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 Post subject: Richard Harris in Kruger : June 2006
Unread postPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 10:57 pm 
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Now updated post with a few photos.

Thought I better drop a few comments from my trip to the northern half of the Kruger - returned Sunday :cry:

Day 1
Well today was one of those days. Up really early to catch the 7.30 flight to Jo'berg from CT - in the end we had plenty of time, as despite thick fog, it did not take too long to get to the airport. However, the fog delayed all flights, so our 75 minute connection time at Jo'burg became 20 minutes. We did a mad scramble and made it, onto one of the smallest planes made! It just holds 30 people, and I could not stand in it. They had employed the smallest stewardess ever!

At Phalaborwa we hit the snag - the baggage had failed to make the connection. There is a later flight but after the gate into the Park has closed; hopefully they will deliver the bags first thing tomorrow.

The Park is very quiet, hardly anyone here. They are all waiting for the holiday in 2 weeks - which we will miss fortunately. We did see a few things on the way to Olifants. A large herd of buffalo in Nhlanganini Dam, and then 40 elephants in the Olifants were the highlights. Lot of vultures flying around Letaba as well.

The view at Olifants is stunning as always - more elephant crossing the river, and 2 fish eagle mobbing an adult martial eagle just below us.

Day 2
Off at 6am today; down to the low level bridge and then onto Bangu waterhole. Passed a very large herd of buffalo (car will smell of them for a day or two!), a hyaena, two black backed jackel and a few elephant. Loads of hippo in the river, but waterbirds are few in number. Returned via the high bridge for breakfast. Travelled up to Letaba for 'lunch'; some interesting sights on the way. Bush crickets are out in number - bit odd as we are running into winter. Sue and I are debating a bird of prey - I still think its a juvenile gymnogene. We managed to see a giraffe - though these are very scarse round here for some reason (previously there have always large numbers around Olifants). Also spotted a very young hyaena on its own - probably waiting for its mother to bring it some food. At Letaba, from the restaurant area, a large group of vultures (plus a few stork and a couple of fish eagle) can be seen way down the river.

Day 3
Set off at 6.00 down the S90. We saw very little; even after breakfast when we did a 40km loop (the 'famous' S100) before another cup of coffee at Satara, we saw very little game. And around Satara is supposed to be the best. I don't know if its the late and heavy rains they had or its the new policy of opening up the border to Mozambique, or the even newer policy of closing a lot of the water holes - but game is 'scarse'. Around Olifants its almost deserted; we saw our first giraffe near here today.

Despite that little complaint, we did see a few good things; 2 white headed vultures (one of the rarer ones and about the only one which can be described as attractive!), a couple of lion, and best of all, 14 rhino all in the same spot. They were close to the S90, about halfway betwen Olifants and Satara. I did manage to photograph this but only just - they were some way off, needing binoculars to count them. And there are lots of birds around which makes up for the quiet spells.

Image

Image

These taken with 500mm lens in poor light - photo cropped. Gives you an idea but much better through 18x binocs!

Saw my one and only yellow ribbon at Satara - but the car was empty. Perhaps we should wear tophots when walking around camp :lol:

That evening we did the 'Stargazing' at Olifants - very enjoyable (the G&Ts provided helped!).

Will post a second thrilling installment tomorrow! Photos will appear on pbase shortly.

Richard


Last edited by richardharris on Thu Jun 15, 2006 10:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 8:15 am 
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Day 4
I thought my morning was going to be really dull. I decided to drive down the main road to the river - saw nothing. Drove north along the river, again a few hippo but nothing else. Turned around - and a brief bit of excitement as a large hawk (who knows what?!) descended on a large flock of guinea fowl. Lots of noise and commotion but the hawk missed. I then drove down to the Olifants bridge - nothing to see on the way. Not even an impala.

On the bridge there was only one thing visible - but that was worth seeing. A white crowned plover; one of the rarer plovers in the Park. I then took the dirt track back up to Olifants - and a dull drive suddenly got better. A group of giraffe with two young ones in perfect light. Some hippo in a pool. Then 10 kori bustards in a group - amazing sight. Finally a family group of hyaena with some of their gorgeous young (honestly, the adults may be a bit dodgy in the looks department, but the young are gorgeous!).
We then drove up to Mopani. As mentioned yesterday, crickets are out in number - even more today. Different sorts too, some looking like stick insects. The armoured bush crickets are starting to behave horribly, as they devour their friends who have been run over. Most unpleasant!

Day 5
Today started well, with Sue having an excellent spot almost immediately - a white faced owl, quite a rare bird. And I have a picture to prove it (albeit a rather poor photo as it was still dark!). From then until Shingwedzi (on the H1-6) was remarkably quiet - the dirth of game continues.
The trip upto Punda would have been equally quiet but for two events. Firstly some excellent photos of the purple roller. Then just after Babalala picnic spot we met a road block - a large bull elephant. He was 'surrounded' by 10 cars who were parked much too close both to each other and to the elephant. The elephant was walking to and fro across the road so no one was going anywhere. We stayed well back (roughly 10 miles, which is where Sue feels comfortable) and wondered why the cars were so lucky - the bull must have been very stressed being trapped. Then on closer inspection we could see that he appeared injured on his shoulder, and not wanting to put his weight on one foot - again even luckier for the cars as an injured animal is usually even more dangerous.

Since no one seemed to be going anywhere (and we later overheard an old lady say that she had been trapped there for an hour!), and since I was luckily able to get a mobile phone signal, I tried the camp numbers on our map - but these seemed wrong! I know the shop manager at Shingwedzi so I rang him - he then rang the area ranger. Within 5 minutes a ranger had arrived and got everyone moving; we stopped and had a brief chat with him and a better look at the elephant. It had a horrible wound (no idea from what) that was seaping pus, and a swollen leg. The ranger said he was going to speak to a vet but I am sure that the only practical and kind solution would be to shoot the elephant - no doubt when no tourists were about. I still have not been able to find out actually what happened.

Day 6
Had an early trip around the Mahonie loop and had a reasonable trip - lots of birds, a lion, a giraffe and the usual impala. Crowned hornbill. Looking for the racket tailed roller, but no luck so far.

After breakfast I went up to Parfuri. Plenty of water in the Luvuvhu, and even the Limpopo is flowing (never seen that before). Still a surprising lack of water birds; I can understand why this years very heavy rains has left water all over the veld for the animals, but I had hoped to see plenty of storks and herons. Not even seen a grey heron yet! But I did see the uncommonest one! - the woolynecked stork. Whitecrowned plover at the bridge - but no wattled ones yet.

Saw a large group of hippo on the bank - 25 or so, with several small ones. One, presumably the boss, got into the water and a couple of others followed. After a few minutes, the boss let off a couple of very loud hoots and all the others rushed into the water with lots of splashing and noise. Most impressive. Plenty of nyala around and the usual hordes of vervet monkeys and baboons. No mambas at Parfuri this year.

Day 7
Started off very cold this morning. Not said a lot about the weather; its certainly dry now, though getting colder. Only 7 degrees this morning. Gets to about 26 in the afternoon which is very pleasant. Apart from one day at Olifants when it blowed a a gale it has been very calm as well.

Did Mahonie again early and had a very quiet drive until almost home - when I was faced with 50 or so buffalo; not walking across the road as they normally do, but walking up it towards me. I drifted towards them and they slowly walked towards me. When 100 yards apart I realised that it was a much bigger herd, with at least another 100 on either side of the road. What to do? I decided to stop the car and see what happened. They came closer and closer - I was obviously terrified! At the last moment they gave in, and disappeared either side.

After breakfast off to Parfuri again; saw very little, except some elephant in the distance. Arrived at Parfuri and decided to go to the new private camp there. Just to 'suss it out'. Actually very impressive, right on the banks of the Luvuvhu. But - no air conditioning in the tented rooms (would be very hot in the summer where days are 40 plus and the nights rarely drop below 20) - and 1400 Rand (£140) PER PERSON per night (though this does include food and a game drive).

Image

So I will probably stick to Punda Maria! And we had checked out some new accomodation at Punda earlier too - some 'luxury' tents (very nice) and two very impressive guest houses.
Punda was quieter (lots of children there yesterday!) but a lot more to be seen. Heuglin's robin, green backed warbler, a woodpecker, brown hooded kingfisher, and a martial eagle just over the river. Watched the hippo again for 30 minutes or so - great fun, with yellowbilled stork, white crowned plover, giant kingfishers, stilts, nyala, and crocodiles adding to the fun.

Image

It was getting a bit late at this point, so after Crooks Corner we decided not to go back to the picnic spot but head off to the parallel tarred road - and what a good choice. 7 cheetah all in a row. Amazing sight and great photos.

Image

Image

Sorry - but the best I managed was 6 in a photo - but there were 7, honest!
No photo of a long tailed starling (seen plenty!), and still not seen a racket tailed roller!

Richard


Last edited by richardharris on Thu Jun 15, 2006 11:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2006 10:05 pm 
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I will keep the last few days a bit briefer; actually saw little for a couple of days due to very wet weather!

Had a 'late' start today - both got up for breakfast at 7.30. Filled up with petrol and set off for Shingwedzi. One of those mornings that could have been depressing! Saw nothing all the way to Babalala, and very little from there to Shingwedzi. If it weren't for the birds (and there were a lot of eagles and vultures to see - but no racket tails!) it would have been very boring. Almost the only photos were of some oistrich - and they are birds!

Even around Shingwedzi its very quiet; OK I saw 2 woolynecked stork, a goliath heron, a grey heron, a great white egret, a few knobbilled duck, a pied kingfisher, and an openbilled stork - but that was over 20km of river. What is going on! Very few mammals at all - a few elephant, a few giraffe etc - but really very little. Reminds me of the floods. I also saw a tern, though not sure which. Either is rather rare in June.

Wednesday night we heard some rain - not expected in June in the north of the Park. Woke up Thursday with angry looking skies and a squirrel in the shower room! Soon after I set off on my morning drive it started to rain, and before long it was slinging it down. I did not go far but returned for a coffee.Tried again but saw very little (other than a group of nyala and bushbuck by the river), so returned for breakfast.

In the afternoon I decided on a run up to Red Rocks and Bateleur and in between heavy rain and showers did see more than I have for quite a while. Impala, zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, elephant and lots of birds. A scimitar billed woodhoopoe and a large eagle eating something on the road being the highlights. The eagle will be an identification problem for the forum when I sort out the photos! It was large and brown.

Woke up Friday to more grey skies and drizzle and mist. So rather than drive down the now very muddy dirt track we had a leisurely coffee and went down the main road. Rained all the way to Mopani, sometimes very heavy. Everyone says how unuaual this is! Saw very little through the rain, though had a close encounter with 2 elephant - though as Sue was driving it wasn't a very close encounter!

Had some toast and coffee at Mopani and headed south to Letaba - where the weather slowly improved, to a hot sunny afternoon. Went to Matambeni birdhide on the Letaba river; very nice, with hippo, several different stork and heron, and many smaller birds. Interestingly one spurwinged goose.

Saturday started with a dense fog! I was up to go out at 6 and almost decided not to go - who knows what you might bump into! I did though, very slowly, and went to one of my favourite spots not far from Letaba. As the fog lifted, and the light improved, a saddlebill stork flew in. Then a great white egret - which disturbed the grey heron which had been there all along. Then 2 hammerkop arrived, then a green backed heron, then some plovers and doves, and finally 4 marabou stork. Passed a very pleasant hour.

After breakfast (Letaba still do a unique evening and morning menu, including spicey mince for breakfast much to both our pleasure) we went to the bird hide and spent a very pleasant 2 hours there - with a few drinks and nibbles to help pass the time! Fair amount of action from a large number of hippo, numerous crocs, 5 fish eagle (deafening at times) and several smaller birds. Little other game unfortunately except some giraffe in the distance.

By now it was the hottest day yet - about 30 degrees. Sue stayed in the camp for the afternoon and I went for a drive; just as well as I was trumpeted at by a large elephant guarding a breeding herd at a waterhole on the S47. I took the gentle hint and drove on. Didn't see much else except last thing was two giraffe in perfect light, covered in oxpeckers.

Our last day was the hottest yet - 33 in midafternoon. Went out to the Engelhard dam at 6 and spent a pleasant 90 minutes there - including watching a fish eagle catch a fish. Never seen that before. Later we drove down to Olifants then back and left the Park at Phalaborwa. Not a lot to be seen, again, other than a large herd of elephant in the Olifants river.

Overall summary; some stunning sights, but despite this very little game around. And even more surprising, even the water birds are not around in great numbers. Other than egyptian geese - there are too many of these and I suspect they may be becoming a problem. I think its going to take several more weeks of winter to dry out the bush enough for viewing to improve.

Richard


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:43 am 
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Look in the middle between the two cheetahs on the left, just to the right behind the second tree. :shock: :wink:


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:41 pm 
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Thanks for your comments.

Larger sizes of the pictures can be seen at http://www.pbase.com/richardharris/june_2006 - and on close inspection I think there might be a 7th cheetah lurking in the background! Thanks wildchild.

Richard


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Unread postPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 9:34 am 
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Image

Almost posted all of them now! This is one of my favourites.

http://www.pbase.com/richardharris/june_2006&page=6

And for those on broadband, larger sizes than viewed on this forum.

Richard


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Unread postPosted: Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:17 am 
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And some more I am afraid :twisted:

Probably one batch to go.

Richard

http://www.pbase.com/richardharris/june_2006


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jul 01, 2006 1:00 am 
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Image

Image

Well this is the last batch. Hope you enjoyed them! I was particularly pleased with the fish eagle series - I find tracking flying birds with a big lens hard enough, but when stuck in a car it nearly impossible!

The marabou stork was photographed early in the morning when I almost didn't go out; dense fog had settled on Letaba. It was just starting to clear when the marabou, a saddlebill and a great white egret descended!

Richard

http://www.pbase.com/richardharris/june_2006


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