A group of eight enthusiastic people met Joe and Lisa Grosel at Bona Thaba lodge in the Mabula Game Reserve mid-afternoon on the 15th of June 2017. I was surprised by the beauty of the lodge and the sweeping view overlooking the plains with the majestic Waterberg mountains in the distance. Soon after enjoying cake and tea on the impressive veranda, we departed for a late afternoon game drive to the Modjadji plains. All of us were warmly dressed in anticipation of the expected cooler air at sunset, but the blankets provided on the game viewing vehicle still came in handy. A nice variety of game was seen in this section of the approximately 12 000 ha greater Mabula Conservancy.
A herd of healthy looking Buffalo confidently approached our game vehicle, inquisitive to find out if we were friend or foe. Zebra, Warthog, Giraffe and Sable were seen and appreciated by all, but I felt that the star of the show that afternoon was the majestic Secretarybird, boldly walking amongst the zebra and other plains game. One of South Africa's special raptors, it forages by striding across open grassland and savannah. We stopped at a beautiful spot to enjoy sundowners - there is always something special and mystical about the African sunset as it causes one to reflect and take a break from the hectic pace of our daily lives. In the distance, a Pearl-spotted Owlet was calling, just to top off a perfect day in Africa.
Day two, coffee and rusks on the veranda and a 7.30am start. The highlight of this day was stopping right next to a White Rhino and her suckling calf. The driver switched the engine off and the sound of the mother's deep breaths could be heard as she grazed contentedly, not fazed by our presence. The calf was curious and after feeding, kept peeping at us from behind the safety of its mom. I couldn't help but wonder how mankind could be so cruel to kill and hunt these superb creatures, all in the pursuit of wealth. We completed two game drives on this day and saw a large variety of game and many new birds for different individuals. Some birding highlights included Flappet Lark, Bennett's Woodpecker, Grey Penduline-tit, White-Bellied Bustard and a very obliging Little Bee-eater. The day was concluded with an excellent meal and chatter afterwards around the fire.
Day three was spent exploring the southern section of Mabula where we had some excellent views from the hills, looking down on the open grasslands and plains. Lower down we spotted some Eland, Tsessebe, some more White Rhino and Nyala. After our morning drive we spent time in the gardens at Mabula Lodge, where the birdlife is exceptional. Highlights were Meyer's Parrot, Bearded Woodpecker, Groundscraper Thrush and excellent views of a Bennett's Woodpecker chasing off a Cardinal Woodpecker. We watched the second rugby test against France before heading home to a celebration braai.
The last morning broke with the usual early morning coffee and rusks. I was full of anticipation for our last game drive, as Joe mentioned there was a possibility we could see Shelley's Francolin. He drove to the spot where he had previously seen these very shy and elusive birds. Lady Luck seemed to smile at us as they were heard calling and, after what felt like an eternity, they finally showed themselves. What a thrill to finally tick this bird off our life list!
After an exciting morning drive, it was time to say our final goodbyes and head off home. Thanks must go to Joe and Lisa for the great long weekend and all the work they put into making this an excellent experience for all.
Photos by Mark Friskin and Joe Grosel