First the weather. Today started dull and even some spots of rain. Could have gone either way. By midday though it was turning into a glorious day; the hottest and sunniest we have had.
Yet more insects though. At one point we drove through a cloud of what can best be described as green fly, that harmless to humans but real garden pest. They got everywhere. I am glad I had sprayed myself with the DEET this morning as I am sure they would have been the African Biting Green Fly! Despite the DEET I have acquired a series of tiny but itching bites up my left arm. No idea what this was ? an ant.
Today was the day of the second 4x4 trail; the Nonokani trail which is organised at the Phalaborwa Gate. As an aside, a lot of work going on here. It will be a posh new gate soon.This trail starts on the H9 near the Masorini ruins, runs south to the Olifants river, then runs north to end on the H9 again, behind Sable Dam.
This trail makes the northern one look like a kiddies trail. This one had some very steep hills, some incredibly rough terrain, some water to cross, and a number of dry river beds covered in deep sand. All terrific fun! It goes through some amazing scenery with some great views of the Olifants river. All in all it makes you admire the early settlers who fought their way across this with horse and cart.
Initially saw very little game. The Reevoel Dam could be spectacular but for some reason isn't! Still appears to have a good amount of water, but very few birds, and as far as we could tell no crocs or hippos. Wouldn't go swimming though.
Past the Dam you climb upwards through some strange landscape with loads of termite hills. Much to our surprise, an African wildcat leapt out of a hole in one of them and raced away - straight through a group of impala, causing considerable mayhem! Great siting but much too quick for a photo.
We stopped for a drink and stretch of leg a couple of times by the Olifants. The first time two 'rangers'on patrol drove up and a group of workmen appeared the second time. It seems no matter how far away we try to go, we will not have a quiet time. From what we could tell the Olifants does not seem to have been affected by the recent rains. Did not see much in the river - some water birds and a few hippo.
Interestingly we passed several rhino middens on the way down to the Olifants but no sign of the rhino.
The way back was much bumpier and less interesting until the last 5 kms. We suddenly hit an area with several active mudholes - and lots of elephant. We called it the elephant run as we diced with death! The first group had lots of babies so we had to wait till none of the young seemed separated from mother before driving through them. Very calmly slowly and safely of course.
The next two lots were no problem though one did give us a mild trumpet.
The last was a lone bull, mere feet from the sides of the road. And these roads were not made to go forward on let alone reverse on! So we crept up then raced past (calmly and slolwy though); I think he was more surprised than we were.
Sable Dam is very low; the end away from the birdhide is completely dry. Even the wet end had very little to see in it.
After reporting back to Phalaborwa, where they expressed great surprise to see us again, we went back to Letaba via the low level causeway on the H14 (though its been raised a bit since the flood). Haven't been to see this crossing for a number of years - and saw almost nothing there now. And I normally love the low level crossings.
We then turned around and did the gravel road back to Letaba; another large buffalo herd but not a lot else.
All in all a great day, if slightly disappointing game viewing. Though the wildcat made up for that! And the drive was great. And a couple of shots to show how the Letaba can look!
One minor problem which has been mentioned before by myself and others. We were very tired tonight and could not face the excellent 6 course dinner: we would not justify the 125 rand. But the only alternative is a burger or similar in the cafe which closes at 7pm. I know the problems but at least keep the cafes open till 8.
Weather report for Thursday. Started with blue skies and just got better. Went over 100 degrees by midday. We did try to stay 'green' though. We did not put the aircon on in the car, just kept the windows down. After all we did not want to put too much strain on the 6 Litre turbo deisel engine. ( Only kidding, I bet its not even 3L).
We have paid for the weather though. I am currently sitting in the middle of another violent storm; torrential rain, flashes of lightening and deafening thunder. Just hope the gravel roads survive this downpour. And the lights, they have been flickering badly!
Today I have done everything right to show Ray lots of game; but it has been another day of birds. Where is all the game? Ray was here 10 years ago but at the same time of year. He has noticed a real change in the quantity of game seen.
First thing we did the S46 down to the Engelhard Dam, doing all the loops down to the river. Saw a few impala, a giraffe, and three waterbuck. Went the other way to do a favourite loop, the S69, and saw nothing. Went for breakfast!
Fortunately we had seen quite a few birds, including several reed cormorants, a superb white headed vulture, and a greenbacked heron or two. Plus all the usuals. I am so glad I have developed an interest in birds as has Ray or this trip would have been very slow.
A greenbacked doing something I have not seen before - climbing! And a Temminck's courser (no doubt called something else now).
After breakfast we did the Matambeni hide, after a brief detour to see the dam itself. Both were their usual profitable selves for birds - but little game seen.
Does anyone know what the concrete stairway is for? Is it like a salmon stair back here allowing ?what to go upstream?
A giraffe or two, and an elephant crossing the Letaba a long way down the river. Birds were great; Temminck's courser (uncommon), black egret (rare), squacco heron (rare) and little egret (uncommon). Plus spurwinged and Egyptian geese, various storks including openbilled, and various herons including purple. Not bad for a couple of hours.
Black egret doing what it does! At extreme range with cropping.
In the afternoon we drove up to Makhadzi picnic spot. Saw very little. OK, a few zebra. And two hippo.
On the way back guess what? Another close encounter with a secretary bird. I have now seen more this trip than in the previous 20 years! Oddly just before seeing it, I had been telling Ray that I was surprised we had not seen a kori bustard yet, as in previous trips they had seemed to becomming more and more common. Perhaps we will see one around Olifants where I have seen lots recently.
I was now desperate! I decided that the S47 to the Mingerhout Dam would produce something. Especially during the last hour before the gates close. Guess what? Almost nothing, except some birds. Lots of vultures drinking in the river. Nice herons up at the dam. And a bunch of marabou stork, which have been surprisingly uncommon this trip. We were so bored we even started taking pictures of clouds as the sun set!!
We are off to Satara tomorrow via breakfast at Olifants. Hope the S46, 93, 44 have survived the storms as the H1-5 tends not to be the most exciting road.