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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:35 pm 
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We arrive at Aafsal at the end of the morning, at January 4th. Really hungry after the travel down Voortrekker Road. Afsaal was a camp site for 19th century transport riders. As a reminder of that epoch, an old wagon is exhibited in the camp.

The camp was well-organized and had birds that were around trying to eat something the visitors dropped, or even that they left unattended. In the case of birds, it is really hard to avoid that they eat food destined to humans, given their expedience and easy movement.

We were amused by two birds in particular, a Burchell's Starling (Lamprotornis australis), with its beautiful shades of iridescent blue, green and black, and an African Grey Hornbill (Tockus nasutus), one of the smallest hornbills, with average 45 cm in length, and a remarkable beak, as in all hornbills, especially for the characteristic serrated pattern at the inferior part. The red eyes are another beautiful trait of this bird.

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We have read that it was not worthy going after animals in the hottest hours of the day, between 11AM and 3PM. Our anxiety to see more animals was such, however, that we decided to try. And it was rewarding! So much that, in all the following days, we stopped just for a while to rest after lunch and then went after animals again.

As our intention was to use gravel roads as much as we could, we went down Malelane Road (H3) just what was needed to reach Mlambane Road (S118). This would give us, however, one more great event in this first full day in the Kruger: a meeting with the first mixed herd of grazers, something so typical of the African savannah. Among them: 4 Burchell's Zebras (Equus quagga), including a cub; 11 Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), with 3 cubs; many Impalas and a Wattled Starling (Creatophora cinerea). The herbivores were benefiting from the mixture of different animals and the large numbers, as a way of decreasing the likelihood of predation.

Here are pictures of Zebras with a cub.

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We enjoyed very much the landscape around Malelane Road. Here are one highlight, a dry river bed. Good place to find animals and their tracks. But in this case we didn't find any.

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Our plan was to visit Gardenia hide, in James Road (S119). So, we went down Mlambane Road (S118), which was an attraction in itself, despite being a short road. In this road, we saw and photographed: 1 very large group of Impalas, 1 Red-Billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus), 1 Lilac-Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus), + 3 groups of Impalas, 7 male Kudus, 2 Red-Billed Oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus), 1 Cape Turtle-Dove, 1 Giant Plated Lizard (Gerrhosaurus Validus), + 6 male Kudus.

The Red-Billed Hornbill was found eating beetles in an immense pile of elephant dung. We noticed that there is a whole trophic chain in the Kruger roads, what helps in seeing animals in them. As the animals often use the roads to move, there is a lot of dung in them, which, in turn, shows a wealthy of insects. Insectivore birds, such as this Hornbill, eat insects in the road and this attracts, then, other carnivores such as eagles, for instance.

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Among the best pictures we took in the whole trip are the ones of a Lilac-Breasted Roller in Mlambane Road! This bird combines an impressive palette of colours, don't you think? It is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. The reason why it perches so conspicuously at the branch lie in the fact that from these points it can spot their food, insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents.

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We saw two groups of male Kudus, and also saw a fight between two males, one of the most impressive events of the whole trip. And it was only the second day in Kruger! We followed the whole fight until one of the males acknowledged the defeat and gave up. Sometimes, when they fight, Kudus end up hooked up by their spiral horns, which causes the animals' death. Luckily, this did not happen in this case.

Kudus are distributed through eastern and southern Africa, but currently in small populations in most areas, due to habitat loss and hunting. In the Kruger, there are currently 11,000 Kudus. Females live in herds of six to twenty individuals, alongside with the calves. Each female generally has one calf only, sometimes two. Males tend to be solitary. But, sometimes they form herds of bachelors, with 4 to 8 young males and, sometimes, also an older bull. Therefore, we saw in Mlambane Road two herds of bachelors.

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In Mlambane Road, we found these cute Impala cubs, some of them looking attentive at this big animal approaching (our car), over a big pile of dung.

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Below, two pictures of a Giant Plated Lizard we saw crossing the Mlambane Road. It was the only time we saw this beautiful lizard in 14 days in the park.

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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:49 pm 
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What a nicely written report Charbel with such a lot of interesting information! :clap:
Beautiful pics as well.

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Kruger - May 24th - June 6th 2014.


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:26 pm 
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charbel :D

Never read a more comprehensive TR than this one - I can see you really enjoyed Kruger and everything on your way - small and big. I enjoy seeing Kruger from your point of view. The photos are beautiful.

Can't wait to see and read more :popcorn:

You are going to enjoy Kgalagadi - I am sure about that :thumbs_up: .

Leana
KTP: Dec/Jan
Kruger: May 2013


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:47 pm 
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Enjoyable and detailed Travel Report and great picture- Thanks

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02 Sept 2012 Skukuza
03 Sept 2012 Orpen
04 Sept 2012 Letaba
05-08 Sept Lonely Bull Trail


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:55 pm 
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Lovely report :clap: :clap: :thumbs_up:

Ready for more :popcorn: :popcorn:

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Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:18 pm 
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Dear Elsa, Leana, Desert Dassie and Billy

Thanks! It is very fun to read and a way of reviving in memory those fantastic days in Kruger. I think I was expecting for a true promise of getting back to get the TR going. Now that I am booked to KTP the enthusiasm to write about the days in Kruger came back.

The good thing is that, just as in 2013, in 2014 I will have a week appointment of work in Durban, and thus it is already planned: Kruger again in 2014, now with the whole family, my wife and daughter, who will not go to Kalahari with me.

I'll get back to the TR soon.

Elsa, I'll take a look at your TR.

Cheers
Charbel


1 June 2013 - Twee Rivieren
2 June 2013 - Kieliekrankie
3-4 June 2013 - Kalahari Tented Camp
5 June 2013 - Twee Rivieren
6-8 June 2013 - Nossob
9 June 2013 - Gharagab
10 June 2013 - Grootkolk
11 June 2013 - Nossb
12 June 2013 - Twee Rivieren


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 2:54 am 
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Going on with the TR.

To reach Gardenia Hide, we followed James Road (S119), a short gravel road which, as Mlambane Road, runs along Mlambane River. The anxiety to arrive at the first hide we would visit in Kruger was tangible, but the road itself reserved to us good sightings of animals. In it we saw and photographed the following birds, not only beautiful, but also behaviorally and morphologically interesting:

1 Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus).
1 Crested Francolin (Peliperdix sephaena)
1 Long-tailed (Eastern) Paradise-wydah (Vidua paradisaea)
1 Red-Billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus)
1 Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator)

It was the only time we saw a Bateleur landed in 14 days in the Kruger, even though we saw at other occasions organisms of this species flying. As the pictures below show, the eagle was showing a great interest in something in the ground, maybe a prey. But we didn’t see it hunting. The afternoon was growing old and we still needed to reach Gardenia Hide and come back to Pretoriuskop until 6:30PM. It was a relatively long journey to be done, so that we couldn’t wait for the culmination of this event with the eagle.

A very interesting characteristic is that the facial and feet color of this eagle can vary from a pale color to bright red, depending on the mood of the bird. The individual we saw in James Road had a bright red color in the face, as one can see in the photos.

The global population is estimated in 10,000 to 100,000 individuals. In 2009, the species was placed in the near-threatened category in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, due to habitat loss, capture for illegal wildlife trade, nest disturbance, and pesticide contamination. In Southern Africa, the species is actually limited to protection areas, such as Kruger.

The name “Bateleur” derives from the French word for tight-rope walker. It describes the male behavioral displays during courtship. The male eagle performs acrobatic flights in which it repeatedly dives at and chases the female, which, in turn, often rolls in the air to present her talons. In these flights, the eagles tip the end of their wings in a characteristic manner, as if they were catching their balance. Thus, Bateleur.

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We managed to take a single picture – and, moreover, of low quality – of this Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (also known as Eastern Paradise Whydah). However, since it was the only time we saw such a beautiful bird in Kruger, I needed to put this picture here.

What we see in this picture is the male of this species with the characteristic breeding plumage. That is, we can only see this species in such a characteristic and beautiful plumage when we visit the Kruger in the summer. Notice also the black long feathers (they can reach up to 36 cm) exhibited by the male. Outside the breeding season, males and females of this species are similar, small brown sparrow-like birds. This plumage plays an important role in the male behavioral displays during courtship. It would have been wonderful to observe the courtship of these birds, but we were not so lucky.

Another interesting behavioral feature of this bird is that it parasites the nests of another bird, Green-winged Pytilia (Pytilia melba).

The Long-tailed Paradise Whydah is classified as Least Concern (regarding its extinction) in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, as a consequence of its large distribution and the belief that its population sizes, despite not being really quantified, do not approach the vulnerability thresholds.

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James Road was really very generous regarding the animals we found there. In this road, we saw three species that we did not encounter for the remainder of the travel, Bateleur, Long-tailed (Eastern) Paradise-wydah and this Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator), perched over an acacia. This individual we saw was probably a male. It is a gregarious bird, usually living in small social groups containing from 2 to 5 individuals, sometimes reaching even 50. Before they sleep at night, they often chase one another, in a social interaction activity. Nevertheless, the animal we saw was alone.

Due to its large distribution, the Trumpeter Hornbill is not at risk of extinction, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List. There is no evidence of population decline or substantial threats. Their population sizes seem stable, even though they have not been really quantified. Anyway, as in the case of all animal life, their conservation depends on human decisions related to the use of land and, in particular, forest exploitation, due to the risks brought about by habitat loss.

Image


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 6:43 am 
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Charbel :D

:clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

:popcorn:

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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 10:04 am 
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Enjoy reading this - thanks Charbel :gflower:

:popcorn: :popcorn: Leana


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:53 am 
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Hi Charbel,

Thank you for a most enjoyable trip report with lots of beautiful sightings :clap: :clap: . Thanks for sharing your encounters with KNP :thumbs_up: .

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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 7:18 pm 
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Thanks for that intersting info on the Bateleur!!!.......... :clap: :clap: :clap:

Love your trip report full of interesting facts!!!

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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2012 10:25 pm 
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Thanks for the comments, friends.

Ready to move on....

Gardenia bird hide, in James Road (S119), was a nice stop to rest and look for sigthings at the waterhole.

It is exciting to leave the car in the middle of the African savannah, even if only to cross the short way up to the entrance of the hide. In the first picture, we see Carol (my wife) and Pedro (my dear friend who wll go to KTP with me) walking along the palisade in order to enter the hide. The second picture shows myself taking photographs within the hide.

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We spent around 25 minutes in the hide, observing and photographing the following animals:
Impalas, 1 Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca), 2 Blacksmith Lapwings (Plovers) (Vanellus armatus), 1 Crested Francolin (Peliperdix sephaena), 3 Marsh or Helmeted Terrapins (Pelomedusa subrufa), 2 Water Thick-Knees (Dikkops) (Burhinus vermiculatus) and 1 Cape Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis)

As we visited the Kruger in the rainy season, the savannah was full of small pools and the animals did not visit the waterholes so often to drink. Thus, we actively moved during the whole day looking for animals, with relatively short stops in hides like this one. We could understand, then, why most of the animals we saw in Gardenia were aquatic birds.

In Gardenia Hide, we saw at a close range the Crested Francolin shown in the pictures above, which was foraging nearby the hide. This species is not, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, in danger of extinction. This classification follows from its large distribution and the inference that its population sizes tend to be stable, although they have not been quantified. This inference is based, in turn, on the observation that the species is common and abundant along the range of its distribution. Moreover, there is no evidence of population decline or substantial threats.

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When we left Gardenia Hide, we went down the small remaining stretch of James Road to find Crocodile River Road (S25), a very scenic gravel road. We went across the final part of this road only, going in the direction of Berg-En-Dal until finding Rhenosterkoppies Road (S114). But it was worthy! Crocodile River Road is known as being fantastic for giraffes and, indeed, we saw giraffes for the first time in the trip soon after entering this road. It was a moment of pure emotion to see these animals in the wild, moving along in their majestic ways, as if they were floating over the world. There, in our second day in Kruger (only! 12 more to go), we were absolutely fascinated, living in a suspended time, while they walked around us.

This was our list of sightings in the small part of the Crocodile River Road we crossed:
5 Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis)
Impalas
2 Red-Billed Oxpeckers
1 Cape Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens)

First, the beautiful landscape as afternoon was closing on us.

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The first time we saw giraffes in the Kruger was indeed a magical moment, it took our breath away. We stayed all three astonished when we saw the five animals together, very close to the road, crossing it, walking nearby the cars, making it very clear what a remarkable, majestic animal a giraffe is. Nonetheless, these are animals that also convey an undeniable atmosphere of serenity. In the first picture below, the proximity between the giraffe crossing the road and the car highlights its great height.

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In the first picture, we also witness the relationship between savannah animals and red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus), which eat ticks in the skin of great mammals, mostly zebras, rhinos, giraffes, antelopes, buffalos. This seems to be, at first, a mutualistic relationship, but there is controversy about it, since the oxpeckes can also collect blood and mucus from the animals, often drinking blood from open wounds. But what does this mean? The relationship can be still mutualistic, to the extent that the area is cleaned and infestation by fly larvae becomes less likely. However, as the wound remains open and show more difficulty to get healed, the situation can be also disadvantageous to the mammals, what would mean that the relationship is parasitic. It is clearly the case that we should not lose from sight that ecological relationships do not necessarily adjust in a fixed manner to our classifications. The relationship between oxpeckers and mammals can have a dynamic nature, being parasitic or mutualistic depending on other intervening factors.

As the tallest of all extant animals living in terrestrial environments, and also the biggest ruminant, it is not difficult to understand why the giraffe look so majestic in the movement, floating over the savannah vegetation. However, the perception that they float in their movement is also related to the fact that, when they walk, they do not move alternating front and hind legs, what leads to the typical swinging of the large terrestrial mammals, but with the two legs at the same side at the same time, what makes them look like sliding. The apparent inflexibility of the legs also contributes to this impression.

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The most likely hypothesis to explain the origins of giraffes' long necks is to combine several factors, considering several advantages conferred by its height, such as protection from predation, increased vigilance, and in males sexual dominance and access to nutrients (Mitchell, G. & Skinner, J. D. 2003. On the origin, evolution and phylogeny of giraffes Giraffa camelopardalis. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 58: 51-73).

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Males use their necks to hit each other during fights, a behavior called necking, which we saw sometimes in our trip through the Kruger. Don't remember now if we photographed it. I filmed it, this I am sure.

Currently nine subspecies of giraffes are recognized, differing in size, color, coat pattern, and range. The subspecies found in South Africa is Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa, exhibiting relatively rounded spots, some with star-like extensions, on a light tan background, running down to the hooves. It is estimated that there are less than 12,000 individuals of this species in wild environments (of which more than 5,000 found in the Kruger!) and about 45 in Zoos (see https://app.isis.org/abstracts/Abs77545.asp).

Each giraffe has a unique coat pattern, as specific as our fingerprints. This is a noticeable characteristic when they are seen in group, as we saw in Crocodile River Road (S25). Looking at each individual, it was possible to differentiate them by examining the coat pattern. The giraffe below, for instance, showed among the five the darker spots, being probably a male, since they are usually darker than the females.

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Adults are almost invulnerable to predation, showing more vulnerability when they are drinking water. Calves are predated by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs. They are protected by their mothers, which kick the predators that get close to them. These powerful kicks are the usual defense of giraffes against predators, being even capable of killing them. Lions are capable of killing adult giraffes if they manage to make them fall over and then bite their throats or noses. In Kruger, giraffes of any age are an important food source for lions. Nile crocodiles also capture giraffes when they bend down to drink.

A quarter to a half of giraffes calves reach adulthood. The maximum lifespan observed in the wild was 25 years and in captivity, 28 years.

In the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, the species is classified in the category Least Concern. It has been eliminated, however, from more than 50% of its original distribution, due to overhunting and habitat loss, combined with periodic outbursts of cattle-borne diseases. This also resulted in the fragmentation of its distribution. Some subspecies are in danger of extinction. Although their numbers are declining, they are still found in many reserves. The giraffe is a protected species in most of its current distribution. Its survival is dependent, thus, on conservation efforts. In southern Africa, for instance, its populations are stable or expanding due to reserves. Generally speaking, however, a remarkable drop has been observed in the total population of giraffes in Africa, from 140,000 in 1999 to less than 80,000 in 2010.

Finally, a detail of giraffes' anatomy.

Image


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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:51 am 
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Thank you for your very informative and interesting descriptions :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

:popcorn: :popcorn:

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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 5:31 am 
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wow Charbel, nice TR, interesting narration and pictures :clap:
and even a Trumpeter Hornbill :mrgreen: never seen :dance:
:popcorn: :popcorn:

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 Post subject: Re: Report of our first trip to Kruger - 3-14 January 2011
Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 5:40 am 
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Thanks, Anne-Marie and Billy. It was great to see the Trumpeter Hornbill. Amazing bird. Unfortunately, we saw it just once in the trip.

Cheers
Charbel


1 June 2013 - Twee Rivieren
2 June 2013 - Kieliekrankie
3-4 June 2013 - Kalahari Tented Camp
5 June 2013 - Twee Rivieren
6-8 June 2013 - Nossob
9 June 2013 - Gharagab
10 June 2013 - Grootkolk
11 June 2013 - Nossb
12 June 2013 - Twee Rivieren


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