Pilanesberg National Park – Feb’18

Just back from another amazing trip to Sun City and Pilanesberg National Park – this trip included our best ever leopard encounter to-date so please read on!

As an avid birder I really look forward to the variety of bird species to be found in Pilanesberg National Park – during the last trip we spotted our first ever hornbills (Grey and Yellow-billed) but did not manage any decent photographs of them. I am pleased that I managed a decent photo of a Yellow-billed Hornbill catching and eating a bug of sorts during this trip.

The other birding highlight of this trip was a Crested Barbet landing on a dead tree branch that we had spotted back in Oct 2017. There is a little story to this sighting, I was following a female Cardinal Woodpecker one morning when I remembered the dead branch and hoped beyond hope that she would perch on top of it! Almost as if she read my mind she landed gracefully on the dead branch only to take flight before I could get a decent photo. I lowered my lens and accepted that the “chase” was over and that it was nature after all, when all of sudden a flash of colour caught my eye – it was a Crested Barbet that had just landed on the exact same branch – we never know what nature has in store for us!

As we turned a corner on one of our early morning drives (every morning at 05h30) we spotted a lioness close to the road. I quickly switched off the car engine in order not to scare her off and we simply sat perfectly still watching in awe as she circled our car calling softly for the rest of the pride. We were the only car with her and managed to spend +- 20 minutes with her – she is so graceful but one should never forget just how powerful these cats are!

We were into our 2nd last drive of the trip and were still desperately searching for a glimpse of a leopard – to be truthful I was losing hope as these solitary cats are extremely elusive and with a National Park this big it was more a case of the leopard finding us than us finding the leopard.
At about 16h50 I saw a tree with low lying branches and said to my wife that this would be a perfect spot for a leopard, so I slowed down and frantically searched the long grass and branches for any movement. All of a sudden a leopard lifted it’s head up and our eyes locked onto each other… I quickly got my wife’s attention and we both tried to control our excitement so as not to scare it off.. Slowly the leopard approached the road and was just metres away from our car when I grabbed my camera and pressed the shutter button with visibly shaking hands. The leopard walked around the front of our car (we were still the only car at the sighting) and turned to look over it’s shoulder at my wife before disappearing into the bush on the opposite side of the road… My wife and I just sat there struggling to process what we had just experienced!

Before we knew it the time had come to pack the camera away and start the journey home, the only consolation being is that we knew we would be back in Pilanesberg National Park later in the year!

Till next time…

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