Month: January 2013

Shingwedzi, December 2012, Continued again

Like all good things, our trip to Shingwedzi also had to come to an end. The end that was in store for us this time, however, was one of the best we’ve ever had.

Some distance after Babalala, on the way to Punda Maria gate, we saw some Vultures sitting in the trees. As we approached the spot, we saw more and more vultures, and realized that we were about to stumble upon a kill quite close to the road. It turned out that the kill was right next to the road, and the vultures were fighting over the scraps on both sides of the road. We spent over an hour photographing the commotion!


Lappet Faced Vulture

Shingwedzi, December 2012 – continued

We quickly realised that we won’t get many sightings of large game around the camp, due to the extreme drought. The only real opportunities close to the camp were the water-birds that frequented the remaining pools in the river-bed, and the resident troop of baboons.

We drove up the the S52 towards Red Rocks, checking on a water-hole where we had photographed Buffalo and Elephants on a previous trip, but all that was left of the water-hole was a tine pool of green, stagnant water. The veld towards Red Rocks was bone-dry and the only sightings on the entire S52 was a family of wart-hogs and a single troop of baboons. So after that one trip, we decided to rather spend out time between the Shingwedzi causeway, driving up to the wet area towards Babalala, and hunting for small birds and trying to tick off as many species as we could. This included one day where we spent most of the day sitting under the large trees on the confluence look, just looking for new species and ticking them off! The “birding” is something that is very new to us, but something we intend to pursue more in future.

African Open Bill

Tawny-flanked Prinia

Amur Falcon

Due to the drought, bird-sightings outnumbered large animal sighting by far, but we still got to spend several very entertaining hours with the resident baboon troop.

Baboon friends

And chasing after the dragon flies that seemed to be everywhere!

Dragon Fly

On the 27th, we decided to drive up the S56 (Shingwedzi river road, and all the way to Mopanie. We started off at a leisurely pace, checking every little loop and river viewpoint along the way. At one of these viewpoints, we stumbled upon a very picturesque pool among some rocks in the river bed, hosting a staggering variety of birds. From where we were parked, we could see    different heroin and egret species – a goliath heron, a grey heroin, a black-headed heron, a green-backed heron and a great egret. We could also see saddle-billed, open-billed and yellow-billed storks, bee-eaters, red-billed buffalo weavers, Pied Kingfishers, Francolins and, to crown it all, a fish-eagle! Needless to say, we spent more than an hour at that spot.

African Fish Eagle

Our next stop was Grootvlei dam. And what an experience we had there! A herd of about a dozen bull-elephants, playing, wrestling and generally lolling about in the middle of the dam! Without a second thought, we broke our rule of never shooting in bad light, and started clicking away, trying to capture this amazing sighting.

Elephant Bath

Shingwedzi, December 2012

Trip Gallery

After our first visit to Shingwedzi in April, we decided to go back in summer. We had two reasons:

Direction of light: In winter, the sun, very frustratingly, rose and set over the river. That meant that we were never able to photograph animals in the river bed from the road running alongside it. In summer, the sun shifted enough to bathe the river bed in sweet light both in the morning and the afternoon.

Birdlife: The Shingwedzi area is known for its diverse bird life. However, many species are migratory, and were absent in early winter.

Way to PundaSo we decided to brace ourselves for the heat and booked a bungalow for 23-31 December.

We headed for the Punda Maria gate via Giyani. Driving through rural Limpopo is an experience that is always guaranteed to make you feel like a tourist in your own country.

Donkey next to the road in rural Limpopo Rural Limpopo

Punda Maria GatePunda Maria gate was a welcome site as always – We were there! The reception, housed in charming thatched rondavels modeled on huts built by the local Tsonga people, was cool and the staff was friendly. We checked in quickly and was on our way to Shingwedzi, with a quick stop-over at Punda Maria camp, to stock up on fuel, cool drinks and ice-cream to ward off the searing heat. Entering through Punda Maria camp’s rustic gate, we vowed to go back for another stay in the Kruger’s northern-most camp. Entrance to Shingwedzi CampNot only does Punda Maria camp have a lovely atmosphere, but it is also close to some of our favorite photo-spots: The Mahonie loop, which never fails to deliver something interesting and the little unnamed dam on the H13-1, which seems to be frequented by large herds of Buffalo and Elephant on an almost daily basis. Beyond that, it is also the only Sanparks camp that is withing comfortable driving distance of the incredibly picturesque Pafuri region and Frank Mabasa’s stunning Pafuri picnic site.

But all that is for a future trip, for now, we set off down the H13-1 to Shingwedzi. As we drove, we were more and more distressed about the extreme drought was saw around us. The Mopane trees were green as always, but the ground underneath them was parched, and there was barely a blade of grass in sight. The little unnamed dam we considered our own, was almost completely dry. Of course, there was barely an animal in sight, apart from a few Njala feeding on the Mopanes.

Bridge over the Shingwedzi riverBizarrely, as we neared Babalala picnic site, the parched land suddenly got extremely wet. Standing water turned the grassland on either side of the road into swamps, and there were elephants as far as the eye could see. It looked like a piece of paradise! About 20km before we reached Shingwedzi, the water dried up as suddenly as it started. A few pools in the Shingwedzi river bed was all the remained of the rain that had fallen a few weeks before our trip. These pools, however, would provide us with excellent photo-opportunities.

Shingwedzi Camp receptionWe arrived at Shingwedzi around 3:30, and 15 minutes later were unloading our gear at unit 30, just in time for a leasurly drive up the river road. The sightings were few and far between, but we spent some time watching a herd of impala with several tiny lambs and a troop of baboon. Finally, we were rewarded with a sighting of the rare but beautiful Sharpe’s Grysbok.

Sharpe's Grysbok