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 Post subject: Walking with Lions - Asterix & Obelix Trip : Sept 2006
Unread postPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2006 2:10 pm 
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We’re back from our most memorable trip to Kruger ever. We’ve had so many wonderful sightings and experiences that there is just now way that I can capture all of that in one single trip report. For fear of boring some of you to death with one long trip report (and to give myself some more time :twisted: ), I’ve decided to split our trip report into four separate chapters so that you can decide for yourself whether you want to spend any time on reading a specific chapter (if the specific chapter is of interest to you).

Our trip report will consist of the following, in summary:

Chapter 1: “Walking with Lions” – Animal sightings during 1st part of our trip: Letaba and Satara

Chapter 2: “Spots in Abundance” – Animal sightings during 2nd part of our trip – Talamati and Lower-Sabie

Chapter 3: "Just look this way you darn bird!" Special bird sightings during our whole trip.

Chapter 4: "Conclusion" Summary remarks on camps, service levels, accommodation, night drives, walks, etc.

I’ll try to add further relevant posts (e.g. relating to specific individuals that deserve special recognition, the different activities and some complaints, although very minimal) under the relevant topics instead of including them in my trip report as well.


Last edited by Obelix on Mon Oct 16, 2006 9:43 am, edited 6 times in total.

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Unread postPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2006 5:54 pm 
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Chapter 1: Walking with Lions - Letaba and Satara

Right, here goes. As mentioned before, please note this chapter only relates to animal sightings.

We entered at Phalaborwa gate on our first day in the park at about 11:00 and decided not to drive directly to Letaba on the H-9 (despite temperatures souring into the high 30’s) but instead turned off for a quick visit to the hide at the Sable dam. We ended up spending about an hour at this hide, in the company of some very active elephants thoroughly enjoying the water (see photo) in the company of some general game.
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The rest of the road to Letaba and all our further drives in an around Letaba for the next two days yielded all kinds of general game (including of course impala, which I have to mention, hyena, giraffe, lots of buffalo (see photo), bushbuck, warthog, water buck, zebra (see photo), a black mamba on the road, steenbuck (lots of them) and lots of hippos and crocodiles).
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The night drive yielded nothing spectacular animal wise, although our guide (Kenny) really deserves special mentioning. Kenny has gone way beyond the call of duty to make an “ordinary” night drive with “ordinary” sightings into a truly memorable experience for us. Way to go Kenny!

Although the cats eluded us (for now), we still had reasonably good animal sightings in the Letaba area. Overall, the area was however more productive for us from a birding perspective (but more on that in chapter 3).

Days 3 and 4 brought us to Satara, and with it the lions. I’ll rather not bore you people (sorry Bert) with the details, save to say the following. We saw lions (don’t ask me the numbers, we normally don’t count the animals) at a zebra kill on our first afternoon drive on the S41, then again on our second afternoon drive on the H1-3 at another zebra kill (see photo) and two young ones about and hour later the same afternoon on the S100.
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The next morning (on our final drive before heading for Talamati) we saw a whole pride of lions again on the S100. Despite the lion sightings and lots of other general game on the S100, I have my own view on this "legendary" road, which I'll maybe share with those interested in chapter 4.

Other than the lions (and keeping in mind more really special lion sightings were still in the pipeline – see chapter 2), Satara yielded plenty of general game as well. However, we had a very disappointing night drive from Satara despite seeing african wild cat (twice), civet and porcupine onthis drive. I’ll rather not spoil this trip report with the details.

But the highlight of our visit to Kruger came on our first morning at Satara during our first ever morning walk in Kruger. Saul and Eliab led the way on the walk and really educated us in the finer details of the wild. The smaller things pointed out by these experts are just amazing and shed a whole new light on the Kruger experience for us. All of a sudden that “ordinary heap of dung” to the side of the road when you’re driving in your car takes on a whole new meaning, once you’ve been “educated” by these experts. In the end we decided to take the video recorder with us on the walk and we now have excellent footage of these experts in action which we’ll watch over and over again.

Along the way, we came across giraffe, zebra, warthog, wildebeest, waterbuck (oh, and of course impala) while being educated all along by Saul and Eliab. Just after we had our breakfast snacks, we walked into a whole troop of baboons – apparently they had their “people” on the lookout for danger (see photo).
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But even the baboons were not as sharp as Saul. We were still getting some good photos and video footage of the old “skildwag” on his branch, when Saul whispered sternly “lion!”, whilst herding us together. After the initial rush of blood to our heads, we were like puppies in the hands of our guides. This was the real thing.

We only got a glimpse of a female lion walking through the bushes. Saul continuously whispered orders to us whilst herding us through and around a few bushes, all the while re-assuring us that he knows exactly where the lions were and that he’ll show them to us again. He delivered on his promise. In the end, whilst partially still hiding behind the bushes, we had them clearly in our sights – a beautiful male and female! Saul confirmed that we could take our photos and I took a few photos of this beautiful animal, while standing about thirty metres from them (I’m guessing the distance, it felt more like ten metres being there at the time, although I must admit that it could have been 60 metres as well) (see photo)
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Asterix also got some video footage of their initial stares, but we eventually decided to rather enjoy the sighting and the experience for what it was. After giving us a long good stare, the two of them disappeared into the bushes.
We were breathless – this has got to be the ultimate experience for us!

On our way back Saul continued his educational talks, but our minds were elsewhere – on this very special morning, in our minds we were still walking with these two lions that just disappeared into the bushes.....

We got a small fright when a few kudus crashed through the bushes just to our right when we approached a small river (I think it’s the N’wanetsi), before we reached the vehicle and embarked on our trip home.

What a day filled with lions. Our dreams that last night at Satara were still filled with the lions – we were still walking with them… Tomorrow we head for Talamati!


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Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 29, 2006 1:33 pm 
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Chapter 2: Spots in Abundance - Talamati and Lower Sabie

The second part of our trip brought us to Talamati (for two nights) and thereafter to Lower-Sabie (for the final three nights). It was with a sense of trepidation that we drove down to Talamati from Satara, as we’ve read quite a few negative comments on this camp on the forum. Well, I’ll reserve my praises for this wonderful little camp and the excellent levels of service we have experienced here for chapter 4. As indicated before, this chapter is all about the animals, and boy did Talamati deliver in this regard.

The roads around the camp are all very quite, so whatever we saw we could appreciate in solitude. Although maybe not the “real deal” yet, we encountered the first “spotted one” still on the way to Talamati (see hyena photo).
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Every single drive we undertook after that from Talamati gave us something special. On our first morning drive we saw white rhino for the first time on the S145 between Talamati and the S36 and thereafter 2 very active lions at Mondzweni waterhole. While driving north on the S36, we got pulled over by Chester, the guide doing the morning drive from Talamati – what an individual this person is (more about him later). He told us about another male lion they left all alone at the Shimangwaneni dam. The lion was still there when we arrived, although he was already napping away early in the morning. We spent some time with him all alone, before we left him in the hands of another group of friendly people just arriving from Talamati as well.

We saw lots of general game (including lots of elephant and buffalo and some more white rhino) during the course of the morning and arrived at the Nkaya waterhole on the H1-3 at about 09:00. We were about to witness our most special lion sighting ever.

We pulled in at the waterhole and took some photos of some impala and a lone wildebeest having a drink. Asterix even remarked that the impala seemed awfully stressed out this morning, but we thought nothing of it at the time. We were just starting to make ourselves comfortable and taking out the coffee flask when all hell broke loose. A big female lioness charged through the bushes into the group of impalas. They scattered in a hundred different directions. I only got the stare she gave them after the charge (see photo).
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We did not get the impression that she was going for the kill at all. Afterwards we speculated that she acted as if she was merely running out into the open to convey the message that all herbivores better disappear now, because for the next day or so her pride has decided to make the Nkaya waterhole their rest place, because soon thereafter she walked balk into the bushes at the back of the waterhole and the rest of the pride started arriving.

For the next few minutes more and more lions arrived. By this time, we were joined by a few other vehicles. According to people in one of the other cars they counted eight lions, including two young ones (not cubs anymore), but I can’t confirm the numbers. We started to relax again, every once in a while enjoying some movement in the “heap” of lions in the bushes behind the waterhold, but not for long, because round 2 was about to commence.

Two warthogs have decided now is the ideal time to have an early morning drink at the Nkaya Dam. For the next few minutes, our heart rates went up again – I hope the following four photos will tell part of the story. (I apologise for the quality, but like I mentioned before, we’re not professional photographers – when something like this happens you want to enjoy the scene as well and your hands are also not that still for obvious reasons).
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We’ve taken about 50 photos of the whole scene and Asterix got everything on video. In the end, we’ve decided that the little lion was just sent out by his mother on his first stalking lesson (which clearly was successful as far as stalking goes). He came to within about 10 metres from the warthogs and watched them until they finished drinking. The warthogs wandered off into the bushes again, not having the faintest idea of what was lurking within 10 metres from them, after which the little lion got up and joined his family members again.

We stayed for about another hour in the company of the lions, but then decided to head back to camp. It was getting pretty hot and we still had quite a bit to travel to get back to Talamati. Maybe something truly spectacular still happened at Nkaya later that day – the scene was clearly set for that with the lions lurking in the bushes next to the waterhole. We would never know, but for us what we have seen was truly special. On our way back to Talamati we added more general game to our list, but nothing new.

We went for what can only be described as our best night drive ever from Talamati that evening. Chester was our guide. He is based at Satara but was only helping out at Talamati (he told us he is actually doing the morning walk with Saul from Satara). This guy is awesome. Even if you take away the fact that we were in the company of two lions (right next to our vehicle) for quite some time on the night drive (we think they could be the same ones we spotted earlier that morning) and the fact that we had our first ever sighting of serval (he was very relaxed in the road for quite some time – according to Chester this is very uncommon for them), the night drive was an experience to remember, but more on this in chapter 4.

Our final morning drive from Talamati, on our way to Lower-Sabie, gave us a beautiful sunrise (see photo).
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Shortly after that we were also treated with our first leopard sighting of the trip. He was drinking water at the Fairfield waterhole about 6 kilometres from camp. This concluded our big five. We had now seen the big five on the 12 kilometre stretch of road from Talamati to the S36. We stopped again at the Mondzweni waterhole, our two lions from the previous night were still there, before we headed south towards Lower Sabie.

During the next three days at Lower Sabie we saw white rhino, white rhino and then some more white rhino, more often than not in the road. Once of twice we had to wait a while for them to give way (see photo).
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On one afternoon drive we saw seventeen white rhino (this time we did count). Oh, and we also came across this fellow during an afternoon drive (see photo).
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I must admit though that the photo is not that clear as the sun was on its wrong side, so I’m still not totally convinced that it is in actual fact a LIT.

We also went for another morning walk at Lower Sabie, this time in the company of Buks and Stephen. Once again these two people were excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed this walk as well. The experience was completely different to Satara’s walk, but every bit as interesting and exciting. Instead of lions, we came across rhinos this time around. Buks carefully kept us below the wind and took as within about fifty metres of a rhino bull (apparently the new matriarch in that area, but I forgot his name – we have it on tape though), cow and calve without them ever even knowing that we were there. Truly another awesome experience for us.

And just to add some extra sugar to the morning’s activities, we came across this little cutie in a tree on our way to camp from the walk (see photo).
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I have no idea how it got up there – you can clearly see in its eyes it is as confused as us as to how it got up there. When we arrived back at camp, my in-laws told us about the nests of white-fronted bee-eaters on the H10 just north of Lower-Saabie. We have not seen these bee-eaters yet, so of we went in search of them (see chapter 3) and low and behold, we were just out of camp again when we stopped at a lone vehicle who's occupants seemed to be staring quite excitedly at something in the dry riverbed to the right of the road. Low and behold there it was, yet another leopard within about an hour after our previous cutie in the tree.

What a trip this turned out to be for us. We had an interesting run-in with an agitated crocodile at the sunset dam on our last afternoon at the Sunset Dam (see photo).
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It was with heavy hearts that we got up for the final time on our last morning at Lower Sabie. We had to exit at Phabeni Gate, but instead of taking the high-way via Skukuza, we opted for one final full day of driving and headed south to Crocodile Bridge first and then made our way via Pretoriuskop to Phabeni.

In the end, we were very lucky on this final day in KNP. The morning started off on a high with a pack of five wild dogs on the S25 (see photos) about 5 kilometres after the S27 turn-off to the hippo pool heading west (especially for you Mark).
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We also encountered four very lazy young male lions on the S118 (see photo) and more general game, including some kudus (see photo) but nothing not already mentioned.
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And then to top it all off, although this is not a sighting to remember – (apparently) black rhino just before the H3 and H1-1 intersection. We approached a loan jeep jockey and were informed by him that he spotted a black rhino. As expected, his passengers were very excited. Although we were the only other car around, and try as we might, we could not get a clear view of the rhino. The jeep jockey did not move his vehicle one bit. We pulled in behind him, then pulled back to the front, all the while asking him where the rhino was, but he would not move to give us any clear view of the rhino. In the end he pulled away and we had the rhino for ourselves, but by this time it was standing about fifty metres into the trees and all the while with has back towards us.

Shortly after that, the rhino went down for a rest (this was after lunch already) and never got up again. We never got a clear view from the front to say for certain for ourselves that it was indeed a black rhino. It was indeed small, compared to all the other rhinos we’ve seen on our trip. We also convinced ourselves that the area (vegetation wise) was indeed suitable for black rhino and that the stiff neck pointing upwards provided more prove of what we so dearly wanted to be true – our first black rhino sighting.

In the end we sat there for another half an hour or so and carefully analysed the profile of the rhino through binoculars and concluded together with the occupants of another car (although we’re still not 100% convinced) that it is indeed a black rhino. However, as much as we want to add this special animal to this memorable trip, this is not the way we want to remember our first ever sighting of a black rhino (even if it was one). I guess we’ll just live in hope that we’re lucky enough to see this special animal more clearly next time around.

Despite the uncertainty about the black rhino sighting, we still had a wonderful trip with sightings that we will remember and cherish for the rest of our lives. We went to KNP this time around in search of cheetahs. As it turned out, we did not get to see any cheetahs, but we were so lucky with the animals that we did get to see in the end, that we have realised once again that going to Kruger is and will remain (for us) the ultimate wildlife experience.


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Unread postPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 10:48 am 
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@ Salva - measured against the big five and cat sightings e.g., we were truly lucky this time around and we can only describe our trip as "successful", as mentioned. Against these parameters, we sure had one or two "unsuccessful" trips to the KNP before. However, our interest in birdwatching only came to the fore during our last two trips to KNP and once you go to the park as a birdwatcher as well, you are IMHO guaranteed to always have a "succesful trip" every time around. (Funnily enough, our luck with the big five and particularly with the cats only started happening once we started focusing on the birds instead of looking for the cats around every corner).

@ Christo - couldn't agree more about the "seeing everything but the one thing you're looking for" part!

@ Freda & Macho Mouse - Maybe we were just lucky or maybe you did just have a bad hair day, but our Talamati experience was awesome (more on that in Chapter 4). But I now do understand (and appreciate) what you angels meant with the whole "key" thing. :wink:

@ everyone else, thanks for all the positive comments. Chapter 3 is in the pipeline.


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Unread postPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 2:00 pm 
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Chapter 3 - The Birds

Before I go ahead with chapter 3, it is maybe important to put our bird watching into perspective to ensure that you know what to expect before you start reading this chapter. We are still beginners when it gets to bird watching. We had our first test-run as novice bird watchers in December 2005 when we added about 40 new birds to a very short list during a two day visit to Kruger. Since then, we slowly added more birds to our list (mostly during a few visits to WCNP and to my parents’ farm) so that our list slowly moved up to 120 prior to our departure to Kruger for this trip.

We also regard ourselves only as “social” bird watchers. When the occasion arises (e.g. when we go to the farm or to WCNP), we’re up for bird-watching, but we would not normally or regularly plan a specific bird watching trip or activity. We are also not so much into the thrill of only looking for that new bird to be ticked off on our list. The joy of it all for us rather lies in the taking of photos of every new bird spotted.

We’ve started working on our own “bird album”. I’m using Photo Record (sold with our Canon) to compile our own “Roberts” bird book of our bird sightings (6 photos per page, with each bird’s name and a cross reference to the relevant bird’s number in our bird list). Once we’ve added 6 new birds to our album, that page gets printed out and our own “Roberts” gets updated.

Granted, most of the photos are not what you would expect to be included in any respectable book on birds, but for us each photo is special because it is a memory of our sighting of that specific bird and paging through our own album every now and again is also a wonderful way of ensuring we’ll never forget the names of the birds already spotted by us.

I trust you will therefore appreciate the fact that every sighting of what seems to be a new bird is normally met with a first few seconds of complete chaos in our car because within the first few seconds we both have to get a good look at the bird through our binoculars for ID purposes (as mentioned in earlier trip reports, we only add a bird to our list if the two of us are 100% in agreement) and we also have to get at least some kind of photo before Mr Birdie decides now is a good time to leave (which inevitably is sooner rather than later). Despite this, we have managed to at least take some kind of photo of about 95% of all the birds on our list, and we have included photos of about 80% of the birds on our list in our own album.

With all that being said, one final word of warning, in what follows below please do not expect a report filled with special sightings of vary rare birds. As mentioned before, we are still novices – this is an ordinary report, most probably filled with ordinary bird sightings (in the eyes of the expert), but in our eyes each new bird was a special one.

As far as trip reports go, I find it somewhat difficult to convey our sightings in words when it comes to bird watching, compared e.g. to the animals. Hopefully the list of our new sightings together with the photos will tell some kind of story. I’ve included quite a few photos in an attempt to add some flavour to chapter 3, but I’ve downsized all of them to a very large extent, so apologies for the quality. I’ve tried to keep all the photos below 100 kilobytes for the dial-up users.

All in all, we’ve added another 57 new birds to our list, bringing our total to 177. The jury is still out on quite a few new ones, so our tally might increase a bit, once we’ve studied some of our photos more carefully. Instead of giving a full list of all birds spotted on this trip, I thought it appropriate to just copy our list of new birds added, and just include one or two other special birds which were not first timers for us. Also, as mentioned, we’re still novices so please suggest any corrections where necessary.

Our list of first timers (as we’ve added them to our list, so in no order of preference):

Crested Barbet
White-headed Vulture (a very special sighting for us at the Sable Dam)
Saddle-billed Stork (see photo below)
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African Mourning Dove
Fork-tailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike (a very special sighting for us)
Kurrichane Thrush
Burchell's Coucal (see photo below)
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Magpie Shrike (see photo below)
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Kori Bustard
Red-crested Korhaan
Cape Turtle-Dove
White-browed Scrub-Robin (see photo below, a very special sighting for us)
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Crested Francolin
Purple Roller (see photo below)
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Black-collared Barbet
Squacco Heron
White-bellied Sunbird (a very special sighting for us)
Great Egret
Yellow-billed Stork (see photo below)
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White-backed Vulture
Crowned Hornbill
Black-chested Snake-Eagle (a very special sighting for us)
Bennetts Woodpecker (see photo below)
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Green Wood-Hoopoe
Burchell's Starling
Southern Black Flycatcher (see photo below)
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Groundscraper Thrush
Common Scimitarbill
Greater Blue-ear Starling
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
Brown-headed Parrot (photo not that great, but very special sighting for us)
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Grey-headed Bush-Shrike (once again not a great photo, but for us a very special sighting, courtesy of a very friendly guide from Lawsons)
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Bateleur
African Green-Pigeon
African Paradise-Flycatcher
Marico Sunbird (see photo below)
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Bearded Woodpecker
Southern Ground-Hornbill (see photo below)
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Acacia Pied Barbet
Comb Duck
Lesser Striped Swallow (see photo below)
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Martial Eagle (see photo below, we think?)
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Pearl-spotted Owlet
Coqui Francolin
Purple-crested Turaco
Black-headed Oriole (see photo below)
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White-fronted Bee-eater (see photo below)
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Goliath Heron (see photo below)
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Reed Cormorant
Mocking Cliff-Chat
African Black Duck
Wire-tailed Swallow
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Thick-billed Weaver
Green-backed Heron
Purple Heron (see photo below, we think?)
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Other special sightings for us (not first timers):
African Fish Eagle (see photo below)
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White-browed Robin-Chat
Pied Kingfisher
Lilac-breasted Roller (see photo below, always a special one for us)
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Red-billed Oxpecker
African Jacana
Blue Waxbill
African Darter
African Scops Owl
Ostrich (because its in Kruger – 3 times)
Hamerkop (see photo below)
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The photo of the Hamerkop is only included to add some spice to the report. We were travelling on the “dreaded” S100, entering a ford (?) where there was only enough space for one car to pass at a time, when we spotted this little fellow fishing. However, he kept on turning his back to us, so we just could not get the angle quite right to get his full profile nicely in the picture.

However, shortly after we stopped two other cars pulled up just behind us. I tried to reverse to get a better angle of the hamerkop, but try as I might, the other two cars would not give me one inch. Pretty soon (and I mean literally within a few seconds after pulling in behind us) the one car even blew his horn at us. For a second we thought we were back in WCNP. Not knowing what on earth their case was, we decided to leave the hamerkop in peace and drove on to allow the two cars the necessary space to pass.

We only realised a while later that we were within 5 kilometres of a lion kill when we stopped for our hamerkop photo. The cars behind us must have been on their way to the kill. We had a good laugh afterwards, imagining the kind of conversation the occupants of these two cars would have had, after being stopped dead in their tracks, on their way to a lion kill, by this oke taking a photo of a hamerkop!

In the end what they did was still inexcusable, but I guess in this case I can see where they were coming from. We all know just how excited one can get once you’ve received word of a lion kill.

Oh, and then two more raptors to conclude. We have no idea what they are. Second one maybe a juvenile bateleur? Any suggestions please?

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And that concludes chapter three of our report. Thanks for taking the time to read this far. My work is picking up quite rapidly, so please bear me with me as far as chapter 4 is concerned. It will in any event not be so much of a trip report, but rather more general observations on the park. Where applicable, I will in any event try and incorporate our observations in the general topics, rather than in this report.


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Unread postPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2006 9:41 am 
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Chaper 4 - General observations and conclusion

Letaba
We spent our first two nights in KNP at Letaba. This was our first visit to Letaba. Although it is still rated very high by the forum members as far as favourite main camps are concerned, we’ve got a somewhat neutral feeling about it. Service levels were reasonable (nothing spectacular, but also nothing horrendous to mention), although the cleaning staff was the friendliest we have experienced on the whole trip (except for Talamati).

We asked for specific bungalows beforehand (put in three options) and despite receiving written confirmation that our request will be adhered to, we did not get any of the requested options. Our bungalow was very far from the riverbed and to call it “river view” is IMHO very misleading. Tried as we might, we could not get a different one. Be that as it may, this was not a major train smash for us and we were richly rewarded with a few very special bird sightings, courtesy of some kind of “berry-carrying tree” right in front of our bungalow. The impala lilies also added some refreshing colour to the camp. (see photo).
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We did however enjoy all the roads around Letaba very much, despite not spotting anything “serious” from an animal perspective. This was firstly because there was less traffic around but more importantly because we did not see one single jeep jockey in that area. It is also worth mentioning our guide on the night drive at Letaba, namely Kenny. This guide was truly awesome and really proved once again that you don’t need to show them lions / leopards on a night drive to still make it a huge success for the tourists.

We also spent a memorable 2 hours or so at the Matambeni Bird Hide in the presence of, amongst many other birds, 4 very active fish eagles. If only I was better photographer, I could have had that famous shot of the fish eagle taking the fish out of the water – see my attempt below, unfortunately about 2 seconds after he got the fish and also too far away.
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Satara
Our next two nights were spent at Satara, which now has got to be our favourite main camp. Although all the perimeter view bungalows are in my view very nice, one or two are particularly well situated and we were very fortunate in getting our first choice bungalow (with special thanks to Gordon Ramsden), which by an element of luck just happened to be one of these well-situated units. (I’ll post more details on this in the Satara / best bungalow topics later). We spent many relaxing hours in front of our bungalow right next to the fence. (see photo).
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Once again, service levels were good and, except for maybe the S100, the roads were still reasonably quite and (yippeeeee!) still without any of them dreaded jeep jockeys. According to the website, Satara is particularly noted for the big cats and we can surely testify to this as well. Whenever we approached the sightings board, somebody was telling someone about some lion sighting close to camp and for the first time ever and contrary to what we normally we, we actually drove to lion sightings based on the sightings board and what people told us (and actually still found the lions there).

The one major disappointment at Satara however has got to be the night drive (which is ironic, because our previous night drive from Satara was excellent). Our guide (“Nomad?”) was pathetic, to say the least. Even though we’ve had excellent night drives at Letaba and Talamati, I personally don’t think night drives are worth the money, given the risk you take. It has IMHO become too much of a gamble what kind of guide you’re going to get on a specific night drive and we’ve already decided that in future, if we can afford it at all, Asterix and I will much rather try to go on one walk, instead of on two or even three drives.

Talamati
As mentioned before, it was with a sense of trepidation that we approached Talamati, where we stayed on nights 5 and 6, given some of the negative comments on the forum relating to service levels and the baboon problems. We arrived at about 11:45 and decided to try our luck to check in early, as there was no-one else at reception and it was only 15 minutes till 12:00. When Ramontsho Ramfolo initially indicated that he could not check us in and asked us to please just give him a few minutes, when there was seemingly nothing going on at reception, we thought here goes…..

But we were badly mistaken - we walked over to the hide and was just about to sit down to enjoy the zebras having a drink, when Ramontsho walked over to us from reception and told us that he’s ready for us now. We checked in about 10 minutes early and from then onwards Ramontsho was “just the man”. The next time we bumped into him, he actually greeted me on my name - now I now Talamati is only a small bushveld camp with only a few residents, but its something small like this that impressed us even more. He later on also tried his best, with the help of Chester (the guide doing the drives from Talamati) to point us in the right direction to find the sable, once he realised that we were seriously looking for these elusive animals (unfortunately without any luck).

One more story that’s maybe worth mentioning: sometimes I get the impression that some of the staff in Kruger (especially the ones on the “administrative” side) is not all that enthusiastic about the wildlife in Kruger. Not so Ramontsho – during our second afternoon there was some commotion at the waterhole (baboons went crazy, everyone thought something major was going down) - Ramontsho was the first to race out of the office at reception to join us in the hide to see what’s cooking…we found this attitude very refreshing.

Speaking about baboons, a lot has been said about the baboon problems at Talamati and it is indeed a problem, but at least we received ample warning and very clear instructions on how to address the problems by Ramontsho when we booked in already and also received confirmation that Sanparks is addressing the problem (I’ll rather not mention the details). Personally, we did not have any problems with the baboons during our two days there, although they were ever present.

On arrival at our house (number 11), we were once again met by two very friendly attendants (sorry, I forgot their names). They also explained the “baboon protocol” in detail and after a very interesting chat about the camp and the animal hotspots we eventually entered the coolness of our house – it was like an oasis in the desert. The units at Talamati do not have aircons, only fans. However, our house stayed very cool all throughout the day (on that particular day temperatures rose to 37 degrees outside) and the veranda is awesome (see photo).
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I personally think Talamati could be a very pleasant camp to stay at, even during high summer. Some of furniture in the house is however in need of replacement. As mentioned before in chapter 2, our night drive from Talamati was also a highlight (in fact, this was the best night drive we’ve ever been on) courtesy of Chester. Even got dropped off right at our house after the drive.

Lower-Sabie
Our last three nights were spent at Lower-Sabie which has, as always, not been disappointing as a camp, despite the fact that its been busy (as can be expected). That view from the river-view bungalows towards the Sabie river, with the ever-present hippos/elephants/giraffes/etc. doing there thing in the river resembles Kruger to us. Nothing special to mention service wise (which in itself is a good thing) – everything went smoothly, we once again got the units we requested (next to each other, staying with the in-laws here) and the service staff was very efficient and friendly. Unfortunately, the Lower-Sabie area brought with it the jeep-jockeys and the traffic (see further below for more on this).

They are busy rebuilding the river-view bungalows at Lower-Sabie. Some of the units (the ones closest to the restaurant) are already finished. They’ve now added kitchens (with microwave ovens, galore) to the units, which is really great. Looks really nice, although I can only imagine they’re going to charge you a stiff price to stay in one of those (if you’re in the first place lucky enough to get a river view bungalow). Oh, and one final thing on Lower-Sabie, looks like Mark has been around, because the sightings board there was in an excellent condition and deserves special mentioning.

Traffic (and of course those jeep jockeys)
All in all we do not have too much to complain about traffic wise. We had a great time at Letaba, Satara and especially Talamati for our first six days traffic wise – no jeep jockeys around, no serious incidents of speeding (expect for two vehicles from Thompsons travelling way in excess of 50km/h on the S126 on 15 September 2006 towards Satara, but they were not carrying any people) and none of the special animals sightings in these areas were really crowded (except for maybe a few smaller incidents on the S100).

However, all of that changed once we got nearer to Lower-Sabie. As much as we love this part of the park and as prolific as our animal sightings have been this time around in the Lower-Sabie area, we’re seriously contemplating venturing not further south than Satara during future visits (although we’ll maybe try to replace Lower-Sabie with Biyamiti, if its available). At one stage Asterix pulled the car to a stop on the left hand side of the Lower-Sabie bridge to take a photo of a Pied Kingfisher on the rail on the right side of the bride – however, an oncoming truck of Vusa would have nothing of this Kingfisher. Unless the driver was fast asleep behind his wheel, he must have seen Asterix’s attempt to get a photo of the Pied Kingfisher on his side of the bridge. This did not bother him one bit, because without even slowing down, he whizzed by (between us and the kingfisher). Needles to say, the kingfisher was gone.

We bumped into this same driver later that day at the Lower-Sabie restaurant where he was bragging with his buddies about just how close he managed to get his truck to some lions… (and nope, I’m not posting this because I’m :mrgreen: at his lion sighting). I’ve also referred to our unfortunate encounter with another jeep jockey at our (possible) black rhino sighting (see chapter 2). I did not get the details of his company.

However, it was not only the jeep jockeys causing trouble here. Traffic in the Lower-Sabie region was in general not good. It is maybe worth mentioning that we stayed at Lower-Sabie over a weekend, so that obviously played a role in the number of vehicles on the roads (and the kinds of visitors to the parks as well :shock:). I’ll rather not say more on this, for fear of getting into trouble).

Oh, and one more thing – visitors to the park are generally not overly friendly and IMHO it also gets worse as you’re making your way south. We made a point of it to give oncoming drivers a friendly wave (although I must admit we did this less and less as the traffic got more and more) – I would guess about 10% of the drivers waved back at us. Either people have just become extremely unfriendly, or maybe it is just my face…

New on the market!!! - Scientific and proven method not to miss the special sightings!!!
All in all we’ve travelled a massive 5500km’s in total on this trip, of which only about 900km was travelled within KNP (on average about 100km’s per day in the park). Was it all worth it you may ask? Well, is there such a thing as a LIT, I respond? If you want to measure the “success” of your trip by the number of special sightings (which is obviously not the way to go about, but which is in the end IMHO the reason why 99% of all people go to KNP), this has been, both from a birding and from an animal perspective, by far our most “successful” trip ever.

We have, as beginners, added 67 birds to our list (now on 187, identified a few more since posting chapter 3 of my report and still counting). We have, as during our previous trip, also made our own sightings board (and I promise, this time we did not steal any pins from the sightings boards) – see photo.
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We made our own “top ten” list before we left – that is the 10 animals we decided we want to track our sightings of, and included only these animals on our board. In the end, we managed to see 8 of the 10. So what is the secret of our “success”. Well, it has been said all along on this forum that the only way to be sure to see something special is to be “at the right place at the right time”, which basically equates to “you need luck and lots of it”.

However, I’ve come up with a very scientific (although-yet-unproven-and-I’m-sure-it-will-remain-unproven- but-it-nevertheless-makes-for-interesting-reading) method of improving your chances of spotting the animals. Based on scientifically proven statistical data assembled during our recent trip, my conclusion is that you need to “work” for your sightings by travelling a specific number of kilometres before you can expect to see something special ( :D yep, this time not them Romans but Obelix has gone crazy, but try to stay with me).

Based on the data assembled during our recent trip, and having travelled about 900 kilometres in total in the park, we had to travel the following number of kilometres for each of the separate animal sightings as mentioned on our sightings board:

Leopards (5 separate sightings) = 180 km / leopard sighting
Lions (9 separate sightings) = 100 km per / sighting
White Rhinos (16 separate sightings) = 56 km / rhino sighting
Buffaloes (9 separate sightings) = 100 km / buffalo sighting
Elephants (29 separate sightings) = 31 km / elephant sighting
Black Rhinos (1 sighting???) = 900 km / black rhino sighting
Wild dogs (1 sighting) = 900 km / wild dog sighting
Hyena (7 sightings) = 128 km / hyena sighting
Sable (0 sightings) = still counting
Cheetah (0 sightings) = still counting

So, unless you’ve walked-the-walk don’t come crying about not seeing something special (so to take the wild dogs as an example, unless you’ve travelled 900 kilometres in the park on a specific trip, don’t expect to see them wild dogs in the park). ( :twisted: )

Of course, this statistic does not tell the whole truth. It would be useless to get into your car and race from point A to point B at 50km’s per hour just to get the first 180 kilometres below the belt in order to get to your first leopard sighting. In the end, we think the secret (if there is such a thing) lies in travelling slowly (and in becoming bird watchers – believe us, that works!!!)… As you would have noticed, we only averaged about 100 kilometres per day in total. [And if you believe all of this nonsense I’ve just written about how to see what and where, I assume you also believe that there’s no lions to be found on the S100 as well] :twisted:

Conclusion
And that concludes this trip report. We have really decided to go full out during this trip to KNP. We stayed for longer than we normally do and than we really could afford to, as it was likely going to be our last trip to KNP for a while. In the end, it was all worth it and we now have memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

The highlight of our trip, if we have to pick one, has got to be encountering lions on foot during our morning walk at Satara (see chapter 1) – luckily we listened to the advice of the forum members and took our video camera with, as we now have our own “Blair Witch” type of video recording of this experience (we watched the DVD we put together over the weekend and for the first time realised that our guide actually at first warned us to “hide in the bushes” when we first spotted the lions – those comments, together with the footage of the “chaos” breaking loose after that, is priceless to us).

But in the end the whole Kruger experience was still the ultimate highlight…from that very first moment we drove through Phalaborwa gate when we started looking around in excitement for our very first bird/animal …. until that very last hopeful stare down the fence at Phabeni gate as we were about to exit over the bridge, just in case there was still something to be seen before we leave the park for good. We can only hope to return someday. I’m signing off with one last picture of our final sunset at Sunset dam on our last night in KNP.
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