4 September - Tamboti - Skukuza
A lovely, bright Tamboti morning, and I was able to linger as long as possible, as it's quite a short drive to Skukuza! Lots of busy Natal francolin this morning — yesterday morning I'd also had a glimpse of my first even banded mongoose as the francolins were chasing it under the fence! Eventually, I packed up the car, said a reluctant "au revoir" — I will be back!!! — to tent #40, and headed out.
Sunrise at Tamboti
Timbavati riverbed viewed from Tent 40
Sightings were uneventful until I turned south on the S36, when I heard the now-familiar whirring and soon spotted the SANParks helicopter. What a thrill to know that tomorrow it would be me up there, flying over Kruger and counting ellies. It was interesting to watch the chopper's apparently random flight pattern (which is not random at all, of course, but more about that in tomorrow's report!), and very difficult to try to catch and film it with the video camera — and as I concentrated on video for this, I have no still pix of the chopper in the air. I think that pix of the chopper in the air would have been even more of a challenge that trying to photograph birds in flight!
I took to S126 — a favourite and scenic road, although I saw nothing special along it this day, save for a few more glimpses of the SANParks chopper — and headed south again on the H1-3. Kumana Dam was a shock as it was reduced to a bit of mud — really totally dry! Happily, Mazithi Dam had quite a bit of water and I spent some time watching a delightful small family of ellies disporting themselves.
Since I had plenty of time, I took a detour to Orpen Dam, because I don't think I'd been there before. Its water was also quite low, so I'll need to visit again one day, but there was a beautiful goliath heron fishing, and in the car park I spotted a shy whitethroated robin — a new tick for me!
Just after crossing the H12 low level bridge and turning west onto the H4-1, I had a very distressing experience. I (and several other cars) had stopped to watch a group of ellies with several quite small ones that were approaching from the river and hesitantly, cautiously crossing the road. As two small ellies were about to cross, a Nissan sedan, followed by a large SUV towing a trailer (I gleaned these details from careful study of my video) raced past, barely missing the small ellies. People who are this impatient — and both stress and endanger the animals — have absolutely NO business in a national park. The poor little ellies were terrified.
The speeding that I witnessed along this stretch of road is the worst I've ever encountered in KNP. Further along, when I'd stopped because kudu were crossing the road, another large SUV followed by a BMW sedan raced past me — and the kudu, almost but not quite grazing them — clearly both aware of and indifferent to both the kudus' presence and their right to have right of way in Kruger. I was so shaken by these horrible experiences that I pulled into a loop overlooking the river for some time just to calm myself. I'd no chance of noting license plate numbers of these speeding vehicles and I'm sure that "a big silver SUV" would not be sufficient to nail these b*st*rds. However, I do wonder why this stretch of road is not patrolled by SANParks traffic wardens?
I arrived at Skukuza in the early afternoon and was delighted to be booked in by Tholapi Ngoyama, the lady who had been so calming and helpful last year when I was stranded at Skukuza after my hired car died. It was great to see Tholapi again! My prize included two nights accommodation and when I'd first booked, the luxury riverside bungalow was all that had been available, so I decided to pay the different between this and the "standard" accommodation price and try accommodation which I'd not normally be able to afford. To be honest, I wasn't at all impressed with this "luxury" accommodation, which I feel is very overpriced for what it is. Mine was one of the three units (#207) to the west of the restaurant and takeaway and among other things, it is so close to that public area that people are constantly walking through the so-called "private" riverfront area, even tho a fence blocks access to the restaurant area. People either then find the access point away from the river or just climb carefully around the end of the fence!
The unit itself has what is a slightly larger and nicer bathroom than the standard rondavels, a double bed, two small armchairs which are, I assume, meant as comfortable seating from which to watch the unit's TV
The kitchen is outside and one "feature" that I really disliked is the braai that is set into the wall. I often have a fire even when I don't braai and like to have my fire where I can watch it while enjoying the night sky and whatever view there way be. In any case, it was a good thing I had no plans to braai at Skukuza (altho I did have a fire my last night as I had a lot of leftover wood and charcoal), as the entire time that I was there, the "guts" of this fancy braai contraption were disassembled and leaning up against the little wall that fronts the stoep.
Anyway, once settled, I sent SMSs to Kirsty, Raymond and Ian, letting them know that I had arrived. I then decided to head to the nursery, but it was closed by the time I got there. Instead I strolled along the wetlands walkway, which starts from the nursery carpark, but with the park being so dry, I saw very few birds. However, I did enjoy the glimpse I had of the Skukuza Golf Club's warthog "greenskeepers"
Heading back, I stopped at Lake Panic, where there wasn't much happening — just the resident darter and hippo, plus a grey heron and a great egret. I think I had been spoiled by my dawn visit in 2006, when the place was teeming with birdlife, and this late afternoon visit was somewhat disappointing.
The SMS chime of my phone as I was leaving Lake Panic alerted me that I could expect my hosts to arrive to meet me at around 18h00, so I headed back to camp to prepare for their visit. Raymond and Rene arrived first, shortly followed by Kirsty, and eventually Ian, who'd had an extra-long day in the air, joined us. It was a treat to finally meet those who had dreamed up the Emerging Tuskers Competition. I was briefed about what to expect next day and warned that many people don't tolerate the movement of flying in a helicopter well — as it is very different from fixed wing flying, even in a small aircraft. In my past experiences at sea, I had learned the hard way that while I had never been seasick on a larger vessel, small yachts are different, so I took Ian's warning seriously and made sure that I stuck to very bland food — tea, toast and jam for breakfast, and egg mayonnaise sandwiches for my lunch next day. Hardest, given my excited anticipation of the upcoming adventure, was getting to sleep!!!sightingsin camp
: Natal francolinTamboti road
: dwarf mongoose, zebra, wildebeest, grey lourieH7
: zebra, impala, giraffe, bushbuck, waterbuck, kuduS36
: giraffe, zebra, longtailed shrike, LBR, SANParks helicopterS126
: Swainson's francolin, tree squirrel, Burchell's starling, impala, zebra, giraffe, warthogs, baboons, lilacbreasted roller, LBJs, redbilled quelea, SANParks helicopterH1-3
: giraffe, longtailed shrike, bataleur, brown snake eagle, impala, hyena, dagga boy, waterbuck, zebra, saddlebilled stork, crocodile, blacksmith plover, hippo, hooded vulture, elephant family group, yellowbilled oxpecker, whitebacked vultureS35
: impala, kudu, nyalaOrpen dam
: Goliath heron, baboons, whitethroated robinH10
: impala, zebra, ground hornbillH12
: family group of elephants, vervet monkeys, bushbuck, impala, kudu, hadeda ibisH11
: impala, ground hornbillLake Panic/Nursery road
: bushbuck, nyala, steenbok, warthog "greenskeepers"Lake Panic
: darter, hippo, grey heron, great egretH11