One very unexpected sighting during our Christmas week in Kruger, was this Hyena enjoying a swim in a shallow waterhole not far from the road
Hyenas are not natural swimmers but are known to take to water to cool off in very hot conditions – so we could not blame this one for seeking refuge from the extremely hot weather that we experienced during our visit
I was actually envious of the Hyena and was tempted to join it in the water – such a pity Kruger regulations don’t allow you to get out of your vehicle except at designated spots….. (See footnote)
It seemed quite content and had no inclination to leave the waterhole so we continued with our drive. Perhaps he was taking a summer holiday break from all those things Hyenas have to do – fighting Lions, chasing Vultures away from carcasses, etc
Footnote : Actually on second thoughts, the swimming pool at Mopani camp is a better option all round for me – no chance of a Crocodile or other creature surprising you
It was the start of our Christmas in Kruger week and we were nicely settled in our rondavel in Mopani Camp, so much so that we chose to spend most of the first day in camp, enjoying the shady stoep with its theatre-like patch of bush and rocks directly in front which attracted all sorts of bird and other species. The stifling heat also played a role in keeping us in the camp for the day in a state of semi-stupor.
Come the second day and I was keen to do some exploring of the surrounding areas, particularly as I had started to record the birds in that particular pentad and wanted to maximise the birding and atlasing experience by surveying as much of the surrounding areas as Kruger’s roads would allow
Gerda was content to enjoy the restful atmosphere of the camp, so I set off on my own, binoculars at the ready and keyed up for those surprises that await the intrepid Kruger explorer (actually tourist but explorer sounds more exciting)
Overnight thunderstorms had kept us awake at times, with some of the lightning strikes feeling very close, loud enough to have us jerking upright in bed. There was plenty of standing water in the countryside around the camp as I made my way slowly to the main road and headed south.
I stopped to view a Swainson’s Spurfowl near the road, which was in full voice at this early hour. They have a raucous call, akin to someone being murdered, I’ve heard it said, a call which carries long distances on a quiet morning and this one was giving its all.
After about 2 kms on the road towards Letaba, a road known as the Shongololo Loop branches off to the right and this was the road I was hoping to explore – I was glad to see the gravel road was still open despite the heavy rains, which can quickly turn such roads into a muddy quagmire. Nevertheless I had a good look down the road before turning off and, not seeing anything other than some deep looking standing water, set off feeling a tad adventurous but confident in my SUV’s ability to handle such conditions
The first stretch was quiet, then I crested a rise and around the next bend came across a low water bridge with water flowing across and what looked like several large birds that had taken up position on the concrete bridge.
Birds on a bridge
I stopped opposite one vehicle that was already there and had a look through the binos at the birds on the bridge – it was obvious that the herons, storks and thick-knees were using the conditions to do a bit of effortless fishing for a change – no stalking or stealth involved. The water flowing over the bridge was clearly bringing with it fish and other aquatic life, creating an easy “take-away” opportunity for the birds waiting in the ankle deep flow.
Over the next 15 minutes or so, various birds took up position on the bridge then moved off to the river itself, including Yellow-billed Stork, Green-backed (Striated) Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Water Thick-knee, African Jacana, Black Crake and even a Goliath Heron.
I drove across the bridge and parked on the opposite side where I enjoyed coffee and rusks while continuing to watch the interaction, then carried on along the Loop to the bird hide at the Pioneer dam a little way further, which was overflowing and causing the bridge to be under water.
In the deeper water on one side of the bridge, a pair of Hippos were doing their best to draw my attention away from the birds with some typical hippo antics
Croc gets in on the action too
Returning along the same road, I came to the bridge again, only to find that a sizeable Crocodile had taken up position on the bridge – bang in the middle, jaws at the ready and just waiting for a fish or two to be drawn in by the fast flowing water. I had seen this before where a croc lay in wait on one side of a low water bridge but this was the first time I had found one on the bridge itself.
After a while I edged the car forward and the croc dutifully stood up and walked to the edge where he slid into the river and swam off slowly, no doubt intending to return to the same convenient fishing spot once I had gone.
That was enough excitement for the morning so I headed back to Mopani camp with stories to relate to the family.
“Christmas in Kruger – it’s going to be very hot!”
Well that was more or less everyone’s reaction when we mentioned our plans for a Christmas break in Kruger National Park. “Yes, we know” was our standard answer, followed by “but the chalets have air-conditioning and so does our car” – this served only to raise a sceptical look or two and we tried hard to convince ourselves that it would all be fine.
As it turned out, we managed to survive the sometimes extreme heat and humidity for which the lowveld is renowned at this time of year – midsummer in South Africa – by spending as much time as possible in air-conditioned areas or shady spots with a cooling breeze and only venturing out during the cooler parts of the day. In fact we elected to stay in camp a lot more than we usually do during visits to Kruger.
Kruger always has a surprise or two and I thought I would highlight some of the surprise encounters, starting with what, for me at least, was the highlight of the week. As so often happens with birding, the encounter was dependent on a series of events which were impossible to foresee – here’s how it happened ………
After spending a night in the Magoebaskloof Hotel, where we rendezvoused with daughter Geraldine and family, we made our way the next morning to the entrance gate at Phalaborwa, passing through Tzaneen on the way and stopping at one of the many farm stalls to stock up on some of the locally grown tropical fruit – bananas, paw-paws, mangoes (not for me, can’t stand the taste) and litchies.
The Road to Mopani
At the Phalaborwa gate we dealt with the formalities and proceeded to Mopani Rest Camp – Kruger had it’s summer clothes on – green and lush as far as we could see. We didn’t dawdle. wanting to get to Mopani and settle in, but a report on SA Rare Birds the previous evening of a Striped Crake near Letaba meant I could not resist doing a detour of about 50 kms which would take me past the spot and I would be able to try for this potential rarity / lifer.
There were 3 or 4 vehicles at the small seasonal pan just south of Letaba and we joined them, asking if any had seen this secretive bird – it turned out that none had, despite spending some time there, but we decided to spend a half an hour or so, scanning the shallow water and vegetation along its edges for any sign of the Striped Crake.
It refused to show and we were about to leave when I spotted a crake-like bird on a log above the water, partially hidden by foliage – success! Or was it? I tried desperately to get some photos to help confirm the ID of the crake, but the results were poor due to the interference of foliage and the shady conditions under the trees.
Later I was able to confirm that it was a Crake by downloading the images onto my laptop and zooming in on the detail, but not the rarity I had hoped for – nevertheless it was an African Crake, also a ‘lifer’ for me so I was more than satisfied.
But that wasn’t the last of the seasonal pan near Letaba ……
Mopani to Satara
After 4 nights in Mopani, it was time to move on – to Satara Rest Camp some 140 kms south – not very far by normal standards but in Kruger it translates into a 4 to 5 hour drive, so we planned a stop for lunch at Olifants camp.
Along the route we enjoyed sightings of some of Kruger’s iconic creatures –
We also stopped briefly at Letaba for coffee and a ‘comfort break’ and on the way from there to Olifants, we decided to make a brief stop at the seasonal pan we had visited on the first day, just south of Letaba, despite their being not a single other car there – well, you never know, do you?
We had hardly stopped, still had the engine running, when my heart skipped a beat – a small, unfamiliar crake-like bird was no more than 5m away from me in the shallow water, among the tree roots and tangled vegetation! No, not the Striped Crake but just as good in my book – it was a Dwarf Bittern, a lifer and a bird that I have wanted to find for a long time.
I was ecstatic and spent the next 10 minutes or so watching as it moved slowly and stealthily, foraging in the shallows for its next meal – the sequence of photos says it all.
After two years of not adding a singe lifer to my Southern Africa list, I had found two in the space of four days – what a nice Christmas present!
Our main Christmas dinner was enjoyed on Christmas Eve in Mopani Camp, with the cooler weather brought on by constant light summer rain during the day making it a most pleasant evening. We joined Andre and Geraldine and daughters at their large family chalet, and their friends who were also in Mopani made up a jolly group, with each family contributing a dish or two to turn it into a really delightful dinner.
We had not made any specific arrangements for Christmas day itself, other than the inevitable leftovers (just as delicious) for the evening meal. We started the day in lazy mode, sitting on the stoep and observing the passing show of birds and other small wildlife.
Shingwedzi Christmas Picnic
When Andre and Geraldine suggested that we drive to Shingwedzi Camp, some 62 kms to the north, for a braai (barbeque) at the day visitor’s area, it seemed like the ideal way to spend the day in relaxed, yet active, fashion. We quickly got ourselves ready, packed a picnic basket and set off in mild weather, reaching Shingwedzi just after 1 pm.
We didn’t dawdle, but still found plenty of game to view in passing along the way
We found the day visitor’s area already crowded (yet socially distanced), but were fortunate to find one empty picnic table and the camp personnel helpfully brought a portable braai to our table. Andre got stuck in and braai-ed burger patties while a large leguaan moved between the tables looking for scraps, waddling along and flicking its tongue in true serpent fashion. Soon the buns were buttered and loaded with tomato, lettuce, onions and sauce, ready to receive the patties and we tucked into our simple but delicious meal
All in all a very unique Christmas Day lunch for us!
An ice cream on a stick from the small shop was our dessert, after which we set off on the road back to Mopani, taking our time.
Dinner for One ….. Martial Eagle
We were hardly out of Shingwedzi, driving next to the lightly flowing, broad river, when I spotted a commotion amongst a small flock of Starlings gathered in and around one of the large trees that line this stretch of the river.
I pulled off the road and stopped under the tree to have a look at what may be causing their agitation – glancing up I looked straight into the piercing eyes of a Martial Eagle, which was engrossed in the task of devouring an unidentifiable, partly hidden prey from which he was ripping chunks of meat.
Apart from an occasional withering stare, the Eagle ignored us, despite us being a few metres away, and carried on with its festive meal while we enjoyed the luxury of being able to observe this magnificent raptor at close quarters
The road back to Mopani had a few further interesting sightings….
And last but not least ….. well actually it is the least in terms of size –
This is one Christmas day that we will fondly remember
With the new year in its infancy, it’s time to select a few photos which best represent our 2020. In some cases, selection is based on the memory created, in others I just like how the photo turned out, technically and creatively. Despite the restrictions brought upon all of us by Covid 19, we still managed to travel, although it was limited to the borders of South Africa.
Birding and bird atlasing takes me to many places that would not otherwise feature on our travel map – here’s a selection ….
The Other Stuff
And to end off …… me and my pal Saartjie (who belongs to the Leonards but I get to borrow her now and again)
With the new year in its infancy, it’s time to select a few photos which best represent our 2019. In some cases, selection is based on the memory created, in others I just like how the photo turned out, technically and creatively.
If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!
The highlight of our travels during the past year was without doubt our trip to Australia to visit our son and family and to do a bit of touring through the State of Victoria. Other than that we did not venture far afield but managed to tame our travel itch with several local trips and extended visits to our second home town of Mossel Bay in the Southern Cape.
The year started and ended in our second home town of Mossel Bay. Walks along the seafront boardwalk are always a highlight with scenes like this to enrich the soul
The Wilge River Valley, about an hour’s drive from Pretoria, is a popular birding spot amongst Gautengers and delivers many species in summer as well as attractive landscapes
The Vlakfontein grasslands north-east of Pretoria are a favourite atlasing area for me – away from the hectic traffic of Gauteng
The Delmas area south-east of Pretoria is another favourite atlasing area, however traffic is a challenge – this early morning shot was taken in winter when the skies are a lot smokier – good for dense colour but nothing else
The road to Cape Otway Lighthouse in Victoria, Australia – we did not realise just how much forest Australia has – well the bit of Victoria that we saw anyway
The very popular tourist spot called the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne, Australia certainly lived up to its reputation as a “must see and photograph” – quite a dramatic scene created by weathered columns of rock
The beautiful beach at Cowes, Philip Island, just south of Melbourne
A special rainbow while walking in Sale, Victoria Australia
The early morning train approaches in mist to take us from Sale to Melbourne
The Klein Karoo is another favourite atlasing area despite low bird numbers – it has a special attraction of its own. This photo was taken south of Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
With visits to Kruger National Park and Karoo National Park, as well as our time in Australia, we enjoyed some usual and unusual wildlife sightings
The Other Stuff
I love to photograph just about anything that moves, within nature and outside it occasionally. Here’s a few examples
And just for fun, a non-moving subject …..
I have not included any of the many bird photos that I took during the year – they will be included in a separate “My Birding Year 2019” post
One of the great pleasures of birding in Kruger National Park is that you don’t necessarily have to go on a game drive to find a variety of birds. Birding the camp on foot is often a very productive way of building up a list of bird sightings and, if you are fortunate, you may be allocated a rondavel or chalet with surrounds that bring the birds to you.
Most of Kruger’s camps attract many birds with their well developed trees and gardens, as well as the bush that surrounds the camps, and there is no better way to enjoy the diverse bird life than sitting on your small stoep, sustained by regular injections of appropriate beverages, watching the passing show of birds and occasional animals.
As I mentioned in my last post, we were lucky to get a booking in Olifants camp for 5 nights during the last week of the winter school holidays – prime time in Kruger – and were doubly lucky to get a rondavel with “River view”, which are very sought after.
When we arrived at Olifants and drove to our rondavel after checking in, we were thrilled to see just how good our “river view” was – a view that started with the fence a couple of metres away, then dense bush and trees all the way down the steep slope to the river far below, where we could already make out an elephant or two and some hippos in the pools that form amongst the rocky course of this iconic river.
The River View from our stoep
Over the next 5 days, between the customary game drives, we spent as much time as possible on our small stoep, from early morning coffee to sundowner time, just chilling, reading and seemingly not concerned with our immediate surroundings, but ready at any moment to check out a nearby bird in the bush or more distant ones flying across the river below.
Seen from the Stoep…..
Here are some of the birds that came by to visit us, all taken from our stoep:
The bush in fron of our rondavel was alive with bird life for most of the day and we saw many more than those photographed above, including the likes of …..
Golden-tailed Woodpecker (who decided to “shadow-box” a supposed rival in our car’s external mirror on the day we packed to move on)
And to round off, a couple of non-bird visitors………
It’s a strange thing, this love of Kruger National Park – come the winter months with the highveld air getting drier and colder as we move into June and July, my thoughts involuntarily turn toward the bushveld wilderness where we have spent so many relaxing times.
Gerda knows by now to expect me to express my longing, sometimes subtly, other times more direct – “ooh, I wish we were in Kruger” or “did you hear so and so are in Kruger, lucky devils” or words to that effect. Then when she says “don’t you want to book a week for us?”, I naturally react with surprise and reply “what a good idea”.
And that’s how we found ourselves on the road to Olifants camp in early July this year. Surprisingly, we had found space in a standard Olifants camp rondavel in the last week of the school holidays, after finding the rest of July all but fully booked up in our preferred camps. We were lucky to get 5 nights in Olifants and another 3 nights in Lower Sabie and Pretoriuskop.
We go to Kruger to relax ……. and to look at wildlife, This time around I had this odd feeling they were looking at us – animals and birds alike – what do you think?
The Horned Animals
Unhorned and harmless
The Cute Youngsters
The Smaller Animals
The only Disinterested Animal
Even a Reptile
And Birds, of Course
And a tree knot looking like an Owl, looking at us
So if you find yourself in Kruger, or any other Park, looking at wildlife, I’m sure you will find them looking at you as well
With the new year in its first week, it’s time to select a few photos which best represent our 2018. In some cases, selection is based on the memory created, in others I just like how the photo turned out, technically and creatively
If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!
This was an unusual year for us, in that for the first time in several years we did not journey outside Southern Africa once during the year. But we made up for that with plenty of local trips, such as –
Champagne Valley resort in the Drakensberg
Annasrust Farm Hoopstad (Free State)
Pine Lake Resort near White River (Mpumulanga Province)
Mossel Bay – our second “Home” town
Oaklands Country Manor near Van Reenen (Kwa-Zulu Natal)
La Lucia near Durban (Kwa-Zulu Natal)
Shongweni Dam (Kwa-Zulu Natal)
Onverwacht Farm near Vryheid (Kwa-Zulu Natal)
Kruger Park Olifants camp
Herbertsdale area (Western Cape) – atlasing
Karoo National Park near Beaufort West (Western Cape)
Kuilfontein Guest Farm near Colesberg (Northern Cape)
Lentelus Farm near Barrydale (Western Cape)
With visits to Kruger National Park, Karoo National Park and Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana, there was no shortage of game viewing opportunities and it turned out to be a great year for Leopards
Kruger National Park
Karoo National Park
Chobe Game Reserve
The eyes have it
Wild but beautiful
Who needs a horse when you have a mom to ride on
Oh, and the news is hippos can do the heart shape with their jaws – they don’t have fingers you see
Bird photography remains the greatest challenge – I am thrilled when it all comes together and I have captured some of the essence of the bird
Great Egret flying to its roost
White-fronted Bee-eaters doing what they do best – looking handsome
The usually secretive Green-backed Camaroptera popping out momentarily for a unique photo
African Fish-Eagle – aerial king of the waters
Kori Bustard – heaviest flying bird
Crowned Hornbill – he’ll stare you down any day
Large-billed Lark in full song
Village Weaver – busy as a bee
Thick-billed Weaver – less frenetic, more particular about its nest-weaving
African Jacana with juveniles
Juvenile African Jacana – a cute ball of fluff with legs longer than its body
Reed Cormorant with catch
Wishing all who may read this a 2019 that meets all of your expectations!
The final chapter on our unplanned week in Kruger in early September this year…..
Like others, we visit Kruger in the hope of having some interesting sightings of the multitude of animals that live in this superb park and being birders we love the variety of bird life that we encounter.
But there is another, simpler side to spending time in Kruger and the title of this post says it all – sometimes you just want to relax and not be out on the roads looking for the next big sighting
Time in the Camp
There’s a certain luxury to just sitting on the verandah of the rondavel, preferably with your choice of liquid refreshment, taking in the passing show of small wild life.
Early mornings are often the best time, when it’s cool and small animals and birds are most active, but mid to late afternoon can also be very productive and pleasant.
We spent one such afternoon fascinated by what was going on in the patch around our rondavel in Olifants camp, as many of the “regulars” put in an appearance during the afternoon :
a Natal Spurfowl mommy with 4 teeny bopper youngsters spent time scratching in the dry leaf litter and dust bathing
Red-winged Starlings turned up hoping for handouts,
as did some Red-billed Hornbills
Tree Squirrels joined the Spurfowls in the leaf litter, finding titbits to eat, then cutely holding it with two tiny paws while nibbling
The resident Striped Skink entertained us with its antics on the verandah wall – another skink passing by got the treatment as it dared to intrude on skink no 1’s territory – backs were reared and skink no 2 skirted widely around and made haste to get away. Thoughts of soccer’s “the Special One” crossed my mind for some reason.
Banded Mongoose in small groups, foraging in the soil and leaf litter, keeping in contact with each other with their continual high-pitched twitter.
All of this action was played out to the accompaniment of background calls of Pearl-spotted Owlet, Brown-headed Parrot, White-browed Scrub-Robin and others as the afternoon wore on. Just another day in Olifants….
Another good way of whiling away the late afternoon as it gets cooler, is to take a slow walk around the camp. Olifants is ideal for tree spotting, aided by the nameplates on many of the trees, essential for tree dummies like us. Many years ago Gerda and I did a course on trees over a few evenings – very pleasant but not much of it stuck as we did not pursue the hobby thereafter, so we decided to refresh our memories from long ago in the hope that some of it would stick.
Some trees don’t need much in the way of serious observation to know what they are – one such is the famous Sausage Tree of which a good example stands outside the Olifants camp reception. We also saw large Sausage Trees in several spots during our drives and they stand out for several reasons, besides the obvious large pods shaped like enormous sausages which hang from its branches – the bright green foliage and purple flowers are further standout features of this unique tree, in case there is any doubt about the ID.
The bright green foliage is visible from a distance
The pods are potential killers if you happen to be hit by one when they drop – up to half a metre long and weighing up to 7 kg they can deliver a lethal blow or do some serious damage to you or your vehicle
The flowers of the Sausage tree have a pungent fragrance which attracts bats, insects and sunbirds, all of which help to pollinate it. They bloom at night on long rope-like stalks
Several other trees caught our attention while on our Trees 101 walk around the camp –
This medium-sized deciduous tree occurs in bushveld in the northern parts of SA. This example is to be found in the picnic area
As the name suggests the leaves are unusually round
Natal Mahogany trees are one of the more handsome trees in Kruger – large evergreen trees with a dense spreading crown of deep green leaves. They are mostly found in riverine forest but also occur in bushveld
The Wild Fig tree is another prominent tree that is fairly easy to spot as it attracts many fruit-eating birds, bats and even antelope.
An unusual and quite distinctive tree – small to medium-sized succulent tree occurring on rocky hill slopes. The leaves fall very early so the long thin branchlets are left bare creating a spider’s web effect
Interstingly the latex is toxic, used to repel or kill insects, nevertheless it is browsed by Black Rhinoceros
And there ends Trees 101 as well as our unplanned Kruger visit – until next time