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 Post subject: Boulder's Kruger Trip : Dec '06
Unread postPosted: Sun Dec 31, 2006 10:39 pm 
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We arrived back in PE last night after 2 glorious weeks in steaming hot Kruger. It was a great trip and we spoilt ourselves by staying in some really smart accommodation in some really nice parts of my favourite Park after a lifetime of camping there. Just as well as it was really hot this summer in the Lowveld and the humidity was really high every day so the Aircon in the main camps and the fans in the Bush Camps were most welcome. Now I'm sitting in PE with a jersey on as another Cold Front sweeps through!!

PUNDA MARIA CAMP (4 Nights)

Punda has one of the best camping areas in the Kruger but this year we decided to book in one of the family cottages (only 2 in the camp) Based on what I can remember and what the SanParks Website shows these cottages as a single storey abode with lawn right around. But the Website obviously has not been updated for a long time as when we arrived at our accommodation we were pleasantly shocked to find that these units at the top of the hill past the reception area had been demolished and rebuilt into 2 units which are easily one of the best family accommodation types in the Kruger on a double storey design affording a great view over the nearby bush and foothills around the camp from the upstairs Balcony.
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Our Family Cottage At Punda Maria Camp.

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The view from our upstairs Balcony. Here we watched the bats and listened to the Fiery Necked NightJars calling and catching insects downstairs. We also watched approaching thunderstorms frm up here (so different from our camping where we invariably got wet !!!)
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The Nightjars were particularly noisy on night 2 with their familiar "Good Lord Deliver Us" call so I went carefully downstairs with my camera and saw an unusually large Nightjar catching insects and then disappearing into the gloom to eat his supper. I battled to get focus in the dark and my only pic was this slightly fuzzy pic of what I believe is a Fiery Necked NightJar but because of its larger size and continually returning to perch off the ground has started getting me thinking that it could very well be a European NightJar. Come on I'm always trying to identify birds for other forumites so its now my turn to ask for identification ideas for a member of a bird family which I think is the hardest to identify in the birding world.

I will continue with my Pafuri, Mahonie Loop and Klopperfontein Dam reports later this week.......

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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 01, 2007 10:41 am 
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Looking back at that Nightjar pic and that awful Redeye effect I cant wait to get Adobe Photoshop or Nikon Capture NX to get rid of that awful stuff so apologies for that. The photos I am putting on this report have all been reduced to about 200kb on average. I loaded Irfanview yesterday and I am struggling to get my brain around it but will contact Dinkybird/Duco after New Year is finished to find out where in the snipshot/tinypic process I currently use that i must employ Irfanview and HOW it is done because I aint got a clue so for the next day or so Dial up users PLEASE bear with me I know I have messed you around for ever and I apologise for that but I'll soon be conforming completely.

MAHONIE LOOP

This 25 Km route around the picturesque camp Punda Maria is without doubt my favourite afternoon route in Kruger. The Topography is SUPERB with all the diverse habitats that join up in the area. The rolling hills with stands of Lebombo Iron Wood trees dotted along the ridges. The huge trees too numerous to mention but great fun to identify. Landscape Photographers have it made here with great sidelighting and great vistas. While the route doesnt typically throw up Big 5 specials like lion, Rhino and leopard, these animals were seen by OTHER folk who did night drives on either side of my night out on a drive...(Typical isn't it !!!!) I did however see plenty of Buffalo and Elephant on my daily drives on this scenic route. The elephant numbers have increased tremendously along the route which is great but the Baobab trees are starting to take a bit of strain even in a wet period that the North is enjoying at the moment. Other signs of elephant population pressure was the noticable increase in stroppy elephants particularly in the resident two breeding herds.

The real attraction of the Mahonie Loop is the lack of traffic and the speciality as a result is the fabulous sightings of the little things that would not be seen on the highways of the South. It is always such a thrill to stop at a Buffalo sighting and have a Pygmy Kingfisher land right next to your SILENT car or to have a pack of busy Banded Mongoose scurry around unaware around you. I will try and find some pics of the little things I saw on this loop 10 days ago to show what I am trying to say. I did miss a lovely leopard one afternoon though. Our neighbourspassed me halfway around the loop one afternoon and we swopped notes on what the other could expect. They told me about the Elephant Cow further back with a bad dose of PMS and I told them where they could try and see a group of beautiful Broad billed Rollers. We then went on our way. I never saw the Elephant cow but they took ages to get backto camp (Big leopard which I had obviously missed completely as it was calmly sunning itself on a fallen log - perfect lighting and all!!) I and my Nikkor Tele Zooms were very frustrated to hear that!

The main reason I go to Punda Maria in Summer is for the birds. Although I only took a couple of species with the camera as I was there to study them with the binos I will try and upload a couple of examples of these Punda specials.

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Compare the urgent (stroppy) attitude of this group of Mahonie Loop elephant with my recent tame Addo Elephant Herd pics!!

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I have battled for years trying to get one of these beautiful summer migrant Broadbilled Rollers onto my camera focusing sensors, but they are a restless species only found regularly well north of Shingwedzi in summer only. They either sit BRIEFLY far away or against a bright washed out sky or high up in the forest canopy. This chap was very cooperative and settled 40-50 metres away low down in near perfect light where I was able to use a distant hill as a more pleasing background. The 400 setting on my lens is very sharp and while he was nowhere near enough the VR did its work and I was able to crop in a bit.

I spent 30 minutes one afternoon trying to win over the confidence of this little guys family group. As there was no traffic I was able to do this.
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While I was engrossed with these delightful Dwarf Mongoose this rather rare Grey Headed Kingfisher briefly perched at 50 metres allowing a fast snapshot.

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One evening during our 4 night stay at Punda Maria I cashed in on my Christmas present from my family for a night drive which did the whole Mahonie Loop at night which gave a total new feel to this road seeing it at night. We missed the displaying Pennant winged Nightjars but did see this magnificent roosting African Hawk - Eagle

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I will carry on with more of my stay in the far north in the next couple of days

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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 01, 2007 12:28 pm 
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Just after I got home from my nightdrive Andrew my youngest son very excitedly told me that a Large spotted Genet had started cruising around the Braai of our cottage. I reminded him of the days when he was 2-4 and we camped in the bottom left corner of the camping site and the Genets came in every night. We looked with a torch and found him after about 5 mins in the bush infront of the cottage. There was no real time to replace the exhausted batteries in my flash (Took lots on the Night Drive) and the torch was no better and fading fast. I grabbed the camera with the 70-200 and put the VR on and cranked the flash up and this feeble little light source shot out and barely reached the Genet before the batteries croaked properly. This was the result!!

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You have more chance of a sighting like this at a camp like Punda Maria as opposed to say Lower Sabie although as a kid while I was helping my Mom and Dad to pack the car at Lower Sabie I discovered a little Genet had gone to sleep on top of the front wheel!!

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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 01, 2007 1:07 pm 
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Thanks folks for your good wishes and a Happy New Year to you all. I'm still exhausted from a 2 day drive home plus 12 days getting up at 4:00 am to get the good light as in summer its gone by 7:00am basically.

We saw 215 birds in the 2 weeks including some nice Cuckoos including this Levaillant's (Striped) Cuckoo on the Mahonie Loop.
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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 01, 2007 1:37 pm 
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katydownunder wrote:
It is nice to see that a lot of forumites like the north so much.
The whole Mahonie Loop on a night drive 8) WOW.

The birds are just amazing up there. Never saw a Broadbilled Roller before.
We are no birders at all, but we started to develop a view for them . More and more every time we are staying in Kruger or other SANPARKS.
We had been lucky on our night drive from Punda and did indeed see a Pennant Winged Night Jar, how beautiful.

Did you see the Dwarf Mongoose in the afternoon on the Mahonie as well ? They are great.

And the new family accomodation at Punda looks stunning. We just passed it on the way to our tent. But, hey what a view from the upper floor.
Also lovely pic of the Genet.


Yes Katy I saw the Dwarf Mongoose about half way around the Loop.

The best time to see Pennant Winged Nightjar is in November at Punda Maria in Kruger when they sit on the ground and hunt all night. You may spook them briefly but they fly back to the road just a bit further on every time. By the time Christmas time comes they are already breeding etc and the Males only display as it starts getting really Dark for about 30 mins and less likely at Dawn again. Then they go to the bush and by the time the night drive starts it is too late. In December the Two best sites in South Africa are the Mahonie Loop in clockwise direction going right where you have to go down the 2nd No Entry Road to the left for 800 metres to see the dusk displaying Males so you have to go on a Sunset Drive to have any chance to see a displaying Male there in December. The other great place is on the dust road to Klopperfontein Dam road to the rocky Koppies on the left just before the windmill. You cant see these in the evening as you will be very late for Gate Close and the Sunset drve does not go that far. We got a brief view of a displaying Male at 5:10 am at this spot en route to Pafuri...Sorry no time for a photo that time but it was a sighting all the same. Katy you saw your one at the best time to see them....November...well done

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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 01, 2007 7:59 pm 
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Before I move off the Mahonie Loop I thought a pic of a typical scene one can expect on an afternoon drive around Mahonie

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 02, 2007 8:31 am 
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I keep hearing, " We dont go North of Letaba because there are no Lion"
Sure there seem to be less lion further north but the sightings are great and 9 times out of ten you are on your own when you stumble across Felix Leo which is the way I like it.

We heard lion from the balcony of our Punda Maria home on the 1st night and it was far away and even seemed to come from out of the park but in those hills the lion communication system does not travel as far as the commercialised S100 cats do in their flat environment. The night drive people that evening told me that they had seen a lioness walking towards the entrance gate to the Park. Next morning there was spoor all over Mahonie Loop and when I stopped to look at a Grey Headed Parrot at 5:00am I heard the fairly close by low guttral call of two lion communicating. That's why it is so important to kill that engine when you stop even at a huge breeding herd of elephant in order to get the true atmosphere of the bush and to pick up the little things.

We went to Pafuri after I got back to camp and later that afternoon I went around the Mahonie loop to TRY and photograph a very close up Pygmy Kingfisher Nest in a bank right next to the road (After much trying I never did...Oh well next time!!) when I came across MR Crusty Face and his Missus right next to the road. I took 2 pics and left as he didnt really want me around unlike his car habituated cousins from Lower Sabie so I left him in peace so I could try and nab this elusive little blue pocket rocket.

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Who says there are no lion around Punda?

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 02, 2007 10:48 am 
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The main reason I booked 4 nights at Punda Maria was to ensure I got up to Pafuri 3 days in a row for some great Summer birding in the prime birding spot in Kruger.....I was not disappointed.

PAFURI

Apart from the one morning when the family wanted to sleep in for another hour or so and I wanted to do my one and only early morning crawl around Mahonie Loop, we left Punda for Pafuri as the 4:30am gates opened. We went straight to Klopperfontein Dam on the dust road where I ticked a whole lot of good stuff which I will deal with in my later Klopperfontein dam section of my report.

We came across 2 Roan Antelope just past the dam as we hit the Tar road and shortly afterwards a few Tssessebe with a couple of young ones came into view. We also saw a huge flock of Amur Falcons swooping over the bush en route to the Levuvu River with a multitude of European BeeEaters. It was also great to see not 1 but quite a few African Golden Orioles flying restlessly from tree to tree (I have never ever taken a pic of one of these birds...I believe it is impossible!!!). Right at the big Baobab with the Voortrekker Memorial Plaque on the road next to it we came across 2 Crested Guinea Fowl crossing the road. I found this strange as it was Kilometres from their typical Riverine habitat further on. We took the tar road to Border Post where we scanned the trees for Racket tailed Rollers which have been seen occassionally there recently by the Pafuri Ranger whose residence has been moved to the old Mockford House at the border post. Again as in September we didnt get this bird at this point but on my second trip to Pafuri during this stay we got 2 together in the large Mopani tree forest 4 kms from Punda Camp en Route to Klopperfontein Dam. This was the exact same spot where Jane and I saw this bird for the first time 20 plus years ago on the advice of then Shingwedzi ranger Bruce Bryden (Mega Tick!!). We crawled the short distance to the beginning of the short Crooks Corner road to scan the Lala Palms for Lemon Breasted Canaries which seemed fewer this time. It is the only spot that I know of in the whole Kruger (and possibly South Africa?????) where these birds are found so I will monitor numbers on my next trips. In the short Crooks Corner road itself I got Trumpeter Hornbill, Burnt Necked Eremomela, heard the Nicator and Gorgeous bushshrike, Nearly photographed my FIRST ever African Golden Oriole at a distance of closer than 30 metres but he was obviously a Canon bird because as soon as the Nikon rig was put slowly on the bean bagwith the whole family ON SILENCE he hastily left for Zimbabwe in disgust!! We saw a juvenile Crowned Eagle in the forest en route to the picnic spot and heard the begging calls of a Giant Eagle Owl chick but couldnt pick it up or his parents. A bird of prey gave me a brief look and I'm 95% sure it was a Cuckoo Hawk but as I was not totally sure it did not go on the list. The Nyala Bulls were giving me the usual run around when trying to take their portraits. Ive actually got quite paranoid about not being able to get Nyala Bulls pics. They let me look at them through Binos as they stare at me with alert ears and flaring nostrils but as soon as there is the thought of a pic it is a slow about turn and a slow frustrating walk into the Darkest shade while their vain wives will be quite happy to stand and pose for the camera...I have yet to get a top notch portrait of a Nyala Bull but my computer is full of Nyala bums and shapes in the shade!!!

I arrived at the picnic spot to be greeted by my old friend Frank Mabasa who wouldnt even let us put down all our breakfast stuff before appearing at our table with his binos all smart and rigged out with a harness. He wanted to go Robin hunting with the family. So off we went. My first impression was "where are all the raiding monkeys?" When I pointed this out to Frank he just grinned broadly and said he was so glad because his Wattle Eyes would be able to finally breed but he hadnt seen them at the picnic spot for a month so maybe they had been forced out before the monkeys were thinned out. Frank showed us Bearded Robin along the river plus Heuglins (4 together!!) Natal Robin and White Throated Robin in quick succession. We then cracked a flock of Green Capped Eremomelas plus a few Cuckoos including the host species of the elusive Thick Billed Cuckoo, a flock of Retz's Helmet Shrikes. I mentioned to Frank that I hadnt seen a Bohms Spinetail for years even though I religiously scan the Baobabs for them all the time. Later we got back to the picnic site and stood at the Heather Zietsman memorial bench and looked across the river and straight away Frank asked me to use my Binos to look at that faraway swift ....BOHMS SPINETAIL... This guy is wasted cleaning the picnic spot and should be doing bird trails out of Punda Maria along with Jerry who is setting this up when he arrives from Biyamiti later this month. The next day was much the same with a few new sightings for the trip including some nice Warblers and Flycatchers and I had a long chat with Sandra Basson Section Ranger Pafuri when she popped in at the picnic site about the worrying "drop" in Pels Fishing Owls along the river. They are doing another survey in about May so hopefully they will get more than 3 pairs!! Just as we were packing up on our last of 3 daily visits to Pafuri I heard the familiar call of the Wattle Eye and there they were right next to us in the bush leaf gleaning like mad and i called Frank and when he saw them i thought he was going to hug me....the nest raiding monkeys are gone for the moment and hopefully they will increase their numbers before more human fed apes arrive.

Pafuri is King ...Birding Deluxe, Quiet, Absolutely Beautiful, and Frank is a star....I LOVE the place.
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The Picnic Spot at Pafuri has no equal in Kruger

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A typical obliging Nyala Ewe, so diferent from their shy husbands!
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The river at Pafuri is alive with waterbirds including many Grey Herons.
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This White Fronted Bee Eater is just one of many colourful birds Pafuri is famous for.
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The river from above always gives a great background to most shots
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One of the many picture perfect lookout points along the river.
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One of the many Summer Migrants that are in abundance at Pafuri

I am learning to reduce my pics to the correct size and it may take a couple of weeks for my Shingwedzi, Shimuwini and Biyamiti sections of my report to appear but if you want the Klopperfontein Dam section done this week please let me know and I will do it today or tomorrow otherwise I will wait while I learn and it will appear with the other area reports.

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 02, 2007 11:03 am 
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Sorry I seemed to have made a blups and posted two Heron Pics and left out the White Fronted Bee Eater so lets try again!!
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Hope that worked (Taken at Crooks Corner with 70-200 Lens and 1.4 x convertor(

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 02, 2007 9:13 pm 
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KLOPPERFONTEIN WATERHOLE 1st installment.

Most Kruger nuts like myself have their favourite places whether they are Bird Hides, Camps, Roads, Regions, etc and they almost certainly have a favorite watering point where they prefer to be to sit quietly in the shade of a tree for a few hours to take it all in.

Me..I'm particularly fond of Bangu Windmill near my special Balule. I'm even quite partial towards Sunset Dam in quiet periods. Klopperfontain waterhole on the way from Punda Maria to Pafuri has always been in my top 5 but this trip this spot REALLY endeared itself to me big time. It's a really quiet part of the Park and in the 6 Hours or so I spent parked there only one other car appeared briefly after the action had finished and the players had left and this in the Christmas holidays!!!

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This is the beautiful sight that awaits you at 05h15 when you arrive. It is so quiet the silence hums in your ears. You are about to go when my sons point out a bird in the far tree. I scan the tree and it is a Spurwing Goose waking up. Just then Jane looks out of her window and this little chap is eyeballing her after a busy night hunting
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Very soon the Comb Ducks are busy at work swimming on the dam as the bush wakes up.
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We get a big fright as a huge bull elephant appears behind our car without a sound. He slowly slides past us so close I could touch him. He must have thought we were lost because he went straight to a to the sign and showed us where we were.

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To be Continued

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Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:21 pm 
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KLOPPERFONTEIN (Cont)

The drive to Klopperfontein Dam passes through some amazing Mopani forest where specials like Arnots Chat, Racket Tailed Roller, White Breasted Cuckoo Shrike and Grey Headed Parrot can be seen from time to time. We got 2 Racket Tailed Rollers shortly after leaving camp ( first sighting there in over 20 years) but we never got Arnott's Chat which is fairly common and far more regularly seen....one never knows with these featherd types! Just before arriving at the Waterhole we came over a small rise and there before us was horizon to horizon buffalo. There must have been between 900-1200 or even more.
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This bull was the largest I could find after glassing about only 30% of the herd. (Os Du Rand eat your heart out!). They all looked in incredible condition and well protected from lions.

The further North you go in Kruger the more likely you are to find the Yellow Billed Oxpecker. Of the hundreds of Oxpeckers that were in attendance here about 40% were Yellow Billed which shows that their numbers are bouncing back.
Image

(To be continued....Ellie action at Klopperfontein!!)

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Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:07 pm 
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Hi Penny,

There's one very close to the Stevenson Hamilton Monument a few Kms South of Skukuza which is active at the moment (didnt see any dogs when I stopped and waited there last week....got too much of a traffic jam building up behind me so I slunk back ASAP to the Biyamiti Weir and peace!!) so if you ask nicely and make space at the back of the Caravelle I could possibly be persuaded to come and try and find them!!...I am so envious.....

My reports wow they are time consuming but I'll try and finish the Ellie action before you go ....being bush lovers you will love it as much as we did BUT I havent even backwashed the pool or packed away the camera stuff since I've been back as the Keyboard is my master at the moment and I have promised the mods to learn Irfanview....???? its not working too well but being 50 something is not for the faint hearted...boy you can probably smell the wood burning from Durbs!!

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Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:23 pm 
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We left our considerate elephant and went to Pafuri and came back via Klopperfontein to find this chap cooling off in the 40 plus degrees heat.

Image

He had a ball and was frolicking all by himself when over the hill came another bull lumbering towards the dam and he climbed in and after exchanging greetings they tentatively started to play



Then they really started to play hard for at least 30 minutes

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Obviously the local Egyptian Goose and her chicks were used to this (Daily?) occurance as they swam past this turmoil of thrashing elephants without a care in the world!!

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The next day we came back and there were 7 bulls swimming in the dam and more came to join them later on where they had a Board Meeting!!

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What a great ellie spectacle over the two days we visited Klopperfontein.

Sadly we packed up at Punda Maria to leave for Shingwedzi the next day before going on to Shimuwini and Biyamiti for another week. Even the Punda cottage Large Spotted Genet looked sad as we were packing up.

Image

Punda Maria we will be back as we always come back

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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 5:03 pm 
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Hi Folks...I'm really sorry I have been so remiss in carrying on my report but I have been busy preparing for job interviews which are quite critical as the funds are falling after being pilaged for nearly 2 years. I have also very excitedly been asked to submit pics in various forms for consideration from various buyers and sale outlets of my 3 Biyamiti Leopard sightings from this trip just completed so I have been running around like mad printing A1 shots on canvas and doing 6 x 8s Gloss (Stunning!!!) for a portfolio as after all these years I realise that in order to be truly happy one must do what ones passion is. ...so I'm starting slowly and in 4 years time when I'm 60 it will be my only job...thats the plan anyway. Anyway enough of that and onto the Kruger Report

CHAPTER 2 SHINGWEDZI (1 Night)

We very sadly left Punda Maria and moved slowly down towards Shingwedzi where we love staying but this year it was only a brief stop en route to Shimuwini. We saw a couple more African Golden Orioles and said goodbye to the last probable sightings of Broad billed Rollers as they all but disappear in the deep south (Shingwedzi). We passed our first multi car sighting near Babalala and it was 3 dirty old lions sitting on an approx 3 day old Buffalo Kill/Carrion??. Even at more than 100 metres into the bush the stench was very strong!!. We stopped off at Babalala to enjoy a cup of coffee and to look for the resident Reedbuck who wasnt home in the adjacent streambed, but I cracked another delightful Pygmy Kingfisher. One of the biggest and noisiest flocks of European Beeeaters swarmed overhead and 3 very different but totally impossible to identify Cisticolas were cruising around above the long grass. I spoke to a Beaufort West family who were staying at Sirheni and they had seen 3 leopards on the Mpholongo River road in less than a day including a just missed kill that morning 5 kms from Babalala. Poor Rob my eldest boy hasnt seen the Dappled one for 10 years...we only see them when he stays behind with exams etc...but he was to more than make up for it a week later at Biyamiti. The famous large Fig Tree was alive with birds feeding on the ripe fruit....Brown Headed Parrot, Red winged Starling etc. Soon we were on our way as the heat was building up fast and it was still early.

We started carefully on the Mpholongo Road hoping like hell that we would catch a glimpse of the Leopard but instead we had lovely sightings of Buffalo and our first good sightings of Kudu on the trip.
Image

A group of Kudu on the river bank near the turnoff to Sirheni in the last of the good morning light.....Gotta take my Border Collie for a run on the beach so I'll be back soon

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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 7:51 pm 
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SHINGWEDZI (cont)

We arrived at camp in very hot weather and booked in and went straight to the shop to get things like ICE!! Its always great to be back at this camp. Just past the shop there is the well known fish pond. The Impala Lilies flower in September but the water lilies flower now. I didnt bring my Macro lens so I just used the 70-200 and walked backwards for awhile to get this pic
Image

I then lifted the lens to take a shot of this Lesser Masked Weaver Part of a colony frantically building nests mainly from the thatch.
Image
After a short rest in the cool of our hut I went walkabout and saw the Collared Palm Thrush on the ground! on that liitle island with all the Palm Trees just past the reception area.

This one
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Every year when I see this bird at Shingwedzi I say to myself "enjoy it for next year he maybe gone. I have no clue if breeding is taking place or if there is more than one bird or whether it/they are resident but I always appreciate another opportunity.
Need to help with the braai so I'll try and carry on later this evening so please bear with me.

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