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What started as an exchange of travel plans between two TA (and ST) members and fans of Namibia & Kgalagadi, way back in January of this year, has ended as an exceptionaly interesting visit to the South Africa's iconic park, the Kruger, and as one lasting friendship!

 

Debbie ( @@wildlifepainter ) and I have been exchanging quite a few emails as we have both fallen in love with Namibia and Kalahari. When she announced her and Jim's upcoming trip to Kruger, Zvezda and I were yet to start with the Kgalagadi trip, and I was still working on figuring out how to hard-sell the summer self-driving trip through Sri Lanka. In April I have already made my mind up about joining them, but had yet to speak with Zvezda about my intentions. Within mid June my sweettalk had done its magic, and flights were bought so I was more than happy to inform Debbie and Jim that they would be accompanied by us for about 8 days.

 

Below is our final itinerary; places in italic are those where we were guests of Debbie and Jim.

 

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Main Kruger accommodations were booked by Debbie already in 2015, I think. She went for "The Best View" in each camp, and those places all have 2 (or more) rooms with 2 (or more) bathrooms. Thus plenty of space not to »walk on each others feet«. Another important rule was that we would share the same part of the park but each would do their own game drives, cook their own food and drink their own drinks ( we did not strictly adhere to all of the above, and mostly forgot about the rule #3 :) ). Of course we shared the costs of accommodations 50-50.

 

Flying again with Turkish Airlines; it is an excellent option as it starts in Ljubljana, and has only about 2 hours of connecting time in Istanbul. This time around food and movies were again good, but seats not so much. Even for us short people like us the distance between rows was a tad too close. Zvezda decided she will never again sit by the window.

 

We arrived at JNB on time, and after 90 minutes spent at immigration, we had been again warmly welcomed by @@Peter Connan . He is just such a fine person, great birder and excellent photographer, and now I can also add, a close friend. Even though we were going to start the drive immediately after the landing, he took away some of his precious time (as you must know, he is building an off-road camping trailer) to meet&greet us, and to bring us some much needed photo equipment (plus more).

 

Rental car company was AVIS; they have office downstairs from the main arrival lobby. Before going there I visited an ATM (first floor) and Vodafon store. The pick-up process at AVIS was surprisingly quick; even though there were about 10 clients before me, it did not take more than 20 minutes for us to receive the keys of a fairly new Honda Mobilio. My frist choice and booked car was Toyota Avanza but unfotunatelly they ran out of them. Honda is in the same category, just a tad lower seating position. It is a big car, with a third row of seats. I liked its interior volume, and a lot of space in the trunk once the seats were stored away. Its engine was powerful enough for mostly flat and tarred roads, and suspension did its job on gravel ones.

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Louis Trichardt / 23. – 24. 10. 2016

 

 

My initial idea was to drive only as far as to Polokwane on the first day, giving some buffer for possible late arrival by plane or late departure by car. But once I have found Igababa Cabin ( http://www.zka.co.za/ ) it was a quick decision to drive all the way north. Also because based on advice by @@PeterHG I have made a contact with Samson Mulaudzi (http://www.birdingsoutpansberg-venda.co.za/ ) for a full day of birding on 24th. It was a good decision. The N1 highway is in excellent condition, and there was not much traffic all the way between JNB and Louis Trichardt, 450 km and 4 1/2 hours (with one stop). Arrived still in daylight, we left our luggage in the cabin and drove back down the hill a couple of kilometers to have a dinner with a view at Explorer's Restaurant at Mountain Inn Country Hotel ( https://www.facebook.com/Mountain-Inn-Country-Hotel-296134987192840/ ). It was suggested by Gail, the lovely lady that runs Zvakanaka, together with her husband Alistair. Perfect advice. There were only a handful other guests, the service was friendly and warm, the food as it should be in Africa: excellent, and the price well within reasonable. We immeresed ourselves into the Africa vibe immediately, and in style!

 

 

The barbecue area at Igababa Cabin

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Inside the room

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The porch and the jacuzzi

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Beautifully arranged

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Table with a view

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Makhado (Louis Trichardt) is down below

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You got me straight into the Africa vibe, too @@xelas, with the first installment of your report and the accompanying photos! It seems you got of to a flying start and the Igababa cabin looks like a great find. I'll have to keep that in mind for future visits.

Looking forward to more from both of you.

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Louis Trichardt / 23. – 24. 10. 2016 (continued)

 

 

It was early to bed as next morning Samson was waiting for us already at 6am. There were 4 more birders with him, two couples from Cape Town whom we would meet also in later days in Kruger. They came specially to find Broadbill, which means they were serious birders. We don't mind having a company, as we take photos of anything flying or having feathers anyway. In fact, I have booked Samson in June, for a private tour. But when he asked if we minded having some birders from Cape Town join us, as their only chance to find that bird was on this particular date, I've told him it was not a problem.
Early morning ... always starts with coffee
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During the first part of our trip we were birding together and during second part they said Good bye while we visited two more locations. Birding in the forest was tough, the target bird was not willing to show, and the rest of them were quite small and far away, so nothing worthy of posting. The other three stops were better specially birding around a small lake/pond on a private farm
First stop Roodewal Forestry
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Pied Kingfisher in flight over the pond
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Reed Cormorant looking after an easy meal
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African Pygmy Goose floating on the pond
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A curious Bar-throated Apalis
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Not only birds!
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A group of White-faced Whistling-Ducks in fly-by ...
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... followed by an African Swamphen
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Blue and green
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After the pond part of birding, Cape Town birders said Good bye while we visited two more locations. One was a "secret" spot where Samson knows where a rare Bat Hawk has its nest. We were lucky that both the chicks were in the nest, and the parent was close. Only the light was very complicated, results were not as good as we have expected. Finished the day with a lunch at a local version of KFC. The beer was cold but the chicken not up to the Colonel's requirements. A short but welcomed rain shower awaited us when returning to Louis Trichardt (or Makhado as it is named nowadays). More birding around the cabin, and the rest of the daylight we enjoyed in cool air and nice views.



Bat Hawk

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Also White-backed Puffback looked curiously at us

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Kurrichane Thrush with lunch

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A pair of Black Storks in rain

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P.S.: Black Storks were a surprise for our hosts at Zvakanaka; they really like the news we have seen them, and birds did hang around the property untill this week, as they have informed us.

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Towlersonsafari

hurrah! @@xelas a Bat hawk, a bat hawk! Our only sighting was also at a secret location near Polkwane in the company of a Birding route guide-a wonderful guide called David from Kurisa Moya-- the birding routes idea that helps train local folk to become bird guides and earn a living from that is an excellent idea. Looking forward to the rest of your report

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@@Towlersonsafari

 

Glad that you have mentioned this. Samson is a one of those local guys that have been transforming themselves from a hired hand on a Zvakanaka farm to an excellent birding guide. Gail told us about him, how he started et all. Very impressed.

I do hire local guides as much as possible .... as long as they are working on their own, and have reasonable enough rates. Samson's for sure was with ZAR 900,00 for a full day of birding (transport and food was on us).

 

I did realised Bat Hawk is a specialty, and that is why I am so unhappy with photos! However, through binoculars, the bird looked much crispier, and his(??) yellow eyes even more pronounced. As for the rest of my TR, birds will give place to other wildlife, as most of them have been posted in our Big Year 2016: http://safaritalk.net/topic/16379-zvezda-alex-big-year-2016-first-attempt/page-26

 

Thanks for reading, and please, do post more comments and info; the participation of others, and their knowledge will make my TR better, and readers will benefit more! This invitation is extended to all members/readers!

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Do not worry about the Bat Hawk photo, @@xelas. In those conditions it is still quite good. I also saw the Bat Hawk with Samson, but very high up a tree and my pictures are a lot worse. Even so, an exciting moment, as I'm sure it was for you. The Black Storks were really special, too. My hat off to Zvezdana for catching a Kinfisher in flight! I do think, however, it wasn't a Pied Kingfisher, but rather a Giant Kingfisher. Keep going with this report, please!

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Off to a great start @@xelas!

 

It is always fun meeting you and Zvezda. I consider myself lucky to have met some great people and real friends on this forum!

 

I think your Pied kingfisher in flight may just be a Giant instead?

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@@PeterHG and @@Peter Connan , nothing but sharp eyes you two have :) ! Indeed it is a Giant Kingfisher (not every w&b kingfisher is a Pied B) ).

So not to disappoint the Pied Kingfisher fans, here is a sequence of one fishing different location):

 

Ready

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Steady

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Dive

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Edited by xelas
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Great start @@xelas! I was waiting for your Kruger TR for a while and now will enjoy following your trip. Looking forward to seeing the next installment.

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Greatly enjoyed your birds in the Big Year thread, and now looking forward very much to the full story of your Kruger adventure. The Bat Hawk is a great find, never seen one.

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What a lovely PK sequence. I have been trying for years to get one like that first one!

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Dueling Giant and Pied Kingfishers in flight, not to be outdone by those splendid yellow napkins! The giant kf does have a different look the the pied. Having them both is even more impressive!

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@@FlyTraveler

 

Sorry to keep you waiting, but the Big Year posts got privilege :) ! But now till end of December, you will have something to read, each day :D .

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@@Peter Connan

 

Zvezda got similar PK sequence at various points in our trip. I will make sure those will be included in this TR.

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@@Atravelynn

 

Yellow napkins, you've got me :P I have to look twice through the photos before it dawned on me :D . We were lucky with Kingfishers this time around, close and personal they were, posing nicely.

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@@FlyTraveler

 

Sorry to keep you waiting, but the Big Year posts got privilege :) ! But now till end of December, you will have something to read, each day :D .

 

Thanks @@xelas! What are "The Big Year" posts?

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@@xelas

 

Great start and splendid pictures as usual. I love the curious looks of the Puffback and the Apalis, and the pied kingfisher sequence is brilliant.

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Punda Maria Rest Camp / 25. – 26. 10. 2016




The evening before Alistair recommended that we took the Pafuri Gate approach to Punda Maria. The drive itself is longer, but more scenic, and with less traffic of heavy trucks, he said. Plus we will be in the baobab country. We were all for it, as you know my nickname is mr. Plan B. However, when the morning arrived, a nice birding walk within Zvakanaka property, and a visit to Gail and Alistair's home resulted in our departure from Igababa Cabin being a bit late. Plus we still had to buy our provisions for Kruger NP. First we have stopped at the neighbouring macadamia plantation, for some (OK, many :P ) macadamia nuts, plus a bottle or two or three of macadamia oil. Next we have stopped in the town, both in Pick'nP'Pay and in the local store inside Makhado. Once on our way to Kruger, it was already noon, and there was not enough time anymore to do the longer route.


Foggy morning in the hills (You don't see the hills but they are there!)

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When the fog cleared the wildlife came out

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Looking for the shot (and now you see the hills!!)

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Cape White-eye giving "The Look"

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Driving towards Punda Maria Gate was uneventful. Traffic was not dense, but there are plenty of villages along the road, with related speed limits, and many 4-way-STOP crossings. As police force was out in force, it was a slow progress. Indeed the scenery was, well, like the chicken from yesterday. Edible but nothing to write home about.

 

Open market along the road

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Car wash - popular business in South Africa

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The road was busy most of the drive ...

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... sometimes with livestock ...

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... sometimes with school kids ...

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... and rarely was empty like the roads are in Namibia

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