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carolv's Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala. December 2015

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carolv
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carolv's Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala. December 2015

Unread post by carolv » Sun Jan 31, 2016 4:18 pm

2015 began with some good news for us with SO’s medical checks being extended from 3 to 6 months. As you will know from our previous TRs we are huge KNP fans but we have long wanted to extend our knowledge of other parks, particularly KTP but its isolation had been a big concern. Buoyed up by this improved prognosis we took the bull by the horns and began a plan for a longer trip to include KTP. With accommodation restricted and the need to book just as soon as our wished-for camps became available we began to organise a trip for the end of the year lasting nearly 2 months. As we slotted the reservations into a spreadsheet, with an occasional hiccup and a few ‘Sorry, we’re full’ e-mails, we finally had our long-awaited holiday arranged. In fact, so far in advance was it booked that I would already be in country twice before this major break began so at least the waiting would not be quite so unbearable. By autumn, SO had received a final all-clear from the medics and any concerns we had harboured were quickly put to rest – roll on December and the delicious thought of another adventure and some African sun to warm our bones.

7th December 2015 – the taxi is booked, a treat for us as we usually drive to the airport and park nearby but I was sure my car would take exception to standing in the cold and wet for such a long time and would fail to spring to life on our return. We have as much luggage as we can possible take but at least we will be much lighter on our return. By the time we have reached London Heathrow, our driver has patiently listened to an in depth discussion of Africa and its many addictive delights. In no time we have dropped off our cases, made our way through customs and find a seat to grab a coffee and sandwich before our gate is announced. A few crosswords solved, a new book started and much people watching done (an activity I love especially at airports) our flight is called and we set off for our departure gate. Boarding is usually quick and simple but not so this evening. We find ourselves being bussed to the aircraft, the journey being so long we feared we had been driven to another airport rather than another terminal. Ah well!! With cabin luggage stowed, comfortably seated and a ‘welcome’ drink in hand, we await take-off. It certainly was a lengthy wait this evening and when the aircraft finally leaves the ground we are more than 2 hours late. The crew do their utmost to get things under way, aperitifs, dinner and nightcaps served, at long last we can settle down for the night. It will be a long day tomorrow and we hope to get as much rest as possible before we land at Jo’burg.

8th December, 2015 – 30 minutes after landing, we have collected all our luggage and been met by a driver from the rental company. I will not bore you with all the complications we encountered when trying to book a suitable vehicle for this trip – we would only need a 4x4 for part of our KTP stay but the costs of collecting from one location and leaving a vehicle at another escalated to the point when it became cheaper to rent a 4x4 for our entire trip – a very wise decision as it turned out though. This rental company does not operate from Tambo airport and our driver, Sense, takes us a 20 minute drive away to their depot. I try not to panic at the thought of finding this place again when we drop off at the end of our trip. I try to remember the signs as we travel along but can only recall the names Kempton Park and Pomona. KP is easy to recall as it is a famous racecourse in the UK but doubt this will make it easier to find in a few weeks time. We are given a very full handover but are overwhelmed by the number of forms we have to complete. Indeed I have dealt with fewer when buying a car – hope they realise we are renting it and not making a purchase!. I glance across at the clock and try not to panic at the passing time. Not only will we have to find our way out and onto the more familiar road towards eMalahleni, but it is a 5 hour drive and we really want to complete the drive in daylight.

Finally, finally, it is already past 1pm, we are on our way. Sense has explained how we make our way back to the N12/N4 and it goes more smoothly than we envisaged. We have a Nissan 4x4 Double cab Bakkie on Namibian plates (more later) who we quickly rename ‘The Tractor’ but hopefully it will be everything we need. We stop for a quick comfort break at Alzu and swap drivers. Just after 6pm we pull into Rissington Inn in Hazyview.”Where were you?” the staff call out “We were getting worried because you are so much later than usual”. Mbuso helps us unload our vehicle and I quickly unpack and repack to suit our future journey. Several bags are for charities and these will be passed on along the way; within an hour I’m as organised as possible at this stage of our trip and we stroll down to the stoep by the bar and order a much needed drink before perusing the menu for dinner. It will be all self-catering for the next 3 weeks so I will enjoy this treat with that in mind. Well fed and watered we sink into bed and sleep well until awakened by the Hadeda Ibis in the morning.

9th December 2015 – Set up by a substantial breakfast and a quick catch-up with the other staff, we head into Hazyview for a mega shop at Checkers and a few bags of ‘goodies’ from the adjacent bottle store. We return to Rissington to load up our vehicle, every inch was full and this ‘tractor’ has plenty of space. With a quick farewell, we’ll be back for New Year’s Eve, we head up to Phabeni Gate. Our forms are already completed and we are waved through the gate in minutes, just pausing to ring Ecojunkie who will meet us at Skukuza and relieve us of one charity bag.

The smiles on our faces stretch wide as we head along the tar. Our bodies relax as we soak up that amazing Kruger atmosphere. This area has been blessed with some rain and the bush is looking a fabulous shade of green. All the aromas we miss when back home waft through the windows. It is so tempting to linger too long at each sighting but we have a fair way to drive and are well loaded with food which will be first to be unloaded when we reach our first camp, Satara. The wildlife is out in force to welcome us back to the Park and we pause to share a moment with creatures great and small. Bateleurs glide overhead, lots of Ellies making their way to and from the river, Zebras and Wildebeest, herds of Impala but no lambs yet, Kudu

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and Giraffes browsing, Warthogs wallowing in a muddy patch and 5 white Rhino watch us drive past. Not to forget the entertaining Dung Beetle making his way across the road.

As we pull into Skukuza car park, Ecojunkie is waiting for us and we catch up on news before unloading a large case of handknits and toys which she will pass on to a charity near Malelane. We will meet up with her again in a few weeks when we are staying in the south – she has forgotten the new mirror socks so we will make do with our old, faded YR. It has served us well for several years but the colour is fading from yellow to a rich cream. No doubt we will still be recognisable though.

Our next decision is which bridge to take and we opt for the low water route where the river is just flowing but Bushbuck are about. The temperature is rising and the wildlife keeping out of the sun. The Vervet monkeys are playing by the roadside and lots of Kudu along the way. We stop at Tshokwane Picnic Site for a comfort break and to pick up something to eat. We can see the primates already causing trouble and decide on a takeaway which we can enjoy by one of the Dams a bit further along the road. As we park alongside Mazithi Dam, we are not surprised to see it is almost a mud patch but a few Hippos remain resident alongside some Hadeda Ibis.

More Kudu look up as we pass by and a Fish Eagle poses beautifully on a dead branch with its wings spread out.

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Zebras, Waterbuck and Giraffe are spotted in the bush with 5 Ground Hornbills seeking sustenance under a tree. As we drive north, the effects of the drought are becoming more obvious and Kumana Dam has been reduced to a large puddle with a couple of sticky looking Hippos,

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Baboons, Ducks and Geese. When we pass the area with a large group of Ilala Palms we know it will not be too long before we reach Satara and spotting the sign for ‘Lion Alley’ our destination is in sight. Check in is quick and easy and we are quickly parking alongside a perimeter rondavel which will be our home for the next five nights.

We unload the car with as much speed as possible and fill up the fridge/freezer to capacity. Once that task is completed we can freshen up and enjoy a cold beer on the stoep. We are back in the Park and all is well.....

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Tue Feb 02, 2016 2:54 pm

10th December 2015

As we drive through the gate, the temperature is already 24 degrees with a light cloud cover in the sky. Which way, which way? Let’s start with Lion Alley then and see who is about. A few Wildebeest look up from their grazing as we turn left and head down the gravel. We soon spot stopped vehicles ahead so something is up and about. Living up to its reputation, our route has found 3 male Lions. We pause awhile with them but they are doing what Lions do best, sleeping, and we drive on.

The larger birds are enjoying the warm rays on their feathers – a few Vultures high in a tree, Saddle-bill Storks down in the river bead and a Brown Snake Eagle on the lookout for breakfast. Waterbuck,

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Kudu and a small herd of Impala with lambs make their way through the bush. A Spotted Hyena makes its way back to the den. One of our favourite spots to stop for an early morning coffee break is Gudzani Dam. Even when it is quiet, we rarely leave before spotting something of interest but we are surprised to find several cars parked around the tree already. One driver kindly points out where they are looking and we find a position where we can also enjoy the sighting. Apart from the shock of looking out over an almost dried out Dam, there, in the distance, are two Cheetahs. We certainly did not expect to see this pair here and we are entertained by their antics for a good hour. We are fairly certain they are a mother and her almost adult cub. The mother is content to stretch out to soak up some sunshine but her offspring is more restless. He shuffles about in the grass, laying down for short periods but eager to do something else. Eventually it becomes clear that the mother wants to cross from one side of the Dam to the other and she makes her way steadily through the mud to reach her goal. Having been keen to move, the cub is anxious to follow her but becomes totally disconcerted as he steps into the mud and sinks down. Ripples of laughter can be heard from all the cars as he makes a cautious crossing to firmer ground.

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One car in particular we had been very pleased to see as it contained some YRs whom we have met before – One with Nature and daughter and Siobhan. When the Cheetah had disappeared into the bush we were able to pull alongside and catch up with news and were pleased that we would be in overlapping camps during our trip.

Moving on again we head north to take the gravel road which eventually forms a circular route to get back to camp. We are shocked by the affects of the drought in this area – it had looked parched when we were here in June but we had not expected to find that still no rainfall had eased the situation by December. We hear Fish Eagles calling and spot a Burchell’s Coucal deep in a bush. I believe they call this the ‘Rain Bird’ but to no avail at present it would seem.

The crib at Gudzani East offers welcome refreshment to all wildlife in the area and they are everywhere today – Zebras (including a lovely foal),

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Giraffe, Kudu, Wildebeest and Baboons.

As we make our way along the track we spot lots of Steenbok, singly and in pairs, they do not seem to be suffering from the current conditions.

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A Black-backed Jackal races along on a mission.

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In April I had seen a young Jackal family in this area and wonder how they have fared. We return to camp for a well-earned brunch and a rest. Coming from a cold, wet UK it takes SO a few days to adjust to the heat and it has already reached the mid 30s today.

Ready to tackle another circle this afternoon, we head out to Nsemani. This has always been one of our favourite spots in the Park and we have seen it in many states over the years but it still shocking to see it so dry. Where did all the Hippo and Crocodiles go? I fear for their survival as we have seen few places for their relocation. The Giraffes are out and about in good numbers,

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also plenty of Ostrich. A couple of Kudu bulls with spectacular horns capture our attention.

Heading back to Satara along the tar road we see a small pond close to the road where a lonely Hippo has settled. Just how long this will remain a viable home we are not sure. A couple of Fish Eagles

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and Saddle-bill Storks are keeping him company.

Striding out through the savannah I spot one of the animals which lifts my spirits – a Secretary Bird. Now I know we always say we do not come with a wish list BUT for a long time I have a very short list of 3 birds and were we to go home without seeing at least one of each, I would be very disappointed. How they came to be called ‘My Triumvirate’ I cannot recall but that it is how they are referred to on our trips and the Secretary Bird is one of those three. I will even admit to driving up and down the Satara roads on a final day just to make that last tick but to find one so early in our trip bodes very well.

All in all an excellent day and we celebrate with a glass of South African red and share sightings with the father and son (Larry and Kevin) who are next door to us.

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Mon Feb 08, 2016 4:34 pm

11th December 2015

Our plan this morning was to take a short drive out along Lion Alley and then get back to camp in the hope of getting a place on the Mananga Trail. Several trips ago, when we had unexpectedly been upgraded to a rental 4x4, we had tried to do this Trail but at that time it was closed for unexplained reasons. The only way to find out if it will be a possibility for us today is to ask at Reception as soon as the office opens at 7am but this left us with a couple of hours to find out who or what were about already.

With a clear sky and a starting temperature of nearly 25 degrees,

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we set out down the gravel. Sightings were few and far between but, as always, it is a lovely time just to be out in the bush. By the time we had returned to Satara, we had found a Crested Francolin with her chicks, Hadeda Ibis, Giraffe, Grey Heron, Baboons, a Python stretched out in the grass, Waterbuck and a Steenbok.

We are in luck, we pay up and have a place on the Mananga Trail but dash back to the rondavel to make up some coffee flasks and food for the day before setting out. As we study the map, we now understand why we have seen several signs for this Trail along different roads. It is not, as we had assumed, one long route but resembles more a central hub with four roads circulating to/from the centre, however, we head north along the tar until the Trail is signposted at a junction on the right hand side. Another vehicle is just ahead of us and we stop for a while to let them get ahead.

Although this is a 4x4 track, it is not so difficult that the driver has to concentrate on each and every obstacle along the way – much later on this trip we would recall just what an ‘easy’ drive this had been!

As we crept along the track we were spoiled with sightings before we reached the junction with the S100 – herds of Wildebeest, Bushes heavy with Sociable Spider nests, Guinea Fowl,

Francolins, Impala, Warthogs, Red-faced Mousebird, European Bee-Eaters, Violet-backed Starlings, Zebras,

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Waterbuck, Magpie Shrikes, Kudu, Yellow Hornbills, White-backed Vultures, Black-shouldered Kites flying overhead and Impala.

To reach the next part of the Trail, you have to drive to the end of the S100, turn left and then take another entrance just past the turn for Gudzani Dam. Having been so fortunate with the Cheetah sightings at the Dam yesterday, we just had to take a quick look this morning....just in case! The cats were not about but lots more to see here as usual – a couple of Buffalo,

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Saddle-billed Storks, Kites, Impala, Maribou Storks and we could hear (but not see) Fish Eagles.

Back on the Trail the Kudu were browsing in the shade and we found a large herd of Impala with a big nursery of lambs. A Grey Heron was fishing in the river bed alongside two juvenile Yellow-billed Storks. We paused to watch a small Giraffe group and were somewhat surprised to find another vehicle travelling in the opposite direction. Although this Trail does not appear to be rigidly one direction, I am not entirely sure they were actually on the Trail at all and were possibly taking a sneaky drive along this section. Perhaps this has become a ‘chance’ road as seems to happen along the private Biyamiti road. Despite the lack of grazing, we find lots of Zebra along the way. When we reach the central hub again, it is time to park in the shade of a tree for coffee and something to eat. This is a really peaceful place to rest awhile and we are in no hurry to move yet, with birds singing in the trees and Blue Waxbills feeding on the ground.

The last section of the Trail heads north west before joining the S90 and roughly follows the Mavumbye river which is within sight on the right-hand side. There must still be some water there as we see plenty of animals making their way back and forth from the river bed Wildebeest, Zebras and a very large herd of Buffalo, several more Giraffe groups, two more Secretary Birds

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and the second member of my triumvirate, a Kori Bustard.

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Back at camp we reflect on our day – we are glad to have had a chance to do the Mananga Trail and feel it is not so much that you are likely to see something completely different to the bush alongside any public roads but more a case of having an area of bush to view almost by yourself. I forgot to mention that it is a requirement that you report back to reception on your return..just in case something untoward has happened along the way!

Before organising dinner, I take a walk along to the camping area in the hope of finding Heksie, a YR whom many of you will know and who is overlapping with us at Satara. By tomorrow evening, quite a few YRs will be in camp and we plan to have a mini meet and share a braai. It does not take me long to find her and we have a quick chat before agreeing a time for the party tomorrow and organising the food and drink.

Also seen:

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It has been a very interesting day and when our neighbours join us for a drink in the evening they share some amazing photos of their best sighting – a Lioness and her 4 cubs. Let’s see what tomorrow will bring.

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Sat Feb 20, 2016 5:02 pm

12th December 2015

We manage to exit camp not too long after opening and head south down the tar, passing the Orpen road and Lion Alley junctions we pause on the bridge a short distance further ahead but all is quiet this morning. Just a few minutes later we see a couple of vehicles stopped ahead and we approach slowly trying to second guess what they have found. What a glorious start to our day..only metres from the road the Lioness whom our neighbours spotted yesterday has killed a Waterbuck and she is here with her four cubs.

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The antics of the youngsters are a sheer joy to watch and they us and the growing audience entertained for a long while. From their size I would think they have not been feeding from a carcass for long and, as always, there is always one sibling who is braver than the others.

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Their mother has kept a constant watch as they scrambled over and around the carcass, grabbing at pieces of meat along the way.

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Eventually three of the cubs were beginning to tire and the Lioness began pushing them away and off to a safer place to rest. However, one of the cubs was determined to continue his meal and made a dive for the inner sanctum of the stricken antelope in search of munchies. When his hunger and curiosity were satisfied, he hauled himself back out and onto the ground where he suddenly realised he was on his own. His bravery quickly melted away and he began crying loudly for his mother and some company.

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Finally Mum returns and collects her wilful offspring, disappearing from view into the bush. This was one of the most memorable Lion sightings we have ever had and we hope our photos will give you all a idea of the story.

Heading off again but with our heads buzzing we turn left onto the N’wanetsi road. This area had been subject to a controlled burn at the end of last year but the drought has meant that it remains both parched and with little or no re-growth. Despite this, we are constantly delighted by wildlife still in the area, stopping to watch Coucal and Magpie Shrikes, Kudu and Wildebeest, Steenbok, 3 Spotted Hyenas, Giraffes, Black-backed Jackals, Red-crested Korhaan ( the final member of my triumvirate), several Warthog families and a Leopard Tortoise.

We pop into the Picnic Site for our morning coffee and, as we sit overlooking the river below, spot Waterbuck, Dwarf Mongoose and Slender Mongoose.

Back in our tractor, we drive northwards to complete the circular route back to camp passing a troop of Baboons, Jamieson’s Firefinch, Slender Mongoose, Lappet-faced Vultures,

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impressive bull Kudus, 5 Saddle-billed Storks, Steenbok, Hippos, Waterbuck, Warthogs and a group of 3 Giraffe. As we reach the junction with the H1-3, we cannot resist the temptation to see if the Lions have returned to their kill and find that the Lioness has left her cubs in a safe place but returned to guard her kill. Not so far away a male Lion is on the lookout – we wonder if he is the father of the cubs or just hoping to get a free lunch.

We enjoy a well-earned breakfast in camp and take a rest before venturing out in the late afternoon for a short drive. The temperature at 4.30 is still over 42 degrees and we are reduced to driving with the windows up and the air con giving some relief to SO who is finding the weather ‘a bit hot’. We do not plan to drive too far but want to see if our Lions are still around and discover the Lioness still patiently guarding her food cupboard and the male Lion present nearby and ever hopeful.

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Another favourite spot to check out before gate closure is Nsemani Dam although we have found it deeply upsetting to see it so dry and the usual residents gone away. However, it was a drive well worth it today, as we watched Giraffe drinking at Girivana waterhole

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and then, to complete our Big 5 for the first time this trip, a Leopard down on the bank opposite the Dam.

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As you can imagine the road was packed with enthusiastic photographers but there was room for everyone to enjoy this special sighting.

We also saw some Elephants along the way.

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Time is flying by and we need to get back to complete our contribution for the party this evening and what a great time we had – the chatter never stops when a group of YRs meet up and it was a great group this evening. Thank you everyone for your company – Heksie, Wendy A plus friend, Sparrow and his son Ross, ClickClick, Francesca plus two others whose names I am ashamed to say I forgot to write down and now cannot recall.

We had a small visitor in camp that night – an African Wild Cat came and plonked itself down for a rest.

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The perfect end to a perfect day.

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Sat Feb 20, 2016 6:06 pm

13th December 2015

Unsurprisingly we do not manage to get up at the crack of dawn and eventually get out on the road at 6.45. We plan to drive north up the tar today but with heavy hearts as we pass mile after mile of desperately dry savannah. A few animals are about though, Wildebeest, Giraffe with youngsters, Vultures, Cape Buffalo, Tawny Eagle, Warthogs, Martial Eagle,

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Zebras and a group of 12 Ostrich.

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One thing we have noticed this trip is that many species are coming together in larger groups rather than braving it out alone or in pairs. Perhaps this is a useful strategy for dealing with the drought?

We stop at Ngotso Dam for our morning coffee and watch a constant stream of visitors trying to get what refreshment they can from this rapidly drying site – Impala, Zebra, Kudu and Warthogs pass by. Ironically, as we sit scanning the horizon, we feel the first few drops of rain but the shower was tantalisingly short.

Heading north again a Spotted Hyena is on a mission and we find more Giraffe and Zebra. At Ngotso Weir a pod of Hippo make their noisy presence felt but the water looks less than wholesome. I guess, at this time, any water is better than none. Before driving south, we drive up to Balule Causeway;

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it has been closed for so long that we have to check it out today and are rewarded with Waterbuck, Blacksmith Plovers, Lesser-striped Swallows and a Little Bee-eater.

A huge surprise to find as we moved south along the S90 were two herds of Buffalo,

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one of which was 150+. Not huge I know but in view of the lack of grazing in the area, they were a sight we did not expect to see.

The crib at Gudzani East had attracted a small herd of Zebra

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and lots of Vultures seeking refreshment and a wash.

Gudzani Dam was quiet but with Marabou and Woolly-necked Storks in the distance.

Plenty more birds along the S100: Jamiesons Firefinches, Red-breasted Swallows, Tawny Eagle, Blue Waxbills, Wattled Starlings, Woolly-necked and Black Storks, keeping company with Waterbuck, Giraffe, Hippo and a solitary Lioness.

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Not sure from our pictures if this is the mother we had seen yesterday but without her cubs or another cat altogether.

Along the tar we went to check out the kill again but it was abandoned now although a few kilometres down the road we discovered 1 Lion and 2 Lionesses.

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As we sat with these cats we were joined by 2 YRs whose posts we had long noted on the Forum but whom we had yet to meet in person – PetraJ and Scipio. Thank you for the chat and hope we will meet up again in the future. They had only come into the Park that morning but had already seen the BIG 5 twice...WOW!

We had been out for much longer than planned and our stomachs were groaning loudly so it was back to camp to refuel...both ourselves and the vehicle as we would be moving camp tomorrow.

Whilst SO rested I sorted out food for our journey in the morning and re-bagged items ready to load up in the morning. It was just a very quick sunset drive before dinner today with a run up to Nsemani Dam and back but our sightings were a Tortoise,

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some Wildebeest, Oh! and a Leopard in a tree.

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It had been a fantastic 5 days at Satara but time to move on.

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Wed Feb 24, 2016 7:03 pm

14th December 2015

The temperature has plummeted to a cool 18 degrees but it is raining...we hope this will be the start of a good period of rain which is so desperately needed in the area. We load up the car and at 6.30 are back on the road heading north for tonight we will be back in my favourite main camp, Shingwedzi.

Herds of Zebra and Wildebeest make their way across the savannah, a Honey Badger races past us and as the rain falls ever harder we concentrate on missing the countless Tortoise and Shongololo in front of us. We stop at Ngotso Dam for our coffee – for the first time we need it to warm ourselves up. Thunder is crashing overhead and the sky lit up from constant lightning bolts. What a different spectacle from yesterday but so very welcome. Perhaps you have to be an African buff to understand this situation – certainly it will appear a trifle comic to many British friends who go overseas to escape the rain.

Time to move on and we soon spot a large troop of Banded Mongoose crossing the road. We remain in the car on the Olifants bridge but can see a visible difference in the water level.

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Swallows are darting through the air with Grey Herons and Saddle-billed Storks fishing from the sand bars.

A short distance ahead a Spotted Hyena is galloping down the road – it almost looks as if he is running for his life but we can see no other animals around. Just a Fish Eagle in the sky and a Chameleon in the road.

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The journey quietens down and the rain has stopped; we take the Letaba river loop and find a quiet spot for our breakfast. Egrets, Yellow-billed Storks and a large Croc are spotted in the river bed. Although the area looks dry, it is nowhere near as parched as central Kruger. We check out Shipandani Hide – 3 Buffalo close by, Crocodiles in the river and several Black Crakes in the reeds by the causeway. A Black-shouldered Kite soars overhead as we take the turn up to Mopani camp for a badly needed comfort break.

We are pleased to find a group of Tsessebe close to the road

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– an antelope we always look out for in the Mopani area and would certainly miss if none were seen and I don’t think we have ever seen them in any other part of the Park. Interesting how they do not appear to stray far from this location. Some interesting birds capture our attention Black Stork, Fish Eagles, Bataleur, Brown Snake Eagle. Black-bellied Korhaan (he can join my triumvirate)

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and a new species for us, a Purple Roller.

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We have made good time and reach the Shingwedzi turn sooner than expected. Parking up in one of the small river loops, the river bed has far more water than when we were last here in June and plenty of wildlife taking advantage of it – Waterbuck, Saddle-billed Storks, Goliath Heron, Greater Egrets and lots of Crocs.

Eager to check in and unload our car we notice a special offer for the Night Drive this evening. I must admit we do far less guided drives these days, partly to keep our costs down, but the offer is too good to miss and we book our places. It will give us a chance to get organised in our cottage and have a rest before dinner and a night out.

We also saw:

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The special offer has obviously been successful as the vehicle is completely full and we sit back to enjoy sightings of Elephant, Buffalo, Hippos, Waterbuck, Kudu, Impala, Mozambican Nightjar, Bronze-winged Courser, Black-backed Jackal, Spotted Dikkop, Scrub Hares, Marabou Storks, Crocodiles, Giraffe, Common Duiker and finally a Leopard kill in a tree – sadly without the cat itself.


15th December 2015

We sleep well and having got to bed late, do not race up this morning. The sky is cloudy and we note it has rained heavily overnight. We smile as we glance at the thermometer which is showing 21 degrees and we are huddled in fleeces to keep warm. Back home this would count as a hot summer day...ah well! My blood must be getting thinner these days!

Our plan is to do the large Red Rocks route – roads which often present something quite unexpected and in June gave us one of our best ever Leopard sightings. Today, however, the weather seemed to have kept most of the animals tucked up in their beds.

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The Leopard kill we had seen last night had disappeared, 4 Buffalo bulls were making their way through the Mopani scrub and a juvenile Bateleur was at rest in a nearby tree.

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White-backed Vultures were still roosting in trees in the hope of better weather and the chance to seek out good thermal. A journey of 11 Giraffe were a delight to watch.

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Black Kites and a pair of Saddle-billed Storks flew overhead, whilst a Warthog family grazed on the ground. Slender Mongoose, more Giraffe

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and a Woolly-necked Stork fed down in the river bed

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and our surprise spot this morning, an Amur Falcon pair.

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At first we thought it was a Goshawk but after much time hunting through my Newmans, we think we have named it correctly. This is a bird we have only seen once before, several trips ago and then it was on one of the gravel roads south of Letaba.

A large troop of Baboons kept us entertained as we made our way back to camp. Primates are not my favourite species but, in the right place, are fascinating to watch.

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Our afternoon drive took us down the Kanniedood river road and plenty to see along the way – Bushbuck, Grey Herons, Hadeda Ibis, Open-billed Storks, Saddle-billed Storks,

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Egrets, Jacana, Hippos (thank goodness there is still some water in the Park for them), Yellow-billed Storks, Egyptian Geese, Buffalo, Marabou Storks roosting in a tree and a beautiful Nyala male and 3 females.

Time to head back to camp – a hot shower and much needed dinner awaits.


16th December 2015

We make an early start this morning and plan a circular route in the north – up the tar and back via the Mphongolo road. This is one of favourite morning drives and we are rarely disappointed with sightings. By the time we reach Babalala, we have shared our day with Hippos out of the water, Zebras, another Leopard,

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Wildebeest with youngsters, Buffalo, Grey Hornbills and White Storks.

As we turn left onto the gravel track, we look across to the waterhole in the hope of spotting some of the rarer antelope but it is several years since we found a herd of Roan here and have not found them elsewhere in the Park since. As the road comes close to the river, we spot several Giraffe browsing happily but we continue on past the Sirheni camp road to reach one of the very best spots in the Park – Mavatsani.

If you have never been here then, believe me, you really must try this spot. Over the years we have enjoyed amazing sightings here and today would be no exception.

There is less water than we sometimes find but, still plenty for a pod of Hippos and several Crocs catching a fish breakfast. As always, though, it is the wide variety of birds which keep us entertained as we settle down with our coffee and biscuits – Goliath Heron, Grey Heron, Green-backed Heron, Saddle-billed Stork (adults and juveniles),

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Fish Eagle, Egyptian Goose, Woodland Kingfishers, Fork-tailed Drongo, Masked Weavers, Pied Kingfishers and, last but not least, a pair of Hamerkop.

As we look down over this bustling scenario, it is the behaviour of the Hamerkops which captures our attention. These are, of course, birds which we see on a regular basis but, in the past, we would watch them stand on a rock seeking out food in the passing waters. These two had developed a completely different technique. The first bird took position on the rocky edge and then flew inches from the surface of the water, sometimes dipping their feet into the water’s surface, with wings outstretched (almost like mantling) across to another rock several metres away but catching fish as they flew. As soon as bird number one landed, the second bird followed suit. It was just as if one bird was teaching the other to fish. So captivated were we, we almost forgot to take any photos. Just shows that there is always something new to learn.

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Eventually, however, we needed to head back to camp but still lots of wildlife along the way – Ground Hornbills, a herd of Impala,

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Marabou Storks,

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Hamerkops in trees, Fish Eagle, Hippos, Open-billed Storks,

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Waterbuck, Nyala,

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Giraffe, Buffalo and, to our great delight, we caught up with YR One with Nature again as they were now based at Shing also.

Time for lunch when we finally returned to camp and, after a short break, took a mini afternoon drive where all the usual suspects were out and about in the now very warm 37 degree heat.

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Whilst SO took a refreshing shower, I prepared dinner and some picnic food for tomorrow. OWN also joined us for a quick drink (the girls were resting) but the ‘quick’ last considerably longer as we can all talk the hind legs off a donkey. They would be moving camp again in the morning and there is always so much to catch up on!

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:43 pm

17th December 2015

Although nothing had been set in stone, we had set aside today as the most likely we could catch up with another YR in the Park – they were based at Punda for a few days and we had both agreed we would look out for each other around the Pafuri area. Heading north up the tar, Zebras and Giraffe along the way, we took the short gravel road past Boyela which joins the Mphongolo road at the Sirheni crossroads and just a very quick drive to Mavatsani again for our coffee stop. Just a few hundred metres along though, we find a vehicle parked up and, as we stop alongside them, they point out to a Lioness with cubs way back in the bush and a male Lion nearby. We would never have seen them if they had not been pointed out to us, they were so well camouflaged in the bush and, to be honest, quite a way back from the road as well. What a fantastic start to the day!

As we find a suitable spot to park up at Mavatsani, we note that the area is as busy as yesterday.

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All our friends from yesterday

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plus a Giant Kingfisher, Open-billed Storks and another lifer, a Black-crowned Night Heron.

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Yet, best of all, our pair of Hamerkop appeared to have opened a Flying School as a long line of their compatriots are learning this new fishing technique...some more successfully than others - but to watch them was truly priceless. In fact we just sat there curled up with laughter.

Heading north again, it was a fairly quiet drive apart from a couple of Buffalo herds

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and a group of 18 Ostrich. We have never seen so many together before and we reflect on the other species which we are also seeing in much larger groups. We check out Klopperfontein where we are pleased to find water, and then see a Martial Eagle

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and a Chameleon

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before reaching Luvuvhu Bridge.

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With tummies rumbling we call into Pafuri Picnic site, both to eat and say hello to Frank. Sadly Frank is away for a few days but his help mate is someone we have also met before and usually works out of Punda.

Time to check out Crooks Corner but, as we head towards the Fever Tree forest, who do we meet along the way but, as hoped, Tessa G and Dave. We were so glad we managed to find you along the way and we so enjoyed our chat. They had seen a few Trumpeter Hornbills further back but, despite looking hard Tessa, we just could not find them at all.

It was already obvious that the north had been lucky to experience some rain in the last weeks and Crooks Corner was less desolate than when we were here in June.

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Far fewer Crocs though but White-fronted Bee-Eaters, Goliath Heron and Spoonbills. We do love this spot and feel it has a very unique atmosphere.

After so many sightings already, it was surprising to find so little on the way back to Shing...just a Slender Mongoose....yes, really!

Along the way we also saw:

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Whilst SO retired for a rest, I poured myself a glass and sat on the stoep reflecting on another marvellous day and ........well, I just do not know what made me suddenly get out our paperwork to see where we would be staying for the next week or so but it was just as well that I did. When we were planning this trip 9 months ago, we had planned to spend a few days at Christmas at our ‘second home’ in Hazyview. Consequently we booked all our Kruger accommodation with this in mind and I would sort out the Christmas and New Year dates when I was out with the Charity in April and based in Hazyview then. Come April, and I casually said to Rissington to hold a room for us for the festivities,. I was somewhat aghast to find that New Year would be fine but that they were already fully booked for Christmas. Oh dear! I called SO back in the UK that evening and asked him to try and find something in the Park for those days and he did...even a bush camp no less. Excellent, all done and sorted although it would mean an extremely long drive on one day to link two camps up.

We never thought any more about it and happily filled in our holiday spreadsheet with what we had arranged. At least we filled it in but not as carefully as we should have done. It’s a case of all this arrival dates and departure dates and somehow we have managed to book two camps for the same night and one night with no camp at all. The irony was certainly not lost on us though when we discovered the night with nothing would be Christmas Eve. We are already at 17th December and the phrase ‘No Room at the Inn springs to mind’. I grab all our papers, a map and a credit card and wander along to Reception. Just hope they will also see the funny side to this but hoping some solution can be found or else we will have to sleep in the car outside Phalaborwa Gate. Luckily, not only did they see the funny side of our predicament but found a solution. We would have an extra night at Olifants (even a river view no less) and one less night at Shimuwini. I fear we are getting too gung ho when we book our trips and we were very appreciative of the help from the lady at reception.....indeed a further irony was that she was pregnant herself.

Time to wake up SO and explain how I spent my afternoon whilst he slept!


18th December 2015

My goodness, the days are flying by – can this really be our last full day at Shingwedzi? Shall we go north or south? Our vote goes to Mavatsani which has given us such magnificent sightings this trip. Just seconds after leaving camp we spot a couple of cars parked under one of those amazing trees along the river bank. At first we see nothing but, as soon as the driver points us in the right direction, we see a Giant Eagle Owl.

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What a treat. Talking with other ‘mites, I know we are not the only people who have noticed far fewer Owls about in the Park, so we are very excited to find this bird this morning.

Some large Buffalo herds are spread out in the bush as we head north up the tar.

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Also a few Zebras and lots of Wattled Starlings.

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Otherwise we have a fairly uneventful drive up to the waterhole.

All our ‘friends’ are here again this morning

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plus Waterbuck and Grey Louries. The Hamerkops are still perfecting their fishing skills although the flying school students are yet to arrive. Perhaps they feel confident with their new skill and are employing the tactics in another location. We are hoping to hear from anyone who has been at this site more recently and confirm if these birds are fishing in the same way. Certainly we have not seen them anywhere else employ the same method.

On the way back to camp we find yet more Buffalo herds – one at least 500 plus. It is such a joy to find them in such huge numbers and so impressive to watch.

After lunch I prepare a picnic for our journey tomorrow and then work my way through a pile of washing. As anyone who has stayed in the bungalows along the back fence will know, the sink overlooks the back fence and so I had my back to the entrance door when I suddenly heard a noise. To be honest, I had been lost in a daydream of my own and just assumed SO had woken up and was coming into the kitchen to get a drink or enquire when we would be leaving for a late afternoon drive. Can you imagine the shock and horror, therefore, when I did turn around and discovered, not my wonderful husband but a very large male Baboon who had opened not only the screen door but the main door as well. Thank goodness he was still holding onto the main door and when I shouted he backed out onto the stoep rather than rushing into the bedroom. I was shaking I have to say...partly from shock, some anger and definitely some fear. This primate problem has got to be tackled sooner rather than later. I locked the door – please tell me they have not learned to unlock as well as open closed doors. It takes me a while to calm down and get myself together but I feel obliged to report this incident.

I make my way down to reception again – hope they don’t feel I am the nuisance guest this week. Having explained to the staff on the desk, they feel I should report this to the camp manager and I go along to her office. Her name is Christa (sorry, I have forgotten her surname) and I am sure we have met before..either at Shing although I have a feeling she used to the manager at Mopani and she helped us out one trip when we managed to get 2 punctures but just one spare wheel. That was another story though. I explain to her what happened with my unexpected face to face meeting with the Baboon and my concern that this has taken the primate problem to another level and, especially with so many children in camp, someone could get badly hurt. She is well aware of the seriousness of this event and confesses that another Baboon and got into staff accommodation a few days ago. They are awaiting funding for a primate control (a person to keep a sharp lookout for monkeys and Baboons and deal with the problem. She promised to chase up the relevant office and thanked me for letting her know. Later on in our trip we stay at two camps where a primate control is in place...more of that when we reach those destinations.

Just time for a short ride out across the causeway and a circle back to camp. Plenty of action all along the river bed – Buffalo,

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Waterbuck, Storks, Bushbuck, Egrets, Warthogs and a Woodland Kingfisher..

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SO gets the braai going and we enjoy a glass (or two) watching the light fade and the meat cook. What an interesting day it had been.

Other sightings today:

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Fri Feb 26, 2016 7:08 pm

19th December 2015

I cannot believe we are heading south again – where does the time go? However, we are leaving my favourite camp to move to Richard’s – Olifants. It is not such a great distance to do today and we take our time to load up the car and organise the picnic and cameras. No matter how large a vehicle we hire, we just seem to fill up every spare inch but the placements have usually been perfected after a week or two!!

We set off just before 8am and the temperature is already 28 degrees. Guess we’ll have a hot journey then. Taking advantage of the ‘tractor’ we decide to take the long back road past Dipene and Grootvlei. Whilst we regularly drive the Kanniedood end and the southern part all past Nshawu waterholes, the middle section was avoided for a long time after trying it several years ago with a much smaller sedan and it was such an uncomfortable trip along a badly corrugated road that we said ‘never again’. Anyway...never say never!

Our first sighting along the river is a large flock of Yellow-billed Storks..huge numbers in fact. Later on we find some of them mantling over the water in search of food.

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Such a fascinating technique this and so many birds we have spotted using it. Frequent pauses along those wonderful little loops along this road where you can get very close to the river reward us with Buffalo,

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Goliath Herons,

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Egyptian Geese, Open-billed Storks, Saddle-bill Storks. It was along this stretch last year that we had found a Broad-billed Roller and captured an image which has been in several competitions since but they were nowhere to be seen today, but we did see a European Roller.

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Once we reached Dipene where the road veers away from the river, our sightings reduced and sooner than expected we had reached Grootvlei. Time for our morning coffee I think as we park up and await any animals who may care to join us..today our guests are Zebras and Warthogs.

The southern section of this road has always been highly productive for us. Those long expanses of marshy ground all along the eastern edge seem to attract big herds of animals and, if we are lucky, several antelope too. By the time we had reached the junction with the tar again, we had seen Kudus, Warthogs, Zebras, herds of Wildebeest and Tsessebe – all with lots of babies,

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lots of Ostrich including one group with youngsters,

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Kori Bustard (my triumvirate numbers are growing well)

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and a huge herd of Buffalo who seemed to have spread out as far as the eye could see. The grazing must be as good as anywhere in this location to find such encouraging numbers of species.

The irony, however, as we drive down the tar not so many kilometres further on, is that this area looks as parched as that near Satara but only a short distance ahead we spot some parked cars. As I slow down behind one, we look out across the bush but see nothing. Does this happen to others when you look and look but, for the life of you, just cannot find why everyone has stopped. I drive alongside the car in front of me to ask. How stupid do we feel though when they point out to one Cheetah wedged under a bush right next to the road and another one only metres back.

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They were obviously so desperate for a bit of shade that they were using a few scrawny twigs and branches to keep. Both were panting heavily but seemed totally unconcerned by their audience. We spend as long as we can with this enchanting pair but the heat finally got to us and, since, we are loathe to sit at sightings with our engine running for the air con to kick in, eventually we had to drive on before we both expired ourselves.

After the hiccup with our bookings, we would now have 6 nights at Olifants although the last night would be different accommodation. Serves us right for not checking! In fact, we were expecting the first five nights to be in a hut with communal kitchen so we were delighted to find a lot of these huts have been recently upgraded and now have their own kitchenette as well. I think we were booked into number 37 and were totally amazed. This line huts are in a parallel line behind the best view rondavels and we were behind numbers 12 and 13. We might not have the immediate river view but could see between the gaps of the front huts and in a couple of seconds could stand by the perimeter fence. For those who want a river view but find they are already fully booked, I cannot recommend these huts located just behind them highly enough. Ours was brilliant and they even sleep 3 people so we had loads of spare room.

As a bonus, we had another lifer in camp – a Grey-headed Bush Shrike.

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As we sat on the stoep this evening, wine glasses in hand, we gave a big thank you for another amazing day in the Park..not only 2 beautiful cats but we had been truly spoilt with Ellies all day including a fabulous herd of 50+....enjoy!

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:25 pm

20th December 2015

We awake to a clear sky and the temperature rapidly rising – already 25 degrees and we are on the road early heading north along the track which follows the Letaba river.

No rain appears to have fallen here and the bush is scrawny and brittle from the drought. The Giraffes seem to be struggling less than some other species though and we spot several before we reach the Lookout point.

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Although there is little about, this is a nice tranquil spot and SO takes the chance to grab a photo of the tractor and its chauffeur!

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White-fronted Bee Eaters are spotted and Fish Eagles. More Giraffe and small groups of Zebra are around and then we have to make a sudden stop for a Hippo crossing the road. This is way past the time when they should have returned to the water and it is a sight which has become more frequent this year. We can only assume that they are having to travel much greater distances to feed or that their usual feeding areas are so poor that they forage around longer to satisfy their hunger. In many ways, the Hippos seem to be the animal which has suffered the most from the drought. For sure they are a species to keep a good distance from when they are out of the water.

Not far past the turn for Engelhard Dam, we take the sand road which goes right down to the river. This is another favourite spot to park up and just watch. As we enjoy our morning coffee, we share the day with a pair of Saddle-billed Storks,

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Blacksmith Plovers, Pied Kingfishers, a Harrier, Fish Eagles, Jacana, Greater Egrets and some Crocodiles. Sometimes this area is packed with cars but we see no-one else for the entire time we park here today.

After a quick comfort break at Letaba we take the tar road heading south and soon spot a few parked cars whose occupants have spotted a Leopard seeking shade nearby. Like the Cheetah yesterday, this cat was also seeking a cooler spot to rest. There were no suitable trees around and it, too, was trying out areas at the base of bare Mopani bush. Unlike the Cheetahs, though, he was less enamoured with his growing audience and eventually moved well away from the road and completely out of sight.

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It was a very quiet drive down to the High Water bridge, just a few Giraffe close to the river, just past the turn to the N’wamanzi Lookout point.

We get out on the bridge to stretch our legs and chat with other people here. The water level looks pretty good but expect this is due to better rainfall further inland. Lots of Swifts speeding through the air with Marabou Storks, Crocodiles,

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Water Monitor

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and Yellow-billed Kites on the sand bars.

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We take the S91 back to camp and find yet more Giraffe. As we meander along the track a small car flashes us and pulls up alongside – they have forgotten their ribbons but saw our own. We are very pleased to meet YRs Hawkeye and Allouette.

The day is very hot and SO rests in the shade until late afternoon when we take a circular route across the causeway and down past Ngotso weir before returning along the tar.

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The bush and river banks are busy – Kudu, Steenbok, a juvenile Fish Eagle,

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Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Storks, Sand pipers, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, large pod of Hippo at the weir (although the water looked rank), Marabou

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and Saddle-bill Storks.

Our neighbours in camp were a couple from Pretoria with their extremely enthusiastic 5 year old daughter. We had chatted to them yesterday evening and the little girl was desperate to know what we had seen today. We got out a laptop to show her some of the photos and all had another enjoyable chat. A short while later, her Mum came across with a large plate of samosas to share with us. What a treat – they were absolutely delicious.


21st December 2015

Today is Solstice Day and we plan to drive up to the Tropic of Capricorn cairn to be there for midday. We set out early but keep mostly to the tar as we have a good distance to travel. Plenty to keep us entertained as we saunter along – Tawny Eagle,

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Kudu, Hippos, Yellow-billed Kites, 6 Ground Hornbills (one a ringed Juvenile), Warthogs, Waterbucks, vSaddle-billed Storks, (this is a composite image of one taking-off)

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Giraffe and Tortoise as well as a couple of long tailed birds which would not keep still long enough to identify. Then, who do we spot? YR Kaapsedraai and family. They too are on their way to celebrate the Summer Solstice so will have plenty of time to chat at length later in the day.

Closer to Mopani we find a very large herd of Buffalo, Ostrich, Wildebeest, Kori Bustard,

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Red-crested Korhaan, Fork-tailed Drongos,

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Open-billed Storks, Yellow-billed Storks,

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Grey and Green-backed Herons,

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Sacred and Hadeda Ibis, Spoonbills at Pioneer Dam,

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and Tsessebe with Waterbuck near the camp road junction.

Time is passing and we need to reach the Tropic of Capricorn in time to park up and set up our cameras for a memorable picture. Kaapsedraai and family are here too as well as another couple. Luckily the road is quiet as we all park our vehicles along and across the main road. Countless cameras are positioned on the car bonnets and we all line up for a spot of line dancing. We have remote controllers for the cameras and the cameras flash away. We discover that a Canon remote activates all the Canon cameras, likewise the Nikon users with their controllers. What a great time we all had and everyone had the photos to remind us of the occasion.

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For those who can pick up a copy of the latest SANParks Times (or have access to the digital copy) you will see that Kaapsedraai’s picture has made the front cover and it is ‘Out today’. Huge thank you to everyone for making it all such a fun celebration – we will remember it for many a day with big smiles on our faces.

As we drove back down to Olifants, we were joined by a constant stream of Storks – Saddle-bill, Yellow-bill, Spoonbills (huge numbers), Marabou and Open-bill. We have been overwhelmed by the number of Storks we have spotted this trip, far, far more than we have ever seen before and this phenomenon would continue right through to the end of our trip.

By the time we reach camp, we are exhausted and, with the flashes of lightning right across the southern sky, decide to walk down to the restaurant and treat ourselves to a Mugg & Bean dinner. A suitable end to a hugely enjoyable day!

We also saw these magnificent creatures:

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Wed Mar 02, 2016 9:07 pm

22nd December 2015

The weather has certainly changed today – no rain followed the lightning but it is cloudy and very windy. We don’t leave camp until nearly 7am and quickly slow down for a pair of Tortoise – one of whom has a definite agenda in mind.

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Soon afterwards we spot a Hippo close to the road. He should be back in the water by now but he looks so ill that we are unsure if he is much longer for this world. It is a very upsetting sight.

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A few kilometres along the tar road towards Letaba, not long after the road veers away from the river, we see something ahead which has just moved onto the road. It is quickly followed by a few more bodies and they are tracking down towards us. This would be another special sighting for our trip as we are joined by a pack of 26+ Wild Dogs and they are out hunting.

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As we pull over to the side of the road, the Dogs pause, looking and listening for any movement in the bush, then moving on down the road. When the last of the pack has passed us, we quickly turn around and follow them. We had seen a small herd of Impala earlier and know that the Dogs are heading in the right direction to see them. This pack look well fed and their coats are gleaming. It is a privilege to watch them track down the road, splitting into various groups as they searched for breakfast this morning. We are able to stay with them for more than 20 minutes but lose sight of them when they suddenly gather together and head down through the bush at breakneck speed. I fear they have heard the Impala herd. A few other cars have joined us on the road by now and we stop to comment on this special treat.

At the Letaba crossroads we take the Phalaborwa road as we will make our final Charity delivery today. Along the S69 Wildebeest move slowly through the bush with Marabou and Black Storks on rocks alongside the river where the track rejoins the tar. Zebras, Buffalo and Waterbuck are feeding close to the road and when we turn left to drop down to Nhlanganini Dam, from the number of cars parked, we know something must be about. This is a great spot to watch Ellies but that is not who has caught everyone’s attention this morning. If you sit facing the water, there is a small raised bank only metres back from the parking area and here, keeping a wary eye on everyone, is a Leopard. Perhaps it has been down to the Dam to drink...we do not know....but we do not expect to see a spotty cat lying out in the open.

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Nothing seems to be where we would expect them this trip. There is plenty of space for all the cars here and we do not feel obliged to sit for a short while and then make way for another vehicle. We decide to share our morning coffee with this beautiful cat today.

Regular sightings emerge as we continue down the tar – Buffalo, Giraffe and a Brown Snake Eagle.

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We are due to meet Ledile for Lunch at the little Community cafe/shop just outside Phalaborwa Gate but have time to check out Sable Hide beforehand. This location never disappoints.

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Just before the Gate we find a male Lion sleeping under a tree, so close to the road we could have reached out and patted him on the head. Rest assured we did not do so!

Ledile and her driver have arrived before us and we are soon busy chatting about the Charity project I fundraise for and pass over a few bags of items for one of the schools in the area and funds to purchase the last piece of equipment for a new Sewing Group. Just our own bags now left in the car!

The Gate staff wave us back into the Park and we stop again to greet the Lion who is still content in the shade. The road is quiet back to Letaba where we need to get some more supplies from the shop. Only a few days to Christmas now and the staff are wearing festive hats. We love this shop – the manager and staff have a great sense of fun and are always checking whether their shop has offered the items we wanted. Great customer service goes a very long way in my book.

Not so far along the tar road south, we are surprised to find yet another cat today. This time a Cheetah and, again, not in an area one would expect to find it.

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Back at camp we quickly get the food into the fridge, pour out a glass each and settle down on the stoep. Would that we could live this life every day!!

Also seen today:

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Fri Mar 04, 2016 9:33 pm

23rd December 2015

It has rained overnight (Hurrah!) and we set out on a cloudy morning to find wildlife aplenty. So very grateful for this change. A Scrub Hare is still about, Brown Snake Eagle, Marabou Storks, Fish Eagles, Kudu, Zebra, Waterbuck all around. We stop for a group of Ground Hornbills, one a ringed juvenile.

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Heading south today as we have not been here since leaving |Satara and we want to see if the area has been blessed with any rain. Our morning coffee will be at Ngotso Dam which looks to have a bit more water than on our previous visit but this may have come from the overnight rain. A pod of Hippos remain in the central area but our attention is focussed on a group of Buffalo coming down to drink. This group grows and grows until we estimate to be watching a herd of 800+. What a sight to enjoy – they must be desperate for refreshment and improved grazing.

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A few White-faced Ducks retreated to a small corner of the Dam – with a herd this size there is little room for any other species!

Sadly we find that the area remains as parched as ever when we continue on to Satara. However, we are spoilt for choice as we pause regularly along the way to spend time with Vultures, Zebras and foals,

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Giraffe, Wildebeest, Coucals (their nickname as the Rain Bird is not well earned at present but we live in hopes), Ostrich,

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Hippos in a small waterhole,

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a pair of Woodland Kingfishers,

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a Buffalo skull (perhaps a previous member of our earlier herd), Kudu and Storks. It seems almost incredible that we have seen so much already today when the area gives the impression that it can sustain virtually nothing. What a resilient lot this wildlife is.

Before we explore Lion Alley, we take a quick spin a bit further down the tar, we would love to see if our Lioness with her cubs are still around but it is well over a week since we were based down in central Kruger and realistically she has probably moved on. Some days you just cannot believe your luck and, in much the same location as before, we find a Lioness. She is on her own as we stop the car and grab our cameras.

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Perhaps it is another cat...but, who should then appear and climb all over her? Those fabulous 4 cubs.

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We are so blessed! Not only does she still have her complete family but they are looking so fit and healthy. We spend as long as we can in their company but the road is busy and so many others want to get pictures that we move on and give our prime parking place to another car.

We change our minds over the route to take and continue down to the next junction and head out towards N’wanetsi. The bush each side of the road looks almost desolate yet we still find animals to watch along the way.

Driving along the S41, a few parked cars give the game away that something of interest has been spotted and, as stop alongside one of the vehicles, the driver points us to a position way back in the bush where 3 male Lions are laying down beside a kill.

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It was impossible to see who had been their unfortunate victim but the cats looked very well fed but uncomfortable. Eventually they each made tracks towards the road, much to the delight of their audience, which includes a vulture,

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and proceeded to cross the road to find shade under trees on the other side from us. It was at this stage that we all spotted the rest of their pride – 4 Lionesses already settled down in the shade beneath a neighbouring tree.

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Just proves the point that if you can just sit and watch, you just never know what else may come into view. The attention of everyone had been on the male cats and none of us had seen their family not so very far away. It occurs to me now as I write our TR that, you will all have seen an occasion in the Park when some idiot or other gets out of their car to take a photo...can you just imagine what could have happened if it was at this sighting today. Definitely a case of ‘What If’....

Time for another coffee and some breakfast I think...we head up to Gudzani to park up. Ironically it was completely quiet this morning and remained so as we took the gravel road back up to Olifants. However, we had found lots of Steenbok and another Red-crested Korhaan.

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As we had been so lucky already today, we decide on a longer afternoon drive taking the southern route along the S39 towards Timbavati and back to camp up the tar. I had jokingly said to SO that, if we did gravel down and tar back, at least if we ran short of time, it is easier to make up some time this way. Oh what a wise decision that was...and a long line of cars only just made gate closure in time this evening. With our sighting restrictions I cannot be more precise but along the way we had found Waterbuck, Kori Bustards,

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Wildebeest, Giraffe, Nyala, Zebras, Grey and Goliath Herons, Baboons, Tawny Eagles,

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Kudu, Buffalo, Bushbuck, and a large number of other friends as well.

Other sightings today were:

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24th December 2015

Christmas Eve is here and the rain has come to nought. By Gate opening we have a clear sky and 26 degrees already. Yesterday had been amazing but tiring and we would have to move accommodation today but still remain at Olifants. When we had booked in a few days previously, the staff at reception has suggested that, if we called into the office mid morning, they would make sure we could move easily from one hut to another rather than go through the out by 10am and in at 2pm. In view of the fact that this move was entirely our own fault, we were extremely grateful for this offer and decided to drive a shorter circular route heading north and then round by the Letaba river road.

We are soon met by a pair of Spotted Hyena who bring out their breakfast onto the road...thank you for the offer but not certain we wish to share your offering.

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A few Marabou Storks are roosting in a tree but the Yellow-billed Storks are everywhere. Throughout our entire trip and, in fact, in every Park, we have never seen so many of these birds before. We would be fascinated to know if anyone has any idea why this was so. I know you also saw lots of them Tessa G throughout your Kruger trip. Why have their numbers suddenly increased or???

Then we spot a flight of spoonbills heading downriver, a really superb sight.

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The Giraffe were seen on several occasions this morning

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alongside Kites, Ducks, Pied Kingfishers and Vultures.

Back at camp we quickly load up our things into the tractor and drive along to reception. Our ‘new’ hut is not quite ready but we only wait about 40 minutes before receiving the keys to number 1. It also gave us a chance to have a long interesting discussion at Reception with Mohammed who has recently moved up to the area from Crocodile Bridge (he is a private guide) and another man who has emigrated from the UK and completing his Guide training.

Hut 1 is right next to the Restaurant but, of course, has a river view.

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We certainly fell on our feet with this allocation and it wasn’t too noisy next to the Restaurant. In fact, we got to chat to lots of people as they walked up and down the ramp nearby.

Most of the day we sat on the stoep using Binoculars to investigate comings and goings down in the river but ventured out for an afternoon drive, just down to the high water bridge and back. Along the way were – 2 Jackal Buzzards, Goliath Herons,

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Grey Herons, Crocodiles (adults and babies),

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Giraffe, a big group of Yellow-billed Storks,

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Saddle-billed Storks,

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Impala, Waterbuck, Terrapins and Vultures settling down to roost in the trees as we drove back before Gate closure to view the sunset from our perch above the river.

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What a start to Christmas – our first in the Park. We raise our glasses in thanks for such an amazing trip so far!

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Sat Mar 05, 2016 7:31 pm

Christmas Day 2015

We are in no rush to get up this morning although there must be a definite plan for the day ahead. Such a contrast to the normal chaos of a normal Christmas Day for us – no children chattering over Christmas stockings or trying to organise a festive meal for all those who are either staying or visiting. I make up our flasks for the day and we sit out on the stoep looking and listening to the constant rumble of the Olifants river. A few cars have gone out on an early morning drive but a few people are wandering around and we all wish each other a ‘Happy Christmas’. The sky is cloudy and there is quite a breeze but the 29 degrees will be a big contrast to anything we would have awoken to at home.

Actually we are moving camp today but it is not such a long drive up to Shimuwini. We pack up our belongings and load up the car...not sure what made me look down at one of the tyres but something looks amiss. Oh dear....we have our first puncture this trip. We drive slowly up to the filling station and find we are not the only one with a similar problem this morning. Another couple need to get back to Jo’burg today to catch their flight home tonight. There is never a good time to get a puncture but on your last day and with a deadline, the pressure is greater for them. The man on duty at the station is amazing and takes it all in his stride. The Germans get a tyre repaired and, just to make sure their journey is smooth, the spare tyre is fitted onto their vehicle. Our turn next and the problem seems to be in the tyre side wall – less simple to repair but our tyre is repaired nevertheless. Not the start we had expected today but that’s life and we are on our way.

Our first sighting today comes as a big surprise as it is not the area we would expect to find it – a Kori Bustard. One of my favourites as you will already have gathered. Several hours until we can check in again and we plan to spend a good part of the day at Sable Hide. Always lots to see here and it is positioned perfectly on the route to our new abode.

The wind has meant the bush is rather quiet but we spotted Kudu, Yellow-billed Kite, Buffalo, Zebra and Warthogs along the way.

For us, Sable Hide is very much the Lake Panic of the north – always something to see and I know some of the local Phalaborwa visitors come and spend the entire day here. The next few hours bring us Buffalo,

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Giraffe,

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Lilac-breasted Rollers,

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Impala, Zebras,

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Kudu,

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Martial Eagle, Bataleur,

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White-faced Ducks, Yellow-billed Kite, Fish Eagles, Baboons,

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and Blacksmith Plovers.

Time to return to the vehicle and drive to our new home passing Temmincks Courser, Zebras and Waterbuck.

It is a long time since we have stayed at Shimuwini and I know it is the favourite camp of Dassie Delight and Peregrine Falcon. We check in at reception and drive down to our bungalow.

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The ‘local resident’ at this camp used to be a tame antelope but, sadly, he has passed on. A large notice stuck to the wall informs us that the new incumbents are ‘Rats, Bats and Swallows’....alarm bells ring, I have no problem with Bats and Swallows but my absolute nightmare wildlife are Rats and Mice. I try to put the warning to the back of my mind and we quickly unload our luggage and food. We have a lovely view out across the river and all is calm and peac eful until SO opens a kitchen cupboard door and a Rat jumps out. The shock almost made me vomit..I am shaking and run off. Most of us have something we just cannot deal with and I fear rodents are mine. The air gets somewhat heated..I threaten to sleep in the tractor and I wander off to try and gather my thoughts.

The day is saved when our neighbours come across for a chat...a lovely German couple who decided to abandon cold European winters and move permanently to South Africa...Hans and Birgit. Christmas is for sharing and we combine forces for dinner and drinks this evening and talk, talk, talk. SO persuades me that I will sleep indoors and the rats will not attack me....fingers crossed!

Also seen during our travels today:

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26th December 2015

We are only at this camp for 2 nights and decided to drive north today as it will be our last chance to explore that area. The river loop is busy and we find Waterbuck, Egyptian Geese, Grey Hornbills, Fish Eagle,

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Plovers, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Carmine Bee-eaters.

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Warthogs and White-backed Vultures are spotted along the tar, with Black Crake and Open-billed Stork close to Shipandani as we go to check out Pioneer Dam.

This area is busy today with Fish Eagles, Marabou Storks,

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Open-billed Storks, Hadeda and Sacred Ibis,

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Geese, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Goliath Heron,

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Green-backed Herons, Grey Lourie, Blacksmith Plovers, Crocodiles, Waterbuck and Buffalo. In the past we have not seen very much at this Hide but it was well worth stopping by today.

As we approach Mopani camp, the junction is packed with vehicles where someone has spotted a Leopard in a tree. Leopards are always the icing on the cake for visitors and it lay draped over a branch surveying an ever-growing audience.

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We continue north past the Tropic of Capricorn sign and turn right to check out the S143/S50 loop. Earlier in our trip we have seen a great deal in this area and we would not be disappointed today. By the time we reach the tar again, we have found Zebras, Wildebeest, Tsessebe, Secretary Birds, Buffalo and a Little-banded Goshawk.

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A much more difficult sighting was at a dry waterhole where a Hippo lay wedged in the mud. At first we were certain he was dead but, as we looked more carefully, could see a tiny twitch of the ear. I fear it stood absolutely no chance of escaping from its muddy prison though.

Back in camp SO did a thorough recce before I ventured onto the stoep but my nerves were on edge as I prepared dinner and a picnic for tomorrow. This location is wonderful but I doubt it will be my camp of choice again.

Along the way we had this sighting:

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Tue Mar 08, 2016 3:44 pm

27th December 2015

We must be up and away as early as possible this morning – we are moving camp...all the way down to Berg en Dal. It is cool (well...relatively...22 degrees) and a cloudy sky as we set out at 5am. The temptation to take the slightly longer river loop is too much but we are rewarded by one of favourite sightings this trip. The bush had looked quiet and, suddenly, racing across the path in front of us, we have an adult female Leopard. We try to track her as she makes her way through the dense scrub and almost miss the fact that she has a large cub with her.

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It is less than a year since we first saw a Leopard cub in Kruger (anywhere in Africa if the truth be known) and that had been on its own. To see a mother and cub together was amazing – what a start to our day. We forget the long drive ahead and stay with them until they disappear from sight.

The shortest route to reach the tar road south from Letaba was to keep to the gravel roads and we had hoped we would spot some life along the way. However, it was not so. The bush was parched and even the birds had flown elsewhere. Still, it meant we could make up the time we had spent with the cats. Only an Elephant skull caught our attention.

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On reaching the H9 Phalaborwa road, we only had 2 kilometres before reaching the crossroads but spotted Waterbuck

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and a curious group of Hyena pups just climbing out from their den in a culvert.

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We turn right onto the tar road which will take us to the very south of the Park. The birds are awake now Bataleur, Kites, yet more Yellow-billed Storks in ever increasing numbers, a nice group of Ground Hornbills – both adults and juveniles.

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That conservation plan has been incredibly successful as we find them all over the Park now.

Morning coffee at Ngotso Dam in the company of Zebras and Wildebeest but the water level still looks concerning. We stop/start down the road to greet Giraffe, Buffalo, Warthogs,

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a large troop of Baboons, Steenbok, Giant Eagle Owl

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and a Brown Snake Eagle.

As take a short break at Satara, we find ourselves parked close to another vehicle sporting Yellow Ribbons and we are delighted to meet up with YR Piet Skiet and family. Thank you so much for stopping to chat and we hope you all had as good a trip as we did. The ‘mites were out in force this morning and, when we pulled into the filling station to fuel up, we are stopped beside YR WendyA and friend who are on their way home today. Still, we make time to catch up on their days since we were all staying in Satara at the beginning of our trip.

The road between Satara and Skukuza has always been a rewarding stretch for us and we were not disappointed today – Steenboks, Bataleurs, Black-backed Jackal, a Buffalo herd, European Roller, Leopard, Warthogs, Fish Eagles,

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Kudu

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and Wildebeest......and, don’t laugh, this was all before we even reached Mazithi Dam. We reflect on the fact that it is often the case when you have a long distance to travel and are worried about getting caught up along the way, this is when everything is spotted.

The water level at Mazithi is dire and we fear the Hippo deeply entrenched in the mud may have already met his Maker but, no, an ear is still twitching. Sadly, we suspect he may not survive for much longer and the a Marabou Stork with a group of Vultures settled nearby may have the same idea.

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We pass Saddle-bill Storks, Hooded Vulture and Fish Eagles as we continue south and along the H12, before the bridge, find a trio of Wild Dog.

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What a day this is turning out to be!

With all the driving today, and knowing we would need a proper break at some stage, we park up at Skukuza and treat ourselves to lunch at Cattle Baron. I have to say, this restaurant is a huge success and quite rightly. They have a well sourced menu. The location is excellent as every outside table offers a view along the river and the service is good. It is a huge improvement from what was on offer previously.

Ironically we see very little except an industrious Dung Beetle with his mate on board,

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as we complete our journey down to Berg en Dal but will now include all the wonderful unmentionables sighted throughout the day.

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It was a long drive, too long really but we could only book what was available at the time and the area will be a big contrast to all the other camps we have enjoyed so far.

Our final ‘sighting’ of the day was also of great interest...a staff member walking along the perimeter fence and around the accommodation – Berg en Dal have a Primate Control. After our unfortunate experience at Shingwedzi, we get up to chat to him. Is it working? How often does he walk round the camp? Certainly we only spot one Vervet during our stay here and, just the sight of the Controller raising a sling-shot, makes it disappear in a flash. We had absolutely no primate problems here at all.


28th December 2015

Our first trip this morning is the short drive to Malelane to meet up again with Ecojunkie. She had promised to get us some yellow mirror socks to replace our faded ribbons for the car – all proceeds to the HR funds of course. It is good to catch up with her news and discuss our trip so far. A Chameleon blocks our way as we set out on the drive back to camp so EJ picked it up and will release it in a bush away from the road.

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SO is very tired this morning. It was such a long day yesterday and, after sharing breakfast on the stoep, he decides to stay in camp whilst I go out on my own. Rather than explain my route, I will just share my day in pictures with you...enjoy!

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Misty Morning

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Prime Rump

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Marabou Stork Waiting Patiently

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Pink Flowers

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Buffalos in the bushes

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Big Male Elephant

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A Journey of Giraffes

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Impala & Elephants

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Water Lilies

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It’s too hot

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Sun Worshipper

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Rhinos & Woolly-necked Stork

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Wed Mar 09, 2016 9:08 pm

29th December 2015

We are in no rush this morning. Despite moving camp today, it is no distance up to Pretoriuskop and I cook breakfast whilst SO loads up our cases. We eat outside and chat to the Primate Controller again as he passes. With the washing up done and dishes returned to the cupboards, we fit the cooler boxes in the tractor and head out of camp. We head up to the waterhole passing a Martial Eagle

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and Ground Hornbills en route.

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Matjulu is quiet this morning – just a few Marabou Storks and a Thick-billed Weaver.

The weather is cloudy but we drive up the Steilberg road hoping to get a few landscape shots from one of the lookout points. This has never been a particularly productive road for sights (at least for us) but we love to stop along the way and look out at the wonderful vistas. A few Dagga boys raise their heads as we pass, Giraffe

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are making their way up the hill and several groups of Grey Lourie are squabbling in a nearby tree.

Regular sightings keep us entertained as we explore the gravel roads along the Timfenheni and Mlambane rivers before returning to the tar and then out to Renosterpan. We are pleased to find that there is still some water here and we sit watching a Woolly-necked Stork and some Hamerkops. We watch the latter particularly closely to see if they are fishing in the normal way or trying a similar style as found up at Mavatsani. The Mavatsani behaviour appears to be quite unique and we did not find it being practised by any others at all. For sure it will be something we will be looking out for as soon as we stay in the north on another trip.

We pop into Afsaal for a comfort break and a cold drink. What has happened to this once bustling establishment? Hardly anyone stops to eat here now and the shop has so little stock, it almost feels like the ‘closing down’ signs will appear soon. This used to be a regular breakfast stop for us...in fact, it offered the best value breakfast anywhere in Kruger. This was surely one of the most profitable places in Kruger once upon a time and it all seems such a waste. I know it had a change of management but it is so sad to find it is now a shadow of its former self.

We take a very circuitous route to our new camp – Biyamiti Weir, Skukuza, Transport and Shitlhave Dams. Lots of beautiful sightings along the way.

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Finally we reach P’kop where we check in and settle into our home for the last 2 nights of our Kruger stay. We are overlooking the large grassy area between the huts and the swimming pool. On past visits we have been troubled by primates along this section but, we notice with interest, there are none about at present. A short while later we discover the reason why – this camp also has a Primate Controller and he stops for a chat before moving onto another section of the camp. This is such a simple but effective measure – let’s hope it will be extended to all the camps. It was interesting to see as the end of the day approached, the time when the primates would have appeared before and were looking to grab a share of guests meals, but troops were close to the perimeter fence and often jumping over, yet, as soon as they saw or heard the Controller, they immediately jumped back and out of camp. Has anyone else made similar observations in Kruger recently? Not sure how many camps are employing this initiative.

Time to light the braai and swap news and sightings with our neighbours.


30th December 2015

Our last full day in Kruger – how the time flies. Our main destination today is Lake Panic. It will be our first visit here this trip and we cannot wait to see how it has been affected by the drought. However, we are spoilt for choice with sightings before we arrive – Fish Eagles, Hippos, Waterbuck, Grey Heron, Ellies, Hyenas,

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Zebras, Giraffe, huge herds of Impala with lambs, Tortoise and Wild Dogs

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...amazing!

Lake Panic is busy and we have to wait for some cars to leave before we can go in. We have always kept to the ‘no more than 8 cars’ rule but it is constantly ignored by many. Are we the only ones to follow this instruction? When we make our way down between the fence, we grab a seat and set up our cameras. Apart from the resident Crocodiles and some Impalas

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we are surrounded by birds – Darters, Cormorants,

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Grey Heron,

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Green-backed Heron,

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Squacco Herons,

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Malachite Kingfisher,

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Pied Kingfishers,

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Fish Eagles,

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Ducks, Geese, Jacana. This Hide is really the most addictive place in Kruger by far.

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We try not to outstay our welcome and our stomachs are rumbling after a few hours anyway. Perhaps it is just as well that there are no toilet facilities at Lake Panic or else we would find it almost impossible to leave at all. Cattle Baron offer an excellent breakfast and we find a table where we keep an eye all along the river. Both the food and the service are excellent. Buffalo, Bushbuck and Nyala look up from the reed beds below.

Our drive back to camp takes us down the H3 and along the Voortrekker road. Our first sighting is YR Scipio and we run through our sightings since we met up a couple of weeks ago.

Our day quietens down but we find Buffalo, Lions at a Buff kill with a few Vultures

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and a few Zebra.

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Re: Something Old, Something New – KNP, Augrabies, KTP, Mokala

Unread post by carolv » Fri Mar 11, 2016 1:40 pm

31st December 2015

So much to fit in today – we have time for a few more hours in the Park and take a similar route to yesterday before checking out Lake Panic for the final time this trip. Everything is out and about already – Waterbuck,

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Eagles,

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Hippos, Herons, Impala, Warthogs,

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Kudu, an enormous Buffalo herd at Transport.

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Probably the largest we have ever seen here. Fascinating to watch how all the other species move around to let them pass...and a few who don’t.

We pop into Skukuza to refuel. We will not be driving far for the next 2 days and then we have a mega journey for the 2 days after that and we want to be as well prepared as possible.

At Lake Panic

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all the regulars are around...

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but a few special treats as well. Hidden, almost out of sight, stretched out in a bush right next to the Hide, is a Boomslang.

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I may have a phobia over rodents but I love to see snakes. The colours are wonderful. It is difficult to get a good photo but we do our best. The main colour is brown and I think I may have read recently that the males are green and the females brown. Is that right or have I remembered the information incorrectly?

As we pack up and turn to make our way back down to the car, a familiar face appears – YR Meandering Mouse and her daughter, Michelle. We can talk for ages so MM and I make our way back to the car park. Their camps did not overlap with ours and we did not expect to be able to meet up at all so this was a lovely surprise. Not only have we been blessed with fantastic wildlife sightings in Kruger this trip but we have the pleasure of meeting so many YRs as well – many old friends and lots of new friends too.

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Ostriches

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Buffalo

And other friends:

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Although we are sad to be driving out of Phabeni Gate, we still have a big adventure ahead. We pop into Checkers in Hazyview to stock up on the non-perishables for the next few weeks..we even braved the adjacent bottle store to replenish stocks. Being New Year’s Eve, the store was absolutely heaving but needs must!

It will be a long night and we settle down for a siesta before finding suitable attire for the Rissington party.


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