Our hoped for objective was to see a variety of raptors feeding on the thousands of Red-billed Quelea on the open plains in the park which we were led to believe congregated at this time of the year.
Our first destination was Lower Sabie, followed by Satara, Shingwedzi and the Pafuri area (based at Nthakeni Bush and River Camp just outside the Pafuri Gate).
15th to 18th February 2022
One of the first sightings as we entered the Kruger – a very welcoming sight.
The campsite on arrival was fairly full. We managed to find a suitable spot but it did lack shade. Not to worry as it was almost constantly overcast while we were there.
Concerns started after our first outing. The batteries for car and car fridge were completely run down. Close by campers came to my assistance. A pair of jumper cables came out. They were attached and tried and burnt out! The cables were hot hot. Eventually I went to reception for help to get the car started. In no time help arrived and with 2 sets of jumper cables used the car was started. I then took the car for a 2 hour drive to get the batteries up to speed.
On return I checked all to see what could be causing the problem. This idiot had forgotten to plug the charging cable to the car fridge battery before he left Howick 3 days previously!! So I plugged it in to the Anderson plug on the battery box supplying power to the fridge. Problem solved.
Well not so. The next morning the car would not start again. Help came and this time a much thicker cable was used to start the car. And as I was not sure what was going on, I decided to drive into Komatipoort to buy a thick cable. None available, so I ended up buying a Jump Start battery instead.
On our final day at Lower Sabie the car would not start again but the Jump Start got us going. By now I was frantic to know why I had this continuous problem. So, for some reason I know not why, I decided to double check all my cable connections. And that is when I found a second Anderson Plug at the very bottom of the battery case which I should have used to keep the 2nd battery charged from the engine. The one I used was for charging from a solar panel. Since then all has been hunky-dory.
All those troubles aside, how did we enjoy our stay? Amazing start on the first morning.
Our first morning out was quite eventful. We crossed the bridge over the Sabie River and headed north towards Tshokwane. At the first intersection we decided to turn right on the S29. Then the action started.
We had gone not much more than 2 kms when we noticed an unusual bird on the road – a Crake of some sort. It started to run off the road as we stopped well back to put our goggles on it. Fortunately I was able to get a couple of photos and we were able to positively identify it. What was it doing so far away from water? Perhaps there was some sort of wetland close that we could not see.
What a start to the day. But we had not gone much further before there was more excitement. We heard a call that we immediately recognised as that of a Burchell’s Coucal. But there was another call which was not quite as recognisable and there it was right in front of us perched at the top of a short tree – a Black Coucal.
Wow. Could this get even better! Then it did.
As we watched the pair of Coucals , Sally glanced to the other side of the road as a Pallid Harrier came low past us. The black at the ends of the wings on an all white bird clearly identified it.
From there we headed to Leeupan, 7 kms south of Tshokwane on the H1-2. The pan was full – the first time I had seen it so in many many years.
We were in for a treat there too. Lesser Moorhens, African Pygmy Geese among other waterbirds. We saw a Lesser Gallinule but were unable to get a photo. Lesser Jacana were also present but we never found them. What a place. Apparently Olive Tree Warblers were calling there too.
Lesser Moorhen were aplenty.
And the Knob-billed Ducks
Later we took a stroll around the camp and had a number of lovely birds to see.
Meanwhile round the camp we bumped into a Peregrine Falcon.
And at Sunset Dam the waterbirds were present.
One day we visited Mpondo Dam – not much about but as we approached the dam from below we were again attacked. This time the creatures had really grown since we were last there. They obviously could hear us coming and were on the road as we approached. We stopped and they came after us. Terrapins. Now the size of a fist. Last November they were more the size of a watch face. Sally thinks people have been feeding them and that is why they come after us.
Occasionally we came across Vultures and Eagles but they were few and far between.
Then there were a range of Animals, Spiders and Damselflies which made for an attempt at good photography (they usually are still subjects).
The male Golden Orb Web Spiders try their luck mating with the much larger female. If they are in and out quick enough they might live another day. To help themselves to survive they try to serenade and distract the lady by playing spiderweb tunes to her.
European and Carmine Bee-eaters were seen unlike on our previous visit in November 2021. And there were plenty of European Rollers
On one occasion we came across a pair of White-faced Whistling Ducks alongside a pair of Hamerkops. Each pair were canoodling with each other, grooming and caressing.
Here are some of the other birds seen around Lower Sabie – as far afield as Crocodile Bridge, Skukuza and Tshokwane.
Then there are the endangered Southern Ground Hornbills which made a show.
And finally we end as we started with another Leopard sighting.
Our time in Lower Sabie was up and we were off to Satara for several days. Satara report to follow.
We were amazed to identify 161 different bird species in the time we were there.
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 November2021
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 November2021
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.
Sally and I were planning a trip to the Caprivi in November when my sister, Natasha and her husband Dick took advantage of the half price offer for the full November month in the Kruger. As a result we changed our minds and decided to join them from November 7th onwards.
Malelane 7thNovember 2021
We began with an overnight stop at Malelane – a good resting spot after a nine hour drive from Howick.
We enjoyed a short drive around the area later in the day. Even managed to see a fully maned Lion.
A young Hyena entertained us and a Rhino had lost its horn. There were birds too posing for a shoot out.
As you may have noticed from the picture above, we had not put up our awning. We were only there for one night. So of course it rained that night. Half expecting this we put everything outside that we did not want to get wet into the boot of the car.
As I lay in bed the dribbles of rain started and my mind wandered to what else I had forgotten to do. Ah yes, I need to put the rain cover over the canvas roof over our bed. Up I got and managed to do that without getting too wet. Back to bed.
Almost asleep when it occurred to me that I should push the fridge and stove inside. Up I got again and went outside with the rain a lot stronger and did what I had to do. Back to bed fell asleep the rain now pouring down.
What was that poking me on the shoulder? Now alert and Sally asked me if I had put the rain cover on the power cable where the 2 cables met. Of course I had forgotten that too. Now it was pouring down. Not bothering to get properly clad (no neighbours) I hurriedly went outside once again and simply pulled the plug out from the Cheetah. Now fully drenched and a bit shivery, had a good rub-down and dried off and went to bed. Listening to the rain, thunder and lightening beating down and wondering what else I needed to do, I eventually fell asleep.
But not before I realised I had been bitten on the back of my neck by a bug which caused an intense burning pain. (Took over a week for it to abate). I nudged Sally to say I had been bitten. “Oh”, she said and went back to sleep. The next morning she realised how bad it was.
Satara8th to 10thNovember 2021
The following morning we went to Satara to meet up with Natasha and Dick.
We spent 2 nights in Satara as that was all we were able to book at the time.
Natasha and Dick had a camp site along the fence line so we dined with them each night, watching the Hyena patrolling just outside the fence and an African Wildcat patrolling passed us inside the fence as we enjoyed dinner and a bottle of wine.
During the day we went our separate ways to explore what was out there.
The Sweni bird hide is one of our favourite places to visit around Satara. Again it did not disappoint us. There were a number of interesting birds to see. The hide outlook:
At the far end of the first photo above, a herd of elephants came down for a drink. Some young ones among them. As usual they were boisterous and enjoying quenching their thirst. Trouble was afoot. We noticed that a number of the pools hippos were unhappy with their presence and surprisingly advanced to within less than 2 metres with intent. To start with the ellies ignored them then feeling a bit nervous they moved off.
And the birds seen at the hide:
A Yellow-billed Stork was idly wandering about in front of the hide while an African Openbill had found a cosy spot to rest:
African Openbill posing as if it was nesting and then along came trouble and usurped him of the resting place:
In another location we came across a male African Jacana attending its chicks.
Photos taken around the Satara area:
And a Little Egret with its catch:
From Satara, Sally and I left a day earlier than Dick and Tasha and headed to Tsendze for 4 nights. Dick and Tasha joined us a day later for 3 nights.
Tsendze10th to 14thNovember 2021
Tsendze is one of our favourite camps in the Kruger. It is well treed so owls are present and can be heard calling every night – Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl with its pretty pink eyelids, African Wood-Owl, African Scops Owl, African Barred Owlet and Pearl-spotted Owlet. In the morning you often wake to the sound of Southern Ground Hornbills. Magic place.
There was an interesting campervan in one of the closest sites to the gate – even had its own vehicle attached to it.
Mooiplaas Picnic site is right next to Tsendze and overlooks the Tsendze river. It has a big boma for shelter from both the sun and rain as well as a picnic spot overlooking the river. Like Tsendze it is also known for its owls. Unlike Tsendze camp it is not fenced.
On your way from the camp to Mopani there are a number of short loops to explore. In the past I have experienced a herd of elephant running across one of the tracks right in front of us. Sally and I have also seen a rather large and lame Civet.
Anyway at the end of the last loop you can turn towards a couple of hides. One overlooking Pioneer Dam and the other an overnight hide overlooking the Tsendze river. To get there, you cross a low level bridge. There always seems to be bird activity either side of the bridge. Black Crakes have always been seen there by us. Striated Herons, Hamerkop, Blacksmith Lapwings, Water Thick-knees and other waterbirds are often there too. This time I took several photos of Blacksmith Lapwing juveniles scurrying close by.
Blacksmith Lapwing chick
One of the loops we enjoy doing is to access the S49 from the H1-6 just before reaching Mopani, drive to Mooiplaas waterhole and cut across to the S50, head north following the wetlands then turn onto the S143 – Tropic of Capricorn – past the Tihongonyeni waterhole and back to the H1-6 to return back to camp.
At the Mooiplaas we always see Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks. This time was no execption.
Along the S50 it is worth popping into the viewing points overlooking the wetlands. There, Lions tend to hang around the waterholes.
There was a surprise for us at the Tihongonyeni waterhole along the Tropic of Capricorn S143. There were several Tsessebees including a new born at the waterhole. An animal we don’t often seen in the park and usually as a loner among Red Hartebeest.
Along the way we came across Red-crested Korhaans calling beside the road and we were lucky to spot a Lesser Grey Shrike.
The weather was hot hot so we spent several afternoons in the pool at Mopani.
And then there was this large scaly-backed lizard wandering between the bungalows.
The H1-4 to Phalaborwa gate is a scenic drive and one where we have seen hyena with cubs regularly especially along the first 20 kms from the H1-6. This time was no exception.
Further down there is a low level bridge crossing the Letaba River. It crosses a wide stretch of the river and has a “stop and view” parking area half way across. The last two times we visited we have seen two male Greater Painted Snipes and this time was no different.
A bit further along there are a couple of short loop roads going down to the river. On one of these loops we sighted a Groundscraper Thrush singing away.
We headed on towards the H9. About 6kms before the H9 we came across a large Kopje on our left. It was here that we observed a Southern Ground Hornbill nesting site. There were several on the ground and a couple few out of the nest.
And then we were on our way to visit Sable Dam just the other side of the H9. Relatively quiet except for a herd of what looks like sock-wearing elephants.
A couple of these elephants had a bit of a tussle.
Also seen there was a blue-tongued leguaan, a blue-headed lizard, a crocodile and a Three-banded Plover chick.
And around and about on our way down towards Phalaborwa we took a few snaps of other birds we saw.
And a Village Indigobird.
Tasha and Dick left for Punda Maria and Sally and I headed to Nthakeni – just outside the Pafuri gate.
Our time in the northern region of the Kruger follows in Part 2.