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.

Travelling during the time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Day 4 – Skukuza to Pretoriouskop and Back

Today we left camp at six o’clock. It was overcast and started at a cool 23 degrees C. There was no wind and it did not rain. The day’s high was 28 degrees C.

We started on the H11. As we crossed the bridge over the Sabie River we had our first sighting of the day – eight hyaena scampering in the river bed. There were five adults and three still outgrowing their black, baby fur.

They were all over the place and very active but I managed to get three into one frame

The birds, at this time of the morning, are very active. The Earl called out that he could hear parrots. We stopped and scanned and this is what we found.

Brown-headed parrots decorating the dead trees
A close-up of two of them

Another special bird to make an appearance was the European Bee-eater

The elegant giraffe were also silently munching their breakfast

There were also plenty of elephants about today.

Just before Kruger Gate we turned left onto the S3 and found a warthog fraternising with a herd of impala.

We then followed the S1 and found kudu and zebra

We were also amused to see two sleepy hyaenas taking their nap in full view of the tourists

We arrived at Nyamundwa Dam at eight o’clock and were delighted to find this scene.

There were waterbuck, blue wildebeest, at least forty zebra, hippo and a few interesting birds. The zebra entertained us with their antics and the waterbuck were also in a frisky mood chasing each other across the veld.

As we continued we came across a black-bellied bustard. What an entertaining bird. He was quite happy to demonstrate his call which sounds like a frog’s croak followed by a pop similar to a cork releasing from a champagne bottle.

It is a very pretty drive to Pretoriouskop and soon the kop came into view.

Because of the dense trees and bush it is not easy to spot animals in this area. However, the birdlife is interesting.

Red-collared widowbird
Lilac-breasted Roller
Crested Barbet

We took a break at Pretoriouskop’s Wimpy which has lovely seating outdoors and in.

We then started our return trip on the H1-1 where a buffalo popped out from the trees to greet us.

Soon after this we turned down a dirt road to a waterhole where we found some giraffe and more buffalo

We then did a detour from S11 to see the Nahpe Boulder

The ashes of Joseph France Ludorf who had a great deal to do with the early establishment of the park
are scattered here.

We made another detour to Transport Dam but there was not much to be seen there beside zebra, waterbuck, a yellow-billed stork and some starlings.

We continued our journey and spotted more of the usual suspects, giraffe, zebra, kudu, impala etc. De Laporte Waterhole is about 5 km from Skukuza and we turned in there for a look and see. There was absolutely nothing or rather that is what The Earl said but I insisted on scanning with my binoculars and found two crested francolin, a three-banded plover, greater striped swallows and a pin-tailed whydah. They were too far for photos but fun to watch. The Earl was about to start the car and move but I insisted he wait ten minutes. Only three minutes later these giants came silently onto the scene.

These were the first
The rest of the troop weren’t far behind

They frolicked drank and showered and then turned around and left as silently as they had arrived. The Earl was about to start the car when I noticed more visitors approaching at a rapid rate.

The three little pigs must have been waiting for the elephants to leave before they rushed down to quench their thirst
And then the oxpecker groomers arrived for work
Just checking to see if your nostrils need cleaning
Looking good, Mr Piggy
All done – could you please give us a lift home?

We arrived back at camp at half past one and then went back to the De Laporte at half past four. It was quiet for a while but then European Bee-eaters came swooping down to drink in mid-flight, settle in a dead tree and then swoop down again. It was most entertaining to watch. A few male elephants visited in turn and just before we left it looked like some giraffe might come down but they decided to browse instead.

And so ended a most pleasant day.

Gecko #81 Goes to Kruger – Satara to Skukuza

3 December 2019

If we thought moving south was going to be cooler, we were wrong. It is just as hot in this half of the park.  This morning at 04:30 it was already 25 degrees C and it got up to 43 by 14h00!

We were on the road to Skukuza with the Gecko in tow by 05:30.   Remember the sun is up really early in this part of the world and it was shining brightly at this hour.

We were greeted by the usual gang – impala with their gambolling lambs, zany zebras expecting us to wait patiently as they strolled across the road and grumpy wildebeest turning their heads snootily away from us.

IMG_6436 Whalberg 2019-12-03 6-20-05 AM
A Tawny Eagle glanced sideways at us

Being in the right place at the right time is what it’s all about when seeking creatures in an African game reserve.  This morning Kruger decided to reveal some of her drama to us.

First, we saw two or three stationary cars.  Then we saw a scattering of about nine or ten hyaenas.  “There must be a kill,” I said and scanned the scene. “Lion – I see a lion under that bush.  Wait, there are others!”   Altogether I counted five.

 

As we watched one hyaena after another snatch a bone and run off with it, vultures suddenly dropped down from the sky.

One by one four of the lionesses left the scene, crossed the road in front of the cars and disappeared into the bush.  We think they went to find a pond to quench their thirst.

IMG_6519 Hyaena and vulture scene 2019-12-03 6-40-13 AM
Hyaenas and vultures everywhere

P1190061 Hyaena getting close to lion's kill 2019-12-03 6-55-56 AM
This hyaena is not afraid of the lioness – she is waiting patiently to grab a scrap.  She is blocking the view to the lioness

P1190059 Lioness on kill by Earl 2019-12-03 6-55-50 AM
Munching on the carcass of a Waterbuck, I think – see the horn

IMG_6568 Lioness on kill 2019-12-03 7-04-59 AM
Those hyaenas and vultures must wait their turn.

P1190052 Lioness 2019-12-03 6-51-06 AM
Off to find a drink

IMG_6565 Two Hyaenas 2019-12-03 7-03-51 AMIMG_6558 Three Hyaenas 2019-12-03 7-02-02 AMIMG_6552 Lioness and Vulture at kill 2019-12-03 7-00-38 AM

IMG_6545 Hyaena carrying bone 2019-12-03 6-48-34 AM
Hey, look!  I’ve got a bone!

IMG_6543 Vultures 2019-12-03 6-47-36 AM
Patiently waiting for their turn

IMG_6532 Vulture with wings spread 2019-12-03 6-42-51 AM
Might as well show off while I’m here

IMG_6526 Hyaenas with bone 2019-12-03 6-41-59 AM

IMG_6525
Nobody’s paying any attention to my beauty

IMG_6523 Hooded Vulture 2019-12-03 6-41-16 AM
Hooded Vulture, I think.

IMG_6515 Hyaena 2019-12-03 6-39-44 AM
When is that lion going to leave!

IMG_6509 Lioness 2019-12-03 6-38-43 AM
All right, my subjects, I’m leaving now.  The scraps are all yours.

That was quite a lot of excitement for 6:30 in the morning!  Luckily it was at a place where we could stand with the caravan and even though it was next to a tar road there were only about four cars there.

We continued our journey and stopped at Tshokwane for breakfast.

At Skukuza, we found a lovely shady spot for the caravan.   I needed to do some washing but when I checked out the laundry found that the washing machine was missing!   There were two groundsmen about so I asked if there was perhaps another one close by.  Fortunately, there was one near the safari tents not far away.   After putting on a load, the Earl and I went to the pool to cool off.  After the 45 minutes, I walked to the laundry and hung the washing and then we went off for our afternoon drive.

We enjoyed watching our close relatives having a picnic under the trees, noted that the impala lambs were multiplying and there were lots of baby zebras about too.

IMG_6595 Female Kudu 2019-12-03 4-04-06 PM
These ladies were trying to keep cool in the shade

IMG_6603
I cannot resist photographing every steenbok I see.   They are quite shy but often stay still long enough for a photoshoot

We ended our drive with a visit to Lake Panic which is my most favourite spot in Kruger. Even at 17:00, it was very hot and the Earl could only take it for fifteen minutes before having to return to the air-conditioned car.  I stayed a minute or two longer but as there was not a great deal more to observe, and I didn’t want him to get lonely without me, I left too.

IMG_6612 Hippo at Lake Panic 2019-12-03 4-58-45 PM
Hippos enjoying a swim but was this yawner bored or tired?

IMG_6624 Female Kudu drinking at Lake Panic 2019-12-03 5-01-58 PM
Lovely to see kudu come down to drink

IMG_6638 Paradise Flycatcher Lake Panic 2019-12-03 5-08-48 PM
A Paradise Flycatcher took a sip and then flew onto a branch and actually posed!

IMG_6639 White-faced Ducks 2019-12-03 5-10-22 PM
White-faced ducks were visiting too

Clouds started gathering as I brought in the washing and a gusting wind began to blow.  I decided it would be better to cook in the Remoska rather than braai tonight.  We fully expected a thunderstorm during the night.