Nthakeni Bush and River Camp
14th and 15th November 2021
We arrived at Nthakeni around midday and settled in.
That afternoon we spent time in and around Pafuri and for most of the next morning.
Each night we heard three different Nightjars, the Fiery-necked, the Square-tailed and the Freckled as well as the Wood Owl. This is a special place for us.
Midday and early afternoon was usually spent in the pool to cool down and in late afternoon a bird walk around the camp.
Here are some of the species we managed to get photos of in the Pafuri area mainly.
As we drove towards the Pafuri picnic site on one occasion we spotted what we thought was a shiny flapping something wrapped round a tree trunk. A better look revealed that it was a very long shedded snake skin right round the trunk and back.
Two birds stood out for us. In the Pafuri picnic site there was a nesting pair of Black-throated Wattle-eyes and three kilometers from the Pafuri Bridge heading north we saw a Racket-tailed Roller – definitely our bird for the trip.
From Nthakeni we went to Punda Maria for a few days with my sister and her husband.
16th and 17th November 2021
Sally and I had booked to stay at Punda Maria for one day only so that we could go to Shingwedzi at the same time as my sister. However we ended up for 2 nights and persuaded my sister to stay an extra night – sacrificing a night at Shingwedzi. We had all booked Shingwedzi for 4 nights so it meant only 3 nights in Shingwedzi.
We were camped on the fence line for a change within close proximity to the Hide and good views of the waterhole from our camp spot as well.
At night the waterhole always had herds of Elephants – a ghostly bunch creeping silently in and out. Their massive size emphasized by the moonless night.
At night we heard the calls of Nightjars, Square-tailed and Freckled as well as the trumpeting of the elephants around the waterhole.
In the afternoons it was very hot so we ended up in the green waters of the swimming pool to cool off.
On one evening in the hide we watched as Buffalo arrived to drink (later they retreated when the Ellies arrived). Anyway as we sat there in the hide we watched an unusual sight of a Buffalo lying with its back in the water. It was straining to give birth. Eventually the calf popped out in its sack into the water and the Buffalo walked away. We assume the Buffalo knew it was a still birth.
We circled the Mahoney loop and went out to Klopperfontein. After the first couple of early hours in the mornings the birds became quiet and scarce because of the heat.
It was unusual to see two impalas at the top of a well bushy and tall ant hill.
And then we headed to Shingwedzi.
18th, 19th and 20th November 2021
Shingwedzi campsite was far from full so we had a lot of choice as to where we camped and because we had booked a fence line campsite that is where we headed. The heat had followed us! But where was the shade? Eventually we made a decision which we regretted later.
Empty campsite and empty river.
During our time in the area we explored the Red Rocks Loops, drove up to Babalala picnic site on the S56 and went down river along the S50 as far as Nyawutsi Hide. Each of these routes have had their attractions in the past – weather dependent. November 2021 the heat was almost exhausting so whenever possible we resuscitated in the swimming pool.
On our way down to the Nyawutsi hide following the river there were patches of water in the river. The hide is situated in a tropical setting.
Here are some of the birds we photoed along these routes.
A very colourful female Bennett’s Woodpecker gave us a show of her beauty
A Dwarf Mongoose popped out of an ant hill and gave us the stare.
Then there were the Lions resting in the long grass as they do most of the day.
A few animals too.
The Spotted Hyena had chased away a Jackal in the river. Fortunately I was able to get a few photos as it ran away from us down the river. The photos confirmed our suspicions that this was no ordinary Jackal.
Eventually the heat broke and we had a storm. Not any storm but a drenching. Not just a drenching but a nightmare driving into it on slippery road surfaces. Sally and I took a mid afternoon drive along the S50 and on the way we noticed dark clouds off to the side of us and we thought moving away. We were wrong. It came straight for us as we decided to return to camp. Heavy rain. Full on straight towards us.
By the time we got back to camp the rain had stopped. Alas our campsite was under water – well a couple of inches – and it was not draining away. Trench digging was the order of the moment up hill to the fence. The further I went the deeper it got. It needed a lot of help to drain away. So out came the broom, pushing the water into the trench. As quickly as the water reached the trench so half of it returned. Good exercise and a few necessary kilos lost.
That was our time in Shingwedzi. Now to Balule as T&D went to Letaba, 4 nights in each.
21st, 22nd, 23rd November 2021
All four of us left together. Tasha and Dick in the car ahead heading for Letaba and we to Balule. We had not gone too far when we saw Lions charge Tasha’s car – her side. Later Tasha told us she had a huge fright as it felt that they would come in the window. We all screeched to a halt. Four lionesses ran across the road followed closely in their footsteps by four cubs. Quite a sight for us and relief for my sister.
Then 10 minutes later we came across an elephant way ahead of us drinking water from the side of the road. He was thirsty. We wanted to keep going. However when you are towing it is nigh impossible to reverse at any speed if the ellie wants to be obstreperous- we waited for about 15 minutes before he went off into the bush.
After a quick cup of tea we left Tasha and Dick in Letaba. On we went. One annoying thing with checking in to the Balule camp is that you do so at Olifants camp. In this instance we became pleased that we had to. We had turned off the main road heading on the tar to Olifants. We had not gone far when a Leopard popped out of the undergrowth ahead of us, walked down the road before re-entering the bush. Excitement number one.
We checked in. And took the opportunity to have a look at the view of the surrounding panorama from the deck – with the river some way down and directly below us.
Now we trundled our way to Balule. After about a couple of kms our second excitement – a pair of white-tailed Wild Dogs climbed up onto the road and strolled towards us.
With rain threatening we hurriedly set up camp.
Most days it rained. Sometimes quite hard for short periods with wind that made it uncomfortable for cooking – up came the awning sides.
Despite the weather we rose early and out we went. On one occasion a very long trip to Satara via the Timbavati loop road as far as Ratel Pan and Timbavati Picnic site then across to the H1-4 on the S147. Down to Satara and along the S100 before returning. A long day out but not without its incidents.
Taking the S99 and S97 to the Timbavati Loop and despite the drizzle and promising looking rain clouds we passed several good looking birds of which the African Green Pigeon was outstandingly colourful.
At one point along the S99 there is an unusual fever tree growing sideways across a stream with branches shooting up vertically.
Most of the drive to Ratel Pan was in constant drizzle. But that did not put off the birds – we had lovely sightings of many wet species and some totally drenched – the Brown-throated Martin in particular and a Barn Swallow not quite so. Others seen include: a Black Heron fishing, Greater Painted Snipes, Black-crowned Night-Heron and even a Steppe Eagle.
The Brown-throated Martin deserves a collage of its own.
As the day progressed the weather improved. By the time we got to Ratel Pan it had stopped drizzling but it remained cloudy. The Pan had water for a change. There were a number of waterbirds present, the odd crocodile and leguaan.
There were a some slippery waterlogged spots on the S125 gravel road to the H1-4. However when we reached the main road it was chained off. We were in a pickled if the other exits to main roads had been chained off too. What to do? In the end, with time constraints, we followed the car in front and drove round the barrier.
Here are some of the other photos taken in the area.
We saw a number of Lilac-breasted Rollers courting. Here is one offering its sweetheart a delicious morsel.
As you will see the water level at the low level bridge beside Balule was quite full. Baboons use it while the ellies prefer walking through the river.
Then we moved on to Skukuza to meet up with my sister.
The adventure continues in Part 3 to follow.
Paul Bartho and Sally King