South Africa 2017 (Trip Report)

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Day 1 – The drive to camp. A trip of 50k or so from the gate at Malelene to our first camp at Skukuza showed us what we can expect on this trip. We saw lots of species on the way but the two highlights were watching a group of Dwarf Mongoose at the entrance to their den and a large herd of Elephant in a dry river beThe Mongoose were funny to watch as the youngest members continually dived for cover at the slightest threat while the rest of them darted around hunting for bugs. At the other end of the size scale there was much to watch with the Ellies as they dug for water, there was a good deal of sparring going on as they pushed one another around.The day ended with a beer and a Braai as the moon rose in the night sky.

 

Day 2 – All about water. We set off at 6am on the short drive to Lake Panic, just outside Skukuza and the sun had already risen so no sunrise shots this time. We arrived at a quiet hide with a pod of Hippos lazing around in the lake, until a male entered the scene causing quite a commotion as he was forced back out by the dominant resident male. There were the usual suspects in attendance, Kingfishers of several species, Jacana and Darters all going about their early morning routines. However, the peace was shattered when a herd of Elephant arrived forcing all others away for a while. They were many in number and were so close that we could have touched them through the hide windows – we didn’t! There was a a lot of sparring going on amongst the younger members of the herd as they vied for dominance in the group, but nothing too boisterous.A later drive took us across a bridge over the Sand river where we observed another large herd of Ellies, this time in the river, bathing and cooling off whilst still managing to play games and strengthen their bonds with one another.On the way back to camp we came across a minibus in a ditch with its rear wheels in the air. A bit of quick thinking and organisation soon had them back with all wheels on the ground and able to continue their adventure. We finished the day off with a trip to the Cattle Baron restaurant as a blood red moon rose in the early evening sky. As we sat outside the hut we were surprisingly visited by a Spotted Genet and then a Hyena wandered past !

 

Day 3 – Lake Panic. Most of the day was spent in the hide across two sessions, early morning and late afternoon. The early session was fairly quiet with the Hippos leaving early today leaving just the water birds for company. The fishing was of a poor standard with not one being caught within sight. A short drive to a waterhole followed which produced lots of Impala and good showings of Kudu.
The afternoon was more productive as the Hippos returned and hostilities continued with the resident male again being challenged with much grunting and hot air. The stand off lasted for several hours until the upstart was sent packing and then kept at a distance. I tried a bit of in-flight photography with a couple of subjects, a Green Backed Heron and Fish Eagle making its first appearance. As usual there were many more failures than successes but I think I have a couple of good ones from the many taken

 

Day 4 – Skukuza to Satara. He say started as usual at Lake Panic when we are at Skukuza camp. There was an early skirmish between the Hippos again which resulted in much water and hot air being displaced, these creatures really do have a wind problem! Next up  was a little scrap between two crocodiles which was brief but emphatic. There was then an altercation between between two Blacksmith Lapwings and a Monitor Lizard that fancied an egg lunch, birds won this time. The drive to Satara was mixed with little or no sightings followed by a glut, including many herds of Elephants. The highlight though was a leopard in a tree in the distance, not great photographically but a good sighting nevertheless.

 

Day 5 – Satara. We set off on the infamous S100 road which is well known for its Lion sightings, alas there were none on this day. We did see quite a lot of its prey though with Zebra, Wildebeest and Giraffe in abundance. We stopped off at Sweni hide which is a lovely tranquil scene with many waterbirds amongst the Hippos and Crocodiles. Once back at the site I tried in vain to get a decent shot of a Hoopoe but instead managed a reasonable shot of a Bearded Woodpecker seeking out grubs. At darkness settled we sat by the perimeter fence and witnessed a fully grown Hyena saunter casually past, not 3 metres from where we sat.

 

Day 6 – Satara to Letaba, Lion country. We had booked a guided morning drive which entailed a 4:15am alarm. As Satara is Lion country we had high hopes and set off in expectation. The first hour passed with little excitement but then a small pride of Lions were spotted beside the road, there was one male, one female and four immature lions in the group and they looked hungry, mainly skin and bone. We spent some time with them as they slowly warmed up before moving on. Just 2k further down the road we spotted a larger pride gathered around a recently killed Wildebeest where they noisily devoured the carcass no more than 10m from the roadside. Many shots were taken as the morning sun lit the scene before us. On the return to camp we were lucky enough to spot a male Leopard warming himself up in the warm rays after a cool night on the hunt. During the day we happened across no less than seven individual Lion sightings which is way above expectations. As we left Satara we were told of a sighting of the Open pack of Wild Dogs and duly set off in pursuit, they were easy to find lazing in the shade of a tree by the roadside surrounded by eager onlookers.

 

Day 7 – Five at last. We took the Phalaborwa road from Letaba and after a promising start it petered out pretty quickly Outside the camp we saw a small herd of Wildebeest and then followed a Hyena as it strolled along parallel to the road. Shortly afterwards we saw a a group of Zebra at a picturesque waterhole in beautiful early light. The afternoon saw us take a bumpy ride alongside the Letaba river on both sides where we finally stopped at the Englehard dam and hide. Across the river a Fish Eagle was being harassed by two Blacksmith Plovers, it must have been too close to their nest and then by a Crocodile which was intent on stealing the Eagles fish. Finally we saw two Buffalo which completed our ‘Big 5’, we had seen seven Rhinos by this time, hundreds of Ellies, two Leopards and at least seven individual Lion sightings before these two old timers wandered into view.

7D2_17735 - Zebra Drinking at Sunrise

 

Day 8 – Klipspringers, Tsessebe & more Dogs. At Englehard dam we were paid a visit by a group of 3 Klipspringers which typically live amongst the rocky outcrops and ‘Koppies’ and can again be difficult to track down. They were far from shy and were as interested in us as we were in them so plenty of time to photograph them. We found the equally rare and shy Tsessebe at their usual location at the Bowerskop pan where they mingled in with countless Zebra quenching their thirst, another tick for the list. Finally within the last 30 minutes of daylight we saw two more Wild Dogs by the side of the road, away from their pack and managed 10 minutes with them before they disappeared into the thick Mopane bush.

 

Day 9 – Steenboks & an Hour in the garden. A trip out to a rather dry Savannah type of terrain was largely quiet in term of wildlife until we neared a waterhole where there seemed to be quite a few Steenboks in attendance. We normally see very few of these shy and secretive antelope and were surprised to see a dozen of them in a short space of time. They are rather small in stature and difficult to see but here they were easy prey for the camera. Around midday, it was too hot to travel out again (another day at 35 degrees plus) so I set up camp in the bushy garden to our hut. Over an hour or so there were approx. 20 species in attendance some of which I have yet to identify, amongst them some of the regulars – Hornbills and Starlings but also a lot of ‘new to me’ species which kept me busy with the reference book!

 

Day 10 – Bustards galore. Kori Bustards are the largest flying birds but spend the vast majority of their time strutting about at ground level. There are not plentiful and typically there are seen infrequently, however, at one particular waterhole we counted ten birds all in the same area. Most unusual. Little else was seen this day but there was a lovely sunset as a small herd of Elephants passed by.

7D2_18281 - Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard

Day 11 – Hyena, Lions and Vulture. We ventured out early once again, but the weather has cooled somewhat – down from 38 degrees to 22. Soon we came across a ‘wake’ of White Backed Vultures looking their usual somber selves as they warmed in the early rays of the sun. Further down the road we heard the familiar yelps of Hyena but struggled to see them at first. Slowly it became apparent that had been a recent kill at the scene as a lone Lion was seen distantly and the Vultures circled overhead. We watched the antics on display for 45 minutes before the pack disbanded. Returning to camp we noticed another kill, this time on the sands of the Olifants river and there was a pride of Lions by a carcass. For the second time in the morning we were lucky as the lions got up and moved in our directions allowing us a better sighting of the kings of the veld.

 

Day 12 – Olifants to Lower Sabie. If Carlsberg made a day in the wild then this would be it. The day started with a pack of Hyena having an altercation with no less than four Black Backed Jackals close to the previous days kill, lots of noise but little real action. Driving south we spotted a number of Hyena prowling and wondered why, it was quickly clear that a pride of
Lions had killed a Wildebeest and were feasting on its remains. Again this kill was made a matter of metres from the roadside making it an easy observation. This was followed by another pride of a Lions walking right down the middle of the road in our direction. It was interesting to see how they reacted to the cars and vans that were in attendance, some sniffed at boots, others were more interested in chewing tyres! The next spot was a pair of Cheetah in the distance but getting closer. Luckily they decided to stop beside a dead tree and one of them posed nicely on top for us, a real coup. Several miles later we could not believe our luck as three more Cheetah were seen interacting with a group of Warthogs, good to watch again.

 

Day 13 – Raptors galore. By comparison to the previous day there were no significant sightings but there were plenty of birds of prey to be seen. During the day we saw many Black Shouldered Kites perched alongside the roads, more than we’ve ever seen before. They tend to be a bit skittish and fly off as soon as we got near them but some careful manoeuvring gained some decent shots. Also seen was a Brown Snake Eagle and a number of Fish Eagles going about their business. We also caught a male Lion just about to cross the road.

 

Day 14 – Early start. We took another morning drive, starting at 5am in the hope that we would have another exciting experience but were not as fortunate as on the last drive. A Crocodile was seen just outside camp resting up on the tarmac road as the surface retains heat overnight and makes for a less cool sleep for the Croc. There were a number of Lions seen resting up on the river banks but all at a distance so no photos of note. Later in the day we came across a ‘cat jam’ where the road was effectively blocked by cars in all directions as there was a Leopard in a tree at the roadside.

7D2_19546 - Leopard in a Tree

Day 15 – Last day in Kruger. Less and less photographs being taken now, partly because we’ve been so lucky with great sightings but also because I’m only trying to take shots that are better than those that I’ve already got. Nevertheless, I set out wanting a shot of an Oxpecker on an animal and was treated to an opportunity on our last outing. One bird was seen astride a Giraffe digging away on its flank. It has been a long drive today with little action but we did spot a Black Egret in the river showing its unique hunting style where it forms an umbrella shape with its wings as it searches the river banks, I’ve not seen this before in the wild, only on TV so a welcome viewing. When we arrived on the park it was very brown, no leaves to be seen on the trees just dry bush. Now, in such a short space of time, the veld is looking full of the new shoots of life as the terrain takes on new shades of green to replace the tired old hues, Spring is well and truly on its way. The shots below were taken inside the camp fences.

 

Day 16 – A day of travel. Lots of miles today as we drive and fly from Kruger to the beautiful city of Cape Town. Exiting Kruger park by the Numbi gate gave us a glimpse of what the ‘real’ Africa looks and feels like. Previously we have stayed in or near large cities or in tourist areas so have not seen what we saw today. The towns had a very look about them with a selection of housing in various states of maintenance scattered about the place and people walking everywhere. There were many schoolchildren immaculately turned out in their uniforms heading to school. The roadsides were punctuated with stalls selling fruit, veg and the usual tourist trappings. Couldn’t help but notice the massive amount of litter strewn along the verges though.

Day 17 – Cape Town V&A. We had a walk from Seapoint to the V&A waterfront to walk off breakfast. Being Saturday it was a very busy place, bustling with people. We sat for a while sipping beers and listening to the marimba band before exploring the rest of the waterfront are. Much seems to have changed since we were last here, some eight years ago, but much remains too. It was a beautiful sunny day and I grabbed some typically touristic shots whilst also trying to capture something a little different too.

 

A trip to Hermanus, famed for its Whales yielded nothing so we took a boat ride from Simons Town and saw several whales really close up. Amongst them these two were captured, a Southern Right Whale and a smaller Humpback

 

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