Tag Archives: Satara

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.

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.

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.