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Tdgraves

Kruger South to North September 2019: Rooineks and rare antelope

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Tdgraves

As you are probably aware, we usually go to the Kruger in January, as a way to break up our miserable winter. We are therefore used to lush greenery and sometimes flowers, with fat game, babies and migrant birds. However, the best time to go to Sri Lanka for the migrant birds was also January, so this year we got to go to KNP in the peak season, allegedly the best time for game viewing. But would we like it, with no grass, bare trees, fewer birds, but most importantly, more people?

 

As usual, out flights were booked using air miles and were very comfortable.

 

Because our friends have retired to the Cape, we no longer have a Joburg base and needed to find somewhere else to stay on the first night. There was no reason that this needed to be in Joburg however, with the added traffic and expense. On recent trips, we have been on a birding morning with our safaripal @Peter Connan after his and @xelas trip to Zibulo, I was intrigued. It is of course, en route to KNP. Peter was free, so a date was made, now for the accommodation... Being in the middle of mining country, it is hardly on the tourist trail, however, I found a hotel in Evander, about a 30 minute drive away which looked o.k. and the added bonus was that it had self-catering rooms, meaning somewhere to store our food and freeze our meat.

 

In the past we would often also spend a few nights at our friends country lodge, as this was also out of the question, we had some extra nights to play with. This meant that we could venture further into the park and stay in two camps that we had not been to before. We ended up with a pretty comprehensive south to north itinerary and our longest stay in the park so far, 13 nights.

 

We went from the airport into Joburg to sort out supplies - we are very familiar with the mall and so felt happy leaving all of our belongings in the car in the covered car park with security, whilst we sorted out food and wine, a new SIM and had lunch. We then set off for the relatively short drive to Evander, not realising that the main motorway around Joburg was closed, as the bridge was broken, so it took rather longer than planned to leave town and upset the satnav! Although the hotel is in the middle of nowhere, it was busy, being the start of the weekend and somewhere nearby must be a mountain biking area, as every other car had bikes on its' roof. Once we checked in, we just went to sleep, as it had been a long day and we had an early start the next morning.

 

Itinerary

 

30/8      Arrive JNB. Drive to Evander, Fortis Hotel

31/8      Zibulo bird hides. Drive to KNP, Berg-en-Dal 2 nights

2/9        Lower Sabie 2 nights 

4/9        Skukuza 2 nights 

6/9        Satara 3 nights 

9/9        Shingwedzi 2 nights 

11/9      Punda Maria 2 nights 

13/9      Stay Pheasant Hill, outskirts of Pretoria

14/9      Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve. Fly home  

 

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Tdgraves

Day 1: Zibuko bird hides, 31/8/19

 

The journey from the hotel was simple, but despite Peter telling us not to take the main mine road, we followed the satnav and the sign, like automatons into the main mine road, before turning around! @Peter Connan and his OH had decided to camp out the night before, as he had issues driving into the rising sun the last time and also wanted to try some astrophotography. We had planned to be there before sunrise and agreed on 6.30 am, but the sun did not play ball and it was already light when we arrived. The set up is well thought out and clearly had photographic input - none of those annoying high stools or lack of angle through tiny windows. The hide where the Connan's were camped is partly submerged, so low level water shots can be achieved, if the birds play ball....

 

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It was intermittently cloudy, so we had real issues with the light

 

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but we did get a bit of golden hour

 

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We had lovely light for the red-knobbed coot, but as no one else seemed to want to join in, we decided to walk to the next hide.

 

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The next hide we went to was also low,but not submerged. There was a narrower view, so all three of us could not get an angle on everything. Also, there is a hide on the other side of the dam, which got in shot a few times..

 

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This heron landed on a dead branch right in front of us, but I think it was scared off by the "machine gun" fire shutter noise!

 

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Time to walk back up to the cars

 

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When we got back Peter's OH was awake and Peter made us all a well deserved cooked breakfast. We said our goodbyes whilst Peter went off to the hide at the main mine, as we wanted to allow ample time to get to the park, having been plagued with delays last time. We had one last sighting though, this secretary bird was standing in the middle of the main road and flew off as we approached!

 

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There didn't seem to be the range of birds as had been earlier in the year, but we still notched up 37 in a few hours. It would be interesting to see at different times of the year....

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xelas

The light on your Coot is a wet dream of any photographer! If nothing else would be seen, that first photo is a reward for driving to Zibulo!

 

Kruger south to north, and the selection of your camps, promises yet another great trip report, @Tdgraves. Don't spare with details or photos.

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Peter Connan

Really looking forward to the rest of this!

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Tdgraves

Day 1: Evening drive, Berg-en-Dal, 31/8/19

 

As it had already been a long day, we decided just to do a short loop up into the hills behind camp to see what we could see. It was 32 degrees and very hazy. We had sightings of elephant, rhino and buffalo, but strangely, I have no photos of any of them! I had the 5D.

 

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and a little guy from the OH

 

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Back to camp for a meal in the restaurant and an early night....

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Tdgraves

Day 2: Morning drive, Berg-en-Dal, 1/9/19

 

 

One of the advantages of being here in September is that the gates don't open as early, so there is chance of a tiny bit more sleep! We aimed to be out as the gates opened every day. However, you also do not get the advantage of camp gates opening before the main gates, so in places such as Berg-en-Dal, there is the possibility of encountering traffic sooner, although it was never an issue for us. September gate times are 6.00-18.00. I had the 5D again today. We left camp on the tar road and aimed cross country towards the Biyamiti weir. It was 15 degrees when we left and 25 by the time we returned. Our first sighting was not very far out of camp at all...a martial eagle on a convenient perch.

 

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We then encountered a small traffic jam. Being at the back, we couldn't see what is was. It was still very early and after our travel day, I was tired. I had automatically lifted up my camera when we got to the sighting, but had failed to turn it on. No sooner had we stopped, than a big male leopard got up and walked off into the bush. I had it in my view finder, but couldn't work out why the camera wouldn't focus. Because it was switched off, doh! Never mind, it would only have been a proof shot, but a leopard on our first full day in the park. This had to be a good omen, didn't it? Needless to day, I was fully alert from that point onwards....

 

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It turns out that September is a good time to see duiker...

 

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and white-crested helmet-shrikes...we had multiple sightings of both

 

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and of course there were lots of birds

 

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We had to ask what the parked vehicle in front were looking at...as our were eyes clearly not adjusted to the bush properly yet, although to be fair, it was quite far away from the road!

 

 

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We then made our way up to Afsaal for a break. It was already getting busy for brunch, especially with OSV day trippers. We then turned south and headed back to camp via the mountain roads. There were a few birds, but not many photos from that part of the drive. We did have a couple of close encounters though. This guy was very chilled....

 

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it was already getting hot

 

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there were 4 rhino trying to cross the road and they got spooked when they got close and a car arrived after us...

 

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We spent a while chasing small birds in the bushes, including a bush shrike (better photos to follow)...

 

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and by the time we got back to camp, six hours had passed! Epic game drive...

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Dave Williams

This will be interesting comparing notes. All looking very familiar so far!

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Tdgraves

Day 2: Bird walk, Berg-en-Dal, 1/9/19

 

This camp is not one that I would normally associate with problem primates, but I am always careful about not putting food onto tables until we are ready to eat. What I hadn't counted on was that the vervets would see powdered milk in a sealed, opaque, container as food. One immediately jumped up and started to try and open it with its' considerable teeth. A large male or smaller female human shouting and making themselves look bigger were apparently not at all scary and it just came back at us with aggression. It managed to get the lid off and a huge pile fell onto the floor, which it proceeded to sit and eat, a couple of babies also joining it. Not the most satisfying lunch, I would have thought, but he certainly liked it. The most aggressive and least scared of humans vervet I have ever encountered and it looks as if this will be the next camp to have a big primate issue. 

 

This camp is however associated with good birding, so I always try and do a lunchtime walk between drives. It is amazing how different these are each time. The most striking thing about the camp was how busy it was, it is often bypassed by people travelling further into the park and that the dam which the restaurant overlooks was completely dry. I am used to seeing hippos and water birds there!

 

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I even got my first ever shot of a specacled weaver

 

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and only my second ever sighting of a bearded scrub-robin, who was very obliging

 

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As was this golden-tailed woodpecker

 

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This was all at the bottom of our "garden" and the first half of the time spent on my walk covered just a few metres!

 

The next hotspot was near the campsite, where a firefinch and blue waxbill evaded me

 

 

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This hornbill looks like it stole (or was given) something from the braai

 

 

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And these guys were playing near our room

 

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Time to cool off ready for our next drive...

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Tdgraves

Day 2: Evening drive, Berg-en-Dal, 1/9/19

 

It was still only 25 degrees when we got in the car. As we had a long morning drive, we decided to pootle up the mountain road and it turned out to be very quiet. I took 10 shots as did the OH - some kind of record I would have thought.

 

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Back to camp for our first braai...

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TonyQ

You did well for birds on you lunchtime walk.

The Scrub Robin is lovely 

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Hads

Thanks for the trip report @Tdgraves - looking forward to following along .

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Tdgraves

Day 3: Morning drive, Berg-en-Dal, 2/9/19

 

My OHs 50th birthday! It was only 13 degrees as we left camp and 25 when we got back. As it was a changeover day, we decided to go up the gravel mountain road, as we would be using the tar road later to drive to Lower Sabie. I had the 7D today. Our route was along the S110 and across onto the S118 and back, as we had to check out by 10am.

 

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and a couple from the OH who had a better angle

 

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Back to camp to pack up and have breakfast in the restaurant....

Edited by Tdgraves
typo

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Ritsgaai

@Tdgraves, you had an excellent start and the photos are outstanding...as usual. I am looking forward to the rest.

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Tdgraves

Day 3: Evening drive, Lower Sabie , 2/9/19

 

We had transferred across to Lower Sabie and although I wrote that we had seen a lot of game on the way over, neither of us had lifted the camera.

 

A black-headed oriole entertained us whilst we sat and had a cold drink after unpacking

 

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As we had already had a long drive, we planned not to go too far. It was 25 degrees.

 

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The first of the rare buck - nyala. We usually have a couple of sightings per trip, but they were everywhere this time....

 

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Our first ever KNP purple heron

 

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The zebra were gathering on the road, I assume to spend the night..

 

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We crossed the bridge at the right time...

 

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And were at sunset dam, at sunset...

 

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A couple from the OH on the other side of the vehicle with the 5D

 

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Back to camp for a birthday braai....

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TonyQ

The Nyala are beautiful antelope 

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Tdgraves

Day 4: Morning drive, Lower Sabie , 3/9/19

 

It was 13 degrees when we woke up and cloudy, which unfortunately did not really clear for long. I had the 5D today. We headed North towards Skukuza and then over the bridge and back on the S30 and S128. It was pretty quiet.

 

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Back for brunch...

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Tdgraves

Day 4: Bird walk, Lower Sabie , 3/9/19

 

When we got back to the room, the orioles were going crazy - because this guy was sat in the tree...

 

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Rather than having a rest after brunch and then going on a walk, the sun came out and there was lots of bird activity around, so off I went...

 

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Now I needed a rest!

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Tdgraves

Day 4: Evening drive, Lower Sabie , 3/9/19

 

The clouds had passed and it was a balmy 31 degrees when we left camp. We did the Mlondozi picnic area loop and saw lots of birds...

 

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Including a couple of new ones...

 

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mocking cliff chat

 

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yellow-throated longclaw

 

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some from the OH

 

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Back across the bridge....

 

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For sunset, at sunset dam....

 

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and back to camp, for this....

 

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Tdgraves

Day 5: morning drive, Lower Sabie, 4/9/19

 

It was 11 degrees as we left and it rapidly climbed to 29 by the time we returned, for a change, there were blue skies. We went south towards Crocodile Bridge via the tar road and back on the S28. I had the 7D today. Our first sighting was a small pack of wild dogs - our only sighting this trip.  There were no other cars...

 

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And plenty of birds...

 

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Back to camp to pack up and move on after breakfast in the restaurant.

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Tdgraves

Day 5: Transfer Lower Sabie to Skukuza, 4/9/19

 

First stop was the sunset dam

 

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And then along the tar road next to the river.  A couple from the OH who was on the correct side of the vehicle...

 

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there was then a huge pride of lions on the march, but we really struggled with the heat haze...

 

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They all settled on the rock and to the left was a herd of buffalo, but everyone was resting and we moved on, not stopping for anything else until we reached camp.

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Tdgraves

Day 5: Evening drive, Skukuza, 4/9/19

 

Given that we had already done lots of driving, the plan was to go to the Lake Panic bird hide, which is close to camp. However, as we approached, we found that others had the same idea, including an OSV. It was standing room only and the water level was low, so after a couple of proof shots, we were off and it was time for plan B.

 

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Plan B was to slowly drive to both low level bridges, to see what was about, which was the sum total of not very much...

 

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So we were onto Plan C, a quick drive along the river....

 

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Where at least we had a close sighting of a few giraffe

 

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and a waterbuck in the nice light

 

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We were very nearly back in camp when we found a giraffe attempting to sit down to sleep. I think that we disturbed it, but it then gave us a highly unusual chance of a silhouette (I'm not sure that we have ever got an animal sunset silhouette in the Kruger before)

 

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We had caused a small queue of traffic also wanting to attempt this, so we moved on back to camp to get ready for our excellent meal at the Cattle Baron.

 

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TravelMore

Love, love loving this report and pictures. Must have beem amazing to see so many zebra!!

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Atravelynn

Such variety, much of it in nice light.  I like all the "body parts," especially the zebra teeth, and will keep that approach in mind.  And I believe you about the leopard.

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TonyQ

What an excellent sighting of the Wild Dogs, beautifully photographed. You saw a great selection of birds. Very enjoyable!

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