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Kruger Jan 2018: Birding and braaiing in the park


Tdgraves
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This is probably my longest delay ever in starting a TR. It just goes to show that now the Big Year thread is much more important!!  ;)

 

We were later than usual for this trip as we had initially planned to go to Sri Lanka in Jan 2018. However, we had just paid for our Zimbabwe safari when I got the quote for this and we could not afford it, so Sri Lanka will now be Jan 2019. This meant booking flights many months later than we would usually do. Because we use miles to upgrade, we ended up about two weeks later than planned, due to availability.

 

 

 

 

We had a lovely day trip to Rietvlei with @Peter Connan in 2017, so this year we suggested a similar trip to Marievale, to which Peter immediately agreed. Our friends in Joburg who put us up, both in town and in their country lodge are in the process of moving to the Cape, so there would be no trip with them to the country as they were busy doing final preparations for the move, but we did see them at either end and stayed in their house for a final time :(

 

Itinerary

 

27/1 Arrive Johannesburg 

28/1 Marievale day trip and then Drive to KNP Berg-en-Dal 2 nights 

30/1 Skukuza 2 nights

1/2 Lower Sabie 2 nights

3/2 Satara 3 nights

6/2 Letaba 3 nights

9/2 Drive back to Johannesburg

10/2 Return to UK

 

As we were spending all of our time in the park, we had to try to plan some relaxation whilst we were there.

 

We arrived in the middle of the India South Africa test match, which necessitated a slight detour in town (India went on to win). As it happened, they were playing an ODI on the day we left as well! (South Africa won that one)

 

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Day 1: Marievale bird sanctuary, 28/1/18

 

Peter had asked us to meet him at 5.30, but given we had travelled the day before, we were staying with friends and did not know the way, I thought it may be nearer to 6 am when we arrived. Despite our friends telling us that they were always up at 5 am, they did not wake to see us off and it was really weird to leave Joburg in the dark. The advantage of leaving at 4.30 am is that traffic is not an issue. We missed one turning in town (despite having Sat Nav) and were doing well with time. It was already pretty much fully light when we arrived and had to sign in to the reserve. There were lots of blue and common waxbills, amongst others, on the side of the reserved road, but I did not want to stop and be late. However, we were a few minutes later than needed, as we drove straight past the hide (not signposted) and well into the reserve before asking a security guard and finding out we had passed the hide way back and had to turn around. Peter didn't seem to mind us being late though, as there was plenty of space in the hide.  The hadeda hide is right on a pond and we had some excellent photographic opportunities

 

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Peter then suggested that we explore the rest of the reserve and there was plenty to see

 

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As well as driving us around, @Peter Connan also made up some breakfast. How's that for SafariPals service?!? Many thanks Peter, we really enjoyed our birding morning.

 

The reserve was quite busy, as it was the weekend, but it didn't impact on us. We had a lovely day and would definitely come back. But for now, we had to get going, so that we could get to the KNP before gate closing time. The road up to the motorway was in a terrible state with the biggest potholes I have ever seen,, due to the mining truck, so initial progress was slow. We then made good time across the N4 until we were much nearer to the park. We hit traffic and were stationary for about half an hour, for no apparent reason. Time was slipping by and the idea of an evening game drive became more and more remote. When we finally checked into the park, we decided to drive the 12 km to camp slowly, rather than rushing around for a game drive, as it had already been a long day. We did not see much up to camp, but it was very nice to be back in the park. Dinner in the restaurant after unpacking and then a very, very deep sleep.

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Almost forgot - we also saw some otters in Marievale. When my OH spotted them, I'm not convinced that @Peter Connan believed him at first.....

 

Photos not great though, as they were far away

 

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African clawless otter - my first wild otters!

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Peter Connan

@Tdgraves, not that I didn't believe him, as I see them on around half my visits there, it's just that I couldn't see them for a frustrating amount of time.

 

Thanks for the kind mention. I really enjoyed the day too!

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21 minutes ago, Peter Connan said:

@Tdgraves, not that I didn't believe him, as I see them on around half my visits there, it's just that I couldn't see them for a frustrating amount of time.

 

Thanks for the kind mention. I really enjoyed the day too!

 

Only joking!

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Day 2, Morning drive, Berg-en-Dal, 29/2/28

 

We awoke to light rain and decided to go up over the mountain road, the S110. The first thing we spotted was a hyaena. As I was driving and on the wrong side of the vehicle, this was from the OH.

 

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Then it was birds, birds, birds....

 

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and a squirrel

 

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and more birds

 

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and a klipspringer

 

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and near to camp, these guys

 

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and back to camp for breakfast

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michael-ibk

Wow, @Tdgraves, what a fabulous birding outing at Marievale, excellent stuff.

 

On 6/10/2018 at 4:59 PM, Tdgraves said:

It just goes to show that now the Big Year thread is much more important!!

 

It seems to be taking over our lives. ;)

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A great start, and what an excellent birding trip with Peter.

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Day 2, birding around camp Berg-en-Dal, 29/2/28

 

I was unable to sleep at siesta time, so I had a wander around camp with the 7D. I usually find this camp fruitful, there are lots of trees and you can normally find a purple-crested turaco...

 

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1 hour ago, xelas said:

Birding in January in southern Kruger is really impressive, @Tdgraves !

 

Always is @xelas!

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@Tdgraves I love KNP. Looking forward to the rest of your report.

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Day 2, Evening drive, Berg-en-Dal, 29/2/28

 

We set off over the mountain road to do a short loop back up the tar road to camp. This brown-crowned tchagra was our first sighting.

 

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There was no one at the waterhole, but plenty more birds

 

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And we able to get unusually close to this go-away bird

 

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Nearer to camp, some more of these guys

 

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And back to camp for our first Kruger braai!

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Day 3, Morning drive, Berg-en-Dal, 30/2/28

 

We awoke to drizzle so it was quite dark. We decided to go on the tar road to start with. I had the 5D today.

 

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we had already covered quite a distance and not seen much. We were on a road we had not been on before where there was a water hole and we were treated to a lovely sighting of hyaena. @Big_Dog you might appreciate this...

 

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This guy tried eating my car

 

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By the time any other vehicles arrived, it was all over! We had a pit stop at Afsaal picnic site and what should be see on the way back south?

 

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more hyaena!

 

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Back to camp for checkout and a lovely breakfast in the restaurant.

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Wonderful Hyena pics @Tdgraves. 'Also nice shots of the grey lourie.

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michael-ibk

A really lovely Hyena sighting, and expertly captured.

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I really like Hyenas so great to see such a wonderful sequence.

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Day 3, Transfer to Skukuza, 30/2/18

 

here is one I missed form the morning drive, courtesy of the OH

 

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The purple-crested turaco made an appearance at breakfast, causing an outbreak of far eastern long lenses....

 

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Since it was the middle of the day, we didn't see much en route

 

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We arrived after check in time and were able to move into our palatial digs (first time staying in a named guesthouse, as a way of being on the river front)

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Peter Connan

What a great Hyena sighting! Isn't it amazing how often the really interesting sightings happen in bad or at least abnormal weather?

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21 minutes ago, Peter Connan said:

What a great Hyena sighting! Isn't it amazing how often the really interesting sightings happen in bad or at least abnormal weather?

 

@Peter Connan just goes to shoe, you should never miss a game drive! Makes sightings quieter, but photography harder though...

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Day 3, Evening drive Skukuza, 30/2/18

 

As we had a long drive already to change camps, we decided to go to the Lake Panic bird hide, which we had never been to before. It is very close to camp and so we had a little drive at both ends. When we arrived, there were quite a few people there, although they did not seem to be into photography or birding so much and they soon left.

 

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We had a bit of a buffalo road block when we left

 

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Just enough time to pop to the low level bridge on the river

 

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A pretty successful birding trip. We ate for the first time in the Cattle Baron and apart from the excessive air conditioning, we were really impressed. It is like eating in a proper restaurant, not a compromise due to it being in the park. Very pleased.

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Towlersonsafari

lovely hyenas @Tdgraves  can you kindly advise on the pros and cons of Skukusa? we have never stayed there

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42 minutes ago, Towlersonsafari said:

lovely hyenas @Tdgraves  can you kindly advise on the pros and cons of Skukusa? we have never stayed there

 

@Towlersonsafari we have stayed there a couple of times and have had good experiences. I was also put off initially by its’ size. It is extremely well situated in the park for the rivers and given it is right next to Sabi Sands, is supposed to be excellent for leopard. We have not been lucky in that regard, but have had some amazing wild dog sightings there. Yes, it is a really big camp, but if you avoid the main area at lunch time, when all of the OSVs arrive to refuel their guests, it is not busy. We have stayed in perimeter rooms and apart from driving in and out, you are not aware of a huge camp behind you. Given that there are so many roads to choose from, it never seems too congested, except perhaps when the gates first open. As I said above, the cattle baron is excellent and the parks shop is the best one in the park. I got some really good birds there this trip. When the selati restaurant was open, it was my favourite in the park (sigh). Hope this helps.

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Towlersonsafari

Thanks very much indeed   @Tdgraves that is very helpful. i will be asking a similar question about Leteba when you cover that in your splendid report!

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