I stay at Mopani mainly for convenience, as it is a good halfway stop between stays at Punda Maria and Olifants. I don't much care for either Shingwedzi or Letaba, and I've been avoiding Bataleur because of the TVs, although since I've been assured that they are rarely used by guests, I'm now planning a stay at Bataleur next trip.
That said, the bungalows at Mopani are very comfortable, and those with a view over Pioneer Dam are especially nice. In 2000, I had #51 and had hoped to get it or #49 this time, but there were other requests ahead of mine. After some negotiating, I ended up with #101, which overlooks the end of the dam where the Tsende River flows into it - or perhaps it is actually just overlooking the river. In any case, I was very happy with the view and with the relative privacy. Hut #100 may be more private, as it is quite far away from #101, but it is also closer to the restaurant complex. Unfortunately, #102 is quite close to #101, and while it was empty on my first night, on my second night, the start of a long holiday weekend, I had noisy neighbors who talked loudly late into the evening. I think many people don't realise just how far a "normal" speaking voice carries in the quiet of the bush. I finally asked them to quiet down (it was nearly 10pm), after which they ostentatiously whispered, so I gave up and went to bed.
26 April - Punda Maria - Shingwedzi - Mopani
Since it's quite an easy drive from Punda Maria to Mopani, even with a few detours off the tar roads, I lingered awhile over my morning coffee to enjoy the ambience of my safari tent's deck. Reluctantly, I dragged myself away around 0715, wishing as always that I were staying longer in this part of the park.
Even tho I'd never seen much on the Dzundzwini Loop, I decided to try it again, because I remembered that Salva and others had seen leopard on this road. Shortly after I'd turned in off the H13-1, as I came round a bend, I saw, albeit only fleetingly, a really tiny antelope in the road, which must have been a suni, although I didn't see it long enough for either a photo or a truly positive ID. I drove to the top of the hill and enjoyed the expansive view, but saw nothing further, apart from a few birds. Then, on the eastern arm of the loop, again coming round a bend, I spotted two small cats running down the road. My first thought, as I slowly moved closer, was lion cubs, but it wasn't until the mother came out into the road, much closer to me than the cubs, that I recognised that luck had given me a dream sighting — a mother leopard with cubs! Of which I have about 1.5 minutes of video, but no good still pix (I hadn't yet realised that my digital camera's autofocus didn't/couldn't focus properly through the windscreen as this was never a problem with my old Olympus). Further, despite knowing better, I made the fatal mistake of trying to move a bit closer, and in a flash, mother and cubs disappeared into the tall grass. And I've been kicking myself ever since, because I really DO know better.
It was likely that no other sighting — neither that day nor throughout the rest of my trip — was going to come close to the leopard sighting I'd just muffed, but as I continued south, I did come upon the curious sight of two pairs of fairly rare storks — two saddlebilled and two woolynecked — in a single dead tree. And later, on the Shingwedzi causeway, I saw my first ever malachite (or possibly pygmy — I'm not 100% confident of my ID) kingfisher.
My travels this day were constrained by several matters that interfered with my enjoyment of my holiday. First, I had to arrive at Mopani by 1500 in order to change over my hired car, which had developed a fault. And second, at Shingwedzi I had to make phone calls to continue to follow up on an unresolved problem with a portion of my reservation, since I had again received no updates. Sadly, both the car problems and the reservations problem (which was due to their error and never resolved satisfactorily) dogged my entire stay, so my holiday was not as relaxing and stress-free as I would have wished.
Once I arrived at Mopani, got my replacement car, and settled in, I decided against a late afternoon drive in favour of relaxing on my veranda and enjoying the view, the birds, the distant hippo serenade, my braai fire and the fiery sunset.
: nyala bull
: suni, blue waxbill, emeraldspotted wood dove, leopard with cubs
: saddlebilled storks, woolynecked storks, redbilled buffalo weavers, ?mystery raptor, forktailed drongo
: darter, tree squirrels, grey heron, crested francolin, Natal francolin, hoopoe, redbilled woodhoopoe,
: LBJ, some sort of shrike**
Shingwedzi causeway: hamerkop, malachite kingfisher
: bull elephant, leopard tortoise, ?mynah
: kori bustards, longtailed shrike, steenbok, ?mystery raptor
**My bird books are still "in transit" right now, and I'll need them for better ID. Any and all help with ID of any of my posted bird pix is greatly appreciated!!
mystery raptor - help with ID?