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 Post subject: kittykat23ukWild Dogs to Whale Sharks Kruger and Tofo Oct11
Unread postPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:02 pm 
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Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks - Kruger and Tofo 2011

Introduction

This was my second trip to the Kruger area (and my fourth African safari). The first time, I travelled with family and we hired a car and stayed in the Kruger Park itself at the rest camps, we also stayed for significantly longer than I did this time. I chose Tremisana (Viva Safaris) this time because I didn't want to drive on my own and, with a Mana Pools trip planned out for next August, didn't want to fork out the big bucks on Sabi Sand. I also wanted to prioritise the diving element of the trip. The cost of the safari portion equated to £580 for 5 nights and included pick up from Jo’burg airport and drop off at my hotel in Jo’burg on the last day.

About Balule
Balule used to be a hunting concession, therefore the animals remain quite skittish. I did not find the area to be particularly game-rich, which was as I expected, given the cost. The habitat is a combination of fairly thick scrub, and more open areas. The game drives are made along dirt tracks, rather than off-road. We seldom encountered other vehicles (the most we saw was one other). I was told that animals can roam into Balule from Kruger.

Tremisana lodge was very nice and comfortable though not as fancy as Elephant Plains. It's located right near the entrance, just off the main road. As such, the road noise does hinder the feeling of being "in the bush" when at the lodge. Tremisana Lodge has a very small waterhole which is overlooked by the Lapa in which breakfast is served. They also have a very small bathing pool, which I didn't use. The food was tasty and dining more informal than at Elephant Plains, with the guests and staff dining together. The staff are lovely and friendly. There are some nice sunbirds that frequent the lodge, wit helmeted guinea-fowl and yellow-billed hornbills common around the waterhole. A troupe of vervet monkeys provided entertainment while having breakfast, but I didn't see any other game in the vicinity of the lodge, despite it being set in a relatively open area (for Balule).

9th October Jo’burg to Balule

I booked an Egypt Air flight at the cost of £548 via Cairo. On previous trips I booked direct on South Africa Airways, but this time I needed a flight that got in as early as possible on the Sunday in order to make the 9.15 am pick up from the airport. All arrangements went smoothly and I was soon on my way to Tremisana Lodge. We stopped to pick up two other guests, who had been at a space conference in Cape Town. Viva Safaris provided a helpful leaflet detailing some of the sites I would see and the schedule of activities.

We stopped in Dullstroom for lunch, which was expedited by our driver phoning through our order en route. However, this didn’t really help as the other vehicle we were due to meet was late arriving. Basically what Viva Safaris do is have vehicles that meet at the lunch stop so that their drivers who know Johannesburg can collect the returning visitors and vice versa. This seems to be a very sensible way of doing things, although I heard that there were some problems with a new driver they recruited later in my stay. But anyway I digress! I spent some time window shopping in Dullstroom before finally boarding the minibus to continue our journey. I passed many familiar sights, including the road to Trackers, where I’d stayed last time and the Taita Falcon viewpoint, where I'd left my field guide and had to rush back for it.

On arriving at Tremisana mid afternoon, I was treated to a very warm welcome from the hostess Florence who, after offering some refreshing juice, informed us that our game drive would be at 16.45. This gave me enough time to check out my room. This was comfortable and had everything I would need, including tea and coffee facilities (an improvement could be made in the form of some proper milk) and the bed was a little on the short side (a taller person would find their feet sticking out the end of the mattress!), but otherwise nice and comfy and perfectly adequate for me.

My room was also close to the “waterhole” which was no bigger than a couple of small bird baths. Aside from a few guineafowl and some vervets, game viewing from the lodge was not very productive whilst I was there, although there were enough sunbirds around for me to spend a few hours during the week being confounded by them as I tried in vain to get any decent photos.

16.45 soon came along and Wesley our guide and driver Finnias took us out on a game drive in Balule Reserve. There were only a few guests staying that night so there was plenty of room in the vehicle for us all to spread out. The drive was relatively uneventful in that we saw none of the big five. We started with a small herd of impala in some quite scrubby terrain. Then a steenbok was spotted. As we came to a more open area, that appeared to be a flat lawn, we watched a mother warthog and two young grazing. Also present were a couple of crowned plover. Later we caught sight of a black-backed jackal backlit in the setting sun.

Stopping at a large waterhole revealed a few birds, including Kittlitz plover. Nile crocodile could also be seen there. A few giraffes put in an appearance along with a grey duiker. Other animals we saw on our drive included a few lone wildebeest dotted around the reserve, small herds of impala, and greater kudu. None of which presented any decent photo opportunities.

As night fell, Wesley brought out the spotlight. We returned to the “lawn” and watched a small herd of zebra move out to graze in the open area. According to Wesley this was a rare sight. A couple of scrub hares were also revealed in the spotlight.

We returned to the lodge and didn’t have long to wait before tea, served buffet style, which was very tasty. Afterwards I had a brief look at the waterhole, in the hope that some kind of nocturnal animal might come for a drink. Their newsletter mentioned the sighting of aardvark on occasion but sadly it did not see fit to put in an appearance during my stay. It was not long before I decided to call it a night.

Image
PA093673 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA093682 Warthog by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA093686 Warthog by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA093699 Warthogs by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA093702 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA093706 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:07 pm 
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10th October - Balule morning walk and a sunset drive in Tshukudu game reserve.

I was woken by vervet monkeys playing on my roof before my alarm went off. But as it was nearly time to get up, I really didn't mind too much. As we drank a quick cup of tea, I watched white-bellied sunbirds zipping about in the bougainvillea. Soon it was time to board the safari vehicle and we were off on our way.

Image
P1460896 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Again, the group was small, only three of us, myself, and two Germans, Tim and Francesca and we were in Balule reserve again. The first sighting was a black-backed jackal. Then as we arrived at a dam by the waterhole, Francesca became very animated. She was pointing to something in a fallen tree some distance away in a ditch containing quite thick scrub. As our guide Pieter repositioned the vehicle I got onto the creature, which turned out to be a 4 week old lion cub!!

Image
P1460901 adj Lion cub by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Expecting to be on a walk, I had only taken my lightweight backup camera and with the sun just coming up and the lion in the shade of the tree, photographing the cub was difficult. Then we saw another cub, and we watched them for a while. They seemed to be alone, there was no sign of mum.

Image
P1460918 adj Lion cub by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

As we watched, another vehicle joined us, but they were so difficult to see amongst the branches. Soon we left the lion cubs and went on a little way to start our walk. I enjoyed a three day wilderness trail in Kruger last year, which was the Olifants Trail. We saw lots of wildlife on those walks. This walk was similar in that it was longer than the short bush walk I did in Elephant Plains, but we actually didn't see any game on foot at all! So we focused on the smaller stuff. In this regard, I think all the guides must get the same basic bush training because they all tell you the same signs.

Pieter showed us how to make rope out of the Aloe Vera plant by separating and then plaiting the fibres. He made a bracelet for Francesca which she wore for the rest of the trip.

Image
P1460920 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

He pointed out the lamenting call of the emerald-spotted wood dove which goes something like, "my mother is dead now, my father is dead now, everybody's dead, dead, dead, dead, dead......"

He told us that the blacksmith plover is so called because the black bib it wears looks like a blacksmith's apron.

Pieter found a few whip scorpions, AKA crab spiders under some rocks. Francesca wasn't keen to take a closer look!

Image
P1460924 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

He spoke to us about giraffes. Female giraffes can be told from male giraffes because they have tufts on their horns and males usually have bald horns from fighting. Males also have what looks like a belly button but it is really their genitals..

Giraffes will approach trees from down-wind and only feed on a tree for a short time. This is because once a tree registers it is under attack it sends a chemical signal to other trees in the area which in turn start to produce quinine that makes the leaves unpalatable. This is probably where M. Night Shyamalan got his idea for “The Happening” from.


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:12 pm 
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This is an aardvark burrow. Apparently before they took down the fences, aardvarks were a common sight in Balule. But now that lions have moved in, the sightings have become more scarce. I would like to have seen an aardvark..

Image
P1460922 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Pieter was keen to find a scorpion, but he wasn't able to find one. We did find this poisonous centipede though. We also saw blue tailed skinks, darting about the acacia bushes. Soldier ants marched across our path and we could hear them all buzzing as we got too close. I'm not sure if these are the same as the mutabele ants we saw on the wilderness trail, I asked him but he didn't know.

Image
P1460930 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
P1460940 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Pieter showed us a mud wallow that started life as a termite mound. Termites farm fungus off dead wood and keep their mounds cool by opening vents in the walls. They sometimes fan the chamber to maintain the correct temperature and humidity.

Image
P1460942 Giraffe by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:15 pm 
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After the walk, we returned to the spot where we'd seen the lion cubs. This time we initially saw one lioness and then four of the pride panting in the shade of some trees, on the bank of the waterhole. A male came to join them. Francesca said she could hear the cubs, and sure enough they were still by the dam and mum was with them. Pieter said that this pride have not successful raised cubs before so he hoped these new arrivals wouldn't suffer the same fate. I believe this was the first time he had seen them. He was cursing not having brought his camera (so was I!). The cubs were delightful, playing rough and tumble with each other and then being bathed by mum. There were too many branches in the way to get decent photos. Sadly Pieter gave us the bad news that we couldn't stay to watch them for long as it was already 10.00 and they were not allowed to traverse that area after 10.00 am.

Image
P1460965 pride of lions in Balule by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
P1470005 Lion cubs and mum by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
P1470015 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Video of the cubs and mum:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyjjVYem ... ture=feedu


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:31 pm 
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On the way back we saw giraffe, baboons the same three warthogs (well we guessed they were), several small herds of impala and a small herd of wildebeest. Tim and Francesca were heading off to Marc's Treehouse Lodge so they were scheduled to have a return drive in Balule later that afternoon, whilst I was going to nearby Tshokudu game reserve for a sunset drive. In the meantime there was time for a late breakfast and to enjoy the surrounds of the lodge. Other than the monkeys, there weren't any mammals around. But some birds kept me entertained.

Image
PA103752 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

A large flock of Red-billed Queleas were occupying a bush and flocked down to drink from the waterhole.

Image
P1470022 Red-billed Quelea by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA103733 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PA103796 Yellow-fronted Canary by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Pied Crows were a common sight
Image
P1470042 Pied Crow by kittykat23uk, on Flickr
This Black-backed Puffback posed well for photos:
Image
PA103780 Black-backed Puffback by kittykat23uk, on Flickr
As I mentioned, sunbirds were common, but difficult to photograph! This is a Marico Sunbird I believe:
Image
PA103783 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104010 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

This one is White-bellied Sunbird
Image
PA103797 White-bellied sunbird by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA103961 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Yellow-billed Hornbills and Grey Louries (Go-Away birds) were commonly seen from the Lapa along with Helmeted Guineafowl.
Image
PA103808 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA103856 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr
Plus the ever-present Vervet Monkeys
Image
PA103881 Vervet Monkey by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Also, there was a pied crow mobbing a tawny eagle.
Image
PA103918 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA103920 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:51 pm 
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Posts: 138
Thank you Pumba and Rusky. Glad you enjoyed the opening couple of game viewing activities. Yes the lion cubs were a very special sighting as these particular ones had not been seen before so we found them first! :dance:

Tshukudu sunset drive

Tshukudu Game Reserve was started in 1980 on what used to be a cattle ranch. Although many antelope species as well as giraffe were already on the property, a variety of animals had to be reintroduced. One of the first were rhinoceros hence the name "Tshukudu" which means "rhino" in Sotho. They also take in orphaned animals, including three cheetahs, which can be seen wandering around the lodge.

Image
PA104014 Orphaned Cheetah by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104017 Orphaned Cheetah by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104023 Orphaned Cheetah by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

They are tame enough to pet, and I must confess I gave one of them a little stroke. Cheetah fur is quite rough to the touch. As they have rehabilitated animals, apparently they offer walks with cubs in the morning (assuming they have cubs at the time). I didn't see much of that aspect of their work, only the cheetahs and a hippo in a pen on the way in. The lodge seemed more luxurious than Tremisana. There were people petting the cheetahs whilst relaxing round the pool which felt a little bizarre. There are no fences so animals can wander into camp. We had time for some delicious cake and sandwiches before starting our game drive.

Image
PA104027 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104031 Orphaned Cheetah by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

The first wild animals we saw were kudu:

Image
PA104040 Greater Kudu by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:43 pm 
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We came across a small herd of white rhino. But their horns had been removed. Sadly, there has been a surge in rhino poaching recently. Pieter told us that one rhino a day is being killed by poachers in Kruger alone. I can't believe Kruger has that many rhinos, but that's what he said! So game reserves like this one have started to cut off the horns in an effort to deter the poachers. But it doesn't always work because the poachers still track the rhino and still kill it even if it has no horn because they don't want to go to the effort of tracking the same de-horned rhino again. Furthermore, the base of the horn still has a value to it.

Rangers have tried implanting tracking devices in the rhino and in the horn, so if one is removed from the other, the beacon will go off. Trouble was, the initiative was publicised on TV and the poachers are now wise to this trick so they just cut the device out of the horn and leave it with the body of the rhino!

They tried poisoning the horns and in fact this has had some "success" as a few people have actually now died from ingesting poisoned rhino horn. But the poachers don't care and once it's in the supply chain you can't exactly trace the poisoned product back to a particular rhino.

So here we are, some rather sad looking rhino, who apparently took some time to get used to the fact that they no longer have their horns...

Image
PA104045 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104048 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104062 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:04 pm 
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Image
PA104069 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We also saw hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, impala and a fish eagle. Further on we encountered some zebra as the light was fading:

Image
PA104103 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104110 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Then this owl, our guide said it was a pearl spotted owlet, but I suspect it is actually a scops owl, judging by the ear tufts. Possibly southern white-faced scops owl.

Image
PA104114 Possible southern White-faced Scops Owl by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

After dark we spotlighted for animals on the way back and found this gorgeous small spotted genet who had just emerged from his home in a hollow tree trunk. We crept closer and closer until we were right in front of the tree. But the genet then decided it had enough attention and sank back into it's hole

Image
PA104120 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104124 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Just as we took a fork in the road, our guide spotted a large dark-maned lion on the adjoining track. He swung the vehicle around and drove up to the cat, and then revved the engine loudly. In response to the perceived threat, the lion gave off a tremendous roar!!

Image
PA104132 Lion by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA104134 Lion raoring by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:30 pm 
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Thanks!

Show over, we returned to the lodge and were then transferred back to Tremisana in time for dinner.
We had another lovely meal, delicious soup with home made bread and a braai of boerwarse and steak. After dinner, I retired to the waterhole to see what might appear. The area was filled with the calls of frogs, who sounded like a bunch of argumentative builders. The conversations they were having seemed to go something like,

"That's not right, that's not right, that's not right, that's not right,"

"Really?, Really?, Really?, Really?, Really?, Really?"

"Get it right! Get it right! Get it right! Get it right!"

"yeah that's right, yeah that's right, yeah that's right, yeah that's right,"

or maybe I'd just been in the bush for too long!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8lMe-JZ ... feedu_more

I'm not sure what species this one is:

Image
PA104137 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

I retired to bed after waiting in vain at the waterhole.


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:20 pm 
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11th October- a Special day in Kruger

The vervet monkeys started tap-dancing on my roof before dawn so I was up early again. I spent the first part of the morning trying to photograph some of the birds around the lodge. This stunning black-headed oriole showed well, but I wasn't successful in finding the babblers, who I could hear cackling away just out of sight..

Image
PA114144 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

A beautiful Scarlet-chested Sunbird perched in a palm tree.

Image
PA114183 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:56 am 
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We had some new guests arrive the night before so the vehicle was a bit busier for our trip into Kruger. Meneth was our guide. We entered Kruger through the Orpen gate arriving around 9.30. Which although probably a longer way round is a much more productive route, compared to entering at Phalaborwa. Stopping at the gate office, we saw some blue waxbills and hornbills. Then a couple of giraffe were sighted browsing on acacia.

Image
PA114214 Giraffe by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

We took the s106 towards Satara, and spotted some elephants sleeping under the trees.

Image
PA114234 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A leopard tortoise ambled along but I couldn't get a decent angle on it for a photograph.

Further on some browsing giraffes had attracted quite the entourage of red-billed oxpeckers. Image
PA114240 Giraffe with oxpeckers by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


But they looked somewhat more out of place on the more diminutive impala. This one looks like the oxpecker is weighing heavily on her head:

Image
PA114256 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114263 Impala getting it's ear's cleaned by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PA114264 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114267 Impala by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

A party of dwarf mongoose entertained us by scampering around in the brush by the side of the road. A pair of green wood hoopoes were clambering around in a large tree, but were to far away to get a decent picture.

Image
PA114289 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2011 5:57 pm 
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We drove on to the waterhole where we found a large group of elephants who were busy having a mud bath.

Image
PA114318 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114336 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Even the tiny baby elephants were enjoying the cooling mud pudding. A few hippos were also making their way out of the water in preparation for a siesta.

Image
PA114345 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

The elephants started to move off, so Meneth drove us to the other side of the waterhole, expecting them to emerge at any moment. First this adult crossed in front of us:

Image
PA114350 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr
She led the way and soon the younger members of the herd were trotting across the road.
Image
PA114356 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

In the same area we saw an African harrier hawk (gymnogene) soaring above us.
Image
PA114367 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Then we came across some frisky zebra. These two were having a bit of a disagreement:
Image
PA114387 adj Frollicking Zebras by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114391 Zebras chasing by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114395 Zebras chasing by kittykat23uk, on Flickr
A mare with foal looked on disapprovingly at the antics of the others:
Image
PA114404 Zebra and foal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2011 6:00 pm 
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Having seen all there was to see on the s12/s40 loop, we returned to the H7 towards Satara and came across a large herd of cape buffalo. Accompanied as always by red-billed oxpeckers.
Image
PA114412 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PA114418 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114423 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114435 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114440 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2011 9:00 pm 
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Hi Wendy! Glad you are enjoying my TR!

Afterwards, it was time for lunch at the restaurant at Satara rest camp.

While having lunch at Satara, there was a troupe of vervet monkeys with some very playful youngsters. It was great fun watching their play fighting.

Image
PA114450 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114452 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PA114487 adj Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114492 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114495 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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 Post subject: Re: Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks- Balule, Kruger and Tofo (Moz)
Unread postPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2011 9:10 pm 
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We headed out on the H1-4 then onto the s90 to the North-east of Satara. Here the park seemed even drier than elsewhere (which was also dry) and I first spotted a kori bustard.

Image
PA114499 adj Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114514 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Then a trio of ostriches crossed the road up ahead of us. I managed to capture a photograph of two of them:

Image
PA114520 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


As we headed back down on the S41 there is a river that runs parallel to the road, some distance away. We spotted a pride of four lionesses who were making their way along the bank, but they disappeared into some reeds. There were a couple of distant fish eagles too. A small party of baboons were foraging along the side of the road.

Image
PA114531 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114534 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Image
PA114535 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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