Travelling in the time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Day 5 – Skukuza to Tshokwane and Lower Sabie and Back.

When in Kruger it is early to bed and early to rise if you want to escape the heat and get the best sightings. It takes a day or two to get into this routine. This morning for the first time neither of us had any trouble rising before five o’clock. After a fortifying cup of coffee and a rusk we were out the gate by half past five. Yes, that is an hour after opening time and in the past we liked to be first out but those days are over. We actually find that the birding is better a little later.

Today the temperature was 23 degrees C when we left camp and it rose to 33 degrees C by ten o’clock.

It wasn’t long before we started seeing the animals, first up being the ever-present impala. Many tourist have bumper stickers reading, “Please pass, we stop for birds.” Or – “Birders on board, prone to sudden stops.” The Earl wants to get one that says, “Beware – we stop for everything!” Well – we do at the beginning but after the tenth lot of impala we tend to ignore them and drive past unless they’re being particularly engaging.

We also had fun watching many birds and our list is now up to 70 species. At the beginning of a trip new species get added to the list quite quickly and then slow down but this year we are taking a little longer to hit 100. I suspect it’s because some of the migrant birds have not yet arrived.

On the H4-1 we got a female Diederick’s cuckoo, monotonous lark, African Hoopoe, Rattling cisticola, Black-backed puffback, black-crowned tchagra and red-breasted swallow but our cutest encounter was with these arrow-marked babbler.

These arrow-marked babblers were grooming each other in the early morning sun
They also seemed to be deep in conversation. “Did you hear what Mabel did?”

They were most obliging and let us watch them for quite a while before flying off one at a time.

This black-crowned tchagra was not quite as confident and tried to hide from my camera

By seven o’clock we had reached the H1-2 and had some interesting sightings on our drive to Tshokwane Picnic site.

This baboon was lying flat and fast asleep until I disturbed him. He was not charmed by the disturbance to his morning nap.
Don’t you just hate it when this happens!
There were eight of these magnificent Ground Hornbill, three juveniles and five adults.

They were very close to the car and suddenly we heard a loud knock. One of them had pecked at the back door, The Earl thought it was in an attempt to catch an insect.

One of our favourite birds is the Red-crested korhaan. This morning Mrs Korhaan made an appearance but did not stay long.

From time to time we saw small groups of elephant, in the bush, browsing on trees and sometimes crossing in front of us.

This bull has a rather handsome pair of tusks

The ‘shiny’ starlings are plentiful in the park and are quite tricky to identify. This Burchell’s starling has a dark eye so is a little easier than the others.

Up until now we have seen very few wildebeest and those that we have come across have been far away or lying down. I needed to get a decent photo for my Australian friend, Erich who loves them!

Hi boys, Erich sends his regards.

By the time we arrived at Tshokwane it was half past eight and we were looking forward to a good African breakfast. This picnic site is our favourite in spite of its problems with baboons and monkeys. But shock horror – it is in the process of being taken over by new management and they were not doing cooked breakfasts! We could, however, get sandwiches, carrot cake or croissants from the shop. Fortunately they were doing Americano coffee and cappuccino. We settled for croissants and also bought some biltong. (For my non South African readers – biltong is similar to jerky but very much nicer.)

The lapa is built around an enormous tree
The entrance to Tshokwane

Hopefully they will be fully operational soon.

While paying for my coffee, I asked the cashier, “No monkeys or baboons today?”

“Do you want one?” she asked.

“How much?” I joked back.

“Free for you,” she laughed.

Well, at first there were no monkeys or baboons to steal our food but the birds made up for it.

This cheeky barbet wanted my croissant
They are usually shy birds but this one has leaned where to get a free meal!

Later a single baboon did appear but one of the staff chased it away. Perhaps during lockdown the monkeys learned not to come begging. Now all that remains is for people to learn not to feed them!

The view from the picnic site – the impala are using the dry river as a thoroughfare
So are the wildebeest
Our first Grey Hornbill of the trip – in one of the Tshokwane trees

After breakfast we headed to Orpen Dam

We were held up by a herd of buffalo heading to the dam for a drink. There were more than five hundred of them and it took at least fifteen minutes before we could get through
Elephants and buffalo were spread along the banks of the dam.
We spent half an hour enjoying the scene

The elephants were not happy that the buffalo wanted to share their watering hole. They trumpeted and complained and even tried to chase the buffalo away. Water buck and impala kept their distance at the far end of the dam. We also saw an openbill, three grey heron and some Egyptian geese.

On our way to Lower Sabi we found a male red-crested korhaan but he didn’t stick around for very long.

There was very little to see on the H10 to Lower Sabie. We stopped there at half-past eleven and bought Magnum Ice creamsi and rested a bit before making our way back to Skukuza.

Sunset Dam is usually full of activity but it was quite quiet today.

A Common Sandpiper was strutting about
Don’t swim in the dam unless you want to meet up with this guy.

There was a lot to see on the H4-1 as it runs beside the Sabie River for much of the way. We saw our first black duck on the far bank but too far for a photograph. Elephants were present at various intervals along the way.

The animals of the Kruger National Park are really privileged. They get free spa treatments whether they want them or not. The ox-peckers work really hard to keep their clients looking good. Jerry here is a very popular client and all the therapists vie to keep him in tip top shape. Have you ever seen so many of them on one animal?

This giraffe amus
Such attention to detail – not an inch of flesh is left untreated!

At one point of the river road we saw a number of cars stopped up ahead. Everyone was looking down on the river bank and on enquiry we were told that there was a very hard to see leopard in a tree far away. We moved slowly on and asked another chap if he could see it. “Listen,” he said. “Don’t waste your time here. Make your way to the bridge. There is a leopard in a tree close to the road. You can’t miss it.”

There were still several kilometers to go and we doubted that the animal would still be there but decided not to bother with the hard to see one anyway. There were too many cars fighting for position and it just wasn’t worth it.

And today was our lucky day! As we approached the bridge we could see a few cars parked on the side of the road. I saw the leopard immediately and we had a perfect spot to park straight away.

She was alert and posed beautifully
She even sat up for a while
The Earl got some lovely shots
We had a good ten minutes with her before she decided to turn her back and go to sleep!

What a perfect ending to today’s trip.

Namibia and Kgalagadi Adventure – Day 15 Halali to Okaukeujo

10 November 2018

Today was ‘pack up and go’ and ‘set up and rest’ day.  I was up at quarter to six, had a shower and started putting things in their correct places in preparation for towing the caravan.   The Earl cooked us scrambled eggs and by the time Pat and I had tidied the dishes he’d lowered the roof, pulled up the stand and put the electrical connections away.  We soon had the canopy dismantled and rolled up and Pat and Tony had their tent done too.   So at 8:15 we departed for Okaukeujo.  We took the direct route but The Mools took a slow drive stopping at waterholes.

We did pop into Rietfontein as it was easy to maneuver the caravan there.  There were vultures on the giraffe that the mating couple had killed yesterday.

 We had a few other interesting sightings along the way but there were long stretches of not very much.  When we did see animals there were gatherings of hundreds of mixed species. 

We saw a big male lion in the distance – he was walking toward a pan where there were herds of herbivores and they were clearly aware of him.

Big herd of zebra
Springbok find a shady tree

We were excited to find some interesting birds on the way.

Greater Kestrel
Double banded courser with chick

Northern Black Korhaan

We arrived at Okaukeujo at 10:15. 

Entrance to Okaukuejo

I went to check in and was told I could not do so before 11.  The conversation went like this.

“No check in until 11.”

Now I understand this for chalet accommodation – they need to clean the room, make sure it’s ready for the next occupants – but for camping? Well, maybe if the site has been left in a mess – but most campers are responsible and don’t litter! 

“Really?  For camping?”

“YES!”

I put on a desperate expression – “But we’re towing a caravan – can’t we just park it and check in later?”  

She looked put out and said I could park it outside reception.

“There is no caravan parking available,” said I.  “My hubs is looking for a place as we speak. Please just let us park and we’ll check in later.”

She didn’t look happy but she gave in and agreed.  I thanked her profusely – got the site number and off we went to set up.  When we saw some of the tiny sites we were worried that the one assigned to us would have no shade and be too small for our Gecko Off Road Caravan plus the Mools’  tent but were pleasantly surprised when we got to Number 23-  It was in excellent nick and had a lovely shady tree which hosted the sociable weavers’ nests.  Other birds liked the tree too and we saw white-bellied sunbirds, masked weavers and scarlet chested sunbird.

It was hot!  We set up quickly and went to check in properly at 11:15.   Then we popped into the shop for bitterly cold sparkling water and ice cream!

The Earl then had a nap while I edited photos and did my diary.  

The Mools arrived an hour or so after us, set up and had some lunch.

Our Campsite

We then we all set off for a drive leaving around 4:30 pm.  The trip up had yielded very little so we weren’t expecting too much. All we hoped for were some interesting birds.

Well we were in for a surprise – We saw some cars staring across the veld toward the mopane trees.  On the tree line I spotted the first lion.   Then another and still two more!  We followed them for awhile. 

The first lion

Then some more

“They’re probably heading to Gemsbok Vlakte Water Hole,” said The Earl.  It was quite a distance for them to walk so we left them and carried on to another waterhole – Olifants Bad.  On arriving there we saw a few cars watching the guinea-fowl and other birds making quite a commotion.   We saw nothing until a ‘jeep-jockey’ called  – “Just drive around those cars and look this way,” he said, “There’s a leopard drinking at the edge of the pond.”  So we did but it took a while to spot the well camouflaged creature.   We watched her drink for a second and then she was up.

She was off!

She turned around and headed off through the mopani trees.  She was escorted by a tribe of Praise Singers in the form of admiring guinea-fowl!  They kept pace with her and we guessed that so long as they could see her, they were safe!

Leopard escorted by her praise singers

We followed the other cars who wanted to see her emerge onto the road on the other side of the trees. They were waiting for her and when she emerged everyone started reversing. We ended up being in the best spot and got some stunning shots of her before she disappeared though the tress on the other side of the road.

We saw her coming through the trees

Right next to the car

Wow!  How trilled we were to see this creature so seldom seen in Etosha!   We were on a high as we travelled toward Gemsbok Vlakte. There was nobody home when we arrived and no sign of the lions. Then we saw and heard a jackal howling.  “That means the lions are nearby,” I said.  We drove along the road a little while but quickly turned around when we saw the four rulers of the jungle marching determinedly across the veld toward the waterhole!

Rulers of the Vlakte
Slaking their thirst at Gemsbok vlakte water hole

It was awesome to observe them slaking their thirst.  The skies were darkening and a storm was brewing. 

There was thunder and lightening.  It was time to return to camp before the gate was closed. Suddenly the wind picked up and caused a dust storm and visibility was so poor The Earl could scarcely see the road! Fortunately it cleared and just before arriving home we spotted a rhino.

At Camp we were  just in time to secure all of the canopy and tent poles.  Many of the over-lander tents were blown over and campers were scurrying about to secure them.

We decided that making fire was going to be a problem so we bit the bullet and dug deep into our pockets to pay for an expensive meal at the restaurant!   It was worth it though and a wonderful way to celebrate our lovely sightings.