BRYAN HAS WOKEN UP

Bryan, the angulate tortoise, that has made our garden his home for a number of years, has emerged from his winter hiding place to strut about the garden once more.

We have seen him eating grass and other plants in the garden, nibbling with intent before walking surprisingly fast to seek shelter from the sun. We cannot always find him for he hides so well, but it is comforting to know that he has survived the cold weather and has continued to grow.

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FLOWERS ON THE MENU

With flowers blooming in such abundance, which omnivorous, grazing or browsing animal can resist such a feast? Certainly not this enormous Leopard Tortoise!

This Red Hartebeest was tucking in too:

So was this elephant:

As were these zebra:

These photographs were all taken in the Addo Elephant National Park.

LEOPARD TORTOISES IN ADDO

The Leopard Tortoise is also called a Mountain Tortoise in direct translation of its Afrikaans name, Bergskilpad. According to the SANBI, the genus name Stigmochelys is a combination of the Greek words stigma meaning ‘marked’ and chelone meaning ‘tortoise’. The specific epithet pardalis is derived from the Greek word pardos meaning ‘spotted’ after the spotted shell.

These are the largest tortoises in South Africa and are always a joy to see in the wild. The Addo Elephant National Park is an excellent place to come across them – a visit there hardly seems complete without seeing at least one Leopard Tortoise. We have been fortunate to see several on our recent visits.

A light sprinkling of rain, gives this Leopard Tortoise a newly washed look as it crossed the tar road. Because of the absence of a nucal shield, these are the only tortoises able to raise their heads – and the only ones that can swim!

Here a Leopard Tortoise was making the most of the new green shoots of grass to emerge after the recent rain in the Addo Elephant National Park.

While they are mostly herbivorous, Leopard Tortoises have also been known to gnaw bones, and to eat carnivore faeces to obtain calcium for shell growth and the development of eggshells. This one appears to have damaged its horny beak, giving it a gap-toothed look – although they are actually toothless.

Even though they derive some liquid from their diet, Leopard Tortoises drink water readily when it is available. This one was making for the waterhole at Carol’s Rest at considerable speed!

ANGULATE TORTOISE

I was driving out of town yesterday when an Angulate Tortoise walking next to the road caught my eye.

angulate tortoise

It felt akin to seeing another dog that mimics the look of your own pet in a place where this is impossible. Of course, I am referring to Bryan – the Angulate Tortoise that has made our garden his home for the past couple of years. I saw him the other day, chomping at the weeds on our lawn – he is looking healthy and is clearly growing, so we should measure and weigh him before summer ends.

This one has an undamaged carapace and was walking surprisingly quickly to get out of the sun beating overhead.

angulate tortoise

TORTOISES AT ADDO

Not to be outdone by the Cape buffalo, leopard tortoises were also out in force during our recent visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. These tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) are often called mountain tortoises from directly translating the Afrikaans name for them, bergskilpad. They grow to be the largest tortoises in South Africa, which makes the mature ones easy to spot in the veld – if they are around.

The first one we saw was in the vicinity of the Lismore Waterhole, seemingly unperturbed by the presence of so many elephants. Although we watched it closely for some time, marvelling at its size, the wise look in its eyes and the good condition of its carapace, it was only once I was studying its image on my computer that I noticed the tick on it!

leopard tortoise

Apparently it is not uncommon to find tortoises in the wild that are infested with ticks in the soft skin of their necks and upper limbs. Notice its well-developed back legs and the pigeon-toed front legs. The row of small nails helps the tortoise to manoeuvre over rocks and to walk at speed. You would be surprised to see how quickly these tortoises can move through the veld!

Another lone tortoise appeared near the road on our way to the Hapoor Waterhole.

leopard tortoise

This is not unusual for they tend to be loners except for during the mating season. That is when the males follow females for some distance and then butt them into submission. We couldn’t help wondering if this is what was happening near Ghwarrie. We watched these two pushing each other for about ten minutes – and they had been at it before we arrived. It could equally have been an example of competitor ramming, especially as these ones were head-to-head.

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

By the end of our trip we had lost count of the number of leopard tortoises we had seen – some striding ahead purposefully, others munching grass contentedly, and yet others ambling across the road with the confidence of knowing that they have right of way.

We spotted one angulate tortoise and it was not waiting around for any touristy shots. Instead, it was walking as fast as its legs could carry it across the road to where it could hide in the dry grass.

angulate tortoise

MEET SAMMY

Sammy, a relatively young Leopard Tortoise, was brought to us after being found on a local junior school campus. He has already had quite a tough life as one can tell from the damage to the skirt of his carapace – doubtless stemming from the curiosity of dogs.

Leopard tortoise

He was brought to our garden on a very chilly afternoon, carefully conveyed in a beer box.

leopard tortoise

The shell pattern is very attractive – both on top and underneath.

leopard tortoise

Once Sammy had undergone the ignominy of being photographed from all angles, he found refuge under the Spekboom growing near the swimming pool.

leopard tortoise

It was a day or so later that we spotted him exploring the tangle of Plumbago before he disappeared for a while. Once the bout of cold weather gave way to warm sunshine, however, Sammy was on the move again and was last seen tucking himself away under the Van Stadens Daisies on the edge of the lawn. This is good news for Leopard Tortoises mostly eat grass – of which we have a variety in the garden. Sammy has the freedom to go wherever he pleases. I wonder when, and if, he will meet Bryan (the Angulate Tortoise) during his wanderings.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SKUKUZA

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SKUKUZA

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.

kopje

On one of them we saw a klipspringer surveying its kingdom.

klipspringer

The multi-hued trees and waterholes, such as Transport Dam, are magnificent to behold.

Transport Dam

It was at the bird hide at Lake Panic that I was able to watch a Giant Kingfisher from close quarters.

giant kingfisher

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.

Water Thick-knee

It was on a circular trip from Skukuza to Berg-en-Dal and back that we saw ten white rhinos in different locations.

whiterhino

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.

elephantsknp

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.

bearded woodpecker

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.

kiaat

Helmeted Guineafowl and Blue Waxbills are birds that I grew up with.

helmeted guineafowl

blue waxbill

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.

African Green Pigeon

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.

groundhornbill

young ground hornbill

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’.

redbilled oxpeckers

Zebras are naturally photogenic. This one sports particularly dark stripes.

zebra

Among some of the less common creatures we came across were several mountain tortoises

A leguaan

leguaan

Large fruit bats hanging from the eaves outside the shop in Skukuza

fruit bat

And the pale geckos that feasted on insects attracted to the lights outside the ablution blocks.

gecko

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!

leopard

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.

purple turaco

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!

yellow-billed hornbill

spider

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 Jacana
African Mourning Dove
African Yellow White-eye
Amur Falcon
Arrow-marked Babbler
Barn Swallow
Bataleur
Bearded Scrub Robin
Bearded Woodpecker
Black Crake
Black-backed Puffback
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Heron
Black-headed Oriole
Blacksmith Plover
Black-winged Stilt
Blue Waxbill
Boubou Shrike
Bronze-winged Courser
Brown Snake Eagle
Brown-headed Parrot
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Burchell’s Coucal
Burchell’s Starling
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Turtle Dove
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Collared Sunbird
Common Moorhen
Common Ringed Plover
Crested Barbet
Crested Francolin
Crowned Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
European Bee-eater
Fork-tailed Drongo
Giant Kingfisher
Golden-tailed Woodpecker
Goliath Heron
Great Egret
Great Sparrow
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Green-backed Camaroptera
Green-backed Heron
Grey Heron
Grey Lourie
Grey-billed Hornbill
Grey-headed Sparrow
Ground Hornbill
Groundscraper Thrush
Hadeda Ibis
Hamerkop
Helmeted Guineafowl
Hooded Vulture
Hoopoe
House Sparrow
Kori Bustard
Laughing Dove
Lazy Cisticola
Lilac-breasted Roller
Little Bittern
Lizard Buzzard
Magpie Shrike
Malachite Kingfisher
Marabou Stork
Martial Eagle
Namaqua Dove
Natal Spurfowl
Open-bill Stork
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Peregrine Falcon
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Wagtail
Purple Roller
Purple-crested Turaco
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
Red-billed Firefinch
Red-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-capped Robin Chat
Red-faced Mousebird
Red-winged Starling
Saddle-billed Stork
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
Southern White-crowned Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Spoonbill
Spotted Eagle Owl
Squacco Heron
Steppe Buzzard
Swainson’s Spurfowl
Terrestrial Brownbul
Three-banded Plover
Water Thick-knee
Whalberg’s Eagle
White-backed Vulture
White-bellied Sunbird
White-browed Robin Chat
White-browed Scrub Robin
White-fronted Bee-eater
White-headed Vulture
White-rumped Swift
Wire-tailed Swallow
Woolly-necked Stork
Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Yellow-billed Hornbill
Yellow-billed Stork
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Yellow-fronted Canary