Tag Archives: Kruger National Park

Birding Weekend at Kruger

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.

Golden-tailed Woodpecker

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).

Yellow-billed Oxpecker

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.

Black Crake

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.

Jacobin Cuckoo

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.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

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!

Lending a helping hand

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.

Woodland Kingfisher

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.

Elephants and Idiots

I don’t know about you, but I think the world is going a bit loopy at the moment.  Perhaps I should check out the phase of the moon because it’s usually the cause of people acting like lunatics.  I don’t often stand on a soap box and moan about the stupidity of some people, but when ignorant folks do things that directly harm animals and nature, then I feel strongly about it.

I blogged recently about lion hunting in South Africa because a lady visitor from America came here and bragged about shooting a magnificent lion for fun.  This week a British couple takes centre stage for their destruction of another of our Big Five animals, this time a beautiful bull elephant in Kruger National Park.  Admittedly they didn’t physically shoot the animal, but they were directly responsible for its death by not showing due respect.

Making at splash

As can be seen in the SkyNews video footage of their encounter with the elephant, the visitors were given a warning by the elephant when it turned to face them with its ears flapping.  This was a clear indication that the animal was not happy and it would be a good idea for them to remove themselves from the situation, which they had every opportunity to do.  They stayed put, however, and waited until seconds before the attack to attempt to move their car.  This only incensed the elephant more and they were shown in a no-nonsense manner what an angry elephant does when it rolled their car a number of times.  Fortunately they weren’t killed, but that can’t be said for the poor elephant as rangers shot it shortly afterwards for its perfectly normal behaviour when feeling threatened or annoyed.

I’m not saying that the elephant was threatened, but they react when humans come too close for comfort and their reaction is normal for an animal in the bush.  How absurd that it has to be shot for ambling innocently through its own bushveld territory to appease the tourist industry and future business for Kruger National Park.  I’m sorry, but this should never have happened.  Perhaps it’s a lesson for the authorities at Kruger to make foreigners watch the video upon entering the Park, or give them a pamphlet to read and sign so that the animals don’t need to be put down when humans do silly things in parks.

And down under we have our second lunatic of the week – an Australian man who jumped into the sea in a budgie cage to look at a great white shark.  The shark, that had been caught by fishermen and was able to swim alongside the boat, was probably in pain and enraged when it saw the human in its environment, and it came in for an attack.  Did the diver expect to be welcomed by the shark and left alone, and did he think that a flimsy budgie cage was any measure against the powerful jaws of a great white shark?

In South Africa people can view great white sharks from a heavily reinforced cage that is lowered into the water, but the sharks that are viewed are not captured and injured first and the people can do this in relative safety.

When are we going to learn to leave animals alone and let them live in peace without being harassed by humans?  Wild animals are just that – wild animals – and that is their beauty.  Why do we have to go into their domains and ruin everything for them and for all the other nature lovers who just want to enjoy God’s creatures in their natural environment?  Come on humans, we are supposed to be the one’s with brains and intelligence!

Only fools and elephants

Having lived in a region where there are lots of elephants, I do tend to blog about them rather a lot.  Forgive me for this indulgence, but they are such beautiful animals and I have such a great respect for them.  I noticed in a newspaper report last week that two Asian visitors to the Kruger National Park in South Africa had their vehicle trampled when they were charged by an angry elephant.  This is always a danger when humans encroach on the space of wild animals and especially elephants.  The sad thing is that humans always come off second best in these encounters – except when the poor elephant is shot for the sins of the visitors.

A regular visitor to our campsite

Fortunately I wasn’t around to see if these tourists provoked the elephant into charging, but they must have done something to annoy it because they are now both in hospital and their vehicle is in the scrapyard.  When we were staying at Xakanaka in Moremi, Botswana, we saw how foolish people can be when they are on holiday in the wild.  We were staying in an unfenced campsite on the edge of the Okavango Delta and had elephants around us daily.  We always retreated when we saw them, feeling so privileged to share their space.

Happily grazing in the swamp nearby

For almost a week a big bull elephant wandered in every day and waded into the swamp next to our campsite.  In fact we woke up one morning and found ourselves eyeball to eyeball with the elephant.  It was quite scary and poor Rob had to make a hasty retreat out of our rooftop tent to a safe spot.  The elephant was not concerned with our presence and grazed the entire day just meters from our campsite.

Waking up to company

Imagine our annoyance when ‘our’ elephant was disturbed in his peaceful grazing by a group of four tourists who walked right up to the waters edge and provoked him into coming after them.  Once they had his attention and he was seeing them off, the husband positioned himself with his camera to get a shot of the elephant going after his wife.  Fortunately for the lady concerned there was a tree behind which she could take refuge, because the elephant was clearly annoyed.

Hoping to get a photo of a death

They then all came over to our campsite and lured the angry elephant towards us, not only endangering us, but putting our vehicles and campsite set up in danger of being trashed.  When we told them how stupid they were, they said they knew all about elephants and there was no danger when a male elephant was feeding on its own.  Maybe one day those famous last words will be on their gravestones.

Happily grazing in the swamp nearby

If you happen to recognize these silly people, perhaps you can talk some sense into them while they are still alive.  We certainly couldn’t.  The Africans have a good name for these kinds of folks – Mampara’s!  Which means ‘idiots’.

 

Waterbuck – A shaggy buck story

Visit any of the game reserves in southern Africa and you are sure to see loads of buck of every description, especially impala and springbok.  Whilst it’s great to see the common buck, it’s always a thrill to come across the more unusual ones, like the Waterbuck, which is very distinctive with its long shaggy coat and a target-like white circle arounds its tail.

Perfect white target

We saw some in the Kruger National Park, but they are popping up in various odd locations as they’re being sold to private nature reserves and game farms.

Small herd of mostly females

Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) are large antelope that prefer to move around in small herds of between 5 and12 animals.  Males and females tend to stay in separate herds, with the females guarding their calves and young ones.  Males are very territorial and often have lethal fights for dominance in the herd.  The sexes are easy to distinguish as the females are much smaller and don’t have horns.

Magnificent male waterbuck

Their habitat is in dry floodplains and areas close to water, although Waterbuck, as their name might imply, are not aquatic animals like the lechwe or sitatunga.  They do, however, take to water when in danger, even if crocodiles are present.  Waterbuck have a number of predators (spotted hyena, wild dogs, lions and cheetahs), but they have a rather unpleasant smelling secretion from their skin (to waterproof their fur), which sometimes deters their attackers.

A young male waterbuck

Calves are born throughout the year, usually singly, and take about three and a half years to reach maturity. The mother licks the baby after it suckles to remove its characteristic odour and confuse predators.  But in spite of this, they have a high mortality rate.  Numbers are kept up by females mating within six weeks of giving birth, and calves are born after a gestation period of about nine months.

A young male waterbuck

Waterbuck eat grass, fruit and leaves and drink a lot of water.  If they can escape being part of the food chain, they can live up to fourteen years.

 

 

 

 

All creatures great and small

My previous blog was about the spotted hyenas that we saw on a visit to the Kruger National Park.  I also spoke about the majority of people wanting to see the Big 5.  It never fails to astound us, when we’re in a game reserve, to see how much people actually miss because they’re only intent on seeing big game.  I’m not knocking them really, because obviously some people go to game reserves for that very reason, but there are so many different little worlds in the Park that folks who are interested in all creatures, great and small, get to see in addition to the bigger animals.

One can always see when something interesting has been spotted, because a car will stop and then everyone coming (from either direction) will pull in to see what they are looking at.  This can be very helpful, because not everyone’s eyes are equally sharp and we would often have missed an exciting sighting of an animal deep in the bush if they hadn’t spotted it first.  We would have missed these slumbering lions, for example.

Lions sleeping in a river bed

One gentleman was extremely helpful when we stopped next to him and he gave us detailed directions of where to find a pair of cheetahs a few kilometers away on a side road.

Cheetah

Often we’re watching a beautiful little lizard sunning itself on the road, or photographing a tiny bird, and it doesn’t take long before we have accumulated an entourage of cars befitting a royal cavalcade!

Blue-tailed Sandveld lizard

When they finally give up in disgust because they can’t see anything they pull up next to us and ask what we’re looking at.  On hearing that it’s a bird, we get a wave of the hand and a look of frustration as they announce to everyone in their car that “it’s only a bird.”    Don’t they know that we’ve just got a shot of an incredibly beautiful orange-breasted bush-shrike?

Orange-breasted Bush-shrike

We came across a sensible fellow birder who had a sign in his window saying: “Please pass we’re watching a bird.”  We also saw two guys who were tree-spotting.  How interesting – at least their subjects didn’t run away out of sight or fly off.

Monitor lizard

Some of our most remarkable game reserve moments have been when we’re quietly sitting at a waterhole having a cup of coffee.  Some visitors drive up to the waterhole, see nothing and drive away.  Literally seconds after they’ve left, in will come an animal or a bird that makes the whole trip worthwhile.  (It’s probably also happened to us dozens of times; there simply isn’t time to sit for hours at each spot.)   This beautiful white-headed vulture was a case in point when it came in to land at a waterhole we were watching after everyone else had left.  Minutes later it was joined by a juvenile so we had a double treat.

White-headed Vulture

Rob always says that you have to be “out there” to have these incredible moments in nature, but being out there is often not enough.  Added to that you have to look at the whole of nature and, most importantly, have endless patience, which any bird or animal photographer will tell you is the key element.  Birds and animals seem to have a sixth sense about cameras – they will sit quite still for ages until you bring out a camera and then they’re off!  Oh yes, we know all about patience…

Spotted Hyenas in Kruger National Park

A visit to the Kruger National Park in South Africa is such a rewarding experience for avid animal and bird lovers like ourselves.  We have just returned from a holiday in that part of the world and have literally hundreds of photographs to add to our collection.  Kruger is renowned for being home to the Big 5 – namely lions, elephants, buffalos, rhinos and leopards – and the challenge is to see all these in one day.  No mean feat when leopard numbers are low (only about 1000 were recorded in 2008) and the Park covers 20 000 square kilometers – the size of Wales!  Some folks have been going to the Park for years and still haven’t notched up the Big 5 in one day.

While it is thrilling to be able to see the Big 5, it is also great to come across animals that are not so common or, during the daytime, to see nocturnal animals that haven’t settled down to sleep off the night’s excesses.  Imagine our delight when, at first light, we came across a pair of spotted hyenas lying by the roadside.  We approached them very slowly, worried that they would scurry off into the bush, but they were very accommodating and remained exactly where we found them, enabling us to get some great photos of them.

Spotted hyena at the roadside KNP

Spotted hyena at the roadside KNP

Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are carnivores and belong to the family Hyaenidae.  They tend to have bad press as they are mostly seen as cowardly scavengers in competition for prey that lion and other predators bring down.  However, they are skilled hunters in their own right and feed mainly on ungulates and weaker animals that are easy to catch.

Spotted hyena at the roadside KNP

They have strong stocky forequarters, whilst their hindquarters are shorter and sloped downwards, making it difficult for other animals to catch them from behind.  Their ungainly shape can be seen in the photo below – this was the second sighting we had of a hyena.  It had hidden the remains of a carcass in the water and had come back to retrieve its meal.  Prey is usually eaten alive and hyenas have voracious appetites – consuming about 14,5 kgs of meat at each meal.

Retrieving a carcass from the water

Our third sighting was also early in the morning, when we came across a mother hyena suckling two young cubs in a den next to the road.  She seemed unconcerned by the human paparazzi that were clicking away at the scene before them.

Mother and cubs

The gestation period is about 110 days and cubs (usually two, but sometimes three) are born throughout the year.  Hyenas rarely dig their own dens, preferring to use deserted warthog or jackal lairs.  Males don’t take part in the rearing of the youngsters, thus hyenas are mainly found in matriarchal clans, often sharing their dens.

Two suckling cubs

They may not be as exciting as the Big 5, but we enjoyed our encounters with these awkward-looking creatures and now know a lot more about them than we did before.