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 Post subject: Nightjar's Kruger Vacation, December 5th to 30th, '06
Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 10:43 pm 
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Back home in wet and windy Scotland, reflecting on a wonderful 25 days spent in the Kruger National Park. Over the coming days I will share some of the many highlights with you.

Nightjar, accompanied by SO, started in the south of the park and drove to the far north and back again, staying in 6 main camps and one bush camp. Our itinerary was Berg En Dal (2 nights), Skukuza (6), Orpen (2), Olifants (3), Bateleur (3), Punda Maria (2), Mopani (4), Skukuza (3). We made the trip in a trustworthy Nissan X-Trial giving us a few inches of extra viewing height and some slightly more robust tyres than the average sedan (sadly it was only available in a choice of white which at least matched most of the other cars on the road, but was perhaps not the best colour for game viewing – although we did our best to give it a gravel-coloured overcoat).

Day 1 Malelane Gate to Berg-En-Dal

After spending our first night in South Africa at Nelspruit, in order to stock up on provisions for the first few days of the trip, we headed in great anticipation to the Malelane Gate, stopping on the bridge over the Crocodile River before entering the park for our first view of the pleasures to come. Swallows and swifts swooped low over the bridge and a multitude of other birds could be spotted on the banks and sandbars below.

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There were just a few other cars at the gate when we arrived around noon, and we were quickly issued our permit and headed on to check in at Berg En Dal. Graceful bee-eaters, colourful rollers and jaunty guineafowl were seen along the way, and it felt so good to be back. A group of three adult and three tiny warthogs were seen too, but I was not yet ready with my camera. Berg was very quiet when we checked in to Bungalow 60, overlooking the perimeter with good views of a long slope outside and a large hill beyond.

No sooner had we settled in than the sound of vegetation being crushed alerted us to the presence of a bull elephant just outside the fence. Excellent views were had from our stoep and the perimeter walk as the elephant came within 10 metres of the fence.

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The birdlife in camp was prolific as usual and we sat out in the afternoon sunshine watching White-fronted Bee-eaters and Black-collared Barbets flitting in the trees around us and listening to the sound of the bush. We saw our first Woodland Kingfishers too (never having been in the park when they were present before), and heard the distinctive call which became so familiar to us over the next few weeks.

On an evening drive to the Matjulu waterhole, along the surprisingly rough gravel road, we saw giraffe, and at the waterhole itself our first white rhinos of the trip – this mother and young.

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Day 2 Berg En Dal

S110 – H3 – S114 – S25 to James waterhole, then S119- S118 – H3 to Afsaal picnic site, and returned to Berg via H3 and S110. A quiet drive to begin with, few animals being in evidence. Some good birding along the Crocodile River Road (S25) including Levaillant’s Cuckoo and Trumpeter Hornbill. On the S119 between the Gardenia bird hide and James we found a male White Rhino close to the road, wandering around feeding and marking his territory by scuffing up the dirt. Although he retreated a little from the road, he stayed around and we watched him for some time until he lay down and was only partly visible. We also encountered a group of female kudu close by including this one.

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After a brief stop at the Afsaal picnic site we encountered another white rhino just south of the picnic area and grazing placidly close to the road, seemingly unperturbed despite several vehicles being present and a lot of photographs being taken by the occupants, including this one.

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We also saw elephant, giraffe, warthog and bearded woodpecker on this drive, and to finish with two water monitors swimming in one of the small patches of water visible from the Matjulu river bridge. All in all a fruitful and enjoyable morning.

At 5pm we set off on the SAN Parks sunset drive, which took much the same route we had taken earlier in the day, setting off along the Crocodile River Road and returning from James waterhole on the S114. At the Matjulu river brdge we saw our first buffalo of the trip, four males relaxing in the river bed.

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A little further on we came on a group of five white rhino accompanied by cattle egrets, though these were a little far from the road for good pictures. Photography was difficult anyway as apart from the two of us, everyone else on board the full vehicle was from the same overland expedition. They barged on to the truck at the beginning, ensuring we could not sit together, and during the drive leapt up and down continually all over the bus taking pictures of anything and everything which came in sight. In all we saw 11 rhino, including our morning male in the same spot on the S119, guarding his territory, plus giraffe, a single elephant, a further small group of buffalo, two African Fish Eagles, and on the S110 back to camp a total of four Spotted Eagle Owls hunting from the tar road. One obligingly paused in a nearby bush for a photograph.

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:12 pm 
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Day 3 Berg to Skukuza via the Crocodile River Road

Things had been going well; we had seen three of the big five after our first full day in Kruger, but that night some serious rustling in our bags at 2am alerted us to the presence of an unscheduled visitor to our room which, after much speculation and tentative searching, turned out to be a mouse. SO was none too impressed with this opportunity for some extra wildlife viewing from the comfort of her bed and with the little devil scurrying around the beams no peace could be had, so we were forced to get up rather earlier than planned. The vehicle was fully loaded and ready for us to move on by 4.20am. In hindsight, the hole in a bag of peri-peri cashews the previous afternoon and the single loose (though ungnawed) nut should have alerted us to the cunning rodent, but it did not really register at the time; we just thought the bag had split. What I would like to know is what exactly was wrong with our luxury Marks and Spencer nuts, carried all the way from Edinburgh and much anticipated (yes, I know now they sell them in the park shops but they seemed exotic at the time!), as the wastrel mouse clearly did not like the taste having opened the goods?

S110 – H3 – S114 – S25 Crocodile River Road to S108 – H5 – H4-2 – S82 and Lower Sabie, then H4-1 – H12 – H2-1 and Maroela Loop to Skukuza.

Vervet monkeys very active in the trees by the dam before we left camp in full daylight despite the early hour. Our long circuit started with a White Rhino trotting away from the road just a few kilometres from camp. Last night’s buffalo had moved on from the Matjulu bridge, but Black-crowned Night-heron, Green-backed Heron and Malachite Kingfisher we all fishing in the pools of water below.

Early on the Crocodile River Road we had good views of a group of three Amur Falcons and then a Red-Chested Cuckoo before encountering a breeding herd of elephant feeding noisily close to the road. A little further on, we rounded a corner to see Lions immediately ahead, sitting prominently on the edge of the road. We stopped and they got up and walked across in front of us – one male and one female. They settled down in the grass right alongside our vehicle but a few metres back from the road where the long grass partly obscured them, so my photos were not the best.

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From where we were parked we could see another male lion on the opposite side of the road, visible down a long avenue through the otherwise dense bush, sitting facing us. Maybe there was a whole pride here but we could not see any others. After ten minutes or so, our original pair got up and wandered off, possibly looking for more privacy than a few wisps of grass could offer.

We moved on to the section of the road where it runs almost alongside the Crocodile River, though views of the water are limited. An inquisitive male warthog padded along towards us, we were clearly in his way as he had a sniff and then made a detour through the bush to one side as he passed, before coming back out on the road behind us. A second breeding herd of elephant crossed in front of us a little further on. Our bird list for this trip was growing by the minute, and a Dark Chanting Goshawk was a big tick on the life list too. What a great drive the S25 is!

On the H5, between the S108 and the H4-2 we saw a hyena cross the road and disappear under it into a culvert. As we knew from past sightings that hyenas often den in these culverts we stopped our engine and waited a while. Sure enough, after a few minutes we saw hyenas in the bush on both sides of the vehicle. One circled investigating us and later on all three crossed in front of us.

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Drove on to Lower Sabie via the S82 Mativuhlungu Loop, which was very quiet. The view from the café at Lower Sabie is excellent and we decided to have a late breakfast on the terrace.

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The dam was pretty full and hippo and elephant were both present, along with a host of water birds including Glossy Ibis, the first we have seen in KNP. Just after we arrived a Martial Eagle landed and perched on top of a tree directly across the water from us. While we waited for our food a young elephant came along and set about destroying a bush immediately below the terrace giving us some light entertainment.

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The food here tastes OK but they just can’t seem to serve it hot, even when it is not busy. This seems to be a problem at many cafes and restaurants throughout the park, and was one of our main grumbles about KNP facilities throughout our stay.

The weavers and bulbuls are a little too tame (cheeky) and always try to share your table, your plate of food, etc. At least we found one Village Weaver nearby still in something like its natural habitat.

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Headed on to Skukuza along the tar road, crossing the Sabie River on the H12. On the Maroela Loop we encountered a party of six elephants who had clearly just been for a swim. Arrived at Skukuza in the heat of the day, and checked in to our riverside bungalow (No 91). Having happy memories of prior stays at Skukuza, this really did feel like coming home. We celebrated with our first braai of the trip, and our first ever Amarula, that evening. 8)


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 1:29 am 
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Day 4 Sabie River, Albasini and Napi Roads

Friday 8th December. Skukuza – H11 – S3 to Albasini Ruins, then S3 – S7 to Pretoriuskop and H1-1 back to Skukuza via the Napi Rocks Rd, Shitlhave and Transport Dams.

Today we decided to try a road we have never driven before, so we headed along the tar to the Paul Kruger Gate and set out along the S3 Sabie River Road, 24 kms of gravel where the river forms the park boundary. This is a beautiful road to drive, very peaceful with good vegetation and occasional views of the river. However, although only two cars passed us we did not see many animals on this route. Plenty of hippo in the river of course, like these ones seen when we stopped for a while to listen to the bush.

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Apart from this we saw only birds, including Little Bee-Eater and Black-Shouldered Kite, and the occasional Warthog. We stopped to view the Albasini Ruins, close to the Phabeni Gate, and then headed down the Albasini Road (S3) as far as the Mestel Dam, before backtracking and taking the S7 to Pretoriuskop. Along the S3 we came upon a White Rhino mother and baby, the youngest rhino we saw on our trip, but they hurried on into the bush too quickly for my camera to catch them. We also saw Waterbuck in the area, including a pair clashing heads although this looked more friendly practice than serious rivalry, and a Warthog with three little hoglets who ran around so much it was nearly impossible to get them all in the same picture.

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Enjoyed refreshments on the café terrace at Pretoriuskop, a delightfully peaceful camp in mid-morning, before proceeding along the Napi Road back towards Skukuza.

Highlights on the return leg included a male Pin-Tailed Whydah displaying at the Shitlhave Dam and this magnificent dozing White Rhino right by the gravel road to the Napi Rocks. We startled it when we stopped so it did get up, but obviously decided we were no threat and lay back down again for another snooze.

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On an evening drive we saw Bushbuck and a solitary Buffalo at the N’waswitshaka river crossing just west of camp, and on a circuit around Shirimantanga we found Klipspringer on the cliffs and herds of Wildebeest and Zebra at the Renosterkoppies waterhole. Headed back to enjoy some excellent food in the Selati Train Grill.

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Day 5 Return to Renosterkoppies and the N’watimhiri Road

The second of five full days at Skukuza.

One of the great joys of spending 25 days in Kruger is that you don’t feel the need to get on the road at 4.30am every day to get some decent sightings, even though throughout the trip that very often proved to be the best time for big game. Some mornings it is great to be in camp for the first hour of daylight to enjoy sunrise over the trees or listen to the sound of birds at the height of their daily activity. Often birds can be seen which are much harder to find later in the day, for example Trumpeter Hornbill and Bearded Scrub-Robin here at Skukuza.

H1-1 – S114 – S22 – S112 to Renosterkoppies, then S21 – H4-1 to Nkuhlu and H4-1 back to Skukuza.

Left camp at 6am and headed down to the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial (surprisingly too busy to be worth stopping) and then the Renosterkoppies waterhole. On the S112 section through the cliffs we spotted a Gymnogene looking for food in the nooks and crannies of a dead tree. This was a Kruger first for us, so we watched it as it moved from tree to tree until it flew too far from the road. The waterhole was very quiet, but there was no shortage of jeep jockeys coming by. You know they are desperate to find something when they stop you just to ask what you have seen today! They seem to stop short of travelling the S21, the N'watimhiri Road, so we set off along this in the mounting heat.

Mocking Cliff-chat was seen at the foot of Siyalu and a Leopard Tortoise crossed the road with the usual vigour. When we meet one of these we always have to wait to see it safely across, just to ensure no speeding driver fails to notice it. In this case there was no traffic at all, and by the time we reached Nhlotini waterhole we were beginning to wonder where everybody had gone to. This was a Saturday in the school holidays and close to Skukuza after all. Nothing was moving at the waterhole, but while scanning for birds with binoculars I did a double-take on a rather pale-looking termite mound which turned out to be a male Lion. In fact two Lions, probably both male, although as one was laid out flat it was hard to sure. We had them to ourselves, quite a rare thing, but it has to be admitted to they didn’t do much – one sleeping, one staring, lurking at the back behind the water.

Later on we saw Giraffe, more Warthogs, two bull Elephants and this lovely Steenbok which I was pleased to capture on film as they usually sprint into the bush as I try to focus the camera. Finally a couple of cars passed us but we were almost back to the tar by then.

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Arrived at the Nkhulu picnic site where a Saddle-billed Stork was fishing in the river, while a Golden-tailed Woodpecker searched for its food in a large tree directly in front of the picnic tables. The stork caught an enormous fish which it struggled with for ages but eventually managed to get down. Also saw White-Crowned Lapwing here, another addition to the life list.

The tar road back to Skukuza can be fruitful at any time of day as so many animals cross it to get down to the river. Today it gave us Elephant, Buffalo, Bushbuck and Tawny Eagle.

Took the Sunset Drive that evening, which was a bit more organised than our last, with orderly boarding of the three trucks. The basic route was south along the tar road as far as Kwaggaspan, then the S112 to Renosterkoppies (again!) and back up the S114. This seems to be the preferred route for Skukuza drives most of the time now, but radio contact between the trucks meant that we, in the last one to leave camp, did lot of back-tracking because, the guide admitted when pressed, nothing had been seen the way were going. In my opinion this is not a good way to run a game drive, relying as it does on one truck finding the lion or leopard they assume is what all we really want to see and the others being near enough to race to the scene. Tonight we saw two White Rhino at Kwaggaspan, and also Giraffe, Wildebeest, Klipspringer, Elephant, Warthog and White-tailed Mongoose. The Klipspringer stayed quite still for photographs the whole time we were stopped.

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Three male Ground Hornbills strutting around near the H3/S112 junction were later found roosting in a tree as darkness fell. At the Renosterkoppies junction a Puff Adder was crossing the road. Our guide was very good at spotting things a long way off in the gloom, usually before anyone else could see anything, but the information he provided on the animals was really just the basic introduction to the larger animals presented as though read straight from a guidebook. A more imaginative line of chat would have made us feel less like one-night first-timers, but we still enjoyed it. :roll:


Last edited by nightjar on Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 10:10 pm 
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Day 6 North by North-East (from Skukuza)

Sunday 10th December.
Today we decided on a relatively easy run up the tar road from Skukuza to Tshokwane and back the same way, with just a short detour to the Orpen Dam.

Still hot and sunny, as it had been since our arrival in the park. Quite busy on the roads today and I decide that before my next visit I must get a sign for the back window saying “Birdwatching – Please Pass” or something like it. Stopping to look at a bird or any small animal, or even to take a drink of water, frequently caused cars to stop right behind us or hover in my blind spot blocking the road, sometimes creating a jam as others further back assumed a major sighting was in progress. It was getting to the point where I dare not stop for fear of causing traffic chaos.

Four very muddy Buffalo at N’watindlopfu waterhole were followed by four Elephant at Silolweni, 2 bathing in the water. One chased off a whole raft of hippo to claim his spot.

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We had good bird sightings along the main road, including Secretarybird, Forest Buzzard, and 3 Ground Hornbills. After breakfast at Tshokwane amongst the multitudes of Glossy Starlings we headed for the Orpen Dam. There was water but it was so covered in weed it looked just like a lawn. Displaying Goliath Herons were present and on the hillside behind many Elephants were gradually descending towards the water.

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After a relaxing afternoon in camp, we headed out for an evening drive along the Doispane Road. As we headed back to camp it was obvious that a storm was coming up, with squally winds sending the animals and birds into cover. A lot of rain overnight cooled things down to 16ºC by dawn.

Day 7 Rain at Skukuza, Sunshine at Lower Sabie

A very cold, very early start as I headed up to the reception area for the SAN Parks Sunrise Drive, departing at 4am. With the weather being bad, SO opted to get some extra kip. There were just 7 of us, as a few others on the booking list had also ducked out. It was not actually raining when we set off west from camp, almost immediately finding Hippo feeding right by the road and then a Hyena.

As we started south along the S65 gravel road the rain began. A few kms further on and rain was lashing into the vehicle as the wind gusted and we were all getting pretty cold. It was hard to believe it had still been 40ºC at 5pm yesterday – it now felt like a ride around the Isle of Skye in an open-top carriage. Three layers of clothing, a blanket/rain poncho and still feeling chilled to the bone. Worse, there was no wildlife and the Italians on board had already given up hope and retreated under their ponchos completely. Elephant and a White Rhino mother and sub-adult were seen, plus a few shivering Wildebeest and a very small Leopard Tortoise crossing the H3. I was glad to return for a hot breakfast at 7am.

Later we went for a long drive: H4-1 – S30 (Salitje Road) – S29 to Mlondozi Dam – H10 to Lower Sabie, then H4-2 – S28 – S137 – H4-2 circular loop returning to Lower Sabie via Nthandanyathi bird hide and Duke waterhole, and finally back to Skukuza along the tar road.

Appropriately after rain, one of the first things we saw was a Rainbird. Giraffe and a magnificent pair of Tawny Eagles were seen on the Salitje Road but not much else, other than millipedes and swallows brought out onto the road by the rains, until we reached the flat grasslands of the S29.

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Almost immediately the change in terrain resulted in some new birds: Purple Roller, Lesser Grey Shrike, Black-bellied Bustard and Black-crowned Tchagra. Then a White Rhino crossed the road right in front of us and we had good views of it as it zig-zagged away through the low-lying bush.

There were lots of birds at the Mlondozi Dam, including several Yellow-billed Storks, Comb Duck, Giant Kingfisher and a pair of White-throated Robin-chats right in front of the shelter. The sun broke through and it began to heat up quickly. After a stop at Lower Sabie we headed for the Nthandanyathi bird hide but nothing was moving there, although we did find two Temminck’s Coursers nearby.

On the return to Skukuza we saw many Elephants, including this breeding herd.

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Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:22 pm 
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Day 8 Wild Dog Dreaming

Skukuza. A noise in the night on our terrace and I peered out see a fuzzy-haired creature with a startled expression and both its hands on our bin. It scurried quickly away. A few minutes later, and the little hands and then the face appeared over the top of the bin, which being empty began to topple backwards taking the hands and face with it. A loud clatter and that was the last we saw of our first Thick-tailed Bushbaby (.....I’m sure it only suffered embarrassment from its little mishap).

Our morning drive today took us via the H11, S65 and H1-1 to the Transport Dam and our first action was a pair of hyenas about a kilometre before the dam turn. These appeared to be heading towards the dam, but although we waited there we did not see them. Lots of Water Thick-knee, as well as Giant and Malachite Kingfishers and Black-crowned Night Heron, but no mammals.

We headed for Renosterkoppies via the H3 and S112. At the S112/S114 junction we saw several cars stopped in front of a rocky outcrop. They were watching a lioness lying in the shade on top.

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After a while were able to take our turn and get a couple of pictures, and we then parked up at the adjacent waterhole (Renosterkoppies) in the hope that other lions would be around and that they may get thirsty pretty soon. From here we were able to observe the antics of four jeep jockeys as they jostled for position, blocked the road and prevented cars from either passing or getting a decent view. They stayed around for so long, some drivers gave up in disgust, and it was hard to believe that it was just one lion lying flat out on a rock.

After they had all gone, the lioness emerged and came towards the waterhole, sat down under a tree close to it and proceeded to roar periodically, to no apparent purpose. It scared away some impala who were heading for a drink, but no other lions emerged and we heard no answering roars, so eventually we headed back to camp slightly disappointed.

We had noticed that for the last few days Wild Dog had been reported on the sightings board on the Maroela Loop and the parallel tar road. Never having seen Wild Dogs, and not really expecting to, we decided to go in that direction for our evening drive as you just never know.

We turned on to the Maroela Loop around 5.30pm, but after about 2kms encountered a bull elephant standing in the road. We stopped well back. It was facing away from us and we could see another car coming this way had stopped in front of it. We waited, and we waited some more. The other car turned around and went back the way it had come. I approached a little closer, but this guy wasn’t going anywhere and there was certainly no room to pass safely. We turned around and almost immediately met the SAN Parks sunset drive. “Are the wild dogs still there?” the driver asked... :shock: ...one of those Kruger moments when your heart starts racing.

We explained about the elephant (still visible) and watched as he took the truck to within a few metres of it. The elephant turned to face the truck and some sort of stand-off ensued, but there was still no immediate sign of progress so we headed back to the main road and turned north. Our luck was in, as soon after that we encountered the Wild Dog pack running along the road towards us with a convoy of vehicles in tow. We had good views of them as they approached and even managed a few pictures.

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About twenty dogs passed us, some on the road, some in the bush, before we turned round and joined the back of the line. With perhaps 8 vehicles in front we could only catch glimpses of the dogs. A jeep jockey overtook us and decided to use the other lane to get to the front of the queue; others behind copied him and a double lane convoy followed the dogs for a couple of kilometres. Even at the back odd dogs were still visible crossing behind us or flitting alongside, but it was getting late and we could not get past this traffic jam now. A vehicle coming the other way was forced to reverse alongside the dogs and in front of the convoy and then take cover at a junction. People were getting agitated as gate closure time was approaching, but only when the jeep jockey finally turned off could we all proceed and try and make camp in time. We arrived back at 6.30 exactly but, as many went on towards the Kruger Gate, they were no doubt getting their excuses ready.

We really owe this brilliant sighting to that stubborn elephant. Thanks! :thumbs_up:

On getting back to our bungalow, an American lady we had met a few days earlier told us that our fridge had been raided by monkeys while we were out. A common problem at Skukuza, but we always put a chair in front to prevent this so were mildly surprised. She was certain they were Vervet Monkeys and not baboons, and so although we saw the Wild Dog pack we simultaneously missed out on the worthy sight of three monkeys carrying a chair. :!: :lol:


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2007 11:04 pm 
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Day 9 Skukuza to Orpen, Wed 13th December

We love Skukuza and it is always sad to leave, but going to a new camp is exciting, heading north towards the quieter areas of the park is also exciting, and we knew we would be back here in two weeks anyway at the end of our trip.

So, we left early for Tshokwane via the tar road, and then on to Satara and finally Orpen camp. Our first interesting sighting was at Silolweni where there were Elephants. By the main road from Tshokwane to Satara we found this African Green-Pigeon sitting in a low bush where it could be photographed quite easily. Almost across the road from it was a Woodland Kingfisher.

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We also saw our first KNP Kori Bustard a little further along, so birds were making up for the lack of larger animals today.

Just south of the Sweni River we spotted two male lions lying under adjacent trees. One had a shaved mane and was wearing a collar, and looked particularly large and mean. After a short while this one got up and walked off into the bush. A few minutes later the other one followed it:

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Called in at Satara where the café had not improved since our last visit in 2004. Both food quality and service were very poor, a disappointment after the excellent catering at Skukuza. The Satara shop was short on perishable food supplies too. However, the new day visitor area is smart and clean (and hot!).

There were lots of Zebra, Wildebeest and Giraffe in the area immediately around the camp.

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On the tar road to Orpen we found many Elephant at Nsemani. Eight bulls were bathing at the eastern end of the water, and on the other side a breeding herd was just departing. We watched the bulls enjoying their bath, sometimes fully submerging themselves.

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Further along we saw Zebra and Wildebeest and, at the turn-off to Tamboti, three Senegal Lapwings (a first for us).

Arriving in camp we were surprised to find no keys are issued, but the newly renovated bungalows were really nice, as has been reported already on the forum. We were in No.2, and Bungalows 1 and 2 definitely have a privacy problem. A continual procession of day visitors, campers and overlanders cut across the driveways and terraces of both properties to get to the pool even though they were occupied. I think the provision of a clearly marked path could solve this.

The floodlit waterhole at this camp is an excellent feature. Just after dusk a herd of elephants visited it, a great ending to our day.


Day 10 Orpen to Satara and back

First thing in the morning, a persistent bird call in camp was tracked down to this White-throated Robin-chat.

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H7 – S12 – S40 to Timbavati and Ratelpan bird hide – S127 – H1-4 to Satara and H7 back to Orpen.

Waited for an hour at the Girivana waterhole and saw a Hyena, along with many Warthog and Impala. Tame Bushbuck at the Timbavati picnic site, but little water and few birds at Ratelpan.

A large herd of Buffalo (120+) were seen at the Mavumbye river crossing on the H1-4 north of Satara, but were not close enough for good pictures.

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Also saw Elephant along the H1-4 and more at Nsemani where several were bathing as they had been the day before. This mother and young were amongst the Zebra seen at various points along the H7 back to Orpen.

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Otherwise a quiet day, that ended with a short evening drive down to Rabelais where only Impala and a Baboon troop were present.


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Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2007 12:06 am 
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Day 11 Orpen to Oliphants

Friday 15th December 2006. H7 – S12 – S40 – H7 to Satara, then H1-4 – S90 (Old Main Road) – S92 – H8.

Left camp shortly after 4.30am. Early on we managed to spot an African Cuckoo perched prominently to the south of the road, but not close enough for a photo. Shortly afterwards, as we approached the Bobbejaan Krans turn, several vehicles had stopped to look at something. The low rising sun made viewing very difficult but it turned out to be four lions close to the road, and we had a brief glimpse of them between the cars.

Turned off for the Girivana waterhole and immediately found two Hyena there, though they did not stay long. Waited to see what would come down as it was still early. This Giraffe looked around for absolutely ages before committing itself to a brief drink:

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Warthog, Impala, Helmeted Guineafowl and White-backed Vulture also came to drink, and a Wood Sandpiper gave the muddy part of the waterhole a thorough search.

Stopped for a picnic breakfast in the day visitors area at Satara which we had to ourselves, apart from the many birds including Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Bronze Mannikin and Marico Sunbird.

By the time we hit the S90 Old Main Road the temperature had climbed to nearly 40°C, but we really enjoyed a slow drive through fantastic scenery, stopping from time to time to try and identify a cisticola or other small bird without the pressure of cars building up behind. When we finally did meet another vehicle, the driver stopped to tell us about some lions a few kms ahead. Apparently, there were 13 lions lying out in the bushes near the Bangu waterhole. Expecting these would be easily located from the other vehicles present, we duly arrived at Bangu to find we were the only car. Despite detailed intelligence on the location, it still took some while to locate the lions. We eventually spotted nine females spread out under two bushes in the long grass, not doing much.

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We waited a little while; other vehicles showed up. It was getting extremely hot by now, so we decided to move on.

At Olifants we checked into Bungalow No.9 for our three-night stay, which the receptionist told us had the best view in camp. How right she was! Prominently located on a cliff edge, jutting out far above the Olifants River, it had fantastic views upstream and downstream and across the plains beyond. This is the view to the south-west (upstream):

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Over the next couple of days, we saw many elephant herds crossing the river here. From breakfast to braai time this must be one of the best places in Kruger to unwind and soak up everything that makes you feel glad to be in Africa.

Late in the afternoon we drove along the river road to the low water bridge near Balule, where we had good views of Pied Kingfisher (with kill) and Hippo.

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Returned to our bungalow for sundowners on our sky terrace, accompanied by a magnificent sunset, to which this photo does not do justice.

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Day 12 At Olifants, Sat 16th December

Not an especially early start today, as we headed up to Letaba via gravel roads (S93 – S44 – S46 – S94). About half way along the S94, a buffalo stepped out in front of us and we stopped. Several more appeared, and we found ourselves in the middle of a dispersed herd. We had excellent views as they crossed the road, small groups appearing at intervals from various directions. At least 60 animals crossed the road, including many young animals, and we had probably already missed some. We had them to ourselves on this very quiet road. One bull was wearing a collar with a numbered tag (15).

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Close by we found this juvenile Bateleur:

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A little further on, crossing a small muddy creek, this tiny Three-banded Plover showed no fear of our vehicle.

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Made a brief stop for drinks and snacks at Letaba. Red-eyed Doves and Red-headed Weavers called from the trees above us as we sat and watched Elephants feeding at various points along the river bed. The river level was very low, barely more than a few pools, so there were few water birds around.

We proceeded on to the Matambeni bird hide on the S62, which overlooks the Engelhard Dam. A great variety of birds were present including Black Heron, Squacco Heron, African Spoonbill and a large group of Collared Pratincole. Despite the 40 degree heat, up to nine Hippos were feeding out of the water at any one time.

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A little later, a large breeding herd of elephant came down to the reed beds, feeding and spraying mud over themselves directly across the water from the bird hide. The few cars which came down the gravel loop on that side (the S46) must have had exceptional views of them.

On the drive back to Olifants along the tar road, we had close views of a White-headed Vulture in the trees by the river north of Letaba, and Black-bellied Bustard near Shamiriri.

Since our arrival in Kruger, we had been looking forward to our Olifants night drive, and it proved to be exceptional. We left at 8pm, and just 300 metres from the camp gate, a magnificent male Leopard was lying on the edge of the road. He got up at our approach and after stretching a bit he padded casually around our vehicle, tail in the air, and then stood obligingly in the road looking menacing [sadly, no photos to show you as we had not brought the camera, SO having persuaded me that we never get good opportunities for photos on night drives :evil: ]. This was our first leopard of the trip after 12 days in the park, but what a sighting it was. Eventually, he got bored with us and settled down in the bush just a few metres from the road, but so well camouflaged you would never spot him now if you did not know. Our knowledgeable guide, John, told as that this leopard had recently been seen in the camp, presumably part of his territory, having got in over the fence by the viewpoint.

A little further along the H8, three Elephants, one under a year old, were feeding by the roadside. As we turned south onto the H1-4, a Side-striped Jackal crossed the road in front of us, but was in no mood to hang around. A smell of rotting meat was now apparent, and getting worse. We had been briefed on what was coming, but it was still exciting to see Lions on the road ahead. A Hippo had died two days ago by the side of the road, apparently of natural causes, and these Lions had been feasting on the carcass ever since (this event has been reported elsewhere on the forum). Two females and a young male were present now, but up to nine Lions had been seen. The smell was truly gruesome, as was the inside of the carcass which was writhing with a sea of maggots.

Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls were seen at the high-water bridge hunting for bats (and there were a lot of bats!), along with feeding Hippo and two male Buffalo in the river bed. So, four of the Big Five on this drive already after only an hour, although John admitted he did not know where he was going to rustle up a rhino from!

A second Leopard was seen stalking Impala by the S91 as we headed for the low-water bridge, but we soon lost sight of it. Small-spotted Genet, Spring Hare and many Scrub Hares were also seen on this road, and on the return river loop, an immature African Fish Eagle. Finally, as we turned back on to the tar road close to camp, our original Leopard reappeared to taunt us for not bringing the camera. Definitely our best ever Kruger drive – great sightings and an excellent guide who really knew his stuff. :thumbs_up:


Last edited by nightjar on Mon Jan 29, 2007 12:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Day 13 At Olifants, Sun 17th December

Up early today, and waiting for the gates to open at 4.30am. Just one car in front as we made our way down to the hippo carcass, hoping to see the lions again. When we arrived there were no other cars and there were six lions at or near the carcass. In the poor early light it was hard to get good pictures, but these give you a flavour of the scene. A few vultures were gathering nearby, and the smell had not improved any.

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Returned via the high and low-water bridges, but all was quiet. Still early, so we had breakfast on our terrace.

Later in the morning we drove down to the Bangu waterhole on the S90, another site where we had seen lions just a couple of days ago. At the Hlahleni, a herd of Buffalo was enjoying the abundant vegetation along the river, and several were wallowing in it on both sides of the ford as we crossed. Impala and an Elephant were sharing the food supply with them. We hastened on, after one Buffalo made a feint, possibly having been annoyed by the sound of the camera.

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No lions at Bangu, just an African Pipit and a few European Bee-eaters in a large dead tree where we had parked. We waited to see if anything would be tempted down to the water in the heat of the day but nothing came. Only the whirring of the cicadas and the twittering of the bee-eaters disturbed the stifling heat around us, as we endured the rising temperatures. At 46°C, we decided this was just too much and headed back the way we had come – this time with the air conditioning on until we had cooled down a bit! These Steenbok had found a shady spot to try and cool down too.

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Decided to return via the S89 and halfway along this stretch of gravel we came upon a wounded Zebra. Its flank, hind leg and belly had all been ripped open, probably by a lion or leopard attack. Its wounds were obviously bothering it, as it continually flicked its injured leg. The belly wound looked particularly painful. We could see the rest of the herd but this individual was wandering on its own some distance away. It headed towards the herd, and we thought it would rejoin them, but instead it walked right past while the others just stood and stared at it.

Approaching the high-water bridge over the Olifants River, we could see large numbers of people out of their vehicles on the near end of the bridge. The many stopped cars were creating a traffic jam, and all those people who had got out were well outside the demarcated area where alighting is allowed. Expecting at least a pride of lions at a kill or some leopard cubs we inched our way forward and squeezed through, parking in the centre of the bridge where there was plenty of room to get out legally. This is when we realised the peak holiday season had arrived – the only thing these Christmas Kruger crazies were looking at was a few baboons!

At the hippo carcass, the lions had gone and the much reduced carcass was being fought over by vultures. Most were White-backed, with a few Hooded, and one Lappet-faced circling overhead.

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Returned to camp for an afternoon relaxing at our bungalow and enjoying the fantastic views.

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Later a neighbour told us the carcass had been stripped to the bone. :shock:


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Day 14 Olifants to Bateleur

Monday 18th December

Another very hot day, with the mercury already at 30°C by 7.30am when we set off along the tar road towards our next camp, Bateleur. We had passed the halfway point in our holiday but still had Christmas in the north of the park to look forward to.

We took the main road all the way north to the Red Rocks turnout, stopping at Letaba to visit the excellent Elephant Hall, at the Matambeni bird hide (couldn’t resist) and at Mopani for supplies.

Approaching Matambeni we spotted a Levaillant’s Cuckoo, and noticed a strong smell of Elephant which made us look around particularly carefully before getting out of the car. Elephants had clearly visited the car park, and since we called in two days earlier, a thorn bush had been pushed over just behind the entrance gate making it difficult to enter. The birds here were mostly the same as on Saturday, with the Black Heron still present and fishing with its umbrella technique. Just two Elephant visible, but not close enough to be a concern.

At Mopani there was a group of Flamingos on the Pioneer Dam, but in the excitement I forgot to note the correct information (bill colour) to identify whether they were Greater or Lesser. The northern parts of the park seemed particularly dry and even the little pool of water where the Mopani road turns off from the main H1-6 was almost empty, so no birds there. Apart from the occasional Elephant we saw surprisingly little all the way to Bateleur.

Checked into Bungalow No.5 at Bateleur and spent the rest of the day relaxing, and looking for birds in camp. Red-Headed Weavers were nesting in a tree right by our braai area, and this male seemed particularly keen to show off.

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Crested Barbets were nesting in the same tree.

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Day 15 Bateleur to Shingwedzi and back again

Started the day with a drive down to the Rooibosrand Dam. This is a beautiful spot when the water lilies are out and the dam is alive with birds, as was the case this morning.

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Impala and Zebra were here to drink, and amongst the birds present were several Darters, African Fish Eagle, Black-winged Stilt, Red-Crested Korhaan, Kittlitz’s Plover and these Curlew Sandpipers (with White-faced Duck behind):

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An impressively long crocodile was resting on the bank.

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Only Hippo present at the Silwervis Dam so we decided to drive to Shingwedzi. Took the gravel road on the west side of the mostly dry Shingwedzi River, and almost immediately came upon this Saddle-Billed Stork in a dry and rocky creek.

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Joined the main road just past Red Rocks and drove along the tar to Shingwedzi. Several Elephants in the dry river bed as we approached camp, and many birds in the large riverine trees, including good views of a Eurasian Golden Oriole feeding in a Jackalberry tree – a new addition to our life list. However, we did not see much on the gravel loop around camp (S134/S135), and failed to find the Collared Palm-Thrush within the camp itself, despite visiting its likely haunts.

On the return, found a group of 5 Buffalo and 5 Elephant in the Shingwedzi River bed at the one of the few points with any water. Otherwise very quiet.

Later, as I walked the camp trail at Bateleur, a saw a thin green snake climbing a large but sparsely-leafed bush near the bird hide. At first I thought Boomslang and kept a respectful distance while watching it, but from the black spots I later identified it as a Spotted Bush Snake. Sadly, no camera on hand to capture this beautiful creature.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Feb 04, 2007 1:17 am 
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Bucky,

I think you are right about the storks as there was a fish eagle present at the same time. I believe the photo was taken around 9am.

The temperature was very high for several days leading up to the rains on the night of 19th/20th - our in-car thermometer claimed 46 degrees more than once. Although there were huge puddles at Bateleur the next morning, by the end of the day they had mostly disappeared in the heat. There did not seem to be any significant amount of water in the river that day - I guess it all drains away in the sand when it has been so dry.


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Day 16 At Bateleur

Wednesday 20th December

A night of heavy rain had left gigantic puddles everywhere in camp, and many of the paths were literally flooded. It was still raining when we got up and attempted to have breakfast on our very messy terrace. Bateleur is a lovely camp but, maybe because it is a bushveld camp, the bush does come to you at night as you share your outdoor space with frogs, bats, scorpions, mice, giant centipedes and a whole host of flying bugs which suicidally dive bomb anything you may be cooking on a hotplate. Consequently each morning the floor was covered with dead insects and other detritus, usually being picked over by the resident Arrow-marked Babblers.

Decided to spend the day in and around camp to enjoy the peace we came here for. We first drove down to the Silwervis dam where we saw our first Broad-billed Roller and many Black-Crowned Night-Herons. We then spent some time at Rooibosrand getting good views of many birds. Water Thick-knee, African Jacana, Cattle Egret and Yellow-billed Stork all came close enough for photographs.

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As both the dams are exclusive to Bateleur residents we had them to ourselves. It is amazing how quickly animals take advantage of the rainfall – a large puddle on the road already had a terrapin in residence. The day was warming up nicely as we got to the Tshanga picnic site where the rains had really brought the birds out, including a pair of Black Cuckooshrikes and a White-browed Scrub-Robin.

By late afternoon the puddles in camp had mostly disappeared in the heat. On the perimeter trail we found numerous red beetles like little patches of crushed velvet burrowing in to the sand. Maybe someone can tell me what these are.

On a short drive down to Silwervis, a very fast striped silver and black snake crossed the road just in front of us, but remained unidentified. We also saw Giraffes, Kudu, and a group of three Ground Hornbills.

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As we started our braai that evening a dark creature fluttered out from under our roof and disappeared, and we were not sure if it was a large moth or a bat. The mystery was solved almost immediately when a Yellow-billed Hornbill hopped on the to the terrace wall with half a bat (body and one flapping wing) visible in its bill. One gulp and it was gone – they really will eat anything. :roll: The harsh reality of the bush – you wake up, stretch, flap away for an evening out, and a minute later you’re birdfood!

Day 17 Bateleur to Punda Maria

Although we saw few mammals around Bateleur it is one of the best camps for birding – 54 species seen in camp. Highlights included a Little Sparrowhawk with its kill in late evening gloom, a group of seven Retz’s Helmet-Shrikes and, on this last morning as we packed our car, a Green-Capped Eremomela.

Left at 7am for the far north and our next restcamp, Punda Maria. At the first creek crossing on the S52, this Water Monitor crossed in front of us a fair pace and disappeared into the undergrowth.

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Despite the great riverine scenery on the west side of the river we did not manage to spot much this morning, so my only photos are these views taken at Red Rocks.

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Stayed on the tar road from Shingwedzi to Punda Maria, except for a gravel loop on the S57/S56 from Boyela to Babalala. Quite a few Elephant seen along the way, plus a couple of Ground Hornbill sightings (2 at Boyela waterhole and 3 more just 3km from Punda Maria).

Checked into Bungalow H19, one of those lovely old Africa huts with the low thatch. It was extremely hot in camp throughout the afternoon but as we only had two nights here, and planned to visit Pafuri the next day, we needed to fit in our first ever drive around the Mahonie Loop (S99) before the gates closed. Driving it anti-clockwise we had three Elephant encounters but little else, until it was getting late and in the last few kilometres we had some excellent sightings including Common Duiker, Martial Eagle, Carmine Bee-eater and Southern Boubou (these last two birds new on our life list). The terrain on this loop is well wooded with many flowering shrubs like Pride of the Cape, quite different to much of Kruger, and the drive is worthwhile for scenery alone.


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Day 18 Pafuri

Friday 22nd December 2006

After an early morning walk along the Flycatcher Trail, we set off for the Pafuri area via the S60 and H1-8. Briefly detoured to the Klopperfontein Dam where three Elephants were playing in the water having bathtub fights. Otherwise we did not spot much all the way up to the Luvuvhu River. From the bridge we saw Warthog, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese and various flycatchers. It was already after 8am and getting hot, so we headed for the Pafuri picnic site for a picnic and hopefully some good birdwatching.

There was hardly anyone around, and before we had even opened our cool box, a Tambourine Dove landed close by and became my first new bird in this area of the park. Very soon Frank Mabasa, the picnic site attendant and expert bird spotter, came along for a chat and helped me identify an unobtrusive little warbler on the riverbank as a European Marsh Warbler. He also found me Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Tropical Boubou. Four new birds for my life list in just a few minutes! :dance:

Other birders arrived hoping Frank could find them Black-throated Wattle-eye and Gorgeous Bush-Shrike. The former had been seen recently, but not today; the latter heard regularly, but rarely seen. Frank took several of us around pointing out various birds and identifying them with hardly a glance, sometimes from just their calls, while the rest of us struggled with knowing where to look next. Some were specials like Bohm’s Spinetail and Yellow-billed Oxpecker. Later he did find a pair of Wattle-eyes and we had good viewing of them for a while, high up in the trees. In all over 30 species were seen in the picnic site area, including 8 new to me, plus many Nyala, a troop of Baboons and a Warthog across the river. This picnic site is one of the most magical spots in Kruger, and Frank is a true star. 8) Here is the view of the river from the west end of the site.

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After 90 minutes or so we left as the site was getting very busy, with skottle-braaiers arriving and keeping Frank occupied. So we drove slowly to Crooks’ Corner, where we were disappointed to find no water in the Limpopo, just a huge sandy expanse stretching across to Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

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The wildlife here had been frightened away by four Kruger crazies out of their vehicle, who had left their car doors wide open while exploring the corners of the car park. So, we drove down to the tar road (S63), along it for 6kms and back past the picnic site to another look at the river bridge. This is the view looking east from the bridge.

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There were plenty of Nyala in this area, including some large males but they did not wish to have their photos taken. We did part of the Nyala Drive, but by now it was really hot and all the birds were in hiding, so we decided to head back to camp. On the return we saw more than on the way, with Zebra on the H1-8, one Elephant still at Klopperfontein, and a Dagga Boy on the S61. Perched by the S61 we also found this European Roller.

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Decided to hop on a night drive in the hope of seeing some of the owls and nightjars regularly reported in the sightings book at reception. Slightly disappointing in this respect as only Mozambique Nightjar positively identified.

We stopped at a waterhole a few kilometres from camp as someone requested a smoking break (bit unusual on a night drive!). The moment those who had got out were back in the vehicle, a very loud roar shattered the night time peace. Male Lion, and very close too. Most of the time after that was spent driving back and forth along a short section of the Mahonie Loop looking for Lions which were heard roaring periodically, but always in the direction we had just come from. We never saw them. :hmz:

We did however see two Large-Spotted Genets, Elephants, and a group of eight male Buffalo.

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Day 19 Punda Maria to Mopani

Saturday 23rd December

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As dawn broke near Punda Maria, SO and I were the only guests on the early morning drive. Our guide Edward took us down to the Punda Gate road where Brown-headed Parrots were feeding in the trees close to the junction. Small groups flew overhead away from their roosting site. Edward knew his birds and as we drove up the narrow gravel track to Thulamila, together we identified Crowned Hornbill, Mosque Swallow and Amur Falcon. One very close bull Elephant in musth, feeding right by the road, seemed quite relaxed in our presence. In our hire car on this track we would have been nervous of him. Apart from Kudu and Impala no other large animals were encountered, but on the return to camp we were surprised to spot a Yellow-throated Longclaw, a beautiful bird and a major tick on our life list.

Set off to enjoy Christmas at Mopani. Just outside the camp gates was a group of Buffalo and we saw several more Buffalo and a few Elephants on the main road south of Boyela waterhole. Stopped at Shingwedzi for an excellent late breakfast on the restaurant terrace while watching the birds come down to drink, including these African Mourning Doves.

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On the main road about 6 kms south of Shingwedzi, a large traffic jam heralded a sighting. A Cheetah with four cubs we were told. As cars jostled for position we managed to inch closer and eventually had a clear view of the mother, but no more than a glimpse of one cub. We had waited 19 days to see a Cheetah, but this one was not very close (no photos), so we made our way through the scrum and carried on.

Arrived at Mopani just after noon and found huge numbers of people checking in. We were allocated Bungalow 75. Sadly this was nowhere near the dam, so we walked to the terrace to look at the dam and discovered the flamingos were no longer around. :( From the trail at the water’s edge, a solitary buffalo was drinking just 50 metres from the fence.

In the early evening we drove down to Nshawu Dam. On previous visits this had been a reliable spot for waders and ducks, but now there was hardly any water left, just an expanse of dried-up mud. Compensation however in the form of two White Rhino feeding on the grass immediately behind the mud – we had never seen them so far north. Both had a full complement of ears, so not the much advertised Ore, recently released in this area.


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Day 20 Around Mopani

Christmas Eve.

Walking down to the terrace at 5am to view the dam and stroll the Mopane Trail, I met a group of young men who said there was a lion drinking across the dam and I could see it if I was quick. Hurrying down to the view point at the end I flushed a Barn Owl from the roof beams. It landed close by but my camera was back at the hut. From the end of the terrace I could see a Leopard strutting along the shoreline across the water. It remained clearly visible for several minutes before retreating into the bush. Was this the “lion” the others (without binoculars) had seen, or a different cat altogether?

A multitude of birds was seen from the fence at the water’s edge including herons, waders, five species of kingfisher and numerous woodland birds. Darters and Fish Eagles were both present, and a pair of Lanner Falcons flew over the dam and back, apparently working together to flush prey.

Today we drove the Shongololo Loop (south to north) but found it very quiet. Spotted just a single Buffalo, one male Namaqua Dove and a female Red-Crested Korhaan along the gravel. The first shot of the Korhaan shows just how good its camouflage is!

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On the main road back to Mopani we encountered a Buffalo herd with two Elephant by the river south of Eendrag. These were probably the same animals we had seen the previous day further downriver near camp, but now we had good views of the Buffalo coming down the steep bank opposite, and then of two males who took up guard positions in the water.

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