Are you going to use that thing?

The S100 along the N’wanetsi River is one of our favourite Kruger drives, especially first thing in the morning immediately after the camp gates at Satara are opened.

Normally we take things easy, letting all the “lion hunters” speed off ahead of us while we enjoy the experience of the sun’s wonderful red orb slowly peeping out through the mist strands shrouding the wonderful large ironwood and marula sculptures to the east.

On this particular morning things were exceptionally quiet as far as wildlife was concerned along this gravel road which follows the meanders of the river. Even the pools of water in the mostly dry riverbed were deserted, other than for a few laughing doves taking a quick drink and the odd terrapin poking its head up out of the water. Perfect for a relaxing cup of coffee and a rusk while enjoying the birds singing from the tree canopy above.

After some time we decided to continue slowly driving in the direction of the N’wanetsi picnic spot. Although the light was not ideal for photography, my camera was, as always, ready for action while resting on my lap.

A few minutes later we noticed a family of around 5 ground hornbills walking in the grass along the right hand edge of the road. I very slowly drove a few meters past them and parked on the right side of the road, expecting them to walk towards our car. While the other hornbills detoured about 6 meters further into the grass in their search for food, one very confident bird walked right up alongside my car window and started pecking around in the dense grass not 2 meters from where I was sitting. I just sat there marvelling at the eyelashes most women would be envious of as they framed the beautifully clear yellowish eyes set in a crimson red bare face attached to a huge heavy black beak.

Suddenly my senses were assaulted by an ear-piercing squeal, as if someone was slitting a pig’s throat right next to where I was sitting. I just stared open-mouthed and paralysed at the hornbill as it held a screaming baby scrub hare up in its huge beak. The hornbill continued manoeuvring the hare around in its beak for at least 10 seconds, throwing the poor thing in the air and catching it, while I just sat there frozen, staring at what was unfolding right in front of my eyes. I was abruptly woken from my stupor when Silvia elbowed me “gently” in the ribs and asked me very sweetly if I was intending to “use that thing” to photograph what could be considered a once in a lifetime experience. If not, she asked me to just move back a bit in my seat so that she at least could do the honours.

I had enough time to raise the camera and take a single shot, after which the bird turned and flapped off with its prize, family in close pursuit.

The rest of the day was spent discussing embarrassing ‘what-if’ scenarios….

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