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Dave Williams

Kruger Self Drive. September/October 2019

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xelas

Must be that they don't fancy "canned meat" :) as otherwise there will be no open-side game vehicles anymore in operation.

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Dave Williams
2 hours ago, ice said:

Not sure if closing a window would help against a predator planning to attact - not even sure a predator is able recognize glass as a barrier...that being said, in over fifteen year  of repeatedly travelling to Kruger, KTP and the likes we've had numerous encounters with lions walking right next to our car (and those of others). I just don't see them attacking humans, especially not in cars. If you approached them on foot at a kill or near their young ones or while mating, possibly so.

 

Well with over 15 years experience you have of course had many opportunities to test the theory! As I said in my dialogue, I'd never been that close to a Lion before and it wasn't walking past, it was walking towards me. There are many incidents of habituated captive Lions turning on their keepers, maybe not in a car perhaps but a clear demonstration of their unpredictability. If you are happy to leave the window open, feel free, me?  I'm afraid Ice Cool I wasn't.

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Ritsgaai

@Dave Williams

I can only add my appreciation and admiration with the others! You are a great storyteller and the photos are superb! I especially love the birds...they are lovely. I would love to see a white-backed night heron! Very special. 

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ice
6 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

 

Well with over 15 years experience you have of course had many opportunities to test the theory! As I said in my dialogue, I'd never been that close to a Lion before and it wasn't walking past, it was walking towards me. There are many incidents of habituated captive Lions turning on their keepers, maybe not in a car perhaps but a clear demonstration of their unpredictability. If you are happy to leave the window open, feel free, me?  I'm afraid Ice Cool I wasn't.

 

One thing I was trying to say is that if they wanted to attack to you, I'm pretty sure a closed window is not gonna help much - as @xelaspointed out, otherwise OSV were not allowed in Kruger. And as for captive lions versus wild ones: the former are certainly more dangerous than the latter, as they associate humans with "getting food" and have over the years lost their othewise natural born fear of us. 

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wilddog

I believe there have been attacks through open car windows in KNP, not necessarily posted here on ST but on Youtube etc. One I can clearly remember was a child waving its arms out of the car. What lion could resist that?

 

Better to be safe than sorry.

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Towlersonsafari

What a wonderful sighting @Dave Williams, and yes we would have wound the windows up-think how embarrassing it would be to be munched on in that situation!

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Dave Williams

This was our last full day in Mopani Rest Camp before we were due to head north to Shingwedzi the following day.

Remember I said there was possibly a weakness in my plan? It was about to reveal itself again!!

We'd been south from camp a couple of times so really the only option was to go north but then of course we'd be taking the routes we should be doing from Shingwedzi!

Ah well, the decision was made, that was the way we would travel today.

First we needed to clear up the mess!

When we'd arrived at Mopani we were greeted with this sign on the door of the refrigerator.

Honey Badger warning

Really? They expect you do drag your 'fridge/freezer loaded with supplies out of the concrete housing, turn it round and manoeuvre it back in place.

Full supplies.

Don't be ridiculous SANParks! No wonder our ours already had a wheel missing making dragging it our even more precarious.

Fortunately I had a cunning plan!

The luggage straps from our suitcases.

The impossible request

It worked a treat and the fridge wasn't raided. We hadn't put anything in the freezer other than plastic bottles full of water to create ice blocks to transport our fresh food when the time came to move on. We didn't want to risk frozen food defrosting so our intention was to freeze it when we got to the next camp, thus extending it's useful life.

The Honey Badger out of spite no doubt, open the unprotected freezer and broke my chilled glasses and gnawed the plastic bottles puncturing them!

It then tipped the bin over and scattered the contents taking out the remains of any food to eat.

Clever little critters and one I had hoped to see. It was now my number one target but I wasn't prepared to stay up all night to see one!

As it happened our planned journey would save me the effort!

We drove up the tar road and took the S52, otherwise known as the Red Rocks loop. Once again it had proven unfruitful all along the H1-6 and most of the S52.

We were getting used to drawing a blank on our travels! We'd almost got to the end of this gravel loop when we spotted our first live creature, a male Nyala.

Nyala

I say live because the remains of a Buffalo could be seen down below from the Red Rocks view point, it was just that today wasn't going to be the day we'd see that kind of action.

Suddenly Claire declared "Over there"..."Somethings moving!"

Oh yes there was, fantastic, what a sighting that was.

Honey Badger

It was some distance away, maybe 50m.

Honey Badger

It was moving quite quickly, searching and sniffing as it scurried across the open clearing.

I stopped the car and that alerted the Honey Badger too.

Honey Badger

For an instant it stood still, just enough time to grab those three shots, then it scurried on, disappearing behind bushes.

I was elated at this sighting but you always wish for more. We are never satisfied are we!!

I drove on and about 100m further down the road the badger scampered across the road in front of me, maybe 25 m away. It was gone in seconds. Ah well, be thankful that you saw it Dave. Not that many are lucky so I was grateful not only to the Badger but to Claire for spotting it!

We weren't far from Shingwedzi Camp so we called in for breakfast.

Shingwedzi Toastie!

Yes the Bacon and Egg toasties come with chips but that's OK. I was hungry.

My faith in Tindlovu catering was restored. It was delicious!! 

We continued our journey southward taking the gravel S50. The first part is very scenic, there are numerous mini loops giving views over the river below. We could see quite a lot of game, Hippos, and waterbirds like African Spoonbill and Openbills. All too distant for a decent photo opportunity though.

A Bee-Eater did present one though. I'd seen Bee-eater on numerous occasions but still wasn't happy that I had got the shot! It wasn't any different here, all a bit messy!

White-fronted Bee-eater

Further on a Steinbok was feeding off the edge of the road.

Steinbok

and further down on one of the loops, another one!

Sharpe's Grysbok

Oops ! Another error. I didn't realise until I returned home to the UK I had been looking at the rarity that is Sharpe's Grysbok. Twice I could have taken a lot more images and failed to take advantage believing it was the same as the countless other shots I had taken of Steinbok.

Sharpe's Grysbok

At least I now know how to recognise the difference having learnt the hard way!!

I mean there is a similarity with this Bushbuck we saw nearby too.

Sharpe's Grysbok

Once the S52 leaves the side of the river it becomes a sparse open grassland. The road surface is corrugated and it's an uncomfortable ride for many many miles.To break the monotony we called off at the Grootvlei Dam waterhole.

There was a huge flock of Red-billed Queleas doing their usual mass flight movements.

Red-billed Quelea

Why they are so skittish is a mystery to me, they expand a lot of energy for no apparent purpose although they eventually had reason when a troop of Baboon came wandering down to drink.

Chacma Baboon

Onwards we went until we got to the S143, Tropic of Capricorn road. The one that had proved so successful the day before. I would love to find those Secretary Birds again to say nothing of Cheetah. The terrain looked ideal!

What a difference a day makes though. There was nothing there at all! We got as far as the first waterhole and stopped for a chat with a driver who was parked up there.

"Seen anything?" I questioned. "Not on this road but if you head back the way you have come there are Lion at the Nshawu waterhole, they should be on a kill by 5.00pm" 

"Many cars there?" I asked. "A few, but there's loads of space in the viewing area" came back the reply.

"It's not my scene being in a Lion jam " I declared but thanked him and moved on a few metres and parked up to look at the waterhole which was currently empty.

I checked the map whilst sat there and realised it was quicker to turn back and go past the Lion waterhole than to carry on so a decision was made!

The Lions it would be. I told the chap in the other car I'd exercised my right to change my mind, we laughed and he wished us luck.

By the time we arrived at the waterhole it must have been around 2.30pm. There were about 6 or eight cars parked in an area that could clearly accommodate several more. Not too bad at all. I stayed at the back of the parking area, some 25-30m back from the vehicles that were closer to the waterhole. I decided that the higher vantage point would be better than halving the distance to the water which in actual fact you couldn't see anyway.

I got chatting to a 4x4 full of young South Africans who had just completed a 3 day walking safari in KNP. They told me they had been there for two hours already and other than an occasional glimpse of a Lion nothing had as yet happened.They thought there were three there.

Did we want to sit there for an age waiting to see what might or might not happen? I offered to take Claire back to camp and she decided that was what she wanted to do. It was hours since we'd seen the Badger and not much else so understandably she was getting a bit fed up. We'd been having similar experiences for days now it seemed!

I reversed the car and wishing the youngsters in the 4x4 good luck told them I was going but would return alone later. That pause before leaving was well timed as otherwise we would have missed the Lion who made a brief appearance before lying down hidden in the grass again.

Lion

I returned to camp, had a cup of coffee then returned on my own to see if anything had developed.

It hadn't. The youngsters had given up though and left. There were still a few cars there but I had the choice of position I wanted. I kept to the higher vantage point and a grandstand view.

It was nearly 4.00pm. Not too much in the way of Lion sighting, in fact none at all. I didn't even know if they were still there. An arriving car had heard the news and asked me the question but I was no wiser than they were.

Ahead of me was the waterhole, currently occupied by Elephant who once again were zealously guarding the water from every other species.

Wildebeest

There were Wildebeest in front of us, surely the Lion would have been interested had they been there? To my far right, beyond the Lion a herd of Impala were grazing , would they be victims of an attack?

I settled down to wait and see.

After 45 minutes, and nearing 5.00pm there was suddenly activity in the distance, way beyond the waterhole.

Buffalo approaching!

A huge herd of many hundreds.

To fully appreciate what I was looking at you really need to double click the next image to see the video.

Buffalo approach!

It was an awe inspiring sight.

The young elephant responsible for guarding the water supply and chasing off intruders thought better of it. After an initial thought of defending the water it was realised it was not a good idea!! With these numbers of Buffalo the Elephants decided not to intervene at all.

The Lion on the other hand were immediately alert.

Wake up to dinner?

To my surprise there were eight, possibly nine of them hidden in the grass.

What happened next was quite truly amazing to watch.

Build up

First one Lion left the group and head towards the waterhole, hidden from the Buffalo by the bank in from of it. It walked to a position directly in front of me.

Build up

Two more followed suit and followed the first one, stopping were it had taken up position. It was if the first Lion was in charge, ordering them to stay there while she continued a bit further to the left before lying down hidden in the long grass.

Build up

The remaining two watched until she had taken up her position before  they too moved forward.

Build up

From my position I could see the battle plan coming in to shape. It was like being a general looking down on the battlefield below. 

In front the waterhole

To my left, and on the edge of the waterhole, one Lion.

Center stage and again hidden. Two more Lion.

To my right the remaining pride, between six or seven of them.

The buffalo were by now down in the water drinking. Many had already started to move off to the left of the field allowing others to take their place.

That had to be the plan. Wait until the last few stragglers are drinking then spring the trap. The Lion on the left would undoubtedly start the attack trying to steer the buffalo away from the main herd, the two in the middle would join in, the Buffalo would panic and run off to the right and the trap would be complete.

By now a few more cars had arrived, there was silence though. Everyone alert to what might happen at any moment.

The wait went on.

and on.

The tension was palpable . 

There were a lot of Buffalo that wanted to drink!

Over on the left a couple of Elephant had started messing about.

Elephant tussle

This mock fight was getting closer to the left hand side of the waterhole.

Elephant tussle

The leaving Buffalo looked on in bemusement as they left.

They didn't realise it I don't suppose but the Elephants possibly saved their day.

The Lion on the left couldn't move in to the position it wanted while the Elephant were there.

By now nearly all the Buffalo had had their fill, the last few moved on in a tight group.

It was over.

The Lions retreated.

Mission abandoned

So did all the onlookers. The camp gates would shut in 20 minutes, there was only just time to get back!

What would have happened had the attack gone ahead ? Would we have had to leave before it was over? I'll never know now!

My only disappointment wasn't not seeing the hunt completed but that Claire had missed seeing what I had.

I was truly in awe of what I had witnessed.

The plan, the apparent communication. This was something I hadn't expected.

If animals are this intelligent what are we doing abusing them the way we do?

These carnivores had actually got me thinking whether I should be eating meat!!

A later discussion revealed that there are plants that react when eaten by herbivores, somehow they pass on a warning to their neighbours who then secrete a substance that makes the leaves unpalatable.

Intelligent vegetables.

I give in, I'll carry on as I have always done. Survival of the fittest and all that.

TBC

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TonyQ

A great sighting. It was fascinating watching the elephants back down when the herd of buffalo was arriving. Seeing the lion behaviour was really interesting.

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wagtail

Superb storytelling Dave, you really paint the picture with your words and images. Excellent video too... and I again resisted the temptation to see what other images you had uploaded to Flickr;)

I can't really believe that you won't stay up to see the raiding Honey Badger!

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Dave Williams

So, it was time to move on from Mopani Camp, on to Shingwedzi for the next three nights before the next taste of a Bushveld Camp again when we were due at Sirheni, our penultimate stop before exiting the park in the north and heading back to Johannesberg, the airport and home.

First thing it was clear up the mess again.

Yes, another visit from the Honey Badger. The freezer had remained unopened but the bin was pushed over, and the contents dragged out. There was no way I could leave that mess lying around even if my neighbours left it for the cleaner to do, I wasn't going to do so.

Once again, I went out in the car on my own. I had to find out what happened after we left the waterhole the previous evening.

Would the Lions be there?

Had they made a kill later?

Twenty minutes later all was there to see, or wasn't as it happened.

The place was deserted!

That might mean the Lions were still hiding in the grass and consequently everything else was staying away. I didn't have the time to hang around and find out and so left heading back to camp.

On the way I came across two Hyenas.

Spotted Hyena

This one was perhaps following the scent of the one ahead of it.

Spotted Hyena

That one was carrying the skull of what appeared to be a young Buffalo. They were both heading away from the waterhole I'd just been to.

How long ago had that kill been made? Was it the previous night?

Who knows!

I popped in to the Shipandani hide, well the dam just in front of it, for one last look. Maybe the Hippos would be there this time.

The Egyptian Geese family were still there and none of the goslings had disappeared since my first visit either. All six were getting bigger now,. I wondered how many had been in the original clutch.

Egyptian Geese

The Hippo were indeed a bit closer than I had seen in several days so I manoeuvred the car in to a position where the sun would suit.

Hippo and Oxpeckers

That looked nice, I just needed a bit of action.

Hippo and Oxpeckers

Maybe the Oxpeckers would provide it?

Hippo and Oxpeckers

The Hippo certainly wasn't going to, it submerged and that was that!

Hippo and Oxpeckers

In the meantime another car had arrived and was now drawing alongside me.

She stopped, it was the girl from Australia who I'd met at Shimuwini and who had helped when she had a slow puncture in a tyre on the day she was leaving.

She brought me up to date on what happened, her dealings with the  rental company and her experience at the next camps she'd stayed at. The previous night she's stayed in a chalet almost next to ours but we would never have known that, prior to that she'd been at Punda Maria and Parfuri.

At Punda Maria she had had a bad experience, her Bush Tent was in poor repair, the weather had been extremely windy and she'd been in fear of being blown away and had hardly slept. She cancelled her last night and moved on to Pafuri Camp.

Punda Maria was our last stop too. In a Safari Tent. This was depressing news indeed.

We bade our farewells and I headed back to Claire and the move northwards to our new camp.Shingwedzi.

We drove straight there, for once arriving before checking in time was officially open but it wasn't a problem, our room was ready.

Shingwedzi Rest Camp

The room was clean and tidy as ever.

The kitchen diner an outdoor one but with decent cover from the elements should you need it.

Shingwedzi Rest Camp

I don't know why but I took a dislike to the place instantly.

Shingwedzi Rest Camp

Maybe it was the outlook. The proximity to our neighbours, what the picture doesn't show is that we were in a semi detached  chalet although noise wasn't an issue. No, we'd discover what was later on that evening!

The view across from the patio area overlooked that bare expanse of soil and leafless trees to the other chalets. I guess we'd been spoilt up to now. The chickens had come home to roost!

I hid the extent of my disappointment for the time being as we unpacked before heading out for an afternoon drive.

I'd been looking forward to exploring the S56. I had heard great things from several people over the last few days. Lions on a kill, a Leopard with cubs showing really well. Exciting stuff I thought and compensation for the camp!

We drove slowly up the gravel road without seeing a Leopard at all. A car coming the opposite direction stopped us and asked if we seen them. No we hadn't but in return they told us there were 11 Lion sleeping under a tree some distance further on.

We found them easily, not just because there were three or four cars there, they were so close to the road you couldn't miss them!

Sleepy Lions

The nearest ones were very close indeed.

Sleepy Lions

Did I feel threatened sitting there with the window open? 

No, not at all they weren't interested in me at all.

To be honest, I wasn't interested in them either. 

Sleepy Lion had nothing on my last two encounters. It was boring.

We moved on again turning back only when we got to the entrance of the private road to Sirheni.

Sirheni? Yes the next camp we were due at and we hadn't even spent a night at Shingwedzi yet!!

Retuning back we did come across the Leopards, the views were not the best. There were definitely two in the tree but I guess there might have been a third too.

Leopards with kill

They had an Impala kill up a tree and they were busy eating it.

Leopards with kill

The adult appeared to be on top, one of the cubs attacking the carcass from below.

We watched for maybe 15-20 minutes before getting too hot to want to continue. The photo opportunity wasn't up to much so I took Claire back to camp again.

We'd been on the road for three weeks now. I felt as if we'd seen most things we'd come to see, the only thing that had been a bit disappointing was the poor showing on the birding front. Maybe that would get better when we moved to Punda Maria but I had my doubts. We were not that far away and there was no signs of the drought conditions changing. We needed rain to bring the migrating birds in. 

I had made a note of the distance from the Leopards up the tree and the tar road at the end of the S56. I left Claire in camp and I went back to see if I could get some better images of the cubs playing on the ground.

I watched as the trip recorder clocked up the distance.

Exactly 14.5 kms from the tar road.

But no tree, no Leopards.

Had I gone too far and missed it?

How could I make such a mistake!

I carried on, I could always turn back and look agin later.

The tree was another couple of kilometres further on. There were no cars, no leopards.

A wasted journey..again!!

On the return journey I made a decision. I was going to make a radical change to our plans.

I didn't want to stay in Shingwedzi a day longer than needed. I still wanted to try Sirheni though, the Bushveld Camps were on the whole a lot better in my opinion. Small and private a world apart from Shingwedzi which I saw as soulless.

On return to camp I went straight to reception and asked if we could bring forward the Sirheni booking. Unfortunately we couldn't, they were fully booked for the following two nights but had a free place the night after. We were booked in then anyway.

I returned to Claire and told her what I'd decided.

She was in full agreement, we needed to change our plan. We went back to reception and together decided what we would do. We'd have to stay at Shingwedzi if we wanted to go to Sirheni, the option was to cancel Punda Maria avoiding the possibility that the accommodation was sub standard.

At short notice there wasn't much of a choice, we couldn't go north to south in one day. It was too far really.

We agreed we'd have one night in Olifants and two in Skukuza.

Skukuza? That campsite hell ?! All those people?

If it meant that I got to get on the internet and could go back to Biyamiti Weir I was prepared to suffer. In fact I was looking forward to the whole trip.

Our journey time back to Johannesberg would be cut by a couple of hours at least. We knew the way as we didn't have a map. I'd get another opportunity of photographing the Bat Hawk at Olifants ( I wasn't to know it wasn't a Bat Hawk back then) and best of all we'd get another Breakfast roll at Tshokwane. It would be nostalgia all the way!

I instantly cheered up and so did Claire.

What about Pafuri, the birds and Punda Maria?

We'd travel there tomorrow. If it was good, we'd go again, next time from Sirheni.

All was settled then

TBC

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Dave Williams

So, decisions made I was risking loosing some time in what was supposedly the best birding region in the park. We set off fairly early and to be honest it wasn't a problem waking up.

In Shingwedzi it wasn't the wildlife that woke you, it was the sound of diesel engines chugging past our bedroom window. It started at around 4.30am when presumably the night drive went out. At around 5.20 the first cars were heading to the gate ready for the off at 5.30. I wasn't be joining them today, instead I would have a wander around the camp to check out the birds there.

I drew a blank!

We got on our way not long after 7.00am but it's a long way to Pafuri, about a two hour drive. 

We passed by Boyela waterhole on the way and had a quick look. Nothing today but there must have been some very close views recently.

This recently departed Buffalo was right on the edge of the tar road!

Recently departed

Between there and Pafuri there had been little evidence of anything being alive out there. The scenery does change quite significantly as you progress towards Pafuri Gate, the flat expanses on either side suddenly become a bit more rugged, more hills, a bit more greenery.

Turning left just before the border post with Mozambique you take a tar road to Crooks Corner so called because of it's history as a gathering point for smugglers, thieves and poachers who could escape across the river to a choice of two different countries should the law come looking for them.

It was definitely a different scene altogether. The trees were tall and lush, too big to be accessed or damaged by elephant 

Pafuri

Not that far away the scenery was devastated by elephants.

Elephant destruction

and we had witnessed this damage as it happened in many places in the park but the north was particularly affected.

Elephant destruction

With the Elephant having few enemies their survival rate is very high and they are obviously breeding at a great rate too. We saw countless youngsters.

The clamp down on poaching and the ban on ivory in most countries has in itself created a new problem.

How to control Elephant numbers. Any suggestion of culling brings about howls of protest but if they are allowed to continuing destroying the habitat of lots of other species there will be a knock on effect.

No doubt a solution will be found, perhaps a compromise. Time will tell.

Meantime, I'm back in Pafuri and feeling a tad frustrated!

There is bird song everywhere but in the dense foliage it's hard to see anything and of course you can't get out of the car, well only at the picnic site.

Pafuri

The picnic site was surprisingly busy with a dozen or more cars and a couple of OSV's parked there too. Sadly it's another site that doesn't offer food and drink so for us it was onward to Punda Maria for brunch.

At least I'd managed some shots of one new bird but that was it.

Trumpeter Hornbill

Trumpeter Hornbill was a nice capture though!

I also got my best photo opportunities for White-fronted Bee-eater so that was another plus.

White-fronted Bee-eater

but otherwise it was very disappointing. 

We drove on to Punda Maria. I had heard and read great reports about the waterhole in camp there and that was one thing I was going to miss out on, I never did get to see it either, nor did I see what would have been our safari tent accommodation.

We did see the alternative chalet accommodation and it wasn't particularly impressive from the outside. It looked like a row of workers cottages which apparently they once were. It had originally been built as a camp for the anti poaching team 100 years ago.

They had a nice little restaurant and the shop typical of most camps.

We tried their toasties to see how they compared with Shingwedzi and fair do's, although the presentation wasn't as elegant they tasted equally good!

There was no reason to stay around the camp, we took the gravel road to get there, the S60 and had seen nothing. The temperature was now over 40c degrees. It was hot, dusty and uncomfortable.

Even the Buffalo were lying down in what little shade was available. 

Buffalo

Beyond them, Elephant digging for water in a dry river bed.

We headed south taking the rear causeway entrance to Shingwedzi.

A Marabou Stork was stood within only a few metres of the car and yet the heat haze made a sharp photograph impossible.

Marabou Stork

I decided to stay put for the rest of the day, it was too hot to be bothered. Claire still hadn't used her sunbed and never would do now. It was too hot to be under the sun!  They have a swimming pool in the camp but somehow they didn't appeal to us. We never did understand why, it just seemed inappropriate in the middle of a rest camp!

Even the Braii had it's drawback, well next doors did. I was using charcoal which doesn't smoke much, our next door neighbours were using wood and the acrid smoke coming from it drifted straight in to our dining area. I could see other chalets suffering all around the camp. Everyone seems to braii and the majority are using wood. It was another reason not to be too fond of Shingwedzi! 

TBC

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JayRon

Thank you for a great report so far... And I am so envy that you saw a honey badger. We chased a honey badger for 15 years (mainly because it is my sons favorite animal), but only got two short glimpses of one. So a really good effort two get some good pictures of one. Also nice to get your opinion on the different camps. Which have me wondering if I should find another camp than Shingwedzi <_< 

 

Looking forward to next chapter :) 

 

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Dave Williams

With our new plan in place I felt positive again. It's often the way that around the 3 week mark of a month's holiday you start to get a little travel weary, maybe start thinking of home. Well we do anyway. I was still enjoying myself but beginning to think that I wasn't seeing too much in the way of  new things...I guess familiarity was starting to set in, I would have been enthralled to be parked next to a pride of sleeping Lions three weeks previously but now they were boring. A Leopard feeding on a kill up a tree? When one has been stalking prey just 10m in front of you an obscured view of one eating up a tree just doesn't cut the mustard anymore! It was that really, I guess it was the amount of driving I had been doing, far more than I'd envisaged maybe? Well certainly in terms of comfort and time. Maybe an SUV would have been a more comfortable ride than the Suzuki we were given? Then there was the dust. You can drive all day with the aircon on but it's not the same. You need to hear as well as see things, feel the breeze as you drive along but dust was a problem. When a car was coming towards you you had to get the windows closed as soon as possible, but even if you managed it the dust still got through the system somehow. I guess it was hanging in the air, you could feel it hit the back of your throat. The interior of the car was thick with red dust. The other thing to consider is the speed at which you drive... 40kph on gravel, 50 on tar. At those speeds it takes a long time to get from A to B despite it looking a short hop on your map. Mind you, it's excellent for fuel economy!

Today however, I was going to go for it again. I was actually at the gate before they opened and joined the waiting queue of keen game drivers, nearly all of the half dozen cars appeared to be occupied by single men! 

I guess females have more sense than to be up that early or, more likely, they take longer to get ready for the off!!

Anyway, I was on my own and had decided to head north to the waterhole were we'd seen the skeleton of the Buffalo the day before. Boyela.

It's about 30kms from Shingwedzi, a 35 minute drive. I was following another car for most of the way but around a kilometre away from the water hole I caught a glimpse of something in the bush.

Southern Ground Hornbill!

Southern Ground Hornbill

Two males were working their way through the grass

Southern Ground Hornbill

They were only my third sighting and probably the best views so far.Not a bad start to the day.

I didn't stay with them for long as they veered off deeper in to the bush, instead I carried on to the waterhole.

Wow! Talk about timing! A young male Lion had just arrived to drink.

Lion

What a thirst!

Lion

He was there for what seemed like an age, just when you thought he's finished it was head down again.

Lion

I had got lots of photos by now and decided I would nip back and see what the Hornbill were up to. They'd gone deeper in to the bush and although visible were a long way off.

I went back to the waterhole and again, my timing was perfect!

Parked on the tar road the Lion had walked down the side of the parking area and was heading my way!

Lion

This time I was a safe distance away, maybe 20m.

Lion

So I felt quite comfortable as he crossed the road in front of me.

Lion

That was one well fed Lion!

Lion

The other two cars in the parking area were leaving now and one of them stopped to tell me the rest of the pride were lying down some 50m beyond the waterhole. Until I looked through my binoculars I would have completely missed them!

It must have been 7.00am by now so I returned to camp to see how Claire was getting on. I drove over the rear causeway entrance to camp and to my amazement found a new bird for the trip stood right out in the middle of the dry river bed.

Great White Pelican

I was delighted to make an addition to my list, new sightings were getting more difficult to find but I usually see Pelican associated with water, not where it's as dry as a bone!

Claire was up and ready for the off when I got back so we decided on the S50 again, the one that follows the river. Once again there wasn't that much to see.

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove

The emerald green spots on the Wood Dove caught my eye, they seemed brighter than ever in the dull light.

We saw Warthog

Warthog

and Steinbok

Steinbok

female Nyala

Nyala

Much the same as last time other than we saw a pride of Lion on the other side of the bank this time too.

Lion Pride

The weather was still very dull and in fact spots of rain started appearing on the windscreen. After a minute, enough raindrops to have to clear them with the wipers.Then before you knew it it was raining properly! It lasted all of 5 minutes before stopping and brightening up again. This was heaven sent though, at least the dust wasn't a problem anymore. Mind you as we continued south neither was the traffic, as of the last time I think perhaps just 3 or 4 cars passed going the opposite way in all of 50kms.

We took a look at the Nyawatsu bird hide but other than an Openbill Stork there was little to report.

African Openbill

We stopped to snap a Brown Snake Eagle

Brown Snake-eagle

and some Guineafowl

Helmeted Guineafowl

I am always trying for a better shot, those however weren't!!

Once again a short diversion took us to Grootvlei waterhole where one belligerent Elephant seemed to be looking for trouble.

Fight? Handbags!

The action was more a drawn handbags affair then a proper fight but it kept us amused for a while despite it being a fair distance away.

Moving on southwards we stopped when we saw a parked car to ask them what they'd found. "Oh nothing they replied, "we are watching the birds". They were surprised to see I was interested!

We ended up chatting for some while before eventually moving on. They told us that there were Lion and surrounding Hyena on a kill just off the road if we kept going south.

That sounded interesting so away we went.

We drove on and on. Past the Tropic of Capricorn Rd, past the Nshawu waterhole were I'd watched the Lion hunt and still no signs. This was getting silly.We were well south of Mopani now so we decided we might as well go and get some lunch there.

It was then back on the S50 and eventually heading north again.

That's where we spotted the kill. It had been obscured when we were driving south but noticeable driving north.

It shows how opinions differ between folks!

Just off the road was about 800m away! We'd driven at least an extra 30km in our search and to be honest, at that distance not even worth a record shot! Once again we were mounting up the kilometres on the clock, driving a long way for little reward.

We didn't fancy going all the way back to Shingwedzi on the S50 so tried our luck on the Tropic Rd again. Third time lucky it wasn't although we did get some decent sightings of a Kori Bustard.

Kori Bustard

 

Eventually back at camp I decided I'd had enough driving for one day. We also decided we'd try the restaurant that evening too. After chatting to the people on the next table we settled for one of the basic burgers on offer and to be fair it was pretty good. I was also recommended the Impala lager not the Castle I usually drank.Very nice indeed, nice for a change as was dining out!

It was off to Sirheni tomorrow. No choice other than to eat in! No restaurant there.

What we didn't realise was we would be very much "eating in".

TBC

Edited by Dave Williams

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wagtail

I love the way you always end with a 'teaser' , What we didn't realise was we would be very much "eating in".

 

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xelas

Raided fridge in Mopani?! Welcome to the club! We have lost an entire stash of food and drinks in Olifants, thanks to monkeys. 

 

Shingwedzi is a dusty camp yet they have Rentmeester House; and a very nice pool!

 

Next time, for finding the same location, use iPad and maps.me; Zvezda has a hibit to pin down each location she find interesting, and thus we are always able to return back to it.

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Hads

I too have experienced the raided fridge and cupboards in the rest camps.

Vervots love Mango's :(.

Great sighting of the lioness's setting up for a hunt. Cracking report Dave, loving the journey with you.

Interesting your thoughts on Shingwedzi - I have not stayed there yet.

Bring on your Sirheni chapter.

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Kitsafari

such great photos of everything Dave - and that initial shots of the lioness by the road were of her looking straight at you! i've had that sensation before with a young male staring in my direction, then began stalking towards me and i shrank from my corner further back in the vehicle but he had seen a warthog far behind the vehicle. when the cat looks into your eyes, you feel as if you can't breath!

 

Woohoo - a honey badger in daylight hours! so lucky!

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TonyQ

I'm really enjoying your report Dave. So well written and beautiful photos.

A fridge question. Are the fridges outside? If so, why?

If the fridges are inside, how does the Honey Badger get into the property?

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Dave Williams

The fridges can be in either location Tony. At Shingwedzi the fridge was inside the sliding doors and in the bedroom not in the outside kitchen as they have a problem with Monkeys. In some camps where you have an outside kitchen the fridge is beind a wrought iron gate which is secured with a bolt. No reason this couldn't have been done at Mopani..the concrete pillars on either side lend themselves perfectly to allow this to be put in place. Maybe that's the intention eventually but in the meantime a note off the door asking you to turn the fridge around is totally unacceptable in my opinion. I am after all a pensioner ! OK, a fit one but nevertheless you can't expect old people to swing the fridge around each time they have opened it besides the potential damage to the fridge outweighs the cost of at least providing a strap such as the one we used.I made my point at reception before I left.It wasn't a complaint, just an observation.

Overall, I think the camps offer excellent value, I know I am looking at it from a UK prospective and the current exchange rate. The £ is in a poor state but the Rand is even worse. I can understand why South Africans are more critical about the state of the accommodation because they perceive it as being a lot more expensive I imagine.

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Dave Williams

Once again it was time to move. The car packed up we were ready.

As I reversed out of our parking position in front of the chalet I was thinking to myself I was glad to be moving.

I snapped out of my thoughts when I heard and felt the car hit something. A nasty crunching sound.

You may or may not have experienced it yourself, I don't think Claire ever has but it's not my first time I have to admit.

A thin tree( must have sprung up overnight) was obscured from the view over my shoulder by the rear roof support and the raised headrest on the back seat. I did have a wing mirror though.

Should have seen it! Plain careless really. 

Oooops!

It's only a bit of metal, actually it was plastic when I think about it, no one was hurt. It was easy to fix but it still ruined my day. Claire was supportive , it was only minor but I was annoyed with myself. 

Hey ho! I eventually got the bill and it wasn't too bad the labour ridiculously cheap at 280R, the paint ridiculously expensive at 1800R but even so it still not worth bothering to claim on my excess policy.

The drive didn't get make the day much better either.

We tried the Red Rocks route again, then the S56 to Sirheni.

Nothing out of the ordinary to be seen and when I arrived in Sirheni I declared to Claire I wasn't going anywhere until it was the day we were leaving.

Our chalet in Sirheni was fabulous!

We had a big lounge/diner.

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

The kitchen was very well equipped with everything you could need.

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

The bedroom was big and spacious.

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

There was an outdoor but covered seating area

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

We were right in the corner so it was very quiet, very private.

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

I set off to investigate the two hides that are there but there wasn't anything to see although I did flush a Bushbuck that was grazing inside the camp fence.

The view from our chalet showed us that game was passing through.

Sirheni Bushveld Camp

We saw Impala, Reedbok and Zebra. The tragedy is that until a few years ago we'd have been looking at a waterhole but the dam broke and it has never been repaired so the two hides no longer have the same appeal they no doubt once did.

The only water was in the tiny little  concrete bird bath below our patio. I immediately filled it with water and during the course of the next 36 hours sat and watched to see what turned up whilst sat at the table processing my previous photos.

It was lovely to have a break from driving.

From a birding prospective the camp wasn't the best really but perhaps that was a view that was twisted by the fact that nearly all the species I saw had already been seen elsewhere.

Arrow-marked Babbler

Arrow-marked Babbler

Blue Waxbill

Blue Waxbill

Yellow-fronted Canary

Yellow-fronted Canary

Red-headed Weaver

Red-headed Weaver

and the ever present Cape Glossy Starling were some of the many that called in..

Cape Glossy Starling

There were however two new additions, one to the drinking pool, a Yellow-throated Petronia which I almost overlooked as a Sparrow.

Yellow-throated Petronia

The other I would never have found if one of the staff hadn't shown me exactly were to look!

This African Scops Owl is so well camouflaged and actually much smaller than the photo suggests.

African Scops Owl

I went back a couple of times before eventually getting a shot with an eye half opened as dusk was approaching.

I'd had a very restful day and a half but that was me ready to go again, so much so I  decided to spend the last hour of our second night there by driving over to the Boyela waterhole . It's a short drive maybe 10-15 minutes away and you never know, there might be some Lion action again!

Well there wasn't. But there were some Zebra but they were just leaving

Boyela Waterhole Kruger NP

One single Elephant monopolised the water for most of the time so I just messed about with that one.Boyela Waterhole Kruger NP

We didn't haver that many nights left in the park, might as well fill my boots with Elephant while I can, might be a long time before I get another opportunity!

Boyela Waterhole Kruger NPBoyela Waterhole Kruger NP

I have to say I did like Sirheni, personally I would definitely say it was the best all round accommodation for space and facilities. The camp itself wasn't as good as Shimuwini in terms of the views from the camp. Neither are as well placed as Talamati in terms of drives from the camp but Sirheni has excellent options too. It's certainly my view that Bushveld camps are a better proposition for us.

I have mentioned weather in my appraisal of the camps accommodation and for good reason. We were lucky that only on one night, and that was in Sirheni, were were obliged to "eat in" and that wasn't exactly true either. We ate on the undercover outside table. The problem was the wind.

In our corner position near to the adjoining bush, with an area littered with crisp dead leaves and the park in a drought there was no way I could risk a Braii when the wind was blowing so strongly.

One of the nearby chalets at Olifants showed the outcome and the risk of a flying spark.

Untitled

The flames had spread from one thatched roof to the neighbouring one too. Fortunately the fire was contained to the two chalets, no one was injured thankfully but two of the best located chalets are still waiting repair.

No, we used the provided oven to cook on this occasion  which was really useful. We would have been stuck in Shimuwini with the two poor gas hobs and no electrical appliances. The main camps all have restaurants of course. 

Quite literally food for thought before you decide what might suit you.

Or should that be thought for food?

TBC

Edited by Dave Williams

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xelas
21 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

it still not worth bothering to claim on my excess policy.

 

Well, those 127,00 Eur would cover the cost of my annual excess policy :)

 

Sirheni chalet looks indeed very comfortable. About Olifants burnt down, was the second one a twin? We supposed to have the one with the best view, it has a large porch connecting two rooms. As for the wind, sparks are something that makes me nervous (and Zvezda even more so). Sometimes it is just better to cook inside.

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Dave Williams
2 minutes ago, xelas said:

 

Well, those 127,00 Eur would cover the cost of my annual excess policy :)

 

Sirheni chalet looks indeed very comfortable. About Olifants burnt down, was the second one a twin? We supposed to have the one with the best view, it has a large porch connecting two rooms. As for the wind, sparks are something that makes me nervous (and Zvezda even more so). Sometimes it is just better to cook inside.

 

2080R for the damage Alex. My excess policy costs me £50 per year, that's about 950R. I decided if I claim it might come back to bite me in the bum when I renew my home car policy as well as increasing the cost of the hire car excess one. Has any one any experience of claiming or did you all manage to avoid trees!

 

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xelas
6 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

Has any one any experience of claiming or did you all manage to avoid trees!

 I have made a claim for a new tyre (Scotland roads were at fault) and WWI did an amazing job with refund. This year they have offered me to renew the insurance in July for the same price as last year (65 GBP); I have hesitated to do so and paid 87 GBP in October. Still very good deal, IMO. Of course, the best deal is when the extra insurance is not needed at all :lol:.

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Dave Williams

It's about 180 kilometres from Sirheni to Olifants so we were in no rush, we could get there with ease in 4 hours as most of the journey was on tar road. Instead of driving the S56 I headed straight to Boyela waterhole again. One last chance of something good perhaps?

A Bateleur! Well that was a bit different anyway.

Bateleur

There was also a large flock of Queleas flying around in their normal hyperactive fashion.

I decided I'd video it as my attempts to get a decent still image seemed doomed to failure.

You can double click on the following photo to watch.

Red-billed Quelea at the waterhole.

However, when I do look at the still shot there's another bird species in amongst the flock and I haven't as yet worked out what they are. Any ideas welcomed!

Quelea flock

I turned to Claire and said "Ready to go?" when suddenly an approaching group caught my eye, at first it was just Zebra but there amongst them a single Roan Antelope.

Roan Antelope

They approached with caution and I don't blame them, two days ago there had been a dozen Lions here, and judging by the skeleton of the Buffalo they were regular visitors.

Roan Antelope

They kept on coming forward. I was delighted, I had just two species left that I wanted to see, this had been one of them, the other Sable Antelope.

Roan Antelope

The Roan looked somewhat perplexed by the Bateleur and didn't come any closer until the bird flew away.

Roan Antelope

The Zebra though were extremely skittish. For no reason one panicked and the rest followed suit.

BH2I6737

Having left the water, the Roan didn't return either, leaving just the Zebra to quench their thirst.

Zebra

He waited until they had all finished and when they all left together so we did too.

Our next good sighting didn't come until we were almost at Mopani.

My 4th sighting of Ground Hornbill.

Southern Ground Hornbill

By now though it was really hot, and even though they were close, photography was out.

We carried on to Mopani and had some lunch enjoying the view from the outdoor seating in the restaurant. Way down below, I spotted some large black looking birds, I returned to the car for binoculars. Delighted with what I saw I then went back for my camera too!

Spur-winged Goose

Spur-winged Goose...and the only ones I saw during our trip. Most other diners seemed to bring all their photography gear with them to the table but I think that was more for security than attempting to use it. I must admit, I never once felt that my car was in danger of being broken in to in any of the camp car parks.

Continuing south it was hot dry and dusty. Mini tornados, whipping up dust and leaves were suddenly appearing on a regular basis.

Dust Devil

You wondered how quickly a fire could spread in these conditions and prayed no one would be stupid enough to throw a lit cigarette butt out of their car window.

The only other seen thing of note was a Purple Roller that posed quite nicely and for the first time for me, showed where they get the name from. 

Purple Roller

I always thought that Rufus-crowned was the more appropriate description.

Anyway, we arrived in very good time to see the nightly hunt by the "Bat Hawk". I stood for an hour before the bats finally emerged from their roost so keen was I to improve on my previous shots. It was one of the compensations if I had missed out on not going to Punda Maria.

Alas, my enthusiasm was not rewarded. From a birding perspective it was a no show.

I did see this little fellow run across the car park lot though.

Bushbuck

Causing one car to brake rapidly too!

Bushbuck

Our accommodation this time was in a different chalet. When we'd changed our booking we'd had little choice in where to go due to limited availability. Olifants was the really the only choice for a half way stop, Skukuza at the other side was reluctantly accepted although the positive was  that they had both wifi and allegedly, the best restaurant in the park.  Both accommodations we were informed had a shower/toilet but the Olifants one didn't have a kitchen, you used the communal one. 

 Olifants Rest Camp KNP

You did however have a fridge/freezer, table and chairs and a Braii. Good because I swore I wasn't eating in the restaurant there!!

Interestingly, although the view wasn't as good as our previous room we still had an impressive one.Olifants Rest Camp KNP

We had been allocated a room next to the one that you get charged another 235R per night for, purely for the view. Our original one you paid an additional 600R but it did have a decent kitchen and an outstanding view. It was only when we decided to light the braii we realised that not only no kitchen but no utensils, plates etc. They did give you two glasses though so at least the beer was not drunk out of a can. As our purchased choice for dinner that night consisted of ribs, corn and garlic bread it was a finger job anyway and I used our own bread knife and another to turn the food on the coals. Fortunately we were there for just a night!

Next day, Skukuza!

TBC. 

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zimreef

Thanks for posting this trip report. We’re planning to do something similar this time next year, so great information and food for thought. Really nice writing style and some super photos.

 

I’m not a birder, but would hazard a guess at the mystery birds with the queleas as white-winged widowbirds in non-breeding plumage. Could be miles off the mark though. 😁

 

 

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