Thursday, 31 October 2019

South Africa Kruger NP Sept/Oct 2019 A Grand day out!

It was back on the road again today!
An ambitious plan to try and get both Leopard and Cheetah...well you can live in hope! The S145 and S125 looked good prospects for the Leopard.The S36 for the Cheetah.
Breakfast at Toshkwane too! 
A nice plan but it needed an early start and Claire was up for it.
We hadn't left Talamati very long before we came across a parked OSV. It must have come from one of the three private lodges in the nearby concession. 
What were they looking at?
Ah! A lion!
Not the best of views but it was closer than any others we'd seen. I could hear the radio on the OSV, he was calling in his mates and before long two more rolled up, both packed with what sounded like American tourists.
I guess one of the advantages of an OSV is that they get to hear where things are happening. There are phone apps too but the trouble is there's no phone signal in much of the park which to be honest is a good thing in my opinion! News gets around fast enough as it is.
The downside of being on an OSV is that you could well find yourself sitting on the wrong side for a particular sighting although because the rows of seats are progressively higher those at the back can see over those in the rows in front.  I'm assuming the driver tries to park in such a manner that everyone looks straight at the subject and the result is the vehicle parks across the road making getting past more difficult.
I was blocked in, more so when the first OSV left.
As I was within speaking distance with the driver of the vehicle blocking me I as was able to ask him, politely of course , if he could let me out. He did so without acknowledgement.
20m down the road I spotted there was a better view. If the Lion raised it's head we could actually see his face!
He did briefly before appearing to go back to sleep. I'd got a better picture though.
I reversed back and informed the driver of the OSV that had moved that there was a good picture opportunity if he moved. Once again, no acknowledgement but the kind of look that tells you you don't know what you are talking about. Suit himself I thought and left.
To be honest that was the only incidence of that sort of behaviour I experienced from an OSV. Most were very thoughtful and considerate of others.
Our route continued, along the S125 then down the tar H1-3. Nothing of note to add to our sightings unfortunately. Tshkwane Picnic Site here we come.
We got to the left turn to the Orpen Loop road and it was still pretty early. Should we take a look?
We'd seen nothing the last time but our neighbours at Lower Sabie had had a pair of Lions walking alongside their vehicle for an age. We'd try again!
We'd only gone a few hundred metres when I spotted three heads raised in the long grass.
Hyena on a kill
Hyena and bloodied ones too! They were on a kill but we couldn't see it.
Hyena on a kill
They were quite distant and largely hidden so we moved off again. Half way around the loop an OSV was coming the opposite direction. I flagged him down and told him about the Hyenas. Both he and all the passengers were delighted about the news, they had obviously had a poor trip so far. They were all appreciative and in return tipped me off that they'd seen nothing on the rest of the loop.
That was the only tip I received from an OSV but I did flag a few down during the course of our trips to pass on my news!!
It hadn't been the best of mornings but a Lion and a Hyena is actually pretty good.
I think one of the misconceptions of a self drive in KNP is that you will be falling over sightings. It much depends where you are and what time of day...and no doubt year too!
Anyway, we were now more concerned about breakfast and my much anticipated treat!!
Remember I'd eyed up someone else's meal on our first visit.
Oh yes, I was having one of those.
Scrambled egg, bacon and cheese in a toasted roll. I added some Tabasco sauce to gee it up a tad too!
Absolutely delicious and a snip at 38 rand. Substantial enough to keep anyone going all day. In my opinion this is the best breakfast stop in the whole of KNP, if you are ever passing give it a try. You might even get some decent sightings there too.
Banded Mongoose
Now well fed we decided to head on towards Skukuza on the tar road... yes there was another football result I was dying to know!
We diverted off the tar for a short loop and we were rewarded in buckets!
A new bird for the trip, a Golden-breasted Bunting
Golden-breasted Bunting
and some cracking views of a flock of White-crested Helmetshrike.
White-crested Helmetshrike  Prionops plumatus
For once they stayed put long enough for a couple of shots.
White-crested Helmetshrike  Prionops plumatus
back on the tar and further down the road towards Skukuza we spotted the Vulture I'd missed until I later looked at a photograph I'd taken.
White-headed Vulture
Things were getting better by the minute!
We investigated a waterhole turn off which I seem to remember was unmarked.
A car was already on the scene. A Bateleur on its kill.
It's an impressive bird, one of the most striking raptors you will ever get to see.
The victim, a Scrub Hare. That's one race it won't win.
On to the waterhole to find it totally dry but wait.... a couple of birds are seeking out insects in the dried up mud.
Senegal Plover   Stephanibyx lugubris
Senegal plover, one of the best birds I'd see on the whole trip. Something of a rarity in KNP it seems. More of a rarity in Senegal perhaps. In all my many trips to The Gambia I'd never seen one before.
Senegal Plover   Stephanibyx lugubris
It was turning in to quite a day.
A cold drink and a quick wifi link and we were out of Skukuza leaving the madding crowds behind once more.
A couple of minutes up the road and it was hit the brake time again.
African Hoopoe, too close to the edge of the road making me park in the middle of the tar road. I'd have to be quick.
African Hoopoe Upupa africana
The next car along spooked it but I'd got a shot, another addition for my list too.
Next up was the S83 loop. My mind was elsewhere when suddenly there at the side of the road..a Leopard. I instinctively hit the brakes and skidded to a halt in just a few metres. The Leopard was a mere 5m away. It snarled at us and slunk behind a bush. I reversed back a bit and the Leopard emerged to cross the road. Unfortunately there was no way I'd get a shot through the windscreen so I leant out of the window just in time to see it about to enter the woodland.
Leopard crossing
Damn, damn, damn.
Leopard crossing
If only I'd been more alert I might have seen it earlier. I certainly wasn't going fast so at least I had stopped before I was past it but I felt I had blown what would be the best sighting we'd get.
That grass obscuring it's face and then just shots of it vanishing in to the bush.
Leopard crossing
I admit it took a little shine off my day!!
Anyway, next up we had the S36, well known for Cheetah sightings. Well known but not by us.
Never mind we had some compensation and enough to cheer me up.
Vervet Monkey
No, not the Vervet Monkey.
Nor the Zebra.
Not even the beautiful Waterbuck.
No , what really delighted me was to get some cracking views of the Red-crested Kohraan.
Red-crested Korhaan   Lophotis ruficrista
It was having a grooming session and didn't do the usual and walk away.
Red-crested Korhaan   Lophotis ruficrista
If you look carefully you can actually see the red crest on that one!
Red-crested Korhaan   Lophotis ruficrista
That was a bit special for it's normally only seen in courtship routines.
The day wasn't over yet though.
We were running slightly late, nothing to worry about so still time to stop for some green Wood Hoopoe.
Green Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus
and had to stop for a Giraffe block
Giraffe block
Such an elegant creature aren't they?
We'd seen just about everything today, four of the big five again and in fact our last stop was to watch an Elephant destroy yet another tree.
Destructive Elephant
What a magical day it had been even with the disappointment of my Leopard encounter. I might not have got the shot but to see and even hear the Leopard snarl at us was a memory I'll have implanted for ever.
We were on the move again tomorrow. Talamati Bushveld Camp had been pretty good to us and was definitely the best accommodation we'd had so far.
One last Braii then.
and guess who came to dinner to say goodbye!
No doubt hoping for a more generous host next time.
It's not easy resisting the temptation to offer them food I have to admit.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

South Africa Kruger NP Sept/Oct 2019 Staying local..

It was somewhat of a relief to be at Talamati Bushveld Camp.We'd left the most southern part of KNP behind having packed in a lot of driving in an attempt to see as much as possible in that game dense area. We still had plenty of time left to pick off the specialties, the rarer creatures, yes the one's most people want to see. Leopard, I'd seen a few spots in a distant tree, sighting at all and I was warned to not expect to see one either and from Claire's point of view she hadn't had a decent Lion sighting either. Yes, we wanted to see these animals but I was equally keen to see some of the smaller beasts. The various Mongoose species, another Civet in plain view, Honey Badger...definitely Honey Badger , it was top of my list now. Would be nice of course to see Pangolin and Aardvark but the chances were very, very slim even if I did sign up for a night drive.
As you probably know, the National Parks are different to the private reserves, the conservancies, in as much as a) You can't drive off road and b) you have to be in camp when it's dark. The answer is to sign up for a night drive, even a sunset drive. The latter is possibly the best option because each tour lasts 3 hours and the sunset one gives you half light, half dark. On the other hand the nocturnal species are only just coming to life. The night drive on the other hand goes out at 4.30am so they should be in full swing. Trouble is at 4.30 a.m. I am not! Consequently after the initial enquiry I never bothered asking again, not at this camp or any other.
Anyway for the first day at Talamati I declared we'd minimise driving. I was up early and explored the gardens which are quite substantial to see if I could add some new birds to my list.
Yellow-breasted Apalis 2
The Yellow-breasted Apalis was one of the few new species I saw there.
There was a decent sized flock of Black-collared Barbets flitting from tree to tree
Black-collared barbet
A slightly better view and photo opportunity of an Orange-breasted Bush Shrike 
Orange-breasted Bush Shrike
and not a lot else really. I ended up amusing myself with the Natal Spurfowl looking for crumbs around the Braii.
Natal Spurfowl
We realised we hadn't really catered for breakfast/lunch but that wasn't a problem we'd eat out! So with that in mind today's tour would be the shortish drive to Orpen Camp , another small camp next to one of the entry gates in to KNP.
I should have done my research. There is no restaurant, not even a snack bar ( as there is at Crocodile Bridge) just a shop, and a small one at that. There is though a coffee "stall" and a few tables to sit and drink at. Problems solved. Coffee and some Coconut cookies purchased in the shop.
I have to say the coffee was superb. It's rare to get a coffee that tastes as good as the aroma but this one did. Fabulous.
The minute the cookies are out so are the birds.
The Yellow-billed Hornbill dominated.
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
The Red-billed one sat further back in the bush next to our table!
Southern Red-billed Hornbill
The camp site is restricted to residents so I had a short wander around the small area of garden at the gate and at least got one new bird for my effort.
White-throated Robin-chat
We decided to do a circuit back to camp rather than return on the route we'd taken, a route that had given us nothing in terms of sightings.
We drove along the main tar road stopping to watch some Elephants who were drinking out of the holes they dug in the dry river bed. Clever beasts those Elephants and their trunk comes in handy in these situations!
Digging for water
Further on we saw a bit of Vulture activity as two or three swooped down on an unseen target in the longer grass. I was more interested in getting a shot of the Bateleur in the foreground and it just goes to show what happens when you get tunnel vision. I didn't manage to focus on the Bateleur before it flew but the real opportunity was totally missed. The big Vulture in the background is something of a rarity in the park. I did get to get a shot of one later but nowhere near at this close distance!
Back on the gravel S36 we stopped at a water tank when we saw a Black-backed Jackal, they are not that common.
black-backed Jackal
but left when it did.
Onwards until we arrived back at the Mondzweni waterhole which by now was a veritable feast of animal life.
All a bit distant but sometimes the bigger picture is more impressive.
Mondzweni waterhole S36
There was much to watch and admire.
Mondzweni waterhole S36
The only reason to leave was the car was getting too hot! Unlike the Elephants we couldn't take a dip!7M3A4142
It's definitely one of the better spots near to Talamati, one you should spend time at if in the area. I think lots of people who stay at Satara miss out on here too.
Anyway, back in camp I had some downtime reviewing my images of the past days, occasionally taking the odd snap of the creatures that came to visit our patio.
Smith's Bush Squirrel
You could virtually guarantee if you sat at the dining table it was a signal for the Hornbill to investigate.
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Not quite so confiding the Land Monitor hid in a tree trunk 
Land Monitor Lizard
before deciding it was safe to scurry off further down the camp.
Land Monitor Lizard
Sadly we didn't have a return visit by the Genet, perhaps because the steaks I cooked didn't smell as appealing as sausage, or maybe it was just that I hadn't given in to those beautiful eyes and fed it the night before.
Still, no guilty conscience that night anyway.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

South Africa Kruger NP Sept/Oct 2019 Moving on Talamati Bushveld Camp

I was up early but we weren't in a hurry to leave. Time for some birding around our Bush Tent at Lower Sabie Camp.
Sat on our balcony with a cup of coffee the ideal way to add a few birds to my list!
The handsome Spectacled Weaver
Spectacled Weaver
The highly camouflaged and rather as it's name suggests, Sombre Greenbul
Sombre Greenbul
A singing Southern Boubou was a lovely sight
Black-backed Puffback
and even if you have seen and photographed them before you might get a better image.
Tawny-flanked Prinia
Tawny-flanked Prinia and Rattling Cisticola both flitting around the scrub
Rattling Cisticola
No need to become complacent no matter how many you have seen, always room for improvement.Dark-capped Bulbul
and some birds like to improve their appearance before posing for the camera!
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
I'd calculated it was about 130kms to Talamati Bushveld camp, possibly the biggest distance between any two camps we were going to move between. We had our food to consider but Claire was freezing bottles of water to put in our cool bags so hopefully all would be well. It better had be , we couldn't re-stock without a certain amount of inconvenience, at least, so we thought anyway. No shop at Talamati if we ran out.
Anyway, despite the risk we decided to take the extra long route to take in Satara area before heading to our next base.We could have stuck to the tar road but no, we went gravel after coming off the H1-3. Our guide book suggested the S37 was a road worth travelling. Not for us it wasn't. Over 30 kms of bone rattling corrugated road surface with next to nothing seen. Mind you it was pretty damn hot out there on the dry dusty plain. Even birds that were close to the car were difficult to photograph because of the heat haze.
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark
It was somewhat of a relief when we came across the Sweni Hide at the top end of this road. We decided to investigate and timed our entry to perfection as herd after herd of Elephants were coming down to the water hole.
Elephants Sweni Hide
It's fascinating watching the interaction between these magnificent creatures.
Lined up
always amusing to see how excited the youngest ones are as they near water.
Mum and baby
Watching the odd one struggling to climb a bank
getting out
or simply having a dustbath ( imaging having that up for nostrils!)
dust bath
kept us amused and at the hide longer than we'd envisaged but why leave if you don't have to!
Anyway, as the elephants finally all left we moved on too.Up the S41 and on to the famous S100.
The S100 gravel road is probably the biggest reason that people like to stop at Satara Rest Camp.
I'd read good reports about the surrounding area, some poor reports about the camp and consequently decided not to stop there. Well, we couldn't fit every camp in anyway, well not unless you are prepared to move on constantly, but I was keen to see what held everyones attention.
Well in our case it was nothing. A few Impala and that was it. We came across a minor road jam, apparently there were some Lions (the road's speciality) asleep under a tree but that was reported from a vehicle much taller than ours and they couldn't see them either so we thought forget that. They might be there for hours without seeing anything. We moved on paying a brief visit to Satara Camp to get some cold drinks.
Then it was onwards again, slightly south on the H1-3 then another highly recommended route, the S126.
Nope, nothing there either!
In the heat of the day your chances of seeing things are much reduced. Our journey had been fairly uneventful except where there was water and that proved to be the same when we hit the S36 and the Mondzweni waterhole. We weren't too far from Talamati now so we had time to sit for a short while before carrying on. There were definite possibilities here, worth a return visit from the camp.
Anyway, with our food in mind we moved on and checked in at Talamati.
What a difference, just a small office and a pleasant greeting by the member of staff on duty. There was a sightings book as well as a board, it listed the various things seen on the guided drives. There were a couple of things I'd like to see and a night drive is the best option. Unfortunately the were full for the three nights we were booked in. Must admit though when I saw the party of noisy families getting on the OSV at departure time I was pleased I wasn't one of them.
No. I wasn't disappointed. There was a hide and I'd spend some time in that instead.
First we moved in to our chalet and I have to say, I was impressed. A bedroom, bathroom
Talamati Bush Camp
excellent kitchen that even had an gas oven as well as the electrical microwave, kettle, toaster.
Talamati Bush Camp
There was a good indoor lounge area as well as a covered outdoor one.
Talamati Bush Camp
The nearest neighbours were some distance away. You couldn't fault anything. Yes, I'd made the right choice here!
I was off to the hide as soon as possiblend that I had e to say was a little disappointing in as much as the water level was vey low, and where there was water it was out of sight. There was a decent procession of visitors though, all the usual suspects but not for me anyway, the local Leopard.
I had to make do with this cute Bushbuck!
Eventually I was driven out by the noise of some of my fellow guests. I must admit, I'm one of those who actually likes a bit of chat in the hide, provided everyone knows when to shut up if something that is likely to be skittish approaches. However, some people talk VERY loud, and if the conversation is inane best leave!
I returned to our chalet. It was beer time, time to light the Braii!
One of the things I'd asked at reception was if there was any wildlife in camp. The answer was "No".
Maybe they think you are asking about dangerous beasts and they want to reassure you all is well.
Anyway, not long after I had put some sausage on the grill we suddenly had a surprise visitor!
Surprise visitory
I'd never seen one before and was absolut delighted.
It was soon apparent that these cats offer no threat whatsoever, their behaviour just like a domestic cat it seemed.
I resisted the use of flash but on occasion did point my torch in the Genet's direction.
You are requested not to feed any of the birds and animals, in fact you can be prosecuted for doing so.
Hard though it was, I resisted the urge to share my dinner but felt quite guilty that the cat sat and watched us eating whilst sat in a nearby tree.
A group of people were heading past the front of our chalet and towards the hide. I went out and approached the straggler at the end and asked "would you like to see something a bit special?". She came with me but was unimpressed even though she asked me what it was. No, she was off to the hide, the Leopard was due at 8.00 o'clock apparently. Suit yourself Madam I thought, I prefer this one!