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 Post subject: Arks' KNP Trip Report: April 2006 : Punda Maria
Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:35 am 
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Location: Cambridge, MA (and home from home in Darling, WC)
Part One

Punda Maria restcamp
Well, I still haven't done the flycatcher trail or seen the new swimming pool or the bird hide. When it comes to choosing between exploring the camp or staying out driving, I generally opt to be out and about and by the time I do come in to camp, I don't have any "oompf" left to go exploring the camp. I love this northernmost part of the park, and although each time I visit I stay longer than the last, I still seem never to be staying long enough!

I've always enjoyed Punda Maria's unique atmosphere and the addition of the new tented camp in no way detracts from that, as it is set apart from the main camp. I had tent #3, which is very private and has a pleasant view of treetops and distant hills. I might in future prefer #2, which appears to be equally private but has a shorter entrance walkway, which makes a difference when you have a lot of stuff to schlep from your car. I should also note that while the tent was quite private, I could clearly hear conversations from tent #2. I think that many people don't realise how much sound that might be considered a "normal" speaking voice in town carries in the bush. So while I couldn't see tent #2, I certainly could hear them!

I particularly liked the open deck that allowed me to enjoy the night sky, and the way that the braai is incorporated into the railing of the deck is cool. Overall, these tents are very nicely appointed, and I also really liked the extremely spacious shower room. There are a few features of the Tamboti luxury safari tents that I preferred, such as having the fridge and the food storage area inside the tent rather that outside, which seems a very good idea when vervets and baboons are becoming an increasing problem at many camps. However, I'm not sure that the Tamboti tent "footprint" would fit the available area at Punda Maria, and I preferred some of the Punda Maria tent's features, such as the spacious shower, to those at Tamboti. Overall, these luxury safari tents are a marvelous addition to the accommodation range and I highly recommend them. They will definitely be my first choice wherever they are available!

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:36 am 
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Part Two

23 April - Shimuwini - Mopani - Shingwedzi - Punda Maria
My drive from Shimuwini to Punda Maria was long and fairly uneventful, although I saw plenty that I found interesting. The road north of Mopani was literally blanketed with armoured ground crickets and although I tried to avoid running over them, it really was impossible to avoid them all -- and I don't think there is much risk of them becoming endangered!

I spent quite a lot of time north of Mopani behind a lone bull elephant who was quietly moseying down (or up) the road. There was one car in front of him heading south and when he went off the road to the east, they were able to pass him and continue south. I, however, chose to stay and observe him for a while, as he was very relaxed and I was comfortable to move in quite close to him. Thus, I was again stuck behind him when he decided to move back into the road again, but I didn't mind waiting and moving at his pace for a bit longer. Eventually he moved to the opposite (west) side of the road, but stayed standing in the road, whilst calmly browsing. I again moved closer, since he was still very relaxed and I'd now been with him for more than ten minutes.

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We were having a pleasant time together and he wasn't the least little bit bothered by my presence, when some guys in a large bakkie pulled up next to me, loudly revved their engine to "encourage" the ellie to move off the road, informed me that I was in a dangerous position (I replied that I'd been observing this ellie for over 10 minutes and until they'd turned up, he had been just fine), and then roared off. All of which noise and movement obviously upset this heretofore very relaxed ellie, so that I also had to move on quickly, as he was no longer happy with my (or anyone's) presence.

I am well aware that I often take calculated risks with lephants, but I am very careful to never do anything to annoy them and to carefully judge their comfort zone, which differs with each specific situation. Also, in taking such risks, I am only potentially endangering myself, so it's a personal choice — but I have no patience with this sort of person who criticises my possibly dangerously close position, when they by their behavior (moving in quickly, revving their engine) are actually causing a danger that didn't exist before they showed up. In this instance, I was more annoyed that their actions upset this nice, calm ellie, than that they had spoiled my nice sighting.

Later that morning I had my first ground hornbill sighting, five, including at least one juvenile, in the road (lots of tasty armoured crickets!), until yet another (unfortunately, this sort of thing happened far too often) uninterested vehicle passed at speed, spooking the birds, which took flight (amazing to see these large birds fly!) and settled in a tree, where I then counted a total of seven! I made a brief stop at Shingwedzi, where I spotted a pair of saddlebilled storks in the riverbed along the access road and a pied kingfisher with a kill (a fish almost bigger than the bird) from the high level bridge.

I had no notable sightings on the rest of the drive to Punda Maria, but once I was settled into my tent, I had time to take a late afternoon drive on the Mahonie Loop. Again, I didn't see much, but I spent quite a long time listening to what might have been a leopard calling. And at the end of the loop, the end closest to the Punda Maria gate, I spotted a large raptor in the tree that stretches over the road. This raptor, which might have been a martial eagle, had a kill of some sort, but at nearly 18:00, it was already too dark for clear photos, and when I checked on the bird very early the following morning (just a few minutes after 06:00), it was again still too dark.

sightings
S141: giraffe, impala, crested francolin, doublebanded sandgrouse, yellowbilled hornbill
H14: ellie, zebra, ?mongoose?
H1-6: giraffe, Cape turtledove, bull elephant in the road, armoured ground crickets, yellowbilled hornbill, glossy starling, ground hornbills, steenbok, vervet monkeys, zebra, yellowbilled oxpecker, impala, marabou stork, grey lourie
Shingwedzi restaurant: elephants, ?tawny eagle?
Shingwedzi access road*: marabou storks, egrets (too far away to tell what sort), saddlebilled storks
H1-7: bull elephant, pied kingfisher, giraffe, zebra
H13-1: Burchell's coucal, grey lourie, vervet monkeys
H13-2: nothing
S99 Mahonie loop: crested barbet, laughing dove, Cape turtledove, ?leopard calling?, dwarf mongoose, bull ellie, ??large mystery raptor with kill

*This road doesn't have a number on any of my maps. Is it considered part of the H1-6 or the H1-7??

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mystery raptor Sunday evening & early Monday morning


Last edited by arks on Fri Feb 29, 2008 4:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:37 am 
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Location: Cambridge, MA (and home from home in Darling, WC)
Part Three

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.

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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.

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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.

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hippo bliss

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.

sightings
S99 Mahonie loop: ??same mystery raptor, emeraldspotted wood dove, sunbird (couldn't tell which one & pix are no help), hoopoe, Natal francolin
H13-2: nothing
S60: impala
S61: bull elephant, impala, longtailed shrike, yellowbilled hornbill, African jacana, ducks,
H1-8: impala, brown snake crossing road (no idea what sort and no chance to look at it closely), steenbok, leopard tortoise
S64: ground hornbills, baboons
H1-8: nyala, baboons
S63: impala, baboons, vervet monkeys, hippo, woolynecked storks, whitebacked vultures, whitefronted bee eaters, crocodiles, nyala, francolin
H1-8: 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
H13-1: helmeted guinea fowl
H13-2: 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

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Last edited by arks on Fri Feb 29, 2008 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:37 am 
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Part Four

25 April - Punda - Crooks' Corner - Parfuri picnicspot - Nyala Drive - Punda
I left camp fairly early for my second visit to Crooks Corner and had a very uneventful drive until a gorgeous kudu bull dashed across the road in front of me on the S59. As I approached the H1-8 T-junction, I spotted what I thought were two jackals. However, when I turned south into the H1-8 to follow, I only saw one, which continued loping down the road, so I soon turned around to continue north. My drive continued to be uneventful until about 6Km north of Baobab Hill, when I spotted several cars stopped up ahead. I slowed down and continued and couldn't believe my luck as I realised that there were at least six wild dogs cavorting in the road. And to think that if I had not changed my plans and decided to return to Crooks' Corner, I would never have had this dream sighting!!

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After about 5 minutes, the dogs moved off the road and into the bush and the other cars left. I had paused to make a few notes in my sightings notebook, when I noticed in my wing mirror that the dogs had come back out into the road -- and now I was the only car there! I turned around and stayed, all alone, observing (and photographing and videoing) the dogs for at least another 15 minutes. Altogether, there were 6-8 or possibly 9 dogs, very active for a while, cavorting in and alongside the road. Eventually they settled down along the side of the road and I moved a bit closer. They seemed quite comfortable and even a bit curious about me, but never ventured really close. However, I had at least 20 minutes with them before they decided to move further away from the road, and in all that time no other car appeared.

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This sighting remains the absolute highlight of my whole trip, although the sable sighting on the Salitjie Road runs a close second. After this excitement, Crooks Corner was the perfect place to relax, so I spent over an hour there, again enjoying the hippo and all that I could hear but not see. And on the Crooks Corner approach road, I heard and finally spotted a trumpeter hornbill.

Later I stopped at the Parfuri picnic spot, but Frank was away on a birding course. There was a large group of nyala across the river and I enjoyed watching them for some time, as two pairs of younger bulls were doing a bit of sparring, until the much larger dominant bull intervened and made it very clear to a couple of these youngsters that challenging him was not a good idea.

Next, since it was only early afternoon, I decided to drive all of the Nyala Drive, not just the loop road, but the extension that heads towards the Lanner Gorge. This is another road that had not been open on my previous visits, and with its many baobabs and looming koppies, it is an almost mystical place — yet another favourite Parfuri spot! I could have spent hours just sitting quietly, listening and watching as the vistas and prospects changed with the changing light, and wishing that the magical quality of the place was something I could capture in a photograph, yet knowing that no photograph could really do it justice. Some memories must remain just that — memories.

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The drive back to Punda Maria was again uneventful, until just 2Km from the camp gate, when another wish was fulfilled -- the first breeding herd of elephants I'd seen in years and years. Given how much water there still was in July/August 2000, following the floods, I'd seen bulls, singly or in pairs, but no breeding herd or family group on that trip. This group was having a grand time climbing onto and tearing up a huge old anthill, so I spent some time enjoying them -- despite the heavy construction trucks and staff cars that sped past, with no consideration for either the elephants or the visitors watching them (again a subject I have addressed at length elsewhere).

A quiet evening braai under the stars on my tent's ample deck made for a perfect ending to an extraordinary and memorable day.

sightings
H13-2: nothing
S60: nothing
S59: kudu bull, Swainson's francolin, bull elephant
H1-8: blackbacked jackal, ellie bull, tree squirrels, armoured crickets, forktailed drongos, redbilled hornbill, yellowbilled hornbill, African wild dogs
S63: grey lourie, impala, helmeted guinea fowl, hippo, trumpeter hornbill, golden orb spider, nyala, zebra, large beetle, crocodiles, baboons, whitefronted bee eater
S64 Nyala Drive: impala, kudu, baboons, nyala
H1-8: impala, waterbuck, Swainson's francolin, giraffe, ellie bull, warthog
S59: Swainson's francolin, redcrested korhaan
S60: baboons
H13-2: breeding herd of elephant

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Last edited by arks on Mon Jul 03, 2006 2:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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