alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: September 2015

Cape of Good Hope

We spent our first full day in the Simon’s Town area visiting the Cape of Good Hope – the tip end of Africa you see on the map.  We left early as we had heard it can get crazy busy there – which it later did.  Lots of tourists visit the Cape of Good Hope despite the weather.

Our first stop was a lighthouse.  This lighthouse was decommissioned because it was too high above ground and it gets foggy a lot along the cape so ships can’t see the light.  We understand how that is because we didn’t see the lighthouse at times either because of the fog.  They do have nice view points.

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Cape Point sign/  The path leads up to the lighthouse and viewpoints.  Lighthouse in the distance – not a very big one like you see in the states.

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View from one of the view points. The land in the background is the Cape of Good Hope.

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Wild coastline.

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A long ways down

We saw a Southern Right Whale, however, I couldn’t tell if it was alive or not.  The whale just seemed to be floating with its mouth open.  Weird.  There were lots of Cape Cormorants flying in “V” formations along the coast.  Some of the Cape Cormorants were also on nests along the steep cliff face.

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Cape Cormorant on its nest, which is located on a narrow ledge.

After the lighthouse we went to the most southwestern point in Africa – the Cape of Good Hope.  Didn’t have our picture taken at the “sign” signifying we were at the most Southwestern tip of Africa.  Too many other people vying for a chance to have their photo taken at the sign.  We did a short hike up to a viewpoint then left to check out other parts of the park.  Much of the habitat is fynbos (fine bush).  The cape is part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms with over 1,100 indigenous plant species.  Wow!!!

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Park habitat – lots of rocks

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Fynbos habitat

Off we went in search of birds.  However, not much moving around on the windy day.  Most of the birds we saw were along the shoreline.  I was hoping to see an African Oystercatcher and I wasn’t disappointed.  These birds look just like our Black Oystercatchers, only much bigger.   At one location there was a group of at least 10.  Nice to see that many oystercatchers in one location.

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Red-winged Starling

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African Oystercatcher

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Two pairs of Common Ostrich with chicks. I was surprised to see them near the beach.  Jack counted 13 chicks.

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Wet Common Ostrich chicks

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Cape Francolin (or Spurfowl)

One bird I wanted to see was the Cape Grassbird, but it failed to make an appearance.  There were plenty of gulls, terns, and shorebirds, especially at Olifantasbos Point – a marine protected area.

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Yellow Bishop/Cape Widowbird. Whenever I say “widowbird” it sounds like baby talk for little bird.

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Hartlaub’s Gulls and Antarctica (I believe) Terns

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Terns in flight

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These bugs were crawling all over the rocks. It was so disgusting. Gave me the willies.

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The shoreline at Olifantsbos Point

As for other wildlife, this park doesn’t have much – baboons, Zebras, and the rare Bontbok (a type of antelope).  We saw all three, plus the Hyrex (aka Rock Dassies).  This species is similar to our pikas, only much larger – about the size of a gerbel.  They are the favorite food of the Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle.   Jack was a happy camper as he has been wanting to see one of these buggers since the start of the trip.  It made his day.

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Bontbok

Despite the wind, rain, occasional fog, and overcast skies – IT WAS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD.  So good in fact we went back the next day.  Well part of the reason for returning to Cape of Good Hope was because Jack wanted to do some hiking and my pelagic trip was cancelled again.  After 5 weeks in a car, it was nice to hike and stretch our legs.

The day started out pretty nice – blue skies, light wind, a few clouds.  We did a several mile hike that took us up a hill to an overlook with an old cannon.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a plaque or signboard to explain the cannon.    The hike was nice with outstanding views!   At the end of our trek, Jack was waiting for me to catch up when a bird flew into a bush about 10-15 feet from him.  Up go my binoculars and yes, there was a Cape Grassbird.  Score!  I was so hoping to see that bird.  We actually saw several, and such lovely songs.  They were signing from the trees.

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Small little wetland

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Orange-breasted Sunbird. There were a lot of these birds (both males and females) out. Breeding season is here.

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Jack on the trail

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Cape Point in the background

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Lizard sunning itself

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These plants look like members of the sundew family

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Cape Grassbird

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Singing Cape Grassbird

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Kelp Gull

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My what big feet you have – Ostrich toes

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Rugged, beautiful country

Afterward, we headed to Platboom Point beach.  Once there we could see the storm coming in from the Atlantic.  I felt sorry for anyone up at Cape Point (Lighthouse) or at Cape of Good Hope because instead of a light mist like yesterday, it was flat out raining.  Didn’t last long, but enough to get you wet.  When the rained stopped we hopped out of the car and took a walk along the rocky beach to marvel at the view and crashing waves.  We noticed a Common Ostrich nearby and saw that it was moving its way toward the trail.  We decided to turn around so as not to have a face-off,  disturb (or upset) the ostrich.  Good thing too because once we got back to the car it started raining again in earnest.

As we neared the parking lot we came upon a troop (family) of Chacma Baboons.  We backtracked a short distance (baboons can be dangerous) and detoured to our car.  As we were coming up to the car there was a male baboon sitting on a nearby pickup truck.  The owner of the truck had just gotten back to his vehicle about the same time as we got to our vehicle.  It was only as we were watching the baboon and wondering what it might do, that the man finally saw the animal.  He got into his truck and started taking photos with his smartphone.

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As you can see a storm was advancing

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Pied Avocets

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African Osytercatchers

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White-fronted Plover

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Shoreline

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Cape Bunting

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This is an interesting plant – like a cactus of some sort.

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These flowers are quite small – but pretty.

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Baboon playtime

With the rains returning we decided to head back to our guesthouse and just chill out and finish the day with a cup of hot chocolate.

IT WAS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD and tomorrow we head off to the Karoo area in search of  endemics to this area.  Wish us luck.

 

Don’t forget to check out my previous blog posts.

Simon’s Town and Boulder Beach

Our next stop after Paarl was Simon’s Town, which is located near the Cape of Good Hope.  The plan was to take a pelagic trip and find some birds not seen from land.  However, Mother Nature and the boat captain decided otherwise.  Strong winds, overcast skies, fog, and a light rain would have made for an unpleasant trip.

No trip to Simon’s Town is complete without a visit to Boulder’s Beach, a small oasis along a heavily developed beach, to check out the African Penguins.  I think we were there with about 10,000 other people.  Well maybe several hundred but it sure seemed busy.   We did see a lot of penguins, including some young.  Many adults were on shore for their 20+ day feather molt – a period where they live off their stored fat reserves.

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Artificial Nests

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Ah the beach

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Crowned Cormorant – this bird is endemic to South Africa

We stayed at a place owned by a local birding tour company – Avian Leisure.  For 700 Rand per night we got what is essentially a small apartment.  The bedroom is separate from the living/kitchen area.  The place is large and comfortable.  And this place has the most equipped kitchen we’ve had for a self-catering unit to date.  The only thing missing is a second frying pan.  I would highly recommend this place if you plan to come to Simon’s Town.

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While we don’t have a window view from our place (you can rent one that does), this is the view from the garden area.

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And in the garden is a Pin-tailed Whydah. This bird has an amazingly long tail and when the wind blows the tail goes every which way. Great bird.

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The Pin-tailed Whydah up close.

Gotta love penguins.  IT WAS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

After Beaufort West and the Karoo National Park we headed to Paarl South Africa, near Cape Town.  This is wine country, although we came for the birds, not the wine.

We enjoyed very nice accommodations at Nuwerus Lodge in Paarl.  After a hearty breakfast we decided to check out the Paarl Bird Sanctuary.  Once we got there we learned birders can only use the facilities (sewage lagoons) on weekends, or so we were told.  Hard to know for sure, but being it was Friday we couldn’t visit the sanctuary.  Our alternative was to visit the  Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve instead.  I’m glad we did as we got to see a number of “Cape” species – Cape Sugarbird, Cape Batis, Cape Francolin (or Spurfowl), Cape Widowbird (i.e., Yellow Bishop), and Cape Bulbul.  All were new (life) birds for me.

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Malachite Sunbird (Male)

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Southern Boubou

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Cape Widowbird (aka Yellow Bishop)

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Cape Sugarbird (Female)

If you like flowers this is a great place to visit.  There is a Botanical Garden at the reserve with plenty of species in bloom.

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Pond

Here are some of the flowers we saw at the garden.

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There were numerous trails through the Botanical Garden giving people opportunity to check out all the different flowering plants (and for us birders – a chance to see a variety of birdlife).

IT WAS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Magoebaskloof, Kimberley, and Beaufort West

Don’t forgot to check out my Kruger National Park blogs (2 parts) if you haven’t seen it already.

Magoebaskloof

We arrived to find a very steep, rocky road down to our accommodations – Magoebaskloof Getaway.  This was not mentioned on their website.  It is okay if no one is coming up when you are going down and visa versa.   I wish I had taken a photo of the road.

We stayed in a very nice cabin overlooking a small pond.  We had a resident Brown-headed Kingfisher right outside our door.  We got there around 1:30 pm and decided to just hang out for the afternoon.  It was hot out – 91 degrees F.  Sitting in the shade and watching life pass by was pleasant.

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Our Welcome Sign

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Our cabin

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Inside the cabin

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Brown-headed Kingfisher

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Cape Wagtail

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Cape White-eye

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Love those eyes

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A nest in the reeds alongside the pond

The next morning we intended to bird the property.  Originally I wanted to go to a nearby forest and do some birding but the prospect of driving up and down that road again made me quickly change my mind.  When we woke up the morning was overcast and it was windy outside.  The property has a trail to the top of the mountain and we started up it but quickly change our minds.  It wasn’t much of a trail and I didn’t want to injure my shoulder again trying to break a fall if that should happen.  So we just hung out around the property and I worked on my Kruger National Park blog.  Amazing how much time it takes to upload photographs.  The cabin was self catering and we had stopped in a nearby town for groceries so the first night we had bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and then chicken the following night.  Felt strange to cook a regular meal.  As I mentioned in my Kruger NP blog, the stores in the park didn’t carry much food.  South Africans like to barbecue so there was plenty of meat for that, and charcoal too.

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Jack coming down the trail

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Iris

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Not sure what this is, but it is big

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Interesting sign??? How slow is “dead slow”?

The next morning we woke to rain.  I was a little worried our small car would have trouble getting up the hill but we made it without any problems.  I was hoping to do a little birding before heading to Pretoria for the night.  No such luck.  The area has covered in a dense fog.  With the way South Africans drive – FAST AND FURIOUS – I was nervous for over an hour as we descended out of the mountains.

Pretoria
We got to Pretoria around 2:00 pm and headed straight to our guesthouse.  This guesthouse – Hatfield B&B – is by far the nicest place we stayed.  I told Jack it is amazing that this place cost less than our hut in Lower Sabie (Kruger NP) where we had to share a kitchen and a bathroom.  The B&B is owned by an architect and you can tell by the special touches.  The paintings are his too.  And this was by far the best breakfast we’ve had too.  Yummy!!!  Lots of food to choose from.  I had french toast – my first for the trip. If you are ever in Pretoria, South Africa I would highly recommend this B&B.  What a special find.

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He used a lot of plywood on the ceiling, as a headboard, and then rough wood for the cabinets and bookcase you can’t see in the photo. The painting on the wall is his.

Kimberley
Our next stop – 561 kilometers later – was the town of Kimberley.  You all have heard of DeBeers right – well diamonds are South Africans’ best friend or at least the residents of Kimberley.  The drive was long but we got to see a lot of the countryside.  In some places we told each other “This is what I thought it would look like when I thought of South Africa”, at least as far as the countryside goes.  Right before we got to Kimberley I told Jack to “STOP”.  There were two Northern Black Korhaans  (birds of course) along side the road.  A life bird for me so I wanted to get a good look at them and hopefully a photo.  The birds weren’t too cooperative – no decent photo.

We stayed at a place called “Carter’s Rest”.  The premises are nice and the room is great (they leave everything in your room for your “breakfast”), but the town itself has a lot to be desired.  We haven’t found many towns yet we’ve like – except for St. Lucia.

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Our room at the Carter’s Rest Guesthouse for two nights

In the morning we headed to a park listed in the “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book.  We think we found the park but there was a gate and a private property/no trespassing sign so we didn’t proceed into this so called park.  Better instructions are needed on how to get to these places in the “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book.  Also I think it needs to be updated.

So the other place mentioned in the book was the “Big Hole”.  Kimberley was the diamond capital of South Africa in the late 19 century/early 20th century.  We took the tour and visited a caravan (camping) park nearby.  There was some great birding at the caravan park.  We observed a pair of Crowned Lapwings with their two young chicks – again days old.  Also observed the European Bee-eater and the White-backed Mousebird.  It was really windy out and the mousebirds were holding onto the tree limbs for dear life.  Probably most birds as it was so windy.

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Laughing Dove

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Cape Sparrow feathering his nest

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White-backed Mousebird holding on for dear life

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Crowned Lapwing chick

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Fiscal Flycatcher with his catch

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The Big Hole

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Some Big Hole Statistics

After we left the Big Hole we tried to find access to the Kamfer Dam located outside Kimberley, and which is home to between 20,000-50,000 Lesser Flamingos.  We believe the claim.  There was a sea of pink so to speak.  We never did find access to the dam, although it was suggested we climb an imposing fence and cross over the railroad tracks.  Plenty of signs saying such activity was strictly prohibited.  We heeded the warning.

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Took this picture of the Flamingos from the road. The flamingos were some distance off.

Our next stop was a game farm – yes where you can come and shoot animals to your heart’s content.  This place was mentioned as having good birding.  So we drove up to the office and inquired about birding.  They took a look at our car and essentially said good luck.  We did walk to a hide to check out what birds, if any, might come to drink (we were there around 1:00 pm).  We did actually get a few life birds at the hide.

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The watering hole as seen from the hide

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White-browed Sparrow Weaver

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Kalahari Scrub-Robin

With plenty of daylight we decided to find a nice country dirt road (these roads have little traffic) and check out the birds and indeed, birds we found.  We got three new life birds along this road – Scaly-feathered Finch, Spike-heeled Lark, and Chestnut-vented Tit Babbler.  I am now up to 283 bird species observed to date on our South Africa trip.

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Scaly-feathered Finch. This guy looks like he has a handlebar mustache.

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Red-headed Finch – another life bird first observed at the game farm

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European Bee-eater with dinner

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Indian Peafowl – this guy was on a game farm. I did not include the bird in my total of species observed.

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He wasn’t too happy to see our big white car. Here he is displaying his feathers. So beautiful.

Tomorrow we have another long drive ahead of us – over 500 km – as we make our way to Beaufort West and Karoo National Park.

Beaufort West

We left Kimberley early and made good time despite making several stops to check out birds along the road.   By the time we arrived in Beaufort West I had added six new birds to my life list, including two raptors we had no trouble identifying thanks in part to the geographic range of one of the species – the Pale Chanting Goshawk.  We saw the goshawk a number of different times during the drive.  Hard to mistake this bird’s wing pattern in flight.  The other raptor was the Greater Kestrel.  We spotted this bird on a stick nest on electric pole.  We stopped, got our binocs on the bird, took photos and watched as it flew to the adjacent pole and proceeded to copulate with its mate.  With it being spring in South Africa we have witnessed a number of birds copulating.

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Nest on an electric pole

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I saw a Cape Sparrow go into this nest

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Greater Kestrel – male on the nest

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Pale Chanting Goshawk

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Ludwig’s Bustard

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We liked the countryside between Kimberley and Beaufort better than between Pretoria and Kimberley

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Starting to see some hills

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Jack saw two Blue Cranes in a field alongside the road, so yes we had to stop and check them out

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Both sides of the roads are generally fenced. Most likely to keep animals off the road.

We arrived in Beaufort West around 2:00 pm.  The map shows a large body of water real close to our accommodations – Haus Holzapfel.  However, when we passed the lake it was bone dry.  Does anyone know where that term “bone dry” originated?  Just curious.  After getting settled in our “apartment” we walked the neighborhood.  We rarely see “whites” walking, only black people.  We netted two more life birds – the Common Waxbill and the Southern Double Collared Sunbird.   Off to the store for dinner and breakfast items and back to our room for the night.  Tomorrow we head to Karoo National Park located near Beaufort West.

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Common Waxbill

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Red-eyed Bulbul

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The nest under the eves of this government building were being occupied by Cape Sparrows

Went to Karoo National Park, which is located a few kilometers outside of Beaufort West.  I love this park – it is so beautiful. Here are a series of photos of the park.

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We did get a few new mammals – Cape Mountain Zebra (you will see the striking difference – no shadows), Gemsbok, and Red Hartebeests.  There are lion in the park, but we didn’t see any.  Same goes for Black Rhinos.

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Gemsbok

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Red Hartebeests at a watering hole

We first visited a bird hide located at the rest camp.  This was a beehive (or should I say Weaverhive) of activity.  The waterbody was small but supported a Common Moorhen pair and a Red-knobbed Coot.   Jack finally got to see a Red Bishop up close.  We saw two yesterday getting grit from the road, but at a distance.  He got to watch their antics from the hide.  A few of them were coming into their breeding plumage of red and black.  There were more Southern Masked Weavers than Bishops.  Amazing how they construct their nests – what craftsman (or craftsbirds).

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White-backed Mousebird. I am fascinated by these birds and how they perch on branches.

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Familiar Chat

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This Familiar Chat was collecting nest material

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This is the small wetland as seen from the bird hide

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Red Bishop – still not in its full breeding plumage

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Fairy Flycatcher

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Female Cape Shelduck

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Is it ready yet? These birds (Masked Weavers) really perform some acrobatics while working their nests. The male builds the nest. Such craftsman ship.

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African Red-eyed Bulbul

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Checking out the competition. Is my nest better than his? While she pick my nest over his nest?

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This Bishop is still molting.

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Malachite Sunbird (male)

We drove two loop roads in the park for a total of over 75 kilometers, taking most of the day checking out the park, chalking up 16 life birds (not too bad), seeing new mammals, finding a Southern Rock Agama – beautiful reptile, and enjoying the scenery and sunshine.  We made it out of the park with about ten minutes to spare.  If you are late getting out of the park at closing time then you are fined.

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Southern Rock Agama

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Lizard warming itself on a rock

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This one checking out its surroundings – is there any danger about?

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Male Common Ostrich – there were lots of them in the park.

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Just the girls hanging out

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And then one got a little pushy with another.

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This is a Burchell’s Zebra due to the shadows between the stripes.

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These two Zebras are Cape Mountain Zebras. They do not have shadows between their stripes. These guys look depressed. Maybe they were just sleeping standing up?

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This Zebra looks like he is missing a few stripes.

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Two Verreaux’s (Black) Eagles.

The next morning we went back to Karoo National Park and spent about 1.5 hours at the bird hide.  Fun to watch all the activity – the weavers building their nest, the coot chasing off the moorhens, the shelducks copulating, a pair of Cape Wagtails feeding their young, a large tortoise chasing after a smaller one – if you can call it chasing for a tortoise?  We later saw a large tortoise crossing the road near the huts.  They can move fast if they need or want to move fast.

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See how big it is?

Our next stop is the Cape wine country for one night and then onto Simon’s Town near Cape Town.  I signed up for a pelagic tour but it looks like they won’t be going out due to the rough seas, which is fine by me.  My least favorite thing is getting seasick.  Will find plenty of places to check for new birds.

Total birds observed to date is 306.  Until my next blog posting get out and enjoy the great outdoors., and  ANY DAY IS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD.

Kruger National Park – Part 2

The saga continues – will we see a lion or not?  We are actually wondering if there are any in the park.

DAY SEVEN

We left our rest camp at the break of dawn – 06:15 hours – and headed back to a watering hole determined to see a lion.  No lion, but we did see another hyena.  This time in the daylight rather than under spotlights.  Last night the three hyenas were probably wondering what was going on as they we being blinded by spotlights.  While watching the hyena a Greater Blue-eared Starling decided to pay a visit.  The starling landed on the car’s mirror as I had the window down searching for birds – talk about finding one…  Jack was concerned it would try to enter the car in search of food.  We think people probably feed these birds since they hang out in big numbers at the picnic sites and where groups of people tend to gather – like watering holes.  Of course the people who feed the birds are never around when the birds get aggressive.

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Greater Blue-earred Starling

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Up close

We then headed to our next rest camp – Letaba.  Enroute we stopped to look at a bird.  A car from the opposite direction stopped to find out what we were looking at.  We told her a bird, she then told us there were nine lions just down the road.  So off we went.  Sure enough we spotted two of the nine lions, one was the classic full mane male.  One did need binoculars to see the lions well since they were on a rocky ridge resting.  We were watching the lions when four more lions, including one cub and one big male,  came from the river and walked up the hill towards the other two visible lions.  Finally – SCORE, SCORE, SCORE.  We have now seen all of the “BIG 5”. But read on…

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Male Lion. We saw six in the group.

We continued on and found several large birds – the Kori Bustard was a highlight.  This is a good sized bird compared to the Black-belied Bustards that we’ve seen.  A life bird for me.  And speaking of large birds we saw two Common Ostriches.  As we were watching them the male got down on the ground and fluffed up his wings and started moving his head back and forth – like some kind of exotic dance.  The male approached the female and did it again.  We were suspect he was performing a courtship display.  We think he may have even copulated with the female.  She disappeared from view for a short while as he was doing his dance.

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Kori Bustard

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Up close

I thought I might not get any new life birds today, but I actually got 8 new life birds.  Total bird species observed (including a few I’ve seen before – some in the states, some not) is 258 in 23 days in South Africa.  I’m happy.  I have photos of a few birds I still need to “ID”.  I think I should have spent some time before the trip working on Larks, Pipits, and Cisticolas, including learning their calls (not my strong suit).

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Lots of tall grass for birds and animals to hide

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Zebras

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This is how some people park when they are looking at an animal. Best way to take photos sometimes.

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The Water Buffalo doesn’t seem to mind the oxpeckers.

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These were Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

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More hippos – hundreds and counting . . .

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Bus load of children out enjoying the park for the day at Oliphant Rest Camp.

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I want one of these in my yard

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This Kudu bull is in his prime

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White-crested Helmetshrike. I love their eyes. Jack finds them spooky.

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The view of the Letaba River from the Letaba Rest Camp

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Impala Lily. Isn’t it beautiful?

DAY EIGHT

Another early morning.  I have to get Jack used to getting up early because once we go on our first bird tour getting up at 5:30 am will seem like sleeping in.  Well maybe not that bad.

We headed north towards our next destination for the night – Mopani Rest Camp.  We took several side roads in hopes of getting away from traffic and seeing some wildlife.  Actually we are in the “Far North” part of Kruger National Park so a lot less people, which we prefer.  The first road took us to an area that overlooks a dam.  On the way up we came across a small herd of Water Buffalo.  Jack counted 110.  Usually we see one or two at most at one time.  We were very surprised to see such a large herd in a fairly mountainous area.

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Large herd of Water Buffalo

On the way down to the main road we stopped at a hide to check out the bird life and mammals.  We only saw a couple of hippos, two out of the water, the rest in the water.  Not much of a hippo shows when it is in the water so hard to know exactly how many were there.  The waterbirds were plentiful.  When we did our Big Adventure in 2013-2014  across the United States one thing we noted was that the egrets like to follow behind or stick close to ibis.  As the ibis stirs the water in search of food, it disturbs fish which the egrets seek.  Here the egrets follow behind the African Spoonbills.

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An African Spoonbill minus the egret

We took another side road that followed a river, but didn’t see much in the way of wildlife – ‘just’ Impala – fifty at a time generally.  There are a lot of Impalas in this park.  Maybe too many.  We had stopped so I could take a photo of a Southern Black Tit, when two cars came down the dirt road in the opposite direction.  Of course we had to move before I could take my photos.  The people stopped to tell us they had just seen two hyenas along side the road and a leopard had gone across the road in front of them several times.  So off we went in search of – the leopard of course.  No luck.  But the hyenas were found sleeping alongside the road.  I hope they don’t become roadkill.  They were so cute.

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Southern Black Tit

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Laughing (or in this case sleeping) Hyenas

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So cute . . .

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You can get out on bridges (at your own risk of course). They are often good spots to check out waterbirds.

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Red-faced Mousebird

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Young (curious) Zebra

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A dry river bed

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Arrow-marked Babbler

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A sleepy Water Thick-knee. I like these birds too.

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Malachite Kingbird

Mopani Camp sits atop a prominent rocky outcrop/cliff and I happened to select a hut with a view and what a view!  Our cabana overlooks the water below (a dam created a beautiful lake).  We could check out the animals (none) and the birds at the water.  There was a short trail along the waterway and we were able to see some great waterbirds, including the African Spoonbill, African Darter, Black-winged Stilt, Saddle-billed Stork, shorebirds (still need to id them), and a  Greater Painted Snipe.  I wasn’t sure I was going to get to see this bird.  Glad I did.  A favorite.

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This was the view from our hut – the best view we’ve had yet. The hut was nice too.

Tomorrow we head on to our next camp at Shingwezdi. We will be here for one night then onto Punda Maria for two nights.  Then alas, our visit to the park will be done and we will move onto other interesting and bird worthy places in South Africa.

DAY NINE


Although we got up early we didn’t leave camp until around 08:30 as there were lots of birds to observe on the waterbody adjacent to camp.  We walked down to the water – held back only by a wire electrified fence – and watched the various waterbirds and shorebirds come to feed.

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Sunrise view from out hut

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View from Mopani Rest Camp

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Three-banded Plover

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Not a waterbird or shorebird but an African Pied Wagtail

We saw a Black Crake family – parent with two young.  One was much bigger than the other.  Not quite as black as the adult, but still with the big red legs.  These birds are not shy like the rails in the U.S.

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Black Crake youngster

I wanted to see the Greater Painted Snipe again and get some better photos as the sun was just right.  I was not disappointed.  The Snipe appeared, although much more shy than the Crake.  If we made too much noise – evens simply walking nearby – the bird would quickly retreat into the reeds.  I had to wait for three different appearances to get some decent photos.  What a beautiful bird.

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Greater Painted Snipe

We watched a Pied Kingfisher beating a fish it had caught getting it ready for consumption.  My arms finally got tired from holding my binoculars and I gave up waiting to see it swallow the fish whole.  I walked further along the trail and looked back and the bird still had the fish in its bill.  I never did see if it had eaten the fish or not – I assume so.

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Pied Kingfisher with a fish in its bill

Reluctantly we left Mopani Rest Camp and headed to our next rest camp – Shingwedzi.  We did not see any lions, leopards, or cheetahs along the way.  We even commented we had only seen two rhinos so far in the park.  Maybe it is easier to miss them due to the size of the park, or maybe more of them have been poached?

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Elephants crossing the road.  The little ones are so cute.

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Crested Barbet

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Another view of a Crested Barbet

We traveled adjacent to a river.  Many of the rivers are dry most of the year.  This one had some water but only in parts of the river bed.  There are a number of pullouts along the different rivers to check out wildlife.  At one pullout we counted over 20 White-backed Vultures basking in the sun.  Some on the ground, some in the trees.  Jack had just been commenting about how he wished he could see a vulture up close.  While we weren’t too close, we were close enough to be able to identify the birds.  Finally.  Jack was a happy camper.

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White-backed Vultures

We got to Shingwedzi Rest Camp earlier than anticipated – we couldn’t even check in yet.  Off we went on more dirt roads in search of birds.  We did see several Marabou Stocks.  They are one ugly bird.

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Marabou Stork

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Grey Heron

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This elephant was giving itself a mud bath. It liked to hang its trunk over one of its ivory tusks.

Tomorrow we head up to Punda Marie, the most northern rest camp in Kruger National Park.  We will be here two nights and then we leave the park.  We kind of wish we had written down the car’s mileage when we entered the park.  Would be interested to know how many miles we have driven in this park.  Probably far less than many because we go much slower than everyone else.
DAY 10

We left Shingwedzi Rest Camp around 6:00 am and made it about 2 kilometers in a little over an hour.  There were a lot of birds to observe during this stretch of the road.   It is true what they say about fewer people in the northern part of the park.  We can go long distances or take side loop roads without seeing another car for most of the way.

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Did see (and smell) this dead elephant near the rest camp. Didn’t see much in the way of dead animals., including bones.

On one of our loop roads, we had a Civet cross the road in front of us.  Darn thing didn’t want to stop long enough for me to get a photo.  We were surprised to see it since Civets are nocturnal animals.

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We also had to wait for this giraffe to move off the road. Sometimes they take their time, but still fun to just sit and watch them.

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Water Buffalo peeking out from behind palm fronds

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Countryside

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Brown-crowned Tchagas

Once back on the main road we continued onward looking out for birds along the way or for vehicles stopped along side the road.  If there are more than two vehicles stopped that usually means a lion, leopard, or cheetah.  We came across several cars along side the road so we stopped and scanned.  No big cats to observe.  People in a passing vehicle were nice enough to let us know that the cars were stopped looking for a Temminck’s Courser – a bird found in recently burned or overgrazed areas.  So the search began.  We saw a Red-billed Quelea, a Crowned Lapwing, an unidentified pipit, but no Coursers.  So on we went at a very slow pace scanning for the bird that had been seen.  All the other cars had continued on their way.  I was looking out the window and happened to see four large black birds – Southern Ground Hornbills!  What a find.  Woohoo!!!  Life bird.  This bird is currently listed as critically endangered so we felt fortunate to see it and get good looks (and photos) of the birds.  There were three adults and one juvenile.  We watched for about 30 minutes or so.

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Southern Ground Hornbill – adult

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Southern Ground Hornbill adult and juvenile

After getting our Ground Hornbill fill we continued to search the burned areas for the Courser.  Not to much further along I saw a drab upright bird in the burn area.  Sure enough it was a Temminck’s Courser (these birds are difficult to find), but wait there’s more.  Turns out there was a pair of Coursers and the pair had two, what appeared to be day-old chicks.  These guys were small and so cute running after their parents.  A Fork-tailed Drongo flew into the shrub right next to the Courser family and the parents began their broken wing display.  The Drongo eventually flew off.

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Temminck’s Courser

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Temminck’s Courser chick – can you find the bird in the photo. So small.

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Ruffled feathers

We arrived at our rest camp around 2:00 pm, checked in, and settled into our room.  We then decided to take it easy the rest of the day so we birded the rest camp.  Right near the reception area is a flowering Weeping Boer-BeanTree.  The birds love this tree.  I noticed a bird with a bright red head – A Red-headed Weaver.  Another life bird.  I think this is my favorite weaver so far.  More to come.

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Weeping Boer-Bean Tree

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Red-headed Weaver

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Another style of camper seen in the park

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They had a hide at the rest camp but not much came to drink while we were there.

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Our accommodations for two nights – three rooms per unit. We had an end unit. Not much parking.

Day 11

I had downloaded information from the internet about where to bird in Punda Maria area, in addition to the “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book I have.  Both sources said to drive the Mahone Loop so we did.  I must admit that while we saw birds, we didn’t see any of the birds that are noted for being observed on this drive.  I was a little disappointed, especially since we spent almost four hours driving 28 kilometers.  After we completed this loop drive, we stopped to buy an Eskimo pie ice cream bar at the rest camp store.  We then headed off to the Pafuri Picnic Stop.  This was also mentioned as a good place to bird.  I wish we had gone here first.

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Burchell’s Coucal

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Sharpe’s Grysbok

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This Red-headed Weaver was weaving its nest

One thing I’ve learned is that if you want to see a lot of birds and have limited time go where the water is.  The Luvuvhu River near the Pufuri Picnic Stop had some good birds.  Of course it was enroute to this location that I got my two life birds for the day – a Little Sparrowhawk and a Lesser Spotted Eagle.

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Luvuvhu River as seen from the bridge …

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… where we saw five White-fronted Bee-eater, including this one

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Little Sparrowhawk

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Lesser Spotted Eagle – these eagles eat termites. Weird huh.

We did see a lot of non-bird wildlife today.  Probably the highest number of any given day in the park – 16 different animals, despite not seeing Rhino (only saw two near Lower Sabie), lions, leopards, and cheetahs.

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Baobab Tree

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Another Baobab Tree. These trees are big and old.

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Not a Baobab. I just liked the tree.

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Countryside

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Crowned Lapwing . . .

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. . . showing off its crown

The next day we birded the rest camp before heading off to Magoebaskloof (boy isn’t that a mouthful).

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Our hut for two nights. Okay if you were paying attention you would know that I already included a photo of our accommodations. Jack thought this looked like a hobbit house.

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Black-headed Oriole

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Green Wood-hoopoe

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I couldn’t resist. I just love these birds (Lilac-breasted Roller) and they seemed to be everywhere. Just look at those beautiful colors. How could anyone not love this bird?

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Baobab Tree and I can see Mozambique from my car (not really, but close)

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This little Chinspot Batis was at the Punda Maria day use area.

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Outside of the park we saw about fifty or more Cattle Egret in one location, and there only three cows nearby.

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We passed through “orange” country. This guy was carrying a load of oranges somewhere.

While I’ve enjoyed our stay in the park, I am ready to see some new places and new birds.  Also, it will be nice to be able to get out of the car and walk around.  Not allowed in Kruger, except for Rest Camps, Picnic Areas, and bridges.  Everywhere you turn in the park there is limitations of liability signage.  The government definitely practices CYA.

ITS ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD even from the confines of your car.

Kruger National Park – Part 1

Okay did we or did we not see the “Big 5” mammals while in Kruger National Park.  You will just have to review the blog posting to find out.  But I must warn you we spent 11 days in the park so I’ve decided to split the blog into two parts.  Oh, before I forget the “Big 5” are: Elephants, Lions, Water Buffalo, Rhinos, and Leopards.  The ‘Big 5’ was originally designated for the danger and difficulty of hunting by the ‘Great White Hunter’ but now I think it is based on difficulty of seeing them.

First a few facts:  According to Wikipidia (the source of totally accurate information) here are the statistics for wildlife populations in Kruger National Park as of 2009:

Water Buffalo – 27,000

Black Rhinos – 350

White Rhinos – 7000-12000

Burchell’s Zebras – 17,797 (now is that an accurate count or what?)

Giraffe – 5,114

Hippos – 3000 (I think there were more than that)

Lions – 2800 (I think there are less than that)

Leopards – 2,000

Elephants – 11,672

Waterbuck – 5,000

Impalas – 150,000 (I think we saw them all)

Kudu – 5,798

Blue Wildebeest – 9,612

Cheetah – 120

Nile Crocodiles – 3,000

Okay, now here is what we saw for the most part.

DAY ONE

After we left Memel we headed towards Kruger National Park.  We stopped the first night in Dullstroom a quaint village.  We stayed the night at a lovely B&B called Peace Corner with a cozy (very cool evening with no heat) suite.  The lodging is classified as self-catering, meaning you have a kitchenette.  So instead of cooking  off we went to dinner at Mrs. Simpson’s, named after Wallace Simpson whose love affair with the King of England resulted in scandal.  The food here was quite good.  We were the only ones there at 6:30, but by 7:00 pm the doors opened and people poured in – a popular place.

The morning we left Memel the weather was cold and stayed that way for three days.  After Dullstroom we headed to Lyndenburg via a dirt road we wanted to check for birds.  We did see some, but not as many as we had hoped.  Could have been the weather – cold and blustery.  We had a nice place at Lyndenburg – Aqua Terra.  The host – Charlene – was very talkative.  She was happy to have guests from Alaska (her first), which she thought was part of Canada – we get that a lot in our travels.

When we woke up the next morning it was raining.  I’m sure none of the South Africans minded because of their drought conditions.  It did interfere with our birding as we had hoped to stop at the Mt. Sheba Nature Reserve.  When we drove by the turn off the road into the reserve disappeared in the fog and appeared to be a muddy challenge.  Shortly thereafter, we did see a Southern Bald Ibis alongside the road at a historic mining town called Pilgram’s Rest.  Can miss that “bald” head.  I  know I already included a photo of this bird, but you will continue to see some of the birds over and over again – particularly some of my favorites.

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Southern Bald Ibis

After a night at Daan’s Place in Graskop, we headed to Kruger International Airport to take care of a little matter with our rental car.  Earlier in the week I was looking to see what the mileage was when we started the trip.  I want to know how many miles (kilometers) we drive.  When I checked the return location and date, I found that the contract wanted us to return the car 18 days early and in Durban.  We had booked the rental so we could return the car in Cape Town.  So off to the airport and Bidvest’s (rental car agency) office to sign a new and accurate contract.  While we did have to go out of our way, we did see a Long-crested Eagle right alongside the road.  Can’t beat that.

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Long-crested Eagle – look at that crest

After signing the contract and getting some cash (great exchange rate by the way – keeps getting better and better), we headed to Kruger National Park.  We did spot some wildlife along the way so were filled with anticipation.

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Kruger National Park – near the Numbi entrance

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Kruger NP – habitat consists of a lot of open space with some trees

We got to our camp around 1:00 pm and checked out the birds in the Pretoruiskop Rest Camp, our home for the night.  We walked the Sable Trail and saw some great birds, including the Grey Go-away Bird.  We were pretty excited to see this bird but later found it nearly everywhere.

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Yea! They recycle in the park – at least at most rest camps. I like the “Big 5 of Recycling” take on the “Big 5” of mammals.

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Our accommodations for the night

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Natal Spurfowl. I think we saw them every day.

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Sausage Tree fruit

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Don’t want one of these falling on your head.

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African Hoopoe

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Purple-crested Turaco – this was seen in the rest camp.

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Kurrichane Thrush

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Don’t know the name of this flower but it is beautiful.

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Grey GoAway Bird. Jack didn’t think we would see this bird on our trip. We saw many each day in the park. It has a very obnoxious call. Sounds like it is whining.

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Zebra

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Greater Blue-earred Starling

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Helmeted Guineafowl. We’ve seen these guys in trees even.

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Water Buffalo – our First “Big 5”

DAY TWO

In the morning we left the rest camp and drove to our next rest camp – Skukuza – the long way.  Kruger has paved and gravel roads so we took the back country gravel roads for most of the way.  The gravel roads are very good, nothing like what we had been bumping over outside the park.  We estimate we saw over 70 Elephants on Day 2, with most in groups of 15 or so, and occasionally the lone elephant.  Throughout the day we saw Zebras, Impalas, Impalas, Impalas (okay you get the drift), Vervets, Kudo, Wildebeest, Warthogs, Giraffe (one jumped out onto the road right in front of our car), Waterbuck, and a Nile crocodile.  Oh, and some really great birds.

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Lower Sabie River

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Elephant – Second of “Big 5”

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Giraffe – what Jack and I call one of the “Big 10”

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Male Kudu

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Female Waterbuck. Can you see the white around their back ends. Supposedly they use it to follow one another. Looks like a bulleyes to me.

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Kruger NP Savannah Habitat

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Magpie Shrikes – we saw at least a dozen or more each day.

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Lots of Termite mounds. I wonder how many termites call this mound home?  Many mounds are much bigger than this one.

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Blacksmith Lapwing. This bird species is always chasing off other shorebirds.

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Lilac-breasted Roller – one of my favorite birds.

We did go to a picnic area for a much needed break.  You are allowed to get out of your vehicle at only designated areas and they are far and few between – otherwise no body part (arms, legs, head, etc.) may extend from the vehicle when driving in the park.  And there are liability disclaimers everywhere.  Of course no one obeys that rule.  The picnic area was full of Yellow-billed Hornbills and Starlings searching the picnic grounds for a handout (even though strictly prohibited), along with the Vervet Monkeys always searching to grab some food.  We got to camp around 4:00 pm and checked into our accommodations.

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Red-billed Hornbill

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Yellow-billed Hornbill. These guys are small compared to the Hornbills you see in Southeast Asia.

One thing I can say about birding Kruger is that if you are going faster than 20 kilometers per hour it is too fast.  On non-tarred (non-paved gravel) roads the speed limit is 40 kilometers per hour, while on tarred roads the speed limit is 50 kph.  I don’t know how anyone can see the mammals going that fast.  We rarely pass anyone, unless they are looking at a mammal and we want to move onwards.  And I think a lot of people get frustrated with us because we stop for birds and they wonder what we are stopping to see.  Whenever a car is stopped it soon creates a traffic jam of expectation.  We’ve seen several people with bumper stickers that say “Birdwatching, Please Pass”.  I’m not sure the rental agency would appreciate us putting a similar bumper sticker on their car.

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Lizard

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Pond Lily

DAY THREE

Woke up early and left camp around 7:00 am to catch the lions.  Didn’t happen.  We were stopped at an area checking out a Brown-Headed Kingfisher and a Blue Waxbill when a vehicle came by loaded with passengers.  The driver (a tour guide) asked us if we were looking at something specific or if we were just resting in the shade.  He said it was a slow day.  We thought so too, at least for mammals.  We got 11 new trip birds (I think they are all life birds too – need to check on the Water Thick-knee), and 74 bird species total for the day.  Not a bad day, and in fact the best day we’ve had yet.  We’ve missed some birds – raptors flying too high, small little birds, flyovers.

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Water Thick-knee

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Brown-headed Kingfisher

We had intended to do a loop drive, but by the time we got to the turn-off for the loop we had only gone 12 kilometers in three hours.   It was already 10:30 am.  As you can see, we generally go real slow – about 10 kph and make lots of stops for anything that moves.

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Great Blue-earred Starling. I love these birds iridescent color – especially when the sun hits them.

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This tree was in a pond near the Lower Sabie rest camp. Great birding here. Weaver nests in the tree.

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We saw several Saddle-billed Storks during out trip through the park. We love these birds. I like the pink on the legs and the strange looking bill.

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The countryside

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Yellow-billed Kite

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White-crowned Lapwing

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Kudu – my what big years you have.  This is a young one, probably only nine months old.  The length of the horns indicate the age of the mammal.

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African Harrier-Hawk

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Lots of Hippos. They make an interesting sound. One you aren’t likely to forget.

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Southern White-Crowned Shrike

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The Red-billed Oxpeckers can be a nuisance. Sometimes there can be five or more on an animal, including the neck.

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Black-backed Puffback

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Countryside

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Hooded Vulture

We got to our next rest camp – Lower Sabie – at 3:30 pm.  We checked into reception, checked out the store (food and gifts), and then checked into our hut.  In our previous accommodations in the park we had a kitchen area.  Not so with this hut.  It comes with a refrigerator and a sink, but no cooking or eating utensils.  So, we have to eat at the restaurant because we didn’t bring any cooking or eating utensils, except for a couple of sporks.  We will be here for two nights.  When I went to book our accommodations for the park last January at Lower Sabie they only had huts left so I took what I could get.  This is a popular rest camp.

DAY FOUR

Score, Score, Score.  We got an early start and went to a nearby dam to check out the waterbirds.  After taking a gazillion photos of a Giant Kingfisher sitting on a dam concrete guardrail, a ranger stopped us (no we weren’t out of our vehicle) and told us a cheetah had just been sighted just up the road.  We thanked him and then quickly drove off (within the speed limit of course) toward where the cheetah was sighted.  We saw several cars parked jockeying for position along side the road, we pulled up, and sure enough there on our left were TWO cheetahs.  We were elated.  We didn’t think we would see any on this trip, let alone two.  I guess it is rare for people to see cheetahs in the park.  Score, Score, Score.

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Giant Kingfisher

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Pied Kingfisher

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Cheetah in the brush

We turned around and headed towards Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp.  We didn’t stay at there, but we wanted to check out the wildlife along the main road to the rest camp and along a secondary road.  We didn’t see much (except for two Rhinos in the far distance) until we got to within a couple kilometers of the rest camp where we spotted Giraffe and Zebras – two of my favorites.  No lions yet, however.  We have gotten three of the Big 5 – Water Buffalo, Elephants, and Rhinos.   We just need the lion and the leopard.  With seven more days in the park we are hoping to get both.

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Sleeping hippo

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Young Baboon riding on his mother’s back. Hold on tight little one.

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Isn’t this Warthog cute?

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Leopard Turtle

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Countryside

We did get some good bird sightings today too.  We were surprised to find three Crested Francolins along side the road.  Jack spotted one of them going into the brush and then I was able to locate them in the brush just off the road.  Of course about 100 meters later we had two right in the open.  Much better for taking photos.  We also had a Double-banded Sandgrouse alongside the main road.  I wasn’t too sure we would see any Francolins or Sandgrouses on the trip so today was a great day to bird.  I am now up to 243 total species of birds seen in South Africa since we landed on August 22, 2015.  Not too bad for being on our own – no guide to find the secret spots and birds for us.

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Double-banded Sandgrouse male

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Crested Francolin – we saw a lot of these.

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They really are a head above the rest…

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Red-billed Oxpecker going for a ride

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Not much water in the park

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But these five Water Thick-knees found some

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Another mysterious Cisticola. I need to spend some time trying to ID these birds.

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Purple Roller

Speaking of birds – we are still get stumped by a number of the raptors, particularly eagles.  Several are easy – Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, African Fish Hawk, and Bateleur.  Most are not so easy.  I even bought a raptor book but still get stumped, especially when they are flying high in the sky.

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Juvenile Bateleur – very distinctive colored beak

The African Veld countryside varies but predominately thickets of brush and tall grass,  surprise since we envisioned the open savanna grasslands with isolated trees doting the landscape.   So, you really have to stop and scan or otherwise you might miss a rhino or two blending in.  Who knows how many lions and leopards we may have already missed – and we go slower than most (okay all) people.

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Lots of singular tall trees in the park – some dead, some waiting to bud out.

We are staying the night again at Lower Sabie.  There is a small lake/pond nearby.  We went there around dusk to see what wildlife would come to the water – Kudu and Impalas, with the hippos staying in the pond to keep cool.  When we got there I went to grab my camera and realized I had left it back at our hut.  Dang.  There was a Grey Heron standing on the back of a mostly submerged hippo.  The heron seemed to float across the water as the hippo moved underwater.  Fun to watch.  Then three Water Thick-knees flew within 10 feet of the car.  What great photos I missed.  Double Dang.
DAY FIVE

We broke camp at 06:00 to get a good start on the day.  This is our longest travel day in terms of distance – 93 kilometers (around 58 miles).  Doesn’t sound like much but when you go 10-15 kilometers an hour and stop for birds and other wildlife, then it can seem like a LONG distance.  We actually made it in good time (not much to see unfortunately), arriving at our next rest camp – Satara in mid-afternoon.  I still like the first rest camp best.

We also left early hoping to see a lion.  No go.  We did, however, spot another Cheetah.  I wonder how many people see three cheetahs during a trip to Kruger.  I suspect very few.  We did see large groups of Impalas.  They are so numerous they don’t even warrant much of a look anymore – unless of course one is being chased by a cheetah – no such luck.

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We saw this water buffalo skull along the side of the road – mostly like positioned there for people to see.

The highlight for me today bird wise was the Pearl Spotted Owlet.  We lucked into that bird as I saw a small bird fly into a tree and told Jack to stop.  When I looked up into the tree I saw a larger shape.  My binocs went straight to that bird and we had our first Owlet of the trip.  What a cute bird.   Surprising the USA has more owl species than Southern Africa.  Of course Southern Africa has far more raptor species.

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Wire-tailed Swallow

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Pearl-Spotted Owlet

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Countryside

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Blue Waxbill

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Black-bellied Bustard

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Secretarybird

We traveled mostly on pavement today, which was nice for a change.  Tomorrow we will get up early (again) and check out the nearby area for lions and leopards and more birds.

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I love the pattern on the face of this Zebra

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Klipspringer – they like the rocks

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Fever Tree

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The one on the left is the Wheeping Bore-Bean Tree. Not sure about the one on the right. Liked the green and red.

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Just another single bare tree in a sea of grass and shrubs.  We are starting to see more grasslands and less shrubs.

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Countryside

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African Hoopoe – they lower their head to their chest when calling – hoopoe.

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Another mystery bird

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Black-crowned Tchagra

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Green Wood-hoopoe

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I love Giraffes

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Lot of dry waterholes

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Did I tell you I love Lilac-breasted Rollers?

We are scheduled to stay two nights at Satara.  This camp has six circles of huts.  The one we are in (A-8) does have a WC (water closet, i.e., toilet) and shower, cooking utensils, and a kitchenette.  Each camp has a restaurant, store, and petrol (fuel).  We didn’t know what to expect with respect to food for sale in the shop.  Well each one has plenty of sodas, chips, and cookies.  Not much in the way of food unless you want to buy Impala, Gemsbok, Steenbok steaks.  Me not so much.  We brought enough food to the park for four days thinking we would stock up in these “well equipped stores”.  Glad they have restaurants because we have had to utilize them.

I must say that as Americans we are spoiled when it comes to different types of foods available in our grocery stores.  I’ve yet to visit a store that has our variety of food stuff.  I’m happy for that variety.  Bring it on.

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These guys are waiting for our neighbor to feed them more food

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Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

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There are few motorhomes in Southern Africa. Most campers are this style and are pulled by SUVs or even cars, including BMWs. Lots of BMWs in this country.

DAY SIX


Today started out windy and clear, but the clouds came and settled in. The wind remained.  Not as many birds today as in previous days in the park.  They were out there, only they weren’t singing or calling much.

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Sunrise

We left the Satara rest camp around 6:00 am in hopes of seeing a lion.  No go.  Not sure where they are hiding, but they are doing it well.  We did see about four cars parked off the road looking at something and we had our hopes up.  Turns out there was a leopard just off the road.  From our viewpoint we could only see the back of the leopard and there was a LARGE elephant coming straight at us with its ears flared out.  I told Jack to move on.  All the other cars backed off too.  The elephant went towards the leopard to challenge it, but we didn’t see the leopard move off since we had taken off not wanting to be overrun by a two ton elephant.

We continued on our way stopping off at a wet area where we got a good look at a Hamerkop.  I always thought these birds were bigger.  Another car coming the other direction stopped too and said it was their favorite place on the road.  We had to move on as another car came up behind us and we were blocking their passage.  About another kilometer down the road, without another vehicle in sight, a mother leopard and her two cubs walked across the road in front of us, momma leopard stopped and gave us a long stare – SCORE, SCORE, SCORE.  Woohoo!!!  And I got a couple of decent photos (remember I’m not allowed to stick any part of my body outside the vehicle).  What beautiful animals.  I told Jack I’m glad we got to see the leopard and her cubs, because otherwise we could only say we saw half a leopard.  We have now seen four of the “Big 5” in the park:  Elephant, Rhino, Water Buffalo, and Leopard.  All we have left to see if the lion.

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Hamerkop

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Water Thick-knees hiding behind a rock – keeping a watch on that big white predator on the road (our vehicle)

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Mother leopard and her two cubs

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This photo seemed surreal to me for some reason – maybe the lighting?

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Looks like  bullseye on this Waterbuck?

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Female Waterbuck

We did get out and stretch our legs at a bird hide.  We didn’t see much in the way of birds but there were at least a dozen Nile Crocodiles warming (no sun out) themselves.

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Hide walkway – they are usually quite long

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View from the hide

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Monitor lizard

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He didn’t seem to mind the green plant material on his body

We then left and continued our loop drive back to camp.  We did see a few bird species and many Impalas.

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Bearded Woodpecker

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Common Ostrich

Before going back to camp, we decided to take another road to check out the birds and wildlife, but first decided to stop at the rest camp for a break (drink and bathroom).  At the parking lot, there was a small group of people looking up into a tree pointing their cameras.  I thought it might be a lizard, but it turned out to be an African Scops Owl.  This is the smallest owl found in Southern Africa.  So cute and I got some good photos (hard not too, it was about ten feet above us), including the photo of people looking at the bird.  Quite the attraction this little bird.

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African Scops Owl

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Everyone was checking out and photographing the patient owl

When we went back out we didn’t see anything new mammal wise, however, I did get another life bird – Stierling’s Wren-Warbler.  This little bird was too fast for a photo.

Unsuccessful on our own searching for lions, we decided to go with the pros and went on a Sunset Drive offered by the SANPark (National Park Service in South Africa) in a open-sided vehicle along with 21 other people in hopes of finding lions, leopards, and cheetahs – oh my.  Luck was not with us.  We did see, however, a family of Laughing Hyenas, a stripped Jackel, and a Genet (member of the mongoose family we were told).  Those were the “new” animals we saw on the trip.  Jack and I saw four large black birds (they were walking away from us) and suspect they may have been the critically endangered Southern Ground Hornbill.

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The types of vehicle used for Morning, Sunset, and Night Drives in the park

So we didn’t see a lion during the first six days of the trip.  Check out my Kruger National Park – Part 2 blog to see if we saw one during the next five days we spent in the park.

ITS ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD even from the confines of your car.

Wakkerstroom and Memel

WAKKERSTROOM

This is a quaint little village with a great wetland nearby.  The area is noted for its birding and we stayed at a ‘bird friendly’ B&B.  We got to our accommodations – Wetland Country House and Sheds and immediately set out for the wetlands.  What a great place to spend two nights.  We highly recommend this establishment if you are ever in Wakkerstroom, South Africa.  The owners Phil and Rita were just great.  There was plenty of food to eat for breakfast – too much in fact.  The bird life of the area is great at both the wetlands and in the agricultural (okay cattle and sheep) farms nearby, and at our guesthouse.

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Wetlands Country House and Sheds – our accommodations for two nights

There were two hides and we spent about 2.5 hours at both blinds.  We would have stayed longer but the sun was setting. There always seemed to be new birds to see.  I think one of the favorites of the wetland was the Long-tailed Widowbird.  Although it isn’t breeding season yet – and that is when the male has a very long tail – we did find one bird with a relatively long tail.  These birds are quite numerous.

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The wetlands adjacent to Wakkerstroom

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Red-knobbed Coot

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African Swamphen

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Black Crake

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African (Ethiopian) Rail

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Cape Shoveler

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Wetlands

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White-throated Swallow

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Sun setting over the wetlands

The next morning we watched the birds come to the feeders at our B&B.   These birds are used to being fed and were anxiously congregating around the feeder waiting for the food to be placed on the ground.

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Red-winged Starling

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Black-collared Barbet

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Laughing Doves

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Speckled Mousebirds waiting on the bird bath

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Crested Barbet

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Village Weaver

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Black-necked Heron. This guy wasn’t at the feeder but a short distance away.

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Speckled Pigeon

We took a short walk to a nearby dam in search of birds.

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Weaver nest under construction

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Three-banded Plover

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View of the scenic  hillsides

We then traveled on some dirt roads in search of the Blue and Grey-crowned Cranes, the Southern Bald Ibis, and several lark species found only in this region.  We lucked out with the cranes and the ibis.  We also saw – from a distance – the Blue Korhaan.

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African village huts

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Ant-eating Chat. There were a lot of these birds. When they fly their wings are white – a very distinctive feature.

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Ground Woodpecker

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Crowned Lapwing

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Mystery Bird

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Red-capped Lark

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Non-breeding Male Red-billed Quelea.  I read somewhere these birds can number in the millions.

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Cape Longclaw

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Cape Shelduck

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Two Blue Cranes in flight

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The countryside we traversed through looking for birds. Lots of cattle and sheep farms.

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Sentinel Rock Thrush

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A dead fox. Probably left there by a farmer???

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Black-shouldered Kite

Our last morning we also saw a Hamerkop (google it) on the dam outside our bedroom patio.  What a cool bird.  The bird was too far away for a decent photo.  The morning started out cool and before we left the wind picked up considerably.  We did however go back to the hides to check out what birds were hanging about.  Got a new life bird – Maccoa Duck.  Sorry no photo.

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Weaver nest

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Pied Starling

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We loved this display. That is my kind of trophy.

MEMEL

After leaving Wakkerstroom we headed to the little community of Memel and more birding.  We did stop at a McDonalds in New Castle hoping for a Mocha Frappe, but they didn’t have them.  Dang.  My one weakness.  What most towns (of decent size) do have are KFCs.  They are very popular in South Africa – at least there are a lot of them; McDonalds not so much.

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I wonder if this could work in America?

Our host at the Mahem Country House – Jimmy Saunders  (a very friendly guy) – recommends several places to bird, including the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve.    After settling into our room, we headed to the Seekoeivlei (vlei means seasonal wetland). The reserve is reached by taking a gravel road.  When we got to the Reserve the gatekeeper (his name is December) said if we drove the roads in the Reserve we would probably end out ruining our vehicle as the roads are quite bad.  So left the reserve and we continued on eventually ending back up in Memel.  The road was decent for the most part and we saw some great birds that we didn’t expect to see – like an up-close view of a pair of Blue Korhaan (these birds are not often seen and  always far away and we generally need our scope to see them well) and the Swainson’s Spurfowl.

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African Sacred Ibis

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Swainson’s Spurfowl

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Secretarybird

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Area around Memel

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Lots of farm lands

Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve (RAMSAR site) is a large wetland complex but since South Africa is experiencing drought conditions there wasn’t much water in the wetlands.  We stopped by one wetland area on private land and saw a large mixed flock of Grey-crowned and Blue Cranes.  Jack likes the Grey-crowned Cranes, but I prefer the elegance of the Blue Cranes (the national bird of South Africa).  Like the Southern Bald Ibis, these birds were too far away to see well without our spotting scope (so glad I brought it).  In this same wetland we saw two Blue Korhaans drinking.  They were a fair distance away so the photo I got isn’t too great.

The Mahem house was very comfortable and our dinner was the best we’ve had yet – true gourmet.  There were some birds on the guesthouse grounds too – always a plus.

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Weaver constructing its nest in a tree at our guesthouse

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Two Laughing Doves in the tree at our guesthouse

The next day we drove approximately 100 km (60 miles give or take) of gravel/dirt roads – some good, some not so good. But we survived.  The mountainous (2000 meters) countryside was beautiful, but we didn’t encounter a lot of bird species.  We did see a couple of birds I had hoped to see, including the Yellow-bellied Pipit and the Buff-breasted Chat.   And we were surprised at how many Helmeted Guineafowl we saw.  They were always in large groups of 20 or more and at one place over 50.   Another surprise at this high elevation was the scampering across the fields of several Baboon families.

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Lark or Pipit

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Common Ostrich on a farm

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Cape Canary

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Red-throated Wryneck

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Bokmakierie singing away

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South African’s idea of a gravel road. Was much worse than it looks.

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The countryside around Memel was beautiful. Although we didn’t see many bird species, the scenery was great.

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Memel Countryside

Shortly after we left Memel I spotted a large bird in a burned farm field.  Jack turned around so we could check it out.  The bird (and two others) were Southern Bald Ibis.  This is a “must see” bird and this was the closest we’ve gotten to one to date.  And my photos aren’t too bad either considering I had to use “digital” zoom.

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Southern Bald Ibis

We will be happy to be on “tarred” (i.e., paved) roads again. Our next stop are Dullstroom, Lyndenburg, and then onto Kruger National Park.  While in the park we won’t have internet coverage so you won’t see another blog for about two weeks.  Until then, remember “IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD” so get out in the great outdoors.

Mkuze Game Reserve

Mkuze Game Reserve (not a private reserve of which there are many in South Africa) is located north of St. Lucia.  We got to the reserve around 3:00 pm, checked into our charming chalet, and were eager to walk around the “camp”.   We had a self-catering (kitchenette) chalet so cooked our meals.  The grocery store in St. Lucia wasn’t very big so there wasn’t much of a selection but good ole yogurt – no Walmarts or Fred Meyer stores here.

Getting here was an experience.  The reserve is off the main highway and any road that doesn’t start with an “N” or and “R” is gravel, or what they call gravel.  Maybe hardpan with exposed fist size and larger rocks to dodge or bounce over would be a better term.  I always think of gravel as being small rock.  So we hadto dodge them regularly or I become the designated rock remover, frequently exiting the car and removing the rock from the road.  The road to Mkuze was the worst to date.  But we made it, thankfully.

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The countryside

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Our accommodations – the right hand side

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Our Ford vehicle for the trip

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Trails through our camp – Impalas and Nyalas walk through freely.

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Crested Guineafowl came to our door

The next morning we got up early and headed out to check out the birds and the animals in the reserve.  We were not disappointed.  We drove paved roads to the ensumo hides along a large waterbody.  I could have stayed there all day.  We did spend several hours at the two different hides along the lake and at a picnic site.  There always seemed to be something new – bird wise – that came flying in for us to see.

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Very dry here right now. Not sure if this is normal.

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Bush Pig

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Love these tree, but don’t know their name.

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Bearded Scrub-Robin

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Lake

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Hide

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African Jacana

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Lesser Striped Swallow. Don’t know if that is mud, bugs, or a deformity on/in his beak.

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Egyptian Geese are like our Canada Geese – everywhere, although much better looking.

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Yes, I did it. I got a photo of an African Fish Eagle. What a gorgeous bird.

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Brown-headed Kingfisher

In the “Where to Find Birds” book a loop road was mentioned for raptors.  So off we went to check out this road.  Jack had to stop the car about every 50 feet so I could remove rocks so our low clearance vehicle did not hit the rocks.  The road was narrow and very rocky.  After less than a 1/4 mile I said enough and we turned around.  NOTE:  If you decide that a trip to South Africa is in your future and you want to rent a car then get a high clearance vehicle, e.g., an SUV.  Even though they say a road is passable by a low clearance passenger car having an SUV will give you peace of mind.

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These trees have light green bark.

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Giraffes

So we continued along the paved road stopping occasionally to check out birds and mammals.  Our last stop of the day was a hide where we spent 1.5 hours waiting for birds and mammals alike to appear.  We weren’t disappointed with the mammals (or the birds).  We had a water buffalo come in to drink.  The poor thing had a bloody neck.  There were several people in the hide and if someone made a noise he would turn towards us and glare – yes glare.   Two couples subsequently came while the water buffalo was drinking and I think the buffalo must have smelled the woman’s perfume because it turned around and stormed out of the water hole, snorting the whole way.  This was one mad animal.  Of course we didn’t appreciate the perfume either.

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Our view from the hide

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Water Buffalo

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Emerald Green Wood-Dove

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Three-banded Plover.  I know – only two bands.

We spent a second night at the reserve, and in the morning returned to the hide.  We were there for about an hour when I suggested we leave as we had to get to our next destination – Wakkerstroom.  Jack wanted to wait another 15 minutes, so we did.  About 5 minutes later a male elephant comes to the water hole to drink.  The poor animal had a bum leg, where it had been caught in a snare.  The wound did not look fresh, but you can tell that it bothered the elephant.  He kept spraying that leg with water.  We enjoyed our time watching this big guy drink and bath.

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Nyala outside our chalet in the morning

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Saw this Bateleur on the way to the hide

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Wildebeests drinking

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Impalas – there are a lot of them at the reserve

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View of Elephant from the hide

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His bad leg where it was caught in a snare

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A typical house in rural areas

Now off to Wakkerstroom and Memel in search of cranes – ITS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD IN SOUTH AFRICA.

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