Shingwedzi Day 2 and then home

Only 3 people decided to head out for the morning game drive – H & B decided that a sleep in was necessary but S, K and I headed out. I’m pleased we did because we saw another lifer (Monotonous Lark) which took my lifers for the trip to 4 and my total lifer list to 479. S is not far behind me on 469 having closed the gap over the last 7 days by seeing a number of birds I have seen but he hadn’t yet. We didn’t see any other major game on the drive but did add a few birds to the trip list as well.

It rained on and off during the day and remained relatively cool (around 26 degrees) for most of the day. We headed out for an evening drive at about 4pm and after seeing very little game on the route around the camp we decided to head south a bit on the main road and see what we could see. About 5 kms from the camp H shouts “stop, go back, leopard in a tree”. Sure enough – there is a leopard sleeping in a tree. It was a great spot. See if you can see it in the picture below. This was about 15 meters from the road (photo taken on my iPhone).

We waited for awhile and it didn’t seem interested in moving and so we headed further south, did a loop and came back. Still in the same place so we decided to wait. It would take us about 10 minutes to get back to the camp so we had until 6:20pm before we had to leave. At 6:15pm it sat up and then started to climb down the tree and then headed off away from us into the bush with all the animals nearby (including impala) alarm calling. We had to head back at that point but it seemed unlikely that that was going to kill anything nearby as it wasn’t concerned about concealing itself at all as it walked.

It was our 5th leopard sighting and all of them have been very good – though one of them was pretty fleeting. We were also the ones to spot all of the leopard sightings which also is much more fulfilling than someone else seeing it first.

Our meal was a braai (how could it not be). Overnight it rained heavily – so hard at times that I wondered whether we would have a flash flood! It rained most of the night and it was very wet outside. Packing the car without stepping in puddles was basically impossible. We had 120 km drive inside the park to Phalaborwa gate and then 70 kms to Hoedspruit airport. It rained the majority of the way and game viewing was nearly impossible due to heavy rain. We did see black backed jackal on the road and also some of the standard game – impala, kudu, elephant. Birding was non-existent except for some swallows and a few raptors. My trip list ended on 152 birds. Better than last year but I was hoping for more. We didn’t see so many ‘standard’ birds – I am sure the weather affected our birding significantly.

We got to the airport with about 1 hour and 30 minutes to spare before our flight. The flight left on time and landed slightly early into Cape Town. Safely home by 4pm.

We throughly enjoyed the time. I could have stayed for longer actually. We are already looking forward to our next trip – which hopefully will be possible despite Covid – to celebrate my 50th!

Until next time …

P & H, S & K, M & O, B

Shingwedzi Day 1

Young male lion from previous day

It was overcast for the most of the day and the temperature never got much above 27 degrees. It was actually relatively cool at times especially when driving with the window open. We did head north for our morning drive. Unfortunately, due to the heavy recent rains up north, some of the dirt roads are still closed. That included the river drive that H and I love to take when up in this area. It consists of 3 loops actually and fortunately the middle one of the three was open so we could do that. The road follows the river and the you generally see a lot of game and birds. Overcast conditions aren’t great for birding though but it does tend to favour seeing game.

We saw an Eland (pretty rare in the Kruger and harder to see than most of the predators) while still on the tar road. On the dirt road, as we rounded one bend there was a hyena in the road with something in its mouth. It immediately ran off and while we were trying to find it a leopard crossed the road and then we fortunately had another brief glimpse of it in the bush as well. We never saw either of them again but we went back to the spot the hyena emerged from and you could smell a carcass (though we couldn’t see it). It was probably a kill by the leopard. We also saw two honey badgers running down the road as well during the trip. Our favourite road did not disappoint again.

I had some meetings late morning and early afternoon and the rest spent the day resting before we headed out on the evening drive at 3:30pm. It was again a pleasant drive but no new game and no predators. We did have another altercation with a male elephant (very old, with one very long tusk and the other broken off half way) which required us to reverse for about 500 meters before it gave up and let us go past. Given past experiences with elephants, I am particularly cautious now though it does feel like we had more run ins with elephants this trip than previous ones.

It was our last dinner (braai) with M & O as they would head back the next day. Another enjoyable evening and into bed relatively early (fresh air, sun and early mornings!).

Until later …

P, H, S (he braai’d and washed up), M (he got the fire going), O, K & B

Cheetah from previous day

Olifants to Shingwedzi

The Kruger never disappoints. The drive from Olifants to Shingwedzi (our camp for the nest 3 nights) was one of those memorable ones. We left at 6:30am and the drive was similar in distance that we did from Lower Sabie to Olifants. We saw a reasonable amount of game on the drive up towards Letaba but just outside Letaba (about 5 kms from the camp) we saw lion on the side of the road and covered in blood. It was clear that it had been eating recently. We then spotted the carcass and another lion eating. After some further examination we found a third lion. It was a relatively fresh kill (we later found out that it happened earlier in the morning).

There were 3 young male lions and they had taken down a wildebeest. They had eaten out the insides but there was still plenty left on the carcass. While watching them eat and rest after eating, we suddenly saw 2 hyena come out onto the road. They clearly smelt the kill and were already lurking. Just as soon as we saw the hyena, a leopard crossed the road between the lions and the hyena. We only saw it because we had seen the hyena. As fast as we saw the leopard it was gone again into the bush. We watched the lions (including one trying to chew the speed limit sign!) but never saw the leopard or hyena again.

We then drove upwards to Mopani and 29 kms from the camp we saw a cheetah. The reason I know the exact distance was because it decided to jump onto the road marking and mark it’s territory through anal secretion. It was right next to us (like 5 meters away maximum). Another incredible sighting. After a few minutes, it jumped off, then headed down the road and finally into the bush were we could no longer see it.

All of this happened before we got to Mopani for breakfast. An incredible 2 hours of driving where we saw two of the big 5 in one sighting. We had also seen elephant (multiple times) and later in the day we saw buffalo so that meant we saw 4 of the Big 5 in one day (missing only rhino). Despite seeing a reasonable amount of game during the rest of the drive, it almost seemed mundane in comparison to the first 2 hours.

We arrived at Shingwedzi at about 1pm and managed again to get our accommodation immediately. We went out for a shorter drive at 4pm – partly because I needed to be back by 6pm for an online meeting and partly because we had driven a long way. The roads around Shingwedzi are generally incredible for game spotting and a slow drive to the bird hide and Kanniedood Dam (it is actually no longer there as they have recently blown up the dam as they believe it is more ecologically correct) can yield the most amazing of sightings. We didn’t get to see anything special but it was still an enjoyable evening drive.

Dinner of spaghetti bolognese made by O and B.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, M, O, B (they got promoted for making dinner for us) & K

(sorry no pics … signal just too weak)

Olifants & the BIG birthday

50 years ago, my wife was born to D&B. The reason we are doing this trip at this time (and thankfully we could despite Covid), was to celebrate H’s 50th. H had chosen Olifants as the camp she wanted to be at because she loves the view so much.

We left at 5:30am for the morning game drive. As a once off special we all loaded into the same car so we could be together for the drive. We headed north toward Letaba camp along the dirt roads. Unfortunately the road along the river was still closed after the flooding and so that was disappointing. We wanted to stop for morning coffee at Letaba and then head back down to Olifants again. However, before we went in to Letaba I decided to go past to the river (one of the best stretches of road you find for game viewing).

We saw a reasonable amount of game including lots of elephant, some birds of prey, turned on the other side of the bridge and started to head back to Letaba. As we passed one dirt road (one of the ones blocked off) S shouted “Stop, go back, leopard!” I duly obliged and sure enough there was a small male leopard walking down the dirt road and then he turned and walked up the tar road. We followed him for 800 meters until he eventually headed into the bushes and we couldn’t see him any more. An incredible sighting and the first time both K and B had seen Leopard in its natural habitat. You basically couldn’t have gotten a better sighting.

Coffee/Hot chocolate at Letaba and then we headed back to Olifants for the balance of the day (and some present opening). For the evening game drive we went south and the game life on those roads was substantial. There was plenty of buck (impala, waterbuck, kudu), giraffe, zebra. Also a lot of birds including seeing 4 different sightings of one of the birds we just saw for the first time ever on this trip. Amazing how after seeing one you suddenly see so many more!

M got the fire going again and we all toasted to H’s 50th birthday with a fantastic view over the river. S & M did the braaing (I wasn’t feeling great and I think it is from the malaria medication we take). H had requested chicken wings and lamb chops and that is what we delivered for dinner. After dinner we all shared what we appreciated about H … a nice new tradition recently introduced by O to our family (and now adopted by us).

Until later today (hopefully) … I know my blog posting hasn’t been daily but hopefully now catching up and will be back on track!

H (because she is 50), S (leopard spotting & helping with braai/sides – yes even promoted ahead of me), P, M (braaing again), K (she made chocolate fondant for desert!), O, B

Lower Sabie to Olifants

On Tuesday we changed camps from Lower Sabie to Olifants. It is a 140 km drive, and while that doesn’t seem very far when you can drive 60, 80 or 100 km/h, it is about a 5 to 6 hour drive when you’re driving at 30-40 km/h. We headed out at 6:30am driving north.

We saw a reasonable amount of the standard game but nothing special. We stopped for breakfast at Tsokwane (a picnic spot) and then continued north. By that point it was already getting into the 30 degrees C (at about 8:30am). The animals were already sitting under trees in the shade. That makes it hard to see animals and generally means predators are doing the same thing and are not out hunting.

We stopped for another short break at Satara camp and a few stops at waterholes for some birding. We did stop at a lookout point and from that viewpoint we could see rhino (7 actually), giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and even a secretary bird. After that short break, we drove through to Olifants and arrived at about 1:30pm. Fortunately they allowed us to check in early so we could settle in. The accommodation had a view over the Olifants river. The river had the most amount of water in it than I have ever seen following the recent heavy rains.

We decided to stay in the camp and enjoy the view house over the river. You can always see some game in the river – hippo, waterbuck and a variety of birds. We (actually M) got a braai going early and enjoyed the view and the sunset while having some sundowners.

While not a great day for game viewing, it was a pleasant drive and another enjoyable day in the park.

P, H, M (because he made a great fire for the braai), S, K, O & B

Lower Sabie Day 2

Sunrise from our bedroom

We decided that we should drive south for our morning drive for two reasons. Firstly, we would shortly be heading north so this was really our only opportunity to head south. Secondly, we could check to see if Crocodile Bridge gate was open for M&O who were arriving later from Cape Town. 

We saw a reasonable amount of game heading out of the camp but no predators. Lots of elephant & buffalo. As we got near Crocodile Bridge we started seeing a massive amount of game including rhino. H and I remember that from previous times we were here – the game seems to congregate in the kilometer near the gate. After a quick toilet and coffee stop at Crocodile Bridge camp, we headed back north but along the dirt road. After a few kilometers we saw a black backed jackal running along the road and we followed it and then it was chased by a zebra and vanished into the grass. 

A short distance further up the road I could see something lying in the road and as we approached we saw it was a cheetah. There are only 120 cheetah in the Kruger Park so it is really nice to see one and to have such a good sighting of it. It lay in the road a bit then got up and walked along the road, crossed the road and then eventually headed into the grass and lay down underneath a tree. If you had driven past at that point you would never have seen it.

We got back at around 9:15am and spent the rest of the day just relaxing and enjoying camp and the river. M&O landed safely just before midday, got their car, went to supermarket to re-stock our supplies and drove into the park. They arrived at 3:30pm and after they had put their stuff down we headed out for a late evening drive. We drove a few dirt roads around the camp and while seeing a lot of elephant and buffalo again, we didn’t really see much else. We ended up at Sunset Dam just outside the camp and saw the sunsetting over the dam before heading back into the camp just before the closing time of 6:30pm.

Sunset Dam – that is M&O’s car

It was a pretty hot day as the temperature got up to around 33 degrees. It was the first day that S&K enjoyed without clouds. We got a break going and enjoyed sitting around with everyone just chatting and catching up. Missing C who couldn’t get back from the UK because of Covid.

Until tomorrow (or later today if not too tired) …

P, H, S (he started the break), M (he was pretty helpful especially for a long day travelling), K, O, B (she tried to bribe me to get off the bottom … what more can I say)

Lower Sabie Day 1

I was up very early (3:10am!) and simply couldn’t get back to sleep so I did some work and just enjoyed the calls of the wild until the sun rose and we went out for our morning drive. Everyone was ready promptly at 5:30am. We decided to head over the Sabie River (which has fortunately stopped flooding – it was 2 days ago still not possible to cross the low water bridge) and then head north and back to camp again. It was a pleasant morning drive though the picnic spot/lookout over the dam was unfortunately still closed which would have been a nice place to have coffee. We didn’t see any predators but did add to our bird list. We did see buffalo which now means H and I have seen the Big 5.

We spent the balance of the day in the camp just enjoying the river view, doing some birding and generally relaxing. Some of the younger generation also needed to catch up on sleep as 5:30am seemingly isn’t a time they usually get up.

We did go out again for an evening drive but this time headed south. There are a lot of elephant around this area as they like being close to the river and the vegetation around this area. You pretty much can’t drive more than a few kms and see elephant. We did add a few more birds to the trip list which now stands at 132 for H and I but unfortunately again no predators.

It was overcast the whole day but it was definitely not cool at any point. At 5:30am it was 24 degrees C. By the time we were finished dinner, the older generation were feeling the very early morning and so we headed off to bed and were asleep shortly after 9pm.

Until tomorrow (or later today if I have the energy) ….

P, S, K (they deserve their places higher up because they cooked for us last night), H & B (she tried to bribe her way higher on the list today … S kindly pointed out that isn’t how it works and more likely to get her stuck at end the whole day)

PS: There was a long discussion around whether wives get the benefit of their husbands rank in the list order. Just for the sake of clarity – list order is earned on your own merits.

PPS: Sorry no pictures – cellphone signal not strong enough!

Satara to Lower Sabie

We left Satara today for Lower Sabie. Given the length of the drive and that you can only check in at 2pm, we decided to get up later than usual (6am) and after packing up we headed out. The drive was only 130 km but when you’re driving at 35km/h, it does take quite long. It was overcast the whole day but it never really rained at all (some very light drizzle at one point). That doesn’t mean it was cold – the temperature at 6am was 24 degrees C. 

It was a great morning drive. We added leopard to our trip list. Once again, on the road. We saw what we thought was a hyena but it turned out to be a leopard squatting doing it’s business. It then walked on the road ahead of us, occasionally veering into the grass on the side of the road and then back again and then across the road onto the side. It did that for about 500 meters and then eventually went into the bush and just vanished. A reminder again about how much timing makes a difference. We were the only car when we first saw it though 2 other cars came up later and saw it as well. A fantastic sighting.

We stopped for a bush breakfast at Tshokwane (a picnic site on the road south). Very impressed with their approach to hygiene – everyone wears masks of the Sanparks staff and they were only operating an outside till point so that the staff can work in fresh air only. Tables are generally spread apart so you’re not sitting near anyone else.

We stopped at numerous waterholes on the way down south and added new birds to our list which is now up to 123 birds for the trip. We got to Skukuza (basically the capital of the KNP) at midday and with cellphone reception restored we heard that S & K (son and daughter-in-law) and B (friend) had landed at Nelspruit airport, had their car and were heading to do shopping. Unfortunately the best gate for them to enter (Crocodile Bridge) was closed as the Crocodile river was flooding and the bridge over the river was covered by the river. They had to enter at Malelane and drive up to Skukuza and down to Lower Sabie – a 3-4 hour drive but at least within the Kruger. They saw 4 of the big 5 on the way to the camp (only didn’t see leopard). We also have seen 4 of the Big 5 as we still haven’t seen buffalo despite being here for 6 days already.

We got to Lower Sabie at about 2:30pm and checked in and spent the afternoon and early evening spotting game from our accommodation. We have a view of the river that is just fantastic even from our bed! We have seen hippo feeding on the bank along with elephant while just lying on our bed.

View from our accommodation at Lower Sabie

SKB arrived just before 6pm. I had the braai going already by that point (we had ribs and chicken wings on the braai last night). Nice to have them arrive safely and to join us for the next week. 

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, K & B (she needs to earn her way off the bottom place)

Satara Day 5

We headed out a bit later today and decided to drive east again on the road to the eastern boundary. Just before the turn we saw something lying in the road and drove down to see what it was and it turned out to be a dead lioness. First time in my life I have seen a dead lion. Unclear what killed it – could have been disease or an injury. Nothing was noticeable except that it had died in the middle of the road. A Sanparks truck pulled up shortly after we got there. I would normally assume they would allow nature to take it’s course but when we came back at the end of our drive this morning, the lion was no longer there. I assume that they took it.

The rest of our drive was pretty uneventful. We saw a reasonable amount of waterbuck and a few new birds for the trip. We are now up to 105 unique birds for the trip. Given we have been in one type of terrain only so far, that is pretty good. By comparison, last year we saw just over 140 birds in our time here so we should pass that total.

We spent the rest of the day in the camp relaxing. H managed to get in two naps in the day (not sure if she will fall asleep tonight!). We headed out late afternoon for our evening drive. We decided on a short route and while we saw game and birds, we really only saw one new bird for the trip (Tawny Eagle). The grass is incredibly long and so it is at some times impossible to see over it even though we are in fairly high car. We did sit at the dam for about 20 minutes just enjoying the quiet and watching the antics of some of the birds. It is incredibly good for the soul! If you haven’t tried to, it is worth doing.

Until tomorrow ….

P & H

Satara Day 4

We woke up yesterday to an absolutely stunning sunrise. There isn’t quite anything like a bushveld sunrise and sunset. Hard to explain, hard to capture on a photo – must be experienced yourself.

We headed out south from the camp and we saw a few cars further down one road (we weren’t planning on going that way) so we went down to see what that they were looking at. There was a flattened out patch where something had clearly be lying and some vultures were picking at the area too. Must have been a kill there at some point. We turned around and when we drove back up they were opening the dirt road to the east. Perfect timing and without the slight detour to see what the other cars were looking at we would have missed the opening of the road. Everything is about timing in the Kruger!

The road follows the river and there was plenty see of bird life as well as all the standard game. We also saw two different groups of hyenas. After our stop for morning coffee and rusks, we hit the T-junction (basically the eastern border of SA and KNP) and turned south. Not far down the road, we found another pride of lions lying on the road again. Third set of lions, third time they are lying on the road. These were very inactive and just sleeping so after a short while we moved on.

At the next T-junction we something for a distance and when we got there we saw it was a juvenile caracal. They are nocturnal and shy so they are very hard to see. I have only seen a handful previously in the KNP. This one wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere and seemed inquisitive and so we were able to watch it for some time and I managed to get some great photos.

We got back to the camp much later than usual (closer to 10am) and by that stage, it was already over 30 degrees. We spent the balance of the day inside near the aircon. H did go for a 30 minute walk and came back looking like she had a swim (though she hadn’t!).

We went out later in the afternoon because of the heat and the longer morning drive. We were again able to take another dirt road (not all of them are open yet but enough to give us some choice). We went up to a bird hide to the north of the camp. We did add a few additional birds to the trip list and have now started to see some waterbirds finally as well. The special sighting on the evening drive was a raptor that had caught a European Roller and was eating in the middle of the road. H could even watch it pull the roller apart. Not the kill I wanted I was hoping to see but still pretty interesting.

We did a braai last night but I hardly got through it because it was SO hot that my shirt looked like a very wet towel. It was almost too hot to eat my famous braai’d chicken wings (which H said were the best I have ever done… high standard that).

Until later today (couldn’t post last night because cellphone signal was very poor also the reason for no photos) …

P & H