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Kruger National Park January 2009 Part 2

Tuesday 13 January 2009
Orpen to Timbovati
We decided to have a late start today and after a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked by Earl after he’d bought a fresh supply from the shop, we left camp at half past eight. It was raining for much of the time and we thought we would not see very much but animals and birds don’t seem to mind the wet weather that much. In fact, I’m sure they love it as it offers some relief from the heat.
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning of birding and the first highlight was seeing Senegal lapwings. It was also interesting observing how the bird postures were different in the wet and we were amused by a black eagle who sat in tree with wings spread out to dry.
We stopped at Timbovati picnic site at about 1 o’clock and had some coffee and rolls. The picnic sites in the park are usually well looked after and have clean loos and boiling water for your tea or coffee. This one was no exception.
We met two young girls, Kerry from Johannesburg and her friend Silke from Germany. They’d worked together in Ireland and now Silke was having an African experience. She wasn’t too interested in the bird life but was desperate to see Lions. “You come to Africa to see a lion,” she argued, “Who’s interested in stupid birds!”
We weren’t far down the road when we were waved down and informed of a pride of lion about 10km further on. We had not intended to ravel all the way along this road but decided to in order to see the cats. Sure enough there they were – Mom, Dad and 3 cubs having a siesta. However, they were a bit more interesting than the lot lying on the tar road yesterday! I felt bitterly disappointed that the girls had taken a different road and we didn’t take their cell phone numbers! After observing the pride for a while we turned round and travelled back to the road we intended taking back to camp. As luck would have it, we saw the girls at the crossroads and waved them down, told them where to find the lions and then exchanged cell numbers. They had about 20km to go to find the pride. We continued on our trip, enjoyed our bird watching, and hoped desperately that they would get to see their lions! That evening I received an S.M.S. “Saw the lions – made our trip! Thanks. Love Kerry and Silke.”
We braaied steaks for supper and put scraps and bottles in the bin after making sure the fridge was badger proof. We wanted to get up to see the badger if he paid us another nocturnal visit but he didn’t!
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Orpen to Satara
We were all up early and ready to leave by quarter to six this morning. It was cool and raining for most of the morning but got progressively drier as we moved north. Olifants camp is a long way so we planned to stop at Satara for breakfast.
There were herds of impala, wildebeest and zebra right outside the camp and Silke and Kerry had told us that while they’d been staying at Orpen’s satellite camp they’d seen a mother cheetah and two cubs on Monday evening and Tuesday morning. We knew they would be close to the camp gate but after a few kilometres there was no sign of cheetah. Priscilla said, “I’m so disappointed to miss those cheetahs,”
“What are those?” I said and lo and behold, the distant silhouettes I spotted turned into a mother cheetah with a cub that must have been about six months old. For a short while we were the only ones there but soon a few more cars appeared – luckily Orpen is a small camp so the early leavers had missed them and those of us who were a tad later got to see them beautifully. We watched them for about 20 minutes. The mother was clearly introducing her son to hunting and he boldly confronted a wildebeest who just appeared annoyed and butted him away. He then decided that Mom was fair game and pounced onto her back only to be shaken off with an annoyed look. Eventually after they’d crossed the road back and forth, a few times, they went behind the bushes and we decided to move on as we had a long trip ahead of us. We saw Kerry and Silke at the scene and then again at Satara and they told us that they’d spent two hours with the cheetahs. Clearly, they find cats more fascinating than birds. We, however, stopped to look at many interesting birds and of course some mammals too.
Although the scrub hare is a nocturnal creature, the overcast weather makes him bold and at around 7 o’clock we saw one silently grazing at the side of the road. He was amazingly confiding and did not scamper off into the bush when we stopped to take photographs.
At 7:40, we turned onto the tar road H7 and not far along saw, a camper van stopped ahead of us. They pointed into the bush and we observed a clump of lion dozing behind some bushes, which camouflaged them very well. We might have missed them had we not been pre-warned. It was fun seeing them interact with each other but they were in doze mode so we didn’t pay them a long visit.
We saw a fair amount of game including elephants, waterbuck, kudu, herds of giraffe, kudu, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest and of course lots of birds too. There were a number of raptors sitting on top of trees the highlight of which was an African Harrier Hawk. The mammal highlight of the day were two little jackal cubs who we thought should have been with Mother but were out playing on their own. After a while, they scampered off, probably to where she had breakfast waiting for them.
We had our breakfast at Satara and our waiter greeted us cheerfully – “You are bird watchers. After breakfast I show you a scops owl in a Marula tree!’ And true to his word he took us some distance from the restaurant near the eco information centre and showed us exactly where a Scops was having his daytime sleep. He was more interesting that the one at Afsaal as he had his little tufts up and seemed to be not quite as fat!
There had been quite a bit of rain and there were puddles everywhere but who would expect to see a turtle in one of them? As we left the Satara car park Earl just managed to avoid riding over the tiniest one I’ve ever seen and Pris got out to rescue him but he swam too fast for her so we decided to let nature take its course. He’d survived thus far perhaps he’d find a bigger pond soon enough!
The rest of our trip to Olifants was lovely. We drove quickly along sections that were dry and supported little game but in the greener parts along the river there were herds of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, impala and kudu. The bird-life was interesting and we saw large flocks of white stork, marabou storks, wattled starlings and carmine bee-eaters. The different raptors we saw included Eurasian hobby, black-breasted snake eagle, Walberg’s eagle and tawny eagle and of course there were lots of vultures around.
Crossing the bridge over the Olifants, we saw African pied wagtails and a pied kingfisher at the edge of the wall.
Our accommodation is in hut 10 and 11 with the most magnificent view of the River. We observed hippo on the banks and Earl called our attention to a ground hornbill in a tree. All we could see was its wing hanging out of the foliage but it was unmistakable. A little later, he flew out and settled in another tree on the opposite bank.
We did not go out for an afternoon drive but Earl, Heather and Priscilla went for a walk while I caught up on my diary and spotting lists.
Thursday 15 January 2009
Olifants River Walk
We packed up, had breakfast at the restaurant where we saw hippos having a confrontation and then went on a river walk with our guides Pilot and Bridgeman. They took us to the starting point in an open land rover and we spotted a few interesting animals on route. Heather desperately wanted to see the Pel’s Fishing Owl and it was to a place it is often seen that we were headed. Earl spotted it in the tree and I got to see it fleetingly fly out but it took cover in the thick foliage and would not come out again – so Heather will have to wait for another opportunity to get this elusive bird!
Olifants Camp to Letaba
We decided to take a leisurely drive to Letaba as we only had a short way to drive to Satara today. In 2006 as we crossed a ford a group of turtles came rushing out of the water to greet us looking like aliens demanding to be taken to our leader and this time at the same spot the same thing happened. Only this time there was a baby crocodile with them. The croc was ever so tolerant of the turtles clambering over his back and seemed unfazed by people too. We believe that people have been feeding these creatures and that is why they mass out of the water to beg for titbits.
At Letaba, we looked for the pearl-spotted owls but they don’t seem to be there anymore. The bushbucks were grazing in the camp but the redheaded weavers were conspicuous by their absence. The one interesting creature we observed was a leguaan. He was digging in the leaf litter and relishing some delicacy – possibly a beetle of some sort.
We also saw paradise flycatchers in the trees – impossible to photograph! We bought ice creams and then headed for Satara.
On a bridge en route home, we stopped to observe peregrine falcons fighting with yellow-billed kites. It was quite exciting. We are not sure what the conflict was about.
Soldier Ants are fascinating creatures – they march like a regiment and nothing seems to stop their set path. Today we observed a line of them crossing the road and as it was a small regiment, we could see where the line began and where it ended. Yes – even ants are fascinating and worth stopping for.
Interesting birds we saw today were wattled starling – hundreds of them – southern black tits and arrow-marked babblers. Little swifts, white-rumped swifts and Horus swifts were flying under the bridge and out again. At our camp at Satara, Little Swifts were nesting in deserted swallow nests under the eaves of all the units.
Just before we entered Satara, we observed a spotted hyena slinking along away from us. He then changed direction and headed toward the camp fence. There was a herd of impala grazing nearby and they did not like his intrusion. When he got too close they scarpered and pronked off to a safer distance.
In the night I heard hyenas calling – probably his pack.
We settled into A13 and A14 at Satara, enjoyed a lovely braai and then went to bed early.
Friday 16th January 2009
Satara to Skukuza
We left Satara and 20 past six and made our way to Skukuza. We followed a route that took us to Orpen Dam and on the way; we saw buffalo, waterbuck, kudu, giraffe and many interesting birds including large flocks of white storks, which are more plentiful than I’ve ever observed in Kruger before.
Today we saw Ground Hornbill on two separate occasions but quite soon after each other. The first observation at 9:20 a.m. on the H1-2, about 45 km from Skukuza we saw two adults with juvenile. They were quite a way from the road and the long grass prevented us from taking good photographs but we saw them beautifully. Then at 9:50, 19km from Skukuza we saw another ground hornbill very close to the road and got lovely photographs.
Other animals that we saw before arriving at Skukuza were elephants, giraffe, baboons, monkeys, buffalo and warthog.
We were supposed to have stayed at Skukuza last night and it had been four days since Pretoriuskop promised to send on my left luggage so I did not expect to have a problem collecting it at 10:30 this morning. However, when I went to reception they told me that it had only just left Pretoriuskop and it would be an hour before it arrived. I was bit angry about this but we needed to have breakfast so went to the restaurant and had toasted sandwiches and then went for a walk along the river’s edge. When we got back, my luggage had arrived safely!
We left Skukuza at 12 midday and the temperature was 33 degrees C – hot but not as bad as the first few days that we were in the park. At 13:30 we saw ground hornbills again. Earl saw that a fellow tourist had a GPS and told me to ask him for the co-ordinates as the park rangers want sightings of Ground Hornbill to be reported. There were four adults with a juvenile on the H3, 13 km from the turnoff to Skukuza – co-ordinates S25:12.082 E31:34.274
Our highlight bird of the day was a dark capped yellow warbler at 14h55. We saw it clearly but it flew off before we could get photographs.
We arrived at Berg and Dal at 15: 30. We checked into our family cottage number 19 and then went for a sunset drive with Lourens Botha.
Berg and Dal – Sunset Drive
We arrived for the sunset drive and were greeted by a cheerful man in his sixties who presented us with a shopping list – add to it what you’d like to see – he said with a twinkle. Interestingly enough nobody put down lion or leopard but we had some way out wishes – pangolin, nightjars, honey badger, owls etc.
Our young guide, Lourens, was fantastic. He clearly loved his job and made the drive interesting and fun. He gave titbits of information all the time and we learned that you only need worry when an elephant stops flapping his ears and stares at you and that when he is stressed he will become wet on the side of his face where he has a sweat gland. He stopped the van next to a tree and showed us where a hornbill nest was. We observed it for a while and saw how the female, holed up inside, pushed out a wing of an insect and other scraps she needed to discard. We hoped the male would appear but after 10 minutes, he did not so we moved on. The daytime animals and birds that we saw were giraffe, zebra, rhino, elephant, violet-backed starlings, dung beetle, hamerkop, malachite kingfisher, green-backed heron and black crake. The latter we saw when Priscilla looked down from the top of the new bridge to see the old bridge and there on said bridge walked a little black crake!
When it became dark, we saw scrub hare, water thick-knees, spotted thick-knees and spotted eagle owls on the road. The owls were fascinating and we observed them catching insects. We also saw a Eurasian nightjar but it had been knocked by a car and had an injured wing. Lourens picked it up and showed us its colours and its wide gape. He was clearly upset that a careless motorist had been too unobservant to watch out for nightlife on the roads. It would have been a staff car.
The sunset drive was a lovely end to our holiday in the Kruger National Park.

Posted by fenwickh 08:43

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