Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Safari With Karen from 24 November 2014

24 November 2014

I picked up the new guests in Nelspruit and we set off along the R40 through the plantations towards the KNP. After a light lunch in Hazyview we entered through Phabeni Gate and drove onto Doispane. Our first animal was a lone buffalo bull munching on the grass in the Phabeni river. A herd of impalas resting on the shore in the background. Yep, we had entered the Kruger Park alright!

Shortly down the road we saw a young elephant bull feeding on the side of the road. While watching him an entire herd approached from the opposite side of the road. First they were obscured and we could see glimpses of elephant body parts, but then one by one they crossed in front and behind us and we were engulfed in an elephant herd. Some elephants were hesitant as the herd had two very young babies with them and they were very protective, but all crossed in the end. On the Mashawu bridge we saw another elephant, but this guy was at the end of his life. Everything on this bull showed his age: completely regressed temporal muscles, droopy eyes, droopy head, and much trouble eating. We didn't think it would live long after today.

Carrying on we also saw our first zebras in the distance, a buffalo herd, an impala herd with babies, a white rhino (which unfortunately was injured so we reported it at the Skukuza ranger office) and more zebras and this time they were hanging out with a giraffe.

We turned onto the S4 where we saw a small journey of giraffes feeding close to the road. One of them had a baby that did not eat leaves yet. It took a sip of milk and cantered around a bit to have some fun, but it didn't think the eating giraffes were much fun. It kept on running from one giraffe to the other as if to say: "come on, let's have a run together". None of them did though.

We did see two waterbuck females on the S4 as well and then turned onto River road. There we came across two very nice kudu bulls as well as some females, a bushbuck couple and a hamerkop that was fishing in the middle of the road. Well, of course it was standing in a stream, but the road was crossing it and it had no worries about the car wanting to pass. Well, cars actually as there was one coming from the opposite direction too. Even when a car drove really close, we got a small bend of the neck, a look with an eye and that was it. Catching plantanas must have been much more important than being overrun by a car...

On Kruger road there were rumors about a leopard in a tree, but it was no longer in a tree. It had jumped down in the high grass and unfortunately it was nowhere to be seen. But we did see something else coming: a huge thunderstorm! So we made our way towards Skukuza and hoped for the best.

Once again no such luck. The thunderstorm had caught us with about 15km more to go. And even though the lightning was awesome, the thunderclaps were very close and the pounding rain soaked us. At Skukuza we took a safe haven under the roof of the total garage and waiting before actually checking in, as we were staying the night. With intervals of about 30min two more thunderstorms would follow, which now made the camp look like a river with lots of tree buts falling off everywhere.
Hoping for a dry day tomorrow, we went to bed hearing hyena. It was a good start!!

25 November 2014

Today we set off very early. We heard at the gate the bridge on our right got washed away in the storms and this resulting waterflow overnight so we turned left for a loop around the river. Marabou storks were flying overhead and we saw a bushbuck hiding in the bush. We came across a muddy warthog and a family of vervet monkeys with a tiny little baby.

Low level bridge had definitely seen some water flowing over it, or at least had formed puddles on the bridge during the storm, but it was no problem passing. Here four marabou storks were fishing in a leftover dam on the side while pied wagtails were hopping on the side of the bridge.

Nyala bulls were feeding quite close to the road on the other side of the bridge, giving us a nice view of their phylo erection (that is when they raise their mohawk hair on their back and neck). The hippos at Sand river bridge finally had their little dam cleaned as it was getting quite dirty lately. They also had a much bigger living space now that there was so much water, so maybe that is why they were actively playing around.

We then drove along Marula tar. After the good start with lots of animals it now turned rather quiet sightings wise. We saw a bateleur in a tree, as well as white-backed and hooded vultures, and more marabou stork. Mammals were represented by a few impalas and a small group of kudu females. Unfortunately this stretch of road had some roadkill on it. First a little steenbok and then later a guineafowl showed signs of being hit by a car, the definite downside of the cars driving around not paying attention to the road :-(.

Then we turned right towards High level bridge over the Sabie river. We saw a red chested cuckoo as well as two adult giant landsnails making little ones. The middle of the road probably wasn't the best place to do this, but we left them to it in the hope everyone else would stop for them too. Then over High level bridge. Here a baboon was keeping watch by sitting on the railing, and another one joined him on the other side. The rest of the family was walking in the riverbed below. A few rocks in the distance were actually the ears and nostrils of hippos but they were obviously a lot more tired than the previous ones we saw as these seemed already asleep.

On Ellooff we came across more vervet monkeys, cape glossy starlings, grey headed kingfisher, a shy woodlands kingfisher as he flew away when the cameras were aimed at him, plenty of impalas, kudus and three ground hornbills, which are the most endangered birds of the KNP.

Then we went to see if they would have fixed the sandbridge that got washed away already. By now they had actually closed the entire road, so we took that as a "no".

Wanting to have breakfast at the Golfclub we took a detour through staff village. Only to be cut short by a tree that had gotten hit by lightning and had fallen over the road completely. The crew to remove it was already on site, but this big fellow had really made an impact and wasn't going to get out of the way easily. As there was no way around it we were advised another different route. As to not to get lost in staff village someone brought us half way there and then we would only needed to go straight. Well done, as after this extensive detour to get to the Golfclub we enjoyed our well-deserved breakfast.

After breakfast we set off in the direction of Doispane and Watergat as that would be the only way to get back to Skukuza. A giant plated lizard dared crossing the road in front of our vehicle, taking the last bit at a run. The herds of impalas in this area had plenty of babies already running around like they have never done anything else.

Down Watergat we spotted our first giraffe, a large old male, and more vervet monkeys, red-billed oxpeckers hitching a ride on impalas, a couple of dazzles of zebras,  red-billed and yellow-billed hornbills, magpie shrikes, forktailed drongos, a black-backed puffback and a steenbok.

When we turned onto Napi and then the H3 we had started to focus a bit more on the birds as the mammals were scarce today. We saw a lilac breasted roller, grey louries as well as a brown snake eagle before we caught sight of a herd of elephants. Slowly more and more emerged from the thick bush and the started feeding quite close to the road. A sighting enjoyed by all.

Then we continued on the S112 - S114 loop. Here we came across the always-present impalas, but this was an immense herd. Ok, and a couple of smaller herds too. And a pale morph tawny eagle, a slender mongoose, a tree squirrel, a crested barbet as well as a tree agama that was having a stroll on the road and gave us all a fright as to not to kill it. When he was back on his tree we were all happy about that, not in the least the almost overrun tree agama!

We made a quick side trip to the viewpoint Mathekanyane where we enjoyed the immense view and saw the clouds coming in from a distance. Then it was back to Skukuza for some lunch and relaxation before the sundowner tour would start.

On the sundowner tour... We'll tell you later, they are not back yet. But I fear they'll get wet as the sky outside darkens and the wind picks up...

26 November 2014

The guests returned from a fantastic sundowner game drive last night.

First of all it stayed dry the entire trip (which, compared to the day before was a miracle). It actually was dry all the way till after dinner even though the sky got very cloudy. But more importantly they saw loads of special animals: they had lions mating right next to the vehicle as well as eating a buffalo carcass on breaks, a couple of white rhinos, a leopard tortoise, a bateleur being mobbed by forktailed drongos, a civet, multiple scrub hares, a chameleon in a tree, a Mozambican spitting cobra as well as an african rock python, baboons, an elephant hiding in the darkness and just before returning through the gate a hyena guarding it. Upon return to our huts after dinner we heard bush babies, but couldn't find them in the nearby trees.

Then this morning we set off for a full day game drive. When we had all packed up and got into the car, the vervet monkeys were coming closer and closer to check if we left any scraps behind. We drove down Ellooff where our first animals of the day were the impalas. It looked like some babies were born earlier this morning and we admired their cuteness. One was so skinny though, we didn't think he would grow old.

A couple of kudus and our new animal for this tour, a common grey duiker, was posing on the side of the road too. Then we got a tip from a member of the public about two lions just around the corner. And so they were! Two lionesses were hiding behind a bush from a couple of bull elephants that were drinking nearby. One set up in rapt attention, while the other was still lying down but had her eyes on the bulls. The elephants moved away slowly and the lionesses relaxed again, one by one flopping down on their sides and go back to do what lions do best: sleep.

As we set off we were quickly impeded by an elephant herd that was crossing the road. The mums and aunties shielding the little ones from sight and one came really close to a car of a member of the public that was blocking their walkway! At High level bridge over the Sabie we saw more elephants drinking with a goliath heron fishing nearby.

Then we drove down Tshokwane tar road where initially we saw plenty of animals: five nyala bulls hanging out with impalas, a couple of klipsrpingers, a tree squirrel, steenboks, a lone giraffe, grey louries and more elephants, but then it quieted down along the way. We did make a quick stop at the Kruger tablets as the guests asked all about the history of the Kruger Park last night at dinner and this fitted in nicely.

We stopped at Tshokwane for a nice breakfast, before driving the H10 to Lower Sabie. We started with a lone buffalo ruminating and then an elephant with bend hind legs and her baby next to the road. She made a loud tummy rumble which made the car vibrate, and one other elephant of the herd responded deeper in the bush. A Burchell's coucal was hanging out at the Nkumbe lookouts, but as its nickname is the rain bird we were happy it stayed quiet. We did see some more elephants on the way.

Along they way over the hills and down to Lower Sabie we saw plenty more elephant herds, multiple baboons, a couple of ostriches, many impalas with little babies, a klipspringer on a high lookout, a tawny eagle, a flock of redfaced mousebirds and just before the Lower Sabie bridge a small dazzle of zebras. On the bridge itself it was teeming with wildlife: crocodiles in all sizes sunning themselves, hippos out of the water sunning themselves, buffalos on the shore, also sunning themselves, and a fish eagle in a nearby tree. Then it was time for lunch at Lower Sabie.

After lunch we set off along the H4-1 and stopped multiple times to watch herds of elephants drinking in the river and playing with the water. It was a hot afternoon so we were kinda jealous! We did see a couple of hippos outside the water as well. Most of them were snoozing on the shores but some were grazing and a few even running (which we must admit, looks kinda funny when a big blob like a hippopotamus starts running). We stopped for some birds as well, like two black collared barbets singing their duet, a Diederick's cuckoo, white-faced ducks, blacksmith lapwings, and some green-winged pytilias.

But the best sighting of the day was a crocodile fishing. We set at this little waterhole when suddenly there were a lot of waves and bubbles. Out came the tail of a crocodile and then an open mouth with a catfish in it, still alive. He threw it at the back of his throat and swallowed, and the fish was gone. Then he would slowly sink to the bottom and the water all calmed down. We thought that was it, but as the water was super still, suddenly the waves reappeared. And they got bigger and bigger and we saw a tail swish and out came the front of the crocodile again with yet another fish!! He repeated this another 4 or 5 times and all this time it was just us! When other cars started showing up he apparently had enough to eat as the show was over and it looked like we were just watching the hippos (oh yeah, they were there too!) and the eyes and nostrils of a crocodile.

Then we decided to continue on our way. As we followed the tar road along the Sabie river we saw plenty more elephants and hippos, vervet monkeys, some nice kudu bulls, warthogs digging with their snouts, dwarf mongoose, and twice a leopard tortoises boy following a leopard tortoise girl. Those boys had clearly only one thing on their minds and as the leopard tortoise girl went one way they instantly followed with their noses stuck to her bum. Unfortunately the leopard tortoise girl is just as fast as the leopard tortoise boy, so if she wanted to run away, she didn't show much speed.

Just before we snuck into Skukuza for a quick pitstop, we saw a female hyena, which was obviously still suckling pups as her nipples were very swollen. She took a fright of our vehicle when it stopped the engine and took a little jog far away into the bush and out of sight so we never got to see her pups.  Then down Napi we came across yet another klipspringer, multiple zebras, one scaring red crested korhaan when it was crazing the little pluck of grass the korhaan was hiding in, natal and crested francolins, guineafowls, and a group of brown hooded parrots.

When we got close to Transport Dam we got a call that there were wild dogs around. When we got to the sighting they were no longer lying on the side of the road, but moving around in the bush a bit further in. Half obscured by the savannah woody plants we still got quite a good view with binoculars. A group of zebras was grazing nearby and we were suddenly excited by the entire pack getting up and slowly making their way to those zebras. The zebras saw them coming and closed ranks. They stood head to butt in a close-knit group, while being surrounded completely by at least 9 wild dogs. It was a proper stand-off, but the zebras didn't budge when the wild dogs started probing into their group and tried to come close. As the zebras lined up their hind legs as they have a very powerful kick, the wild dogs regroup and had what looked like a group discussion on how to proceed. It was apparently decided that these zebras were too much effort as the wild dogs took off further into the bush and left the zebras alone. It was nice the see the attempt though, it got our excitement level raised too.

As the day was coming to an end, we drove the rest of Napi to Pretoriuskop. We did enjoy another sighting of hyenas of 5 pups and 1 babysitter and saw plenty zebras and giraffes crossing. The last stretch ended up as drive-by shooting: duikers,  elephants, kudus, impalas, waterbucks, lilac breasted roller, Cape turtle doves, black-backed puffback and a white stork on the side of the road. Tired after a long day we arrived at Pretoriuskop, our camp for the next two nights!

27 November 2014

This morning we set off early once again as that is usually the best time for animal viewing, especially when a day is forecasted to get hot. We drove down Napi where we saw a reedbuck in the drainage line. We looked at him, he looked at us. Kind of a staring contest, which we lost when we drove away. Then we came across an elephant bull just before Shithave Dam. We saw another magnificent one later on, when we had visited Shithave Dam.

At Shithave Dam we saw the ears and nostrils of the resident male hippo, a dwarf bittern and a grey heron. Then back on Napi we came across that earlier mentioned magnificent elephant bull, kudus, impalas of course, a black-bellied bustard swallowing its bubbles (well, that's what it sounds like when he calls for a mate) and waterbucks. We encountered a zigzagging white rhino. He crossed the road when we saw him at first. Then he crossed back. And back again. He walked two meters on the grass on the other side and then turned around and crossed again. Either he was looking for something or he kept on thinking the grass was greener on the other side... While watching this peculiar rhino behavior we had a red crested korhaan screaming next to the car, but we didn't hear any reply so all that effort was in vain.

Back on Napi we saw two hyenas lying at the den site we saw yesterday. One instantly disappeared into the den while the other was fast asleep and we were wondering if she actually was aware we were there at all as there was no movement. No pups visible this time though. The white stork was still sitting on the side of the road, sleeping, but now on the other side as we saw her yesterday. And we did see a lone ground hornbill further on. He was calling all the time too, possibly to find a mate. The wild dogs hadn't moved far from where we saw them yesterday, but once again they were in the distance. But this time it was worse, as they were lying flat in the shade, pretending to be invisible and then the other 20 cars around made a well traffic jam so it was hard to pass. The zebras they surrounded yesterday were still there too, a little further off. And we still counted six ;-).

We took a turn onto the H3 where the vegetation and landscape looks different the further south you get. Here we did see more impalas of course, since they are everywhere, but also giraffes (one of them lying down), magpie shrikes, a blooming pride of the cape with a collared sunbird hopping around and a herd of elephants.

Another guide had found some lions at the Byamiti loop, so we took a turn onto the S113 and then onto that loop to check it out. We saw some nice kudu bulls with awesome horns on the way before we reached the lions. Three males were pretending to be logs as they were sleeping in the riverbed. Compared to the other lion sightings we had so far they were quite far and rather dull so we showed how spoiled we actually are and didn't hang around too long. There was also a need for a toilet break, which meant we had a drive-by shooting session from the lions via the H2-2 to Afsaal: a tree full of grey louries, warthogs, elephants and a bateleur in a tree.

Breakfast at Afsaal was almost shared with some cheeky cape glossy starlings, but we managed to chase them off while they watched us eat from every direction. A bushbuck came by to visit too, but she was only interested in the green leaves on a nearby bush. When we had our fill of breakfast and a shot of coffee we set off back up the H3. We spotted a group of four ground hornbills. By the looks of it they were all still young. Then a call came from Curtis that he had found a leopard. As we hadn't seen one we decided to give it a go and tried to get to the sighting as quickly as allowed by the speed rules of the park. We took a turn on the S112 and s114 for the third leopard that ran away just before we got there, third time unlucky. But then by taking this road we did see vervet monkeys, a very fat warthog and two steenbok anyway.

Back on Napi it was getting hot and we decided to drive back to the lodge and only stop for something special. We pointed out some of the animals we had already seen: common grey duikers, more steenbok, a giant landsnail, kudus, plenty of herds of elephants (ok, they are still cool so we still stopped for them anyways), dung beetles, a large flock of marabou storks flying away and we got to another new animal of this tour just before Pretoriuskop: a herd of sable. They were quite in the distance but we had a good look at some males and females through binoculars.

In the afternoon the guests wanted to relax and they had an enjoyable time at the rock pool at Pretoriuskop!

28 November 2014

This morning we decided for a bit of a lie in and have breakfast before we would leave. But as the restaurant only opened at 7am, we only set off about 45min later. we took a loop around Pretoriuskop and Manungu Koppies where we came across a warthog, crazy running guineafowls, an elephant drinking from the drainage line and a tree squirrel that was screaming from the top of his lungs, but seemingly
at nothing.

We then crossed the tar road to have a look around Shabeni loop. Here the animals seemed to expect floods as they were all sitting high and dry on top of the rocks. First we noticed two buffalo bulls hanging out, but as we came closer and on the other side of this particular rock, it turned out to be three of them. Then a little onwards we saw two klipspringers, a male and a female, who were having their breakfast fill of leaves. Thirdly a family of vervet monkeys sat all on the top of the rocks grooming each other. The birds we saw on this loop sat high in a tree as well: Diederick's cuckoo, woodlands kingfisher, crested barbet and dark-capped bulbul were added to the bird list.

As we still had some time left, we took a detour to Mestel dam, where on the way we spotted our last warthogs and large herds of impalas before reaching the dam. Here the hippos weren't as complacent in saying goodbye as the impalas on the side of the road as we didn't see anything but a few ears and nostrils. However we did get to see a new animal: a pied kingfisher was fishing nearby. A fish eagle flew over high above us as well.

On the way back to Numbi Gate we saw the herds of impalas with babies as a last goodbye. The warthogs didn't stick around. And when we left the gate towards Nelspruit it signaled the end of the safari for the Broers Family. I know you enjoyed your safari and I hope you have a great time sifting through all the pictures you took and movies you made to make one big album at home! And maybe in two years time, we'll see you back for another safari!


More coming soon!!

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