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From Rietvlei to Kruger - a family trip January 2020


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Long overdue of course.....




As we had done in 2012, plans were made for a family trip to South Africa early 2020. My brother and his wife, my sister and her husband and my wife and I . All of us had expressed a wish to spend time exploring the Kruger NP, both from lodgings outside the park and accommodation within. As my wife and I would like to do some dedicated birding, we left a few days before the others and booked a B&B in Pretoria. Our aim was to stay close to Johannesburg to meet up with the family a few days later and explore some birding sites nearby with just the two of us. Rietvlei was definitely on our list as we had never been there before and it is very close to where we were staying.



On 14th January we took the night KLM flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. After our arrival at 11:15 we picked up our rental car and drove to Andante Lodge in Pretoria, a pleasant and conveniently located B&B on the outskirts of Pretoria. We had booked a Toyota RAV, but we were offered an upgrade to a Landcruiser, which we happily accepted. Some extra leg room would come in handy when the rest of the family arrived. At the lodge we spent a relaxing afternoon to recover from the flight.


The next day we paid our first visit to the Rietvlei Nature Reserve. The fact that the skyline of Pretoria is visible from most parts of the park takes away from a real bush feeling, but it is a very nice reserve with good birding opportunites . We were there on a week day, so it was rather quiet and I can imagine it will be a different story on a Saturday or Sunday. Birding was pretty good and we thoroughly enjoyed our day here. Being back in South Africa felt really good.




A female ostrich against a backdrop of pompom weed. Pretty in pink, but I've since learned that this invasive plant is a real threat to the grazing grasslands.


We did see some mammals, too, like this Eland. He did not seem to mind the Cattle Egret at all.






And a Meerkat family entertained us for a short while.




There were many Long-tailed Widowbirds doing display flights over the grasslands. They are such beautiful creatures and we never tired of watching them.




There are a few excellent hides in the reserve. Although the first one did not produce any close birds at all, outside the hide there were quite a few Red Bishops.




Giant Kingfisher.




And one or two Spotted Thick-knees. A worthwhile first day and quite a few more to come.

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I am hitched and along for the ride!


Some really stunning photos already!

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Thank you for keeping this trip up your sleeve Peter. 

Trip reports are a bit scarce at the moment so it is something to enjoy, especially as your photos are wonderful as usual.  Looking out of the window at the gloomy light we have here at the moment I long for the glorious rich colours of Africa.

Love the Ostrich.

Edited by Soukous
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Superb pictures. Thanks for sharing this. 

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Great start Peter, looking forward to more. :)

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Thank you for joining me here @Peter Connan@Soukous, @Biko, @AKR1, @michael-ibkand for the kind words.


A few weeks prior to our departure for South Africa I had contacted @Peter Connan, to ask for some advice on birding locations near Pretoria. Not only had he provided this, he kindly offered to accompany us to one of them: the Marievale Bird Sanctuary. He even went as far as picking us up at our B&B early in the morning. The weather started out a little grey and foggy, but it cleared later on and we spent a wonderful day birding the reserve and visiting the hides for photo opportunities. As it turned out Peter really likes the challenge of photographing birds in flight and so do I. Plenty of opportunities for that. It is a beautiful reserve and visiting it with someone who knew his way around the park and is great company made this a special day for us. So many thanks again, Peter. Now for some photos.




Strangely enough every sign we saw had a Pied Starling guarding it.







There were quite a few of these beautiful Hottentot Teals around.




The Egyptian Goose has also found its way to our country.




Southern Masked Weaver, taken from one of the hides.




Purple Swamphen, also from a hide. Such a beautiful colour!



Wood Sandpiper, a rather common migrant in the Netherlands.




Beside the path leading to on of the hides this Malachite Kingfisher kindly allowed some shots.





Edited by PeterHG
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What splendid  photos,  and looking forward  to your kruger trip report @PeterHG

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It was a great pleasure Peter.


You got some really nice shots despite the weather.

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Thank you @Peter Connanand @Towlersonsafari


The day after we met up with the other family members. We had arranged to meet at Milly’s restaurant on the N4 on our way to Marloth Park. We had thought about accommodation beforehand of course and we wanted to find a self-catering place where we could stay with the six of us. It should be within easy reach of the Kruger Park. We had found a reasonably priced house in Marloth Park, just 20 minutes from the Crocodile Bridge park entrance. A few weeks before we left, a horrible murder took place there, even reaching the national news in our country. I must confess I hesitated a little about still going there, but in general reports about the park’s safety were quite good.

When we arrived there our hostess showed us the elaborate and complicated alarm system, and by switching things on and off in the wrong order we put out a false alarm a few times in the days to follow. The speed with which there was a response helped to put our minds at ease ;)


Marloth Park is a large rather wild area with a few hundred holiday homes, where giraffes antelopes, wildebeest and zebras roam freely and the bird life is quite good. You can cycle through the park or walk along the banks of Crocodile River, which we did a few times. On one occasion our hostess sent us a text message, warning us to be careful on our way home as lions had killed an ostrich not far from our place. We did find the tracks. 



She later told us that lions frequently enter Marloth from the nearby Kruger park through holes in the fence. The owner of one of the restaurants in the park told us that in fact three or four lions had made a permanent home in the park and she never walked anywhere herself. She had been living here for 20 years. I don’t know how reliable her information was, as she also told us she had seen a large Boa Constrictor near the gate some weeks ago and I did not have the heart to tell her that would have been a long swim for the snake all the way from South America. Still, somehow our walks felt just a little less safe after that, but in daytime there’s really no risk. She told us the last time the lions killed a man was 15 years ago when they surprised a burglar near one of the houses. I suppose they are paid now to keep up the good work.



Taking a walk in Marloth Park


We stayed in Marloth for a week and visited the Kruger park almost every day. Of course it was  bit of a hassle to check in at the gate every day, but all in all the arrangement suited us for this period. The house itself was comfortable and, as we had bought an inexpensive guitar online beforehand and had it delivered here, we had pleasant evenings, too. 



 A Banded Mongoose family visited us at our home in Marloth.



White Rhino near Crocodile Bridge Restcamp



Buffalo along the bridge that crosses the river Sabie. This is always a good spot to find birds and mammals and the view is very nice.



Sunset Dam, near Lower Sabie restcamp. We went there a few times after lunch at the camp and it often produced some good birds and sometimes mammals. The crocs were always there, of course. The White-crowned Lapwing does not seem worried at all.



In this shot the spurs of the lapwing are clearly visible



There was a colony of Lesser Masked Weavers near the dam, offering good photo opportunities.



We also got great views of a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron


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Another batch of lovely photos. Just for future reference, a lot of South Africans seem to think Pythons are Boas.

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17 minutes ago, Peter Connan said:

, a lot of South Africans seem to think Pythons are Boas.

Ah that explains it, thank you!

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We stayed in Marloth for a week and visited the Kruger park almost every day. Of course it was  bit of a hassle to check in at the gate every time, but all in all the arrangement suited us for this period.

The mammal and bird watching in the southern part of the Kruger was quite good with plenty of mammals. Entering through the Crocodile Bridge gate we often took the H4-2 tar road towards Lower Sabie for a few kilometres and then turned off right onto the S28 dirt road. We had lunch a few times at Lower Sabie Restcamp where the restaurant has a nice view of the river, always offering something of interest. I am not the one with the heavy lens...;)






Practicing some flight shots from the terrace, while lunch was being prepared definitely qualified as relaxed birding.



Little Swift



Yellow-billed Stork


After that we would do a loop from there or return to the gate, following the H4-2 south again. The southern parts of the park have the reputation of being quite busy at times, but we never felt too crowded. Well, except when there were lion sightings, of course. It is always amazing to see how cars are completely ignored even in their more intimate moments. It is obvious that, at times like this, the Kruger rule 'no part of the body may protrude from the window', is not taken too literally.  






No shortage of Impala anywhere in the park, but we still could not get enough of these graceful antelopes.






And if mammal watching was a bit slow sometimes, there were always birds.



Wahlberg's Eagle



Cut-throat Finch



Red-billed Oxpecker



Red-billed Hornbill



Diederik Cuckoo (also from the terrace at Lower Sabie)



Lilac-breasted Roller. No trip to SA is complete without a photo af this bird, of course,



Brown Snake Eagle. I just love all those raptors in the park.



Southern Ground Hornbill. Diminishing numbers, but we still got to see them a few times.



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Lovely photos Peter!

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Wonderful TR and photos @PeterHG.   My favorite shots are the Wood Sand and the White-crowned Lapwing showing its spurs.


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Your birds are phenomenal and so is the one grasshopper, mid-mandibles!  I was loving the ostrich surrounded in pink then I read the pink stuff was invasive.

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I´ll be following your TR Peter, I´m a big fan of your photos.

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Your bird shots are especially stunning! Thanks so much for sharing. Sounds like a great trip!

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9 hours ago, mtanenbaum said:

Sounds like a great trip!

Thank you @mtanenbaum. Yes, it really was a great trip and we are still grateful for the fact that we managed to do this before the world closed down.

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After a week we left our accommodation in Marloth. We were going to spend 9 days inside the Kruger park and we selected three different restcamps for this: Satara, Mopani and Shingwedzi. In the first two there would still be the six of us, but after that my brother and sister-in-law would have to return to the Netherlands to join the workforce again. The remaining four had no such pressing obligations and could enjoy another 10 days in South-Africa.


Satara is one of the bigger camps in the Kruger. As it is laid out in circles it does not feel too massive. And it has a lot of interesting loops. Especially the s100 and the s126 turned out to be quite rewarding. For an extra spot of birding we regularly walked from our cottage to the Satara camping area. Not many campers at the time, but plenty of birds.



Southern Carmine Bee-eater. We saw quite a few on this trip.



Arrow-marked Babbler



The ubiquitous Woodland Kingfisher. Its laughing call, heard almost everywhere in the park, epitomizes the feeling of being in Africa for us. 



On one of our afternoon drives we followed the H7 tar road west and then turned off to do the s40 loop. Halfway we met an oncoming safari vehicle and the guide kindle alerted us to the fact that there was a leopard in a tree a few miles down the road. Not really close, but with a kill, so he would probably still be there. The expectation of a leopard sighting always brings an extra thrill to the chase and when we spotted it ten minutes later we could not have been happier. As it was getting quite late, we were the only car there and spend spend as much time as we could admiring the beautiful cat.




Again we never had the feeling the park was too crowded, even being based in such a large camp. And there was plenty to see. 







I think this lizard is known as a skink, but I'm happy to stand corrected.


We never tired of seeing the impressive South-African raptors.



Bateleur. The most beautiful of the eagles.



Black-shouldered Kite with its striking red eyes.


There are always some funny wildlife moments, too. Early one morning, just outside the camp we encountered these two birds, sharing a perch. They were both singing loudly, determined not to be outdone by the the neighbour. Well, singing might not be the correct word for their vocal efforts, but what they lacked in melody, they certainly made up for in volume.



Swainson's Spurfowl and Yellow-billed Hornbill

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I am sure that last photo could win an award!

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Swainson's Spurfowl and Yellow-billed Hornbill duet is a wonder.  Wish I could hear them.

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Splenid stuff @PeterHGbut you really should have persuaded an egyptian goose to join your tree top duo to really get that melodic sound!

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