Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Letaba to Mopani and Back

Saturday 21 November 2020

It is an early start this morning. The cicadas are ringing in our ears as we wake and get ready for the day. At quarter past five we leave Letaba and make our way to Mopani Rest Camp for breakfast. We had heard hyaena laughing and lion roaring in the distance but will we find them?

It is a cool 23 degrees, there is no wind and the sky is slightly cloudy. It promises to be a ‘cool’ day. In fact temperatures do not rise above 30 degrees C and the average hovers around 28. Believe me that is cool by Kruger standards.

We decide to have a competition today. I keep the list and whoever sees the first of a species for the day gets a point. In the case of birds one has to be able to identify the species correctly to get the point otherwise the other gets a point too.

I believe I am the better spotter and The Earl believes that he is. He complains that being the driver puts him at a disadvantage as he has to concentrate on the road. I say that driving keeps him alert and aware of his surroundings while I have to keep the list so my head is often down updating which puts me at more of a disadvantage. Also I have from time to time check my bird app to ensure we have correctly identified a species. It is agreed that we are evenly matched and the game is on!

I am the first to spot an animal – A hyaena but it dashes away and the photos is blurred. We see a fellow camper, Dave, who is travelling alone. We pull up next to him and he tells us he is waiting for the lions that we heard to appear. We don’t have the same patience and move on and then stop to look down on the river where there is quite a bit of bird activity. This is fun – there are lots of birds to spot and the Earl is the first to get Burchell’s coucal, grey heron, little swift and fish eagle. He also sees the hippo first. I get grey hornbill, great white egret and green-backed heron. He is beating me and I don’t like it!

Great White Egret and Grey Heron
Greta Grey Heron catches a ride on Horace Hippo’s back – She uses her wings to balance as he moves forward

“Thanks for the ride, Horace,” she says. “You’re welcome,” he replies

I then spot the squacco but the Earl spies a brown-crowned tchagra. I’m not winning at this game!

Squacco Heron

An eagle drops down and we are both foxed as to what it could be. It strikes me that it’s an immature something or other so I suggest it could be a fish eagle. Upon checking I find that I am right so claim a point for that! The Earl is not amused.

Immature Fish Eagle

We continue our drive and see the usual gang of gnus, necks of giraffe, zip of zebra, clumps of elephant and even a warthog, ostrich and another two hyaena. The competition is becoming close. At the confluence lookout we find Saddle-billed and Woolly-necked stork

He then finds jacana, spoonbill, stilt, Egyptian Goose and wattled starling. I claim a point for identifying the latter.

We move on stopping at various points beside the river to find still more birds. Soon we are pretty even but the Earl is still ahead.

On the River Loop we are told by a fellow traveller that there are lion in the dry river bed. We look with our binoculars and find a pride of lionesses lounging in the sun. They are too far for a photo but a few km further one of the pride is guarding their kill – not a good photo either but it’s an impression shot.

Lioness guarding the buffalo kill
Woolly-necked Stork
Female Saddle-billed stork

When we stop at Mopani’s Fish Eagle Terrace for breakfast, the Earl is still ahead but I’m gaining fast. He leaves his binoculars in the car but I take mine and my camera too.

Entrance to Mopani’s Restaurant

The Tindlovu restaurants in Kruger offer a lovely menu and their “The One” breakfast for under R50 is perfect. It’s supposed to be one egg, one piece of bacon, one grilled tomato and one slice of toast but they add an extra egg at no added cost. Their coffee is good too.

We sit at a table on the deck which overlooks the river. The birdlife is awesome and I start spotting one after another. The Earl says, “I’m not spotting now – it’s breakfast time.” “You can spot while you wait,” I reply. But he doesn’t want to play. I claim the points anyway!

Golly, it’s a Goliath Heron
Giant Kingfisher
Mocking Chat
White-faced Ducks

After breakfast, I have almost caught up to the Earl in points! On our way to Shipandani Hide we find a car whose occupants are staring into the bush. They point out a male lion. Nearby is a Tsessebe that he and his mate have killed and half eaten. The lion is hiding behind the leaves of a mopane tree.

I get a good photo of his teeth!

The female is asleep nearby but something disturbs her and she gets up to sniff around before flopping down again. We manage to get some photographs

As we approach Shipandani we find a huge herd of buffalo

We also visit pioneer dam and find a cute hippo having a nap.

By now it is time for a loo break so we go to Mooiplaas picnic site which is another of the wonderful rustic sites in the Kruger National Park. Phineas is in charge here and he makes sure everything is pristine. While I am at the loo, the Earl chats to him and he shows him where an owl resides.

Mooiplaas Picnic Site
Resident Scops Owl

Phineas also takes us to Tsendze Camp to see the barred owl but he is not there. But back at Mooiplaas Phineas has a surprise.

A Paradise Fly-catcher on its nest

This is certainly the highlight of my day.

Other creatures we see and score points for.

Tsessebe
Steenbok

We return to camp at about one o’clock and rest during the heat of the day. At quarter to four we go out again and do the Mingerhout loop. It is quite quiet but we get some interesting sightings

Zebra
And of course giraffe

There are quite a few elephants too and the usual yellow-billed storks, spoonbills, Egyptian Geese etc. From time to time we hear red-crested korhaan calling but they refuse to show themselves. Then the Earl spots one camouflaging quite well. We hear the clack, clacking of its beak and then the piercing whistle. Suddenly he flies up into the air, curls up into a ball and free-falls to the earth. This is an amazing display he does in order to impress a mate!

Red-crested Korhaan

We arrive back at camp at six o’clock. I am the winner of the competition with 30 points to The Earl’s 26. My prize is to cook dinner! I make a chicken casserole in my electric Romosca pot. It has been a wonderful day!

Published by puppy1952

I am making the most of the South African Lifestyle and hope with my blog to share some of the adventures my husband and I are having in our retirement. We live at the Southern Tip of Africa in the small coastal town of Struisbaai. Earl and I have a Gecko off-road caravan and we travel around South Africa frequently. We are bird and wild life enthusiasts so are often in game reserves.

8 thoughts on “Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Letaba to Mopani and Back

  1. wow puppy a brand new site and you went to Kruger while we can’t travel out of Europa… well till to South Africa. What a chance. You got some beautiful birds, I think of the White-faced Ducks “on line” the nest of Paradise Flycatcher and the Scops Owl and Goliath, Fisch Eagle. Love too the Antelopes, Tsessebe and the Buffalo… well what a pleasure to follow you in the park. Thank you for that. Have a nice week end. Anne-Marie

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