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

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

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.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW IN ADDO

We were the only ones parked at Ghwarrie Dam. While watching the antics of the South African Shellducks, Egyptian Geese, and the Stilts, we looked up to see two male lions padding purposefully along the edge of the dam. Not a sound did they make. There was not even a flurry of concern from the birds.

Lions at Ghwarrie Dam

We watched in awe as one chose to walk along the edge of the water and the other a route a little further from the bank.

lion at Ghwarrie Dam

The two lions padded past an old elephant carcass without halting their stride – and disappeared. They had covered the distance in under two minutes.

Game viewing depends so much on the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. We were joined by another vehicle not a minute later. The occupants scanned the dam and asked hopefully, “Seen anything interesting here?” There was no chance of them seeing the lions. “You’re so lucky!” They pulled off to seek their own good fortune elsewhere.

We later watched an elephant calf suckling its mother at the Spekboom waterhole.

suckling elephant

At what has become known as Windmill Dam, four zebra waited patiently for the elephants to drink their fill.

zebra and elephant

Further on, some red hartebeest nibbled at the dry grass.

red hartebeest

We decided to exit the Addo Elephant National Park via the Ngulube Loop. A low russet shape moving quickly through the long grass at the edge of the road caught our attention. The movement was far too quick for me to focus my camera and so I simply enjoyed our good fortune at seeing the unmistakeable shape of a caracal emerging from the tangle of spiky shrubs and long grass and bound across the road in the mellow afternoon sunshine – my first sighting of one in the Park.

Good game viewing really can be the result of the luck of the draw sometimes!