Monday 17 October 2011
Today I declare Monday a day of rest. Earlybird is whacked. He insists on doing all the driving both from home to the park and in the park too. He stresses when I drive so I just give in and allow him to be in control and then try and make everything else as easy as possible. Of course he doesn’t like to be still and if he’s awake he just wants to get out there and find the critters!
So this morning we sleep in late. My sister-in-law now to be known as Eec – (Eagle Eyed Carrol) and I wake first and have a cup of coffee. When H2 emerges we go for a walk along the path next to the river. It is a cool and overcast day – not great for photography but we manage.
We didn’t get far because of all there is to see. Saddle-billed storks, yellow-billed storks and a little egret are busy in the shallow water among the reeds.
We spend ages watching them and other little birds that make appearances from time to time. Eventually my battery decides it has had enough and we return to the cottage for breakfast. It is after 9 and Earlybird is relaxing on the stoop with his cereal and a cup of coffee. At 10:00 we pile into the Caravelle and head along the H1-6 and take a loop. First bird up is a yellow-billed kite then looking down on the river we spot a saddle-billed stork and a Great White Egret – two wonderful birds to start our drive.
The very first time I saw kudu females grazing silently in the early morning soft light I fell in love with them and that feeling has never faded. So seeing them over and over again is always a thrill. I just love their wise eyes and milk moustaches.
At first it looks like there is nothing to see when we stop on the bridge – Earlybird wants to drive on but we persuaded him to let us out for a leg-stretch and then we startto see things….. Eec draws our attention to a giant kingfisher whose head is poking out from under the bridge. There are four pied kingfishers busily hovering and diving and catching tiny fish.
The Giant appears and is immediately mobbed and chased from their territory.
A single immature jacana is foraging on his own, a woodsandpiper struts about and a three banded plover looking as handsome as ever makes a brief appearance.
We move on and do the Engelhard loop. There were stretches of nothing interspersed with the usual impala, zebra and kudu but none in huge numbers. We were surprised in fact to find herd animals, singly, or in groups of less than five. Perhaps when you live in close proximity to others of your species you need some alone time to reflect, look inward and find yourself? But then again perhaps not – after all don’t they gather together for protection? No time for reflection when a lion is on your tail.
Birds as usual were our focus and we were not disappointed. The route we took was green, wooded and near the river most of the wayWe found many bee-eaters, an osprey, jacana, squacco heron, white-browed scrub-robin, fish eagle, long-billed crombec and a sabota lark.
Kudu, elephant, buffalo, hippos and zebra also made frequent appearances.
At Matabeni Hide we find jacana, crocodiles and hippos and little else.
We return to camp for lunch and a rest then go out again at 4 o’clock. It is a short and rewarding drive. Chugging along slowly in a wooded area with lots of little “afrits” I keep my eyes up and scan the trees. “Stop! Vereaux’s Eagle Owl,” I call. This involves reversing and neck stretching and disbelief – where – I can’t see anything – you’re imagining things. “There,” I insist – look behind that green leaf, in that crook of branch – no you’re looking in the wrong place – wait there’re two of them.” Eventually I get everyone to find the place and Earlybird manoeveres the car into the perfect position so that we all got a perfect view of a Vereaux’s eagle holding prey in his talons.
Oh wow – what a sighting – we guess it is a francolin – amazing as owls usually eat their prey whole but this chap is tearing it piece by piece and devouring it.
The photograph frenzy goes on for ages and we are the only car observing for quite a while – when others come we point out the two owls, folk look for a few seconds then take off, probably saying – strange people these bird nerds! But boy do we have fun. In order for H2 to get her fair share of good shots we swap places without getting out of the car – quite a feat for two ladies past their prime! I find that if I lie on the back bench of the caravel I can get quite a good view but while I am there I hear – knock knock knock and there next to my window is a Cardinal Woodpecker tapping into a tree. Two good spots for the price of one!
Moving on to a view of the river we find white-faced ducks and little bee-eaters.
And just before getting back to camp we come across a lone elephant right next to the road. We always treat ellies with respect but do not admit to Eec that we’re afraid of them. She is quite sure they charge at the slightest provocation – or without! Don’t go to close, Brother. Careful he’s going to charge” Don’t worry – he won’t we assure her then – an outlet of breath through the trunk, a stamp of the foot and a slight mock charge. A collective intake of breath in the car then a burst of nervous laughter as Earlybird puts his foot down.