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 Post subject: Wild about cats' Exploring Letaba: .... Jan. '14.
Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 10:36 pm 
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Virtual Ranger
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Hello everyone :)

I was very blessed to be able to spend two full weeks at Letaba, which gave me adequate opportunity to explore and fully discover as many of it's glorious secrets as I could. From talking to rangers to exploring the Elephant Hall and the roads less corregated, I had what is undeniably one of the best Kruger holidays I have ever had. I would love to share it, once I face the 1400 photos waiting for me...

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 7:44 am 
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Thanks for the replies everyone :)

@MM - always a pleasure to see you :yaya:

Day One - 27 December, Part one

It all started on a chilly morning in JHB at around 4am, where my mother and sister and I rose from our excited half-sleep to leave for a two week stay at Letaba. My family packs so much junk. They assigned me as ‘packing supervisor’ and somehow I managed to fit it all into our little car. We had our morning beverages, packed our last goodies and hit the road. Because it is summer, it wasn’t long before it began to get light. Due to complications with my mother’s licence, I had to drive the whole way (woohoo!). Somehow, the glare didn’t tire me out all at once. 8)

On the way there my mind wandered onto subjects of birding (which I have not done for a year, simply unacceptable) to whether or not I would get bored with staying at a single camp for two whole weeks when I am used to camp hopping every few days. I was trying to formulate a plan, maybe to visit another camp for a night… alas, nothing came to me.

We stopped at Milly’s to fill our bellies and then somehow didn’t stop again until we bought some mangoes in Hazyview and then Phalaborwa Gate was in front of us. For those who don’t travel that way often, beware the R530, the potholes are a menace. Due to this problem, the trucks shamelessly drive in the opposite lane over a solid line, apparently unconcerned about the threat of oncoming traffic. I was on the edge of my seat.
And Bushbuck Ridge is a nightmare at this time of the year, with all the cows and children and taxis, oh my goodness the taxis!! :evil: :cry:
It rained along some of the journey and was cloudy for the rest, so naturally the gate was all wet and chilly. As my mother dealt with the check in, I began to bird.

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The birdies were not out and about just yet (bad weather) but I found some Blue Waxbills and a Southern Masked-Weaver so long. I was determined to fire it up with the birds on the first day, and I must admit that the H9 was excellent for birding, despite the weather. We saw many eagles that we couldn’t ID due to the bad lighting or distance, but we did positively ID a Black-Chested Snake-Eagle and White-Headed Vulture with an immature.

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Our first animals upon our entrance were, as usual, impala. It was so lovely to see the babies out and about in full force, curiously but timidly watching is with those huge ears listening.

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Saw a big ol’ ellie too, which of course is a pleasure when going up to this area - it just wouldn’t be complete without them.

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:39 pm 
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Virtual Ranger
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Glad to have you on board SurfCindy :)

Day One continued

Also found a tortoise, zebra, hippo and waterbuck near the river, buffalo, resident bushbuck in the camp, and of course, charming squirrels scurrying around everywhere you looked.

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Buffie with a branded bottom

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The river seemed rather low, which is never a wonderful thing to see, but my dear sister informed me that the weather predicted some rain, so we hoped the river would bulk out a little bit.

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This place has started to feel a little bit like a second home.

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I walked around camp a little to try and bring my birding count for the day up. I hate looking over my trip and seeing the diminished first day sightings. So I found the ever-present Red-winged Starlings, Green Pigeons, Cape Turtle Doves, Egyptian Geese, Pied Kingfisher etc. etc. By the fence I was lucky to catch a bird I don’t see too often, the White-Browed Robin-Chat, which I have only ever seen at Biyamiti before. Got my count up to a 28 for the day. Also saw a Great Egret in breeding Plumes.

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In our luggage, we had frozen goods like meat. So we decided to try something very new – taking ice cream. We bought ourselves a block of dry ice to transport all of these frozen goodies. When we arrived we were pleased to find the meat was frozen solid, but a couple of ice creams had succumbed to the form-changing of melting. Oh well!!

No braai tonight, just a simply cooked dinner of noodles and such to get an early night from our day of travelling. While at the kitchen, we heard the familiar to Letaba shrieks of the waking bushbabies, and managed to find one right outside our communal kitchen. No picture due to the low light, but it was so lovely too see them jumping from branch to branch, as if it were last year where I had my first long Letaba visit…

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:03 pm 
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Thanks for your comments err'body :)

Day Two - 28 December

The first full day in Kruger, so let the exploring begin! :dance:

We had set our alarms for 4am to try to be around the gate at 4:30. I was up at 3:55.

We decided to drive along the river this morning, heading up on the H1-6 towards Mopani.

I have always hated Mopani. Why? Because there is Mopani everwhere, and should you go to Mopani, in my past experience, that is about all that you see other than birds. But I remember from last year that this road showed some promise. I had no choice but to go this way, the river called.

Just after the third small loop on the main road is a pond-like water mass to the left. I took a (bad) pic of a juv. Green-backed Heron, which later turns out to be interesting....

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We did the 4km river loop and had such awesome sightings. I was crawling at 10km/h at some parts. We stopped to look over the river; and following a call, found the Burchell's Coucal right next to out car, hidden in the thick umbrella thorn tree. There we stopped. We heard a Spookvoel getting closer, and he did us the pleasure of landing on a barren tree close to us; he jumped around and called right in front of us for a while, and then flew off on his daily business.

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Couldn't ID this flycatcher - such bad lighting!

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It rained for a while on the drive, so the weather was not improving, AND this made for terrible photos! :doh:

The drive was short but lovely. Back at camp we relaxed, still tired from the journey of the day before. Then we had a swim - the pool was lovely as always but a little chilly after the rain.

A juv. Spectacled Weaver seen by the fence

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Then, uncharacteristic of us Kruger folk, we went on a drive at 14h30 as the sun came out.

Found a special bird!!

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And a stunning Ruff

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The heat was ludacris. A few km's down the S96 we were forced to turn back due to the sheer burning heat of the sun. We longed to get into that pool but instead found comfort under the air-conditioner! :tongue:

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 13, 2014 9:36 am 
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Virtual Ranger
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MM and Trrp-trrrrrrrr, nice to see you guys around :) Those hot days are part of what we really love though, aren't they? :lol:

Day Two - continued

After a short while, I became bored of the air-con and wanted to drive. This desire was not shared by my family so I went out alone.

Nothing quite soothes me like an 'alone' game drive. I can stop for as many birds as I like without annoying the non-birders of the family. I can watch baboons to my heart's desire. And above all, I can always hear those elusive calls of nature.

I disappeared down the H1-6 river loops and crawled along, birding with vigour.

I found some egrets and a Green-winged Pytilla, which I have only ever seen once near Orpen.

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And I was entertained by some baboons

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The Laughing Doves were everywhere, crooning and singing their way through my entire two weeks. They were a constant, and it was quite comforting to know they were around. I really do love that patch under their chins, so beautiful.

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At the same pool along the road as earlier where I found the Green-backed Heron, I found something quite interesting. Two immature Green-backed Herons were mulling around, playing with each other, and chasing the Water Thicknees away and otherwise amusing me. It was strange that there were two immatures but no adults around anywhere.

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With a mere 15 minutes left, I decided to drive down the drive-able portion of the S46. It was awful - what felt like hundreds of speeding cars came racing from the other direction, glaring at me as if they were warning me to get back to the gate, simultaneously chasing all my bird sightings away. I caught a glimpse of a Banded Mongoose clan, who bobbed their heads at me threateningly, and were then chased away by another car before I could capture their antics. So with a sigh, I turned around. Just before the last bend, I saw an old friend, the only one I would see on this whole holiday.

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I tried something new on the braai tonight - baby butternuts, seeds hollowed out and the cavity filled with cheese. Turned out to be so lovely and smoky from the fire.

The camp was bustling with the holiday oncomers, nevertheless, the shrieks of the bushbabies and bats calmed us until everyone had left to their own huts. The river shimmered in the evening and night glory as the fireflies lit up occasionally near the pitch dark mass that we knew was the river. All was well.

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:01 pm 
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Day 3

I was up at 3:55 again. :lol:

We headed straight for the H1-6 again. As soon as the bush opens up, I slow down... especially when it's dim, as we didn't have space to pack our spotlight :doh: This morning, a HUGE hyena burst from the bush in front of my car and made off without so much as a good photo opportunity. A hare also scampered along the road, zig-zagging off into the bush before I could whip my camera out.

We headed onto the Letaba River Road. After the Mopani thins out, there is a dip in the road, and on the other side is that beautiful riverine and open woodland that I adore. The birds were everywhere. In the dip, my sister spotted a Kingfisher, which turned out to be a GREY HOODED KINGFISHER, the first I have ever seen!! I have now ticked off every Kingfisher except the Mangrove Kingfisher, and this one is the most beautiful I have ever seen. The rich chestnut won my heart. And the mean little thing would barely pose for me.

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Some lovely little critters...

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At Mingerhout is where we turn around and drive the stretch again. We have always found that after Mingerhout, the game diminishes and the road becomes unbearably corregated.

We stopped the car under a tree and sat looking at the river. Then something awesome happened.

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The bush suddenly hushed and cooled and darkened, the sky became a deep grey and the chilly wind whispered and groaned through the Mopani trees until it was no longer chilly, it was cold. Within minutes, the heavens broke forth.

Within just a another few minutes, the road was slippery and muddy, and I did my best to get off it without causing damage to the road or without slipping right off it into the bush. I was slipping around at 20kph after 10 minutes of rain.

Twenty minutes later, not even, we were on the main road, and there was water everywhere.

It was a downpour.

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Remember the log from a few days ago where I saw this Heron?

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Well.....

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An impala ram disgusted by the mud, lifted his hind leg :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:52 pm 
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Back at camp we were beginning to realise the full impact of the rain by the growing volume of the river. Looming thoughts about the floods over the last two years began to swim to the surface of my mind. Standing near the restaurant, soaked by venture through the pouring rain, I spotted a little friend of mine nearby.

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We heard that roads were being closed all over the place; a lot of small creeks were in spate. The bush’s thirst for rain had well been satisfied.

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Upon hearing about all the closures we decided to go and see the impact for ourselves (once the rain had calmed, of course). Everywhere we went we saw ponds and heard the long-lost calling of frogs and toads. Alas we could never find the little critters!

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It was true that a lot of roads were closed. Most of them actually. As we left we immediately saw that the S46 was closed. We tried the smaller river loop but had to turn around half-way because the road had flooded (right before my favourite part too!). The main river loop was closed off.

(Small River Loop)

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Along the H1-6, earlier in the holiday I had seen a strange looking piece of debris on the dry river sand.

This turned out to be an old elephant carcass. :redface: :redface: :redface:

We got to watch some crocs guarding it now that the river gave them easy access to the remainders. (Anybody know anything about this carcass? Must have been about 4kms out of camp).

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I found another Painted-Snipe, but it was too far for pictures (still an awesome sighting!).

Then I came across my favourite pool alongside the road, where earlier I saw the Green-backed Heron and found it in spate.

The log:

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(yes it's gone now :shock: )

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:59 pm 
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Waterbuck, impala and their babies:

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We found terrapins all over the roads for the next few days:

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We ventured on tar, and for the first time in this trip I noticed something strange… birds seemed to flee from the car. I mean really. As I slowed down they took off, or reversing they took off, even upon approach! I don’t remember them being so shy.

The full river at the high-water bridge:

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A wet unfriendly ellie:

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My first Wood Sandpiper:

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Another rude ellie who walked us down the road (making us nervous about the gate closing)

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Fresh young impala

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At 17h00 we spotted a hare next to the road. Maybe the poor thing had been flushed from it’s burrow. Have never seen one out so very early.

Then something awesome happened. I followed the characteristic cuckoo-shape of a flying bird. Found it in an umbrella thorn. I was convinced it was another Jacobin’s but upon further inspection I noticed some strange dots. Now it this overcast lighting sometimes one may become confused and see things that may not exist. But those calls and movements and the shape… I realised what I was looking at just as the bird took off.. A GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO a truly marvellous and majestically handsome bird.

I also found a baboon with a young baby that still had umbilical cord attached to it. I could not get a shot of it though, and it was darkening fast.

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So I grumpily took shots of another baby:

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Cuddle Buddies!!!

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Other than that today I saw a slender mongoose scurry over the road, zebra, hippo and just so many squirrels.

As the hippos went in search of food, I realised that maybe we should do the same!

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 12:27 pm 
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Day 4

This morning I decided that I had had enough of nearly making it to the gate in time. So my sister and I packed everything the night before and rushed to make it to the gate before it opened, and we made it! There was one car ahead of us, but that was not of concern for us.

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Our planned route was our favourite H1-6, but we noticed cars racing onto the H9, and thought there must be a sighting, so we decided to go along this road for ten minutes and turn back after that.

Good thing we did.

We have never had much faith in this road because last year we mostly saw buff and ellie but not much else.

Along with an assortment of different antelope species like zebra, impala, wildebeest etc. we saw a hyena with a fresh kill just inside the bush!! We soon realised that there was a clan here – maybe 3km from the intersection. This huge male had caught what looked like a small impala baby and was munching away. The car with the spotlight drove off unfortunately.

As we turned onto the H1-6 we saw another hyena, who also ran off.

The elephant carcass is now bone! We did see croc doing that turning thing – I don’t remember what it’s called but I have only ever seen it on documentaries so it was awesome to see it myself!

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A lovely birdie to see

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Turned onto the H15 towards the border post and towards Makhadzi picnic site. This road had usually given us sightings of tsessebe, but not today. The waterhole, for once, was quiet but for the buffalo-weavers building a nest.

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Further along…

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Dams filled with the rain

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And I got a photo opportunity for the Great Spotted Cuckoo I saw the other day!!!

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On the way back we found some White Storks at the waterhole

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 18, 2014 9:04 am 
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WFG, cheetah hilda, Kaapsedraai, BB, spargish: thank you for all of your comments; it's lovely to have you guys around :)

...

That afternoon I decided to go on an alone drive looking for birds.

First I drove those first few amazing km’s down the S46.

A hooded vulture scouring the area

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I stopped to watch a fork-tailed Drongo feeding a chick, when a lovely little sandgrouse snuck out from her hiding place. Could barely get a picture before cars scared her off again.

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Red –billed Hornbill foraging

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Soon joined by some cousins

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My first Green-backed Cameroptera. Sorry about awful pic, it’s all I could get with the light and distance not in my favour…

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Back on the H1-6 I saw the pile of bones that used to be an ellie

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And a MONSTER croc

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 18, 2014 9:05 am 
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Then I found a scarce giraffe!!!

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And the ever-present squirrel

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My sister and mother joined me on the drive and it began to pour again, so the animals and birds hid away….

After all the downpouring…

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Another impala repulsed by mud

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And a visitor just outside of camp

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Luckily the rain stopped for long enough for us to have a braai!!!

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:02 am 
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Kaapsedraai, hilda, SurfCindy, Pumbaa and cheetah, thank you for your comments :)

Day 5

Today I was inexplicably awake at 3:30 again. From the window beside me, I heard a soft rain. Waking again at 4:00 to the alarm, the soft rain was now a beating rain relentlessly against the palms outside. So I fell asleep again. 5:00 still produced rain.

I find that there is no similarly comforting feeling than lying in your Kruger bed, hearing soft rain outside. It’s profoundly peaceful. Everything is still but for a few birds announcing themselves. Other than that, everybody stops and quiets in the drizzle. This morning was one of the best of the holiday because I felt so absolutely peaceful.

By 6:00 the dawn light had graced the sky and the rain had finally retreated. The birds were singing and we could hear people and animals mulling about.

On my walk back from the bathrooms, the river front was empty, so I looked out over the full river in solitude for a change. Another reason why I love the rain.

We decided to go to Olifants for a change. So we hit the H1-5.

Found a rude someone who wouldn’t show their face…

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And then another hyena den.

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The baby insisted on a feeding

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Someone wet from the rain?

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A Sabota Lark on the road

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Then we found something very interesting… This impala carcass had been eaten on the rump, just a little. So we guessed cheetah. The proximity of this kill from the road meant maybe the predator was scared off.

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Then we helped a chameleon off the road

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As we found the river, the sun began to show itself, so we promptly changed into short-sleeves. It got hot – QUICKLY.

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Then we arrived at Olifants. 

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2014 12:07 pm 
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I'm glad to know I have caught everyone's attention with this mystery kill :twisted: To those who mentioned, I want to clarify that we sat by the kill for a while and scanned the bush to no avail. We had to move on to Olifants as we had a schedule to keep to, but there was activity when we got back..... :whistle:

Anyway I wanted to post a message to let everyone know that I'm going on the birding weekend to help the HR's out. So I need to fast forward this report so I can finish it before I go off to paradise again :dance: So this report is going to be going a little faster now, hope to keep most of you around :) :)

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2014 6:06 pm 
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So over at Olifants I found this fella

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Then we headed back towards Letaba. We were running short of time, so I couldn’t dally with birding or any such things.

I kept my eyes peeled for the kill though.

I found it! Now this was the current situation – the kill had been dominated by vultures. They had cleaned it off within the two hours it had taken us to get back (even less I think); there was just dirty bone, skin and some flesh left from the neck up. For those who haven’t seen these birds eating in close proximity: it is awesome as it is gory.

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(look at those talons!!)

The kill was dominated by two Lappet Faced vultures. They are huuuuuuuge. I was astounded by their size! Especially in comparison with the others….

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They wouldn’t let any of the other birds have a bite, none at all. The Cape Vultures neared ever closer, but as they got too close, the Lappet would turn around in sheer powerful anger and scare everyone watching, not just the cheeky Cape’s. Sometimes they would lash out and grab a wing in their enormous talons, allowing the victim to scream and plead mercy until he was satisfied. It was awesome and humbling.

On the way back we found some kudu too

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I had wanted to hunt for Pels today but decided I would visit Olifants another day for this.

At camp we had a quick dip in the pool and then hit the road again. We went up the H1-6 and headed onto the river loop to try our luck. The condition of the small loop after all the rain…

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Through the thick Mopani charged two freaked out impala rams, one even tripped on the road before composing himself and running off again. We searched but the bush was so think we couldn’t see a thing. Nothing else showed itself, except..

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Then just before my favourite part of the loop, we found this.

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Sigh.

I just love the bush when it’s so green!

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4-5kms back we found ellie! They must have been hidden by the thick bush!

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I love how the bush doesn’t stay static, things are always changing.

We looked for a squirrel we often find on the smaller loop, screaming at passing cars (we called him p***ed off squirrel) but he was off shouting at someone else.

Saw some nervous waterbuck on the loop and sat with them for a while but the time forced us to get back to the gate before we got into trouble.

It was New Year’s Eve, so we conjured up an enormous braai and cooked ourselves a feast. The bush was so alive after all the rain (unfortunately insects were included in that excitement) and the crickets and cicadas were singing to their heart’s content, fireflies were cruising over the river and everything was alive but peaceful (mostly after the raucous from the restaurant died down). There, alongside the river in the wilderness, we spent the first hours of the New Year surrounded by life.

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Next SANPark: Mapungubwe 2014

Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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 Post subject: Re: Exploring Letaba: Disproving All Expectations
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 22, 2014 8:38 am 
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New Year’s Day

Woke up at 4h30, tired from the night before. Hit the road, planning to go all the way to Mopani today.

Good morning Letaba

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Someone was singing to me…

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Then we found the plains of the H1-6 where animals roamed more freely seen by cars.

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A lot of roads are still closed from the rain

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Some coursers along the road

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Still finding venturing terrapins

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Then we came across our third hyena den. As we arrived, the adults left on a hunt.

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This youngster got very nervous when he was left alone, and scurried into the den.

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Birding Weekend 2014 - Satara 3

Exploring Letaba - '13-'14


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Addo Nossob Orpen Satara
Addo Nossob Orpen Satara
Submitted by Delene D at 21:45:54 Submitted by kcilliers at 05:34:24 Submitted by BevAnn at 14:56:01 Submitted by Philwarpy at 04:31:15