Tag Archives: Kruger National Park

Some days are diamonds

Have you ever had one of those days when just about everything goes wrong?  I’m sure you have.  How about one when absolutely everything goes right?  We recently had a diamond day in Kruger National Park.  We visit parks often and this has to have been our best time ever anywhere.  Let me tell you about it.

Lion Pride KNP

We left our campsite at Satara, planning to make our way slowly to Lower Sabie.  We hadn’t driven far when we saw a pride of ten lions in the bush next to the road.

Lion Pride KNP

The left the grassy area and walked along the road in front of us for about two kilometers.

Lion Pride KNP

Apart from seeing so many lions at one time, we were delighted to watch the young cubs playing games with each other as their parents walked purposefully ahead.  There were about six cubs of various ages, three older lionesses and one male lion.  What a sight that was.  Our best ever close up sightings of so many of these beautiful animals.

Male Leopard KNP

Feeling like things couldn’t get much better than this, we continued driving towards Lower Sabie.  It wasn’t long before we came across a number of parked cars and realized that the folks were watching something special.  This time it was a magnificent male leopard walking beside the road.

Male Leopard KNP

I turned our car around so that Rob could take photos and the leopard obliged by walking next to us and then sitting down at the side of the road.

Male Leopard KNP

What a sight he was.  We were absolutely blown away by this incredible animal.

When the leopard eventually disappeared into the bush, we happily continued on our drive.  Our next bonus was another sighting of lions, a male and female.  Once again we were in the perfect position for photos and we made the most of our special time with them.

Lioness KNP Lion  KNP

At the Mafagalamba Dam, close to the Tshokwane picnic area, we spotted a mother cheetah with three cubs.  She left her cubs briefly to drink at the dam.

Cheetah mother  KNP

Whilst there she spotted an impala and immediately gave chase.  We held our breath thinking that we would see a kill, but the impala managed to escape and the cheetah made her way back to her cubs.

Cheetah cubs  KNP

With that, a lioness appeared and saw an opportunity to have a cheetah cub for a meal.  The cheetah hastily departed with her three cubs.  Here was another chance for us to watch a chase!

Lioness KNP

There was a flurry of activity in a bush as the lioness caught up with them.  Unfortunately by then it was too far away for us to see what happened – we can only hope that the cubs escaped safely and that the mother took on the lioness.  We will never know the outcome, but our day was getting better and better!

By this time it was almost sundown and we were making our way back to our campsite, when we came across a smallish bird sitting in the road.  On closer inspection it turned out to be a Harlequin Quail – a lifer for us.

Harlequin Quail  KNP

I was concerned that it would be run over by a passing car, so I opened my window and flapped a towel near it.  The quail flew off into the safety of the bush.  Our day was over and it will be etched into our memories as the most amazing one ever in any game reserve.  We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been witness to the best that the bush could offer in a single day.

An Obliging Cuckoo

Birds are difficult to photograph.  They are, with a few exceptions, small and nervous, and they move quickly.  They fly.  They hide in thickets.  They can disappear in a flash.  Just sitting still they can become invisible.  From a photographer’s point of view, when they perch they are usually too high or too low.   99 times out of 100 they are too far away, regardless of what lens you have on your camera.  Rob has a theory that birds can read the focal length engraved on the front of a camera lens and know exactly how far away they must be to taunt the photographer, so it’s no use changing the lens for a longer model!  To add to a photographer’s woes, so many birds are most active at dawn or dusk when the light is approaching its worst in the deep thickets and under the forest canopy where birds spend so much of their time.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

But there are exceptions and it is for these special times that photographers spend their days behind their cameras.  Days of waiting for a split second exposure.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Recently the Kruger National Park delivered such an exception.  We came upon a Levaillant’s Cuckoo perched in the open, reasonably close to the road and, at 5.30 in the afternoon, in fair light – and he (or she; the sexes are alike) didn’t fly.  He had located a patch of sparsely vegetated veld rich in hairy caterpillars and was not leaving!

Levaillant's Cuckoo

For several minutes we sat and watched his antics as he feasted, downing a dozen or more caterpillars in half as many minutes.  From the car the angle for photography was not ideal, but just watching him was enthralling.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Typical of what happens in any national park, several folks stopped to see what we were watching and moved on disappointed when seeing that it was “just a bird”.  The cuckoo was not offended.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Levaillant’s Cuckoos are not rare;  they are fairly common breeding migrants to Southern Africa, where obliging Bulbuls and Southern Fiscals generously raise the next generation for them, but we still felt privileged to witness this little feeding frenzy.

The identification of this particular bird has caused some head-scratching in our circle.  We were undecided whether it was a Levaillant’s Cuckoo or a Jacobin Cuckoo.  The Jacobin has a pure white breast, however, the streaking on this cuckoo’s chest is not very heavy.  If any of our readers feel strongly that we have misidentified this bird, please feel free to drop us a line.  We would welcome your input.

Tour Guides – A Curse in the Parks?

I often think that the blogs I’ve written for Wilkinsonsworld make me sound a bit like Pollyanna – always enthusing about the fabulous times that we’ve had and the wonderful birds and animals we’ve seen.  I do see our adventures like this, but today I’m going to remove my Pollyanna cap and have a gripe about the manners of some folks in game reserves.  As I said in my previous post, we have recently visited Kruger National Park where we had the good fortune to come across a brilliant leopard sighting.  Sadly, the selfishness and bad manners of some people was evident here.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

We happened to drive up to an area where a tour guide in a safari vehicle had taken up pole  position (on the wrong side of the road) in front of a leopard.  We have no problem with that at all.  Other vehicles had also driven up to the site from both directions.  The tour guide had three guests in his vehicle who spent over forty minutes photographing and videoing the animal.  Cars were backing up and still the guide did not move off giving everyone else a chance to see the prized animal.  He was not parked in and could easily have reversed away.  Eventually someone else had the foresight to make a bit of space so that four vehicles ahead of us could edge forward slowly, take some photos and move on.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

After a long wait we got in front of the leopard and were then totally parked in so that we didn’t have the option to either move forward or backwards to allow others to enjoy the spectacle as well.  The safari vehicle remained put blocking our way.  Eventually the driver reversed, turned his vehicle around and proceeded to block the road again as he pulled up alongside a colleague in another vehicle and showed off his photographs with no thought to anyone behind him trying to get past.

I wonder if there are any unwritten rules of etiquette in game reserves whereby people look at animals for a reasonable time, take their photos and then move on to allow others the same privilege.  A “stuff you” attitude is really not in the spirit of the game, as everyone there is dying to see something special.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

There is a 50km speed limit in the park and we often found that when tour guides got radio tip offs about where game is, they drove off at break-neck speed.  We thought we would follow one, but had to give up as he was going at over 70km and we weren’t prepared to drive that fast to keep up with him.

Another problem that we often experience (and here I am not referring only to safari vehicles), especially as Rob is a photographer, is that he can be photographing a particular scene, like a mother bird with eight chicks crossing the road, and someone will ride up and pass without any thought that they are going to scare the birds off while someone is in the middle of taking photographs.  This applies to pictures or sightings of animals as well.  It is really inconsiderate.

Here’s an interesting video on a safari guide being attacked by a leopard in Kruger National Park.  The poor animal lost its life because of him.

Is this just me, or do other people have the same frustrations in the game reserves?

Meet Stoffel Two – Honey Badger in KNP

We have recently returned from our annual visit to South Africa’s flagship game reserve, the Kruger National Park.  What an incredible experience awaits those who visit the park for the first time – and an equally wonderful time for those of us who go back year after year.  This year proved to be even more outstanding than usual (for January), mainly because of the drought, as the animals were much more visible without the typical long grass of summer.  Unfortunately the downside was that the animals were very hot, thirsty and, in many instances, hungry. There were some heartbreaking sights, but I will blog about those another time.  Today belongs to Stoffel Two – our nickname for a honey badger (Mellivora capensis) that caused quite a stir in our camp at Satara.

Honey badger on the prowl

As you can see from the photo of our chalet, the kitchen is situated on the outside of the building, with the fridge enclosed in a metal cage (to keep out thieving monkeys and honey badgers!)

Our chalet at Satara

We had the foresight to lock our fridge gate with a padlock – something that our neighbour omitted to do.  Stoffel Two arrived one hot lunch time and proceeded to tackle the unlocked gate.  He deftly pulled back the dead bolt, opened the gate and then opened the fridge with absolute ease.

What's on the menu

Unfortunately he had rather lean pickings as the meals for our group were mostly catered for, which meant that there was very little in the way of tasty food to sink his teeth into.  It didn’t stop him examining every nook and cranny of the fridge in search of something edible.

There must be something here

Honey badgers are quite dangerous when confronted, as we saw when one of our group tried to chase Stoffel Two away.  He was cornered on the verandah, and feeling threatened, he immediately bared his teeth and growled ferociously, making her quickly pull back out of harm’s way.

Leave me alone!!

Once he had checked out the entire contents of the fridge, the honey badger made his way past all the photographers in search of the next easy target in the camp.

Stretching into the fridge

Do yourself a favour and watch this short video.

You will be amazed and amused by his Houdini-like ability to escape from his enclosure. For more information on these fascinating and incredibly intelligent animals, read our blog about them written after our trip to the Central Kalahari.

Inquisitive Burchell’s Coucal

When Rob and I were in the Kruger National Park earlier this year we came across a number of  Burchell’s Coucals.  It was the rainy season and there were more about than usual.  The one I’m blogging about today was sitting quite far away which made it difficult for Rob to get a good photograph.  We sat patiently watching the bird for a  while hoping that it would move into a better position.  Imagine our delight and surprise when the bird actually decided to watch us instead and flew to within a few meters of our car!

Young Burchell's Coucal

It’s not often than one has an inquisitive bird that comes to say hello so readily.  In South Africa we call these Coucal’s “rain birds” because they usually start calling loudly shortly before it rains.  Their rain predictions are extremely accurate too! They are normally quite shy and and prefer to take refuge or move about deep in the bushes.

Young Burchell's Coucal

This is obviously a juvenile bird as it doesn’t have the dark markings of an adult.

Young Burchell's Coucal

Having one come right out into the open and close to our car was rather exciting and Rob was able to get a couple of good photos after all.

Rhinos – Rare and Poached

I’m sure that most of the folks who read our blogs are animal and bird lovers, so I guess I’m preaching to the converted here when I say that our war against rhino poachers needs all the soldiers we can muster.  We’ve recently spent time on a birding weekend in the Kruger National Park with some SANParks Voluntary Rangers (from the West Rand Region) and we heard about their fund-raising efforts for, amongst other things, the protection of rhinos in the national parks.  I should imagine that every killing must make the authorities feel like they are taking three steps forward and two steps back.

White rhinoceros

Funnily enough, in spite of the vast numbers that are being poached at the moment, we were fortunate enough to come across a number of rhinos on our short visit to Kruger.  These bulky, prehistoric-looking animals lumber around peacefully unaware of the price they have on their heads (literally) and what danger they’re in from unscrupulous poachers.  The threat comes from poachers of all nationalities, but it would seem mainly from Mozambicans who have easy access to the Park.

White rhinoceros

I’m always devastated when I hear of South Africans being caught poaching, or masterminding poaching operations, as I feel they are destroying our heritage and should know better.  The Asians who call for rhino horn are far removed from the area so are not impacted by what is going on here.  That is no excuse however.

White rhinoceros

The Rhinose Foundation that collects money for the conservation of rhinos, has decided that an effective way to tackle the problem is to get the Asians to see for themselves what their predilection for rhino horn is doing in Africa.  They use much of their funding to bring delegations from Asia to the Park to witness first-hand the death and destruction that is taking place here and to take back the message to their people that this must stop before it’s too late.  Hopefully by educating famous people, like singers or TV personalities who have large fan bases, they can spread the word and make a change back home.

White rhinoceros

Members of the South African Parliament are also being brought in to see what is happening so that they can go back and promulgate harsher laws against poachers.  One can only hope that this will be effective in the long term.

White rhinoceros

Last year 1216 rhinos were poached in South Africa.  Three weeks into February 2015 and already 166 have been killed.  Who knows if the beautiful rhinos featured in our photos here will still be alive in a month’s time.  What a sad thought that is and what a tragedy for future generations if we don’t win this battle.

Leopard Sighting in Kruger National Park

Have you ever visited a game reserve and had one of those days when you drive around for hours and see very little in the way of animals?  We had such a morning on a visit to the Kruger National Park this month.  Being early February it was oppressively hot and all sensible animals and birds were sheltering in deep shade out of sight.  After about five hours of driving along the Crocodile River Road and seeing very little other than birds, we decided to go three kilometers further and then turn around and head back to our camp at Berg-en-Dal.  It was at this point that I slowed the car right down to look into an interesting tree and I spotted a leopard climbing up the trunk.  Rob was on the passenger side where the leopard was and his camera was ready.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

What a bonus this sighting was, as leopards are nocturnal and definitely the most elusive of the Big 5 animals.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

This particular leopard was not terribly happy about us stopping so close by and only remained in the tree for about a minute before climbing down and disappearing into a thick wooded area where it was quickly lost to view.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

The whole encounter was over in a flash, but it left us very excited and feeling extremely privileged to have had the sighting all to ourselves.  All too often you have to vie with numerous other people to see an animal and sometimes you miss being in the perfect place for a photograph.  We were just so lucky!

Leopard - Kruger National Park

Leopards prefer dense, riparian vegetation, which makes spotting them rather difficult if they aren’t actually walking along the road. If they are walking away from you, it isn’t the ideal way to photograph them as you can see.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

We’ve had a few sightings of leopards in the wild over the years, but this has to have been the most exciting one yet.  Well done to Rob for capturing some lovely shots of this beautiful animal.

KNP – Punda Maria and Pafuri

Punda Maria, on the north-western edge of the Kruger National Park, is definitely worth a visit if you’re into bird watching.  We’d heard many times that it was a bird lover’s paradise in summer and our long drive north certainly proved worthwhile for this very reason.  According to the guide book this remote little camp that was built in the 1930’s was named Punda (meaning striped donkey or zebra) and Maria after the wife of the ranger, J J Coetzer, who founded it.  I doubt whether the ranger meant any disrespect by linking his wife’s name to a striped donkey!)

African Hawk Eagle

It’s a pretty camp set in rows on a hillside.  There’s a magnificent camping area overlooking a waterhole, which must be amazing in the dry season.  The only fault that we could find with our comfortable little chalet was that the thatched roof extended right down over the verandah and we managed to bump our heads on it a lot.  But as I said to Rob, if we bash our heads once or twice it’s an accident – after that it’s our stupidity.  After that comment we both kept our stupidity to ourselves.  There are some nice walks around the treed camp and lots of birds to be seen without even going for a drive.

Beautiful Baobab

We’d read that nearby Pafuri, on the border of Mozambique, was a must-see place for birds so we packed up a picnic basket and headed off slowly in that direction.  The vegetation in the area is somewhat different from the rest of the Park, which is probably what attracts the variety of birds that you don’t find further south.  Our first ‘lifer’ of the day was an African Crake that was wandering along the edge of the road.  Too fast for our cameras unfortunately, but we did manage to get a positive identification before it disappeared into the long grass.

Sharpe's Grysbok

I might have been unfair in a previous blog when I said that animals were few and far between in this area.  I’ve subsequently read blogs by folks who raved about all the game they saw in winter.  I guess the rainy season isn’t the time to see many animals as they don’t frequent the waterholes like they do in the dry season.  We were therefore grateful to catch a sighting of a shy little Sharpe’s Grysbok which isn’t common in the rest of the Park and was also a lifer for us.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

There are loads of raptors in the area and we ticked off an African Hawk Eagle, an Osprey and numerous Bataleurs and Peregrin Falcons.  The Bee-eaters and European Rollers provided lots of colour, as did the Violet-backed Starlings, Grey-headed Parrots, Red-headed Weavers and African Green Pigeons.  I learnt a new trick – focus about a meter off the ground when driving slowly and you could pick up a nice photo of a Nightjar taking a nap!  You have to have good eyes as they blend into the bark so well.

Rob on the Luvuvhu Bridge Pafuri

At Pafuri our next lifers were Lemon-breasted Canaries and Green-capped Eremomelas that were nesting right next to the Luvuvhu Bridge.  Unfortunately the river was about to come down in flood, as we found to our dismay when we drove to Crooks Corner.  The water was already lapping over the road when a police vehicle raced up to warn us to get away before we were trapped.  That was quite disappointing because the scenery along the river is probably the best in the entire Park.  Beautiful woodland picnic areas with lots of birds to be seen.

Woodland area along Luvuvhu River

We spent three days at Punda Maria and enjoyed every minute of our time there.  The Mopane Woodland and enormous Baobab trees make the scenery lovely and you never know if you’ll round a corner and come across an elephant munching on the leaves or rubbing up against a tree.  I definitely want to go back there in winter even though the summer migrants will have left.  It’s a place in Kruger that deserves a lot more of one’s time.  I only hope that it isn’t modernized too quickly so that the visitors pour into the place.  I think it would lose a lot of its charm if this happens.

KNP – Hyenas well spotted!

Anyone who knows me, knows that apart from birds and animals, the next great passion in my life (apart from Rob of course) is playing the card game of Bridge.  In case you’re wondering what Bridge has got to do with a nature blog, please just bear with me for a minute or two.  Often when one plays Bridge there are days when there is a predominance of contracts in the same suit, so for example a day will be dominated by Heart contracts or Spade contracts .  Most players comment on it when it happens, so it’s not just something that I notice.  Getting back to nature, I have found that a similar thing happens on our trips.  We find we go to different places and come across loads of a particular bird or animal even though they were not particularly on our wish list.  We saw this in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with Secretarybirds (fourteen of them at one water hole) and it happened again on our recent visit to the Kruger National Park, when we seemed to see more Spotted Hyenas than usual.

Beautiful young Spotted hyena

We came across these animals just about every day we were in the Park.  We must have just been very lucky, because other folks commented that they hadn’t seen any.  So here is a selection of photos taken on different days at different times.

Spotted hyena on the hunt

These rather ungainly creatures have an important role to play in nature.  You can read more about them in our previous blog written way back in 2010.

This mother and baby came out of the bush and then lay down in the road and started a feeding session.  Too cute!

Mother and baby Spotted hyena Feeding time on the warm asphalt

They are nocturnal creatures, so one shouldn’t really see them about much during the day.

Spotted hyena - early morning Spotted hyena - early morning

In my next blog I will chat about our time in the Punda Maria/Pafuri area where the birding was especially rewarding.  Until next time ….

KNP – The Drive from Satara to Punda Maria

Most people who visit Kruger National Park make a point of going to the southern part because of its accessibility and proximity to international airports and the main centres of the region.  Fortunately the landscape is favourable for seeing an abundance of animals, including the Big Five.  Whilst it is nice to be able to see all these, one pays a price and the price is overcrowding, with many vehicles vying for positions to see the animals.  If, like us, you’re used to the relative peace and quiet of the game reserves to the north of South Africa’s borders, these crowds can be a bit off-putting.  So it was with happy hearts that we left Satara as soon as the gates opened and headed north to the quieter part of the Park – our destination for the day being the camp at Punda Maria.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

It’s a long drive of 245 kms and with a speed limit of 50 kms per hour it’s a good day’s journey.  It takes a long time to cover the distance because you stop often to look at birds and animals.  Our first great sighting was a tree full of White Storks.  They looked like baubles on a Christmas tree!

White Storks

We hadn’t gone much further when we were confronted by a small herd of elephants walking down the road towards us.  There was no way of getting past them and they seemed determined not to leave the road.  They ended up pushing us back a kilometer or two as they plodded steadily towards us, unconcerned about the time we were losing.  After what seemed like an eternity they left the road and we were able to proceed.  The area north of Olifants Camp has large tracts of Mopani trees, a favourite with elephants, so we were to see many more on our trip up to Punda Maria.

Elephants on the march

Dawn in the Park is an awesome time.  We came across a Yellow-billed Kite feasting on a hare.  The Kite was undaunted by our presence and made the most of its meal while we clicked away and got some nice photos.  The Kite wasn’t eating alone – can you see the beetle that was also interested in getting a piece of the action?

Yellow-billed Kite

Spurfowls and Koorhaans are also found in great numbers along this route.  They favour the road for some reason, which makes it easy to get photos of them.

Swainsons Spurfowl

The variety of animals thins out as you head north, so unless you’re a birder, you could be disappointed.  We saw loads of Spotted Hyenas, which I will blog about separately, but apart from them and the elephants, there were hardly any other animals.   Raptors, both large and small were plentiful, the smaller one’s being Amur Falcons, which were everywhere.  Close to Shingwedzi we saw a Broadbill Roller for the first time on the trip.  This, together with colourful Red-headed Weavers (both male and female), was very exciting.  There were European Rollers everywhere – it would be nice if the Broadbills and Racket-tail Rollers were as prolific.

Broad-billed Roller

We actually arrived at Punda Maria in good time, but the heavens opened up as we were unloading our vehicle, so poor Rob was drenched.  Nothing that a good cup of coffee couldn’t sort out though.  Next blog about the lovely area between Punda Maria and Pafuri – new ground for us.