Kruger Part 9 – Lower Sabie

Kruger Part 9

Lower Sabie and Malelane

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

4 to 7 December 2018

Our journey from Satara to Lower Sabie produced some exciting sightings.

Leaving early we headed to Tshokwane for breakfast. As we neared the picnic site we encountered quite a few cars watching lions sleeping. A quick squizz and we went through.

Within minutes, another bunch of cars watching a Leopard asleep in a tree. A little more time here to try and get a photo and then we were off leaving the mêlée behind.

Leopard trying to snooze off his dinner

Not much further along we noticed an animal slowly crossing the road. Our first impression was that it could be a mongoose of some sort. But it had a humped back. A quick look with our binoculars told us to get up there quickly. We arrived just as it was entering the scrub by the road.

Pangolin

At Tshokwane there was no monkey business with our breakfast this time!! Still a paucity of birds around – a few Starlings and one African Mourning Dove. However in the river bed we heard a Red-faced Cisticola. It was so loud it was unmissable. Eventually it came close and I got a snap.

Red-faced Cisticola

From Tshokwane we decided to head down towards Skukuza instead of taking the direct route to Lower Sabie. All of the dams were dry and the journey passed quietly except for a Sable sighting. About five in the bush beside us about 30 metres away.

Sable Antelope

Once we had crossed the Sabie River we drove towards Lower Sabie with the river alongside us all the way. As expected there was much going on in the river. Elephants and Buffalo all the way along – sometimes in their hundreds. Hippo out of the water and many birds to be seen.

Even a Grysbok made an appearance – something we have found hard to spot.

Grey Duiker

Birds too were in the air and in the trees. There were dozens of Vultures and Tawny Eagles were seen in a couple of trees from the main Skukuza bridge over the Sabie River. In another tree we saw three Hooded Vultures, one of which was a youngster.

As the river “roared” down the rapids we also had a few sightings of other birds in the bushes.

Sabie River rapids

Eventually we arrived and set up camp. By the time we were through the temperature had soared up into the 40s C. So after a lunch at Mugg and Bean we took the rest of the day off to enjoy a rest and the swimming pool.

At our site we found a couple of Grey Go-away-birds anting in the dust.

Grey Go-away-birds anting

The heat was draining our energy and having had such good experiences over the past month we decided to only stay 2 nights at Lower Sabie and then head to Malelane for one night and return home directly from there. In other words we cut our stay short by three days.

The following day we took a drive along the river to Skukuza and Lake Panic hide. A stop at Sunset Dam first to watch the Hippos and Crocodiles and see what birds were around. On the round concrete tank close to the road there were Giant and Malachite Kingfishers as well as Green-backed Herons.

Then there was a Red-billed Oxpecker using a Hippo’s eye to perch on while it had a drink.

A Yellow-billed Stork was showing off its finery.

Yellow-billed Stork

And not to be outdone a Black-crowned Night-Heron was seen in the territory of the Green-backed Herons.

Immediately after Sunset Dam the lions were seen feasting on a Buffalo. Some exhausted from eating were seen taking a rest nearby.

On one of the many loops we came across a gathering of White Storks much to our surprise.

White Storks

At the Skukuza camp we had a quick look at the river – seeing very little of interest – and hurried to get out of the bedlam.

Lake Panic Hide had had some rain and there was a lot more water in it compared to when we visited a month earlier. There were even elephant cavorting and getting stuck in the mud. Trying to get out of the mud involved kneeling down to push itself out. Eventually it succeeded and actually pushed too hard resulting in it falling over onto its back.

A number of birds arrived and some were photographed. The star of the show in our minds was the Woodland Kingfisher.

At the deck of Mugg and Bean we had a sundowner and watched the activity in the river below us. There were some excessively large Crocodiles making a meal of a Hippo. And Lions on the opposite bank in full flow chasing Wildebeest without much joy – giving up and resting under the shade of the large trees.

Of course the pair of Western Barn Owls were still to be seen in the rafters. We spent some time at the reception entrance bird bath hoping to see the Olive-tree Warbler which Jane had told us about. No luck. However it was good to watch all the activity and inter-action between the different birds. Also it was a pleasure to listen to the call of the White-browed Robin Chat.

From the M&B deck we noticed a Black Heron doing its thing in fishing mode.

Black Heron in fishing mode

Then there was this beauty. which really confused me the first time I had ever seen one.

In the Lower Sabie area we identified 131 different bird species. Click here to see the list.

We spent most of our last morning getting to Malelane. Once there our goal was to try and find the Egyptian Vulture which Jane and Mike had seen along the S25 a few days earlier. No luck. So we returned via Berg-en-dal. The dam had water in it unlike our first visit four weeks earlier. Sally noticed some Ducks flying around and we went to investigate. They had landed beside the water. I think we counted thirteen Knob-billed Ducks. Several males were showing off their colourful finery. Notice the yellow feathers near their vent.

And in the short time we were in Malelane there were 46 birds identified. Click here to see the Malelane list.

Despite the heat and dryness we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Kruger. Hopefully the next time we go the Park will have had pleanty of rain to fill up all the dams.

We hope you have enjoyed these reports.

By request we shall make one final report summarising our highlights. Kruger Part 10 – Summary.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger Part 3 – Lower Sabie

Kruger Part 3

Lower Sabie

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

14 to 18 November 2018

Lower Sabie Camp Site

The next morning we left Malelane on our way very early to Lower Sabie for 4 nights.

We had not gone far on the tar when we were accosted by the same pack of 10 Wild Dogs that we had seen the previous evening. Again a lovely sighting with them surrounding our vehicle on their way to somewhere.

Wild dog

Our journey was mostly on the dirt roads – starting with the S25 towards Byamiti before heading north to Lower Sabie.

Animal sightings were few and far between. No Buffalos, no Rhinos and a paucity of Elephants. A remarkable contrast to the previous two days.

We beetled along the S25 reaching the Byamiti bridge in quick time. On approaching the bridge a large male Leopard strolled towards us in the river bed. Our bit of excitement for the day – very unexpected yet it was not for long before he had disappeared into the bush and gone before anyone else came along.

Leopard

Once we were on the tar of the H4-2 (Croc Bridge to Lower Sabie) we headed north and on approaching the S82 shortcut on a dirt road, we noticed a pile of cars not too far up the road so we went for a look see. More Wild Dogs doing one of their favourite things – sleeping in the shade.

Eventually we arrived at Lower Sabie and by 10h30 we had set up camp.

We had planned to meet up with some friends who were staying at Ngwenya lodge, Cecil and Jenny Fenwick and Dave and Jenny Rix. I gave them a buzz and they were at Sunset Dam right outside the camp. We enjoyed a very tasty lunch in the Mugg and Bean with a few tipples and caught up on their news of the area.

Lower Sabie is centrally based to explore a wide range of habitats. There are many special places to visit.

  • Crocodile Bridge is south – often an excellent campsite to stay at. However, at the moment it is very very dry, parched with hardly a blade of grass. Taking the S28 backroad to Crocodile Bridge there is the Ntandanyathi bird hide. Well worth a visit as there always seems to be water there. It is comfortable and birds love it too.
  • North there is the Mlondozi picnic site overlooking the dam – unfortunately now bone dry.
  • Further north is Tshokwane Picnic site – a good stop off point for breakfast or heading north and checking out the birds in the campsite. African Mourning Doves very much darker than anywhere else.
  • Then there is the main tar road to Skukuza following the Sabie River with numerous lookout points along the way. Very popular, justly so, as a wide variety of big game is often seen along the river. On the opposite side there is also a dirt road which is less used to follow the river.
  • The bridges across the Sabie at Lower Sabie and near Skukuza are both worth a visit especially when there is lots of water.
  • Mpondo Dam – a longer drive – always seems to have water and is good for both birds and animals. Pity that it does not have a place where you can get out of your vehicle.
  • Then there is the Deck at Lower Sabie at the Mugg and Bean restaurant. A good place for sundowners and to watch the wildlife along the long open stretch of river. Often Lion, Leopards, Elephant and Buffalo are seen.
  • Sunset Dam just outside the gate is special. The hippos are constantly noisy throughout the day and soak happily with the dozens of crocodiles. Of course, the bird life is also good and many unexpected animals often make an appearance.

Unless you book well in advance it is always difficult to get a campsite booking. November seems to be one of those months where bookings are possible. We spent four nights there.

During our time at Lower Sabie we visited most of the places listed above and had some very active birding – identifying 142 different species. Click here to see our list.

And birding in the camp and from the deck at the Mugg and Bean restaurant is always good. The water fountain as you enter reception has it seems resident White-browed Robin-Chats.

Then there are the Barn Owls in the rafters of the Mugg and Bean restaurant.

A pair of Barn Owls

And then there are the birds found in the grounds.

Colourful lizards running around on the trees.

Colourful Lizard

And lucky sightings off the deck.

Greater Painted-Snipe

On our first day we went to the Bird Hide on the S28. It was here that my bird expert, Sally, spotted a bird nearby with a pink bill. She called me over to see the Greater Honeyguide. Fascinating as four more turned up. It was only then that we realised we had made a big booboo. See photo below.

Also making an appearance was a wiggly snake in the bushes immediately in front of the hide. It had a dual bluish tone to it and was at least a metre long. Some suggested it might be a water snake – see what you think and let us know.

While on the S28 we took the turnoff to what was the Nhlanganzwani Dam – having been told by Cecil that there were 3 Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls in a tree part way down next to a large muddy area. Missed them all on the way to the dam but Sally’s sharp eyes found one on the way back.

The following day we took the dirt tracks S128 and S30 on the north side of the Sabie River towards Skukuza. The highlight of this decision was to have an excellent sighting of  an Eurasian Golden Oriole.

There was very little water under the main Skukuza bridge. So we headed for the Lake Panic hide. There was water but much of the area was dry. However, the birds made their appearances and we enjoyed an hour or more in the hide.

Our trip back to Lower Sabie on the tar road turned up the usual sightings of many elephants and some lions – doing what they always seem to be doing – lying down!

On one of our drives we were fortunate in seeing a Cheetah with cubs. At first we thought there was only one but as they moved on another came out of hiding.

Sunset Dam is so close to the camp that it gets lots of attention. Birding is always interesting and animals are often seen drinking.

Some of the other animals seen around the area included many elephants and a good sighting of a leopard dozing in a tree.

Photos of other birds seen in the general area:

Eventually it was our time to leave. North. We headed for Tshokwane then on to the wild camp at Balule for 3 nights.

The sky had got a bit overcast and blustery but still there was no sign of rain.

Just after passing the Mlondozi Dam we noticed a bird flying just over the grassland. Fortunately it did not disappear behind us as there was no way to turn around while towing the campervan.

It was some way off but we recognized it immediately – a white Harrier with black at the end of its underside wings – a Pallid Harrier. How lucky were we!! Even managed a photo or two.

Pallid Harrier

Tshokwane was quiet. Perhaps it was the weather as there were few birds about.

Greater Blue-eared Starling

Breakfast time. I set up the table as Sally inspected the plumbing. Out came the coffee, tea, sugar, milk, water, hot water, mugs and spoon, a few biscuits and bananas. The next thing I saw was a ghost fly across the table and suddenly disappear. No more bananas – the monkeys enjoyed them as did the people watching !! They always catch you underwares.

Paul and Sally Bartho

And on to Balule for Kruger Part 4.