Bird Nerds, the Big 5 & the Ugly 5... Africa!

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Africa » South Africa » Limpopo » Sabi Sand
October 9th 2018
Published: October 21st 2018
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Yellow HornbillYellow HornbillYellow Hornbill

Beautiful bird
“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne - bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.” - Karen Blixen

Being from the U.S., we’ve come quite a ways to take in African wildlife so we decided to stay at two safari camps in South Africa and one in Botswana. This is not unusual at all from the people we’ve encountered. We have already been to all three as we are a bit behind on our blogging, but would share with you our favorite location was Notten’s Bush Camp in the Sabi Sands area, which is part of the Kruger National Park. This is certainly not to disparage the other camps, but we both agree that Notten’s was our favorite. Each camp has its own personality as it should. We genuinely liked all of the places we stayed and would certainly recommend them, but Notten’s seems so genuine, unpretentious and yet has a simple welcoming elegance about it. Don’t come to South Africa without staying here.

Once we checked in after a three hour drive from the last camp and our bags were delivered to our spacious room, we headed to the bar for a quick drink and some biltong (beef jerky) in the tree house as we had missed lunch with our travel. Yes, they have a seating area surrounding a tree off the main dining and seating area. As we sipped our drinks we enjoyed watching the impalas and warthogs wander by. We laughed that this has become comfortable and we no longer stare or jump up to take forty photos. Ok, maybe ten photos! It’s a backyard scene, only in the beautiful African bush.

Three o’clock rolled around and other guests headed into the dining room for tea. Notten’s has the same schedule as our last camp except instead of lunch at 1:30pm they had high tea at 3pm. What does that mean? You get a feast at 3pm that makes you as sleepy as those lions in the afternoon sun. The food here is the best we’ve had! Plus again, someone had told them MJ was celebrating a big birthday and out they came singing with a cake. We shared with everyone.

We also were happy about the fact that the weather has warmed up and we were excited about our upcoming game drive. One cannot help but compare one camp to the next and wonder if the game drives will become repetitious? Could it be that there was some grand marketing scheme and we would see the same animals and lands each time? The answer for us is a most emphatic no. Each game drive is unique and different. Even though we are seeing some of the same animals…….. they are different as their surroundings are not the same. Same, same…but different as they would say in Thailand. The topography is different as we are over one hundred miles away from our last camp and this makes for fascinating viewing as well. The terrain changes more often here and at times you move from being in rather forested environs then all of a sudden, you’re in the open more with stratified rock formations. The slope of the land is not as gentle in places as it was at the last location.

As it is when you come back to camp after the afternoon drive, the sun has set and darkness is upon you. The guide and tracker are using spot lights to find an
We might be too closeWe might be too closeWe might be too close

He was backing away from us.
array of interesting nocturnal animals. But off in the distance we saw several buildings lit with lanterns……. hundreds of lanterns. The lamps glistened in the dark, it was mesmerizing and beautiful. As it turns out the lamps were coming from Notten’s Bush Camp.

We had not shared with you yet but they do not use electric lights in any of the rooms. We admit before we arrived with thought this was odd and wondered if we would like it. They have power in the rooms so you can charge electronic devices and to run the ceiling fans but all lighting is done by kerosene lamps. Although they do give you one bright battery-operated lantern to walk back and forth between buildings. We used that to provide extra lighting each morning while dressing. This place is lovely. Beautiful and well cared for dark woods and tastefully decorated rooms. While you are on your afternoon drive, they light all the kerosene lanterns so when you return, it provides a special atmosphere, like something out of a novel.

In the evening we met the owner as he was working behind bar making sure everyone had their favorite beverage. David is the
Bush WalkBush WalkBush Walk

Required to carry a gun... for our comfort. Not sure it would help.
grandson of the original owner and he shared the story of this property over the years. It is obvious a great deal of care and attention goes into making this a wonderful safari experience. The camp first was established in 1964, but really came into its own in the 1980’s and started its journey to be a commercial bush camp.

A large group checked out the morning we arrived, so for one night they only had five guest and a friend of the owner. They put the dining tables together and we dined family style. It was a friendly and intimate group. We loved the social aspect of this camp. They do their best to promote the community and help all of the guests get to know each other.

Private Reserve

In these safari camps they have a network of people making sure you see all that you’ve come to see in the shortest period of time. Each day the vehicles from our camp and a property next door went in different directions. When an animal or herd of animals is spotted they call it in and the information is shared among the community. In the interest
A Tower of GiraffesA Tower of GiraffesA Tower of Giraffes

A group of them is called a tower.
of being responsible to the animals and not causing stress, they limit the number of vehicles that can view each of the animals once found. We found this very comforting as it allows the animals to continue to live in the wild. They refer to this a sustainable wildlife tourism. Keep in mind that the animals in the Sabi Sands area are not fenced and they could walk to Mozambique if they decided to.

Africa camps offer many ways to go on photo safari from budget to luxury. You will have to decide what is best for you. Over the years as we entertained the idea of coming to Africa on Safari and thought we might do a self-driving safari. We didn’t take that option and are now very glad that we didn’t. We found that we liked being driven around on the dusty bumpy roads to ensure we didn’t get lost. Many of these roads are mere paths. These experienced guides know the area and know when to go off-roading and when to stay on the dirt path. We liked having a tracker who could teach us how he tracks and assist us in becoming familiar with some
Always on the lookoutAlways on the lookoutAlways on the lookout

Danger can be upon you instantly if you're not careful
of the footprints and dung. We liked have a guide who spent hours telling us about each animal, their habits, who had good eye sight and who head great hearing. We appreciated knowing how much they weigh, how long they live and tidbits about their breeding. This is a wealth of information we would have missed if we had taken a self-driving tour. For example, we learned that elephants eat 19 hours a day. Plus, we’ve got to say that unless you keep stopping to stare at your animal guide to figure out which animal you’re gazing at (an antelope, an Impala, a bushbuck, a waterbuck, a springbuck, a nyalla and so on… well, it is an efficient process to have a knowledgeable guide…. at least in the beginning as you are learning the animal names.

Bird Nerds

Our guide Riann was a self- professed bird nerd and we were impressed with not only his ability to identify the birds for us but he knew their calls. He loves birding groups and shared that often he’ll be out with them when a lion walks past and they are for the most part uninterested as they look to the trees and ask, yes, I see the lion but is that a such and such bird? He smiles warmly when telling us about the birds. He was smart enough to move on before our eyes glazed over but honestly all of us were calling out bird names before our time with him ended!


We didn’t see any zebras at our first camp so we were happy to discover quite a few of this stripped looking creatures running about. They are incredibly unique with their stripes and have a habit of showing you their behind once you come upon them if you are not prepared to take a photo rather quickly.Once you’ve seen a couple of dozen of them, you really can tell that their stripes are unique to the individual zebra.

Warthogs a plenty

We are very entertained by warthogs. They truly are ugly. We are told they are listed on the top 5 ugly list of African animals. The deal is they are so ugly that they are cute. Notten’s has no shortage of the funky looking creatures. In addition to being out in the wild they often hung out by the pond that we looked at as we ate our meals. You’ll need to watch a documentary or take a trip so you can see them walking on their elbows as the eat and scrounge for food. They use their snouts as a shovel. It is fascinating. The ugly five include: the warthog, the wildebeest, the hyena, the vulture and the Marabou Stork.

The Kill is on…

Toward the end of a morning drive we heard via the radio that one of the other vehicles had spotted a Leopard. We were very close to the location so we swung by to get a glance. The leopard was slinking around over and then under a large dead tree trunk, moving slowly and carefully. Riann our guide said the leopard was stalking something. After a few minutes he said it must be small as none of us had seen it. Soon after, the leopard sprang into action and we saw he had an impala that was only a few days old. Much to our surprise once he caught it he didn’t kill it. We’ve learned a great deal on this trip about wildlife and this viewing was no different. For nearly thirty minutes
Lilac Breasted RollerLilac Breasted RollerLilac Breasted Roller

They roll when they fly.
we sat and watched, repositioning the vehicle as necessary as the leopard patted, softly slapped and caressed the baby impala. We were told the impala was so young that he didn’t realize the danger. The impala would walk away and then come bouncing back as if to play or cuddle with the leopard. Riann shared with us that it was likely the leopard would make the baby scream to attract its mother…. and that is exactly what happened. The baby had begun resting next to one of the vehicles. The leopard stalked over grabbed the baby by the neck enough that it let out multiple screams. Off in the distance the mother came running. Sadly, mom realized it was too late and there was nothing she could do. From a distance she watched. This continued for a few more minutes and our group decided we had seen enough. The other vehicle stayed and we learned latter that yes the leopard finished the baby off and they suspected the mother was next but who is to say for certain.

Leopard encounter

We consider ourselves fortunate to have seen so many leopards on this trip. One evening Riann was taking us for our sunset drinks when a rock or piece of would flew up from under the tire and shattered the rearview mirror. At first we didn’t realize it was broken and he was walking along the road in an attempt to find it. He suggested to Gideon that he take us up a bit further so we’d have a better view of the sunset. This meant he would walk several hundred feet to join us. As we were finishing our drinks a neighbor vehicle stopped by to say hello as they drove a few feet past us they cried out that there was a leopard. They often come out at sunset or later. This was the stretch of road that Riann walked alone. We finished packing up and joined them. The leopard casually strolled down the dirt path looking over his shoulder at the vehicle in front of us following him. As darkness arrived the search lights were turned on. For a short period of time the leopard walked through the trees as we followed and then headed back to the dirt road. Along this stretch there was an electric fence separating the private land from public land. At one point the leopard touched the fence and received a shock. As you can imagine he was rattled by this and we decided to stop following him to give him some peace. We had taken all the photos we needed. We were surprised to see this fence as most of this is wide open space with imaginary lines. The wildlife are free to roam.


These are another animal on the ugly 5 and honestly why do they make these list? Certainly,they have a wild and funky mane reminiscent of grunge bands from the 80s but that is why you want to look at them. They seem to run in packs and are a bit skittish. We’ll let you decide what you think when you look at the photos.

Sunset Africa Style and Stars a plenty

Each sunset is different and unique in its own way. They colors vary tremendously with soft hues of yellow, orange and gold. When the sun is finally gone the stars fill the sky beyond belief. We sit with all the lights out and attempt to identify stars and constellations. We found Scorpio without difficulty. There was just a sliver of a moon, allowing the stars to shine ever so brightly in the night sky....and it was rather memorizing.


No, this is not an animal, but a liquer. Amarula is a cream liqueur from South Africa. It is made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) which is also locally called the Elephant tree or the Marriage Tree.MJ will be on the hunt for this when we return. She loved it in her morning hot chocolate.

Place we stayed: Notten’s Bush Camp, Sabi Sands Reserve

Additional photos below
Photos: 63, Displayed: 32


Suset Sabi SandsSuset Sabi Sands
Suset Sabi Sands

Notten's Bush Camp was wonderful
Cape Glossy StarlingCape Glossy Starling
Cape Glossy Starling

Sometimes they look black and sometimes this amazing blue depending on the light.

They always look like they are up to no of the "ugly five."
Waiting on his preyWaiting on his prey
Waiting on his prey

Toying with baby impala
Local entertainmentLocal entertainment
Local entertainment

dancing and singing

21st October 2018

Wonderful photos
Sounds like a fantastic trip! Loved your photos!
22nd October 2018

Wonderful photos
Thank you for following along and commenting. We have seen some amazing things on this trip.
21st October 2018

Hiya Bird Nerds! I'm just back from my holidays and I can see, you are already several blogs ahead! I look forward to catching up. Pumbas, stargazing, and Amarula! Some of my endless favourite things about Africa. So glad you are having an Epic trip. Oh to have lived at the time of Karen Blixen in Kenya. Such a magical place.
22nd October 2018

Bird nerds and more
Just saw your Morocco blog... we will be reading that very soon. We are having a grand time. Thanks for following along. It won’t take you long to get caught up. Travel fulfills the soul. So many magical animals, experiences and stars.
21st October 2018

the Big 5 & the Ugly 5!
wow. quite an array of wildlife you have seen in this trip. the big 5 and the ugly 5 :) . well ugly is subjective I guess! warthogs can look funny! giraffes, lions, the big tuskers, rhinos, and plenty of sightings of the elusive leopards. Seeing them in the wild must have felt real good!
22nd October 2018

The big 5 & the ugly 5
You are correct that we have been fortunate to witness some amazing animals and watch them going about their daily activities. They do seen used to the vehicles. Africa is an amazing place. Thank you for following along and commenting.
22nd October 2018

Wow! Amazing images and words. That is a part of the world like nowhere else - the wildlife is outstanding! I am glad you took full advantage of your time at the lodges with bird walks and night safaris. There is so much more to these regions than the big five in perfect light... I will also go on the hunt for some Amarula. D
22nd October 2018

This trip has been all that I wanted and more. The people of South Africa are kind and pleasant to be around. So many different ways to find an array of interesting animals. Thanks for commenting.
22nd October 2018

How Exciting
What a great adventure! As usual, beautiful photos.
23rd October 2018

How exciting
Thanks Bob for following and commenting. This trip was planned for a long time and we are having a blast. MJ
22nd October 2018
Don't mess with me I'm a Rhino

My elder sister was involved with a project years ago to bring white rhinos to northern Australia in an attempt to save the species. It did not eventuate. Happy to see the safari parks have them alive and well. What a beauty. Definitely 5 stars.
23rd October 2018
Don't mess with me I'm a Rhino

Sorry your sisters project didn’t work out but they are doing well here. We saw many, many rhinos. They are amazing animals.
22nd October 2018
Love the leopards

When we did our Kenya to South Africa safari 10 years ago I was so nervous I would get robbed I only had a pocket camera while the others on our trip had massive cameras with telephotos to die for. Did I thus rob myself by being nervous? This pic makes it so clear what a good camera can deliver. Brilliant pic. What a birthday treat you are having MJ. Yet I was robbed of all my money and passport while no one lost their money or massive cameras. Mustn't grumble...the adventures it led to were priceless.
23rd October 2018
Love the leopards

Sorry for your loss of photos, money and valuables. Travel can be uncertain. Fortunately we could lock our valuables up at camp. We are using 3 different cameras. I will include that information in the next blog. Thanks for following along and commenting. MJ
22nd October 2018

Catching up...
Logged into TB after an absence and I'm so thrilled to read about your beautiful animal encounters. The story of the baby impala was harrowing, but such is life in the great wild... survival of the fittest genetically and quite literally :( You seemed to have picked a great time of year and fabulous safari companies for animal viewing on this trip - I'll definitely have to ask you lots of questions when we get around to visiting southern Africa.
23rd October 2018

Catching up
We have used a South African expert to guide us in our quest for the best adventure and she has delivered. She grew up in South Africa and specializes in adventure travel around the world but a specialty in all things Africa. We’ve seen some amazing animals in a short period of time. These guides know exactly where to look. They have a friendly network. A few years back photographer and travel blogger Mike Turner told us that in Africa it is one of the few places you get what you pay for so we took his advice and went for the better reserves.
23rd October 2018

And I forgot to mention that Amarula is always available in our bottle shops - right next to the Baileys. It was popular over here for a little while about 10-15 years ago, but I don't think they managed to capture the Baileys market as they intended...
23rd October 2018

I’m hoping to find it in our stores also... I’ve never looked but will be next week.
24th October 2018

Can't wait to follow in your footsteps!
Wow! You really brought the experience to life, can't wait to visit Africa. We discovered Amarula some years ago and it remains a firm favourite for us!
24th October 2018

Follow in our footsteps
Emma and Marie, we hope your trip to Africa is sooner than later as it offers such amazing experiences. We hope to have Amarula to offer you when you come visit us. The quiet moments in Africa watching these amazing animals speaks to your soul. Simply amazing. Thanks for commenting.
26th October 2018

Poor baby impala !!
My heart goes for the baby impala. It trusted the leopard and after playing for a while the beast killed it in front of the mother. What a sadistic attitude! I am not going to spare one this time I am visiting Tanzania. I have not forgotten my Tsavo night...I have to settle the score...
26th October 2018

Poor baby impala
Indeed. The baby just didn't know any better. It was hard for all of us to watch as we knew the outcome. After about 40 minutes we told our guide we didn't need to stay and watch it happen. The other vehicle opted to stay. Have a great trip and we will follow along.
26th October 2018
Love the leopards

That's beautiful
Beautiful picture of a beautiful animal. We can totally understand why you love the safaris. We have been on a few ourselves and we love them too. /Ake
27th October 2018
Love the leopards

That’s beautiful
A safari is one of those things you think about doing and know you will like but until you are sitting a few feet away from these majestic animals you don’t realize their magnificence. MJ
26th October 2018
Don't mess with me I'm a Rhino

Of all the wild animals in Africa probably the rhino is our favourite. Mainly because they are hunted so fiercely. /Ake
27th October 2018
Don't mess with me I'm a Rhino

They are massive and amaizing animals. We are sad the poaching continues but happy it has decreased enormously. Hopefully, they will survive and people will become more educated.
11th November 2018

Amazing Photos!
Truly amazing photos, MJ and Dave 😊 I'm so pleased to read that you got to see so many animals. The leopard and baby impala story was truly heartbreaking to read, but I guess that is the nature of the beast really. Amazed to see so many leopard photos, these are indeed rare sightings. What a truly special significant-birthday trip for you both 😊
13th November 2018

Amazing photos!
Thank you for the compliment. We always attempt to take photos and it is nice in Africa. We appreciate you following along and commenting. The animals were amazing. I'm still in shock that we saw so many leopards. We celebrated our birthdays for a month... it was great. MJ
1st December 2018

G&T time
What with gin and tonic, hot choc and Amarulla and fabulous food... it must’ve been heaven , and then on top,of that you had all those animals . Perfect safari ...I better start saving up my pennies when I get back from this trip !
1st December 2018

Lots of fabulous food and drinks. I felt pampered. The animals were endlessly amazing. If you are interested I can send you the name of our travel agent. This is her specialty area.

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