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Monthly Archive:: June 2014

Sable Dam & Satara – Taking the scenic route home

We had decided not to do the obvious and leave via Orpen gate, but to rather drive all the way down and exit at Crocodile Bridge gate. The map told us that Satara Camp to Crocodile Bridge is 127 km, so we calculated that we would be at Crocodile Bridge between 11 am and 1 pm. We should have known better!

We started the day by driving through Satara Camp with our GoPro camera, recording the look and layout of the camp.

After dropping off the keys, we turned the car South, towards Crocodile bridge.

Giraffe skeleton

The sightings for the day were not spectacular – the usual general game, baboons, and elephant roadblock. We rounded a corner, and saw something in the road that looked like the usual elephant dinner leftovers, but on closer inspection, turned out to be much more interesting. It was a giraffe skeleton, still with some skin left on the head, lying halfway into the road. Not elephant dinner leftovers – lion dinner leftovers!

Happy to have kept up our record of always seeing something unique on our way out of the park, we continued on towards Tshokwane, stopping at the Southern-most Baobab, pausing at water holes, trying to identify birds, and generally not focusing on getting to the gate. We pulled into Tshokwane around noon, and had a delicious lunch of Kudu wors and pap.

After lunch, we drove the spectacular section of the H10 between Tshokwane and Lower Sabie, over the so-call “Roof of Kruger”, past the Mkumbe lookout. Wow, what a sight! Unbelievable, on our 12th trip to Kruger, it was the first time we saw this stunning part of the park.

Beginning to realize that time was ticking and the road back to Gauteng was still far, we started pushing on a bit more, and finally crossed the Sabie river – with more water in the river than we had ever seen! Regardless of the time, we also couldn’t resist stopping at Sunset dam for a few minutes. Even though there wasn’t much going on at Sunset dam, it is always a magical place to sit an relax for a few minutes.

We reached Crocodile bridge just before 3pm, and quickly ran into the shop to stock up on Ginger beer and Marula cool drinks, leaving the park over the low-level bridge. Like the Sabie river, the Crocodile river also had more water than we had ever seen. After slowly crossing the bridge, we hit the long road to Pretoria with heavy hearts, and plans for a quick return to Kruger.

Sable Dam & Satara – Birds and Buffalo

Monday morning was probably our slowest morning of the trip. Our first good sighting was only just before 8 am, of a Secretary bird hunting in the grass.

Kori BustardShortly after the Secretary bird, we saw a group of 6 Kori Bustards, walking through grass, hunting and interacting. Unfortunately, the light was already getting harsh by then and getting good shots was hard. However, seeing these endangered birds is always a treat, and seeing how one tried to steel another’s scorpion breakfast was very interesting.

We stopped at the Ratelpan hide again, where we saw a lone heron among the crocodiles, before stopping at the Timbavati picnic site for a breakfast of muffins and coffee – there was far too much wind to attempt making bacon and eggs on a gas skottel.

After breakfast we took the S39 Timbavati river road, where our first sighting was of s Spotted Skaapsteker lurking in a bush.

Buffalo StampedeWe idled slowly along the S39, doing a bit of birding (and identifying at least one new specie – the Rufous Winged Cisticola). Turning another of the many corners on this road, we saw a huge herd of buffalo grazing on the right side of the road. As we sat watching them, an anti-poaching chopper hovering a small distance away suddenly spooked them, and the entire herd stampeded across the road, both in front of and behind the car. Being in the middle of a stampeding herd of several hundred Buffalo is not an experience that will soon be forgotten!

S100Sunset_D__9707Still full of adrenaline from the Buffalo stampede, we drove towards the H7 and turned left, back towards the camp. One the way back we identified another new bird specie – the Senegal Lapwing. Beyond that and the usual hippos at the Nsemani dam, we didn’t see much.

That afternoon, we did the S100 again, and but saw very little, apart from spectacular amounts of dust, resulting in an even more spectacular sunset.

Our little house guest

Frog_MG_6864On our first night in Satara, we found a tiny little Southern Foam Nest Frog on top of the bathroom door. Afraid that we might squash it, we gently caught it and placed it on the tree in front of the bungalow. Soon after, we started worrying that something might catch it out there, so we were very happy to find out the next day that it had returned and moved in under the microwave oven on top of the fridge outside the bungalow. It lived there for the duration of our stay, moving out from the microwave when the sun set, and moving back in, deeper under the microwave when the sun came up in the morning. On the last day of our trip, I decided that I simply had to immortalize our little house guest, so I fetched my macro lens and flash, and photographed it.

We really hope the little guy is still ok!

Sable Dam & Satara – Backlit Lions

Sunday started fairly slowly. We left camp minutes after the gate opened, and cruised slowly up the S100, enjoying the beautiful sunrise. Our first sighting was of a Swainson’s Spurfowl, perched on a fallen tree, trying to warm itself in the early sunlight.

Hippos_MG_6459After that, we saw only the usual Impala and Zebra, intent on grazing and disinterested in posing for photos. We tried to shoot a few Burchell’s Coucals, but they all disappeared deep into the bushes as soon as we pointed a camera at them. The viewpoints over the N’wanetsi were as picturesque as ever, but delivered very little in terms of photo opportunities. The Gudzani dam hosted only a few Pied Kingfishers and some crocodiles lying sleepily on the dam wall, looking bored. At the crossing over the┬áN’wanetsi┬áriver, we took a few photos of the hippos lying lazily in the water, before proceeding to the N’wanetsi picnic site for breakfast.

SweniRiver_IMG_6890After breakfast, we turned right towards the Sweni hide. Both the hide and the crossing over the Sweni river offered up some water birds, but no new species and no photo opportunities, so we took the H6 back to Satara.

Some distance down the tar road, we found a chameleon, bravely crossing the road. Having seen chameleon fall victim to cars before, we stopped and turned the car, blocking any potential traffic, until it had safely made it to the other side. Feeling good about helping a chameleon safely cross the road, we carried on.

Back at the camp, we bought take-away iced coffees from Mugg & Bean, before driving north along the H1-4. A few kilometres outside the camp, another car flagged us down and told us that further down the road, in the direction we were going, there was a leopard in a tree on the right side of the road, and about 100m further, a pride of lions. Very excitedly, we continued on.

But first, we had to stop and take one of the best photo opportunities we’ve ever had on ground hornbills.

We found the leopard easily, thanks to the cars parked under the tree. The leopard itself was unfortunately asleep, mostly obscured by leaves, so we decided to move on to the lions.

What an opportunity! Even though the lions had the sun behind them, the sun was so low by then, as well as being filtered by the smoke from the ever-present veld fires, that we were able to take some beautiful backlit photos.

When the lions had moved beyond the reach of even our longest lenses, we turned back. Having a some time left before the gates were due to close, we drove a short distance up the S90, where we found some Swainson’s spurfowl taking dust baths in the ash. Another good photo opportunity, even though the light was so low that I had to mush the 1D mk IV to ISO 2000 to get the shot!

Sable Dam & Satara – Wild Dogs!

When we left the picnic site after breakfastWildDog_D__8743 veld on either side was dry and dusty and seemingly devoid of any life. Then, as it happens in the Kruger Park, we turned a corner and everything changed. A few cars were parked by the side of the road, and just off the road, under the trees, were the wild dog pack from the previous night, looking very sleepy and relaxed. We took a few quick snaps, but soon decided that sleepy dogs in harsh light will never make truly stunning photos.

Wild dogs usually sleep during the day. They wake up in the late afternoon, play for a few minutes, and then move off to hunt. Knowing this, we let the sleeping dogs lie (ha ha) and left, planning to return around 3 in the afternoon, and then wait for them to get up and start playing. We went back to the camp, freshened up, had some ice-cream, and then went back to the dogs. We waited about an hour, during which we at least got to photograph a rasp of guineafowl the moved past, briefly getting agitated when the saw the dogs.

The dog closest to the road briefly woke up, and stared at the guineafowl for a few minutes before falling back to sleep.

Then, one of the dogs sleeping further away from the road got up and went to wake up one of its fellows. Their activity seemed to rouse the other dogs, and suddenly the entire pack seemed to come alive..

We managed to get a few more shots before they moved off into the bushes and we left the area with broad smiles on our faces. On our way back to the camp, we passed the Nsmani dam, with the sun setting spectacularly through the smoke of distant velt-fires. A perfect end to a fabulous day!

Sable Dam & Satara – A very productive morning

Saturday morning, after oversleeping slightly, we drove North on the H1-4, in the direction from where we had heard the lions roar the night before. We passed the usual herds of Zebra and Wildebeest just outside Satara, and about half and hour after leaving the camp, came across a Bateleur perched on the dry stump, posing for the perfect photo, the way Bateleurs never seem to do, so we stopped and took a few shots.

When it flew away, it’s perched was almost immediately taken by a Tawney Eagle. We couldn’t believe our luck! As we sat photographing the Eagle, it was suddenly chased off it’s perched by another Tayney. Johan managed to get a shot of the action.

The Tawney flew a few metres and perched on the other side of the tree, almost looking sorry for itself…

When both Tawneys finally left, we drove on.

40 mintues after leaving the Eagles, we were stopped by another car, who told us that they had just caught a vague glimpse of a cat that could could be a cheatah, disappearing under the road. We scanned the opposite side of the road for a short while, and soon saw a beautiful leopard strolling away through the grass, towards a big tree some distance from the road. As we waited, if climbed the tree and draped itself over one of the lowed branches.

When we were satisfied that we had got the photos we wanted of the leopard, we drove further, turning off onto the S127, towards the Timbavati picnic spot. When we got the crossing of the S127 and S39, it was still only 9:15, and the light was still perfectly reasonably for photography, so we decided to turn right and go check out the Ratelpan hide before breakfast. As we turned into one of the lookout points over the Timbavati river, we saw a herd of elephants leaving the river bed, and going into the bush towards the road. We quickly turned around and drove towards where we hoped they would cross the road, and were just in time to turn and around again, and photograph then as the crossed the road behind us. It was quite a big herd, including several tiny babies, and at least one teenage bull full of attitude.

After that we briefly popped into the hide saw a few water birds bravely sharing the river bed with large crocodiles, and returned to the Timbavati picnic spot for breakfast.