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


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adamt123

[Continued] 

 

The wild dog sighting came just before the S59 turn off and as we had spent quite a bit of time with the wild dogs, I wanted to be sure that we would get to Pafuri whilst it was still relatively cool and so we took the S59 short cut. The road was quiet but produced a few White Faced Whistling Ducks and a Three Banded Plover. We soon arrived back on the H1-8 main road. This was another good road; although the H1-6 and H1-7 had proved a little underwhelming, this section of the road proved particularly strong for birds of prey. On the way up, there were plenty of Buffalo around, as well as Common Buzzard, Lesser Grey Shrike, the only Lesser Spotted Eagle of the trip, Leopard Tortoise, Red-Billed Buffalo Weaver, plenty of Barn Swallows, Meves’s Starling, Lesser Masked Weaver, Fork Tailed Drongo and Chacma Baboon. Another very interesting sighting was the sole Amur Falcon of the trip (a male). These birds complete one of the longest migrations of any bird and because north Kruger was quite dry, I was afraid we wouldn’t see one – speaking to other people at Punda Maria, they also hadn’t seen the falcon this year, so it was really great that we were able to get one.

 

Whistling Ducks

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Buffalo

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Buzzard

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Lesser Spotted Eagle

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Buffalo Weaver

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Meves's Starling

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Drongo

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Baboon

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Amur Falcon

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Another highlight was the Klopperfontein Dam, located just off the H1-8 on the S61. We stopped here both going up to Pafuri and on the way back down. The area was well populated with Impala, and there was a lone Buffalo bull hanging around too. The highlights, though, were avian; there were at least one hundred, but probably closer to two hundred African Wattled Starling surrounding the dam, which was quite an overwhelming spectacle, with more flying in as we were leaving. We also observed the resident Woolly Necked Stork as well as Little Grebe, Tawny Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Three Banded Plover, Wood Sandpiper and Water Thick Knee. Dozens of Barn Swallows and a few Common House Martins were also coming down for water, providing plenty of entertaining action. I found it thoroughly enjoyable to take pictures of these swallows in flight (as well as other swifts/swallows throughout the trip); though these birds were plentiful, spending some time to take photos of them was which I found to an unexpected pleasure. Overall, a very worthwhile stop.

 

Klopperfontein

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Wattled Starling

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Woolly Necked Stork

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Little Grebe

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Sandpiper and Plover

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Swallows and Martin

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Now, I have already indicated that Pafuri was a little underwhelming on the animal side. What I mean by this is that though we spent a good couple of hours in the area, slowly driving on the S63 with stops at the famous Pafuri picnic site and at Crook’s Corner, we only got 13 (common) birds: White Fronted Bee Eater, Spotted Flycatcher, Speckled Mousebird, Barn Swallow, Red Backed Shrike, Egyptian Goose, African Openbill, White Crowned Lapwing, Pied Cuckoo, African Fish Eagle, Cape Turtle Dove, Natal Francolin and Black Backed Puffback. Mammals fared a little better, with good numbers of Nyala, Hippo  the odd Vervet Monkey and a lone Kudu. However, what made up for this was the scenery; even in the somewhat dry conditions, the baobabs and fever trees retained a very special ambience, particularly around Crook’s Corner. Our time at Pafuri was certainly enjoyable (by no means do I suggest it was anything other than that), but it perhaps wasn’t as good as other areas we visited, especially as the anticipation of Pafuri being a wonderland was so great.  

 

Pafuri

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Nyala

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Bee Eater

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Speckled Mousebird

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Red Backed Shrike

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Egyptian Goose

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Openbill

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Puffback

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Fish Eagle

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Hippo

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Crook's Corner

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On our way back down, we took a detour to the S64 which produced plenty more White Fronted Bee Eaters as well as Woodland Kingfisher, Green Woodhoopoe, Common Scimitarbill and an Emerald Spotted Wood Dove. We made our way down the H1-8 fairly quickly but stopped for the sole Shikra of the trip (the deep orange, not cherry red, eye making this one a female) as well as a soaring Black Kite and a Common Buzzard. We returned to Punda Maria via the main roads and arrived back at around midday – overall it had been a great morning.

 

S64

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Bee Eaters

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Woodland Kingfisher

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Green Woodhoopoe

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Scimitarbill

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Wood Dove

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Common Buzzard

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Black Kite

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Shikra

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adamt123

Day 4 – Game Drive Two 

 

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As the morning’s game drive had been quite long, we took only a short game drive  that evening. There were plenty of Impala and Zebra around including quite a few nurseries. Other species included Meves’s Starling, the sole Greater Blue Eared Starling of the trip, soaring Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Grey Hornbill Lesser Striped Swallow and Cape Turtle Doves. The highlight, however, were Grey Headed Parrots about 200 metres out of Punda Maria Camp on the H13-2. This bird is one of the specialties of the Punda Maria region so was great to encounter. This was quite a changeling observation, however, as the birds were deep within a large tree and there were a few other cars already there trying to get shots too. Having said that, everyone was cooperative, and I was able to get at least couple usable images – trying to shoot these backlight and jumpy birds was certainly the most challenging photo to take in the whole trip.

 

Impala

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Zebra

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Grey Headed Parrot

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Greater Blue Eared Starling

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Meves’s Starling

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Grey Hornbill

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Cape Turtle Dove

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Lesser Striped Swallow

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When we arrived back at camp, as well as the resident Vervet Monkeys, we were glad to find Crested Guineafowl foraging next to the tents. The birds were very tame and though the light was fading, it was a great encounter with these beautiful and very cool-looking birds. So all in all it had been a productive evening, especially getting the guineafowl and the parrots as two of the northern specialities. 

 

Vervet Monkey

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Crested Guineafowl

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Day 4 – Night Drive

 

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There were three other guests on the night drive, an elderly South African couple and an ex-guide from the Okavango Delta. We headed out of the camp and it was a stunning cloudless night; the stars were out in their full, making conditions were ideal for star photography. Our guide was talkative and friendly, and things got off to a good start with abundant Scrub Hares and South African Springhares, including a mating pair. (All images below are ISO12800 and without flash)

 

Scrub Hare

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South African Springhare

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Another highlight early on was seeing a nightjar – woohoo! It may sound a bit surprising from someone who quite obviously takes an interest in birds, but I had never seen any species of nightjar before. The bird was very cooperative and allowed for good shots; after much research online and some expert advice, I can say this is a moulting male Square Tailed Nightjar.

 

We would occasionally bump into buffalos and elephants, but as lighting was less than optimal, I won’t include photos. We also saw a few different antelope on this drive – Bushbuck, Grey Duiker and Sharpe’s Grysbok. I was particularly hoping to see this latter antelope and Punda Maria is the hotspot for them in Kruger, so I was glad to see one, even if the shots aren’t perfect. We also went down the H13-1 towards Punda Maria gate as our guide said this was a good area for Verreaux’s Eagle Owl; unfortunately, one didn’t show.

 

 

Square Tailed Nightjar

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Sharpe’s Grysbok

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The night game drive’s top prize was Leopard number 3! This was most definitely a male and his smallish dewlap is also visible. This was an active leopard; he was walking along the main H13-2 road (about 2km from yesterday’s female) and very close to the vehicle, to the extent that taking photos was a little challenging. Regardless, it was a superb experience to have the leopard walking quite literally next to us. Our guide said he was most likely on the prowl for something to eat. We stayed him him for some time before he disappeared into the undergrowth. So, in the end this trip to Kruger produced three different leopards! We returned to camp pleased, it had been a very pleasant day indeed.

 

Leopard

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adamt123

Day Five – Game Drive One

 

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At dawn I took a quick walk along the Flycatcher Trail at the back of the camp. The walk was short and easy, and I spotted a few Bushbuck, Smith’s Bush Squirrels, a Bearded Scrub Robin and an African Bulbul. Then, at around 5.30, we set off for our last trip down the S99 Mahonie Loop – finally completing the whole route. This drive (as one would perhaps expect) was all about the birds.

 

Papilionidae Butterfly

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Bearded Scrub Robin

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Cape Bushbuck

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African Bulbul

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We had excellent sightings of African Grey Hornbill, Southern Red Billed Hornbill, Southern Yellow Billed Hornbill, Southern Black Flycatcher, Violet Backed Starling, Woodland Kingfisher, Cinnamon Breasted Bunting, Southern Cordon-bleu, Fork Tailed Drongo, African Hoopoe, Yellow Billed Oxpecker, Brown Hooded Kingfisher, Southern Masked Weaver, Red Headed Weaver, Crested Barbet, Red Backed Shrike, Magpie Shrike, Red Billed Buffalo Weaver, Little Swift and Lesser Striped Swallow. The highlight was probably a calling male Dideric Cuckoo with his resplendent emerald plumage; from the mammals, a herd of about 20 Buffalo was the best sighting. 

 

Southern Cordon-bleu

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Fork Tailed Drongo

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Southern Black Flycatcher

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Yellow Billed Oxpecker

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Southern Yellow Billed Hornbill

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Southern Masked Weaver

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Red Headed Weaver

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Crested Barbet

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Violet Backed Starling

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Dideric Cuckoo

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Magpie Shrike

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Cape Buffalo

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Lesser Striped Swallow

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Little Swift

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Punda Maria Camp, viewed from S99

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Punda Maria Camp

 

My thoughts on Punda Maria Rest Camp: in sum, it was my least favourite SANParks camp. The shop was well stocked, staff were friendly enough and the overall atmosphere was nice, especially with the original hundred-year-old chalets. We opted for the tents which honestly were not great. They were small and dark; our hobs didn’t work very well, and the bathroom door was very difficult to open. While they look nice in the pictures – and our overall stay was very pleasant – the standard was not as good as all the other SANPark accommodations I have stayed at. Overall, 3/5. Having said that, I probably would stay again.

 

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This is because all things considered from a wildlife perspective, I think our stay at Punda Maria was extremely successful. In the space of just two nights we had two fantastic leopard sightings and the perfect African wild dog sighting. These mammal sightings were complemented by superb birds, most notably Narina trogon and grey-headed parrot, but many other interesting species too, such as crested guineafowl, dideric cuckoo, shikra and of course all the stunning bee-eaters. While Pafuri was a little disappointing on the wildlife side, the scenery was still gorgeous, and Klopperfontein Dam was an excellent additional stop. Though we visited at the end of the holidays, there were very few crowds at any of our sightings; as far as I can recall, we had every sighting to ourselves other than the leopard on day three and the parrots on day four.  

 

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adamt123

Day Five – Game Drive Two

 

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We drove down from Punda Maria to Mopani at around 10am. It was a hot day but the drive was pleasant.  Leaving Punda Maria on the H13-2 produced excellent views of a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoo, as well as distant African Green Pigeon. There was also quite a bit of raptor action in the air, with Lappet Faced Vultures, Tawny Eagles and Bateluer soaring in the distance. We took the S56 gravel road which offered views of Swainson’s Spurfowl, Natal Francolin, Sabota Lark and Hippos. The highlight was a very cooperative Black Chested Snake Eagle, again on the S56. The H1-7 was quieter, though I did get out of the car at the Shingwedzi river to photograph more Barn Swallows. The H1-6 was also pretty still, but there were a few Elephants around. 

 

Great Spotted Cuckoo

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Bateluer (male)

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Black Chested Snake Eagle

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Natal Francolin

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Swainson’s Spurfowl

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Shingwedzi River

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Barn Swallow

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Tropic of Capricorn

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Elephant

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Mopani Camp

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adamt123

Mopani Camp

 

We arrived at Mopani by 14:30. Mopani was a great camp. The four view rooms here are definitely worth trying to get; we booked these nights here specifically because the view rooms were available. Staying in 102, we had our own baobab tree and excellent views over the Pioneer Dam, where there was a consistent flow of Elephants – I cannot remember looking over the dam and not seeing elephants – sometimes breeding herds, other time bulls, it was a festival of elephants! We also liked the ambience of Mopani camp which was very serene and air conditioning was also appreciated. Tindlovu restaurant was fine, but the shop here was also very well stocked. I mean the shop at Punda Maria was also better than I expected, but I was surprised at just how much better the shop here was compared with my previous experiences at Kgalagadi and Etosha – by this I mean that I really was not expecting to find good food like macadamia butter, basil and chili pesto, brie etc. It made self catering quite enjoyable actually.

 

There was wildlife aplenty in camp, Smith’s Bush Squirrel, Grey Backed Camaroptera, Green Winged Pytilia, Southern Cordon-bleu, White Chested Sunbird, Yellow Billed Kite, House Sparrows, Kurrichane Thrush and Lesser Masked Weaver all observed in and around the room/restaurant areas. There were also plenty of lizards hanging around, with Great Plated Lizards and skinks shuffling about in the vicinity of the chalets.

 

Mopani Camp Baobab

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Mopani Camp. Chalet 102

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Elephants observed from chalet.

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

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Green Winged Pytilia

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White Chested Sunbird

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Kurrichane Thrush

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Lizards

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Smith’s Bush Squirrel

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Interesting Insect

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Day Five – Evening Walk

 

Rather than go out on another game drive, we decided to take Mopani’s in-camp trail along the Pioneer Dam that evening. The walk took about an hour and was generally productive. It starts at the camp restaurant and winds down through a small patch of woodland before running parallel to the dam. The woodland section was pretty quiet, but things warmed up as we arrived at the dam and were greeted by Marabou Stork, Yellow Billed Stork, Little Egret, Striated Heron and Blacksmith Lapwing. Moving further along, we found a handsome male Waterbuck as well as Laughing Dove, Village Indigobird, Common Myna, and African Bulbul.

 

Sunset at Pioneer Dam, Mopani Camp

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Egyptian Goose, Yellow Billed Stork & Little Egret

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Waterbuck

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Village Indigobird

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There were also many Tawny Flanked Prinia fluttering around as well as colonies of Red Billed Firefinches and Lesser Masked Weaver. It was actually quite interesting to observe village indigobird within 100 metres of its brood host, the red-billed firefinch. The highlight of the walk was observing a Peregrine Falcon do a quick fly-past over the water – these aren’t rare in Kruger, though still somewhat scarce (about 50 sightings on ebird for Limpopo state). The final part of the walk ascends back towards the chalets and this area too was pretty productive with Southern Cordon-bleu, Grey Go Away Birds, a reclusive Black Crowned Tchgara and fleeting glimpses of a Scrub Hare.

 

Tawny Flaked Prinia

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Red Billed Firefinch (male)

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Red Billed Firefinch (female)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (male)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (female)

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Peregrine Falcon

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Southern Cordon-bleu

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Grey Lourie

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Sunset over the dam

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adamt123

 

Day Six - Introduction

 

We spent our full day at Mopani camp taking two mid-length game drives, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The am trip took us down the S50 as far north as Grootvlei and produced the best plains game viewing of the trip. On the pm game drive, we stopped at the Shipandani and Pioneer Dam hides, and took some of the river loops around Mopani Camp. 

 

Day Six – Game Drive One

 

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Our main game drive in the Mopani area would take us to through the S50, a long gravel road parallel to the main H1-6 road. The game drive was generally productive and produced excellent plains game sightings. We left camp at around 5am to a splendid sunrise and drove slowly south from the camp. Getting onto the S50 we were greeted by our first animals of the day - a resting Bateluer and a few bull Elephants. We then took the S49, which produced a close viewing of Blue Wildebeest, including a number of calves. Returning back onto the S50 at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.1 watering hole, the area had abundant Sabota Lark and Magpie Shrike, as well as Swainson’s Spurfowl, Cape Starling and Barn Swallows. The mopaneveld is well known for hosting three of Kruger’s rarer antelope (Tsessebe, Eland and Roan) and I was very much hoping to get at least one of them on this trip. We were fortunate to have an excellent sighting of Tsessebe on the S50; there were about six of them, with two calves and they were accompanied by a few Zebra. They were very close to the road allowing for good views and shots. 

 

Sunrise over H1-6

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Bateluer

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Elephant

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Blue Wildebeest

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Magpie Shrike

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Sabota Lark

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Swainson's Spurfowl

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Barn Swallow

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Tsessebe

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Zebra

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Travelling a little further north, we arrived at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.2 which gave close views of Lesser Grey Shrike, as well as Black Winged Stilt, Green Woodhoopoe, Saddle Billed Stork and Grey Heron. There were plenty of Zebra and Buffalo around too. Moving further north, we arrived at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.3, a real highlight of this game drive. There were abundant Buffalo around – hundreds of them, as well as smaller groups of Wildebeest and Zebra – this was more of a scene I would expect from Etosha or Masai Mara, rather than Kruger in the summer! There were plenty of birds at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.3 too, including Knob Billed Duck, Common Ostrich, Wood Sandpiper and Yellow Billed Oxpecker and our old friend Kori Bustard. The most unusual bird, however, was a lone adult Greater Flamingo – these pink wonders are uncommon in the park – there are about 20 sightings from the whole of Limpopo state on ebird. To see a lone adult was particularly unexpected.

 

Lesser Grey Shrike

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Nshawu (Nxawu) No.2

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My Favourite Photo (at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.2)

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Nshawu (Nxawu) No.3  - Buffalo Herds

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 Nshawu (Nxawu) No.3  -  Wildebeest and Zebra

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Nshawu (Nxawu) No.3  - Bird Life

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Moving further towards Grootvlei, we saw another Kori Bustard as well as plenty more Zebra and Buffalo congregating along the roadside. Birding was also productive with Temmnick’s Courser, Plain Backed Pipit, Sabota Larks, male Long Tailed Paradise Whydah and a few female Ostriches. We also got out for a quick stretch at the Shibavantsengele lookout which also produced a rather distant female Red Headed Weaver. This was whole S50 area was pretty quiet on human traffic which of course made the whole experience all the more enjoyable.

 

Kori Bustard

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Temminck's Courser

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Long Tailed Paradise Whydah

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Ostriches

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Buffalo

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Zebra

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Red Headed Weaver

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Shibavantsengele Lookout

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It was 8am by the time we arrived at Grootvlei, a dam about half way up the S50 between Mopani and Shingwedzi. The dam produced good numbers of Elephant, the odd Buffalo and lots more birds: Kittlitz’s Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Black Winged Stilt, Egyptian Goose, Red Billed Buffalo Weaver and Hadada Ibis. After about half an hour of enjoying the dam (all to ourselves), we headed back towards Mopani, encountering another, more distant group of Tsessebe just as we left. 

 

Grootvlei Dam

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Elephants

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Kittlitz's Plover

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Tsessebe

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[Continued]

 

On our way back to camp we had similar sightings to the ones in the previous post - abundant buffalo, wildebeest and zebra, as well as good birding (with the greater flamingo still at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.3). However, an interesting sighting worthy of a series of photos was a fight between two zebras. This was a nice observation which happened right on the road and was shortly followed by another zebra giving itself a thorough dust bath too. 

 

Fighting Pair

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Dust Bath

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@adamt123

I like your very informative trip report and the beautiful pictures, especially the birds and the post with the fighting zebra stallions.

Our first safari was back in 2012. We stayed in Sabie Sands, a private game reserve, where we had very good sightings. Your trip report makes me think whether we also should do self-drive in the Kruger Park.

I am also curious about your Kgalagadi visit. We visited the KTP last August and liked it a lot, despite the freezing temperatures in the mornings.

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Treepol

@adamt123 great zebra interaction.

 

Do you have any ideas about which would be the best camp to combine with Punda Maria - Mopani or Shingwedzi? I have heard that Shingwedzi is good for birding along the rivers.

 

 

 

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michael-ibk

Exceptionally cool Zebra sequence!

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adamt123

Thank you for your kind words @Athene. The comparison between self-drive and the private reserves is an interesting discussion. On my first safari I stayed at Imbali, a lodge in its own concession within the national park, close to Satara. The sightings there were great, and it was absolutely the right choice for a first safari. Since then, however, I have started to prefer self-drive. Especially as someone who enjoys stopping for the birds, I find the relative freedom of self-drive (with timings, routes etc) to be a great thing.

 

From my experience, the sightings on self-drive can be excellent, though of course, your chances of seeing the big animals are probably increased with a guide in one of the reserves. Having said that, in the end it comes down to luck I guess; in 2018 I was in Timbavati and despite the absolute best efforts of the guides, we found no leopards, whereas self-driving on this trip produced three Kruger leopards. On the other hand, we had lots and lots of lions at Timbavati but no lions on this Kruger trip!

 

Two very useful companions in Kruger were the Kruger Self-Drive book by van den Berg (2015; for maps and analysis of each road) and the Latest Sightings app which I downloaded to my phone. This gives alerts to sightings which other people have found; the wild dogs near Skukuza (day two) were brought to my attention through the app, for example.  

 

Kgalagadi is certainly a curious place! I found on this trip it complemented our Kruger section quite well because Kruger was all about the leopards and wild dogs, and Kgalagadi then provided the lions and cheetahs. I too have visited once in the winter (2018) and found that I honestly just prefer the summer. Yes, it is hot, but better that than frost for me. I suppose spring and autumn are probably offer the best middle-ground, but I have just never found the opportunity to go in those seasons. I would finally note though, that although the summer is sometimes labelled as being not as good for seeing wildlife, I have had equally excellent sightings in both seasons, in both Kruger and Kgalagadi.

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adamt123

An interesting question @Treepol. I can say that we choose Mopani because (1) it is closer to Phalaborwa airport (for our flight on day 7) and (2) because based on my research prior to the trip, I thought the camp itself had a better ambience than Shingwedzi.

 

Having said that, I think the Shingwedzi area is probably slightly better for wildlife. I have read that the loops which you mention (S50, S52, S55, S101, S135) are known for good sightings (including cats) and we did, after all, see wild dogs just outside the camp too. Although both camps are close to each other, they are still 60 kilometres apart, and so you could easily visit both I guess! If I had to pick one (purely on wildlife) I would say Shingwedzi, but the bird sightings around Mopani, especially Pioneer Dam and Shipandani Hide (see my next post) were great too.

 

Many thanks @michael-ibk. It was the first time I have seen zebras fighting, so was pretty exciting.

 

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Day 6 – Evening Game Drive

 

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On this game drive we went first to the Pioneer Dam hide, then to the Shipandani hide, both close to Mopani. From here, we travelled down the H1-6 and to the S50 turn off for Nshawu (Nxawu) No.1, then retraced our steps on the H1-6, stopping off at some of the river loops. An interesting sighting as we were leaving camp, whilst driving from the chalet to the gate, was a Rock Monitor crossing the road. Along with tree agama, this was the lizard I was hoping to see most on this trip. Curiously, the monitor was impaired with both of its front feet missing. It nonetheless provided a lovely sighting and was the reptilian highlight of Kruger.

 

47C - that was (fortunately) the car's surface temperature after being parked in the sun all afternoon, and not the actual air temperature, as we departed for our afternoon game drive.

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Rock Monitor

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Pioneer Dam was quiet; we stayed there for maybe 15 minutes and nothing showed – it was still beautifully serene though. Shipandani hide on the Tsendze River was very good, with Elephants, Village Weaver, Lilac Breasted Roller and African Bulbul all present. It was also nice to photograph baby Hippos playing in the stream. The highlight at the hide, however, was getting very close and intimate with the resident colony of Yellow Billed Stork and a Grey Heron, which allowed for some great photo opportunities. This proved to be an enjoyable stop – certainly a wonderful place to relaxingly watch wildlife very close to Mopani camp.

 

Pioneer Dam Hide

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Shipandani Hide

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Grey Heron

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Hippos

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African Bulbul

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Moving further south, the H1-6 was quiet, but on the way to Nshawu (Nxawu) No.1 waterhole (on the S50) we had a male Ostrich and distant Waterbuck. At Nshawu (Nxawu) No.1 we had an close encounter with a Buffalo herd - we got pretty close to them, but fortunately reversed out of the watering hole before anything more serious happened. Going back up north, the H1-6 was again quiet but some of the river loops were more productive; a family of Zebra were drinking water at one, bathed rather stunningly in the dusk light, and at another we got a second Leopard Tortoise. And so concluded our sixth day in Kruger; although there were no carnivorous mammals, I really enjoyed this day as a one dedicated to plains game and birds.  

 

Ostrich

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Buffalo at Nshawu (Nxawu) No.1

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Zebra

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Leopard Tortoise

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adamt123

Day 7 – AM Walk

 

As the PM walk around Pioneer Dam on day 5 had been productive, we decided to take the trail again as a pre-breakfast dawn walk on our final day in Kruger. Things got off to a brilliant start with a male African Paradise Flycatcher; we had seen at least three of these birds (males and females) over the past week but they were so skittish that I was afraid we would leave Kruger without a photo. Fortunately, I was able to snap two shots of this male before he disappeared into the bush. This was shortly followed by a large family of Mocking Cliff Chats which were far less secretive. As we arrived at Pioneer Dam, we were greeted by Little Egret, African Jacana, Village Weaver as well as more Tawny Flanked Prinias and Barn Swallows. There were small Elephant groups drinking on the opposite side of the dam too and it was nice to see them on foot.

 

African Paradise Flycatcher

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Mocking Cliff Chat

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Village Weaver

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Tawny Flanked Prinia

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Elephants

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A Couple of Bugs

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Two further highlights were a male Southern Red Bishop, which was another species I was hoping to get before we left, and a very camera shy female Black Cuckooshrike. Another noteworthy sighting was seeing four Purple Rollers congregate on a dead tree, to be harassed by a female Violet Backed Starling. There were also plenty of Red Billed Quelea around, as well as Hammerkop, Cinnamon Breasted Bunting, Striated Heron, White Faced Whistling Duck, Village Indigobird and African Bulbul. Not bad for a short in camp walk.

 

Black Cuckooshrike

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Southern Red Bishop

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Purple Roller

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Red Billed Quelea

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Striated Heron

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Hammerkop

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Village Indigobird

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Cinnamon Breasted Bunting

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Barn Swallow

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---

 

Day 7 – Game Drive

 

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Our flight left Phalaborwa at 13.15, so we left Mopani after breakfast, taking the shorter route out of the park via H1-6, H14 and H9. We stopped first again at Shipandani Hide on the Tsendze River which produced plenty more Yellow Billed Stork, Elephants and the sole Pied Kingfisher of the trip. I admit that we drove down relatively quickly so may have missed something on this drive. We had some final Impala and Elephant, as well as Lilac Breasted Roller, Sabota Lark, Fork Tailed Drongo and a Common Buzzard. The highlight was a pair of African Hawk Eagles on the H14 – these are pretty common in the North, and were the major eagle that we hadn’t seen, so it awesome to get a pair (male and female I assume). By the time we arrived at the H9, we had a little time to spare, so spent a pleasant twenty minutes at the Sable Dam which was mostly quiet but produced a nice Yellow Billed Kite, a distant African Spoonbill and some final Red Billed Quelea

 

Shipandani Hide

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Pied Kingfisher

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Impala

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African Hawk Eagle

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Sabota Lark

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Common Buzzard

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Swainson’s Spurfowl

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Yellow Billed Kite (Sable Dam)

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Phalaborwa Airport

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Overall, we had a great stay at Mopani owing to three factors (I) plains game sightings on the S50, (II) Pioneer Dam trail in-camp and (III) the overall ambience of Mopani Camp. Phalaborwa airport, located just outside the national park, was nice; I would describe it as a miniature version of Skukuza airport. Flying out of Phalaborwa means I have now visited all four of Kruger’s commercial airports and would rank them as follows: 1. Skukuza, 2. Phalaborwa 3. Nelspruit-Kruger Mpumalanga and 4. Hoedspruit. In truth, I think they are all pretty good except Hoedspruit! Regardless, our Jetstream 41 departed on time and we arrived into a rainy Johannesburg in the early afternoon. We spent the night at the airport before flying to Upington.

 

 

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adamt123

Kruger Conclusion.

 

All in all, I was very pleased with our seven days in Kruger and the Blyde River Canyon.

 

Interestingly, there are no lion or cheetah to report. However, I can say wholeheartedly that these absences were more than made up for by the multiple leopards and wild dogs (three times each to be more precise!). As someone who has previously seen many lion and cheetah, African wild dog and leopard were much further up the list of animals I was hoping to get this time round in Kruger, especially as there are no wild dogs in Kgalagadi. We also didn’t see many giraffes, but then the antelopes did perform well. From the reptiles, the Rock Monitor was highlight, but curiously we saw no Nile Crocodiles. 

 

Highlight Mammals: African Wild Dog, Leopard, Sharpe’s Grysbok, Tsessebe, Nyala, S50 Buffalo herds.

 

Highlight Reptiles: Rock Monitor, Leopard Tortoise, Giant Plated Lizard.

 

Birding was fantastic overall. I think the only birds I was hoping for that we didn’t get were Taita Falcon at the Blyde River Canyon and migratory Steppe Eagle, but this was more than made up for by other superb sightings, the unquestionable highlight being the European Honey Buzzard on day two. I was especially pleased with the healthy number of migratory birds, as one of the unquestionable perks of visiting in summer is the potential to vastly increase the trip’s bird count.

 

Highlight Birds: European Honey Buzzard, African Barred Owlet, White Headed Vulture, Narina Trogon, Grey Headed Parrot, displaying Red Crested Bustard, Barn Swallows and too many more to mention by name.

 

And thus concludes the first section of this trip report. I hope it proved to be as enjoyable to read as it was to write. Shortly, as soon as I have finished editing the photos for Northern Cape, I will continue with the second section, covering days 8-18 in Augrabies Falls and Kgalagadi parks.

 

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xelas

@adamt123, yours is an detailed report about Kruger that will be of help to many, me including, when returning there. Great photography overall. Did I missed the total count of birds from Kruger?

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adamt123

Many thanks @xelas. Im glad you liked the report and that it may be useful for others too :)

 

I have checked through my photos and notes and the total counts for Kruger are:

  • Birds - 148 (69 new species)
  • Mammals - 23 (4 new species)
  • Reptiles - 5 (3 new species)
Edited by adamt123
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Peter Connan

Great report and excellent photos, thank you!

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michael-ibk

A splendid return, thank you so much for sharing. A great trip!

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Great report so far... And I take 3 sightings of leopards and wild dogs over lions and cheetahs any day ;) And I will be very surprised if you didn´t get any sightings of lions in  Kgalagadi (and also very likely cheetahs too). So very much looking forward to the next chapter :) 

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  • 2 weeks later...
adamt123

Firstly, apologies for the slight delay in resuming this trip report. This next section of the report will cover the final 11 days of our trip in Augrabies Falls National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

 

Day 8

 

As I mentioned at the start of this report, one of my friends unfortunately didn’t have time for the Northern Cape section of the trip, so he flew home on our return to Johannesburg from Phalaborwa. The two of us remaining took the midday Airlink flight from Joburg to Upington. Landing in Upington, we went to Avis to collect our hire car; alas there was an issue. We had hired a Fortuner, but they only had an X-trail available. Because Avis consider the inferior X-trail to be in a higher class than the Fortuner, we had no option but to take the car. The reason this was somewhat annoying was because the Fortuner offered greater height and much larger windows and is generally a more comfortable car in my opinion. Retrospectively, I don’t think it made a huge difference to the safari experience, though it did take some adjustment.  

 

Despite this incident, the drive down from Upington to Augrabies (about 1h 30m) was pleasant. The highlight was probably a slender mongoose crossing the road. The area around the Orange River is naturally far more populated than the road to Kgalagadi, with lots of raisin farms along the way, as well the odd date plantation. We arrived into Augrabies by 3pm and as I mentioned at the very start of this report, our three Augrabies Falls days were surprisingly cooler with a good breeze, so as we arrived were greeted by balmy sunshine.

 

Upington to Augrabies Falls

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Vineyard

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Augrabies Falls Rest Camp

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There was very good wildlife viewing straight in front of our chalet. It was superb to watch a male Southern Masked Weaver work on his nest a couple of metres from our tent, as well as the constant zipping around of a pair of Dusky Sunbirds. Cape Bunting, Cape Glossy Starling, Karoo Scrub Robin, White Backed Mousebird and Cape Wagtail also paid a visit, and Speckled Pigeons were abundant. We also had a quick fly over by a small group of the resident Rock Martins. The highlight was a pair of Cape Grey Mongooses shuffling around in the brambles; though it was great to see them, they were a bit of a challenge to photograph.

 

Dusky Sunbird

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Southern Masked Weaver

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Cape Wagtail

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Karoo Scrub Robin

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Cape Bunting

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White Backed Mousebird

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Cape Grey Mongoose

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Rock Martin

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Towards the evening we decided to visit the Augrabies Falls waterfall, which is just next to the rest camp. The boardwalk around the falls has about half a dozen viewing platforms, all of which offer a view of the falls from a slightly different perspective. Overall, it was an enjoyable walk around the site, especially as we had all the platforms to ourselves. I would commend the Canon G3x here; I never travel with a tripod and was pleased that even when zoomed in, the Canon can take 100% usable shots at 1 second handheld, which was great for photographing the waterfall.

 

Augrabies Falls

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1 second exposures

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From the animals, there were plenty of Augrabies Flat Lizards hanging around as well as a few Rock Hyrax, Egyptian Goose, Speckled Pigeon, Black Chested Prinia and a Pale Winged Starling beautifully bathed in the amber dusk light. There were also dozens of Alpine Swifts flying around the falls, a truly magnificent bird. The highlight of the walk was a surprise encounter with a Peregrine Falcon. The raptor was at one of the viewing platforms, sitting rather handsomely on the wooden beams. We got as close as we could – and I’m happy with the photos – before it inevitably flew off. This was out first day at Augrabies, and notwithstanding the incident with Avis, it was a fantastic introduction to Northern Cape.  

 

 Augrabies Flat Lizard

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Rock Hyrax

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Pale Winged Starling

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Alpine Swift

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Speckled Pigeon

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Peregrine Falcon

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(Almost Full) Moon

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adamt123

Day 9 – Game Drive

 

We began our sole game drive in Augrabies Falls at around 6am. The game viewing at the start is quite grassy and there are a few places were one must drive through water. In this area we found Orange River White Eye, Cape Wagtail, Pale Winged Starling, Cape Turtle Dove, Three Banded Plover and African Red Eyed Bulbul. Moving further into the park, there were plentiful Rock Hyrax around as well as Laughing Dove, Hadada Ibis and Fawn Coloured Lark. From the larger mammals, Gemsbok and Springbok were both easily seen as we had a distant Giraffe too. The main mammals which I was hoping to see was klipspringer; I had not seen one before and Augrabies Falls is known as a good place to look for them.

 

Orange River White Eye

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Cape Turtle Dove

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African Red Eyed Bulbul

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Fawn Coloured Lark

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Gemsbok

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Giraffe

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Hadada Ibis

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Within the first 15km of the game viewing area there are a series of viewpoints: (from east to west) Arrow Point, Ararat, Oranjekom and Echo Corner. We stopped at Ararat which provided views over the gorge and we could also see the Oranjekom viewpoint and cottage from there. Had we visited in any season other than summer, we certainly would have taken the Oranjekom cottage, but we felt that it would get too hot at that time of year. We also stopped at Echo Corner which set about four kilometres in from the main path and was very peaceful and produced a handsome Pririt Batis and a few distant Red Faced Mousebirds.

 

Ararat Viewpoint

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Dassie

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Springbok

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Echo Corner

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Pririt Batis

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Landscapes

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Venturing further into the park birds continued to show including White Throated Canary, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Mountain Wheatear and the quintessential Sociable Weaver. We also had a more Rock Hyraxes and a few Greater Kudu too. In this central section of the park magnificent quiver trees started to become more noticeable; a truly iconic species of this region.

 

There are three loops open to visitors at Augrabies Falls: Hartmann’s loop (67km), Lekkerwater loop (82km) and Quiver tree loop (91km) and the largest section of Quiver trees is at the end of the Quiver tree loop. We decided to turn back at Hartmann’s loop, so I was glad that we had still seen a healthy number of quiver trees without going all 90km. As we exited the westbound road and turned onto the Hartmann’s exit, we were greeted by a family of Karoo Long Billed Larks as well as Chat Flycatcher, Sabota Lark and a soaring Black Chested Snake Eagle. Unfortunately, there were no mountain zebra for which the loop is named.

 

Sociable Weaver

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Mountain Wheatear

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Namaqua Sandgrouse

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Greater Kudu

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Karoo Long Billed Lark

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Sabota Lark

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Dassie

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Quiver Trees

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Taking the eastbound road back towards camp, had the first Cape Ground Squirrel of the trip – plenty more of these rodents were expected over the next ten days. It was also along this section that we did encounter a Klipspringer, the highlight of Augrabies Falls from the mammals. It was a fairly brief sighting, with the antelope standing directly atop a crag about 30 metres in front of us, but it soon disappeared deeper into the rocks. This was shortly followed by an excellent sighting of a Giraffe herd right next to the road – the first good giraffe sighting of the trip.

 

Cape Ground Squirrel

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Klipspringer

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Giraffe

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Landscapes

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Interestingly, we had not seen a single other car on our whole game drive up to this point (it was about 10.30; 4h 30m after leaving camp). However, it was at the giraffes that observed a few more cars (maybe two or three) coming from the camp. From this point to camp we probably saw about 5 cars, all entering the game viewing area. I thought this was rather strange; who chooses to take a game drive at midday? Regardless, we continued back towards camp, picking up a few more species along the way: shy Chacma Baboons, a Southern Fiscal and a beautiful female Pygmy Falcon perched right on the road. We spent some time admiring this later raptor before arriving back into camp at 11.30, where we were greeted by a Rock Hyrax sunbathing on our outdoor table. This game drive took longer than I expected, but it was enjoyable nonetheless; I think turning back at Hartmann’s loop, rather than continuing onto one of the longer loops was the correct decision, and I was pleased with the overall wildlife sightings.

 

Chacma Baboon

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Pygmy Falcon

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Dassie at Chalet

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Day 9 – Twin Falls

 

Towards the evening, we decided to take the trail to Twin Falls. This one of the shorter walks at Augrabies Falls and, as the name suggests, culminates at Twin Falls, two waterfalls right next to each other. There wasn't much wildlife around and there was no sign of the greatly desired Verreaux's eagle. There were, however, a few prehistoric looking Crested Barbets around and the trail was enjoyable as a walk. I would note, though, that although this trail is classified as 'easy', there are some more difficult bits - I myself almost fell over the edge at Twin Falls because the rocks are quite loose. 

 

Crested Barbet

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Twin Falls

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Night

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Towlersonsafari

just catching up @adamt123 and very much enjoying the report.We did the Dassie trail-another "easy" walk-which quickly involved balancing from boulder to boulder across what to us was a very interesting ravine! you don't get that walking in the midlands! (thankfully)

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adamt123

Thanks @Towlersonsafari The relative difficulty of the walk was indeed a surprise to us too. As you mention, its quite different from what we would find closer to home, but the landscape was magnificent to admire nonetheless :)

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adamt123

Day 10

 

After having a bit of a lie in we decided to take the in-camp waterfall trail again, hoping that perhaps Verreaux’s eagle would show. It was noticeably warmer today and there were even fewer guests in camp – I think about five chalets were occupied and we had the boardwalk all to ourselves. Much to our delight, the Peregrine Falcon seen on day 8 was in the same place again (I think it’s the same bird). This time, it stayed for longer and gave better views in the morning sun. A colony of about 50 Red Billed Quelea did a nice flyby and we also observed African Darter and a Little Egret within the gorge. The alpine swifts of our first visit were now replaced by equally graceful African Palm Swifts. Unfortunately, there was no Verreaux’s eagle - I think any future trip to SA will require a stop at the Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens in Gauteng for this most elegant raptor :)

 

Gorge

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Peregrine Falcon

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Red Billed Quelea

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African Palm Swift

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Dusky Sunbird (female)

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And here concludes our mini Augrabies Falls add on. Overall, I thought the park had a lot to offer and makes for a great combo with Kgalagadi. The waterfalls, both the main Augrabies Falls and Twin Falls were great, the scenery in the park was appreciable and the wildlife sightings (even without Verreaux’s eagle) were wonderful. The wildlife highlights being Klipspringer, Cape Grey Mongoose and Peregrine Falcon. I also particularly liked the rest camp here; the room was spacious and well-furnished and there was lots of wildlife just outside the chalet too. It was in fact my one of favourite SANParks camps, although I will note that the shop wasn’t the best.  

 

At around 09.45 we said goodbye to Augrabies Falls and drove back to Upington. Arriving into the town, we returned to Kalahari Mall for lunch and to pick up groceries for Kgalagadi. By 2pm we were back on the road heading north towards Kgalagadi. I do love this drive – the Kalahari dunes appears to be so desolate yet serene that I think there is a special anticipation which the road (the R360 to be precise) builds up driving towards the most special of places.

 

Having said all that, we still had one night to go at Kalahari Trails before entering this “most special of places”. Kalahari Trails is a small lodge situated about 10km before Twee Rivieren. It functions as a sanctuary for abandoned and confiscated meerkats and is owned by an elderly Welsh academic (in fact the flag of her native Cymru still flies high at the entrance). I had read mixed reviews about the place before coming, but overall, we enjoyed our one night very much.

 

Road to Kgalagadi

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Kalahari Trails

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We stayed in the cottage, which is about a five-minute drive from the main lodge. Though the bathroom could do with refurbishment, we loved the serenity of the chalet, sitting all by itself among the birds. And birds there were plenty; that evening we had an excellent sighting of a pair of Golden Tailed Woodpeckers just outside the cottage (I think they are both females) and it was fun to track them on foot. We also had plenty of Namaqua Sandgrouse, Fork Tailed Drongo, Speckled Pigeon and the first of many White Browed Sparrow Weavers. This was a pretty quiet day, and although it functioned primarily as a travel day between Augrabies Falls and Kgalagadi, the falcon and woodpecker sightings were very much appreciated.

 

Kalahari Trails Cottage

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Golden Tailed Woodpeckers

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Full Moon

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Edited by adamt123
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