EARTH DAY IN ADDO

What better place to celebrate Earth Day than to spend time away from a built-up environment: we chose to visit the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. Some visitors had close-up views of lions, spotted hyenas and even a black rhino. We didn’t draw that card, but observed a number of interesting things nonetheless.

It is the rutting season for kudu. Large herds of kudu does accompanied by one or two males appeared in several sections of the park we drove through, especially around Rooidam. Our attention was drawn to a loud hollow-sounding ‘thunking’ noise close to the road: two kudu bulls were sparring; kicking up dust as they locked horns and pushed each other this way and that.

What magnificent horns they sported. This is the victor of that encounter.

The heat drew herds of elephant to the bigger waterholes. We watched a group of four adults and two youngsters approach the small Marion Baree waterhole. They sprayed themselves with water on arrival.

They then moved to the mud hole next door, where the elephants scooped up balls of thick mud to throw over their backs.

By then the water in the concrete-lined dam had settled so a few drank before watching patiently as a youngster claimed the shallow dam for its own fun.

One has to watch out for dung beetles crossing the road at this time of the year.

Zebras with their painted faces did not disappoint.

Several came to quench their thirst at Domkrag.

A large flock of Pied Starlings came to join them.

A Karoo Scrub Robin came to investigate.

An inquisitive Egyptian Goose approached our vehicle at Hapoor.

Several Fork-tailed Drongos kept an eye on us at the Rest Camp water hole.

As did some Cape Glossy Starlings, looking magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight.

My bird list for the day:

Redwinged Starling
Barthroated Apalis
Fiscal Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Southern Boubou
Common Moorhen
Redbilled Teal
Backsmith Plover
Redknobbed Coot
Spurwing Goose
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pied Crow
Common Ringed Plover
Egyptian Goose
South African Shelduck
Bokmakierie
Black Crow
Cape Sparrow
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Robin
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Korhaan
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crowned Plover
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Cape Wagtail
Grey heron
Forktailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Laughing Dove

AFRICAN BUFFALO

The very name Addo Elephant National Park conjures up images of elephants and that is what most visitors expect to see when they arrive. While it is true that on some visits we have literally seen over a hundred elephants, there have been times when we have been fortunate to see the odd one here and there – and even times when not a single elephant has made an appearance!

One has to be patient though and simply driving around the park from one water hole to another is not likely to yield the best results. Be prepared to wait and keep your mind open for other possibilities. I find that African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) – also known as Cape Buffalo – are worth watching, whether you come across a single one or a herd.

Occasionally we have been fortunate enough to observe a buffalo encountering an elephant at a waterhole.

Or cooling off in one on its own.

These bulk grazers bear interestingly shaped horns with those of the males being characterised by a heavy boss.

Their heavy-set bodies and thick legs carry no particular markings, yet I find their faces are fascinating to observe.

CHRISTMAS IN ADDO

We decided to break with tradition this year and spent Christmas Day in the Addo Elephant National Park – as did hundreds of others! A long queue of vehicles developed outside the Matyholweni (meaning ‘in the bush’ in Xhosa) Gate at the southern entrance to the Park. Some people donned Christmas hats and there was an atmosphere of cheer as visitors in a festive mood greeted each other in passing. Jack’s Picnic Site was so chockful of people at noon that several families simply enjoyed a picnic lunch in the scant shade of their vehicles. Vehicles were parked as far back as the turnoff to the chalets when we reached the Main Rest Camp. The picnic site there too was filled to the brim with people braaiing or having a picnic in whatever shade they could find. Fortunately, we had booked for the 2 p.m. Christmas dinner at the Cattle Baron.

The weather was gloriously clear and a pleasantly warm 23°C when we arrived mid-morning. By three o’clock in the afternoon though the temperature had soared to 40°C and a strong wind had begun to whip up the dust, so thick in places that it was often difficult to see very far.

dusty Addo

This is a good time of the year to see the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) in bloom and we were not disappointed. The clusters of small, star-shaped, dusky pink flowers created a wonderful display from close to the ground to the trees that had somehow managed to grow tall without being eaten by elephants.

spekboom

There was an abundance of the latter: we were spoiled with magnificent sightings of hundreds of elephants, mostly near the waterholes of Hapoor and at the Main Rest Camp. In the image below you can see a fraction of one herd moving away from the water. Note the paths that have been made through the bush.

Addo elephants

Other elephants were at smaller waterholes and allowed us very close-up views of them.

Zebras are such photogenic creatures that it is very difficult to pick out one image from the many photographs I took of them.

zebra

Given the heat and the prolonged drought, it was very sad to see this mangy black-backed jackal making its way through the dry grass. This disease is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) burrowing into the skin to complete their lifecycle. The condition may become chronic and eventually leads to the death of the animal in the wild.

mangy blackbacked jackal

On a much more cheerful note, we saw this very attractive mountain tortoise next to the road as we were heading home at the end of an interesting Christmas Day.

mountain tortoise

My bird list is:

Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird
Black-headed Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Crowned Plover
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Lesser-striped Swallow
Ostrich
Pied Starling
Red-billed Teal
Red-knobbed Coot
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Stanley’s Bustard

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

CAPE BUFFALO AT ADDO

We considered ourselves fortunate to see a youngish Cape buffalo bull (Syncerus caffer) on the fringes of the large family group of elephants gathered at the Lismore Waterhole as we haven’t seen them at all on our previous few visits to the Addo Elephant National Park.

Cape buffalo

We later saw another lone bull knee-deep in a lush growth of grass and herby-looking plants. Co-operation was not his first name: he was so engrossed in his meal that he didn’t bother looking up even though we were parked fairly close to him for some time – hence my close-up views of the thick boss from which the horns grow.

Cape buffalo

Cape buffalo

Five buffalo had spread themselves on the hillside above the Ngulube Waterhole, three of which can be seen in the image below:

Ngulube Waterhole

This has been a good day for buffalo, we thought – until we drove out towards Arizona Dam. It was unbelievable at first … we gasped … and then we counted … and continued to count, for in the broad grassy plain close to three hundred buffalo were grazing, creating a most magnificent spectacle!

Cape buffalo

BIRD ANTICS IN ADDO

Despite the stiff breeze that whipped up dust, I was able to compile a satisfying list of birds seen in the Addo Elephant National Park. Even though the calls of Sombre Bulbuls dominate the park, their cryptic colouring makes them difficult to spot while driving through the bush. I thus was pleased to see a pair of them emerging from the scrub at Jack’s Picnic Site to scrounge for any titbits that might be lying around.

sombre bulbul

The most ubiquitous bird in the Park though is the Fiscal Shrike. They are seen everywhere: perching on the top of bushes, swooping down to catch an insect, or flying across the veld from one perch to another.

fiscal shrike

Southern Boubous are also very vocal at this time of the year. We could hear them whenever we were stopped at a waterhole and found it absorbing to watch a pair of them courting – in between eating – at the picnic site.

southern boubou

As we know, Egyptian Geese are territorial and quick to defend their spot. It was interesting observing a pair of them chasing a flock of South African Shelducks from ‘their’ sandbar in the middle of Ghwarrie Waterhole. In the image of the Domkrag Waterhole below, you can just make out a female Egyptian Goose setting off in the water with her goslings in tow.

Domkrag waterhole

Flocks of Speckled Mousebirds abounded. Their long tails make them easily identifiable as they fly across the veld. It is not always that easy to spot them once they have landed though for they blend easily into the vegetation.

speckled mousebird

During our visit to the Kruger National Park we became used to seeing animals covered with Red-billed Oxpeckers. Not so in Addo, instead on this visit we watched a Pied Crow that had been hovering around the elephants at Lismore Waterhole land briefly on a buffalo before taking off again.

pied crow on buffalo

pied crow leaving buffalo

Several Pied Starlings fringed the edge of the Woodlands Waterhole and as some kudu bulls arrived for a late afternoon drink, a starling hopped onto the back of one of them. The others looked on as if waiting for their turn!

pied starling on kudu

My bird list for the day:

Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black-shouldered Kite
Blacksmith Plover
Black-winged Stilt
Blue Crane
Bokmakierie
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cattle Egret
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
Fiscal Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
House Sparrow
Karoo Scrub Robin
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Little Grebe
Olive Thrush
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Pied Starling
Red-knobbed Coot
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Rufous-naped Lark
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Streaky-headed Canary
Yellow-billed Duck
Yellow-billed Kite