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 Post subject: Mja's Trip Report April 19-25 2007 - KNP
Unread postPosted: Wed May 02, 2007 2:07 pm 
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Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 7:14 pm
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Location: USA
This report summarizes a 7 day trip during which I, along with 8 others, traveled from Pafuri down to Malelane from April 19-25. While not designed as a birding trip, 5 of our group are avid birders and thus a list of bird sightings was kept and 130+ species were ticked throughout the trip (and I’m sure we missed a number of ticks since none of us are experienced “African” birders).

April 19 - Day 1:
Route: Pafuri Gate to Punda Maria Rest Camp via H1-9, H1-8, Klopperfontein, S-62, and S60.

After a mid-morning drive from a very dry Mapungubwe, with a stop at the Spar in Musina, we arrived at the Pafuri gate shortly after noon. Everything seemed very quiet and I asked the attendant how many cars had passed through today – answer was 4 – nothing like having the place to yourself! We then drove slowly down towards Punda. One of the first animals we saw was a nice eland bull as it ran across the road about 10km from the gate. By the time we drove up to where we last saw it, it had already disappeared into the thick mopane, but a great start anyway! Upon arriving at the Luvuvhu bridge we spent a few minutes scoping out the banks – saw our first nyala grazing in the distance but not much else. The river didn’t look too full but everything around was a green, particularly when compared to Mapungubwe. About half way to Klopperfontein we saw our first elephants – actually their rear ends as they walked away, but still an exciting sighting since these were the first wild elephants that 8 members of our tour group had seen.

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We stopped by Klopperfontein and found two bull elephants enjoying the grass near the waterhole, and a crowned lapwing and black crake kept us company in/near the parking lot.

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As we drove from Klopperfontein towards Punda on S62 we encountered our first adrenal rush. As we crested a small hill we came upon a bull elephant. We didn’t get too close – 50 meters or so – but he decided to have some fun with us anyway and we had to reverse a few meters before he stopped his charge. He then spent the next 10 minutes or so parading in front of us while dribbling urine constantly (his temporal glands were also draining down his face so I assume he was in musth).

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After watching him for a few minutes we all noticed that he was favouring his right hind leg and more often than not kept his weight off of it. Made us wonder if he was injured or whether this is was a typical elephant behaviour? Since some of our group needed to change their underwear after this encounter, we wanted to get to camp, and instead of waiting for this guy to move off and allow us to pass, we turned around and used the S60 to get to camp (a SANParks vehicle behind us chose to do the same thing as well). Just before camp we got to watch two impala rams fight – the rut must have been in full-force as this became a fairly common sight during the next few days.

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I doubt there were 10 other people in camp and we stayed in the luxury tents. What a wonderful set-up – mine was Tent #4 right next to the boundary fence. I have been to KNP 4 times prior to this visit, and can only say that it’s great to see how the camps are gradually being upgraded, and this tented accommodation was a nice discovery.

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As I was getting ready for bed I thought I heard a leopard nearby – can’t say I’m an expert at African animal sounds, but it was a very distinctive low sawing-like sound (the next morning I asked one of the game-drive guides if he had heard a leopard and he said there was one hunting near camp last night, so maybe my ears didn’t deceive me). During the night there was lots of activity on the roof and deck – wondered if it was a genet but was never able to spot it.

Hoping to add a report in the next day or so.
Cheers,
mja


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Unread postPosted: Wed May 02, 2007 4:49 pm 
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Location: USA
boorgatspook: Agree totally with your concern about the location of the braai area. Seems like stray spark or dropped coal could start a veld fire fairly easily.

john n poppy: We were in a 13-seater Toyota Quantum (10 of us total - no need for a trailer). Not the most comfortable for long drives and could certainly be much better designed for game-viewing. Not every seat has a sliding window thus blocking the view many times. I've heard the Mercedes is coming out with a "small" bus that will be much better suited for game viewing -will wait and see before passing judgement.

mja


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Unread postPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 1:02 pm 
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Location: USA
saraf: We had a licensed driver & guide (same person). My role was as group leader in that I planned the itinerary, recruited participants (friends and colleagues), arranged the international air travel and worked directly with the SA tour operator


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Unread postPosted: Fri May 04, 2007 2:29 pm 
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Location: USA
April 20 – Day 2:
Route: Mahonie Loop then Crook’s Corner. Return to Punda by mid-afternoon. Evening game drive to Thulamila and Mahonie Loop.

We got up early and headed out in an anti-clockwise direction around the Mahonie Loop. Shortly after driving out of camp we got 2 new ticks for most of the group, namely Greenspotted doves and African hoopoes. About 6 km along the loop we came across our first buffalo – a small bachelor group still bedded down. We took the obligatory photos to document this first sighting and continued on our way. About half-way around the loop, when the road parallels a small stream, we had a partially obscured sighting of a Saddle-billed stork. Shortly after that we came across a large breeding herd of buffalo on the move – kicking up lots of dust. Apart from a few other new ticks and the occasional impala, we didn’t see too much else on our way back to camp.

After a quick breakfast, we headed out to Crook’s Corner and on our way north came across a leopard tortoise and then 2 of Africa’s giants together.
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Once we got on the S63, we came across a number of nyala. At Crook’s Corner we essentially had the parking lot to ourselves for 20 minutes-or-so, and were able to spot some big crocs and a pod of hippo in the river.
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A flock of White-fronted bee-eaters also provided for some photo opportunities, and we saw and what we think was a Cardinal woodpecker busy at work in the same tree.
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We also got to watch 2 or 3 Pied kingfishers working the various pools. As we were getting ready to leave we watched a small flock of vultures fly in for a drink – they landed on the far bank of the Limpopo and ID-ing them was a little difficult because of the distance. While we were thinking these guys were either White-headed and Lappet-faced, I posted the photo on the “Birds” section of this forum and they have been identified as Hooded vultures. Thanks for helping me out.
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As we drove out of the parking lot we caught a glimpse of a Trumpeter hornbill as it flew into the thick canopy of a nearby tree, not to be seen again. We then headed off to the Pafuri Picnic Spot for a late lunch. Just before entering the picnic area we had a wonderful nyala bull sighting (also got to watch the entertaining antics of a baboon troop and some bushbuck nearby).
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Upon arrival at the picnic area, armed with info from this forum, I went in search of Frank so he could point out the resident Pel’s to us :lol: . Alas, Frank was not to be found, but we did befriend his younger brother, Clayborn Novela, who helped us ID some birds. (Frank was apparently off learning how to shoot a rifle since he’s now being trained as a guide {I think}.) In Clayborn’s words, Frank is training him to take over helping “birders” during their visits to the picnic spot. It wasn’t the best time of day for birding but I did see my first Black-backed puffback and while I only got a very obscured view, Clayborn pointed out a Black-throated wattle-eye (located it by its call). We also got to hear our first African fish-eagle of the trip, but were never able to spot it. Upon mentioning this forum to Clayborn, it was nice when he showed me a laminated piece of paper listing a number of forum members who contributed funds to purchase Frank a set of binoculars and guidebook.

Didn’t see much on the H1-8 back to Punda, but after turning onto the S60, we came across 2 elephant bulls right next to the road. These distinguished old gentlemen were calm and comfortable with us and we were eventually able to get close enough to hear them chew. Isn’t this the way all ellie encounters are meant to be like?
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And just before camp we saw our first Marabou storks perched in a tree. When we got back to Punda, I had a couple of hours to kill before our sunset game drive, so I went down to the bird hide located next to the boundary fence in the camping area. Again, not the greatest time of day for birding, but did get to watch an old buffalo bull live up to the nickname of “daga” bull. He spent the entire hour I was in the hide wallowing in the mud and chewing his cud, generally looking like he didn’t have a worry in the world. Intermittent birdlife included a Three-banded plover, Fork-tailed drongos and numerous Yellow & Red-billed hornbills.

The only participants for the 6:00 PM game drive were the members of our group and we headed out right on time. We started with a quick stop at the Thulamila waterhole, where lion had been spotted 2 days earlier, but no such luck this time. We then drove the Mahonie Loop again. Apart from encountering another bull elephant in musth and some buffalo, our sightings were limited to smaller nocturnal mammals—including numerous springhares, some scrub hares, a thicktailed bushbaby, a couple of genets (unsure whether they were small or large spotted), and a water mongoose (dark brown/black with no markings). We also spooked a Spotted eagle-owl from a tree right next to the road. At one stage we saw the eyes of 6 or 7 animals reflecting back at us from up ahead on the road, and for a minute I thought we’d found our lions – unfortunately not, but rather another group of bleedy spring hares. You’d think by know that all these little animals understand that until we’ve seen the Big-5, they aren’t important – how dare they waste our time! :)


Last edited by mja on Mon May 07, 2007 2:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Unread postPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 1:26 pm 
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Location: USA
April 21 – Day 3:
Route: Leave Punda and drive down the H13-1 to the H1-8, and then south to Shingwedzi. Then H1-6 to Mopani restcamp.

Had a relatively late start (7:30 AM) and left Punda to head south. Saw lots of impala and some zebra and giraffe on our way, as well as the ever photogenic Lilac-breasted roller.
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We stopped for a stretch of the legs at the Babalala picnic spot. Lots of birdlife in/around the picnic area – saw African green-pigeons and Green wood-hoopoes feeding in the large Sycamore fig. Also got to watch two ellies walk by the picnic site and head to a nearby waterhole. Some swallows were flying around the bathrooms, and while I can’t be certain, think they are Pearl-breasted swallows --- any thoughts about this ID would be appreciated.
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We then continued south to Shingwedzi and on the way passed some male Ostriches. As we crossed the Shingwedzi River near camp we got to see a water monitor close-up.
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Since we were a little early for lunch, we stopped by the Kanniedood Dam birdhide first, and en route watched a breeding herd of ellies next to the river, and an older male giraffe next to the road. The highlight at the birdhide was our first Goliath heron sighting in Kruger.
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I had been told by a lodge manager near Mapungubwe that the rare Collared palm-thrush can be found at Shingwedzi and that there’s a staff member who can imitate the call perfectly (upon surfing this forum earlier today, I see that he’s been discussed here before). Well, it didn’t take me long to find Phanny in the camp store, and he was only too happy to accommodate my request. After a quick intro to the group, he led us across camp, and when we were within 150m or so of the bushes he normally finds the bird in, he asked us to keep quiet and keep our eyes open. He then started calling and narrowed his search down to one large bush – as we all peered in & around the bush at least 2 of our group saw the bird before it flew off into some bushes outside of the camp (birders antics must look really weird to people not interested in birds :lol: ). Phanny tried in vain to “bring” it back, and while the bird consistently answered his calls, it remained on the other side of the fence. As I chatted with him afterwards, it became obvious to me that this guy is a heck of a resource to Kruger, and IMHO, the type of person whose “guiding” career within KNP should be nurtured (and hopefully it already is). He has the potential to positively impact hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors and I hope this talent is recognized by the powers that be.

We continued our journey southwards to Mopani on the H1-6. While I know we saw game along the way, my notes don’t indicate that we saw anything exceptional. By this time, “It’s just an impala” was frequently muttered as we drove past these McDonald’s of the bush – it only took 2 days :) .

We arrived at Mopani mid-afternoon and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around camp. The camp appeared relatively empty and only a handful of people were milling around the store, restaurant and viewing deck.
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I walked the short trail that runs along the boundary fence, starting at the restaurant and ending up near Bungalow #84. If you have a choice, because of the afternoon sun in your face, I’d recommend walking in the opposite direction at this time of day. While the light made if difficult to see, I did have nice sightings of a White-crested helmet-shrike, doves, numerous hornbills and Natal francolins.
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Towards sunset, a handful of us made our way to the viewing deck that overlooks the Pioneer Dam, and with G&Ts and beers in hand we sat back and enjoyed the sights & sounds of nature settling in for the night.
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Just as we were talking about this being a perfect location for an African fish-eagle, we heard its fabulous call. Sure enough, an eagle was flying in from the distance and perched on one of the dead trees sticking up in the dam. While not close enough for my camera lens, we did have a spotting scope and all got a close-up look at this symbol of Africa. As another wonderful day in the bushveld came to a close, I had a hard time imagining a more peaceful and beautiful setting anywhere.


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Unread postPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 1:37 pm 
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Location: USA
April 22 – Day 4:
Route: Mopani to Letaba via the H1-6 and then the H1-5 and H1-4 to Satara.

The day started off with a trip back to the viewing deck overlooking the dam. An African fish-eagle was soon spotted and when the scope came into focus, he/she was midway through breakfast. We also got to watch a pair of Lilac-breasted rollers have a noisy discussion with a Purple roller over a perch on a dead tree – the “lilacs” won. Before leaving the camp, I made a quick visit to the baobab tree in the center of camp and watched Red-billed buffalo-weavers working on their nests (I seem to recall that Honorary Rangers are responsible for installing the information plaques at the base of the tree).

At 9:20 AM, as we drove out from camp and just before the intersection with H1-6, we saw our first rhino off in the distance. He was moving fairly quickly into thicker bush, but we were able to get a view of the head. Lo-and-behold, he had a partially missing right ear – we had found “Ore”. After a quick Afrikaans lesson, his name made sense to everyone and we continued on our way south to Letaba for lunch.

As we continued down the H1-6, we got to see 2 different pairs of saddle-billed storks; one group just south of Mooiplass Picnic site and the others at the Malopenyana waterhole.

Our journey was uneventful until the bridge that crosses the Letaba River. We got out to stretch our legs and were able to watch a breeding herd of elephant in the distance. There were a number of cars parked on the bridge, and one group of visitors was sitting on the railing throwing chips into the water below. As I’m sure was their plan, this had attracted a croc, some terrapins, and some large catfish.
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As we continued towards Letaba, we came across a Martial eagle perched in a tree right next to the road. In addition, numerous zebra, impala, waterbuck and some giraffe were resting in the shade.
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Once we got to camp, most of the group toured the Elephant Museum. Having toured the museum previously, I wandered around and got some photos of the resident bushbuck.
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The rest of the trip to Satara was pretty straightforward although we did see a lone Lappet-faced vulture, Secretary bird, some plains game and occasional elephant.
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We arrived at Satara early enough for me to get some laundry done before supper and our 8:00 PM night drive. As I walked over to the laundromat located in the camping section of camp, I noticed the beginnings of a significant cloud build up on the horizon – and, silly me, thought, “no worries, looks like it’s a long way off”. Once I got my wash started I wandered around the campsite and was able to get some photos of various campsite birds as well as some “campers” (I see it’s important to people worldwide to always have access to TV – better watch out, the satellite dish may become the Park’s official flower – some consider it the state flower of West Virginia :lol: ).

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But I digress: those clouds I mentioned earlier have now become enormous and black and heading our way in a hurry. Since we could lose power, I selfishly hoped that it didn’t hit camp before my laundry is done. WRONG – the heavens opened up and it poured hard—I mean “cats & dogs” hard—for a good hour! Combined with the wind and the hellacious thunder & lightning, it made for quite a spectacle. Thank goodness we only had a few brown-outs with no significant power failure. I have no idea how much rain came down, but I’m betting it was significant. By the time it stopped raining it was dark, and as people started cleaning up their campsites, I heard rumours that a number of snakes had been flushed from their burrows (or wherever they hide) and were on the roads & pathways. Of course, since my little laundry expedition was meant to be done well before nightfall, I had no torch with me. To make an already long story shorter, I made it back to my bungalow without any problems other than wet sandals. However, as I was getting ready for supper, wandering around outside with my torch, I did see a ~1/2 metre long puff adder on the road that circles the “B” bungalows – just glad I didn’t step on it in the dark coming back with the laundry! It was nice to see that others who also spotted it later, didn’t kill it. In reality, while the storm may have caused me a slight inconvenience, it was good that the surrounding bushveld had gotten a soaking.

Knowing that many of the dirt roads would have significant pools of water on them, our driver/guide for the night drive wisely decided to stay on the tarred roads, and we headed south on the H1-3. While we did get to hear lions roaring (from somewhere in the Sweni River/S126 direction) and saw the backend of a rhino, the highlight of this drive was a wonderful sighting of a serval near the H26 turnoff. It was 20m or so from the road and allowed us a good minute of viewing before disappearing into longer grass. As we returned, we could hear a number of hyenas around the north-end of camp.


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Unread postPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 1:50 pm 
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Location: USA
April 23 – Day 5
Route: The planned route was Satara to S100, then S41 to the N’wantsi Picnic Area for breakfast. Then the H6 back to the H13 and south towards Tsokwane and Skukuza.

I believe we were the 9th vehicle out of the gate when it opened at 6:00 AM, and we headed directly for the S100. At the intersection of the S100 & H1-3 we came across a relatively large herd of buffalo, and near Shibatwana came across some kudu (1 young bull and 2 cows).
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A little further along we came across a baboon troop waking up and a waterbuck cow close to the road (they do look like they sat down on a freshly painted toilet seat :) ).
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A short distance later we came across what I think is a slight variant of an African longtailed-shrike, in that it has much more white on its back than any of the guidebooks show. If it isn’t this species, I’m all ears as this would be a new tick.
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Shortly after turning south on the S41, our plans changed for the day. Perhaps a kilometer down the S41 you have to cross over a shallow causeway – well, not this morning. The rains from the previous evening had caused a small flood, and while 4x4s didn’t seem to have too much trouble, we decided not to risk it in our Toyota Quantum, and retraced our steps back towards Satara. Along the way we came across small groups of zebra, impala, the odd wildebeest, some vervets, the troop of baboons we’d seen earlier, and a road block of ellies. Apart from another encounter with a herd of ellies, that included some playful youngsters and a close-up view of a Black-shouldered kite, our trip down to Tshokwane was uneventful.
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Upon arrival at Tshokwane, we revived ourselves with much needed coffee, rusks and some fruit. As you probably know, Tshokwane has its resident felons and even though our entire group had been warned about their marauding ways, these little buggers seem to be able to pick out the unsuspecting foreigners very easily. We ended up donating at least a couple of biscuits and a banana to the cause. In fact, the blighter that stole the banana ran up a nearby tree, peeled it and dropped the peel back down in front of us, as if taunting us to clean up his/her mess. I’m just grateful they were vervets and not baboons, which I’ve encountered at Tshokwane on a previous trip.

From Tshokwane we headed down the H1-2 and drove the Maroela Loop just before entering Skukuza. We didn’t see anything exceptional during this drive. However, as we got to the Sabie River, we noticed that the causeway was a parking lot. Must be something good! Sure enough, on the northwestern bank of the river, at the base of a big tree near the road, lay a leopard in full view. Needless to say, there was plenty of excitement to go around.
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Check in at Skukuza went smoothly, and we took the afternoon off so that members of our group could do laundry, take a nap, go for a swim, or in my case, buy some ostrich biltong and stroll around the camp. I checked out the Epauletted fruit bats, the Stevenson-Hamilton Museum, the path along the waterfront, and the pet graveyard (where I seem to remember reading a gravestone that read something like “Buster died here fighting a black mamba”).
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During our sunset drive we saw two groups of hyena along the S112 and S114, respectively, and a relatively poor sighting of a lioness near Skukuza, on the H1-1.
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Unread postPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 2:17 pm 
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Location: USA
Bush Baptist: I totally agree about the serval, and that's what I told the group. However, many foreigners have never heard of a serval, but the lion is one of those classic symbols of Africa, and that's what they would really like to see. After someone has spent 15+ hours in a plane to get to SA, the pressure begins to build to see them. Fortunately, we did.


Last edited by mja on Mon May 07, 2007 2:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 2:27 pm 
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Location: USA
April 24 – Day 6
Route: Sunrise game drive and afternoon drive along H1-4, H12 and H1-2.

Our sunrise game drive followed a similar route as the night before, and was fairly unproductive for 2½ hours. Perhaps our best sightings during this time were Hooded vultures, and Tawny, Brown snake & African hawk eagles. Our driver/guide, Abraham, recognized that we weren’t having a productive drive and went the extra mile to find us something. Instead of heading back to Skukuza to drop us off at 9:00 AM (he would eventually drop us off almost an hour later than this), he went down the S21 and headed back to Skukuza via the main H4-1 Lower Sabie-Skukuza road. Near the N’watimhiri waterhole we got to see our first Ground hornbills (I counted 3 adults).

Shortly after turning onto the H4-1 to head back to Skukuza we came across the accident I posted on in the “Activities” section of this forum.

We then came across one of our highlights – a pride of lions walking on the road! We were able to get a front-row seat as the pride comprised of at least 8 adults walked right next to our game-drive vehicle (I counted 2 youngish males and 6 females). While we were one of the first vehicles to see them, as more cars started arriving, I thought Abraham did an excellent job of positioning us for a great view while not blocking the view for others. Looking at the individual animals in the pride, you could easily see the price of having to fight for survival in this harsh environment. Many had scars, and one lioness in particular, had a significant gash on her head.
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After that wonderful sighting we spent most of the remainder of the day relaxing in camp. I was able to find a few more new ticks for this trip, including a Purple-crested turaco (trying to use the new name), Crowned hornbills, and Black-collared barbets.
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Our group had originally hoped to go over to the Skukuza nursery and walk along the new boardwalk in the late afternoon, but come to find out that the nursery closes at 4:00 PM and we had left it too late. Instead, we did a leisurely drive along the H4-1, H12 and H1-2.


As we sat around our evening braai we spotted a thicktailed bushbaby in the tree between two of our bungalows (#30 & 31).
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We went to bed all wondering what our last day in the Park had in store for us.


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Unread postPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 2:50 pm 
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Location: USA
April 25 – Day 7
Route: Lake Panic Birdhide, then south on the H1 and H3 to Afsaal, and exit through the Malelane Gate.

Before departing, I wandered around Skukuza one more time, and watched a family of vervets helping themselves to various dustbins. While I recognize that their behaviour is often destructive & costly, I do find myself smiling at their antics, perhaps because I can sometimes see myself in them: for example, this one must be saying, “I’m still asleep, where’s my coffee?” (or maybe, “Man, I had a rough night last night. Turn off the light!”)
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Since almost half the group comprised of serious birders, we made a quick stop at the Lake Panic birdhide before heading to Afsaal for breakfast. At the birdhide we got to see a flock of White-faced ducks and African jacanas at close quarters.

On our way to Afsaal, we did have two nice sightings of Ground hornbills; one was a group of at least 5 birds near on the H1-1 near the Granokop turnoff and the other was a group of at least 4 birds, including a juvenile, on the H3 near the S113 turnoff.
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Shortly after seeing these birds we came across two white rhino grazing. This time, unlike our glimpse of “Ore” near Mopani Restcamp, these rhino were close enough that everyone was able to have a nice viewing.
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Perhaps, because I was too tired most evenings to wander around the various restcamps at night, I had yet to see an African Scops-owl this trip. Well, little did I know that seeing one is all but guaranteed at Afsaal – heck, they even have posters and tea-towels for sale that educate you about their resident bird. It’s amazing to me that this bird has been there so long, and hasn’t been “chased” away by overzealous photogs (like me). After taking some obligatory photos, I enjoyed my first pancakes of the trip.
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After breakfast, it was a relatively short drive to the Malalane Gate and time for us to say goodbye to Kruger. On the bridge over the Crocodile River, we all disembarked and had one last scan of the waterfront for birds. As it turns out, we found 3 different species of heron within 100m of each other, namely the Green-backed, Grey & Purple herons. We also got to see our last croc sunning itself on a sandbar in the river.
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We had an absolutely wonderful 7 days, and experienced many different facets of this great Park. And as we drove off leaving The Kruger in our rearview mirror, I wondered when I will be able to return next – hopefully much sooner than later!


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