11

Kruger National Park – Day 2

11 November 2017 – Tsendze

How fantastic to wake to the sounds of the dawn chorus in the bush.  It was already getting light at 4:30 am and that’s when the gate opens.  But we had no intention of making such an early start.  I went to shower at the ablution block just after 5 and we were packed and ready to leave at 6:30

Our first exciting event was an encounter with  Ayres Hawk-eagle.   There were actually two.  The light was bad so the photo is not great but we found this one on a kill.

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We also got a good sighting of the common black-shouldered kite – but what a pretty bird.

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Elephants, buffalo, hippo, wildebeest and zebra were also on the menu and we got to see a lot of birdlife.   Here are a few photos that we managed to get.

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Lesser-striped swallow

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Hippo

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The uncommon yellow-billed oxpecker – grooming a zebra

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Cute little blue waxbill

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Shy steenbok

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Beautiful giraffe

 

A rarity in the park is an antelope similar to a red hartebeest – the Tsessebe – We found a few of them which was lovely.

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Time wore on and we were getting hungry.  We decided to head back toward Mopani and have something to eat there.  After a few hours of game driving you rather hope that you won’t see anything exciting as all you want is to have a break and get some strong coffee into you.  I yelled at the earl to stop with a couple of interesting birds but either I was too late or he’d lost interest because he just drove on.  Thank Goodness for that because just a few kms from camp we spotted some stationery cars – always a good sign – It has to be a leopard, I said and as we got closer I spotted a tail hanging down from the branch of a tree.  Oh joy – all thoughts of coffee and food disappeared in an instant.   There was a young leopard on a kill up in the tree.  And was she having a delightful breakfast – lucky creature.   If we’d delayed over the birds I’d called we would have missed her as after a minute she slid down the tree, washed her paws and slipped off into the bush!  Gone!  The only evidence were the remains of impala hanging in the tree!

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We lingered long over breakfast at Mopani as its restaurant has such a lovely view over the river.  We saw marabou storks and watched greater striped swallows take off and land back in the branches of the trees again.   There was a lot of activity.  I had a second cup of coffee while the Earl went to another section of the facility to pay accounts and send emails from his laptop.

We like to rest in camp in the middle of the day and it was now just after 11.  We just did one more loop to Mooiplaas Picnic site, spotted some birds and hippos and then did a little river loop where we saw buffalo and elephant.

We got back to camp around 1 o’clock and rested until 3:30 and then went out again.   We saw all the usual suspects and were not expecting anything too exciting.   It was nearing 6 o’clock when we were in sight of this morning’s leopard tree and gate closing is at 6:30.  And what should we see – three cars stopped at the tree.

“They’re probably looking at the carcass,” I said the Earl.

But no as we got closer I saw that the leopard was back.

But wait there’s more – “Look there,” said The Earl,  “There’s another one in the tree.”

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And then all hell broke loose as the two leopards started growling and slapping each other.

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This is my dinner – Be off with you!

 

After a brief skirmish one decided she’d better get out of there and slipped down the tree and disappeared into the bush.  The victor sat in the split in the tree for a few minutes looking for all the world like any domestic kitty cat.

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Then he climbed onto the branch where the impala carcass was and proceeded to finish his meal.

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Soon other cars appeared and in the end there were five of us watching this amazing sight.   It gets dark quickly in the Kruger and by 6:10 I had enough photographs in good light.  It was time to head quickly back to camp before the gate was locked!   We made it with 10 minutes to spare

4

One Word Photo Challenge – Hippopotamus

This week’s One Word Photo Challenge from Jennifer is Hippopotamus

079 Hippos at sunset dam

A Wallow of Hippo – Kruger National Park – Sunset Dam

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Loving the beach! Kruger National Park

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We need to talk! Kruger National Park – Sunset Dam

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Mother Love – Kruger National Park – Lake Panic

 

 

 

1

Back in the Classroom – Funscapes

24 August 2012

Those of you who follow and read my Blog regularly will know that at my school there is always something exciting happening.   Each term we offer the learners a mini-break from regular school activities.  The teachers (and a few kind friends of the school) have to come up with a fun club which the learners can apply for a small fee to participate in.  The fee covers the costs involved plus a percentage which goes into school funds. We call these clubs, Funscapes.   I cannot even begin to tell you how much effort, organisation and creativity goes into organising these events.   In the first two terms we have ‘mini’ one day clubs which involves just the grade but in the third term two day Funscapes are offered and the children have to apply to join the one of their choice.  Many wonderful things are on offer – cake decorating, fabric painting, ceramic painting, ice-skating, surfing, horse-riding, hiking, mini Olympics, Prince and Princess tea parties, amazing race and computer gaming, young scientist  – the list goes on.   How to compete with all these amazing clubs is something of a challenge.  My passion as most of my readers know is Bird Watching.  I have offered this as a Funscape before, but that was when I was a parent/grandparent.  Then I took just 6 children in my own vehicle to visit a venue where water birds abound.   Now that I am back in the classroom, I am expected to have at least 20 in my club.   This means having to persuade parents to help with lifts – and on two days in a row this could be a challenge.   Also if I don’t get the number of subscribers I desire I could be relegated to help with another over-subscribed Funscape.   This is what happened to me last year when only 6 applied.  But luck was on my side this year – I worded my advert differently, opened it to a wider age range and it worked.   I had 21 young enthusiasts and 5 parents willingly offered to help with transport.

On Day 1 – I gathered my birders together in the classroom and gave them a super quick lesson on water birds and presented a slide show on what they were likely to see. After weeks of cold and wet weather,  I prayed for a sunny, windless day as the wind can keen through those hides and I did not want my beginners to be put off for life.  My prayers were answered when Thursday dawned crisp and clear and by the time we arrived at 11:00 a.m. the chill had turned to warm.  We were the only school there and met up with just one other adult. My charges were extremely well-behaved and although I apologised to the gentleman for invading his peaceful morning he smile indulgently and said, “It’s great to see the young ones being introduced to birding – they’re no trouble at all.”

There were not too many birds but it was a good introduction and the kids were not confused by having to find the different species among a mixed flock.

Hippo frequent to waters of Rondevlei and the children were fascinated when I showed them  evidence of where they emerged to graze at night.   Maybe we will see one, they declared.  No, I explained – they only come out at night and we won’t see them from the hides because they are further out in deep water during the day. (I have only once seen Hippo at Rondevlei)

We ended the excursion with a visit to the museum where they could study the stuffed models and get to see up close what the different birds and animals looked like in terms of colour and size.

First Hide at Rondevlei

Reed cormorant

Southern Pochard and White-breasted Cormorant

Today, (Friday 24.8.12) we headed for Strandfontein Important Bird Area.   Each child was given a Chart with the birds they were likely to see and a tick list.  The settling ponds were alive with bird activity and there was lots to see.  Each car had a walkie talkie and I kept up a constant commentary on what we were seeing, where to find the bird on their charts and now and then we stopped and got out of the vehicles to get a better view of the birds – but this was only when I was sure the movement of the children would not frighten our feathered friends away.

Recently in the news there has been reports of a hippo escaping from Rondevlei and wandering around the Zeekoevlei area.  Residents of the suburb had been warned that this animal might wander around at night and could graze on their lawns.   My young charges knew the story and knew too that we were going to a place right next door to Zeekoevlei.  My colleagues at school were a tad nervous that we were going to escaped hippo territory and warned me to be careful – You might run into the hippo – please be careful.  (The media really gets to people) I laughed and said, We should be so lucky!

The birding was great – we saw flamingos, red knobbed coots, yellow-billed ducks and Cape Teal.   Hadedas, sacred and glossy ibis drew squeals of delight and this all before we very far into the sanctuary.

As we drove past one of the ponds – S7, I saw what looked like a block of wood floating in the distance.  I ignored it as such until my walkie talkie crackled and an excited parent called – We see a Hippo.  I thought I’d better check out my piece of wood with my binoculars and sure enough there it was – the stray from Rondevlei right under our noses!   I hopped out the car and instructed the children to keep calm and gather at on the bank for a better look.  Of course they were excited but they managed to contain themselves sufficient and did not yell and scream.  The hippo cooperated beautifully and swam closer and closer to the bank.  I guess he was just as curious about the children as they were about him.   We spent a good half hour enjoying this unusual visitor to the old settling ponds of Strandfontein and then reluctantly moved on to enjoy some more feathered creatures.

Looking at the hippo

There he is

Hi Kids – Welcome to Strandfontein Important Bird Area

This was not the last exciting sighting of the day.   Two porcupine made a brief appearance and quite a few of the children saw them well – my vehicle, unfortunately “dipped” on that one.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at the tern roost and watched the flamingos flying in and settling right in the pond right in front of us.

The children were thrilled to get a list of over 35 bird species and all declared that they had had an awesome outing.    I hope this introduction to bird watching remains a hobby that they can do for the rest of their lives.

Flamingos

0

Taking the Kids to Kruger – Skukuza Part 2

31 March 2012 – SKUKUZA

It continued to storm during the night and when I woke up at 4:30 it was still raining.   We decided not to wake the kids till 5:30 and by 6 the sky was beginning to clear.  We managed to get away by 6:15.  In summer this would be quite late but from 1 April the gate only opens at 6 as it is getting light later and later. Today would really have been the last day one could have made a very early start.

It turned out to be quite a long day and we only got back to Skukuza at 3 p.m.  We did, however, make a few stops at hides and look out points to stretch legs and get rid of wriggles etc.   As you can imagine four children cooped up together in a small space can become somewhat noisy when there’s a lull in the sightings.  We try to keep them entertained and interested but usually its they who keep us in fits  of laughter with their sayings and antics.

“I want to see a cheetah,” declares Shannon.  “I can see one right now,” says Jay touching her on the shoulder.  “Hey – you’re not supposed to touch the animals,” comes her quick retort.

We stop at to see a beautiful Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and take many photographs.  “He looks cross,” says Jay – “probably sick of the paparazzi hassling.  Don’t tell the next car where he is – he needs some privacy.”

Verreaux's Eagle-Owl

We self-cater all our meals except brunch and find the service at  picnic spot and rest camp restaurant  varies from time to time and place to place. But Lower Sabie is consistently bad and today we made the mistake of arriving there at midday when they’re at their busiest.   We put in our order, waited an age and were then told that they’d run out of pizza.  Another long wait before our meal finally arrived.   A small price to pay for being in a beautiful setting where hippo and buffalo lazed on the river bank.

We have not seen large herds of plains animals so when we see zebra, wildebeest and giraffe we get quite excited.  Today we found them in patches.  The giraffe in particular have been difficult to photograph as they hide behind tall trees or keep their distance from the road.   “Droff’ yelled Jay when he saw a small journey of them this afternoon.  “What the heck is ‘droff’ ? “A quick way of saying giraffe, silly.”   I’ll never call them anything else again!

Some other highlights of the day.

White-fronted lapwing

Swainson's Francolin

Green-winged Pytilia

Lesser-grey shrike

We followed this lioness for a while but she refused to look at the camera

Carmine bee-eater

Tawny Eagle

Klipspringer

Red-breasted Swallows

Sadly there are people both tourists and tradesmen who visit the park who do not take enough care on the roads and animals and birds get knocked down.  Our little group of kids get mad when they see speeding or careless behaviour on the part of others and today Shannon was close to tears when we found a bateleur on the body of a very young monkey that had been run over.   We explained that the bateleur had found an easy meal and soon it had competition from a white-headed vulture.  The former had already flown up into a nearby tree to keep watch on his potential meal when the latter appeared on the scene.  Neither of them attempted to eat the monkey while we watched.

The kids have been looking at things on offer in the park shops and Simon  finally decided to get himself a monkey. Here he is at Lower Sabie with his new friend.

0

Taking the Kids to Kruger – Skukuza

FRIDAY 30 MARCH 2012

Earl was so exhausted last night that he could hardly eat so we decided to make a late start this morning.  I thought this would mean – leave camp at about 9 a.m. but he was totally refreshed when we woke up and our ‘late’ start was at 6:30 instead of 5:30!

Although each day in Kruger has its special moments, some days can be slow with little game appearing. Yesterday was such a day and I knew that if we didn’t do something to keep the kids interested we’d have some rioting in the car.  So we started straight away with the points for first sightings and the competition was on!

Our first excitement were elephants crossing in front of us – they’re a favourite with the kids although they get the adrenalin going when they get too close.

Then buck – not impala – a different buck – Jay called out in excitement – and there on the side of the road was a lovely Male Bushbuck – so different from the female they’d seen yesterday at Afsaal. That earned him 5 points as it’s not a common one to see.

Jay kept ahead with spotting birds and animals first but Shannon was better at naming them.   Josh insisted that the people in front had an advantage but Jay still seemed to beat me to it.  We laughed when he then insisted that it was because he was on the wrong side of the car.

Of course when he won 10 points for finding Granny a Marico Sunbird no mention of unfair advantages was made.

The competition certainly kept the eyes glued the bush and we saw lots of wonderful things in the time that it took us to travel from Skukuza to Nkulu picnic site.

Female Red-backed shrike with breakfast

Bad hair day for this hamerkop

Nkulu is on a river bank and we love stopping here.   The only problem is that the monkeys are rather naughty and you have to be very careful that your breakfast isn’t stolen. Our attention was distracted by a green-backed heron on the opposite bank when our order was placed on the table. Fellow tourists yelled a warning when a cheeky Vervet snatched half a toasted cheese sandwich from Joshua’s plate!

He was horrified but placated when I offered him my chips and half a toasted chicken mayonnaise. Shannon told us she didn’t really like monkeys – they scared her and a large male must have sensed this as he actually threatened her with a grunt and a made a move toward her.   Earl shouted and she hid behind me giggling nervously.

Cheeky monkey enjoying Joshua's breakfast

Jay is enjoying Nkulu's famous buffalo pie

As soon as we’d eaten we packed up left over buffalo pies and sandwiches and continued our journey.   Shan was sitting up front with me.  We stopped to photograph some very young monkeys and Shan was really enjoying them until Earl pointed to a big one right next to her window – she started to wind up the window and I said – “no – don’t I just want to snap his portrait”  she burst into tears and leapt over onto Earl’s lap.  I think the incident at the Nkulu upset her more than we realised.   After a cuddle and comforting words she was fine again and we warned the boys not to tease her about monkeys, please!

We had further fun with primates when we stopped on a bridge and a troop of baboons had the kids in fits of laughter with their antics – chasing each other, play fighting and tumbling and almost 0ff the bridge.

They then went and climbed the sandy cliffs and foraged for termites or whatever lives in the bank.

There were other interesting things to see in the water too.  Simon spotted a legawaan on the rocks and another where the monkeys were climbing up and down the bank.

A Goliath heron patiently fished in some fast running water

Birds of prey earned our young spotters lots of points and gave us an opportunity to teach them how to tell one from another.
The brown snake eagle has yellow eyes and feathers only to its knees while the lesser spotted eagle  has ‘stove pipes’ , pale eyes and yellow feet.  And the don’t be too convinced that you’re right – all birds of prey are tricky to identify – even the experts make mistakes.  But the martial is unmistakable with its black chest and white, speckled tummy.

Brown Snake Eagle

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Martial Eagle

At Sunset Dam the challenge was to see how many crocodiles you could count – they camouflage so well and perhaps there were more than the 10 we got.   Plenty of hippos lazed and grunted in the shallows and the shore birds gave us lots of pleasure.

Wood sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

After a refreshing drink at Lower Sabie we made our way home.  Simon had been as good as gold but was now starting to ask when he could go for a swim.  It was really hot today.

The elephants could not let us off lightly today – a rather angry looking bull decided not to make way for us as he trundled down the middle of the tar road.   We had to reverse until he found a place that suited him to get off the road.   A lovely adrenalin rush to end the day!

After the kids had a swim we went to the nearby hide of Lake Panic for just half an hour.  There were hippos and birds but at this time of year not the variety that we usually see.    Still it was good to see that no damage had been done by the floods.

A thunder storm cooled things down this evening but put rather a dampener on our braai.   Jay stripped to his waist and used a storage box lid to prevent the fire from going out while he finished off cooking our chicken.