they start again.

She’s back and this time, awake now, we hear a lion roaring.

Let me describe how a lion’s roar sounds and looks.   It isn’t at all like MGM’s iconic Leo the lion.   (More about Leo later.)

First, the lion looks like it’s trying to retch up a massive hairball.   This takes two or three retches.

Or, maybe it’s trying to get enough air into its lungs, like pumping up a balloon before you let it go.

First pump:  “Arh…”

Second pump:  “Arrhhh.”

Third pump:    “Arrrrhhhhhhhh!”

All of this is accompanied with a deep bass rumble, so deep it’s almost beyond human hearing capabilities. It vibrates through you right to your soul, but in watching the process, you really have to wonder if it hurts a lion to roar.

Daybreak at Kirkman's Kamp.

Anyway, as soon as Ranger Matt collects us from our rooms for morning safari, he’s immediately bombarded with news of the lions.   Very, very close lions.

Once we’re fortified with caffeine, we’re off to find the lions.  Another safari vehicle gets there first, which makes finding them much easier.

They’re sacked out, totally exhausted from keeping Marg awake all night.

Actually, says Matt, the two lions probably crossed over from Kruger National Park during the night and got separated.  The roaring were attempts to locate each other.

Are we disturbing you?

They are probably siblings, he says, though not from the same birth.   One’s mane is more developed, indicating it is the older of the two.

The rising sun begins to touch the manes of the lions.

We watch them for a while, and then go on our way.   They will sleep all day.

So, about MGM’s Leo.   I’ll make it quick, and ruin it for you like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc.  Prepare yourself.

First, check this link for a short video:

So, there were at least seven Leos—Slats (1924), Telly (1928), Jackie (1932), Coffee (1932), Tanner (1934), and George (1956).   Leo didn’t enter the picture, pun intended, until 1957.
But MGM did something else.   It synthesized Leo’s roar at one time:

Take it from The Debunker with Ken Jennings:

But Leo has a dirty little secret. In the 1980s, … Leo has been lip-synching. The roar is "actually that of a tiger," says [sound engineer] Mangini. "Lions don't make that kind of ferocious noises, and the logo needed to be ferocious and majestic." So you're actually hearing a tiger roar every time you settle in to enjoy a fine film from MGM'...  Leo is the Milli Vanilli of the jungle.

So much for roaring lions.

The next morning we are driving towards the river bed when tracker Richard, riding point, spots the tracks of a male lion in the sand.  He gets off the vehicle and starts following them.   He is armed with a radio in leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo territory.

We continue on while Richard walks, and the sun comes up.

Matt checking for lion tracks.

Then, we receive word that Richard and another tracker have found the two male lions that we saw yesterday.  Along dirt roads, across the bushveld, through who-knows-what kind of vegetation, Richard has followed the tracks of the beasts for about three miles and found them sacked out in an open clearing.

By the time we get there, the cats have moved into semi-shade.

It is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.  Three miles, unarmed, and successfully finding them.    

The lions had doubled back on themselves a couple times during their nighttime travels, and they are ready for a long daytime sleep.

They move again, from the thick brush into a clearing where they will absorb the heat of the sun until it is too hot.

We take a few photos, and let them be. 

More photos from Africa:

Saddle-billed stork in flight.

A water buck

Curious zebra

White-headed vulture

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The 2018 Africa Journals, Ch. 5, It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a ... Pterodactyl???

The leopard moves silently through the tall riverside grasses, along a path only she can see.  Her light and dark spots help camouflage her as she hunts for prey, mimicking dappled sunlight and shadows.

We parallel her at a distance, taking our shots when she comes into view, which isn’t often.    Sometimes, we lose her entirely, which is probably what she hopes will happen.

At those times, Matt drives ahead of her and waits.   Richard, sitting in his front spotting seat, always seems to know where she is even though none of us can see her.


We approach a thicket of brush and trees and a massive form moves deeper into the shade.   A hippo—out of the water at this time of day and very unusual.

A little farther on, we see a bush buck in another thicket—apparently sensing the approaching leopard and now frozen in fear.

We wait, but the leopard doesn’t appear.  Matt drives back around the edge of the thicket where the bush buck stands.

The leopard is in an opening in the grass and reeds.

Suddenly!   It’s a bird!   It’s a plane!    It’s a ….   Wait.   It IS a bird.   A prehistoric-looking bird to be sure, but a bird.

Birds, actually.   A bunch of hamerkops (aka hammerkopf) juveniles are swooping over the leopard and squawking at it.   Again and again they dive at the leopard, who studiously ignores the noisy birds,   If our presence hadn’t already blown her clover, the hamerkops make sure of it..

I am thrilled to pieces and trying to shoot the birds in flight.   Too late, I realize I neglected to get a photo of the entire scene with the birds harassing the leopard.

I love hamerkops.   I love that the bird confounds those who would say it’s a heron, or those who claims it’s a stork.   Most agree it’s an unusual bird, unusual in that it has the characteristics of herons (its bill) and of a stork (its bill combined with its elongated head), but then again, its feet look much like a flamingo’s.  

As one source avers, “it stretches its neck forward like a stork or ibis, but when it flaps, it coils its neck back something like a heron.”

Currently, it’s in the pelican and cormorant group, but also classified with herons, storks, ibises, etc.    Love it!  Keep 'em guessing, hamerkops!

That a little wading bird usually less than two feet high can cause such confusion/disagreement tickles me no end.

Myself, I think the hamerkop would fit right in with corvids--those rascally, prank-playing ravens, magpies, and jays.

It’s usually seen around water.   The first ones I saw stood statue-still in moving water, striking and catching amphibians in clear water.   At other times, it will shuffle one foot, dislodging its prey from hiding.

The image that gave the hamerkop its name, "hammer head."

Later on in this trip, we were entertained by a hamerkop in the breaking dawn as we hid in a water-level blind.  We were supposed to be quiet so the birds wouldn’t know we were there, so there were a lot of suppressed giggles and laughs.

The bird hopped down from the roof, got right up against the glass of the hide, uttered its maniacal cry,  and walked along the sill, shuffling a foot and then catching a small fish.

 Do follow this link.   You won't regret it.

But the hamerkop’s real claim to fame is its nest-building, often building several stick nests a year.   Anywhere from four to six feet across, with a roof three feet thick, the nest can safely take the weight of a full grown man.

In addition, the birds will often build several nests a year, which is a bit maniacal in itself.   Sometimes owls move in and squat, raise their young, and depart.   And, sometimes, the hamerkops will then reuse the nest.

More photos from the Sabi Sands:

A male kudu with its magnificently spiral horns.

Leopard at night.