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

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

ELEPHANTS AT ADDO

ELEPHANTS AT ADDO

Of course one expects to see elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park and we were not disappointed:

Three bulls at the Peasland Waterhole spent a long time slurping water from the bottom of the concrete waterhole (note the warthogs are almost lost in it – an indication of how low the water level was) and blowing it around the dry sides. At times they almost bumped heads they were standing so close to each other.

elephant bulls

A large family group gathered at the Lismore Waterhole were fascinating to watch as they included elephants of all ages.

elephant family

They stood close together to drink.

elephants drinking

The elephants presented a forest of legs when seen from the rear.

rear of elephants

Two young male calves busied themselves on the fringe pushing and shoving each other – just as little boys might do at a family gathering:

elephants playing

elephants playing

elephants playing

Look at this tiny youngster among a smaller family group drinking at the Marion Baree Waterhole:

baby elephant

This car – and several others behind it – had to wait a while before these two elephants decided to give way.

elephants

Our last view was this lone elephant having a late afternoon drink at the Domkrag Waterhole.

elephant

ADDO IN NOVEMBER

It was a perfect day for visiting the Addo Elephant National Park on Tuesday: overcast with the temperature rising to a pleasant 26°C during the course of the day. A light breeze was blowing when we entered the Matyholweni Gate in the southern section of the park, which later strengthened to whip up clouds of dust in the latter part of the afternoon. The green trees and the good grass cover was a stark contrast to the drought conditions I have described in the Kruger National Park, although we soon realised the northern section is a lot drier and large areas look barren. May good summer rains fall soon!

The Ndlovu lookout point was our first port of call. One can get out there – at your own risk – to admire the splendid view, which includes the well-worn animal tracks at the bottom of the valley.

Ndlovulookoutpoint

One can also get a closer look at plants such as the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra). Not only is this plant sometimes appropriately referred to as Elephant Food, forming as it does up to 80% of the diet of the elephants at Addo, but it has developed a reputation for its incredible ability to absorb carbon. I have read that one hectare of Spekboom can remove up to 4.2 tonnes of CO2 per year! The leaves that fall to the ground provide food for tortoises.

spekboom

The Park was dominated by blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) which, despite having been browsed almost to ground level in places, is putting out new shoots and leaves as well as flowers.

plumbago

Pink trailing pelargoniums (Pelargonium alchemilloides) make a show too as they sprawl against rocks and other plants.

pelargonium spp

We were met with a sea of yellow when we got out to stretch our legs at the Algoa Bay lookout point. If anyone can identify these flowers, please let me know.

Algoa Bay Lookoutpoint

yellowflowers

There were also small patches of this purple flower that looks like a verbena. Again, if you can identify it I would love to know.

verbena

The enormous donga near the Ngulube Waterhole is showing signs of rehabilitating itself: trees and shrubs are beginning to grow within the deep scars of erosion. There is clearly a long way to go still.

donga

Where would we be without waterholes, especially after such a long dry period? Both Rooidam and the Arizona Dam were empty, but others contained sufficient water to attract animals. At the Peasland Waterhole elephant bulls grudgingly shared the water with a group of warthogs.

Peasland waterhole

We came across a spectacular scene at the Ngulube Waterhole of elephants, zebra, warthogs and buffalo.

Ngulube waterhole

It is unfortunate that reeds / bulrushes are encroaching on both the Hapoor and Domkrag waterholes. Not only are they absorbing a lot of water, but there is less open water available for birds and animals. On that note, it is pleasing to see that the tangled growth of reeds have been cut down in front of the bird hide at the Main Camp.

SWENI HIDE

The Sweni Hide in the Kruger National Park must rank as one of the best places to spend time in for it is spacious, airy, and commands a wonderful view of the Sweni River.

Sweni Hide

Sweni Hide

With resident hippos, crocodiles, Egyptian Geese, Black Crakes, African Pied Wagtails, a Grey Heron, Blacksmith Plovers, Water Thick-knees, and a Yellow-billed Stork, there was always something to watch.

yellow-billed stork

yellow-billed stork

We watched a herd of over forty elephants fan around the water to drink, wallow and spray themselves with mud.

elephants

elephants

A troop of chacma baboons spent time working their way from one end of the waterhole to well beyond the hide: eating, chasing each other, grooming one another, and drinking.

chacma baboons

One crocodile spent several hours catching fish while others basked in the sun on the rocks or lay quietly in the water.

crocodile

crocodile

A pod of hippos, which had been lying on the sandy bank, entered the water en masse when an elephant came down the slope.

elephantandhippos

Impala, kudu, and waterbuck also came down to drink. As at Transport Dam, we were never out of sight of something to watch. The difference was that here we could move around and enjoy a cool breeze.

TRANSPORT DAM

Open any outdoor/travel-related magazine in South Africa and you are bound to come across photographic evidence of wonderful sightings of wildlife seen at Transport Dam, some 24 km from Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. It is a waterhole worth spending time at and this year was no exception – we happily parked there for five hours. Okay, there were no dramatic happenings, but there was always something to watch.

Before I get onto what we saw, this is what Transport Dam looked like in April 2015

And the shock that awaited us in September 2016, where the devastating effect of the drought is blatantly obvious.

Transport Dam

Patience is required when watching nature reveal itself. The kudu were diffident, cautious about approaching the water, and left as soon as they had slaked their thirst. Impala, on the other hand, came and went in large herds – one of close to a hundred – carefully skirting the section of the bank where a crocodile basked in the sun.

impala

At first one elephant made its way to the dam, sprayed itself with muddy water, drank deeply, and then walked further into the dam to submerge itself completely before leaving in a determined manner.

elephant

Later, another young bull arrived in a feisty mood, striding forward, scattering impala in its wake and sending the resident Egyptian Goose flying across to the opposite bank. He trumpeted loudly, chased after a few impala standing nearby, and then splashed himself with water, drank his fill and seemed reluctant to leave. I got the impression that it is no fun for a young bull elephant to drink by himself. Too true. He stood to one side and watched as, a while later, two other young bulls waded into the water. Greetings over and the fun began. The three elephants soon submerged themselves, climbed on top of each other, and were clearly having fun until – at some signal only they recognised – they broke away from each other and left abruptly.

A lone giraffe took a long time to make its elegant way through the sparse vegetation to the edge of the water. Caution meant that a good 45 minutes passed before it finally bent down to drink.

giraffe

Several herds of Burchell’s zebra came to drink at one time or another, often with foals in tow.

zebra

Warthogs wallowed in the mud and two hippos submerged in the water would occasionally show only their noses or a fraction of their heads. It was the arrival of a white rhinoceros that caused a stir of excitement. Covered with up to twenty Red-billed Oxpeckers, it lumbered towards the dam, stopping short for a good mud wallow before slaking its thirst.

white rhinoceros

white rhinoceros

Blue wildebeest, vervet monkeys and waterbuck arrived and left during the time we spent at Transport Dam. For me, however, the most exciting event of all was when a Bataleur alighted right next to our vehicle. It returned there more than once and at one stage was joined on the ground by its mate.