We’ve been silent on Wilkinson’s World for a while now, but that’s only because we’ve been away having a number of adventures. A visit to Kruger National Park is always a treat for us, and this year we were fortunate enough to be invited to a birding weekend at Satara, hosted by SANParks Honorary Rangers West Rand Region. And what a treat it turned out to be. Not only did the Rangers take us to places that are normally off limits to the public, but we also had expert guides telling us about the birds and animals that we saw. The night and dawn drives were especially exciting.
We were well prepped before arriving at Kruger and had been given official lists of birds we were likely to see in the area at that time of the year. Our bird count could start within a 50km radius of Satara, which meant that once we came through Orpen Gate our list was open. Needless to say, there were birds aplenty and it took us over four hours to cover the short distance from the gate to Satara. By the time we reached our lovely thatched rondavel we’d already seen quite a number of the summer migrants (like European Rollers, Southern Carmine and European Bee-eaters).
The birding around Satara is especially good and there are a couple of great bird hides and dams within easy driving distance of the camp. We arrived a day earlier than most of the other birders, so had an afternoon and morning free to drive around on our own. Rob and I were in our element. I drove so that Rob could work with his camera without having a steering wheel in his way. We are at our happiest when we’re looking for birds and animals and when the animals are obliging about having their photos taken we are delighted.
The S100 road to Gudzani was especially profitable and we had magnificent sightings of Southern Ground Hornbills, which are the most vulnerable of the Hornbill species. The shrike species were well represented, as were the cuckoos – we saw Jacobin, Levaillants and Dideriek Cuckoos regularly and there were Woodland Kingfishers in abundance, their distinctive calls always letting us know of their presence. With the aid of our expert bird guides, the next day we saw both Common and African Cuckoo’s. We only found them because the guides heard them calling and stopped to look for them.
As I said earlier, our night drives were special. We were mainly on the look-out for owls and nightjars and they didn’t disappoint. Spotlights swept over the trees and ground as we drove slowly along and we soon spotted a number of night animals – African Civits, Small Spotted Genets and of course owls, nightjars, lots of thick-knees and a tiny Buttonquail. We came across a lion fast asleep in the middle of the road – sprawled out, he was obviously enjoying the warmth of the asphalt under his body. He didn’t even lift up his head to acknowledge our presence even though we were less than a meter away from him. We also saw a family of Spotted Hyenas as they came out of a culvert and stalked off into the night.
Most of us were brave enough to rise before 4.00 a.m. to be in time for the dawn chorus. We came across a pride of lions resting in the long grass shortly before our vehicle got stuck in the mud. It took many minutes and lots of brainpower and manpower to extricate the truck as many of us stood by, risking life and limb while the drama was playing out. Talk about living on the edge!
The dinners provided for the birders were excellent and it was great to be in the company of people who share one’s passion for birds and the bush. The weekend was sponsored by a number of high profile companies, whose generous product donations were well received. We came away with quite a haul of useful items, plus plenty of reading material about the work of the Rangers and the Eco Trainers. All money that we spent on the weekend went to further the important work of the Honorary Rangers and we were assured that their fund-raising efforts went to where they were most needed for the betterment of the National Parks.
As numbers are limited for the birding weekends with the Honorary Rangers, we will feel very privileged if we are invited to attend next year – it was certainly well worth the long drive from Durban. From Satara Rob and I took a slow drive through the Park up to Punda Maria to see what birds we could find further north. More about that in our next blog.