Shingwedzi Day 2

We didn’t have high expectations after yesterday as we could not possibly see how we could have had another day like yesterday. As far as game & bird viewing were concerned we were right. It was very much a low-key day but then we also didn’t spend much time out game viewing today but spent more time in the camp.

Helen wanted to get another run in and she did that before we headed out this morning. That meant we left a little later than usual (probably around 6am).  We decided to do the same route as yesterday but exit out of the loop earlier (there are two places you can do that). We saw a reasonable amount of game and bird life but much of what we had seen previously. On the birding front we only managed to add two new birds in the morning.

We stopped for our morning coffee at one of the pull off spots around the dry river bed. There is very little water up here despite it being the rainy season. In fact, the Kanniedood Dam (which translated into English means Can’t Die) is Dood. Not a drop of water in it.  I never said it yesterday but that’s what makes the bird hide a little superfluous except to spot leopard (it seems). However, I digress. The point of me mentioning morning coffee was that we had just made our coffees (we travel prepared … I have Aeropress … google it if necessary) when a foreigner pulled up and asked what we saw.  We politely told him we were just having coffee and he wished us well drinking our coffee and pulled off.  Not 30 seconds later I see something walking across the riverbed, pull our my binoculars and sure enough – hyena. But that plus the 2 new birds for the trip were the highlight of the morning drive.

Helen tried out the pool facilities which were needed by midday when the sun was beating down. It got up to 37 degrees today (the hottest day so far for us). In the sun it is oppressively hot. In the shade it is just very hot.

We went out for a late afternoon drive at 5pm and it was still showing 36 degrees at that point. The highlight of the evening drive was seeing a Giant (Verreaux) Eagle Owl. We have seen them before but Helen and I had remarked earlier in the trip that we hadn’t seen one recently.  It was also the first owl we had seen this trip (we have been trying desperately see one but with no joy until now). Helen spotted it in a tree alongside the river and given it was on my side of the road I will have to promote her tonight on the blog side off.

Dinner was a steak salad (3rd time in the last 8 days!). Steak was perfectly cooked again (especially for you Stephen).

Until tomorrow … (a few extras are joining us)

H & P

PS: Picture of leopard from 2 days ago and cheetah from yesterday (just downloaded my photos from my decent camera) but the other picture is from just outside Shingwedzi as we drove back in tonight.

 

Shingwedzi Day 1

We have a book called Kruger Park Drives (recently published) and it rates each of the roads in the KNP. The road we planned to take this AM was rated 5-stars. And they were spot on.  We headed north toward Punda Maria and then took the dirt road (S56) that runs along the river (though only patches of water). The game was consistently spread over the course of the travel north. It started with the usual game but after about 10kms we took a slight bend and sitting right on the side of the road I saw a lioness.  We watched her for about 20 minutes as she got up, walked across the road, settled down again, got up walked further etc. It was clear she wasn’t going anywhere soon so we eventually left her.  Less than a kilometer down the road Helen said ‘Stop, reverse’ which I dutifully did and she cried leopard. It wasn’t a leopard actually but I forgave her because it was 3 cheetah in the river bed.  Not a bad start for the day.

We stopped for morning coffee at a picnic site and then turned back south toward Shingwedzi again. The terrain is more open with plains away from the river.  We saw 3 Tsessebe shortly after we turned south on these plains.  The most recent census showed that there are only 220 in the KNP. That is about an 1/8th of the number of lions and an 1/5th of leopard.  That’s just so you appreciate how rare sightings in the KNP are of Tsessebe.

We did also see a lot of buffalo on the drive this AM. I was just remarking on how big they are and how incredible it is that a lion can take one down when mid-sentence I stopped to cry ‘Lion’.  I reversed quickly but the one I saw has vanished and Helen hadn’t seen it! There was a ridge and it was walking along the ridge line. As I pulled forward we saw it again and then suddenly another 6 appeared as well. We spent another 10-15 minutes watching them until other cars came and then majority of the lions had gone over the ridge.  That just made it a ridiculous morning. Especially when you also add in that we saw an elephant shrew on the side of the road (after we had stopped to identify a bird) and a leopard tortoise walking across the road (two of the Small 5).

When it came time for the evening drive we had low expectations because we (a) had seen so much in the morning and (b) haven’t had great evening drives so far because it is still so hot. We decided just to drive down to the Kanniedood dam & bird hide. When Helen and I came to KNP before we had kids (about 23 years ago now!), Helen twice spotted leopard on that road and so we figured we should try again. While there was quite a lot of game scattered on the way to the hide, we didn’t see leopard. Helen wasn’t keen to get out at the hide as she said it was too exposed but I coaxed her out. We got into the hide and before I even had time to put my binoculars to my eyes, I saw a leopard walking out of the riverbed heading straight for the bird hide. Helen and I agreed best to get back to the car while we could still and so made a dash back. Of course Helen said ‘I told you I had a bad feeling’. We did unfortunately not see the leopard again.

This morning the lady in the shop asked whether we had seen the Wild Dog. They had been at the back gate of the camp but unfortunately we went out the front gate so we missed them. Turned out they too hadn’t traveled very far as they were lounging around in one of the pull-off spots on the road. There are only an estimated 120 wild dog in Park. Given there were about 10 of them in the pull-off, we almost saw 10% of them.

What an unbelievable day – tsessebe, lion, leopard, cheetah & wild dog! It will be hard to beat that day easily over the next week we are still here.  And what I forgot to say is that we saw another 5 tsessebe on the evening drive.  We are also now at 135 birds for the trip and 3 lifers.

This evening while I was braaiing, Helen shouted and I turned around to see a honey badger climbing the stairs of our hut. I know they can be quite vicious and so she tried to chase it but it simply ignored her (never a good tactic with Helen – I know!).  They can be quite a pest and it simply would not leave.  You had to aggressively chase it before it would leave (and it came back at least twice while we were finishing preparing and then again while we were eating.

Helen almost earned the top spot on the blog after spotting 3 cheetah. However, I think my 2 sets of lion, tsessebe & life-saving leopard spotting still keeps me ahead of her!

Until tomorrow

P & H

Letaba to Shingwedzi

We changed camps today going further north to Shingwedzi which is 108 kms from Letaba. Helen wanted to fit in one more run this week so she decided to do it before we left today. We also figured that leaving early is better than leaving late even though we would probably arrive well before the 2pm check in time. The early mornings are much better for game viewing. We headed out at 6:15am and the temperature was already 27 degrees. It was predicted to rise to 39 today.

The initial part of the game drive out of Letaba camp didn’t yield much but from about 10 km north onwards we were blown away by how much we saw.  Without a doubt the most game we have seen on a drive. I always remembered the road between Letaba and Mopani to not yield much in the way of game but we saw big herds of elephant, buffalo, impala, zebra and wildebeest. We also saw black backed jackal at one the watering holes (along with warthog, zebra, impala, wildebeest and elephant).

The highlight of the morning drive was seeing a large male leopard walking along the side of the road (toward us), crossed over the road in front of us and then continued walking down the side of the road.  As he headed toward a thicket, a grey duiker bolted from under a tree. It surprised Helen and I (because we hadn’t seen the duiker at all) and it seemed to surprise the leopard too. He just continued walking and then eventually settled into another thicket. He was so well disguised that if you were driving past you would never have seen him, yet he was only 5 meters from the road. We stayed for a few more minutes but it looked like he was settled in there for some time. I got some really good photos but I need to download them from my camera (which I will try to do tomorrow).

We stopped at Mopani for breakfast (it was 9am at this point). The view from the restaurant is over the dam. There was a herd of elephant swimming and frolicking (yes hard to believe but they were frolicking) in the water. It was quite entertaining to watch. The drive from Mopani to Shingwedzi yielded the same amount of game as the first part of the route. At one stage we couldn’t go 500 meters without seeing an elephant. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn – stopping briefly for a selfie – while keeping an eye open for the elephant crossing in front of us and behind us (not kidding).

We got to Shingwedzi at 12:30pm and fortunately they gave us our key straightaway so we could unpack and spend the rest of the afternoon resting (Helen got 3 hours sleep in). Simple dinner of spaghetti Bolognese. I’m feeling pretty tired so finishing writing this and then off to sleep!

Until tomorrow

P & H

Letaba Day 3

It was predicted to be the hottest day today since we arrived and it didn’t fail to deliver. Helen went for a run at before 5:30am and it was already well into the 20s at that point.  We went out for a morning game drive at about 6am and by the time we climbed into the car it was 24 degrees already. At one stage today my weather app said 37 degrees but feels like 43 degrees … no kidding! Helen walked outside the hut at one stage and came back in and said “It’s not like walking into an oven out there, it’s like walking into a furnace”. At dinner tonight (after I had braai’d), the sweat was running down my back, front … actually everywhere. Helen said it was even running down her legs. The thunder clouds had built up this afternoon and we thought we would get some rain as relief but in the end they dissipated and no relief gained.

The morning drive reinstated our belief that the animals and birds hadn’t vacated the Kruger Park. We headed north following the Letaba River and then continued to follow the river on a road leading to Mingerhout Dam. We had been led to believe the road in that direction wouldn’t be too productive but it turned out to be the best morning drive since staying at Letaba.  We saw hyena and two of the Big 5 – elephant (a massive heard) and buffalo (and a lot of other standard game). Unfortunately it turned out to be a no-predator drive (and day) again.  However, we did see a Greater Painted Snipe (in fact we saw 4 of them).  They are very rare birds and near-threatened. A lot of longstanding birders probably have never seen them. They are definitely harder to see than lions, leopard and cheetah. And we had a great view of them and even managed to get some photos (they were that close). That sighting alone would have made the morning drive for us.

By the time we got back to the camp (before 9am) it was already 29 degrees. We had no plans to do anything but stay in the air-conditioned hut.  Well maybe that’s not entirely true – I had plans to watch the cricket and fortunately the cellphone reception is that good I could stream it live without any issue at all. Helen went to the river for some bird watching at one point but the cricket trumped that for me.  She did see a few trippers but I am sure I can catch those up in the next 8 days still.  In fact during the evening drive we saw one of them. We are now at 123 birds for the trip (Helen probably has a few more).

We did do an evening drive but it was pretty fruitless (except added 3 trip birds). We have come to the conclusion that it is just too hot still during the evening game drives. The morning drives are the best for both animals and birding.

Braai (chicken wings and vegetables) for dinner (with sweating pouring off me while I did it!) and then as quickly as possible back into the hut with the aircon on!

Until tomorrow …

P & H

Letaba Day 2

We decided today to drive down to Olifants and breakfast there. The dirt road down follows the river all the way to Olifants.  Unfortunately the game was not co-operating this morning (or for that matter the whole day).  We saw very little and in fact concluded the day with having seen only one of the Big 5 – buffalo.  It is not often that I can remember a day in the Kruger Park without seeing an elephant.

We did enjoy a nice breakfast at Olifants camp at the restaurant before heading back up to Letaba. We took the tar road back (the shortest route) and unfortunately didn’t see much on that road either.  We did add a few birds to the trip list but even those were not significant. We are now at 110 birds for the trip (not bad after 4 days).

By the time we got back to Letaba the temperature was almost 30 degrees already (and that was before 10am). We spent the remainder of the day in the camp – reading, watching movies etc but all within the confines of the air-conditioned hut.  Every time you ventured out it felt like you were opening the oven door while the Sunday roast was cooking. Helen remarked that it was so hot that we managed to defrost the steak for dinner today in the fridge! We did venture around the camp again and were blown away by the one set of campers (see photo).  It was like a mini house and even included a car port and DSTV satellite dish.

We went out late afternoon for a brief drive but quite honestly had low expectations of seeing anything.  It was 35 degrees at 5pm and no self-respecting animal would be trying to do anything in that heat.  We did watch a baby hippo playing in the water though at one dam.  It was very entertaining.  He/she would get out of the water then run back in with a big splash, would jump on his/her mother and then over her and then back out again. It was like a hyperactive kid. We have never seen anything like it before and it was hugely amusing and entertaining. Probably the highlight of the day.

Dinner tonight was a repeat of our first nights supper – Steak Salad. Once again perfectly cooked steak (medium rare Stephen!) on the braai.

Until tomorrow …

P & H

Letaba

Yesterday was our first full day at Letaba.  Helen wanted to get in a run before we went out yesterday am.  Given the temperature is rising to around 35 degrees, you can pretty much only run in the morning. She managed to do just over 30 minutes by running around every loop in the camp. After she had showered we went out for a morning drive to Engelhard Dam. The bird life was again quite good and I managed to add 2 lifers (Grey Rumped Swallow and Common Quail) during the drive. While there was quite a lot of buck (particularly waterbuck) in the river and at the dam, the other game seemed sparse.

We spent the rest of the day in the camp. It was a low-key day with Helen catching up on some sleep, I managed to do some emails and CBD work, we did some reading and just generally relaxed. Exactly what I was hoping the two weeks would be like. We did a walk around the camp and walked to the shop for ice creams but no point in straining yourself when you’re trying to spend time relaxing.

We went out at about 4pm again and this time went to the southern part of the Engelhard dam. The road and views of the river are actually better and you can drive almost onto the river at some points. We didn’t see anything special and only added 1 new bird to the trip list.  It was only a two of the Big Five day – elephant & buffalo – so much slower on the game front too.

We had a braai for dinner (pork ribs) but that was probably a mistake as it took my temperature up another 5 degrees and given the outside temperature was 33 degrees at 6pm, it felt extremely hot. By the time we had washed the dishes we were ready to be inside with the aircon and we both needed a shower to cool off and refresh. Given the hard day (!) I just didn’t have the energy to do the blog last night which is why I am only doing it now.

Until tomorrow (or tonight) depending on how I feel!

P & H

Kruger Park Day 2

The gates open at 4:30am at the moment.  That seemed a little early for Helen and I and so we agreed to set an alarm for 5am.  I was awake before the alarm went off and we left for our first morning drive before 5:30am. There is a dam near the camp (called Sunset Dam) – it is only about 1 km away.  It was definitely worth visiting for bird sightings.  There were some many birds we didn’t really know where to look at some stages.  Add to it that the crocodile in the water were splashing around and the disturbing the fish (intentionally). We had a crocodile and Saddle Billed Stork right next to the car (couldn’t have been more than 5 meters away but fortunately still in the water – at least in respect of the crocodile).  We must have seen at least 20 different species of bird just at the dam.

We then did a loop around the camp toward a viewing/picnic site over the Mlondozidam. On the way there we saw hyena in the road and then crisscrossing the road. We had our coffee and rusks at the picnic site while adding a few more birds to the trip list and then headed back south toward the camp.  It was a very slow leisurely drive stopping numerous times to do some birding.  We had some great sightings of birds including seeing numerous Amur Falcons (we saw so many we didn’t even stop for them eventually). It was probably the best birding I have ever done on a morning game drive.  We got back to camp about 8:30am. At that point we had seen 56 unique birds.

The rest of the day was spent in the camp just relaxing.  Helen went back to sleep for another 2 hours when we got back.  We had an iced coffee and coke float for lunch at the Mugg & Bean (overlooks the Sabie River), wandered around the camp and back to the hut we are staying in.  It was pretty warm at this stage (around 35 degrees). It is OK when you’re in the shade but the moment you step into the sun you can feel the sun burning you.

We went out again at 4pm for another loop around the camp.  There is a bird hide (Ntandanyathi) which overlooks a part of the river. While we didn’t see too many new birds for the trip (we added one at the hide), we did see an elephant come to the hide to drink.  There is a second dam on the road (Duke) and we wanted to go there but we (and a few other cars) encountered an elephant you didn’t want us to go there. We were fortunately at the back of the queue of cars and so could make a U-turn the easiest. It seems whenever we come to the park we encounter an elephant that doesn’t want to let us down a particular road.  We headed back to the camp and got in just before closing time (which is currently 6:30pm).

We added Crocodile, Steenbuck, Bushbuck, Waterbuck & Hyena to our animal list.  I forgot to say that yesterday we did also see Giraffe, Wildebeest & Zebra. No predators today but we did see two of the big five again – elephant & buffalo (they are just permanently parked off in the river in front of the camp so not hard to miss them).

Until tomorrow

H & P (especially for you Bryan … Helen said I had to switch it around because I kept calling Saddle Billed Stork, Marabou Stork!)

PS: sorry about lack of photos … will try better tomorrow!

Kruger Park Day 1

Helen and I are doing something we have never done before … 2 weeks in the Kruger Park. We left this morning from home at 7:45am and headed for the airport.  Michael kindly dropped us off. Our flight left at 10am for Nelspruit Kruger Airport.  When we arrived the pilot said it was 26 degrees C but his thermometer must have been off because by the time we got into the car it was reading 31 degrees.

We drove to Malelane to do some food shopping for the next 2 weeks. While I was paying Helen went off to buy some KFC for our lunch.  She was feeling pretty hungry so she bought us each a Streetwise Five (that’s five pieces each!). Needless to say we only ate 4 pieces so the other 6 will be our lunch tomorrow (and probably the next day).  With all the necessary stocks on board we headed for the Crocodile Bridge Entrance gate which is near Komatipoort. It is the Eastern most entrance to the Kruger Park.

We got to the gate around 4pm and right at the gate we saw the first of the Big Five. I don’t think I have seen an elephant so close to the gate ever before. There was basically no one at the gate so doing the necessary paperwork was very quick and then we headed into the park. Not 5 minutes in and we saw a pride of lion lying in the shade under a tree. Probably about 5 in total but it was hard to tell exactly as they were not very active (mainly lying with their paws in the air actually).

We also saw a lot of birds and were doing more birding than animal looking when suddenly a white rhino crossed the road in front of us. It walked down the road straight toward us turned off the road when it got to us and walked past the left side of the car.  One of the best sightings of Rhino we have had in the Kruger Park ever. No other car in sight … just us … just the way we like it!

As we approached Lower Sabie (our camp for the night) we saw buffalo in the river.  That made it 4 of the Big Five in about 1.5 hours and really on our drive in.  Quite incredible really. The park is very green and lush and so we were expecting it to be hard to see game but so far it has been the reverse.  If all two weeks are like this then we are in for a great time! Helen said earlier she can feel herself relaxing (and that’s exactly how I feel too).

Lower Sabie is a beautiful camp right on the river. We managed to add a few birds to our trip list which is currently at 19 birds. Not a bad start for 1.5 hours in the park.  On the game front we have also seen (besides elephant, buffalo, lion and rhino) giraffe, kudu, impala, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey.

Dinner this evening was a steak salad – steak on the braai (cooked perfectly Daniel/Stephen!) – salad made by Helen.  Only challenge was that we discovered (when we were about to eat) that there was only one fork! I just did the manly thing and ate the meal with my fingers.

It’s 9:12pm and I can feel the need to get to sleep. Gates open at 4:30am in the morning. We are thinking maybe a 5 or 5:30am start might be more appropriate for us.

Until tomorrow

P & H