Last weekend the family gathered at the Addo Elephant National Park for a combination of celebrations. With two vehicles and plenty of drivers available, there were ample opportunities for game drives. Three of our party also went horse-riding, an experience they all recommend is worth repeating.
Instead of our usual style of camping, we ensconced ourselves in the Forest Cabins this time. These are very comfortable wooden structures discreetly hidden from their neighbours by thick hedges of Spekboom and other indigenous bush.
Driving out as soon as the gates open at half past six in the morning was the order of the day. While it is still too dark then to take photographs, there is a sense of wonder in seeing a herd of dawn-coloured Eland walk across the road to disappear into the veld despite their size.
As the sky lightens, it becomes easier to see the herds of Zebra, Kudu and Hartebeest dotted all over the Park. In our quest to see somethign ‘different’ we found that Warthogs have an uncanny ability to ‘disguise’ themselves as all sorts of creatures from a distance – even in broad daylight!
We enjoyed seeing Buffalo breathing out clouds of steam as the sun rose; Black-backed Jackals walking purposefully across the veld; Yellow Mongooses scurrying across the road; and – of course – the majestic Elephants this Park was created to protect.
Everyone returned from their drives with tales and pictures of what they had seen. Two of our party photographed a Caracal right next to the road. The rest of us were briefly envious until, on our last morning, we saw an enormous Lion making its way down a slope, crossing the road in front of us and striding along the valley below. We watched until it disappeared from sight then drove on towards Rooidam in the hope it would emerge there.
It didn’t, but another did (we later learned these two are brothers): walking with a slight limp, this Lion walked intently towards the edge of the dam and then dipped out of sight. By reversing slightly, we were able to watch it lap the water thirstily and then disappear over the dam wall. There was great excitement all round and a shared feeling that this was a satisfying ending to what had been a wonderful weekend.
The aloes are in bloom at this time of the year and brighten up the wintery landscape. Other blooms include the vygies and pelargoniums. I noticed that the canary creepers there are still creating splashes of yellow, whereas the flowers in our garden have been reduced to puff balls that scatter in the wind.
An outing such as this is not necessarily ideal for bird watching, although I was able to spot a surprising number of birds while the attention of others was focused on something else.A highlight was seeing a Secretary Bird preening itself on top of a low bush. Even the animal watchers enjoyed this. It was good to spot a Southern Black Korhaan in the grass and several Pied Avocets on the edges of the waterholes we stopped at.
I opted out of some drives to observe birds from the comfort of the Forest Cabin balcony. My patience was rewarded with close-up views of Cape Robin, Sombre Bulbul, Boubou Shrike, Cape Weaver and even a Bar-throated Apalis that made its way through the hedge at eye-level.
Birds I noted over the weekend were:
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pale Chanting Goshawk
South African Shelduck
Southern Black Korhaan