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A Summer of Swifts and Swallows – Kruger, Kgalagadi & Augrabies Falls (Jan. 2020)

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

A Summer of Swifts and Swallows – Kruger, Kgalagadi & Augrabies Falls (Jan. 2020)

 

Hello everyone. This report will detail a recent trip to South Africa in early January 2020. As this really will be quite a long report, I have split it into two sections, one for Kruger and the other for Northern Cape. Overall, this was a very successful trip with excellent sightings, mammalian, avian and reptilian.  

 

Part One: Kruger

 

Day 1 – Johannesburg to Skukuza

Day 2 – Skukuza and Blyde River Canyon

Day 3 – Blyde River Canyon to Punda Maria

Day 4 – Punda Maria

Day 5 – Punda Maria to Mopani

Day 6 – Mopani

Day 7 – Mopani to Johannesburg

 

Part Two: Augrabies Falls and Kgalagadi

 

Day 8 – Johannesburg to Augrabies Falls

Day 9 – Augrabies Falls

Day 10 – Augrabies Falls to Kalahari Trails

Day 11 – Kalahari Trails to Nossob

Day 12 – Nossob

Day 13 – Nossob to Twee Rivieren

Day 14 – Twee Riverian

Day 15 – Twee Riverian to Mata Mata

Day 16 – Mata Mata

Day 17 – Mata Mata to Twee Rivieren

Day 18 – Twee Rivieren to Johannesburg

 

Barn Swallow, Pioneer Dam, Kruger National Park

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Opening Comments

 

As this will be a long one, I intend to split the trip report. Hopefully there will be daily updates on the Kruger section, then perhaps I will take a short break before the adding the Augrabies Falls-Kgalagadi section. I have titled this trip report in honour of swifts and swallows – two bird families which were naturally abundant during summer and they are honestly my new favourite animal to photograph, being so acrobatic and graceful.  

 

Kruger produced some top sightings – better than I expected. The South was a little crowded (it was Christmas holidays) but sightings were still very good. The North also produced some superb safari moments and probably the No.1 sighting of the whole trip. As Kruger is so well mapped, I will also add the approximate route we took for each game drive. This was my third visit to Kruger – the first time doing a longer self-drive – and it was certainly the best.

 

Augrabies Falls was added to the itinerary as a two night-break between the safariing and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Wildlife (especially bird) sightings were very good and park had few human visitors. Finally, we headed for Kgalagadi. Though the landscapes in the park varied hugely – some parts near Mata Mata were extremely dry, while parts of the Nossob riverbed looked more like English countryside than the Kalahari – sightings were still superb. The highlights from this final stop being plenty of cats, the “Kgalagadi-special” sighting of a lifetime, one exceptional migratory bird as well as an unusual kill.

 

Photos taken on Nikon D500 with Sigma 60-600 and Canon G3x. I took this trip with two friends, one of whom only had time for the Kruger section; both had had visited SA before, and we agreed unanimously this was a fantastic classic safari. A final note: in this report I will be as accurate and detailed as possible, though this is solely based on this trip – I mean nothing else but to relay my experiences, both positive and (rarely) otherwise, of the places we visited. Owing to the current worldwide situation, I hope this makes for a relaxing and entertaining break. I was fortunate to take this trip just before the pandemic; naturally, my heart goes to those more seriously affected.

 

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Edited by adamt123

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

Weather and Climate

 

We were visiting in the wet season, but rain did not affect our itinerary. On the SANParks forum, I had read of heavy rain/flooding and road closures in southern Kruger through early/mid-December, but by the time we arrived at the beginning of January everything had cleared up. The South was green – exactly what one would expect in January. However, parts of north Kruger, including Pafuri, were still pretty dry. The area around Punda Maria had fared better with some rain, though Mopani was again moderately dry. Whilst we in the Kruger region, the only rain to speak of was some very light drizzle at the Taita Falcon site in the Blyde River Canon on day two. We had good sun for most days – only the first two days were somewhat overcast. Temperatures were consistently hot with daily peaks around 38-41 Celsius, but never exceeding that.

 

Matekenyane Lookout, South Kruger

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Pafuri, North Kruger

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We happened to visit Augrabies Falls on a few cooler days, with temperatures hovering no higher than 35. Mornings were very cool which made for ideal conditions when taking the walking trails. By the time we got to Kgalagadi, things heated up again with temperatures again around 37-40, but not any hotter. As the heat in Kruger was far more humid, it felt far hotter there; the Kalahari sun was balmy by comparison. It rained on quite a few nights in the Kgalagadi, with strong thunderstorms at Nossob and Mata Mata, however, as these always came by night, they never affected our game drives – there was no driving through water, for example. As mentioned above, some parts of Kgalagadi had received good rains and were brilliantly green, whilst others were quite the opposite. I have visited SA twice in their summer and once in their winter – I can say wholeheartedly that I prefer the summer in terms of climate – though that’s partly down to luck, I guess.

 

Augrabies Falls

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Jan se Draai, Nossob Riverbed

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Sitzas, Auob Riverbed

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Edited by adamt123

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Treepol

@adamt123 what a wonderful combination of a summer trip to South Africa’s flagship parks.

 

Looking forward to North Kruger, an area I was hoping to visit next year. Sadly this is unlikely now but on the upside there is more time for planning and refining itineraries based on the firsthand experience of like-minded Safari goers.

 

KTP is one of my favourite parks and a recent TR from Augrabies will make good reading when you have time. 

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mtanenbaum

Thanks for the stunning photos. I especially like the two wild dogs play-fighting. I am looking forward to reading more about your trip. I am supposed to go to Kenya in Feb 2021 and am already worried about whether it will be possible. So I am enjoying dreaming about Africa through others' photos.

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BRACQUENE

@adamt123

 

Great start and like @mtanenbaum it's the wild dogs photo I  prefer but those dreamy eyes from the lion are not bad either! 

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Towlersonsafari

Looking  forward  to your report @adamt123 it looks like it was a splendid  trip!

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xelas

While I would prefer to stay both weeks in one park, your trip report will be read with great attention.

 

Also, it is the first time I have noticed someone using a 60-600 Sigma zoom. It will be nice to hear (read) what your first hand and on-the field experiences with this 10x zoom lens was.

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adamt123

thanks everyone for your kind words. 

 

@Treepol and @mtanenbaum fingers crossed everything works out!

 

@xelas I'm honestly not the most experienced photographer but I thought the 60-600 worked well in terms of image quality and have the extra zoom range was great, especially for some of the mammals.

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

Day One - Introduction

 

We had flown into Johannesburg a day earlier and spend the night at the Protea OR Tambo. The following morning, we took the 10am Airlink flight to Skukuza. We arrived at Skukuza on schedule and collected the hire car from Avis, a Fortuner. However, there was an issue with our luggage - unfortunately, some of our suitcases were missing. The airport staff cofniremd with Joburg that the luggage had been loaded on to the flight then looked through the airport’s CCTV and saw that the suitcases had accidently been taken by someone collecting other holidaymakers for Imbali Lodge. Somewhat ironically, this was the first lodge I stayed at on my first safari in 2016!

 

We informed the airport staff that we would be staying at the Protea Kruger Gate and the assured us not to worry and that they would get the luggage from Imbali and drop it off to us. In the end this worked out fine and we got out luggage the same day without issue. Game viewing on day one consisted on two short game drives around Skukuza, the first just off our flight in the midday, and the second in the late afternoon. The short interval between the game drives gave time for some rest and a short but productive walk around the Protea’s property.

 

Day One – Game Drive One

 

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It was rather cloudy as we finally set off from Skukuza Airport at 11.45, though still very warm. The idea was to take a short game drive along the “Sabie Triangle” (H1-2, H12 and H4-1) before taking the H11 out of Paul Kruger Gate. A game drive taken at midday in midsummer was unlikely to produce any of the big cats the area is famous for, but nonetheless sightings on this first game drive were generally good.

 

The first animal of the trip was a White Browed Scrub Robin, a new species for me, and this was shortly followed by another new one – Southern White Crowned Shrike. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first mammal was Impala. Fortunately, the H1-2 had little road traffic, even though it was New Year’s Day, and one of the highlights was stopping at one of the Sand River bridges and admiring a stunning breeding plumage Great Egret. This was the first time I had seen one in breeding plumage and the green lore with the elaborate plumes were quite something to appreciate. A handful of Village Weavers and a Striated Heron with a very interesting hair-do accompanied the egret.

 

White Browed Scrub Robin

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Southern White Crowned Shrike

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Impala

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Great Egret

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Striated Heron

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Sand River

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Another highlight sighting on the H1-2 was a gorgeous Tawny Eagle sitting handsomely on a branch inside the riverbed. The Sasol guide defines this colouration as “streaked morph”; I’m not sure how common it is, but this certainly the only one I have seen. The raptor was a very cooperative model and allowed for some great shots.  The H12 was quiet but we did find a large herd of Impala. The H4-1, aka the Skukuza-Lower Sabie Road, was very busy, with lots of cars travelling in both directions. Nonetheless, we had some nice sightings of a few Yellow Billed Kites as well as Lilac Breasted Roller, Tawny Flanked Prinia and Southern Black Flycatcher.

 

Tawny Eagle

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Impala

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Yellow Billed Kite

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Southern Black Flycatcher

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I can rather proudly say that I was the one who spotted the highlight of the game drive – an African Barred Owlet. Prior to this trip, I have had absolutely abysmal luck with owls in Africa, but here we were on the first game drive with one of the slightly less common species. The owlet was sitting on a low branch about a metre from the ground and quite close to the road, allowing for some good shots. Needless to say, our stopping attracted the attention of plenty of other cars, but everyone was well mannered and as we had found the bird, we were able to position the car for excellent shots anyway. It was coming up to around 2pm as we left the owlet, so he went down the H11 quite quickly. The road produced a lone Greater Kudu, Laughing Doves, Natal Spurfowl and a distant soaring Lappet Faced Vulture.

 

African Barred Owlet

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Greater Kudu

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Edited by adamt123

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adamt123

Protea Kruger Gate

 

We stayed at the Protea over the Skukuza rest camp because it’s a good Marriott redemption and it gave a break from SANParks camps – its was nice to order room service, for example. Though the property is relatively large, I actually quite liked as it retains a tranquil ambience, overlooking the Sabie River and with large trees around the grounds. A very short walk around the property produced some nice species, with Vervet Monkeys playing around and grazing Bushbucks. The highlight was a Purple Crested Turaco; the colourful bird was very jumpy and a real (though enjoyable) challenge to shot. Bearded Scrub Robin and a plump African Green Pigeon (for once in good lighting!) rounded off my walk.

 

Vervet Monkeys

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Bushbuck

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Purple Crested Turaco

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African Green Pigeon

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adamt123

Day One – Game Drive Two

 

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At around 4.30 we set off again; by this time, it had brightened up quite a bit. After entering from Paul Kruger Gate, we immediately left the H11, travelling west bound on the S3. This was the first time I had taken a drive in this part of Kruger and the scenery was spectacular; everything was lush green and large trees hung over the road, especially on the S1 (Doispane Road). On the S3 we met our first Plains Zebra and more Impala, including a few nurseries. From the birds, European Bee Eater were present in abundance as well as their fellow migratory Red Backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes. We also had a nice encounter with an African Wattled Lapwing and its chick. Traffic on this road was generally light, though we did see the SANParks safari truck.

 

Zebra

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European Bee Eater

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Wattled Lapwing

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We exited the S3 on to the S4 which was generally similar in scenery to the former road. The highlight of this short gravel road was a male Bennett’s Woodpecker. There were no other cars and we admired the bird for some time; as far as I can tell, Bennett’s is the least commonly seen of Kruger’s 4 woodpeckers, so that was a nice sighting. Moving on the S1, sightings included more Impala (including a few nurseries) and the common birds as well as a male Purple Indigobird and a juv. Bateleur very close to the road.

 

Bennett's Woodpecker

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Impala and Red Billed Oxpecker

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Bateleur

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The sighting of the day was a Leopard on the H11. As we were approaching that road, I could see a good number of cars under a tree, right past the intersection of the S1 and H11. Based on the simple logic that interest in tree = leopard (fingers crossed), we quickly made our way down. Indeed, the most cooperative female leopard was waiting. The sighting was very good; the cat was still other than occasional head movements, totally unobstructed and close to the road – about twenty metres away. Much like with the owlet, I found everyone to be mostly well mannered – with a sighting like this, thirty minutes before gate closing on the main road to the main gate and on New Year’s Day no less, there would expectedly be some crowds, but overall, I was well pleased with the shots I got.

 

Leopard

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After spending as much time as we could admiring the feline (a good 20 minutes – she wasn’t going anywhere but gate closing time was fast approaching), we quickly headed down the H11 and called in for the night. Overall, this had been a marvelous first day with rather unsurprisingly the leopard in the evening (and the owlet in the afternoon) being standout.

 

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Athene

just signed in and found your report - wonderful, I am very much enjoying it.

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JayRon

@adamt123Great start to the trip report :) And a great itinerary ( I done that trip 2 times in 2014 and 2019 ;) I wrote a trip report on the Kgalagadi part 2019 if you are interested https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20371-kgalagadi-and-mabuasehube-selfdrive-the-adventure-of-a-lifetime/ ). To me, Kgalagadi and Kruger is just the perfect combination. You get desert and bush and loads of different sightings. And compared to other places it is not to expensive. I can see that you had some great sightings, so really looking forward to the no.1 sighting of your trip and the rest of the report  

 

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adamt123

thanks @Athene  

 

@JayRon just finished reading your report - and what a trip you had! :) I particularly loved your caracal and the brown hyenas, and I most certainly agree that Kruger and Kgaladai  make for a great combo.

 

 

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

(I forgot to mention at the start that if any IDs need correcting feel free to let me know.)

 

Day Two – Introduction

 

Day Two was the busied day of our itinerary. Initially, I had planned to take the S1 out of Phabeni Gate and then visit some of the attractions on the Panorama Route/Blyde River Canyon before finishing off at the Taita Falcon site and spending the night at Island River Lodge near Hoedspruit. The plan changed, however, when I heard reports of wild dogs on the H1-1 – the road out of Numbi Gate. The dogs were apparently near Skukuza and one of them had a broken leg, so they were moving slowly along the tar road. After short consideration, we decided to take the H1-1, though this doubled our driving for the morning, the decision was well worth it, and not just for the wild dogs.

 

Before we headed off from the Protea, I did have a stroll around the property. This dawn walk proved fruitful with a female African Goshawk sitting silently in a forested patch of the property near reception being the highlight. I also found Chacma Baboons, Bushbuck and African Elephant in the dry Sabie River, though it was still pretty dark. The park gates open at 05.30 in January; I think we got there around 5.40ish and there was quite a queue – it took us about twenty minutes to gain entry. However, when we were in the park, the cars were well dispersed, and we didn’t have any issue with crowds.

 

African Goshawk

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Day Two – Game Drive

 

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Though the distance between Paul Kruger Gate and Numbi Gate is only about 60km it took us a good 4 hours. Things got off to a superb start on the H11 with a young White-headed Vulture. I have a bit of an aim to “collect” all the Old World vultures and this getting the white-headed vulture was my number one target bird for Kruger. A colony of White-backed Vultures and a few Tawny Eagles were also present, so we stopped for about ten minutes before driving relatively quickly towards the H1-1, hoping to get to find the wild dogs…

 

Paul Kruger

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Vultures

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Tawny Eagle

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…and find them we did! A pack of 14 individuals walking down the H11, just pass the H1-1 intersection. As they were on the road it was a very close encounter – some passed by only about a metre away and we were totally surrounded! Behind the wild dogs was a small convoy of cars (coming from Skukuza) but as the animals were travelling towards us, we were able to get some very nice shots. Indeed, this was the pack with the injured (and emaciated) dog; the nasty break in its foreleg was clearly visible and it was walking quite slowly, which meant the whole pack was travelling at a slowish pace. It was heartwarming to see those animals who had gone ahead wait for the poor soul and as well as those staying behind and walking at its pace. Once the dogs had completely passed us, we decided that we did not wish to follow them further.

 

African Wild Dog

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Continuing further down the H1-1, there was little human traffic but a good number of animals, including Zebras, Shrikes, Cisticolas and Green Woodhoopoes. At around 7 am we alighted at the Matekenyane Lookout. This afforded excellent views over southern Kruger and produced Pin Tailed Whydah, Marico Sunbird and Violet Backed Starlings. The highlight was seeing an abundance of lizards, both Giant Plated (Matobosaurus validus) and Rainbow Skinks (Trachylepis margaritiferabasking on the sun – the first reptile encounter of the trip. Continuing further east, more typical Kruger species showed including Laughing Dove, Woodland Kingfisher, Grey Go Away Birds, Magpie Shrike and Arrow Marked Babbler.

 

Zebra

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Green Woodhoopoe

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Matakenyane Lookout

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Pintailed Whydah

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Giant Plated Lizard

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Rainbow Skink (Male)

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Rainbow Skink (Female/Imm.)

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Arrow Marked Babbler

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We soon arrived at the short S66 access road for Transport Dam, where the famous “Battle of the Kruger” was filmed in 2004. Making our way along the rather bumpy gravel road, another car had stopped at a Red Crested Korhaan. Though these are common birds in Kruger, this sighting was indeed special. The male bird was inches from the road and was going to put on his display for us. It was a magical experience seeing his wine coloured crest emerge and hearing his extraordinary call. After about ten minutes he dully headed back into the bush and so we continued to the dam. 20 minutes at the dam itself produced a respectable list of species too: Blue Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Hippos, White-faced Whistling Duck, Egyptian Goose, Knob-billed Duck, African Fish Eagle, soaring Bateluer, Grey Heron, Water Thick Knee, Blacksmith Lapwing and African Pied Wagtail.

 

Red Crested Korhaan

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Transport Dam

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Blue Wildebeest

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Waterbuck

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Bird Selection

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Blacksmith Lapwing

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On a side note, these parts of southern Kruger are well known as rhino country, but we saw neither black nor white, making this my first time on safari without seeing rhino. Continuing further towards Numbi Gate, we did come across another signature mammal though, Giraffes (interestingly these were the only giraffes we saw in Kruger) as well as a handsome male Steenbok. We then took the S11 gravel road, hoping to get a glimpse of the klipspringer which inhabit the rocks around the road, but unfortunately, they didn’t show. Nonetheless, the detour proved well worth it with an excellent sighting of a family of Dwarf Mongoose playing around what I assume was their den. The S11 also produced a very close encounter with some Helmeted Guineafowl, including one unfortunate mite-ridden bird. 

 

Giraffes

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Steenbok

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Red Backed Shrike

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Dwarf Mongoose

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Next came the standout bird sighting of the whole Kruger section of the trip (and 2nd overall): European Honey Buzzard! Though these are relatively common in Europe, they are uncommon/rare migrants to SA. I have never seen one before and was at first confused by the ID of this bird – I thought it may have been a common buzzard, however, the “beaky” head and slit-shaped nostril are diagnostically EHB. The raptor was sitting on a tree right on the road (close to Pretoriuskop) and was very cooperative for shots; again, we had the sighting all to ourselves and it truly was a highlight of the 18-day trip. The final species rounding off this superb game drive were plenty more European Bee Eater as well as both  migrant Spotted and resident African Dusky Flycatchers.

 

European Honey Buzzard!

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African Dusky Flycatcher

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Spotted Flycatcher

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Edited by adamt123

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adamt123

Day Two – Blyde River Canyon

 

The area outside Numbi Gate is quite run down, though we drove by without any issue until we arrived at the pleasant little town of Hazyview. Here, we filled up with petrol (or diesel rather) and went to the Checkers supermarket to pick up a few supplies for the days ahead. After a quick early lunch, we were back on road towards the Blyde River Canyon. There are a good dozen stops on the route, but we decided to visit only two for time, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Three Rondavels. ­­­­

 

Panorama Route

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It was certainly hot, but the afternoon still proved to be enjoyable. Though the potholes were a little busy, there was still opportunity to catch a few more species – Yellow Throated Petronia, African Pied Wagtail, Lesser Striped Swallow and Mocking Cliff Chats were all present. Travelling further north, the Three Rondavels were quieter and by the time we got there is was pretty overcast. This area is home to one of the world’s largest Cape Griffon colonies but unfortunately, not a single bird showed – the landscapes were still impressive though.

 

Bourke's Luck Potholes

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House Sparrow

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Yellow Throated Petronia

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African Pied Wagtail

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Three Rondavels

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By 3pm we arrived at the Taita falcon spot on the R36, near the J.G. Strijdom Tunnel. This is reported to be one of the most reliable spots in southern Africa (if not the world) to see the Taita falcon, a diminutive and uncommon raptor named for Kenya’s Taita Hills. A pair of birds have made the cliff their nesting site but sightings here are still somewhat sporadic. I did, however, check ebird and the pair had been sighted frequently before and after our visit. Approaching from the south, the place to stop is about 200 metres before the tunnel (it’s more obvious if coming from the north). We parked the car and were met by the Birdlife guide who monitors the site. It was raining very lightly but this soon subsided, and we spent about half an hour hoping the falcons would show. They didn’t. We did, however, get Cape White Eye, Cape Rock Thrush, Violet Backed Starlings and Red Winged Starlings. As seeing the falcons was always going to be a little hit-and-miss, so I didn’t mind too much that they were absent and no one else was overly concerned either. Having said that, the stop was worth it, and I wouldn’t hesitate in trying again.

 

Taita Falcon Spot (R36)

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Cape White Eye

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Cape Rock Thrush

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Violet Backed Starling

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Red Winged Starling

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From the Taita falcon spot is was about another 30 minutes to the Island River Lodge, a small establishment set within riverine forest which we chose primarily for its location, as an ideal spot between the Blyde River Canyon and Phalaborwa Gate. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos, but the lodge was nice enough; it had quite a remote and secluded vibe and made for an adequate one-night stay.  

 

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Peter Connan

Fantastic!

 

Really enjoying this.

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michael-ibk

A great report so far, beautiful pictures of both animals and landscapes. Terrific to see such a green Kgalagadi! I'm looking forward to Augrabies, a surprise hit for me a few years ago.

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xelas

Excellent sightings, and your gear (aka Sigma lens) was up to the challenge.

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adamt123

Thanks @Peter Connan 

 

@michael-ibk Yes - the green Kgalagadi was great to see!

 

@xelas Yes the Sigma did well. One note I would make on the lens is that is suffers quite badly from chromatic aberration/purple fringing. Of course, this can be corrected but that is my only slight negative comment on the lens. 

 

 

Without Correction (220mm)

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adamt123
Posted (edited)

Day Three – Game Drive One

 

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We left Island River Lodge earlyish and drove to Phalaborwa Gate. It was about 8.15 once we had gotten out of the Gate and were in the Park again on the H9. Both the H9 and H14 were generally quiet with both few cars and mammals. Nonetheless, the two roads, which have very similar mopaneveld flora, did produce a handful of nice sightings. From the mammals, there were a decent number of lone bull Elephants, including a few specimens enjoying the mud. Birds included Little Swift, Laughing Dove, Sabota Lark, Bateluer, Marabou Stork, Magpie Shrikes and Cape Starlings. The two roads also produced the first Common Buzzard as well as the first European Roller of the trip. This latter migrant was somewhat uncommon throughout our Kruger stay – we saw two or three max., compared with a substantial number European Bee Eaters.

 

European Bee Eater

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European Roller

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Laughing Dove

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Marabou Stork

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Common Buzzard

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Elephant

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Sabota Lark

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Little Swift

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At around 10.30 we arrived onto the main H1-6 artery which would take up to Shingwedzi, before becoming the H1-7. An interesting sighting on the H1-6 were around a dozen migratory White Storks circling just off the road – from a distance they appeared like vultures, not sure exactly what they were circling. This area also produced the only Intermediate Egret of the trip and the sole Warthog – on previous trips to Kruger I have seen this mammal frequently, but this was in fact our only sighting this time around. Mammals were generally few, though we did get more elephants enjoying the mud. The scenery in this area was overwhelmingly mopaneveld – I hadn’t expected it to be quite so endless, though occasionally a handsome baobab would appear in the horizon. In terms of animals, it was quiet – we easily drove for an hour without seeing an impala or LBJ.

 

White Stork.

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Intermediate Egret

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Warthog

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Elephant

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Baobab

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Having said that closer to Shingwedzi things did get better. Driving along the Shingwedzi River, we encountered a surprise pack of African Wild Dogs crossing the dry riverbed. Now the sighting wasn’t great, but I did manage to get a photo. This certainly raised our excitement and we spent some time in the area trying to trace the dogs but to no avail; it was still a nice little sighting though, no matter how short.  The H1-7 north of Shingwedzi again produced a handful of nice sightings: the sole Brown Snake Eagle of the trip, the first large flock of Barn Swallows, a distant African Spoonbill, a scattering of Cape Buffalos and a mixed herd of Waterbuck and Impala in a surprise patch on non-mopane.

 

African Wild Dogs

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Barn Swallow

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Cape Buffalo

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Waterbuck and Impala

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After 6 hours of driving, we were finally closing in on Punda Maria. At this point we decided to leave the H1-6 and try the alternative gravel S58 instead as our final approach road. I had read that this area after good rains is sometimes home to the elusive black coucal, but as north Kruger was pretty dry, I wasn’t expecting to see it. The S58 did, however, produce a nice pair of Saddle Billed Storks, a few female Nyala as well as groups of Green Woodhoopoe, Southern Grey Headed Sparrow and Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

 

Saddle Billed Stork

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Nyala

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Green Woodhoopoe

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Baobab

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We finally arrived at Punda Maria at around 3 – seven hours after leaving Phalaborwa Gate – I will give my review of the rest camp on day 5. For now, however, suffice to say we were pleased to be out of the car and eating ice creams. This was my first time in north Kruger – the furthest north I had previously been was Orpen/H7. To be honest I was a little surprised at the mundaneness of the mopane, especially because this was in contrast with southern Kruger which had far more interesting and majestic landscapes. That the smaller side roads were generally more productive than main roads would be trend that we would continue to observe throughout north Kruger. Of course, before leaving we knew the length of this journey and coming back home and writing this, I note that not all parts of north Kruger were the same. As I will detail, the S50 road near Mopani Camp, directly parallel to the main H1-6, was teeming with wildlife. However, at that moment in time, I was feeling a little down knowing that we were going to be spending much of the rest of our Kruger time in this seemingly endless Mopaneveld. However, I now note that these was a somewhat premature judgement, especially as special sighting was waiting for us that evening…

Edited by adamt123

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Posted (edited)

Day Three – Game Drive Two

 

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I had a bit of a headache this afternoon but decided to go out for a short one-hour game drive just before sunset. We took the S99 Mahonie Loop which produced some good sightings – Pied Cuckoo, Impala, a quick sighting of Steenbok, Meves’s Starlings, both Natal and Crested Francolins as well as Cape Buffalos, with one individual and its accompanying Red Billed Oxpeckers proving to be a great model. Coming back towards the H13-2, we had an excellent encounter with a troop of Chacma Baboons, and as we had some time to spare, we decided to head further down the H13-2.

 

Pied Cuckoo

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Impala

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Buffalo and Oxpecker

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Chacma Baboon

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After about five minutes we arrived at a small huddle of cars and there we had the second Leopard of the trip! This was another female lying by a seasonal waterhole about ten metres from the road. She was alert and more active than our first leopard, doing some stretches and moving around a little before slinking into the bush after about five-seven minutes. Although we had less time with this leopard, I preferred this sighting. I think firstly because there were fewer cars, secondly the leopard was closer and more active but also (and more crucially) because it meant the morning trek through the mopaneveld had been worth it. Leopards are the trickiest of beasts, but luck was evidently on our side; with both sightings I had the opportunity to take lots of photos but also take the time to admire this most handsome of felines.

 

Leopard

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Edited by adamt123

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Peter Connan

Nice!

The circling storks: They are collecting, getting ready to go back North.

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adamt123

Thanks for the info Peter :)

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adamt123

Day 4 – Introduction

 

This was a long and interesting day indeed. Early in the morning we went on a long game drive to the famous Pafuri area with some standout sightings along the way.  Getting up to Pafuri we just went down the S60 rather than the main road because we happened to feel like it and, in the end, it produced two unbelievable sightings. S61/Klopperfontein Dam was excellent with an abundance of animals which was more than I had expected from this often-unheard-of spot. The H1-8 was also good, especially for birds. However, the “main event” of the game drive, Pafuri, was a little dry – but not so dry that there was no water at all – there was some (and some animals too). Late in the afternoon we went out again for an hour in the immediate surroundings of Punda Maria camp and we rounded the day off with an interesting night drive.

 

Day 4 – Game Drive One

 

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We left Punda Maria camp at around 5.15 and followed the H13-2 with maybe another four cars behind us. What I find very interesting was that no one else took the S60 turn off (the other cars were going to Pafuri because we saw them there but must have taken the H13-1/H1-8 main roads). Regardless, we continued onto the S60. Then, sitting right before us on quite a large tree was an interesting looking bird, facing away from us. At first, I thought it might have been a sparrowhawk/goshawk, but as I put my lens towards it, it turned its face and there we had ourselves a male Narina Trogon! All excited, I fired a few shots of the male bird and we waited for a few minutes admiring it before we very cautiously moved the car forward, as the trogon was perched right over the road. Unfortunately, when we did pass it, I turned back rather clumsily, and the bird flew off without me being able to get a shot from the front. Still, it was a most unexpected and welcomed start to the day.

 

S60 Turn off

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Narina Trogon

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We travelled slowly for another half dozen kilometres; it was a balmy morning with the heat of the sun starting to become appreciable. Then came the no.1 sighting of the trip. Six African Wild Dogs right in the middle of the road. They were in no hurry to go anywhere and we parked the car, switched off the engine and sat with them. They were lazing about and we were able to get close as was as comfortable for the animals. Occasionally one or two would walk up – right past us – then lie down in the shade, while others were playfighting. We later learned that on the previous night they had brought down an impala and they were briefly seen on the night drive closer to Punda Maria. Remarkably, we had this whole sighting to ourselves; it was just us, them and silence. I think that is what made this sighting truly memorable and remarkable. After a good half an hour, the dogs retreated into the bush before going their way, and so we too continued towards Pafuri.

 

African Wild Dog

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