The saga continues – will we see a lion or not? We are actually wondering if there are any in the park.
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.
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…
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next day we birded the rest camp before heading off to Magoebaskloof (boy isn’t that a mouthful).
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.