SUNDAY 23 OCTOBER 2011 PUNDA MARIA TO MOPANE
By 6:11 we are all packed up and sadly bid farewell to lovely Punda Maria. It was a delight to spend three days in this little rest camp.
We travel a short way on the H3-2 and our first creatures of the day is zebra. The first birds are glossy starlings followed by a kurichane thrush in a tree.
Here is one of many masked weavers we saw.
And the ever-present lilac breasted roller
We turn onto the S58 and travel though beautiful green, wooded areas and meet up with herds of giraffe, zebra, impala, buffalo elephant and have many encounters with parties of birds on our way.
One joyful area reveals red-billed buffalo weavers, masked weavers and and red-headed weavers busily fussing about in the foliage of the beautiful trees. We find a laughing dove on a nest and watch her mate visit her regularly but he does not seem to be bringing morsels of food.
A group of elephants surprise us as they are not particularly big. We think one of the females is a mere teenager herself but she is suckling a tiny baby – well tiny for an elephant anyway. Earl quips, “They must be pygmy elephants.” My personal opinion is that they are just a very young group – the only mommy in the group is only just beginning to sprout tusks. Perhaps there is a teenage pregnancy problem among elephants?
We find a gentle little Sharpe’s Grysbok hidden silently in a mesh of straw and he does not dart off but stares at us and continues to browse
A small but very vocal bird catches our attention as he perches on top of a tree and calls out loudly for attention. It is clearly a pipit – perhaps a tree pipit but I think it’s a striped. Pipits are so confusing.
At Babalala picnic site we get out to stretch our legs and go to the loo. The palm swifts are still darting in and out of the palms and there is much activity among the starlings and hornbills all hoping for titbits from those who are having their breakfast. The wild fig tree has to have a green pigeon and after a good look and a very stiff neck I find one.
Earl is sure that the gravel road had a no entry sign but sees someone make his way up it. So when we leave we investigate and find that the no entry sign is turned the other way – so obviously it’s only closed at certain times – perhaps when the road is too muddy from heavy rains?
Not far down the road we see a car stopped. We ask the occupants what they have seen. Lion – But they’ve dropped down into the long grass and we can just make out the odd ear and flick of a tail. The first car moves off but we stay to see if anything happens. We think there are two or maybe three. We are about to give up as even though it is before 9 o’clock it is very hot and we believe the cats are settling down for a very long nap. But then one gets up and starts walking. He is mostly hidden by the long grass and we try to keep him in sight as we move on the parallel road. “I am sure he is going to come onto the road and cross over,” I say. But Early is certain he won’t and wants to drive on. There is a gap and we see him as he walks through followed by two more. We move on quickly. By this time there is a queue of about five cars behind us and they obviously see the lions too. At last we turn a bend and the lions came into a clearing. We stop – and they come right toward us – but there are more than three and they just kept coming – I lose count after 9. I am sure there are at least 12 lionesses. We get beautiful views of them approaching our car and then crossing in front of us onto the other side of the road and merging in with the straw coloured grass.
Here is just one of them – a pity we couldn’t get a group shot – we kept shooting as each individual comes into view.
Wow what a sighting and being in front we have the best view of them all. Eec urges Earlybird to move on to allow others a chance too but the lions kept coming and when we move forward one stray lioness breaks into a nervous trot and races ahead to cross in a safe place. After this magnificent experience we are all on a high – it is our first lion sighting in the seven days we’ve been in the park.
It’s a long way to Mopane from Punda Maria and we break our journey with a stop at Shingwedzi for lunch. We have a table next to the window and bird watch as we enjoy our chicken burgers. A young employee named Phany comes over and says – I see you are bird watchers. He helps us identify a female sunbird – white bellied and says that to him the birds are the best part of the park. Of course we agree. “You’ve made my day,” he says “It does my heart good to see people enjoying our birds”
We continue to see lots of lovely animals and birds but the highlights are a martial eagle perched in a tree and groups of elephant showering at the water tanks. It is so amusing to see them put them trunks up and over the wall, resting their tusks and then showering themselves in a cool spray.
Check in at Mopane goes very well. The service is friendly and I am even asked how I’d enjoyed Punda and what wildlife I’ve seen in the park.
Our cottage, number 43 is a huge surprise – it has a magnificent view over the river, is spacious and comfortable and on a 45deg C day it is a relief to find that the aircon works efficiently.