Last Day

IMG_1296We were woken up at 5am again this morning for our last game drive before heading home. As we had seen pretty much everything we didn’t really have any expectations but just to enjoy the drive. It was a much cooler morning (I had to wear a jersey for the first time on game drive) and there seemed to be a lot less happening. After seeing only the standard game we stopped for morning coffee on the side of the river. After coffee we planned to cross the river and go and look at the carcass again to see what was left. A few hundred meters down the road from where we had coffee we saw a hyena lying and sleeping on a small island in the river. Just a reminder that even when you think nothing is around there probably is still.

At the river crossing we found the pride of lion that had fed on the buffalo. They were spread around the islands in the river. Some of them were drinking and others just lying and ‘chilling’. We crossed the river and went to see the carcass. On route we saw another hyena who was obviously hoping to be able to get something from the leftovers. The carcass was just covered in vultures and those that weren’t actually on the carcass where waiting in the trees around. The hyena skulked around and then suddenly dashed in, grabbed a leg of the buffalo and loped off. It was very funny to watch but he was clearly very happy to get something.

WIMG_1297e then started to make our way back to camp and found a massive herd of elephant having a mud bath. Our ranger (Daniel) said he wanted us to see the Sycamore Fig tree before we left. The South Africans on the vehicle knew that actually meant something special for us in the bush and when we got there, Moses (who always served us in the camp), was there cooking crumpets for us. We had crumpets, fruit and coffee and then really headed in to the camp. On route we finally saw a giraffe which Pam was desperately wanting to see and was the only thing we hadn’t yet seen. Our ranger  – Daniel – was probably the best we have ever had. He is actually a chartered accountant and decided to take two years off his professional career to be a ranger. He was engaging and extremely knowledgeable given he has only being doing the job for about 18 months. He was never afraid to ask Japhet (IMG_1298our tracker) and was happy to be corrected by him on quite a few occasions when it came to tracks or animal knowledge. I really made for a very pleasurable experience overall.

A quick pack up and some further breakfast for those that wanted it (I had eaten 4 crumpets so I didn’t see the need for more breakfast) and we were on the road back to the airport and our flight back to Cape Town (and colder weather, and work, and normal life again). It felt like too short a trip for me and I was just starting to unwind. I wasn’t the only one to feel that way as Daniel also said he felt ‘sad’ to be leaving. While on the way back we were already planning the next time.

Until next time …

P, H, S, M, C, D (and P & J)

PS: final bird count was 103 and 2 lifers

Best game viewing day ever

I am not a person prone tKirkmanso exaggerate so I wrote that title line quite carefully and thoughtfully but it really was the best day of game viewing in my life. We started out at 5:30am as our ranger (Daniel) said he likes to get out before everyone else as he can then choose the road and route he wants to drive. We were first out and not far out of the camp our tracker spotted tracks which he said were cheetah. Cheetah very seldom come onto the Kirkman’s land according to our ranger and so they were quite excited to see the tracks and so we abandoned our plans to go and revisit the lions and their buffalo kill and rather follow the cheetah tracks. lioneating2They led us into a block we had to start off-roading in and our tracker jumped off the vehicle with a radio and started to track by foot. Our ranger then try to cover the remainder of the area in the vehicle but after about 5 minutes our tracker called in and said he had found a female leopard. Looking for cheetah, found leopard! So we found the tracker and then found and followed the leopard. It was a great sighting.

After we had finished with the leopard, another vehicle called in saying they had found Wild Dog. These are also very rare to see with only 200 Wild Dog in the greater Kruger area (of which Sabi Sands forms a part). Factor in that wild dog can run up to 50 km per day you can understand that they are very hard to see and if you do get a sighting of them it is usually for a brief time only. We found the dogs lying right near one of the roads and they weren’t going anywhere. It seemed that they had just killed something this morning themselves as some of them had blood on their faces.

lioncarcassWe then headed to the river to find a spot for morning coffee only to find two male lions lying on rock across the river from the spot our ranger had thought to be a good one! We did eventually find another spot further down the river. After coffee we went to revisit the lion kill. On the way there we met some of the lions from the pride going to and from the river for a drink. They walked right past the vehicle. To explain how close they were it might be easiest to say that Daniel decided to chose the safety of the front seat next to the ranger on the evening drive (there might have been a wet patch on the seat at the back where he was sitting). They seemed to look us in the eye when they walked past. We also watched the dominant male trying to drag the carcass into the shade. There was still quite a reasonable amount of meat left on the carcass – probably enough for them to feed on for the rest of today. The smell was quite strong and the vultures were starting to arrive as well. Then we started to move back towards the camp and someone radioed to say they had found the cheetah whose tracks we had originally found. We went immediately to that sighting and found the cheetah on the move and stayed with it until it eventually settled under a tree. At this point we eventually headed back into the camp as it was 10am (4 hour 30 minute game drive!).

IMG_1279All of the action was interspersed with the ‘usual’ sightings of elephant, kudu, impala, buffalo, a hippo out of the water and of course the mandatory coffee break alongside the river where I managed to see a lifer (first time in my life bird sighting of Black Stork). That sighting took my to 395 lifers and was the first lifer I have had in about 18 months. We had a late breakfast at he lodge and then time off until 4pm for the evening game drive.

After two amazing game drives it was hard to see what extra we would be able to see that we hadn’t already seen on the other 2 drives. While we had seen rhino in the Kruger Park (and bucket loads of them), Pam and John had yet to see one and so that was at least one thing we needed to add. It was pretty hot still (it got to 39 degrees C today) and so we headed to the river as that was many of animals would likely be. On route our ranger got a call that another vehicle had seen Coqui Francolin. That was the first time I have had rangers call in a bird sighting but Daniel (our ranger) said he had only ever seen them twice and so the rangers were all keen to see them (and I think they knew I was keen to get some more lifers and this was definitely one I had not seen before either). We did find one just before it headed into the bushes and even though we tried to coax him out with a call we didn’t get another look. But it did take me to 396 lifers.

IMG_1290We also had a really good sighting of a herd of elephant alongside the river (including some baby elephants that we only about 6 months) and then when we were looking for a place for evening drinks alongside the river, we saw two rhino. So that was everything ticked off in one day. Daniel calls it the ‘Magnificent Seven’ being lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, elephant and wild dog. After the evening drinks we found a male leopard that the wild dog had chased up a tree. By the time we got there the leopard was out of the tree as the dogs had gone to hunt and the leopard was on the move. We followed it until it went into very thick bush and the Landrover was unable to follow. On the way back into camp we stopped to look at the stars which are really incredible in this part of the world. The use of iPhone apps makes it even easier to identify the constellations and individual stars.

Back to the lodge for Boma dinner which included Kudu potjie and then especially for John they brought Creme Brulee for desert (on top of the nights desert).  This was because John had asked whether they would have Creme Brulee last night at dinner and so they made some especially for him (and the rest of us). John had proposed to Pam over a Creme Brulee so there was special JBsignificance. Dinner was ended with the local staff signing a few songs in Shangaan and then we were off to bed. About 20 minutes ago Michael knocked on our door and said there was a hyena on the lawn (we did see one last night near the lion kill and I think I failed to mention that) and then later Michael whatsapp’d to say the hyena had followed them back to their room (they had a guard with them – don’t panic).

It is 11pm and I need to wake up at 5am again so time to head for bed.  Hopefully I will be able to upload a few photos from today (and I will try for one of the lion kill from last night again).

Until tomorrow …

P, H, M, D (he kept his mouth shut today when we saw the hippo), J & P

Incredible day

Today was our last day in the Kruger Park but not in a game park. We left Pretoriouskop at 6:30am and headed south to the Malelane Gate (the same one we had entered at). We took the same route as when we arrived. On route we were hoping for a sighting of a leopard. Unfortunately we never saw one but we did get to see a Sable Antelope right on the side of the road. They are incredibly rare with only 90 found in the Kruger Park. Being a lover of statistics I wondered what the probability of seeing a Sable Antelope is in the Kruger Park and while it clearly depends on how long you stay, where you drive, how much you drive etc, the answer is a staggeringly low 0.1% probability. It is on the endangered species list.  It has seen such a rapid decline that in 80’s the probability of seeing one would have been 1.2% (which is still pretty low but more than 10 times what it is today). Not a bad start to the day.

Once we left the park we headed back to the airport to collect two special friends (John & Pam) who are spending the next 2 days with us in a private game park in the Sabi Sands reserve. They had flown in from Durban and had landed just after 8am. We arrived at the airport at about 9:30am (they knew they would have to wait for us to collect them in case you’re wondering). By this stage the two scavengers in the car were hungry and so they ordered a take away second breakfast.

sandriverWe then had a 2 hour journey to our lodge for the next 2 nights being Kirkman’s Camp in the Sabi Sands reserve. We arrived just before lunch and the temperature was 37.5 degrees. The only place to be in temperatures like that is indoors with the air-conditioner on. After lunch we had about 2 hours to relax before our game drive at 4pm. The lodge is situated on the Sand River and so we headed down to the river to see what we could find and very soon we saw a lionness on the other side of the river. Unfortunately that is Mala Mala territory and our lodge cannot cross the river so we had to view it from our side only. The sighting was not much better than what we had seen already in the Kruger Park. However, not long after the radio call came in that another one of our lodge rangers had found 2 lionness and this time in an area of the river that was on Kirkman’s land and so we headed off to see them.

When we arrived they were drinking from the river and so we couldn’t cross the river to see them as they were drinking right at the crossing point.  We eventually decided to cross further down and come back up again and while we did that they radioed to say that they had found the whole pride and they were eating a Buffalo which had most likely been killed that afternoon. So we abandoned the two lionesses and headed for the pride eating rather. The sighting was incredible. The sun had just set and so the lighting was not great but I managed to get a few photos before dark. It was an amazing sighting. In my lifetime I can only count 4 times that I have watched lions feeding and this was probably the most spectacular by some distance. The dominant male fed the whole time we watched. The buzzing of the flies was incredibly loud. The one lioness had her whole head inside the carcass at one stage. The stench from the carcass was overwhelming when we were down wind (our ranger quickly changed our position because it was overpowering). We watched the lions feeding for about 40 minutes and by this time it was totally dark. Evening drinks were forgotten and we headed back to the lodge for dinner. (Tried to upload a photo but taking too long and I am now exhausted so will try tomorrow again.

It really is hard to explain how amazing the sighting was. This was Pam’s first game park experience ever and she has no idea how fortunate she was to see this. I have probably been to game parks coming up to 100 times (or maybe more) and it was without a doubt the best sighting I have ever seen. Our game ranger (named Daniel by the way) has a tough act to follow on the next 3 drives we do with him. Fortunately his birding skills are pretty good and so I am hoping to get significantly more birds added to the list for the trip and maybe even 1 or 2 lifers.

Daniel is still trying to explain to Helen why he thinks his Helen should be compared to a Hippo (we saw one this afternoon in the river which started the discussion again). It seems he is a slow learner …

Until tomorrow

P, H, M, J, P & D (how could he not remain at the end)

Home for some

Standard morning drive at 6am was only the guys today. Not far out of the camp Daniel excitedly shouted Leopard. I hit the brakes and reversed but not in time as it was supposedly walking into the grass and away from us. We will have to take his word for it because I never saw it and therefore it can’t be verified. It’s like the standard philosophy question of a tree falling in a forest – does it make a sound or not? If you think you saw a leopard and no one else sees it, was there really a leopard there or not?

Back to the camp for breakfast and then off to take Stephen and Chloe to the airport for their flight back to Cape Town. Stephen has university tomorrow and so couldn’t stay longer (though I suspect he would have liked to) and Chloe reckons cold and wet Cape Town is a better place than 30 degrees watching lions. She clearly isn’t from the same manufacturer as the rest of the family. They were leaving from Skukuza airport directly back to Cape Town. Michael and Daniel elected to stay and loaf at the camp and so Helen and I took them up. It was about a 2 hour drive and we managed to see 2 separate sets of lions on the way up in addition to the normal buck, rhino, elephant etc. The most remarkable part of the trip was seeing a buck in a tree (yes I am not drunk and neither are you). It must have been killed by a leopard and dragged up the tree. The number of cars at the sighting was incredible. They were hoping that the leopard would reappear to eat its prey. We drove past it on the way back to our camp again and besides one vulture in the air and an eagle eating some of it, there was no further action and that was probably an hour later.

skukuzaairportWe dropped off Stephen and Chloe for their flight. It is a lovely little airport with the best departure lounge I have ever seen. Everything went smoothly (how complicated can it be with only one flight coming and going at a time) and so Helen and I headed into Skukuza for some refreshments and we saw the plane go right over our heads as it headed for Cape Town. We then headed back to Pretoriouskop and didn’t see anything different on the way back than what we had seen on the way up. We spent the michaelchasingfowlafternoon relaxing (and sleeping) in the camp. Michael and Daniel thought they should try to catch a guinea fowl but they don’t have any super powers like the ability to fly or change directly suddenly. I think they realized it wasn’t that likely or easy. We went out for a later afternoon drive again and unfortunately did not see anything new (and no predators).

fireatcampTonight is our last night in the Kruger Park and so we had our last braai tonight of Impala and Warthog chops. We definitely had the best fire in the circle of huts in our area. We could give lessons to people on how to start a fire. It is a Super Moon tonight (look that up if you don’t know what it is) and as the sunset the moon was rising and was very impressive. There is also a partial eclipse happening in the early hours of the morning (I don’t think I will be up for that).

Until tomorrow …

P, H, C (because I miss her not being with us), S, M, D (because he was arguing he didn’t deserve last spot yesterday … clearly hasn’t learnt his lesson yet)

Back to Pretoriouskop

We headed out for a morning drive around the same route that yielded so much game last night. As expected we hardly saw anything except on the way to the dam Michael spotted a Hyena (yes … a spotted one). It was trotting along and after following it for about 1 minute or so it trotted over the hill and was gone. It reminded me how easy it is to miss things in the park as it can be just one minute between seeing and not seeing something.

giraffefightingWe also watched two male giraffe fighting (Daniel said “We think they are males but what gender do they identify with” … #funny #genderconfusion). We had never seen two giraffe’s fighting before today. They were swinging their necks down and trying to hit each other with their horns. It didn’t see like they were doing much damage but also didn’t seem like they were going to stop any time soon. We watched for a reasonable amount of time and then headed back to the camp for breakfast, pack up and head out to Pretoriouskop again (where we will stay for next 2 nights).

Not far on our way up to Pretoriouskop we saw a whole lot of cars parked. You immediately know that it means something big. When I was growing up my father used to call people who just drove around car spotting ‘Joburg Johnnies’ as it invariably was someone from Johannesburg who didn’t spot anything themselves. So while we appreciate seeing ‘big’ game it is always a little disappointing we never saw it ourselves first.  It didn’t take us too long to spot that it was two cheetah. It is incredibly hard to see cheetah in the Kruger Park as there are only 120 in total and the size of the Kruger Park is the size of Netherlands. Imagine getting 120 names of Dutch people and being told to find them in the whole of the Netherlands without any help. That’s how hard it should be to see a cheetah in Kruger Park. And yet there they were – two of them lying under a tree and doing nothing. Unfortunately they were too far away for a photo.

This sighting did start a conversation about which animals we each were like. Michael said he was like a cheetah – fast, rare, graceful whereas Stephen was more like a leopard – loner, strong willed, big.  Then started a debate about whether a leopard was better than a cheetah or vice versa (yes I know what you’re think 10 year old boys … testosterone … doesn’t seem to matter that they are 17 and 19!). We then moved on to the other people in the car and Daniel suggested Helen was like a hippo and then tried his best to back peddle from that and tried to suggest numerous reasons why he said that. Fortunately Helen is thick skinned (probably the only similarity with a hippo … see Daniel that’s how it’s done). Chloe suggested she could be a Nyala because the mammal guidebook says they don’t like cold weather (and that definitely is Helen) and Michael suggested she could be crocodile because she likes lying next to the pool at home in the sun. Helen suggested I could be an eagle because I am always flying. Daniel was either a monkey or a lion (he was eating the Impala and Springbok chops tonight). Finally over dinner tonight Daniel suggested Chloe was liked a Honey Badger – small but fearless and also on the attack.

Back to the serious stuff … the game life was already sparse on the road and it was getting quite hot again (well into 30s). We decided to go up to Skukuza (basically capital of Kruger Park) for lunch and then come back to Pretoriouskop again. Good decision because a few kilometers from the turn there was another collection of cars and this time it was a huge male lion under a tree and a lionness sleeping. Big Five finally knocked off. In fact we had seen four of the Big Five on the drive up. We had seen 10 rhino within a 500 meter stretch this morning again (we don’t even stop for rhino anymore – we reckon we have seen more of them than giraffe and possibly even elephants).

vervetWe had lunch at Skukuza (they now have a Cattle Baron doing the takeaways) and then we headed back to Pretoriouskop. We arrived just after 2pm and decided to just chill in the camp for the rest of the afternoon/evening. There was a lot to see in the camp even including a few bird trippers and a troop of Vervet Monkeys that came through. They had very young babies – so young they couldn’t even really stand by themselves. They were very relaxed and we could get quite close to them. They are very naughty though and managed to steal an onion from one of our neighbours.

Dinner tonight was delayed so we could fit in the rugby. We started the fire at half time and starting braaiing after the game was finished. We were watching on an iPad and eventually we were all lined up in a row with Chloe in front of me. Every try was celebrated and I felt sorry for the neighbours trying to have a quiet meal.

Even though we didn’t go out on a drive late afternoon, everyone was relatively tired and we all headed to bed. I am going to post the blog and go to sleep immediately afterwards.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, M, C (becasue she compared me to a rat …), S (because Lara still hasn’t reigned him in from irritating Chloe yet) & D (well it should be obvious why he is bringing up the rear)

PS: We have seen 63 species of birds so far in the 2 days – minimum target is 100 but would hope to get many more still as we haven’t seen some of the obvious ones yet.

Epic day

The header for this blog was Daniel’s words to describe today. It didn’t feel like that to start with but it definitely ended like that. HipposWe were up at 5:40am this morning so that we could go out for an early morning drive when the gates opened at 6am. There is a dam near the camp and we headed there and had our coffee/hot chocolate and rusks. During the morning drive we added considerable birds to the trip list and also managed to see 3 of the big 5 within about 200 meters of each other. We also watched two hippo’s fighting each other in the dam.

We headed back to the camp for breakfast and then at check out time (10am) we headed for our night 2 camp location which is Berg-en-Dal.  By this stage it was already 32 degrees and the animal life was already becoming scarce. In fact at 7am the temperature was already up to 25 degrees. We had a leisurely drive down to Berg-en-Dal as check in time is only 2pm. On route we stopped for lunch at one of the picnic areas. There are some things in the Kruger Park which have slipped considerably and this is one of them. They had run out of tomatoes and Coke (which store ever runs out of Coke?!) and so went made it simple and ordered 6 Ham & Cheese toasted sandwiches.  They probably took 20 minutes to make. I could have made about 40 in that time.

We arrived at Berg-en-Dal at around 2:30pm and decided to just relax for the next 2 hours and only head out again at about 4:30pm. Helen and Chloe decided to stay and rest some more and the men/boys went out. The game life on the 1 hour 30 minute drive was probably the most I have ever seen in that time in the Kruger Park. We saw 28 rhino (no I am not kidding) and we came to the conclusion that they really don’t seem to be a species under threat. At one watering hole we saw three separate crash of rhino’s within about 300-400 meters of each other. We saw a huge amount of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, waterleopardbuck, impala and rhino. It seemed that we didn’t drive for more than a few minutes without seeing some game life. The only thing we were missing were some predators.

We had been driving & talking about seeing a leopard being in trees when Stephen called out and said ‘leopard’.  We all look excitedly and what he was pointing at and it definitely looked like it until we realised it was actually a giraffe’s head in the tree! Disappointed … we moved on but continued looking for the elusive leopard. As we started to turn back to the camp it wasn’t more than a few kilometers later when we our desire was met. A leopard in the tree (photo courtesy of Stephen). The only issue left was thaMichaelmathst by the time we pulled out we had just enough time to make it back into the camp before they closed the gate at 6pm. So we drive the balance of the 13 kms at the speed limit of 50km/h. You would think you can’t see anything at that speed but we managed to see 10 rhinos. We have seen so many rhino now that we don’t even need to stop to look at them anymore.

While we were preparing for dinner Michael even managed to get some Maths practice in. Braai for dinner again (steak and boerewors) washed down with some good red wine. It is 9:10pm and Stephen and Chloe have headed for bed and I think I will be behind them as soon as I post this blog.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, M, D, C & S (because he is still irritating Chloe incessantly … @Lara – could you intervene as I think he might only listen to you it seems)

Game Park 2015

AirlinkYou shouldn’t be surprised – it’s September so it must be time for the Temple’s to be visiting a game park. It is a year since we last did this and we have been going through withdrawal. We left this morning on a direct flight from Cape Town to Kruger Nelspruit airport. Everything went smoothly and in fact we took off 1 minute before our scheduled time of departure. The flight was uneventful and we landed about 20 minutes early.

KNPairportI really love the airport at Nelspruit. It has to be one of my favourites in the world (and I have been to a few). It is a little thatched roof building and it immediately makes you feel like you are in game park territory (or safari as foreigners like to call it). In fact even the flight makes you feel like it because you are generally on the plane with 50 other tourists all wearing their ‘safari’ gear down to the David Livingstone hats.

We got our rental car and headed to Malelane where we wanted to do some shopping for the days we are in the Kruger National Park. On route we quickly realised that the air-conditioner of the minivan we had rented was not working. Too late to turn back and not that I wanted to do that anyway. Given it was 32 degrees (C for the Americans reading this), there was no way we were going to survive without air-conditioning either. It is a public holiday in South African today (Heritage Day) but fortunately my personal assistant is fantastic (yes she will read this 🙂 but she really is) and she managed to get Hertz and organised that they would come and change out the minivan for us. Thanks Cecilia … I really owe you now!

We did a very quick shop for our food for the next few days and then headed into the Kruger Park through the Malelane gate. We had organised that they would swap out our minivan at Pretoriouskop (the rest camp we are staying at tonight) at 5pm and by the time we entered the Park it was about 2:30pm. It is about 60 kms to the rest camp and you would think you would easily be able to cover that distance but you need to factor in that the maximum speed limit is 50 km/h on the tar roads and 40 km/h in the dirt roads. You also need to allow for the stops for animal sightings and rock sightings (for when someone thinks they saw an animal and it turns out to be a rock). We made it to the camp just after the Hertz driver had arrived so the timing was pretty good in the end.

rhinosOn route from the gate to the camp we saw quite a bit of game given it was now 34 degrees C and everyone (including us with our non-functioning air-conditioning) would have preferred to be sleeping under a tree. We have so far seen two of the big five (elephant and rhino) and both already in abundance.  At one point I spotted a Rhino and called it out.  Daniel (our “adopted” son who is actually a nephew who was illegally sitting on the window of the van and predominantly outside the vehicle) thought I was joking and just trying to get him back in again but in fact I really had spotted a rhino.  That one was followed up by a sighting of two rhino right next to the road. We also saw a lot of elephant including a mother and calf that was so small he/she fitted under his mother entirely. Add in the usual Impala, Steenbok, Common Duiker, Vervet Monkey, Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Warthog and a small smattering of birds (11 so far but we haven’t really spent any time birding seriously) and we have had quite a good start.

S&DTryingtolightfireAs it is unofficially ‘National Braai Day’ (Braai is a Barbecue for all non-South African people), we had the mandatory braai for dinner. Stephen had brought a flint with him (present from girlfriend) and so the guys thought they would start the fire with it instead of buying matches. 10-15 minutes of attempts and Daniel kindly offered to go and buy a more trustworthy way of starting the fire. Hopefully I am never stuck with them in the wilderness.

After a long hot day and the prospect of an early start tomorrow at sunrise we are all off to bed and sleep.  In fact Helen is snoring as I type …

Until tomorrow

P, H, D (because he went to buy the lighter), M, C & S (because he has been annoying Chloe most of the day)