14 November 2017 – A Wild Day In More Ways Than One
Today we were up at 3:00 am! Yes – at the last minute yesterday we booked to go on a birding safari and the starting time was 4 in the morning! Crazy – as it only starts getting light at 4:30 and travelling in an open vehicle can be chilly in the early morning. But we’d heard that these bird safaris are good so we bit the bullet, went to bed early last night and were up and raring to go before the first peep from any self-respecting sparrow!
We met a French couple at reception and thought we might be on the same trip. But our guide appeared, took our indemnity forms and explained that The Earl and I would be coming with him while the others would join another couple on a game safari. The difference, he said, was the birding trip would concentrate on looking, obviously, for birds. So we would go slowly and stop and look into trees etc whereas the game drivers would go faster and search for game! However, if we happened to see animals he would certainly stop to look at them.
How lucky were Earl and I to have this guide to ourselves. My only regret was that I didn’t wear a beany or wrap a scarf around my head – My body was warm but my head was freezing for the first hour of the trip! We did not see much before the sun rose but the spot light did pick up fiery-necked and square tailed nightjars. Willie, our guide, also pointed out some other birds but I couldn’t make them out at all!. But then Dawn spread her golden light across the sky, the spotlights were switched off and we started to see some things. Just after dawn we spotted a hyena and Willie alerted the game tour guide. Funny how birders tend to see more than just birds! Suddenly things started to hot up. Willy was determined to show us the most exciting birds and as he is a Sanparks jeep jockey he is allowed off the beaten paths which are closed to the common man! He raced at speed over uneven terrain and came to screeching halts at the very edge of sheer cliffs! This is not how it’s supposed to be – didn’t he say we’d be going slowly? But see things we did! While stopped (quietly) looking at a variety of water birds in the river we suddenly saw a lion dart into sight. Next thing there were 11 of them! Once again Willie alerted his friend but I don’t think they managed to see the lions as they disappeared into the bush very quickly. We got excellent views but the light was bad and this photo taken by The Earl is the best we managed.
Soon after the lions we saw the wild dog researchers with an aerial and Willy stopped to ask if they’d found the dogs. They were expecting them to appear in the river bed a little later. We continued our birding and when we returned that way we were alerted by another car that the dogs had arrived and were on a kill. The monitors were on the scene when it happened. What a thrill to see a pack of 19 enjoying their feast.
We were thrilled with the birds and animals we saw this morning even though we feared for the lives of the birds on the roadside as Willy sped along the road to find the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl – we dipped on it but found other exciting stuff like the Dickinson’s Kestrel which was really special. It was high in the top of a tree some distance away but I still managed to get an identifiable shot of it.
Another highlight was seeing Ground Hornbills. Usually we spot them walking purposefully through the bush but today they were in a tree. We saw first one and then his mate came along, he flew away and she settled in his spot. Then Willy said – they’re building a nest. A third hornbill was in a tree opposite with a mouth full of leaves. They are hold nesters and the first bird had flown to the hole and we watched him enter it. The bird with a bill full of leaves just sat above perfectly still hardly moving. We have no idea what that was all about but couldn’t linger to find out.
We got back to camp at around 8 and The Earl once again whipped up a stunning breakfast of bacon and eggs.
Just after nine we set off on another game drive taking the River Drive S 135. What a pretty route and what lovely sightings we had.
The highlight though was seeing elephants swimming in the river. They were having so much fun. They also blocked the road as they came out and we were warned by one not to come too close! Funny how my anxious husband thinks that amusing!
We got back to camp feeling rather peckish so popped into the restaurant for a chicken wrap each. It was NOT The Bug and Mean – you know what I mean – The Mug and Bean. It was the same company that are running The Rustic Kitchen at Letaba and wow did we enjoy our lunch. So much so we did not even hungry at supper time so didn’t bother to braai.