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Kgalagadi September 2016: raptor kills and roadside rescue


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As we had proven that it was possible to drive the 1100 km to get to the park, to cater for ourselves and yet still have a holiday back in January 2015 (http://safaritalk.net/topic/14432-kgalagadi-summer-self-drive-and-self-catering-in-south-africa-january-2015/), we decided it was time to return. South Africa has been our September safari destination for the past three years, due to the strength of the Pound to the Rand. Now we have Brexit, it may be the sole destination for years to come....


I have also worked out the best use of air miles and had managed to book the flights with a one way upgrade to business using miles (no availability in the opposite direction).


September is peak safari season in South Africa and supposedly the best time to go, so it would be a nice contrast to our summer and "wrong" time to go trip last year. Given the ever increasing popularity of the park, especially with locals, with the huge bang for small buck (Rand not Spring-) and the ability to camp and self-cater, booking was going to be the main issue. For our January trip, I just booked a few months out online and took what was available (3 main camps and 1 wilderness camp). It was not an issue. The idea of being so organised 11 months in advance is a bit of an anathema to me, but needs must. There are tales of people queuing in person at the SANParks offices at the crack of dawn and still not getting the dates and camps they wanted, so I was very nervous. The SANParks booking system opens 11 months in advance on the first weekday for in person, phone and email bookings and on the following day for web bookings. With the time difference, using the phone was not an option as this would coincide with my commute to work. So email it was. No-one could really answer how they prioritise these, so given my friend is a Travel agent, we figured that his email may get priority over one from me. This may be completely false, but it was worth a go. I gave him our dates and preferred camps with alternatives and crossed my fingers. To my joy, we got rooms for all the nights we wanted and mostly at the right camps! Wilderness camp availability was an issue, so they substituted my desired Kieliekrankie or Urikaruus with Mata Mata. Given that we had Kalahari tented camp, this was a bit annoying, as we would then have 6 nights in the same small area, however, at least this would be separated by 3 nights in Nossob. C'est la vie. When the online bookings opened the next day, there was almost zero avilability. A few campsites here and there and some nights at TR but nothing at all at Nossob. Good job we didn't wait for this! Almost immediately I was able to change the Mata Mata hut to a riverside room and grab one night at Urikaruus, reducing to 5 nights the stay in the area. That was the last change I was able to make though, despite checking a few times a week, including after the deposit deadline (when some people lose their bookings) and at payment deadline (the one that I nearly missed - http://safaritalk.net/topic/16555-nearly-lost-my-sanparks-ktp-september-reservation/).So our itinerary was:


Joburg (1 night)

Upington (1 night)

Twee Rivieren (2 nights)

Mata Mata (2 nights)

Urikaruus (1 night)

Nossob (3 nights)

Kalahari Tented Camp - Honeymoon tent! (3 nights)

Upington (1 night)

Joburg (1 night)


With 11 nights in the Park, we managed to fit in one more than our last trip. Just had to wait for the 11 months to count down....


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So the trip got off to a good start. We arrived in good time to Heathrow (traffic was surprisingly light) and proceeded to check in. The desk clerk started to put priority tags on the luggage and I twigged - we had been upgraded! The leg where I could not spend my miles to upgrade as there were no seats, we got a free upgrade anyway. Result! Having never been upgraded in my life before January, this was now twice in a row and on the same flight too! Unfortunately the flight was delayed by over an hour, which is very unusual, but I didn't care.


Arrivals at OR Tambo was busy, as now seems to be the norm. An hour plane to car rental desk.


We caught up with our friends with whom we were staying the night and then off to the supermarket and wine shop to stock up on supplies.


Next day off to a B&B in Upington. We were a bit blase about leaving and had a leisurely breakfast beforehand. We soon regretted this as the distances are huge. Unfortunately this meant we arrived into Upington in the dark (something I like to avoid in South Africa) but we made it!

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Day 1: Twee Rivieren, 11/9/16


As there is currently no unleaded petrol in Twee Rivieren, we stopped in Upington to fill the tank and get a few last minute supplies. It was a Sunday and we were therefore very surprised to see that Checkers was open. We were able to buy a poitkje (but pretty poor quality) and some salad ingredients. I was given a free bunch of flowers in the petrol station as they were out of date, so every customer got some. I think I must be one of the few people to arrive in the KTP with flowers!


It was a grey, overcast day and we did not see a single raptor on the telegraph poles parallel to the road. In January there were loads of pale chanting goshawks. We did however see lots of road kill:


Bat-eared fox 3

Cape fox 1

Western barn owl 1

Slender mongoose 1

Unidentified mess 4


Not so good :(


We filled up again just outside the park as instructed by SANParks and arrived at the park in good time. Check in was smooth. Just needed to unload the entire car.....


We decided to drive up the Nossob, as we had mainly avoided that side last time, as they were constructing the new road.


One of the first sightings was of black-shouldered kites. I was driving so didn't have a good angle. However, this is one the OH managed - his self-proclaimed best shot of the holiday, on the first drive!!




I managed to tick off a new bird - desert cisticola (you can see how overcast it was it got up to 27 degrees though)




And we saw some sociable weaver building their nests






a female red-headed finch






We turned around to head back towards camp, where we found this beauty (well, it is in the eye of the beholder)




She was on a mission, presumably to get to her cubs and the way the road bent, it meant we could keep going ahead and wait for her to approach again (once the other 2 vehicles got the general idea)












We had a really long sighting, but we had to tear ourselves away to get back to camp before gate closing time. A good start!


And then we found these guys...






Glad to be back!

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Day 2 Twee Rivieren, morning drive, 12/9/16


It was still very cloudy and we decided to go up the Auob valley. I had the 7D mark II and attached it to the 100-400 mark II, given it is quicker.


On one of the viewpoints we found a herd of wildebeest and springbok that this jackal had his eyes on...












Lots of birds








Including a new one for us - a rock kestrel
















And this tawny eagle who was either practicing or thought this stick was a snake






Eventually the cloud burnt off














And we saw a pair of Gabar goshawks




And a black-shouldered kite trying to warn off a black kite - look at the size difference!








A closer view of a black-shouldered kite






Lots of bird action!

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Hurrah! another KTP trip report-love the kestrel and black shouldered kite close ups! @@Tdgraves so having been at different times of the year, what is your favorite?

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@@Towlersonsafari what a tricky question! It was very hot in the summer, so sitting still at sightings was difficult (no air flow/air con) but it was nice to see green and flowers. Gate opening times are longer as well. In the spring there was a wider temperature range but the park was much busier. AM gate times too late for nocturnal creatures this time. Both nice but different I'd say....

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@@Tdgraves - Lovely pictures of the black-shouldered kite - a beautiful bird.

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Ahhhh, Kgalagadi! Bring it on, @@Tdgraves ! BTW what model of car have you rented that is using unleaded petrol?

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Ahhhh, Kgalagadi! Bring it on, @@Tdgraves ! BTW what model of car have you rented that is using unleaded petrol?

Glad to see you are back @@xelas I hope the Kruger was good to you


It was a Toyota RAV4 automatic (booked a manual but they had none in stock) so like a 4x4 but only 2WD - the consequences of which will be seen later in the TR.....

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Looking at the Tawney Eagle @@Tdgraves we were there in September 2015 and also saw a Tawney Eagle stick wrestling and adding them to its nest. We always play safe and go for a 4x4 although part of that is cos we have never driven an automatic! Now you have added a note of "mild peril" to your report!

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Looking at the Tawney Eagle @@Tdgraves we were there in September 2015 and also saw a Tawney Eagle stick wrestling and adding them to its nest. We always play safe and go for a 4x4 although part of that is cos we have never driven an automatic! Now you have added a note of "mild peril" to your report!

Did you not get that from the title?@@Towlersonsafari

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Such beautiful pics!


Maybe I will change my destination to Kgalagadi next time.

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DOH! sorry @@Tdgraves ;looking forward to hearing all about it!

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The tawny eagle must be practicing since an eagle is obviously too smart to mistake a stick for a snake. I think that those photos of the two kites facing off are just fantastic. I just love this trip report.

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@@Tdgraves -


Add my kudos to the portraits of the Rock Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite!


And neat behavior shot of the Tawny Eagle practicing with the stick.

Edited by offshorebirder
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Day 2 Twee Rivieren, in camp and afternoon drive, 12/9/16


I am obviously out of practice at this safari lark as I was unable to have a siesta. So I kept myself occupied finding birds around camp


White-backed mousebird




Groundscraper thrush




Common scimitarbill








And a non-bird




We go off for a drive up the Nossob. It is fairly quiet and only reaches 22 degrees.




Black-headed heron




More goshawks














Several vehicles were parked at the Rooiputs water hole (including an OSV from the lodge about 200m away - I'd be pretty annoyed if that were my "game drive" from a lodge) and they remained there until we drove past again. We could not see anything on both passes, but clearly they knew something was about, our guess was the cheetah mother and 4 cubs.












A striped mouse




Fork-tailed drongo




Wahlberg's eagle




And back to camp for dinner.

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Here are some pictures of the cheetah mum with four cubs you assumed you missed out on - her name is Corinne and this is her second litter, the first litter of four left her earlier this year.





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What a photo to start a trip report on! Wow!


And it seems to just get better too.

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@@Tdgraves, I will echo @@Peter Connan about the opening photo - totally amazing. Many more nice photos thereafter, in general - great safari trip to KTP. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the report...

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Glad to be back!


@@Tdgraves with some outstanding sightings already superbly documented I can see why...


Those black-shouldered kites studies are wonderful. Matt

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Day 3 Twee Rivieren, morning drive, 13/9/16


We were changing camps today, up to Mata Mata, so we decided to go up the Nossob valley in the morning. It was minus 1 when we set off. Brrrrr. Unsuprisingly, it started off quiet as everyone was trying to warm up!! I had the 5D today.


Lots of vehicles were hanging around Rooiputs again, but there was no sign of whatever was supposed to be there. However, while we were going slowly trying to see what they were apparently seeing, we were attracted by movement on ourleft "it's a jackal" said the OH, au contraire, this little Cape fox was digging a hole....




to find some breakfast!












It was quite far away, so I didn't take that many photos. My attention was drawn back thorugh the windscreen, where a tawny eagle was chasing a flock of doves. So we drove a few metres down the road and found this, the first raptor kill of the trip.













And from the 7D






We had to turn around to get back to camp and pack up to check out. We had a quick stop at another waterhole, where sandgrouse were drinking












And back for breakfast and packing

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Great trip so far - love the Cape Fox, and the Tawny shots are fantastic.

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I have to say that I've never seen a Cape fox myself,and they are high on my list of animals that I'd like to see. I'm looking forward to seeing one for the first time

among many other things when I stay for a full ten days at Tswalu Kalahari Camp next year. Hopefully I'll even see a caracal,and a pangolin for the first time. I have only seen a bat eared fox twice,and I'm looking forward to more sightings. I've only seen both aardvark and brown hyena twice so I can't wait to see more. There are so many birds that I can't wait to see.

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@@optig you have a great chance of all of those species at Tswalu, especially with such a long stay. We managed all except the pangolin and caracal (although we saw spoor). All of our previous Cape fox (2) sightings have been at night/twilight, so it was lovely to be able to photograph one in full sun.

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Day 3 Transfer to Mata Mata, 13/9/16


First, a couple that I missed from the morning drive :(




Jackal buzzard




It is supposed to take about three and a half hours to get to Mata Mata, depending on sightings. As it was about 11 when we got going after packing up, buying some fresh bread and eating breakfast at the picnic site, there was not really much about to stop for, but there are always birds! It got up to 28 degrees.


Slender mongoose




Rock kestrel




Black-shouldered kite






Spotted thick knee




Yellow canary




We saw our first giraffe




These two secretary birds were mating (which looks like quite a feat) but as soon as we stopped, so did they!






We approached a couple of parked cars, but couldn't see anything. As one of them drove off, they pointed out the cheetah cubs asleep in the shade. Of course, as soon as they moved, they were more obvious, if far from the road...




By the time we got to Mata Mata and unloaded the car, we were pretty tired and just decided to relax in camp, rather than retracing our steps on another drive. I tried hunting out some birds in camp, but that was also quiet.

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