Sunday 18th December 2011
Since we would be in camp for the day, we grabbed a few extra hours in bed but then decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant breakfast. It would also give us a chance to speak to Reception about the chances of dealing with our tyre problem. The guy at Reception thought there would be a scrapyard in Thohoyandou to fix the tyre but we explained we did not think this would be the most acceptable answer to the rental company. Tzaneen was the closest town to actually buy a tyre but looked that this might take the entire day. Our plan to drive to Phalaborwa the next day before moving into Letaba was the only viable option left so this was decided upon. Before leaving the office we explained what had happened with our Good Samaritan and asked if he could let the Manager know as we wanted to make sure that his assistance and kindness had been acknowledged. The man behind the desk smiled broadly and explained that the Camp Manager was well aware of what had happened as it was the Manager himself who had stopped for us. Indeed, as we sat outside enjoying our breakfast, the Manager, Johan, came up to see us and check how we were and what we proposed to do about the tyre. He agreed our Phala option was the best solution and wished us an enjoyable stay for the rest of our time in the Park.
We decided to able down to the Bird Hide for a while and see what would pass by. As it turned out, very little. In 2 hours just a couple of Nyala
and some Dragonflies.
However, we were joined in the hide by 2 Namibians now living in South Africa but truly hooked on wildlife throughout the continent. As there was no-one else in the hide to object (i.e. like a library they usually ask for silence) and no visitors to the waterhole, we talked nonstop for hours. Swopping stories from our travels, places in Namibia, Botswana and any other countries we had travelled through, the cheapest way to bring a car across from the UK to South Africa if we were to come for an extended visit. It was a memorable morning and one we will remember for a long time.
We had booked a Sunset Drive and when we waited for the truck to arrive, appeared to be the only guests booked. We have found that the drives at the southern camps are still fairly full (probably because there are more short stay guests who want to experience as much as they can within a few days) but moving northwards we have often found ourselves as the only people booked on a drive. Another factor is probably the cost which is certainly not insubstantial now. A Sunset Drive at Punda is currently R250.00 per person and even when we are staying in the Park for 2-3 weeks, we can only afford to do 3 maybe 4 during our stay. We don’t begrudge the money but, like everyone else, we have to budget especially as so many other parts of our stay have increased in cost dramatically. Still, when you get a good Guide and some great company with other guests, the drives can be amazing. This evening would definitely be one of these.
Our guide, Thomas, arrived and introduced himself. Another couple then raced up to the truck hoping they were not too late and apologising to us for delaying the Drive. Ironically they were late because they had also had a car problem on the way to the Park – in their case the wheel had come off the car completely. They had rung a Breakdown Company who brought out a courtesy car but the car was 300 km away and the couple were panicking in case it would not arrive in time for them to reach Punda at all. Fortunately they made it in time and joined us on the Sunset Drive. Thomas asked us if we had any particular wishes for the Drive and the Jo’burg couple (Hannelina and Lance) explained that they had quickly booked this brief trip to Punda in the hope of see the Pennant-winged Nightjar and their main interest was birds, however, they were quite happy to look for something else if Richard and I had different wishes. One of the reasons we had booked Punda was to see more birds so we were very happy to go out with a ‘Bird Theme’. You know what it’s like when a plan comes together. Thomas, our guide, was a real bird expert (he is a great friend of Frank at Pafuri and they often go birding together), Hannelina works for Bird Life South Africa and her husband, Lance, hugely knowledgeable about birdlife around the world. Just us still learning more each trip but loving it.
In essence we drove around the Mahonie Loop and because we were trying to photograph what we could before darkness fell, our sightings list was written up the next day. I know we will have missed several species not the least because we saw and heard so much. Not only could Thomas, Hannelina and Lance spot birds quickly, they could identify many other species just by their call almost instantly. We just did not know which way to look next. I know I will have missed out several sightings on the following list but amongst those seen on this unforgettable evening were:-
Cape Buffalo, Common Duiker, Kudu, Sharpe’s Grysbok, Scrub Hare, Spring Hare, Nyala,
Mozambican Nightjar, Puffback, Black-collared Barbet, Brown Snake Eagle,
Scops Owl (heard but could not seen), Diederik Cuckoo,
Jacobin Cuckoo, Striped Cuckoo,
Fork-tailed Drongo, European Bee-eaters,
Burchell’s Coucal, Grey Hornbill,
Striped Kingfisher, Violet-backed Starling,
Grey-headed Parrot, Speckled Mousebird, Indian Myna, Spotted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Paradise Flycatcher, Red-billed Quelea, Red-billed Oxpecker,
Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Hammerkop.
One bird you will notice is missing from the above list but, Thomas had a plan for the end of our evening. In view of the fact that we had already been out for our allotted time we were expecting to be soon back in camp but when Thomas asked if we were in any hurry to go back yet, the unanimous answer from the truck was a resounding ‘no’. He explained that there was a special area where we would stand the best chance of finding the Pennant-winged Nightjars – definitely off the public track – and he drove us to a small open area and switched off the engine. It is such a special feeling to be able to sit out in the bush, away from camps or lights or any other vehicles and just listen and watch. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, it is surprising what you can see and finally, to the absolute delight of everyone, a few Nightjars flew backwards and forwards past our vehicle. Sadly their ‘pennants’ had been lost in the last few days but we could still see the white wing tips where they had been. When we eventually returned to camp our hearts were racing and our faces were lit up with huge smiles. This evening was definitely one of our most memorable Sunset Drives ever – if I close my eyes I can still see the Nightjars flying past us. Thank you Thomas – our star guide for this trip!
We were so excited when we returned to our Safari tent, that we knew we would not be able to settle down to sleep even though it was late (we had been out for over 4 hours) and we must leave at gate opening the next day. So we sat down for a nightcap and soaked up the atmosphere of Punda for the last evening.