24 April - Punda - Parfuri - Crooks' Corner - Punda
After having been disappointed on two previous visits (in 1984 the easternmost Parfuri roads had been closed because of the civil war in Mozambique, and in August 2000 those same roads were impassable due to flood damage), today I was finally going to visit Crook's Corner! However, since I awoke earlier than planned, I decided to first drive the Mahonie Loop gain, but in the reverse direction, and to check whether the raptor I'd seen at the end of the previous evening's drive was still there. It was, but in the dawn light it was still hard to take clear photos or even to see the bird clearly. The rest of this drive was uneventful, but beautiful in the early morning light.
After re-filling my thermal coffee mug (essential gear!), I headed north. I love baobabs and feel that each and every tree has a unique personality, so even if I see little else, this drive always has plenty of interest for me.
I had my second ground hornbill sighting, an adult pair, on the S64 (Nyala Drive) and was appalled by the tarred portion of the S63 (which used to be a lovely road), which looked to me like an anonymous highway in New Hampshire or Maine, not even African. If SANParks wishes to discourage those who would use this route to the Mozambique border as a shortcut, whatever possessed them to "upgrade" this road to tar? While I gather others have had good sightings along this stretch of road, I saw absolutely nothing, not even a bird!
But once I turned north onto the gravel road before the border post, that special Parfuri magic captured me once again. I find this area one of the most unusual and mesmerising in the park. I don't know what I "expected" at Crooks Corner, but I loved the place — perhaps just because it had taken me so long to finally get there? Apart from the hippos, I didn't see much, but lingered anyway, enjoying the birds that I could hear (but not see) and the antics of the hippo in their confluence "spa" — can't think of any other reason why they congregate at just that point, the movement of the waters there must be like a natural jacuzzi.
Later I traveled very slowly along the Luvuvhu River road, enjoying the surprises that awaited me on each of the little loops: woolynecked storks, whitebacked vultures (I think?), whitefronted bee eaters. By the time I tore myself away to head back to Punda Maria in time for a rest and a bite to eat before my sunset drive, I had decided to change my plans for the following day (which had been to head Shingwedzi way) and instead to return to Parfuri and Crooks Corner.
Returning on the H1-8, I observed two ellie bulls sparring, first in the road, then moving off a bit nothing very violent, but one was most definitely establishing dominance over the other. At first they were browsing quite calmly together, then began sparring as they crossed the road, then browsed a bit more, sparred a bit more, and continued moving away from the road. Curious behaviour?
I've written about my disappointment with this sunset drive elsewhere
, but thanks to the two other guests on the drive, we actually had some very interesting sightings. I have dreadful night vision, so took some of their IDs on faith, but if a Sharpe's grysbok is (as my mammal book states) about the same size as a steenbok, then I think one of the small antelope we saw might have been a suni.
S99 Mahonie loop
: ??same mystery raptor, emeraldspotted wood dove, sunbird (couldn't tell which one & pix are no help), hoopoe, Natal francolin
: bull elephant, impala, longtailed shrike, yellowbilled hornbill, African jacana, ducks,
: impala, brown snake crossing road (no idea what sort and no chance to look at it closely), steenbok, leopard tortoise
: ground hornbills, baboons
: nyala, baboons
: impala, baboons, vervet monkeys, hippo, woolynecked storks, whitebacked vultures, whitefronted bee eaters, crocodiles, nyala, francolin
: impala, nyala, two elephant bulls sparring, baboons, two different snakes crossing road (one, quite big, might have been a boomslang, the other was striped, but I didn't see either for long), Burchell's coucal
: helmeted guinea fowl
: ducks and black wading bird
in camp: many marabou soaring high above my tent
sightings on sunset drive
(our route was H13-2, S60, S59, H1-8, H13-1, H13-2, but I didn't keep track of which sightings were on what road)
buffalo, Sharpe's grysbok, impala, spotted dikkop, ??barred owl (this is the one the driver nearly ran over, so we obviously didn't get a good look), steenbok, lesser bushbabies, ??spotted eagle owl, elephant, small spotted genet