Author Archives: puppy1952

About 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.

Breaking Free From Lockdown. Day 29

Monday 23 August 2021

Today we did quite a long morning drive. We started on the H1-4 then did the S89, S90 and S41, before returning to Satara via the S100. We saw a lovely variety of birds and animals. I am posting the highlights and letting the photos tell their own story today.

Our first Burchell’s Coucal of the day. Several of his friends turned up to say hello during the course of our drive
This sleepyhead would not look at us
So Cathy took a close-up
This usually shy steenbok is not afraid of anyone
Uh oh, Road Block
Keeping company with the stripy ones
Cathy’s nick-name for giraffe – “Raafies”
These leaves are delicious
A call from Alec on the walkie talkie alerted us to a big surprise
This guy has huge tusks
I want to be a tusker!
A Tawny Eagle posed obligingly
A juvenile bateleur enjoying a meal
He gave the Earl a hard stare
Lots of elephants on the S100
Don’t worry, I won’t chase you today
Wildebeest were on the march

We arrived back at camp at 13:30. After doing camp chores and having a rest, Cathy and Alec went for a short drive at 16:00, but the Earl and I decided to stay in camp. They returned after an hour to say we hadn’t missed much except for some lovely hippo.

Just flying in to see how you are.
Our camp at sunset
The sun dropping off to sleep

Breaking Free From Lockdown. Day 28 Satara to Timbavati Picnic Site

Apologies for being missing in action for the past two days. The internet at Satara is not that great at the best of times but for the past two days it has been down completely. I will try to catch up as quickly as possible.

Sunday 22 August 2021

Today’s weather was not very pleasant.   It was overcast, windy and cold.   All dressed up in jeans and jerseys we left camp at 07:50 with the Everest in the lead.  We started our drive on the H1-4.  

The first excitement of the day came in the form of two very large birds.

“Oh – look – a Secretary Bird!   Two Secretary birds!”  Then one took off and flew to the other side of the road.  We could not see it but Cathy and Alec could.    

The Earl’s photo
Cathy’s photo

Then just after that another member of the Big Six birds of Kruger National Park made an appearance.

The Heaviest flying bird in the world is the Kori Bustard
Males can weigh up to 19kg

The Big Six Birds to seek are Pel’s Fishing Owl, Kori Bustard, Ground Hornbill, Secretary Bird, Martial Eagle and Saddle-billed Stork.  We have seen five of the six this trip and there is little chance of getting the elusive Pel’s!

At 08:25 we turned onto the Ntomeni Road. As we were looking in the trees for birds the Earl stopped when he saw one that looked familiar. “What’s that,” he asked.  “It looks different to the lilac-breasted roller.”  And it was indeed a cousin, but even in the dull light the Earl noticed something was not quite right.

Purple Roller

We then followed the S40 toward Timbavati Picnic Site. Just before the turnoff we came to the bridge that crosses the river.  A few cars were stationary on the bridge and on the other side.  And for good reason.  Lions had made a kill and were busy with buffalo for breakfast.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Ready for an after breakfast nap

We managed to get a few photos and then went to the Timbavati where we planned to cook our own breakfast but the wind was gusty and it was very cold so we just had coffee and then returned to the lions before continuing.

I’ve had enough
Still hungry
Timbavati is an unfenced picnic site kept beautifully by a caretaker. In good weather it is lovely to picnic here. It has a good view over the Timbavati River

We followed the S39 and stopped at Ratel Hide but there was not much going on there.  However, we enjoyed watching a crake and Cathy managed to get a photo of a three-banded plover.

I know I am a handsome chap

Back on the road we stopped from time to time to photograph those creatures who would oblige. Some helmet-shrikes flew into a tree and one kindly perched in a suitable position for just the right enough of time to snap his portrait.

Well hello there

Looking down from an omrit overlooking the river we saw a lovely riverside scene.

Yellow-billed Storks and Grey Heron
Lazing by the riverside

There were plenty of impies about.

We like doing things together

At 11:15 we turned onto the  H1-4 and continued to see more creatures

Buffalo looking curious
I’m tired of leaves, think I’ll try some dry grass

Back at camp we made scrambled eggs for brunch, had a rest and then went back for a drive on the S100. We saw herds of zebra, wildebeest and waterbuck but we dipped on the lions that are often found on this road.

Two species in one tree – Lilac-breasted roller and glossy starling
A road block

And to end, a lovely Emerald-spotted Wood Dove.

Breaking Free from Lockdown. Day 27 Satara

Saturday 21 August 2021

I woke up at quarter to five this morning.  It was dark and still and as I was unable to blog due to internet problems last night I quietly booted up my laptop desperately hoping that I would not wake the Earl  He slept on.  I was done by six and as I started getting up I heard the pitter patter of raindrops on the caravan roof.   Uh oh how would this affect our day?   It did not last long and I was able to get to the bathroom without getting wet.  

Everybody was ready to leave for our game drive  at quarter past seven. It was very overcast and drizzly and the temperature was 17 degrees C.  We went in tandem with Cathy and Alec and drove to Tshokwane for breakfast then did Orpen Dam before travelling back on the H10, S 32,S35, S37 visited Sweni Hide and N’wanetzi Picnic site and then home via the H6 and H1-3

H1-3 7:15 to 9:15

With the weather being overcast and chilly with a spit and a spot of rain it was not surprising that most of the creatures kept a low profile.  Those who did dain to appear were not easy to photograph in the poor light.  However, with three of us taking photographs we managed to persuade some of them to pose.

The first birds to make an appearance were white-crested helmetshrikes. These birds tend to fly in an cohesive group from tree to tree.   You see them quite clearly but then they disappear into the foliage.   One of them politely posed for me in a dead tree.

White-crested Helmetshrike

Elephants are more willing than birds to have their portraits taken.  Several showed up this morning and they were all very polite and did not mess with us once.   Perhaps the misty cool, misty weather put th

Breaking Free from Lockdown. Day 26 Satara

Friday 20 August 2021

The weather today was cool and overcast starting at 13 degrees C and going up to 24 degrees C. The Earl and I left at seven o’clock. Cathy and Alec left a little later and did a different route.

We haven’t seen many warthogs this trip but today on the H6 they appaeared to greet us.

Warties getting close to their food

Next we came across a gorgeous giraffe walking in the veld and noticed a fork-tailed drongo close at his heels. When he stopped to look at us the drogo waited patiently in a tree. The clever bird knew that Gandolf Giraffe would disturb more grasshoppers for him to catch soon.

There was not much besides some hippo and a fish eagle at Nesamani Dam

A fish eagle at Nesamani Dam

On the S 40 we found more creatures

We waited for the impala roadblock to clear
The Earl took a lovely close-up
Another giraffe with a following drongo The giraffe is scratching his neck on a branch
Mom and Baby Elephant
Brown Snake-eagle all puffed up

There were also quite a few male kudu travelling together

Two very handsome lads
A twist of horns

The S100 was unusually quiet but we found lots of waterbuck and some birds most of whom refused to pose.

Black-backed Puffback
Southern Black Tit

After our morning drive we returned to camp and compared notes with Alec and Cathy over a lovely breakfast cooked by the Earl. They had been on the S 40 too but went a little further than we did and found Wild Dog!

A gathering of dogs
Off to hunt an impala
When a dog’s gotta go A dog’s gotta go

Other morning highlights

Burchell’s Coucal
White-hooded Vulture
Immature Bateleur

In the afternoon we also left at different times and did slightly different routes but met up on the S100.

Crossing a weir we found a skulking Black Crake
There were two adult ground hornbills with an immature on the S90
Female Double-banded sandgrouse
Swainson’s Spurfowl
Warthog escaping the camera

Our final sighting on the S100 was a lion. He caused a huge traffic jam but refused to greet the tourists. We weaved our way through as soon as we could. Cathy got the best photograph.

Not waking up for anybody!

Breaking Free from Lockdown. Day 25 Letaba to Satara

As I dropped off to sleep last night I heard the gruntings and snortings of hippo grazing in the grasslands next to the fence of campsite six where our Gecko caravans were parked. It was a lovely lullaby to doze off too. But a few hours later the incredibly loud shrieking laughter of a spotted hyaena jerked me from my slumbers. And they say the city is noisy! Well, these sounds are preferable to the shrill of police sirens, the angry hooting of cars, and the bee baa bee baa of ambulances racing to some horrible accident scene. I checked the time to find there were still a few hours to sunrise and I soon dropped off again. It was just before six when the sound of the neighbour’s car alarm awoke me. Oh dear, even in the bush civilization creeps in.

The Earl awoke too and was eager to get packed up and on the road to our next destination. “Hurry, hurry,” he said. “We must get to Satara. The “Early” bird gets the best spot!” By Ten to Seven we were packed up and ready to go. “Go work your magic,” said Alec. “Get us a good caravan site! You can do it!” Oh, the pressure, Alec, the pressure!

The Earl using the Power Touch Movers to maneuver the caravan onto the tow-hitch

“We’re not stopping for anything!” said the Earl as we drove down the H1-5, and for several kilometers, there was not a thing to be spotted among the Mopani trees.
We were slightly delayed when we saw some cars up ahead looking into the mess of Mopani. We came alongside one of the cars and asked, “What have you seen?”

“Wild Dog,” came the reply and pointed but we couldn’t see anything. Other cars were reversing to where they probably were but of course, that was not an option with the caravan in tow so we carried on.

It was an hour before we hit our first roadblock. “You’re going to have to stop,” I teased. “Guineafowl crossing the road” What funny creatures they are. Although they’re perfectly capable of flying they prefer to walk and we have seen huge flocks of them strutting about the park.

Guineafowl Road Sense

When the H1-5 changed to the H1-4 the mopane trees started to thin out and the vegetation changed to grass and scattered trees. No more mopane trees limiting our view to 25 cm into the bush!

Baboons entertained us on the Olifants bridge. We weaved our way through them and the traffic and did not stop to look for waterbirds or any other creatures that might be about. We just snapped the baboons and continued our race to Satara. After all, the pressure was on. Get to Satara – find a camp spot. I’d checked the website the night before to see how booked up it was – no vacancies in the campsite at all!

The gang on an early morning walk
Really, baby, I don’t know how you get your fur into such a state@
Hold tight, little one, Mommy needs her hands for walking.

“What now?” the Earl was in a panic. “Seven cars stopping for zebra?” Only one was crossing the road so the Earl started to pass the line of stationary cars.

“I’m sure they’ve spotted something else,” I said. And a second later – “Stop! Leopard!” I saw a beautiful leopard lying in the grass. The Earl edged forward so I could look back through a gap. The leopard had already stood up and was walking off into the bush. “Too late,” I cried. “He’s gone!” But I saw him – and he was wonderful.

Hey Leopold, the other day you promised to pose for us properly.
That promise was for Cathy and Alec – not you. See ya!

From then on we saw more and more game. The open plains revealed the creatures of the Kruger National Park in large numbers. What a change it was from the north. We saw elephants, buffalo, impala, zebra and wildebeest, and of course, the elegant giraffe. “We’re not stopping for photos,” said The Earl. “Time is running out. We have to get that special site!” But he did indulge me for just a few. Alec and Cathy were a little way behind us and took photos too.

Always lovely to see
Huge herd of buffalo
Curious about the tourists
Some lovely zebra
Wonderful WIldebeest

We arrived at Satara at five minutes past nine and found the campground was pretty full. At first, it looked like no perimeter spots were available so we drove around looking for good shade, near the ablution block, close to the camp kitchen and not on top of other campers. Then right in the left-hand corner of the park, we found a vacant perimeter site!

“It’s too small,” I said. “Two caravans can’t fit here!’

“Of course they can,” the Earl replied. “With movers anything is possible.” We got out of the car and examined the site. Yes, it would do. I had shade. It was not far from the ablutions and both caravans could certainly fit comfortably. Our right-hand neighbour welcomed us with, “Isn’t this a lovely spot.” “Yes,” I replied. “Has it just been vacated?”
“No, they left a few hours ago. But look, you’re just in time. Here comes another caravan seeking a spot. Lucky indeed! The other caravan had to settle for a site without shade on the other side of our left-hand neighbour.

We were just starting to set up when Cathy and Alec arrived. “Wow,” said Alec. “You’ve worked your magic again. This is a fabulous site!” Phew – we did it!

Our lovely campsite

Once we’d set up and settled in we went to the restaurant for breakfast. By midday, the temperature was well in the thirties. Cathy and Alec decided to do a short late-afternoon drive on the Orpen Road while the Earl and I left a little earlier and did a longer route that included a visit to Sweni Hide and the S100.

On the H1-3 we crossed a bridge and spotted some ellies enjoying a drink in the river.

We then took the H6 and stopped when I spotted two kori bustards. One of them posed quite nicely.

Then just ahead a car was stopped and when we came up to them they pointed to a baby hyaena resting under a shady bush. There was no sign of Mom or any other of the clan.

I don’t think he’s lost. Mom is probably hiding somewhere nearby

Next, we took the S37 and stopped at Sweni Hide. This is one of my favourite hides in the park as it is very pretty and usually produces something interesting to see. Today I was not disappointed.

At four o’clock we made our way to the S100 for the final leg home.

Some pink-eared kudu
Very sweet

Our last bird of the day was very special.

Red-breasted swallow

Earl got a lovely shot of the sunset as we neared home.

Cathy and Alec also had some lovely sightings on their drive. I am particularly jealous of Cathy’s amazing Pearl-spotted Owlet

Pearl-spotted Owlet
I just love this giraffe in the mirror photo!
It’s a very long neck to groom you know – Many beaks make light work
A Leopard Tortoise made them wait a very long time as he slowly crossed the road.

Cathy and Alec arrived back a few minutes before we did and Cath took a lovely sunset photo

Supper tonight was a delicious spaghetti bolognese cooked by Cathy. After a very hot day the wind got up slightly and it may rain tonight. While we enjoyed our meal in the cool of the evening a stealthy hyaena patrolled past the fence.

`

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 24 Last Day at Letaba

18 August 2021

Report on the facilities at Letaba

What a great week we have had at Letaba Rest Camp. We were reasonably happy with the facilities. There are two ablution blocks. The bigger one was closer to our site. It has two showers, two baths , three toilets and four wash basins. The other has two showers, two toilets and two wash basins. The bigger ablution was closer to us but when we found all the showers occupied we used the other one which seemed to be less busy. The smaller one did not have mixer taps in the shower so getting the water to the correct temperature was a little trickier. Both ablutions were kept neat and tidy by staff. However, this year private schools who worked online through Lockdown were given their holidays in August and we found that children were left unsupervised to shower and some did not clean up after themselves. We blame the campers for the mess and not the staff. Some days you would find an untidy bathroom but on others it was pristine.

The camp kitchens like most in the park have hydroboils, sinks, hotplates and a microwave oven. Once again neatness and cleanliness depended on who was there before you. As I’ve mentioned before, come prepared with your own kitchen cleaning equipment.

The laundry, I am pleased to report, had two working washing machines and two working tumble dryers. When using the park laundries be sure to have a supply of R2 and R5 coins as the newer machines work with the new R5 coins and the older with R2 coins. At Punda Maria a wash and dry costs R16,00 At Shingwedzi and Letaba it is R 20. I believe that at most of the camps the cost is R20 for a wash and dry, but at Berg en Dal it would be R40.

Letaba is a shady, restful camp. We heard Scops, Pearl Spotted and Barred Owls calling at night. As we had a perimeter site we could see the animals on the other side of the fence and were pleased to have elephants, impala and waterbuck visit. A hyaena patrolled past the fence every evening. We will certainly be sad to leave Letaba tomorrow morning.

Today’s Game Drive

It was rather chilly when we left camp this morning at 8 o’clock but it soon warmed up and the maximum temperature today was over 30 degrees C. We went out for a couple of hours and returned at 11 o’clock and then the Earl cooked us omelettes for brunch. The rest of the day we spent doing chores and relaxing. The Earl cooked a lamb curry for dinner and then we packed up the canopies and got the caravans ready for an early departure tomorrow.

The Earl wanted to follow the H1-6 and S62 today as he thought they would be good for bird watching. We did not have great sightings but I will share what we did see.

Early on in our drive we saw a strange but familiar looking bird in a tree. Some white-crested helmet shrikes flew into the same tree causing the mystery bird to change his position and give us more clues as to who he was.

That stripy face looks familiar. Please show us your chest so I can be sure you are who I think you are.
Weil, I am a bird. Why shouldn’t I be in a tree even if my name is Groundscraper Thrush

Some Kudu caused a roadblock as they crossed over to browse on the other side.

On the bridge we got out to look at the view.

It looks like there is nothing there until you look carefully through binoculars
There were several black-winged stilts
White-fronted Bee-eater

We spent some time at the Matambeni Hide. We did not see many birds.

A tranquil scene
Lazy crocodiles were everywhere
I’m sure this male waterbuck knew we were watching him
So he turned his back on us
The hippos grunted and snorted and enjoyed wallowing in the water
Arrow-marked Babbler

Tomorrow we will make an early departure and hope to find a good caravan site at Satara. Hopefully, we won’t have too many roadblocks as we make our way there. Good night and thanks for reading.

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 23 Letaba to Olifants and Back

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Good morning. So you’re back for another virtual game drive? Welcome aboard. It’s a beautiful day today. No need for a fleece. No need for a jacket. The maximum promises to be in the late 20s.

The Everest is in the lead and we’re taking the H1-5. My, but it’s quiet. Do you see anything at all? Do hear the birds? Niks Nada Nothing. Let’s pull over here where we can see the river. Oh look down there

Some lovely waterbuck coming down for a drink

Let’s take another omrit to see what we can find. Scan with your binoculars. What a tranquil scene. In the distance a grey heron fishing for his breakfast. And right here look what we’ve got.

A terrapin sunbathing party
And another one on a patch of his own
There are lots of crocodiles lazing around too
And a hippo catching some rays

The riverside is busy this morning. There are lots of hippos, crocodiles, waterbuck, herons and Egyptian geese.

Where are Cathy and Alec – they haven’t caught up to us. Perhaps they took a different road. We’ll catch up with them later.

Look up there in that tree. Why is the Lilac-breasted roller acting so strangely? Train you binoculars on him.

Oh my – there are two. Get a room birds!

It’s a perfect day for love

It’s now 10:45 and we’re turning onto the S91 – the Balule Road. There is a bit of activity here too.

More waterbuck having a quiet day

At 11:15 we turn onto the S90 Oh – Stop. Let’s have a look at this reptile.

He looks pretty prehistoric to me!

Do you see how the yellow mongooses gives him a wide berth? They run away so quickly I can’t get a photo.

Stop again! A lovely kingfisher. We often see him perched quietly on a branch like this. Sometimes his call alerts us to his presence. Ki pi pi pi = Pity for me. Today he is silent.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

We’re coming to a low bridge now and there ahead of us are Cathy and Alec. Yes they came a different way.

Let’s see what these male waterbuck are up to.

Who’s the boss?

Hey – look what’s coming toward us!

Tall and Proud and not at all aggressive
The Gentle Giant walks off to browse
Such a handsome creature

Now we’re on the S89. There’s a car stopped on the other side of the road. The driver is pointing out of his window. Look left – omiword – a lion! Can you see him? He is very hidden behind a mesh of branches and grass.

I’m sorry – you just have to be grateful you got the smallest glimpse!
I’m sorry I didn’t show myself – but a guy has to remain invisible when hunting. Come again when I’m napping under a nice shady tree!

Sorry about that folks. Let’s see if we can find some other creatures to cheer you up. Oh look – the entertainers have arrived.

I think I need a pedicure
Yes, I’m quite comfortable, thank you
Who needs furniture when nature provides a suitable seat

What have we next. Look here comes a red-crested korhaan. And who is in his way?

Crowned lapwing not too charmed to be chased by Mr Korhaan

Now who is this giving us a hard stare!

Here’s looking at you too, Zebedee
Aww come on baby, look at us.
Fine – if you don’t like us – run off then!

Here we are on the bridge crossing over the Olifants River. We are allowed to get out between the yellow lines. Look through your binoculars way over there.

A journey of giraffe

And straight below us. Do you see that reed. There’s a pretty bird sitting perfectly still. It’s not easy to see.

White-fronted bee-eater

Please don’t lean over the railing. Look who’s waiting to eat you.

A hungry crocodile

Look to the left with your binoculars

Elephants crossing the Olifants

Come on now, we’re all hungry. Let’s go to Olifants Rest Camp for a drink and a snack. Alec and Cathy are going straight back to Letaba.

It is two o’clock. Those chicken wraps were lovely. Now we’re on the H8 and there is nothing much happening. Are you all feeling sleepy? My eyes refuse to stay open. Must keep looking for creatures – don’t fall asleep. ZZZZZZZZ

Oh no, sorry folks. I fell asleep and now I hear you calling – leopard! Look there he is but it’s not a leopard – it’s a cheetah. Oh no – he’s gone into the bush. I have missed the photo.

You know I am the fastest mammal in the bush – Don’t sleep when i’m around!

And on that disappointing note we end this game drive.

Alec and Cathy go out in the late afternoon. They want to watch the sunset from the bridge. Someone alerts them to a leopard so they go in search. They find him at the base of tree hidden by a mesh of dry grass.

Next time I promise to show myself properly

So all the cats let us down today. But never mind, there is always next time. Join us again soon.

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 22 Letaba

Both Gecko 82 and Gecko 109 find that they’re running short of supplies. The temporary Park Shop is not as well stocked as the previous lovely one would have been. They have no stocks of wine (horror!) and what alcohol they do sell is more expensive than elsewhere so the disgruntled campers decide to go to Phalaborwa to restock at Pick ‘n’ Pay.

After a leisurely cup of coffee, making notes and gathering themselves together they leave in tandem to make the one and half hour drive to the town. The radio crackles and Alec complains, “What’s going on here? We’ve been driving for 20 minutes and not a creature in sight.” They complete the journey after spotting an zebra or two, a lilac-breasted roller and a few white-crested Helmetshrikes who really didn’t want their portraits taken.

Come on Helmetshrike – show us your face.
So happy to see you Zebbie but I see Mom is just not interested
You never disappoint do you, beautiful bird

It doesn’t take too long to complete their chores but breakfast at the Spur is less than satisfactory. People who arrive after them are served first and it is forty five minutes before their order is brought – and that is only after they complain. So they are not in the best of moods and cannot wait to get back to the tranquility of The Kruger National Park!

Perhaps the creatures realise that these Gecko owners need some excitement. “Let’s make an appearance and give them a bit of an adrenaline rush,” the mischievous animals scheme together.

Alec stops when he sees what’s up ahead. “Road block,” he calls on the walkie-talkie.

This is a really big boy

The Earl comes up alongside his friend and they discuss what they should do. The Earl decides to sneak forward to see what happens.

“I think I’ll just slip past,” say the Earl. “Don’t you dare!” warns his terrified wife.

Then another one emerges from the left.

This guy has even bigger tusks
Which are great for resting a long snout on.
The Earl sits tight thinking the ellies will move off together
But Oom Olifant waves his trunk
And charges toward the Everest

The Earl is not afraid but his terrified wife screams and almost drops the camera as she videos the scene. Alec reverses at top speed to make room for the Everest’s escape. But Oom Olifant is just messing with them and doesn’t continue the charge. Eventually both ellies go off into the bush, probably laughing their heads off. Everyone breathes a big sigh of relief.

When the Earl stops to photograph a zebra, Alec overtakes and is once again in front.

Ha ha – I heard about the ellie incident!

Alec calls on the walkie-talkie – Fish eagle to the right.

The Ranger moves on while Helen takes some photos of the fish eagle.

The Ranger is already quite far ahead when the Earl stops again. He’s seen two warthogs in the bush. “Look there,” he says. “Behind that bush. Get the photo!”

“It’s no good,” I can’t. “Oh wait, reverse, no forward. Darn – they’ve gone!”

By this time the Ranger is out of range and doesn’t hear the call to come back for the next sighting.

The Earl is driving quickly to catch up to his friend. “Stop! Go back. Look!’ Helen calls excitedly

Do you see what Helen sees?
The impala do and they stand stock-still staring at the predator
A spotted hyaeana comes closer and closer
But walks right on by the trembling buck
And climbs up the embankment right next to the passenger window of the everest

He then crosses the road behind the car and walks in the opposite direction.

The Earl reverses so Helen can photograph him.

So that lovely sighting gives them enough of an adrenaline rush to last for the rest of the day.

Their journey is almost over but just before reaching Letaba Rest Camp a noisy troop of close relatives appears.

The little baboons screech and play just like human children
Hold tight baby, I can’t hold you and walk at the same time

Alec and Cathy are already unpacking the shopping when Earl and Helen arrive. The afternoon is spent sorting out the caravans, doing laundry etc. At four o’clock Alec and Cathy go out for a short drive. They find a bateleur couple acting strangely in the river bed.

The bateleurs keep walking around as if looking for something
And a beautiful lilac-breasted roller brightens their day

Today the temperature reaches a maximum of 24 degrees C. The evening is somewhat cooler but still warm enough to enjoy an outdoor braai. It is a lovely way to end the day.

Breaking Free From Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 21 Letaba

It’s 08:15 and still a chilly 16 degrees C this morning. The skies are cloudy but it won’t be for long. Bring a fleece and throw it off later when the sun starts warming up. All aboard for a virtual game drive. We’re following our friends to see what we can find out there in the African bush!

Where are the animals hiding? Why aren’t the birds singing? It’s half past nine and we’ve seen nothing but trees, rocks and bush!

Oh no – what’s that trumpeting sound? Alec is calling on the Walkie Talkie, “Did you hear that? My heart nearly stopped. Look up ahead.”

Uh oh – Do we pass or wait until he moves further into the bush.

The Earl takes the mike, “He’s very relaxed. Just drive on past.

Listen to Alec’s reply, “Cathy says to wait till he goes further into the bush!”

Don’t worry, we won’t put your lives in danger. It’s okay to go now, he’s moved deeper into the bush! Always remember give elephants a wide berth – don’t upset them, they’re bigger than you!

There is no point continuing on this road. We took it to Phalaborwa gate on Friday and it was dead. Let’s get back onto the tar road and then turn right after the bridge and do some river loops.

Listen do you hear that? It’s a fish eagle and there she is. You’ll need to look through your binoculars

What a lovely bird
Now she’s flown to join her mate

Wow, the tar road is finding us more animals. Alec has stopped up ahead. He’s seen a buffalo.

A single buffalo munching on dry grass

Look at the starling keeping close to the buffalo’s feet Why do you think she’s doing that?

Yes – she knows he will disturb grasshoppers and other insects for her to catch and eat.

It’s always worth stopping on a bridge. Cathy’s found something already,

Do you see his two black stripes on the breast? The female only has one. This is a male pied kingfisher.

Watch those swallows flying – oh look one has landed on the railing.

It’s a wire-tailed swallow

These swallows are resident in the Limpopo province all year round. They are always near water.

Oh look right down there on the bank of the river? Do you see those beautiful buck? They’re usually seen in rocky areas and they are very agile rock climbers. Their Afrikaans name, Klipspringer, means rock jumper. They’re away from their rocks because they’re thirsty and heading down for a drink.

Klipspringers – Male and female – they mate for life
And this bird with a hammer like crest is called a Hamerkop

The hamerkop will stand at the water’s edge and snatch prey from the water or the land. He will also probe in the mud for aquatic creatures but then he will wash his prey before eating it.

Okay, it’s time to move on. Alec goes first. Uh oh, what’s he seen now. “Road block ahead!”

Alec stops well clear of the elephants

We’re letting all the elephants cross over but they’re heading down the road we want to take. And they’ve got babies. It’s wise to give them a wide berth as they’re very protective of their young. Let’s just go very carefully down that road and hope they’re not blocking it.

They’re watching us and we’re watching them
I’m warning you don’t come near our babies

We’ll just sneak slowly past and cross through the water. Hold tight as we negotiate the rough road across the river. Yes, Earl, I know you think it’s fun, but it won’t be funny having an elephant push you from behind!

Look over there. Terrapins sunning themselves on the flat rocks.

The Earl snaps a shot

Here you can see why it’s called Letaba – the river of sand

No water in this section of the river

Look over there on the river bank – some kudu. But the male is hiding and won’t pose for a photograph.

Alec snaps a shot of a beautiful female kudu

I hope you have enjoyed the morning drive.

It’s now after three-o’clock. Bring a packed snack for this afternoon’s birding drive. We’re taking the main road and then half the Mingerhout drive and back. We will stop for birds and creatures so have you binoculars ready. Alec and Cathy are driving to the bird hide. We won’t be in tandem this afternoon.

Wow there is a whole bird party here.

Southern Black Tit
Brown-crowned Tchagra
Crested Barbet
African Hoopoe

Wasn’t that fun seeing so many birds. It’s a pity we couldn’t get good photos of them all. Now let’s look down on the river to see what we can find. I think I see a grey heron.

Isn’t he posing nicely

Earl, are we going back now? Wait – those stones are moving. They’re not stones – they’re birds! They camouflage very well.

Mom tells the babies to sit still but they gather close together. She keeps a close eye on them
Dad moves on to distract us

Let’s head back and see what Cathy and Alec have seen at the bird hide. Take a look at Cathy’s photos of the hippo’s entertainment.

Open wide
Hands up

Thanks for riding along with us once again. See you all tomorrow.

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 20 Letaba to Olifants and back

Welcome aboard everybody. Fasten your seatbelts and let’s get started on today’s game drive. Have you got a fleece? If you really feel the cold I suggest you put on a warm jacket too. It’s 8:30 and 13 degrees C. The sky is cloudy but at least the wind has dropped. The weatherman tells us that it’s not going to warm up very much and it might even rain. Uh oh – I think I feel a spit and a spot already!

Right so off we go. See that Ford Ranger up ahead? We’re following Alec and Cathy to the S94. Sorry for the corrugations it’s going to be a bit of a rough ride. Not much to see here so let’s turn onto the S46 – Yes – this is a much smoother ride. Oh look – there in the tree a pretty little canary! No not they type you would keep in a cage. This one is wild and free.

Yellow Canary

Now let’s take this omrit to get a better view of the river. It’s called the Letaba which means River of Sand. But when there are good rains it flows quite strongly. Now it’s the dry season and there are still some lovely ponds which attract game and birds. Look there in that tree. What do you see? – Yes a kingfisher! This one typically perches near water and he will fly down fast to catch grasshoppers, millipedes, beetles, caterpillars as well as tadpoles, geckos and chameleons.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Oh look over there – a whole flotilla of Egyptian Geese. They’re having fun finding aquatic plants which they love to eat.

Egyptian Geese
Some lovely grub

Now we’re on the S93 and the Ford Ranger has stopped up ahead. What have they seen? Oh, they’ve moved on. But we have a road block!

Dagga Boy Buffalo decides to cross over
Hi my friend. Is this grass soft enough?

Buffalo are usually found in herds but sometimes older males go off on their own or in small groups so they can graze near water on softer grass which is more suitable to their teeth which are wearing out. They love to wallow in mud too as this protects them from the sun and parasites, their hair being a lot thinner than their younger kin.

Drive on and let’s see what else we can find. Hang on, Alec is calling on the walkie talkie, What’s that bird just landing in the tree?

It’s a black-winged kite – the Earl takes the shot

Creatures aren’t the only things to spot – look at that wonderful old tree. I’m sure it could tell us a story or two.

A gnarled old baobab tree

And now Alec has slowed again and has clearly seen something – Yes – What’s that darting through the trees? Something small. It’s stopped and turned to look at us! What do you mean you can’t see – look where I’m pointing – yes – there!

Steenbok

Steenbok can be very shy and will dart off if taken by surprise. They’re usually seen alone or in pairs if its the mating season.

Look at the time, 10:30 already. Are you all hungry? It’s time for breakfast. Let’s pop in at Olifant’s Rest Camp. We’ll park under the Marula tree.

The Ford Ranger entering Olifant’s
The Ford Everest under the Marula Tree

Look at the beautiful Impala Lilies. They bloom from July to September. The plant on which they grow resembles the baobab tree and can grow up to two metres. For most of the year it does not have leaves or flowers. These plants contain a watery latex that is toxic to domestic animals but does not affect the wild animals that eat it. However, the Bushmen of Namibia used to use the latex to poison the tips of their arrows and when an antelope was hit he would die after running a hundred paces.

Beautiful but toxic to some.

What would you like for breakfast? My choice would be the “Lion Run’ – Eggs, bacon, fried onion and tomato as well as a cheese griller served with a slice of toast and jam of your choice. But there are many other choices on the menu. Just take your pick and have a lovely hot cup of Americano to warm you up.

Breakfast over – let’s take a look at the wonderful view over the Olifant’s River.

Or just sit on a bench and wait for us to return from the deck
Walkway to the deck
Plenty of room for everyone
Breathtaking views over the river

Okay everybody comfort break is over. Let’s get back on board the Everest and off we go again. We’ll take the Lookout Loop and then return on the H8

Oh look – my favourite creatures there on the left.

A terrific trio

Now we’re right next to the river. There is not much going on but the hippo are out of the water looking for some warmth on the bank of the river. Not much of that today, I’m afraid.

A whole pod of hippo

And now a donkey in striped pyjamas!

She’s rather plump – is there a young one on the way?

And now what do we have? A bachelor herd of impala

I’m the boss here
These two are locking horns to see who really is the stronger

We’re at the lookout and you may alight from the vehicle. But please be aware and stay within the demarcated area.

Look out for lions!
A lovely view but not much wildlife to see

So now we’re on the last stretch back to Letaba. Earl, why are you stopping? I nearly went through the windscreen. Oh – a korhaan! How could I miss it!

Male Red-crested Korhaan

And now it’s almost half past two. The game drive is over but if you’d like to visit the Goldfields Educational Centre, please follow me. You will find it very interesting. The exhibits show the development of the elephant and all its stages of life. There is information about how elephants have been part of man’s history since the beginning of time. And if you want to know all about the big tuskers both past and present, this is the place to find out all about them.

Entrance to the museum

The grounds of Letaba are excellent for birding so if you’ve had enough of the museum come along with me.

Here we have a chinspot batis
And a Grey Go-away bird

My word there are a lot of green woodhoopoes about in the trees and on the ground.

Letaba is also famous for its visiting bushbuck who roam around the campsite as if it’s there just for them. I think they quite cleverly come here to avoid the predators in the park.

Male Bushbuck
Female bushbuck

Well that’s it for now. Thanks for travelling along with us. Right now I hear a hyaena right next to the fence – hopefully on the right side as it sounds like its right beside my caravan!

If you enjoyed today’s adventure, do join in again tomorrow.