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 Post subject: richardharris- Kruger trip-Feb 2011
Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 2:22 am 
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It has been too long since my last trip; I am really looking forward to nearly 3 weeks in the Park. As with one previous trip I am going in a small camper van, travelling south to north and all stops in between!

I will try to make this a 'live report' so hopefully will have lots of up to date news about the Park.

I arrive in the Park on Monday - so thats when the reports will start!

Richard


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 10:20 pm 
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Hi all

Skukuza is often a bit of a disappointment! The biggest camp, by far the most tourists, and everything should be amazing. But somehow it never quite is. The main restaurant is often rather average (fortunately the Selati is still good - enjoyed a curry there tonight). As for the shop! If you want a t-shirt saying "Kruger", in 10 different colours and every size possible, then fine. This shop is for you. But if you want a guide to the mammals of the Park, tough (unless you happen to read Afrikaans, which I don't) (OK partly my fault - I had to forget something!). If you want dried apricots, no chance. And if you want some Doom (or similar anti-mosi / insect spray for rooms), not a drop. And this in the height of summer when insects abound! I think I will have breakfast in Lower Sabie and see if their shop is any better.

Getting to Skukuza is a long day but went fine. Had an early breakfast teh collected the van - and got underway just after 10. Stopped, as usual, at Millie's service area for a coffee and to watch the bee-eaters flying around. Discovered that they now sell koeksisters - so bought two packets!
For those who don't know, these are a very sweet 'cake' which I do rather like. Used to buy them at another service area just before Nelspruit but they stopped selling them, so score 1 to Millie's.

The next stretch reminded me of a previous trip - loads of redfooted kestrels lining up on the telegraph wires! Then I got confused - the roads have changed. There is now a fine bypass around Nelspruit, probably saving 10 minutes or more. Just as well that I didn't need that shopping area for cakes - you miss it completely now. Incidentally, the roads in Skukuza have changed as well. You can't drive straight down to the shop etc - it looks as though that will be for pedestrians when it is finished.

I didn't hang around too much after entering the Park at Malelane - I wanted to get parked up and shopped before dark. But it proved to be rhino day. Crossing the Mblambane were 4 white rhino - 2 either side of the bridge. Then a bit further on (on the plains just before Afsaal picnic spot) was quite a gathering of game; impala, wildebeest, buffalo, and a total of 8 rhino (all white I think). Amazing. Also saw a few elephant - but I have failed already. Sorry Sue Browne, but no giraffe.

Lots of birds which will need a bit more effort tomorrow; but where do all the lilac breasted rollers go? Everyone was a European! Even the bee-eaters were European. One very large flock of wattled starling - but no queleas so far. Perhaps this isn't their year!

Well, I am here and not a bad start! Hope to hear from some of you, hint hint.

Richard


Last edited by richardharris on Thu Feb 03, 2011 9:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Thu Feb 03, 2011 10:10 pm 
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My first full day in the Kruger has reminded me of a number of things.

Don't bring friends in January or February if all they want to see is lion and elephant. You will see them (see below!) but, let's be honest, you really do need to enjoy birds as well at this time of year. Lots seem to come just for the game and perhaps scenery though; Lower Sabie's decking / cafe was full of folk drinking coffee etc, but apparently oblivious to the amazing birdlife only feet in front of them. And not a pair of binoculars to be seen!

Don't bring friends in January or February if they don't like heat - it has been a scorcher today, probably touching 40. Certainly felt like it.

Jogging in this weather is exhausting!

And don't bring them if they really, really have to be on Facebook everyday!

Having said all that I have had a great day. Not quite out with gate opening
- but not far behind. Still recovering from the journey! I had decided to head for Lower Sabie (or Nkhulu picnic spot) for breakfast, so turned left out of Skukuza. I also like the two low level causeways so took a slight detour over them as well. For once it was a good decision.

Both the Sabie and Sand are flowing well. The Sabie was in flood a few weeks ago, with the 'bridge' at Lower Sabie covered. I will mention a few birds - not necessarily rare, just that I identified them! Lots of lesser striped swallow at the bridge, a black-crowned tchagra near by, and then a small flock of white-crested helmet shrike. Several golden orb spiders had hung their webs between bushes and gleamed in the early morning light. Then a few kms beyond the Sand river a small pride of lion. Even in January! 1 male and 4 female. The usual group of baboon were on the H1 - 2 and thankfully a solitary giraffe. I couldn't go another day without one.

I spent a short while watching a pair of hammerkop making a nest, then just caught the rump and tail of a leopard. Don't they just disappear in a flash. Except for Mathias of course, who always comes back with loads of leopard sightings!

It was now 8.30 and 30 degrees; so I pulled in at Nkuhulu and had a boervorse sandwich and coffee (surprisingly good) whilst watching a pair of woodland kingfisher.

After breakfast I carried on down to LS. Lots of birds; green backed heron (oddly the only heron seen today), white fronted and carmine bee-eaters, some quellea, a striped cuckoo, and what I think was a Diderick cuckoo except it seemed almost black not green. Strangely for the H4-1 I was nearly at LS before seeing some elephant - 4 playing in the river. Stork have also been scarce today but there were a few yellow-billed at Sunset Dam, along with some whitecrowned plover and those annoying Egyptian geese!

As I mentioned there was a lot visible from the verandah at LS. There were some black stork on a sandbank - I never seem to get close to these! Several white winged widows fluttered around the reeds, as did a couple of red-collared widowbirds. The latter are a small bird with an enormous tail - I have no idea how they manage to fly! There were also a few red bishops - brilliant red that puts our robin to shame! There was also a 'black' cormorant which puzzled me until checking with the book - it was in breeding plumage. Sometimes you have to use a guide!

My friend Henry has moved from Shingwedzi to Lower Sabie (3 months ago) and he and his family joined me for a short chat. I hope to catch up properly when I stay at LS later on.

I returned to Skukuza via the S21. On this occasion there was plenty to see, making up for previous times. Elephant, 3 rhino, kudu, zebra, a giraffe, impala, wildebeest, baboon, loads of vultures in a tree (though no sight, sound or smell of a kill!), brown snake eagle, tawny eagle, European bee-eaters etc. Who said don't come in February!

I must mention bats! This was being discussed on the forum but I never saw a final answer. Well, all the bats under the two thatched eating areas have gone. And no one will tell me why, or, more importantly, how, but the odd hint was that it was a deliberate act. This is something the Parks Board should be ashamed of.

Today (Wednesday!) has been another scorcher - up to 38 or more again. Set off in the same direction as yesterday but kept going - breakfast at Tshokwane, still the best in the Park! Saw quite a bit on the way; hippo, crocs, marabou stork, a blackheaded oriole (one of the hardest birds to photograph!), a snail, giraffe, elephant etc. Loads of carmine bee-eaters (all the way to Letaba actually - really common this year), a rhino (white again) and a large herd of elephant. Leeupan started me thinking that actually this is going to be a quellea year; they just don't like it down south! Lots here and more and more further north - especially all around Satara. Some beautiful flowers in the pan as well.

Not sure if I have missed this on the forum; Siloweni dam is closed and going to be destroyed. It seems there is no other way to eradicate a lethal blue green algae which has killed a lot of game, including all the hippos. Presumably those I pictured fighting a couple of years ago. They have tried mechanical and chemical controls but nothing is working. Let's hope it is not something that will spread. The sign says they hope to create another pool with birdhide at some point in the future.

Just south of Tshokwane, perhaps the best sighting so far (and will be hard to beat!). 5 tawny eagles flying around and landing in a large tree, yelping their strange call. A family group? Or just several friends preparing for the quelea feast!

As mentioned breakfast was excellent (vorse, pap and sheba sauce!), made more fun as the picnic spot was attacked by two yellowbilled kite. A pair of woodland kingfishers provided the music along with a tambourine dove.

I have seen a lilac-breasted roller at last; that's 1 to at least 1000 European!

Mazithi dam had my first large heron; two grey heron. I thing the rivers are just too powerful for them at the moment. Lots of other things to see here as well - elephant, whitefaced duck, stilt, knob-billed duck, hippo, darter. Kumana and Nkaya added dabchick, jacana, and hadeba ibis - and the longtailed paradise whydah.

I am pleased to report that Satara shop had both a book and Doom; and they still do excellent coffee!

The plains north of Satara were fairly quiet, though I did manage a rhino and Koribustard. However, there was one ominous sign for the quellea. Just north of Satara, there were quite literally 100's of marabou stork and eagles (couldn't make them out but probably lesser spotted and Wahlbergs) spiralling into the air and settling in every tree for a very large area. I guess a 1000 in total would be about right! Ngotso dam was nearly dry but there were a couple of hundred white stork here!!

Towards the Olifants river a crowd (about 5 cars - this is a crowd at the moment, I have never seen the Park so quiet!) had stopped to watch some lion and a tree full of vultures. But actually, you could hardly see anything, so I moved on. The Olifants is full - the whole width of the bridge has water. So, not a lot to see; other than 2 red bishops which I have not seen here before. Perhaps they are happier with reeds surrounded by water.

The Letaba is similar - flowing really well, with little to see at the bridge. However from Letaba camp verandah a group of elephants were crossing the river - and some waterbuck were coping with a quieter branch of the river! The sandbanks were covered in birds - nearly all Egyptian geese! But a few black stork kept up interest.

Before signing off - there are lots of redwinged starling in the camp. Have I missed them? Its not just 1 or 2 - they seem to be the dominant starling now!


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:49 pm 
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Today has been a quiet day. Drifted out along the H9 for a few kms, saw very little. Some hippo and a fish eagle in Nhlanganini Dam, and a saddlebilled stork (at last!) at the rocks / pools at the end of the S69. There is a spot at the Letaba end of the S69 where a stream crosses the road, with a pool either side. I have spent several hours here and seen a lot of bird life. Today, despite all the rain recently, it was bone dry!

I returned for breakfast which was OK but no buffet any more. Mind you it is probably not busy enough at the moment to sustain a buffet. I have not mentioned it so far; the whole Park (as far as I have covered at any rate) is extremely quiet. I have never seen Letaba so empty - a bit like a ghost camp! Even Skukuza had rows of empty accommodation. Despite this, whenever I stop on a narrow track to photo something another car suddenly appears wanting to get past!

I have quite a few mp3 files on my phone of bird calls. Still useless but trying to get better. Helped me track down and see a puffback (a type of shrike) in the grounds of Letaba. I also wandered round trying to track down a greyheaded bushshrike but of course I didn't see this, just heard it several times! Shame as it is a beautiful bird - for those with a guide book try Wikipaedia!

Two eagles flow over as I set off after breakfast - got a photo so I hope someone will identify them when I get home. Another flew over shortly after but there was no mistaking this - a blackbreasted snake eagle. I drove down to Engelhard Dam on the north side of the river. Very little to be seen in the river as it is just too wide and fast. A great viewspot overlooking the outflow of the dam has been blocked off. No idea why as it was a great place to see all sorts of water birds, crocs etc. A new view spot has been built overlooking the top of the dam - but nothing much will ever be seen here I suspect. Wrong way around Kruger!!

For the afternoon I went to investigate the Olifants causeway - and the new barrage. No idea what thats for! But the causeway was all but underwater and fun to cross. Impala and giraffe were all I saw getting there.

Across the dry plains to Bangu the quellea experience is gaining momentum. It must be one of the wonders of nature. I have no idea how many birds there are in the UK (not species, actual birds) but I am sure there are more of these quellea in the Park during a good year - up to 30 million apparently (yes you did read that right!) in an area the size of Wales. No wonder so much is here to eat their eggs / offspring etc etc. There was one small waterhole in particular where I watched 1000s streaming constantly in from all directions, causing mayhem then flying off again. Truly amazing. I didn't see the 100s of predators as yesterday, but lesser spotted were about as were a couple of tawny eagles.

Lots of wattled starling as well but nothing like as many!

Bangu was dry with just a few impala there, and the Ngotsu dam was also dry; very sad as this was always full with a family of hippo resident. I wonder if this was another algae disaster?

During the late afternoon and evening a strong wind built up - I thought a storm was on its way. As it turned out, no storm but cloudy and rain by the morning. Not torrential but carried on for several hours. I drove along the south of the Letaba and found a scenic spot past the dam to sit and have breakfast. The highlight of the morning was watching a leopard tortoise cross the road!

I returned to Letaba for coffee; like a number of camps you can now actually get decent coffee. Satara was first and probably still the best. You have to be forceful though and make sure they make a proper coffee, even if (like me) you only want a simple black cup. Otherwise you get a rather poor cup of 'filter' coffee.

Quite amazing what you can see while drinking coffee; buffalo, waterbuck, impala, zebra, baboon and elephant (don't tell Sue Browne - no giraffe all day again!). And a Heuglin's robin (or white browed robin-chat to you upto date folk), specled mouse bird, red bishop (these are popping up all over the place, must be a good year for them) - and have I mentioned the very numerous and noisy woodland kingfisher?! And another annoying bird recognised by sound but not seen - trumpeter hornbill.

I needed to call into Phalaborwa and took the gravel road across. Good choice; a male lion at a kill, surrounded by vultures! Obviously a few days old, and no sign of the pride, but fun to see. A bit further on the road was 'covered in' the very distinctive chestnut backed sparrow larks.

The Sable Dam was fuller than I have ever seen; as with other dams, too full for a lot of bird life. I almost got into a spot of bother; there is a narrow track leading to a good view point at the end furthest from the bird hide. I have seen loads from here before now - including my first spoonbill.
But at the moment it is flooded after 100 yards at most. Fortunately there is room to turn just before the flood!

Back at Letaba I saw two black backed jackal just before the crossroads. Then I had a discussion with another group about a large pale 'eagle' that flew overhead - I will post the picture later. We could not decide between osprey and juvenile martial. Just not enough pictures in the books! And trying to gauge size is very difficult.

Lastly my first goliath heron, in one of the quieter parts of the Letaba.

Tomorrow is a long drive up to Punda Maria.


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:14 pm 
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I must quickly mention last night; hot and muggy. Great photos of some horrible beetle type things! Also had a very nice dinner at the restaurant, overlooked my some type of mouse. Rather cute! I had kudu kebabs in a delicious sauce - with chips of course. Can't fault the food or the service, and even the price seemed reasonable to this overseas tourist. One down point was that the glass of wine was not quite cold enough!

Today (Saturday) was the long drive to Punda. Should have not seen much if you believe everything you read on the forum. It is the height of summer, grass long, trees covered in leaves, and I am north of Satara!! However I have always loved the north - and summer!

Letaba bridge provided the first entertainment; 2 saddlebilled stork collecting twigs etc for a nest (and lets hope these rare birds are successful - I have only once seen an immature one), and a spoonbill. Then one of those magical moments, which happened a few kms further up the road.
It was just me and 8 lion! And no one else came for 20 minutes - fantastic. Two large females (one with a radio collar, which I understand but don't they ruin photographs!) and 6 'cubs', of varying sizes. None tiny but still very cute! Eventually another car drew up and we shared the lion - then a third. But before they could even get their cameras out the scene was ruined by two cars racing past, scattering the lion into the bush. And guess who they were? One was a SANP Kruger vehicle, the other a delivery van. If anyone has any influence at all, please, once again, implore the Parks Board to prohibit such behaviour.

Crossing the plains further north there was quite a bit of game; 20 wildebeest and 20 zebra, more zebra further away. Loads of impala - but they were barely visible in the long grass! A stunning European bee-eater gleaming in the sun, then 4 ground hornbill. These strangely flew off; they normally seem curious and hang around. An elephant strolled across the veldt, then an oriole hurtled by, then a bit further another one. This time clearly seen as a European but of course it did not stop anywhere near me!


Twissapel was covered in reeds but not obviously flooded. I noticed movement - an antelope leaping around, becoming visible at the top of the leap! Not sure what though; seemed a bit bigger than an impala, and as it jumped it flashed a large white area on its tail. Any thoughts as to what it might be? I have a photo.

Further on a koribustard walked by, then a herd of buffalo (large) intermingled with at least 50 zebra. There were loads of oxpeckers flying around, with lots of yellow ones on the buffalo. Why not on the zebra?

I now arrived at Middlevlei - taking a bit longer than expected! There was a large herd of wildebeest (60+) and 10 zebra and 1 elephant. There was also a male namaqua dove (and several more over the next km or two) and a blackbacked jackal.

I then did something stupid! I carried on despite seeing a European roller in the road. After all, there had been hundreds of these - and they always got out of the way. Well, this one got out of the way, but turned out to be a blackshouldered kite! Oddly, I had only been thinking yesterday why I had not seen any of these!

8 more zebras in the road, then flagged down by a taxi looking for the border crossing! I thought they were stopping this misuse of the Park!

The turn off for Mopani camp often has water in a couple of pools; on this occasion the area was dry. But there has obviously been rain; the grass all around is long, including in the campsite, which trys to foster a rustic impression (personally I prefer the slightly false camps which are more like a garden, such as Letaba!).

Had a very nice breakfast overlooking the dam - but as with so much this year, not a lot to see as it is very full. A couple of darters, a buffalo and an elephant. Over breakfast I backed up my first 600 photos! I am going to have a busy couple of weeks when I get back!

Mopani to Shingwedzi was quieter with little to report. The river Shingwedzi is just flowing at the causeway (you would never know at the bridge) - and both of the feeder rivers don't seem to be. So where is the water coming from?!From the bridge I could see a hammerkop, a greenshank, 3 banded plover and blacksmiths plovers..

At the causeway there was a yellowbilled stork, a greenbacked heron, a hammerkop, a goliath heron, another greenshank, a pied kingfisher, and a malachite kingfisher. This latter was incredibly well behaved and hopefully I have some decent photos of one at last!

The trip to Babalala was mostly birds! A male oistrich, white shouldered widow, and quellea. Six elephants were performing at Boyela waterhole.

At Babalala I had a brief chat with another yellow ribbon - Imberbe. He and his family are sort of here for the birding weekend at Parfuri, but not actually doing the weekend!

Not much else to report except that just after the turn to Punda from the main north road, I snapped some (hopefully!) lovely shots of a giraffe family.

Sunday

Decided to do the Mahonie loop around Punda this morning, have breakfast, then go up to Parfuri. Tomorrow I will do the opposite. Possibly a good choice as it happens!

It was a dull start weatherwise, but never actually rained. I went anti-clockwise, so quickly came to the small water hole -it has water but nothing to be seen. A bit further there were several kudu, then two trees containing vultures (including 2 lappetfaced) and oddly (?) a pale tawny eagle. Not sure what they have in common! A noisy lock passed by, settled, then off again - arrowmarked babblers. My first plum coloured starling on top of a tree but the light too poor to set off the iridescent plum (or violet as it is now called!) colour - I will have to see what Photoshop can do!!

At the far side of the loop there were two herds of buffalo - neither very large, but between them had made a right mess of the track! The second lot were being followed by a large flock of wattled and other glossy starling; no doubt after disturbed insects.

Amazingly, I was just hoping to see a crowned hornbill (here and at Parfuri are the only spots I have seen them in the past) when I flew by - unmistakeable, but didn't stop for a portrait shot. Then I rounded a bend to find the road blocked by a fallen crumbled and burnt out tree. That would never have been allowed to stay there in the old days! I had two choices; try to turn around (not easy in a campervan on a narrow track) and go all the way back (I had probably done 18 of the 25 kms of the loop) or do what some others had done, go off track and follow someone elses tyre tracks (again not an obvious choice in a campervan!). Fortunately I decided to press ahead; slightly worrying but I made it. I was rapidly rewarded with the sight of a Wahlberg's eagle feeding a youngster with a yellowbilled hornbill! Just like human kids - totally impatient wanting it's food before it was prepared.

Last sight before breakfast was a large elephant coming down from Coetzer. Breakfast was actually excellent; the only slight weak spot is the coffee as I don't think they have a proper machine yet.

On the way up to Parfuri I passed, and briefly stopped to chat to Fer de Lance, another 'yellow ribbon'. Saw several more kudu, a Sharpe's grysbok, more buffalo with wattled starling and oxpeckers, impala at the Klopperfontein waterhole (dry), then 3 elephant which I think I must have surprised (don't know how, the van rattles so much!) as they did a bit of trumpeting and jumping about!

The dam was full, with what I initially thought was a fish eagle - the sun had come out and I saw a white gleam in a tree. As it happens it was a male knob-billed duck!

The drift was dry like the waterhole but there must have been rain recently
- everything is so green and the grass long.

Approaching Parfuri I saw a 3rd type of cuckoo - a pied-morph Jacobin. Then close to the small pan, about 0.5 km before the bridge, there were a couple of cars. They had spotted 3 lion, including a handsome male. In all the years coming to Parfuri I have never seen lion here, though we were shown lion prints crossing the picnic spot on one occasion!

From the bridge I saw hadeba ibis, whitebacked vulture, white fronted bee-eater, lots of little swift (I think!), hippo, baboon, a stunning nyala male, could hear a fish eagle, and said hello to a group of the anti-poaching teams. Not bad.

I then met a fascinating man who turns out to be one of the world authorities on scorpions! It seems there are scorpions everywhere and he gave me a UV light to look for them. Some large but harmless ones living in trees appeared to be a good target! Oddest thing is that he was born and brought up 20 miles from where I live in the UK.

I went down the Nyala drive; saw the long tailed starling, some impala, an elephant, then a small herd of elephant actually in the Thulamela site! But no nyala.

The picnic site was a bit disappointing; some nyala on the far bank, and bee-eaters again. But the two I like to see were calling but not visible; trumpeter hornbill and the purple-crested lourie.

At this point can I say that I don't especially like spiders - I am not phobic or anything like that but I can take them or preferably leave them! I couldn't help noticing that there were quite a few golden orb spiders and webs at the picnic spot, making walking interesting (I had to duck to get under one!). I was a bit surprised that so many were left, with kids running around - but actually they are not dangerous (I am told!). Especially when you see how 'sterile' the campsite restaurants have become - not a bird in sight, health and safety no doubt. But I digress. I then tried to drive down to Crooks Corner and found this a very unpleasant ordeal. Once before, several years ago, we were in the Park when they was an irruption in the numbers of golden orbs - but that was near Satara and seemed to be along main roads. Here there were 100's, probably 1000's, along the narrow track - and I was ducking and diving with my large campervan. I did not want one joining me! I will say it again - I cannot believe how many golden orb spiders there are in the area!

Worst think - Crooks Corner is closed off!!! I am told a small stream which crosses the track there has flooded and damaged the road!

On the way home I saw helmeted guineafowl - amazed it has taken this long to see that bird.


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2011 10:56 pm 
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First, apologies if this is a bit late. I went out for dinner last night, had a G&T, and couldn't be bothered to do this! And tonight I have been sorting out a new camper van; I had a few problems and KEA have sent up a brand new van to Shingwedzi. Just had another G&T and long chat with the driver (he is staying over night in the old van and driving back tomorrow) and now finished unpacking again!

Must just mention two evenings ago; spent 30 minutes with 2 birders looking for orange breasted and grey headed bush-shrike; both were singing in their very distinctive voices within Punda camp. But could we spot them!

Yesterday (Monday) I went up to Parfuri first thing. Saw little before Klopperfontein; there were some whitefaced duck whistling away and a blackshouldered kite nearby. A bit further on a slightly odd sight; two buffalo and a young calf. I have to say I thought breeding mothers stayed in the large herds.

I stayed a while on the Luvuvhu bridge. Waterbuck were the only mammal but lots of birds. New for this trip were a blue waxbill (!), several mosque swallow, a Cape vulture flew over, and a couple of woodpeckers were hammering away (which means they were probably bearded). There was also an indigobird at the top of a tree. I actually got the scope out, and fortunately got a second opinion from one of last nights birders! Definitely pale beak and pale legs - ie a purple indigobird - a good spot!

From a river view not far from the main road I saw a fish eagle, a Jacobin cuckoo and a male saddlebilled stork.

I didn't try to get to Crooks Corner! (see below for more info).

On the way back, avoided being caught again by speed cameras. Must be getting old and boring! After a drink I set off around the Mahonie loop - must be my favourite drive in the Park. At the small waterhole, a few European bee-eaters were diving into the water and off again, rather like a kingfisher. Anyone know why? Bathing, drinking, or catching floating insect??

A small group of elephant with a couple of small youngsters marched by, and I passed kudu a few times. Kudu are obviously doing well this year - I can remember only a couple of years ago hardly seeing any for a whole trip. Then a medium sized elephant bellowed ??at me. He wasn't that close, I definitely hadn't surprised this one - so why?! Fortunately the tree had been cleared.

Dinner was excellent; a kudu steak cooked really well (but medium if you know what I mean!).

Today I decided to do the Mahonie loop for a last time, have breakfast and set off for Shingwedzi. First thing, whilst still in the camp, was the cry of trumpeter hornbills. Still not seen them. My first bushbuck crossed the road (I don't count those inside Letaba!), and I watched a pale Wahlbergs eagle fly between two trees repeatedly, wailing mournfully.

Something dark brown raced across the track; maybe the size of a honey badger or a bit smaller. I was told by someone at Punda that it was probably a white tailed mongoose - these are much larger than the ones normally seen.

Then two nice finds; a pair of striped kingfisher (not that uncommon but I haven't seen many of the kingfishers this year), then a European hobby sat in a tree. Absolutely no doubt! A better view than I have ever had back home!

I have been trying to bump into Christo Knox the Punda camp manager for a number of trips - and he seems to have always been away. This time though he was around so we spent half an hour discussing the 2000 floods (he was Mopani manager at the time and helped 'rescue' me) and much else. He informed me that the reason Crooks Corner was closed was the Limpopo. It has been in real flood, and the 'backwash' down the Luvuvhu nearly flooded the Parfuri picnic spot. This is what caused some serious road damage at Crooks corner.

We also tried to identify a piping birdsong; varying in volume and seeming to be two birds in duet - amazing how some birds do this. But he freely admitted birdsong is not his strong point so tried to find a colleague to help. Whilst doing this I asked after another famous bird song specialist and the receptionist said he was on holiday - and was just outside!! Good old Frank (from Parfuri) took about 2 seconds to identify the bird. Not a new one after all - a Heuglin's robin.

As I was about to leave a purple-crested lourie started to call - and I actually saw it this time! Mind you, only a brief flash, but what a beautiful bird!

Nearly finished this report! On the way down to Shingwedzi I saw my first broadbilled roller, and another elephant, genuinely without cause!, trumpeted at me. Is it the size of the campervan that is the problem?

The fig tree at Babalala was full of redbilled woodhoopoe (after insects rather than the figs!), and I passed a fairly distant group of elephants, 6 ostrich and lots of zebra. And later on a large herd of buffalo - I am glad I have a clean campervan!


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:35 pm 
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Well today has been hotter still - it's an English obsession, this weather!

About 42 (106F) during the afternoon and it is still 29 - 30 (85F) as I finish a very fine dinner at the Shingwedzi restaurant. It is 8pm and I am sat outside watching insects and bats in some bright lights they have fit over the river. I had calamari, good old hake (that has been on the menu ever since I have been coming here, 23 years ago!), and chocolate brownie and ice cream. And I might even have had a glass of wine!

I had decided to drift down the Shingwedzi river road (S50) as far as the river goes, then cruise down to Grootvlei dam and have breakfast there (that's what camper vans are all about!), continue down and do the Capricorn loop, have a late coffee at Mopani, then drift home again! Quite a drive on what have been poor roads in the recent past - but I have to say something good about the Kruger; most of the dirt roads have been excellent and today's were no exception.

Down to the Dipeni (customs) bend in the road I saw very little game; an elephant, a couple of impala, vervet, crocodile and squirrel! But birds were amazing; if only I had some of my birding friends I am sure I could have doubled the number. Two stilt, a brown snake eagle and an indigobird (not sure which one this time) within a couple of 100 yards. Lots of expected things; arrowmarked babblers, woodland kingfishers, Egyptian geese, Natal francolin (seem to be the dominant one here), red-eyed, laughing, Cape and emerald dove. Sandpiper, drongo, grey / red / yellow hornbill, Burchell's coucal. Then a grey hooded kingfisher, just say on a dead twig in the middle of the road. Awful photo through the windscreen. Blacksmith plover, hadeba ibis, spotted flycatcher, and broadbilled roller. Hammerkop, crested barbet, puffback, and a yellowbilled kite. I could go on. But have you noticed; very few waterbirds; the dam is very high, making it unsuitable for heron etc.

After the dam I stopped by one tree; 2 goliath heron (1 youngster being fed), buffalo weaver, brownheaded parrot, woodland kingfisher, yellow hornbill, female then male plum coloured starling, and a grey lourie!!!

Another elephant trumpeted; ? at me, as I couldn't even see this one!
Towards the end of the river stretch, quellea were around in their thousands again. And a darter was sat on a dead tree at the last river view.

Once past Nyawutsi hide, more game was seen. Impala, vervet, zebra, and the odd elephant. Longtailed shrike became evident - more their type of country!

The Grootvlei dam had quite a bit of water - but still none of the bigger water birds. A couple of cattle egret were the closest! Lots of water dikkop, wattled starling, hadeba ibis, a greenshank and a ruff. A waterbuck male surveyed the scene - and I thought a host of zbra and impala were coming for a drink; but there must be water in a dip on the far side of the dam because that is as far as they got! I had got a good viewing spot for breakfast - the only one there. But as I pulled out I became aware of two 4x4s with (I think) 6 French tourists trying to leave - but the way was blocked for 20 minutes by 1 elephant. Annoying things!

As I approached the Tropic road I passed several loan elephant and one small group, lots of zebra and a loan buffalo. Along the Tropic road there was a lot of game - but difficult to photograph. Quite a lot was fairly distant, and by now it was warming up - and heat haze completely ruins photography, no matter how good your equipment! Elephant in plenty (mostly single or small groups) and unpleasant evidence of a huge herd of buffalo! At the Tihongonyeni waterhole, there were lots of zebra, several wildebeest, one buffalo, several elephant, 6 oistrich, and a white headed vulture flew over. Don't anyone say you see nothing in summer!

Coffee was good and well needed by now.

I went down to the Shipandani birdhide and watched carmine bee-eaters plunging into water; I hope someone has posted an answer about this for when I get home. I decided to do a bit of a loop before heading back to Shingwedzi on the tar road; S50 to Mooiplaas waterhole, head north, then take the Tropic loop again. The first waterhole made it worthwhile; stilt close up, and redbilled teal close up (a not uncommon duck in South Africa but rarely seen in the Park).

The Tropic had more of the same - until I spotted, well into the heat haze, a group of eland!!! At least 4 adults and 3 calf; great to see that they are breeding successfully. A couple more birds attracted me; a lesser grey shrike, a kori bustard, and a group of about 8 hawks / kestrels. I need to post the photos to ID them - but being in a group like this makes amur falcon the most likely.

And as I said, it was very hot all day!

Now it is today! And still hot but not quite as bad as yesterday. I thought it was going to be a very short report as before breakfast was quiet - down along the Shingwedzi similar to yesterday. And it looked like rain building up; as it happens it never did despite looking like several times! I looped around the S134 before returning to breakfast and ran into one of the genuine summer problems. A large herd of buffalo was so well hidden in the dense mopane you could only see a few at a time, but I think it was a fairly large herd! Not sure if I commented earlier but yellowbilled oxpeckers are so much more common nowadays. As I watched for a while 3 out of 4 were yellowbilled - yet 10 years ago you could have scanned a herd of several 100 and possibly seen one!

Whilst driving around I had exchanged info with a retired couple on several occasions. I met them as I was leaving Shingwedzi after (a very good!) breakfast; they mentioned black stork at the end of the confluence. So off I went - and I now actually have proper photos of black stork.

I then decided to do two loops to see if I could track down all the water birds. First I did the bottom 12 kms of the Mphongolo loop (a dirt road that runs next to one of the two rivers that form the main Shingwedzi 'flowing' past the camp). The grass was tall and lush, the river totally dry, and very little seen - though nice shots of a wood sandpiper in a small pool.

I then headed south to do the Red Rocks loop - and sadly passed a dead, young, hyaena - obviously the victim of bad driving. As I and others have said before, we know who does most of the speeding!

I kept the river on my side of the car, so went 15 km down the main road before turning off towards Bateleur and Red Rocks. There was a bit more water visible at the Red Rocks viewing spot but no flow. Very green and picturesque though! The causeway across the Shingwedzi just a bit further on had a few scattered pools but nothing to be seen - until a saddlebilled stork flew over and landed further up the stream (in a spot completely invisible from any bit of the road!).

I then spotted a beautiful hawk on top of a dead tree; so stopped and took some photos, despite the awful light. But the hawk was very well behaved and even let me start up again, move to a better position and get some much better shots. From here I could see colour much better - and it was a dark chanting goshawk with red legs and 'cere'. For those in the UK this is not as big as our buzzard but much larger than kestrels and sparrowhawks.

In the stream (pools really) at the Tshanga crossing was a first for me; a mother and a very young kudu prancing about - delightful! Sat there for a while watching. The top causeway had plenty of water both sides and was flowing - but as elsewhere, probably just one pool emptying into the next one down. Several things to see; a pair of hammerkop, a green backed heron, a malachite kingfisher, common sandpiper, one or more hippo grunting, 2 crocodile (not huge but very impressive teeth!) - and just as I was about to leave, 2 water dikkop popped up!

Not a lot to say about the return but a bit more game (zebra, impala, elephant - but I am very surprised to have to report no giraffe!), 2 ground hornbill - and I saw the dark chanting fly over head.

Tonight I drank G&Ts with the retired couple (and yes to my friends - there are older people than me visiting the Park, which I find very reassuring!). There are from Cape Town but have lived and worked all over the world (geologist for the mining industry). And they have been coming here for years; fascinating stuff. And it was nice to meet someone who's main passion is the flora of the Park and who knew so much about it! But we talked about all sorts, from birds, to mining, to murders in Cape Town, to Olympic stadium, and even politics. A very pleasant evening!

Tomorrow I sadly start the journey south.


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 Post subject: Days 12 & 13
Unread postPosted: Sun Feb 13, 2011 1:01 pm 
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Had a bit of a lie in today - I think the heat has got to me! So it was just a quick run down the river road before meeting two forumites for breakfast at 8am. Notable highlights were 50 or more cattle egret, one openbilled stork, a very large crocodile sunbathing, and elephant wading across the river - and 2 oriole hurtling by! Still none of the larger egrets!

Had a very nice breakfast with Jane and Lee ('janevo'), on their second trip to the Park. They had got some great shots of wild dog near Lower Sabie, I showed them the goshawk which they might see as they are staying at Bateleur. Hopefully we will meet again before I leave.

I took the main road south, with a group of vultures in the river bed the best sighting - included the whiteheaded. Then one of those strange Kruger experiences. I had already passed the Olifantsbad pan twice without going down the 1 km track to view - I don't think I have ever seen much there and it is nearly always dry. But something made me stop after I had passed and reverse back; and I am glad I did. There was water, some very large blue lilies, and lots of reeds.

I took a photo of the lilies and as I did something yellow shot through the view finder. On scanning with binoculars and then scope I discovered a genuine rarity (according to the new Roberts and the old Newmans!). A yellow crowned bishop (or golden bishop), behaving just like the books describe - bee like flights across the reed beds! Having e-mailed friends back home, I am not sure if it is a generally rare bird, or just here. But it is widespread across Africa, and apparently in Jamaica too!

Just before Shidayengwenya waterhole there was a nice group of elephant shading under a couple of trees, whilts the water had lots of a smaller dark blue lily - and the first giraffe for ages!

Coffee was good at Mopani.

Middlevlei waterhole was busy; lots of buffalo, some zebra and wildebeest, a couple of wart hog and some vultures. The only other thing I spotted till just before Letaba was a very sleak Mercs sports car - very flash but perhaps not the best for game spotting! In the Letaba near the camp was an old elephant with two large tusks - I wondered if this was one of the current tuskers?

Saturday was the drive down to Satara; I still hadn't seen the changed Olifants (still building 18 months ago) so went there for breakfast. I have to say they have made a very good job of the new restaurant, shop, walkways etc. Having breakfast with that view was really good - and the breakfast was all right as well!

There was then very little to report until about 1 km after turning onto the
S41 off the S90. Then there was a leopard in a tree!!! A bit far off but stunning view with the scope. Down the S41 and S100 there was plenty of game; zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, impala, kudu, steenbok, elephant, ground hornbill and even a rhino. Incidently, Gudzani dam was full with lots of hippo - but very few water birds, and still no egrets!


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 15, 2011 8:55 pm 
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Because of not feeling too well still, I am doing one day at a time! It is odd but several things seem to be telling me the holiday is over. First my ear; still dizzy today so have done one longish drive to get to Lower Sabie (sticking to the tarred road) then one drive later on to Mlondozi.

Secondly the weather is definitely changing. Rained all morning (heavy at times too), and more is apparently predicted for tomorrow.

Thirdly, I had two leaving presents on my way to Lower Sabie!

Just a few kms from Skukuza the first present; 7 wild dog came loping along the road. Wonderful to see these animals - and I thing I have always seen at least 1. But 7 together, playing and obviously delighted in each others company, was a grand finale! Followed them back almost to Skukuza before they disappeared into the bush.

A hyaena crossed the road - the only one seen this trip. A troupe of baboon crossing the Sabie via the bridge! Two other troupes further on - including one at Nkuhlu. Then the second present; a bird I have been hoping to see for ages. I have all the larger plovers (lapwings as some like to call them!) on film but one - and here it was. Two wattled plover; according to Robert's only likely to be seen along the Crocodile river. Obviously these two were trying out the Sabie.

Sunset dam had a new bird for this trip - a pair of giant kingfisher.

Breakfast at Lower Sabie was very good; still prefer Tshokwane though! Better and cheaper by far. I think the managers of LS must have been to one of the London Hilton hotels to find their prices! Another nice touch; we were all joined by one of the huge stick insects that hang around the Kruger (one of the largest insects in the world!).

The other trip was up to Mlondozi dam. Full of water, lots of hippo, waterbuck and a fish eagle. The roads up there were possibly worse than the ones around Satara - and with the torrential downpour that occurred whilst driving along, turned to mud and I wasn't sure I was going to make it. Can't turn a campervan on the narrow tracks either.

What else was seen; lots of warthog, a large herd of elephant, sombre greenbul, yellowthroated longclaw, koribustard, and 2 white rhino on the S122.

A last quick look at sunset dam; yellowbilled stork, spoonbill, grey heron - but still no egrets!!


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 Post subject: Re: Richard's 2011 Kruger trip
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 15, 2011 9:46 pm 
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Hi Richard,
Just caught up with your trip report and am really looking forward to your pics.
I was in the park from 18- 28th Jan and was amazed by the quelea. It seemed like millions upon millions - ribbons in the sky and the noise in the grass as they landed was deafening!
Although I had super sightings, they were one of the highlights of my trip.
Image
IMG_3751 by jansp, on Flickr

Hope you're feeling better and enjoy the remainder of your trip.

Travel well.

Jan


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 Post subject: The end!
Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 12:33 am 
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Thanks to you all for your support! Had a lot of e-mails wishing me well etc. As planned I left the Kruger today a day early, via Crocodile Bridge. A very long drive later I have dropped the van off and am in the Southern Sun hotel at the airport. It was a long drive too; those camper vans don't go up the 5000 foot climb as quickly as a car!

Best bit of all? Having a shower on my own, the first for nearly 3 weeks. In the summer, in the 'ablution blocks', no matter how hard the staff try, you always seem to be sharing with a few moth or a cricket or two!

Look forward to talking / seeing you all soon

Richard


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 Post subject: Last two days
Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 9:45 pm 
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It is surprising how much you can see even when only doing short drives down tarred roads! At last I have a photo of a purple crested lourie, having followed them for several hundred yards hopping from one tree to the next. A blackheaded heron by a pan that seems to not have a name! - at least not on my map. It is on the main road (H4-1) and would be missed if you took the short S79 causeway loop; quite large but not on the map!

Three male and one female lion walking down the road. They stopped for a while on the bridge over the N'watimhiri stream and actually put their paws on the railings and peered over. Just like tourists! Best of all I managed to get a better view than one of those commercial guides, who seemed most upset. Sheer pleasure but wicked!

And I stopped to watch a hippo; nothing odd here except he was in the bushes right by the road. He wandered out, walked around the van, and wandered down towards the river Sabie.

A large herd of elephant, big to tiny, were causing a traffic jam near the camp; would have made some great photos if they had got into Sunset dam but they must have been in the Sabie as they walked down one side and vanished.

And a woolly stork had arrived in Sunset dam.

Jane and Lee arrived at Lower Sabie this afternoon so we had a drink on the decking for a final chat. So I smugly told them I had seen 7 wild dog to their 2 - when they trumped me with a cheetah just a few kms up the H10!
That was not fair!

The final morning was overcast with a bit of drizzle. Looked like it was going to get worse. But even with these conditions you can see plenty. A fish eagle sat on a tree close to the road and a pair of red breasted swallow. Thank goodness for Canon lenses that are fairly weather proof!
Further down the river, at the weir, there was a cattle egret roost and two more fish eagle and an elephant having a bath.

An odd sight - the Kruger staff had obviously 'mown' the sides of the road.
Further down I could see why they were doing this. The bushes were encroaching into the road, reducing the width to single track in places.

Guinea fowl seemed more common; I saw 3 flock with young. Several small elephant groups and herds of impala, zebra and wildebeest lined the road. Gezantfombi dam, about 4 kms from Crocodile Bridge, was full and several hippo were enjoying this. A giant kingfisher and a greenbacked heron were the only waterbirds seen there. A small group of waterbuck were up by the view point.

The last couple of kms were reminiscent of my first day - rhino city! One was curled up and asleep in the mud - bound to have been a black one! Then a female and child white rhino wondered by. Then a short distance further on, 3 more white rhino and a very large herd of impala. Not bad as I prepared to leave.

I enjoyed a nice breakfast at Crocodile Bridge; I joined an older couple, both originally South African but now living in Canada - they were doing a long family, friends and Kruger trip!

I then knew it was time to go; as I went through the gate at 9.30 it started to rain properly, and by the time I got to the causeway it was torrential and the far side was barely visible. The long drive to Jo'burg beckoned!


It has been a great trip but a few unanswered questions - perhaps someone has posted something I can read when I get home. Main one is - where have all the waterbirds gone? I have seen a few of several types but not the usual summer numbers - and no great white, yellow-billed or little egrets at all. No purple rollers, and where do the lilac-breasted go? And a group I was sorry not to see - the sunbirds. Not one!


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