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 Post subject: Richardharris in Kruger : February 2007
Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 24, 2007 7:32 pm 
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This was a trip of 13 nights. The prime aim was to see carmine bee-eaters. I had been here in December 2004 with 2 very keen birdwatcher friends, and had just missed the arrival of the carmines. So they obviously had to come back! The other bird we all wanted to see was a secretary bird - but more on that later.

I am not going to go through a detailed account of each day. Rather I will upload the complete bird list for those interested. The total species seen this trip was about 210 (final tally still being verified!) whilst my total after 3 trips with these friends is about 270. Although I have been many times over 20 years, I am not obsessive enough to keep numbers for trips done on my own; sad actually as they would be very useful now!

The first thing we noticed is how dry everywhere is. Especially considering we were in the middle of summer. We met a tour guide on the drive up to the Park who said Satara and surrounds was dry, but everything was lush further north. How wrong she was! OK, actually around Punda Maria was still green, though the grass was not very high. Three years previously in January we had retreated from Punda and Parfuri and moved south because the grass was so high that spotting was impossible. This time it did not interfere at all. Parfuri was beginning to look dry, with the grasses dying back and bare ares developing. Satara and Mopani were really dry - June 2006 had appeared wetter with the bush in better condition.

Later as we moved back south there was a dramatic difference - even after 1 week. A small amount of rain had fallen and many areas were going noticeably green. When we eventually got down to Lower Sabie, the bush was a bit 'lusher' but even here spotting was easy with short grass and many very barren areas.

In contrast to this was the poor game viewing throughout the Park. I have joined in discussions about why this might be - but no doubt on this occasion water all over the veld was a major cause. Strange to see such dry conditions combined with pools of water all over the place! The rivers weren't terribly high - the Letaba especially low, whilst the Shingwedzi has not flowed at all - but most dams and pans had water in, including a number which were dry in June last year.

What else did we notice? Well it was seriously hot. Probably the hottest and most humid I have experienced without any let up (100 degrees during the day and still 85-90 at 10pm). Things did not 'improve' until the last couple of days - after the hottest day of the trip there was a terrific storm over the central region and things then cooled down a bit, with evenings especially more pleasant.

Insects were only noticed because there were so few to be seen! I had my macro gear ready and waiting but only took pictures of 3 interesting 'bugs' in the 2 weeks. We were bothered by insects only once - after a small drop of rain whilst at Olifants a massive swarm of small black beatles appeared during the evening but rapidly dissappeared.

I suspect that the lack of insects and flowers also explains why we saw much less birdlife in the camps than we had expected - so there are some noticeable holes in this trips list.

The management of the Park still seems intent on privatising aspects of the service; they apparently have just awarded the catering and shops to a certain company not well regarded in UK schools! We will have to see how this works out. I remain impressed with the staff who work in the Parks shops and restaurants, remaining cheerful and as helpful as they can be, despite real problems with getting supplies to the camps (especially in the north). Why this should be defeats me - never used to be a problem. And how they continue to work in the kitchens in the summers heat beats me!

There were 2 real dissappointments. The 'snack bar' at Skukuza is without doubt the worst place in the Park. The most customers by far yet very poor food on offer. The other real upset was Lower Sabie - especially as so many forumites rave about the place. Its been a few years since I have stayed there and I was really surprised at the poor standard of the accomodation. I know they are replacing / building new huts, but the old ones still in use were the worst we stayed in anywhere. And the Lower Sabie restaurant was a major let down. They do the buffet style menu and the quality of what they offered was fine - but the choice / range was VERY poor. Olifants and Satara was very much better with excellent buffets. Mopani, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria were also preferable - though as they do 'a la carte' its not a totally fair comparison. Perhaps they think the stunning setting of the restaurant is enough.

For those of you who insist that the south is better for game viewing - its not in the summer. We saw just as much (or little!) up north as we did down south. It is different but certainly no better.

So how was the spotting? Well as said we saw about 210 species - pretty good for 2 weeks. But not as numerous in number as I have seen in previous summers. And no secretary bird. No racket tail roller either! Our owl lis was a bit odd too - only one until the last day when we spotted a pearl-spotted owl. And the one we did see? Pels fishing owl near Olifants!!!

We still have problems with too many small brown birds! We need to learn the songs to try to improve this area. And large brown birds continue to cause problems - who allowed eagles etc to have so many different variations! We saw one beautiful hawk with hoops on its belly and stripes on its chest - and we thought, this one will be easy! But no, it took quite a long time to even work out this distinctive juvenile. I will be putting up a few photos asking for help on a few of these. One especially was a very large mostly white eagle, on the loop around Punda - we eventually decided it must be a juvenile crowned and I hope the experts will agree!

Game was about what I was expecting for a summer trip - though only seeing lion once in 2 weeks is possibly a record I do not want to repeat! BUT!!! I am converted! LITs DO EXIST!! We actually saw one - photo to follow. However I am still not convinced that they take their prey up trees with them!

The only other group worth mentioning is snakes; saw more this trip than almost all my other trips together. Several black mambas whilst driving around. A spitting cobra on the step into the Skukuza shop! Actually only a small one but caused a bit of a comotion. And a fairly large bright green snake eating a frog which I have not identified so far. Do green mambas occur in the Park?

Now all that is left is to arrange the next trip!

Richard


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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2007 3:54 pm 
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Thanks for the comments. I will get the photos up as soon as possible.

Plenty of carmine bee-eaters, especially Satara northwards. My other summer favourite, the woodland kingfisher, was also still around in great abundance. Shingwedzi restaurant is always a great place to see them; a pair seem to be in residence just by the verandah and seem to keep coming back (??same pair).

One other thing I forgot to mention - the bridge over the Luvuvhu has at last be signed to officially allow you to get out of your car. Its always a great spot.

One disappointment was the Grootvlei Dam on the S50 (between Mopani and Shingwedzi). This has been one of the best photographic sites - but access has been severely curtailed. You can no longer drive down to the dam nor drive along the edge. I am going to recommend that a bird hide is put here - it is really crying out for one (especially as I can think of a couple which appear to be in completely the wrong places!)

Thanks for the comment about the snake - I thought I has heard hat the green mamba did not occur. I have a couple of poor shots - I will post them.

Richard


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Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 27, 2007 12:18 pm 
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The first few photos! I am afraid more will follow. Larger versions (and more photos) can be found at:

http://www.pbase.com/richardharris/february_2007

Please note: some of the shots, especially the birds, were taken at extreme long range and are not the best. They were taken to allow someone else to identify them!

First few are some shots of the area around Parfuri. Although many of the trees and bushes are green, the undergrowth is almost non-existant in areas. Very dry for February.

Image
Image
Image
Image


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Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 27, 2007 12:22 pm 
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Some shots from the Grootvlei Dam. I have seen tsessebe before but never in a small family group, only the odd individual one.

Image
Image


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Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 27, 2007 12:36 pm 
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And finally for now a few birds.

Image

Not easy to get close enough too - its disappointingly small. The book pictures lead you to expect a magnificently large bird! We saw a lot of paradise whydahs around this year, in all parts of the Park, but the area around Punda was positively littered with them.

Image

I can't make my mind up if the Kurrichane Thrush is striking or just ugly!

Image

Image


This was a new one for this trip. The namaqua dove is a summer visitor - and had obviously decided that 2007 was a good year, as we saw several at various points - mostly north of Satara. The first is the male.

Image
Lastly, a fairly rare bird, though usually fairly easy to see if you know where to go! There always seem to be a few whitecrowned plover at Crooks Corner (where these photos were taken) - a breeding colony I presume. The other spot to sometimes see them is from the Olifants Bridge (the high level one).

Richard


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Unread postPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 10:21 am 
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After more reading - the Namaqua dove IS probably resident in small numbers. Occasional influxes especially in summer.

I will continue posting photos, mostly of birds, in the specific forums.

Image

Even vultures (immature hooded in this case) can be quite handsome!

Richard


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 Post subject: park in february 2007
Unread postPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:49 pm 
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Sorry you saw poor games in the park in february , but however very nice pictures !
I was in the park from 10th to 24 th february 2007 also with my boys and we have the chance to see more games i think ; it's strange as it seems to change from day to day ; we were especially in the north and the center and we saw plenty of troups of buffalos (100,200,300 sometimes ) and a lot of families of elephants , blue wildebeest , zebras,a lot of girafes ,warthogs ,often animals drinking at the dams when there was some water in, as as you said the park was very dry .
However we saw few predators , 2 lions only , but two leopards (LOG) near shingwedzi and babys hyenas , but no cheetah no wild dogs.
We saw also a lot of bull nyala and kudus near Pafuri and two tsessebe , white rhinos near olifants , hippos , a fly of vultures eating a carcass girafe before a lion coming so we thank february 2007 was a good month, but surely very hot for the campers .
Plenty of birds also with at different times , 7 times groung hornbill , 3 times secretarybird ,a lot of marabu and saddle-billed stork and yellow billed stork , etc .
But the games near Punda Maria and the last evening near Skukuza were rather poor , more traffic jam than animals around Skukuza .
As it was only our second stay in the park , we came last year at the biginning of may in family and saw poor games near Letaba and Satara , a little more near Lower Sabie and Olifants ( only one buffalo and one white rhino in six days ) and never so many animals together, we were very happy this year .
But french people who were in the park at the same time this yaer in february in a private lodge near Orpen said us they saw few animals also .
I found like you the park was very dry and i found most of the gravel roads in pity conditions .We have a wheel to be fixed at Olifants , or is it because we were in the north that the gravel roads were so bad ?

I agree with you for Lower Sabie ; last year we spent two night there and after a night drive we have nearly nothing to eat at the restaurant!
We have a family bungalow there with 3 entries and the saloon was occupied by the birds! My husband notified that at the reception . So this year we did'nt choose to go back there although the restaurant deck is very nice ( but too busy at midday) .

Anne catherine.


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