Regular visitors to the Domkrag waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park will be familiar with some of the birds that hover around the Spekboom hedge fringing the car park. A Cape Weaver was in a posing disposition:
How can one reduce the wonders of South Africa to a mere ten? I thought I would choose five, then it stretched to eight and then I knew I would have to stop at ten – even then I have had to be ruthless. So here they are in alphabetical order to save me from ranking them.
Aloes: These beautiful flowers stand out in the veld during the otherwise dry winter months and attract myriads of insects and birds at a time when food is not as plentiful as in other seasons. There are over 500 species of them – enough to warrant whole books to themselves.
Black-backed Jackal: I am well aware that small stock farmers curse these beautiful, wily creatures at times, but having watched them closely in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kruger National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park I regard them as one of the ‘must see’ animals on any visit.
Dirt roads: Venture onto a dirt road in this country and you know you are headed for an adventure. Kilometres of them criss-cross the land away from the main highways.
Elephants: We are so fortunate to live within easy visiting distance of the Addo Elephant National Park for we never tire of seeing these wondrous animals either on their own or in family groups. One can spend hours observing them at a water hole – meeting, greeting, drinking, mock charging, wallowing in the mud, blowing bubbles … they are endlessly fascinating.
Erythrinas: The scarlet blossoms of these trees, also known as coral trees, are also a feature of late winter and attract a wide variety of birds and insects. The red ‘lucky beans’ that fall to the ground are also beautiful.
Grass: It may sound odd to some, but I love the tawny coloured grass growing tall in the veld.
Giraffe: Not only are giraffe very photogenic, they are elegant and peaceful as they move between trees or bend down to drink.
Thorns: The long spines of the thorns of the Acacia trees have always fascinated me.
Windmills: Sadly these hardy icons of rural South Africa are becoming rarer with the more widespread use of solar-powered pumps. The clanking sound of the windmill as it turns in the wind is unforgettable.
Zebra: I cannot leave the zebra off my list – always sleek, beautiful, photogenic and very watchable creatures they are.
I wonder what your favourite things are.
I have come from the very dry Bushveld in the Limpopo Province to the softer, mellower landscape of the Addo Elephant National Park in a short hop: the contrast was made sharper by the transformation of the latter after some good rains. The veld boasts a rich green flush of grass, some flowers are blooming and the trees are beginning to expose their new spring coats. Driving through the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is a regular reminder of nature’s miracles.
The flowers give the veld a cheerful lift in the form of yellowy-orange aloes, scarlet Schotia spp., pink pelargoniums peeping through the shrubbery, carpets of yellow Senecio spp., the remnants of orange Leonatus leonurus, blue Felicia spp., and a brilliant array of yellow Gazania spp.
There was a light cloud cover overhead and a steady wind blowing for most of the day. The temperature gradually rose from 19°C to peak at 24°C before dropping during the latter part of the afternoon. Game viewing was excellent.
Warthogs, zebra, hartebeest and kudu were plentiful – many of the latter were observed grazing out in the open on the fresh grass shoots, rather than nibbling on the leaves of trees in the thickets.
We enjoyed seeing a lot of elephants too. One almost brushed past our vehicle, it was so close. Another had a broken tusk.
This time we saw only two single buffalo.
Something different was the sight of several suricates digging in the earth while we were on our way to Carol’s Rest.
An enormous tortoise lumbering next to the road seemed to bid us farewell as we made drove towards the exit gate, having enjoyed a wonderful day in Addo.
My bird list is:
Cape Turtle Dove
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
South African Shelduck
I mentioned last time how surprising it was not to see Egyptian Geese at Rooidam in the Addo Elephant National Park, even though it was full of water. This is because pairs of these birds tend to dominate stretches of water, fiercely guarding their territory against perceived intruders.
They sometimes perch on high points, as this one is in a park in Cape Town, as if to keep a beady eye on their territory.
I think of them as ‘geese’ rather than as an individual ‘goose’ because, as a pair, they form a strong bond and are monogamous. It is interesting to watch them during the breeding season in particular, when the males vigorously chase off any rivals – we have often observed this behaviour while parked for a while at Ghwarrie Dam. This involves a lot of flapping of wings, honking and hissing noises. Their pinkish legs and feet become more reddish during the breeding season.
I presume the appellation ‘Egyptian’ derives from these birds having originated in the Nile Valley. Literature suggests that they were regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt and thus depicted in the art of that country.
The Afrikaans name, Kolgans, appropriately draws attention to the distinctive brown patch in the middle of the bird’s buff-coloured chest. They are attractive birds that are seen all over the country and can be seen grazing at the edge of a waterhole in a game reserve as easily as on golf courses and lawns.
They are nonetheless interesting birds to watch throughout the year.
The dew was still thick on the ground and glistened like a myriad diamonds in the early morning sun when we entered the Addo Elephant National Park for the second time in just over two weeks. It was a gloriously clear winter’s day that warmed up gradually from 9°C to a very comfortable 23°C by the middle of the afternoon.
Warthogs were the first animals we spotted. They are ubiquitous: mowing the road verges, drinking from waterholes, and generally moving through the veld in family groups.
Birdwatching became easier once we had emerged from the Eastern Cape Thicket, along with seeing more game. A female Ostrich stopped us in our tracks as she calmly proceeded with her dust bath on the Mbotyi Loop, sweeping her head and neck along the dusty ground and fluffing out her feathers.
Another pleasant surprise came in the form of a pair of Secretary Birds striding purposefully across the veld, coming close enough for us to see their fine crests that earned them their name because it is reminiscent of the quill pens 19th century secretaries tended to stick in their hair or wigs.
Two other unusual bird sightings were a pair of Denham’s Bustards and a glimpse of a Burchell’s Coucal. The latter scuttled through the undergrowth next to the road before I could even lift my camera. This behaviour is so different from the ones in the Kruger National Park. There we saw several Burchell’s Coucals flying across the open veld, seemingly content to remain on their prominent perches for a while as they surveyed their surroundings.
Majestic looking kudu, delightful zebras and shining hartebeest abounded throughout the Park, which was alive with the shrill answering calls of Sombre Bulbuls and sprinkled with Fiscal Shrikes at every turn.
The veld is still relatively green and is brightened by a variety of different coloured blossoms: pale blue Plumbago, bright red schotia, orange and yellow aloes, bright yellow canary creepers, orange Cape honeysuckle, purple verbena, and blue felicia.
Unfortunately we arrived at Hapoor just as an enormous herd of elephant was dispersing into the veld. A few stragglers remained for a while, affording us the opportunity to watch them.
Rooidam was full of water. Oddly enough there wasn’t even a pair of Egyptian Geese to be seen. This is in contrast to Ghwarrie Dam, where we watched two Blackwinged Stilts work their way through the shallow water, and at Domkrag.
The sun was already low in the sky when we nosed our way homewards, having enjoyed a brief look at an elephant at the waterhole at the Main Camp and marvelled at the pink-tinged clouds on the western horizon.
My bird list is:
African Stone Chat
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Turtle Dove
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
Pale Chanting Goshawk
South African Shelduck
The Skukuza area proved to be a little disappointing after the bounty of game we had become accustomed to during our sojourn at Satara Camp. The vegetation is bushier, so the animals are not as easy to see, on some days the temperature peaked at 40°C, and – as happens periodically – perhaps luck was not always on our side. There is more to enjoy about a trip to a game reserve than spotting wild animals though. We revelled in the picturesque rocky outcrops.
On one of them we saw a klipspringer surveying its kingdom.
The multi-hued trees and waterholes, such as Transport Dam, are magnificent to behold.
It was at the bird hide at Lake Panic that I was able to watch a Giant Kingfisher from close quarters.
The Water Thick-knees were easier to see there too as they were so close in comparison to my previous sightings along river banks much further away.
It was on a circular trip from Skukuza to Berg-en-Dal and back that we saw ten white rhinos in different locations.
The waterhole at Berg-en-Dal attracted elephants and blue wildebeest while we were there as well as hosting at least one resident crocodile and several terrapins.
Picnic sites such as Tshokwane and Afsaal make good stopping points when embarking on a long drive. Both of these places appeared to have relatively tame bushbuck on the periphery – as well as the inevitable visits by vervet monkeys and baboons. Bearded woodpeckers announced their presence with their tap-tapping on the bark of trees.
Having grown up in the Lowveld, I enjoyed being amongst trees so familiar from my youth: leadwood, appleleaf, jackalberry, and especially the kiaat trees. Their peculiarly shaped pods fascinated me as a child and the sight of them unlocked many fond memories from that time.
Helmeted Guineafowl and Blue Waxbills are birds that I grew up with.
As I usually struggle to see the African Green Pigeons in the thick foliage of the fig tree in our garden, it was interesting so see them close by and out in the open for a change.
We saw more ground Hornbills in the Skukuza area than had been evident around Satara. The largest group we came across included young ones in various stages of maturity.
Although I have mentioned them before, it was good to see how prolific the Red-billed Oxpeckers were – always clearing their hosts of ticks with no place being too much trouble for them to ‘service’.
Zebras are naturally photogenic. This one sports particularly dark stripes.
Among some of the less common creatures we came across were several mountain tortoises
Large fruit bats hanging from the eaves outside the shop in Skukuza
And the pale geckos that feasted on insects attracted to the lights outside the ablution blocks.
It was at Skukuza that I went on my first night-drive through the Kruger National Park. The spotlights showed up scrub hares, bush babies, a grey duiker and several spotted hyenas. The highlight for most visitors though was seeing three lionesses on a rock dome. They were so sated they could barely move so the multitude of camera flashes worried them not a bit. Having been on the lookout from day one, it was only on our way out of the Park that we eventually spotted a leopard lying in a dry riverbed far below the level of the road. The closely packed vehicles made it impossible to capture it in my viewfinder, so I will cheat by showing one we saw three years ago!
A morning spent at the camp afforded me the opportunity to observe some of the many birds that flitted through the thick foliage hedging our campsite. These included the rather raucous Purple Turaco and the very attractive Red-capped Robin Chat.
How can I leave the Kruger National Park without mentioning either that ubiquitous bird, the Yellow-billed Hornbill or the golden orb spiders!
Just for the record, here is my bird list for April- May:
Acacia Pied Barbet
African Fish Eagle
African Green Pigeon
African Grey Hornbill
African Hawk Eagle
African Mourning Dove
African Yellow White-eye
Bearded Scrub Robin
Brown Snake Eagle
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Turtle Dove
Common Ringed Plover
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
Red-capped Robin Chat
Southern White-crowned Shrike
Spotted Eagle Owl
White-browed Robin Chat
White-browed Scrub Robin
Satara is a lovely camp from which to explore the northern section of the Kruger National Park. Travelling as far as Letaba Camp makes a good day’s outing – pack a picnic lunch though! The many trees in Satara help to make the camp a haven for birds, perhaps the most striking of which are the Red-billed Buffalo Weavers.
Grey Louries flit about for most of the day, sometimes giving their characteristic ‘go away’ calls. Mostly they are silent as they work their way through the trees eating pods or berries. They also enjoy coming down to drink from pools of water left over by the rain or containers left under the communal standing taps dotted about the camp.
There was such a range of interesting things to see in this area that I can only touch on them. A favourite place to visit, for example, was the Nsemani Dam on the Orpen Road, where one can be guaranteed to see hippos, crocodiles and a variety of birds ranging from African Fish Eagles to Water Thick-knees to Three-banded Plovers.
You know how, when driving through a game reserve, every log purports to be an animal of some kind? Well, one morning we came across a cheetah sitting upright and looking for all the world like a log!
Having discovered a spotted hyena den in a culvert only about two kilometres from the camp on the Olifants road, we spent over an hour watching these interesting creatures as soon as the gates opened at six in the morning. We would also stop by to observe them in the late afternoon if we were returning to camp from that direction.
Returning from one such sojourn, we felt privileged to watch a Martial Eagle perched in a tree next to the road, within sight of the turn-off to Satara Camp. This sighting is all the more precious as there are apparently only thirty known breeding pairs left within the Kruger National Park.
Other interesting sightings within the camp itself include the Brown-headed Parrots that gathered to feed on the long seed pods of the long-tail cassia (Cassia abbreviate subsp. beareana) tree growing next to our campsite. The parrots break open the long seed pods in order to extract the seeds. The opened pods are later visited by other birds, such as African Mourning Doves, Cape Glossy Starlings, Grey Louries and Red-billed Woodhoopoes.
Flocks of Arrow-marked Babblers, with their raucous cackling laughter, fly through the veld – usually heard before they are seen – and are regular visitors to the camp.
Having seen two black rhino on the Orpen road soon after our arrival, it was wonderful to come across three white rhino on our way back from a drive to Letaba Camp.
It was on that drive that I photographed these spectacular species of Impala Lilies at the Olifants Camp.
I have already mentioned the amorous giraffe couple and found I could not resist photographing the heads of these elegant looking creatures.
An abundance of Red-billed Oxpeckers have been seen in this area riding on animals as diverse as giraffe, hippo, impala and buffalo.
A really special sighting was that of a single Ground Hornbill walking among a herd of impala.
Who can resist focusing on the characteristic pattern on the rear of a waterbuck?
Moving from patterns to shapes. These are the knobbly lateral roots of some of the tall fever trees growing near the reception area of the reception of Satara Camp.
During our stay in Satara we experienced searing heat, a spectacular thunderstorm, set-in rain, bright sunshine and some evening with a welcome chill in the air. We even experienced what everyone thought at first was Eskom load-shedding, except that the electricity remained off for 24 hours. A small notice at reception and in the ablution blocks the following day informed visitors that a power cable had broken.
While we thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn in Satara, tent campers be aware that the sites consist of open stony ground with hardly a blade of grass in sight. Walking barefoot is not really an option and one is advised to clear the site of as many sharp stones as possible before pitching one’s tent!