Kruger National Park Trip:

3 December – 11 December 2017

Knowing that the trip to Shingwedzi would be long and hot, we got up really early and left home at 5am. En route we saw impala, blesbok, baboons and sable antelope.

When we stopped at Phalaborwa to fill up, the temperature was 35.5C and it wasn’t even 11am!

3 Dec – Phalaborwa Gate to Shingwedzi

As we drove into the park we saw a herd of impala resting in the shade of a tree and some elephants enjoying a good drink and “shower”. Other highlights were our first baby impala for the season (we were to see lots of these over the duration of our trip), zebra, Levaillant’s cuckoo, a Wahlberg’s eagle on its nest and waterbuck. We also came across a very large scrub hare, dead on the road. On the trees alongside the verge there were vultures – lappet-faced and white-backed.

We stopped for lunch at Mopani camp. It was boiling hot, so we sat inside to try to keep cooler. Our table gave us a lovely view onto part of the dam and we watched a black heron (formerly egret) sit on a dead log (yellow feet visible) and then move into the water and mantle its wings to look for fish. It did this a few times. We did some good bird watching too, but most of the birds were lethargic and hot, beaks open. We enjoyed a wrap with bacon, mozzarella and mustard chicken (T) and a Cajun chicken salad (J) for lunch.

We then continued to Shingwedzi, arriving just before 15:30. The amazing thing was that we saw only one other vehicle all the way from Mopani to Shingwedzi!

The temperature was 41C so once we were unpacked (cottage B55) and the aircon was switched on Terry had a warm “cold” shower!

We had pre-booked a night drive so we relaxed and had a light supper of fruit and yoghurt before going out at 8pm. We again had Willie as our guide. We saw a hyena suckling a 2-month old cub at the den at the intersection with the main road. When we returned to that intersection on our way back, we saw all 4 cubs (2 1-month olds and 2 2-month olds) before they scurried back into the den. On the drive we saw lesser bush baby, large spotted genet, both black-backed and side-striped jackals, scrub hares, bushbuck, steenbok and Sharpe’s grysbok. Before going into camp, we turned off onto a side road where there was an elephant carcass with hyena feasting on it. Our lights disturbed some of the vultures in the trees and they took off looking for somewhere else to roost. It was quite eerie.

4 Dec – Shingwedzi to The Outpost (Pafuri)

Because of our late night we did not set an alarm, but the Woodlands kingfisher was alarm clock enough! When we left Shingwedzi at 6:30 the temperature was already 26.5C – so we knew what we were in for another hot day.

Our plan had been to move up to Pafuri, perhaps taking one of the loops that had seen some lion action the previous two days, and then spend some time in the Pafuri area until it was late enough to go to The Outpost to check in. But Mother Nature had other plans for us.

We first made a stop at the elephant carcass, which was surrounded by vultures – white-backed and lappet-faced – and marabou storks. It was funny to watch them chasing each other way – those that had the energy to. Some were just lying on the ground or resting on a fallen tree trunk. You could see how full their crops were.

Once back on the Shingwedzi road, we saw a rock python on the verge of the road. It is not something that we see frequently so we took some time to “enjoy” it.

As we were driving along the main road, we slowed down to check the signs to take the Mphongolo loop. At the turning just before this, Terry noticed a car and remembered that there was a waterhole that Willie had pulled in to look at the night before (and on our previous drives with him). So we turned back and had a look. Luckily we did – there was a male lion on a young buffalo carcass under a bush (they hadn’t been there the night before!) We watched him eat a little, while the other car moved up to where the reservoir was. The male then stood and lifted the carcass, dragging it across the road to another more shady spot. He then lay down next to it.

We decided to see what was up at the reservoir and found that there was a second male lion. While we were watching him, he got up, so we moved back to the other male and watched the second one come down and greet him. We then noticed a herd of buffalo moving right towards the lions. At first we thought the lions were trying to stalk them, as they seemed to startle and moved back. But then the strangest thing happened – the lions disappeared (we found one later further up towards the reservoir) and some of the buffalo moved in and started nudging, smelling and even licking the young buffalo. He was already more than half eaten so it seemed quite bizarre.

We watched a couple of black-backed jackal trying to steal scraps and two yellow-billed kites were definitely picking up scraps on the road.

As amazing as the sighting was, we eventually had to get onto the road given that we still needed to get up to Pafuri. Other sightings on the main road were: tsessebe running across the road; we then saw the lioness that had chased them – she was limping from running on the rocky ground; there were also a male and another female under the shade of a tree close by; a large herd of buffalo, about 500+ strong, on both sides and in the road.

We turned off to look at Klopperfontein dam, which was really pretty. We saw impala, red-billed queleas, blue waxbills, water thick-knees, a three-banded plover, hamerkop, little bee-eater, Egyptian geese, blacksmith lapwing, emerald-spotted wood-dove, laughing dove and a woolly-necked stork.

At various waterholes along the road we saw elephant, impala, baboons and buffaloes resting in the shade. We drove through to the Levuvhu Bridge where we again saw elephant, as well as a western great egret, giant kingfisher, wood sandpiper, pied kingfisher and baboons. A quick stop at the Pafuri picnic spot provided a welcome pit stop. We had planned to spend some time sitting on the benches overlooking the river, but the insects were so bad that we decided to rather use the time to drive to Crooks corner.

As we drove along the river loops in the direction of Crooks corner, we saw warthog, buffalo, orange-breasted bush-shrike, wildebeest, hippo and elephant. At Crooks corner itself we saw baboons, saddle-billed storks and an African harrier hawk. We took the tar road back to the Levuvhu Bridge and then drove towards Pafuri gate until we found the turnoff to The Outpost.

Everyone was very friendly when we arrived and a lady named Sandy said that she would fetch our ranger. A person came in an introduced himself as Mike. After chatting for a short while, we realized that he wasn’t our ranger (he arrived shortly after). Mike then said that I didn’t remember him – and no wonder. The last time I met him he was the brand new head master of KES and both he and I were officiating at the Easter Rugby Festival. What a small world. We spent odd times over the next few days catching up with him. Sandy is his wife – I hadn’t met her before.

We had lunch before going to our room (9). Lunch was lovely. It comprised of starters of crispy pork belly and a main course of duck breast. The portions were just right so we were able to enjoy them without feeling too full. Terry had the dessert – custard tart.

When we were in our room, we unpacked and then both had a warm shower (that was supposed to be cold)! Terry ran a cold bath to climb into to cool down, but even that he felt was around 30C in temperature.

Night Drive

Our ranger was Dean, and we were the only people on the drive.

We drove out to the Northwestern point of the reserve.

We stopped to admire some rock splitting fig trees on our way. The landscape was beautiful with lots of baobab trees within sight. We saw plenty of Meve’s starlings and were also lucky enough to see some blue-cheeked bee-eaters. As we drove out into some open plains, we came across a small herd of bull elephants having a mud bath. We then stopped for drinks at Banyini pan (currently dry) and took in our beautiful view of the reserve.

After drinks, as it was just dark, we move off and came across the elephants crossing in front of us. One young bull decided to “take us on” and he kept posturing and shaking his head. Once he felt that he had warned us off, he disappeared into the dark.

On our way back to the lodge, we saw scrub hares, fiery-necked nightjars and a lesser bush baby. We also had a beautiful blood moon rise as we were driving.

We got back just after 8pm so had dinner immediately. The portions were again just the right size. We ate melanzane (J) and butternut soup (T) for starters, followed by salmon (J) and mushroom risotto (T). I am still recovering from the shock of seeing my husband order the vegetarian option. He said it was nice and creamy. Terry then had the deconstructed lemon meringue for dessert.

Despite the fact that we had had a long day, sleep was really difficult. It was still too hot. Terry had another “cold” shower. We put all the blinds up in the room, so effectively we were open to the elements on 3 sides. The mosquito netting however prevents the full impact from being felt. Terry resorted to a second cold shower and I wet a sarong and lay underneath it!

5 Dec – The Outpost

It was cooler and overcast when we woke up the next morning at 5:00. We met up with everyone at 5:30 for a light breakfast – basically there was cereal and yoghurt, cheese and prosciutto and warm muffins on offer.

Morning Drive

We were joined by Preston and Sana, a young couple who live in Sunninghill. They had arrived as we were leaving for our drive the night before.

We headed east for this drive. We had some really good bird sightings: greater honeyguide, Jacobin cuckoo, yellow-billed oxpecker, scaly-throated honeyguide and purple roller, amongst others. Dean even got out to rescue a juvenile greater blue-eared starling that had caught its wing on some thorns and was struggling to get loose. We also saw a lot of leopard tortoises on the tar road, including a male trying to mate with a female that looked very disinterested and kept trying to walk away. Dean said that the number of tortoises out was indicative of rain coming.

We then came across an ostrich and drove into the opening where she was to see her. She eventually approached the vehicle and “interacted” with us. Basically she would move person to person and sometimes try to peck. I just spoke to her and she turned her head so that her ears were facing me. The lodge has named her “Trish” (for ostrich), the “monster of Pafuri”. They believe that she has come onto the reserve from Zimbabwe and she is the only ostrich in the area, so she is lonely. She therefore likes to interact with the game vehicles. Mike (GM) said that he had tried to move her off the airstrip one day for a plane to land and she would not move. Eventually he enticed her to follow his vehicle and then she lay against it and slept for 10 minutes! She is really cute and has the most gorgeous eyes and eyelashes.

As we continued, we saw more birds: bateleur, rattling cisticola, brown snake-eagle, speckled mousebird, tropical boubou, white-fronted bee-eater, blue waxbill, red-faced cisticola and green-winged pytilia, amongst others. We also saw  a grey duiker, dwarf mongoose, warthog and impala.

We drove to the fever tree forest. It was amazing. It is the largest such forest in the southern hemisphere and extends for 22km! As we were driving on the outskirts of the forest, we saw a herd of buffalo.

We then drove to the Levuvhu Bridge. We were looking for the black-throated wattle-eye, but we had no success). We then made our way along the main road back to the lodge. We got back after 12:00, so we skipped breakfast and moved straight to lunch! Our starter was venison tataki (this was really delicious) and we followed this with stuffed chicken breast (T) and vegetable strudel (J). Terry had the chocolate torte for dessert.

We made our way to our room to rest until high tea at 15:30. There were some yellow spotted hyraxes (L) on the pillars beneath our room. They differed from other hyrax species in that they had white eyebrows, which gave them quite a quizzical look.

Night Drive

We drove into the central area of the reserve, to the floodplains. They were still dry as the main rains are usually in January/February when it becomes impossible to drive most of the area.

We saw striped kingfisher, white-crested helmet-shrikes, arrow-marked babblers, Kurrichane thrush, double-banded sandgrouse, dark chanting goshawk, African palm swift and Wahlberg’s eagle, inter alia. We also saw black-backed jackal, zebra, baboons, impala, Sharpe’s grysbok, lesser bush baby, large spotted genet, and a large kudu bull. As we returned to the lodge we saw a bushveld gerbil (L), spotted eagle owl, scrub hare and a parabufus scorpion (the latter was viewed with an UV light).

By the time we got back to the lodge it was just after 21:00! We again had dinner immediately. Terry had chicken livers to start while I had the tomato soup. We both had pork fillet for main course, and Terry followed this up with apple tart for dessert.

6 Dec – The Outpost

We both slept very well! We only had two front blinds open, as it was very windy. We woke up early to a lovely sunrise view from our bed!

Morning Drive

After our light breakfast (which had been a life-saver the day before!), we made our way to the “real” Crooks corner, which is on the Makuleke reserve.

We saw leopard tortoise, elephant, impala, zebra, kudu, baboons, warthog, crocodile, nyala and waterbuck on our way to the Levuvhu bridge. The birding was again rewarding: green woodhoopoe, red-crested korhaan, African hoopoe, Retz’s helmet-shrike, broad-billed roller and common scimitarbill, amongst others.

As we drove the loops along the Levuvhu River, we also saw crocodile, white-crowned lapwing, African harrier-hawk (gymnogene), white-browed scrub-robin, brown-headed parrot, yellow-spotted hyrax, African fish eagle, village indigobird, violet-backed starling, and white-browed robin-chat.

At the bridge we tried to find the wattle-eyes again, but had no luck. We did however see spur-winged goose, buffalo, warthog, terrestrial brownbul, spotted flycatcher, baboons and monkeys.

We also came across an impala nursery of about 20-30 youngsters. It was lovely to see.

At Crooks corner we could see the actual confluence and both the Limpopo and the Levuvhu Rivers. Literally, we were standing at the corner of South Africa, looking onto both Zimbabwe and Mozambique. We saw a pod of hippo, saddle-billed stork, African fish eagle, malachite kingfisher, pied kingfisher and trumpeter hornbill, amongst others.

We drove along the fever tree forest as we made our way in the direction of the lodge. We came across a small herd of elephant. The 4 adult elephants were standing guard over 3 sleeping youngsters. As we were watching them, a fish eagle called in the distance. Oh, the beauty of Africa! Eventually the elephants all started to stir and moved off.

On our way back to the lodge we saw cinnamon-breasted bunting, a warthog sow with 3 piglets, zebra, nyala (a bull in the shade of a nyalaberry tree!), grey-hooded kingfisher and southern black flycatcher, amongst others. On the access road to the lodge we stopped while a breeding herd of elephant crossed the road in front of us.

We were back at the lodge just after 13:00 so proceeded directly to lunch again. Terry had a melon salad with crocodile Carpaccio and fried mozzarella balls, while I had a cold pear and celery soup. I was not keen on the idea of the crocodile, but Terry told me to taste it (after he had done so) and it wasn’t too bad. Our main course was a club sandwich, which Terry followed with cheesecake for dessert.

We had agreed to meet later and do a shorter drive. So, we went to our room to rest and I had a lovely hot bath (possible now that the weather was cooler).

Night Drive

We drove out on the access road and then turned onto a side road that took us onto a real 4x4 road, rocky and steep. Along the way we saw: purple roller, tree squirrel, European roller, a yellow-billed hornbill with no tail feathers (it looked really strange), zebra, impala, baboons, Wahlberg’s eagle being dive-bombed by a drongo as it sat near some red-billed buffalo-weavers’ nests, yellow-spotted hyrax and two kudu bulls. We also saw a klipspringer – Terry spotted it up on the rocks. We were pleased to see one after a long time of not seeing any!

We then reached our destination and had to climb up a pathway with some rocks. We then came out at a lookout point, looking over Lanner Gorge. It was superb. Unfortunately it was still overcast, so there was no sunset to see, but a little bit of light broke through and colored the beautiful cliffs. We had our drinks there. We were all waiting to see an elephant shrew that comes to drink condensation from the side of the beer bottles, but it didn’t come out. Instead we saw “Stompie”, a rock gerbil (L) that had lost its tail. He was really skittish and ran from rock to rock.

On our way back to the lodge we saw Sharpe’s grysbok, steenbok, lesser bush baby and fiery-necked nightjar. As we approached the lodge, Dean suggested we go down another road to check out the river. It was a bush dinner underneath a massive baobab tree!

After dinner, we made our way to bed. We had to close our blinds as it was too windy to have them open and then it rained through most of the night.

7 Dec – The Outpost to Bateleur

Morning Drive

We had decided to drive along the Levuvhu River loops on the Makuleke side, but, because of all the rain, Dean recommended that we start on the main Pafuri Gate road and come back along the river. We saw plenty of leopard tortoises again, as well as red-chested cuckoo, red-headed weaver, a broad-billed roller in its nesting hole, elephant, monkeys, black-backed jackal, baboons, white-bellied sunbird, ashy flycatcher, black-collared barbet, brubru, and yellow-throated apalis, inter alia. We also saw Trish again. She came running out of the bush onto the main road when she heard the vehicle. She decided to pick on Fanie, a new ranger who had joined our vehicle the day before.

We then started driving along the river. We saw crocodile, African fish eagle, wood sandpiper, African harrier-hawk, red-billed firefinch, common greenshank, brown-headed parrots, impala, grey heron, trumpeter hornbill, yellow-billed kite, long-billed crombec and a flock of white storks as we stopped to have our morning drinks. While stopped we listened to and then found a black cuckoo. On our way back towards the lodge we saw buffalo, warthog, impala and dwarf mongoose.

We got back to the lodge at 11am – check out time. One nice touch is that our car wasn’t waiting in the loading area for us – advertising that it was time to go!

We went through to the room and packed the last few things, before making our way to breakfast. Our first actual breakfast! It was lovely. After saying our goodbyes to everyone, including Mike and Sandy, we made our way out and on to our next destination – Bateleur bush camp, via Shingwedzi to get “groceries”.

As we drove we almost ran into a red korhaan (it’s coloring was so cryptic). We also saw a baboon with a really small baby. We stopped at Levuvhu Bridge for one last (unsuccessful) look for wattle-eyes.

On our trip down to Shingwedzi, we saw buffalo, impala, more tortoises, African hawk eagle, a kori bustard flying across the road, elephant and kudu. We were blessed with a sighing of a bull elephant with really long tusks. It was spitting lightly, and he crossed the road in front of us. We just watched in awe. (Later, when visiting the Elephant museum at Letaba, we mentioned him and then emailed photos to them. They came back to let us know that he was relatively new to the Kruger Park and that he was called Botsotso.)

We stopped at Babalala picnic spot again for a quick break, and then continued on our way. We saw tawny eagle, bateleur, crowned lapwings, pin-tailed whyday, magpie shrike, buffalo, elephant, Jacobin cuckoo, wattled starling, impala, giraffe and hippo. We stopped briefly at Lamont waterhole, but there was no trace of the lions or their kill. We also stopped to check the carcass which had been largely depleted, although there were still white-backed vultures and marabou storks hanging around.

After a short stop at Shingwedzi to buy water and some food, we then made our way down the main road to the second redrocks turnoff (it was shorter) and ultimately to Bateleur. En route we saw giraffe, elephant, waterbuck, impala, steenbok, baboons and a Wahlberg’s eagle, amongst others. We arrived at Bateleur camp at 16:15, checked in, unpacked in cottage 5 and settled in.

We had again pre-booked a night drive, so we settled in to relax and then ate the padkos (two lovely sandwiches) from The Outpost for our dinner. The drive at Bateleur was at 7pm and it was drizzling so we decided to drive to reception, only to find that the vehicle was coming to pick us up. So we turned around and parked. The guide, Cecilia, checked that we were happy to do the drive despite the rain and we said yes. We also checked our suspicions with her and discovered that we were the only people, other than staff, in the camp.

We were all very pleased that we did the drive, Cecilia included. The rain stopped within 15 minutes and we had some lovely sightings: steenbok, grey duiker, large spotted genet, waterbuck, scrub hare, another large spotted genet (with a stunning visual, out in the open), crocodile, porcupine, spring hare, spotted eagle owl, spotted thick-knees with a chick (on the road), hyena, flap-necked chameleon, another spotted eagle owl, another porcupine, a third genet (just a brief glimpse) and elephant. We got home at 21:20 and went straight to bed.

8 Dec – Bateleur Camp

We had a leisurely morning, sleeping in and then having breakfast on the veranda (instead of on the road). We then took a drive to the two dams on the private road and the short loop around redrocks. We saw elephant, black-winged stilt, African spoonbill, white-faced ducks, knob-billed ducks, hippo, crocodile, waterbuck and village indigobird, amongst others. While driving from Rooibosrand Dam to Silvervis Dam, we saw two steenbok. All the guides are at pains to let you know that they are solitary animals and rarely seen in pairs – only when breeding or a mother with youngster. But we had challenged the odds – we had two males. From the size of the horns it looked like a young male was challenging an older one and we had interrupted their encounter. The older male then chased the youngster off.

We also watched a white-browed scrub-robin catch a worm – a kill! As we progressed further we saw buffalo, an European roller with a beetle in its beak, tree squirrels, giraffe, a female impala with a nursery of 5 youngsters, nyala bulls, terrapins and another European roller calling from the top of a dead tree.

We made a detour to redrocks lookout point and then made our way back to camp. On the way back we saw a warthog sow with 4 tiny piglets, they just moved around as close to her back legs as they could get! We also saw a common buzzard, Sharpe’s grysbok, some helmeted guineafowl having a sand bath, a yellow-billed hornbill lining its nesting hole with leaves, baboons and a Namaqua dove.

Back at camp we saw an African paradise flycatcher and two black-headed orioles defending their nest (which was in a tree at the back of our cottage) from a bush-shrike.

After a rest, we had lunch and then took a walk around camp and to the hide. We saw green-backed camaroptera, Kurrichane thrush, woodlands kingfisher, black-backed puffback, African paradise flycatcher (a male this time with a beautiful long tail), fork-tailed drongo, arrow-marked babblers, crested barbet, black-capped bulbul, Bennett’s woodpecker and a black-headed oriole back on the nest.

We lay down to read and rest. Terry fell into a deep sleep so I switched off the alarm for our evening drive and we rested instead. We took another walk down to the hide when we heard some elephants trumpeting. One elephant came down to drink, but left very quickly. We had a light supper and then sat on the veranda, with the lights out, watching the sun fade to darkness and listening to the sounds of the bush. We noticed that we were again the only people in camp.

9 Dec – Bateleur to Letaba

We got up early to pack and get ready. It was lovely listening to the call of the oriole right outside our room. We had a quick snack and were on the road at about 6:00. We drove to the main road via the bottom, shorter, loop again. We saw a lovely herd of kudu bulls, amur falcon and impala, amongst others. But the highlight was a leopard. I saw it cross the road quite a distance ahead of us but the profile and tail was unmistakable. Terry sped up until we got to where it had gone into the bush. Luckily for us, it stopped and looked back at us and we could see it was a big male. And then it was gone…

As we completed the loop, we saw white-bellied sunbird, golden-breasted bunting, waterbuck and impala, amongst others. On the main road, we saw a herd of buffalo, Swainson’s spurfowl, warthog, steenbok, green woodhoopoe, little swifts and the second highlight of the day – 4 ground hornbills. I absolutely love these birds and they are so special to watch. We also saw about 50+ white storks circling in the sky.

At Mopani, we stopped and had some breakfast. There we sat on the veranda this time, and watched the birds. Notable was a yellow-billed kite flying overhead with another bird in its talons. We watched the marabou storks roosting around the edge of the dam, take off as the day got hotter. We also saw a black-crowned tchagra and swee waxbill.

We made a brief detour to the low-water bridge just behind Mopani, where we saw a grey heron, an African openbill, yellow-billed stork, Western great egret, a black crake and a black stork.

We decided to drive the S49 loop on our way down towards Letaba. Along there we saw, red hartebeest – our first for this trip (in September they were everywhere!) We also saw warthog, a tawny eagle, ostrich (two males and a female – we tried to convince the males that one of them should go north for Trish!) and steenbok. Back on the main road we saw elephant, steenbok, warthog, ostrich, zebra and buffalo. We turned off to Malopenyana waterhole and watched a couple of herds of elephant drinking and bathing at the trough and the reservoir. We saw Temminck’s courser, zebra and wildebeest.

At Letaba Bridge we saw waterbuck, impala, baboons, buffalo, yellow-billed stork, Egyptian geese, hippo and black-winged stilt. We than took the S47 loop to Mingerhout Dam. We saw impala, buffalo, waterback, wildebeest, a hippo out of water (at 12:18 in 30oC!), zebra, crested spurfowl (who, unlike the hippo, were sensible enough to be standing in the shade on the verge of the road) and vervet monkeys. The dam was a bit disappointing. We remembered it being in the distance but the view was better. It is now quite overgrown with trees and bushes.

We drove further on the loop and connected to the S141 back to the main road. We arrived at Letaba at 13:11. We stopped to fill the car, watching a bushbuck and her baby in the camp. We also saw African paradise flycatcher, woodlands kingfisher, red-winged starling, kudu, impala and saddle-billed stork from the front of the restaurant (which was closed until further notice!!) The temporary restaurant on the lawns didn’t look great and our experience of it the next day when we had a drink with family reinforced that.

We were then able to check in. We unpacked in rondawel G85. It was really small but had everything we needed. We then rested and went out for a drive later on.

We took the S56 to Engelhard Dam. Our sightings included impala, giraffe, spur-winged goose, waterbuck, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, elephant and red-crested korhaan. We then drove north of Letaba as we still had time left. We saw a giraffe with a small calf, impala, 2 more ground hornbills, kudu, double-banded sandgrouse, waterbuck, warthog and kudu bulls.

Back at camp, we stopped at the shop to get some food and then made supper on our veranda. We had bacon, egg and cheese open sandwiches followed by fruit. We had an early night, although Terry’s wasn’t restful as the springs were digging into him. I turned the mattress over the next day and found that the padded foam cover had been underneath instead of on top!

10 Dec - Letaba

We left for a drive at 5:10 taking breakfast rolls (that we had made the night before) for padkos. We drove to Letaba Bridge, seeing kudu, emerald-spotted wood-dove, Wahlberg’s eagle and tawny eagle en route. At the bridge there were saddle-billed storks, babboons, Wahlberg’s eagle and grey-headed sparrow.

We then took the S62 drive, which is acknowledged a one of the best game, predator and bird drives. But the weather was really strange and we could tell that from what we didn’t see! We stopped at Matambeni hide, but it was so windy (and cold) that we just finished our breakfast and then moved on. We did see buffalo and African jacana, but not too much else. We continued our drive to the views over the Letaba River and Engelhard dam. There was quite a large herd of buffalo sheltered in the trees on the side of the hill.

On our way back, we drove into the one loop again and were startled by a hippo pushing his head up through the water hyacinth that clogged the river tributary. It looked really pretty once we worked out what it was!

We drove back to the main road, did the loop we had done the previous evening and then back to camp with just a few birds and some general game to show for it.

Back at camp, we went to the Elephant Museum as we wanted to see Mandleve’s tusks. He died in Sept 1993, having last been seen in June 1993. We were lucky enough to see him and his askari when we went to Sabi Sabi River Lodge in Sept 1992. His tusks are the heaviest of all those displayed. He is in at least the top three in terms of length and the top five in terms of circumference. We shared the photos with the lady at the counter and told her about the tusker we had seen on our way down from Pafuri. Just outside the museum we heard the bats in the bat hotels, but didn’t see any of them.

We walked to the benches in front of the restaurant and sat there for a while, since the lady was still cleaning our rondawel. We saw African palm swift, yellow-billed kite, yellow-billed stork, little egret, brown-hooded kingfisher, pied kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, white-fronted bee-eater and African green pigeons in the fig tree as we walked back to our rondawel.

We had lunch and then settled down to relax. Michael, our nephew, let us know that he, Stacey and Chad, her brother, were almost at Letaba and we then arranged to meet them at the museum when they got there. We had a drink at the temporary restaurant and then went to the shop with them so that they could buy some supper as they had to get back to Satara before the gate closed and then also had a night drive that night, as did we.

We continued to read and then had an early supper. We went to reception to meet for our night drive. The guide was Parsey. It was still windy and cool and the sightings were not as good as at Bateleur. But we were still lucky to see spring hares, scrub hares, hippo out of water, large spotted genet, crododile and black-backed jackal.

11 Dec – Letaba to Home

We got up early, showered and packed up. We were on the road by 5:30. We drove only a short way before we saw a vehicle stopped. Terry thought he saw a group of lions on a kill, but then one sat up and looked like a cheetah. His first thought was what is the cheetah doing there but then he realized it was 5 cheetah on an impala kill. It was a mother with 4 large cubs. We both agreed that she wouldn’t be providing them with too many more meals! The mother got up and chased off a jackal. We then saw a side-striped jackal approach cautiously but it was chased off by one of the cubs.

A little further on we saw a lone hyena on the side of the road. We also saw warthog, buffalo and hippo at Nhlanganini dam. We saw an African fish eagle that then started calling. It started to rain lightly as we continued on our way, taking a quick detour to Sable dam. We saw a very wet and bedraggled tawny eagle on the ground next to the road and two bateleurs roosting in a dead tree.

About 4km from the gate a honey badger crossed the road ahead of us. We watched it move through the bush for a short while before making our way to Phalaborwa gate. It was 7:45 so we had made good time.

The rain continued until we were just south of Polokwane and the Magoebaskloof was very misty. We managed to stop and buy some avocados, litchis, mangoes and bananas en route and were home at 13:30.

While we unpacked, Neil made a braai of mealies and chicken wings for us all to have a late lunch. It was a lovely treat!

Lists

Birds

1. Yellow-breasted apalis

2. Arrow-marked babbler

3. Black-collared barbet

4. Crested barbet

5. Bateleur

6. Blue-cheeked bee-eater

7. European bee-eater

8. Little bee-eater

9. White-fronted bee-eater

10. Red bishop

11. Tropical boubou

12. Terrestrial brownbul

13. Brubru

14. Red-billed buffalo-weaver

15. Dark-capped bulbul

16. Cinnamon-breasted bunting

17. Orange-breasted bush-shrike

18. Kori bustard

19. Common buzzard

20. Green-backed camaroptera

21. Yellow-fronted canary

22. Rattling cisticola

23. Red-faced cisticola

24. Burchell’s coucal

25. Golden-breasted bunting

26. Temminck’s courser

27. Black crake

28. Long-billed crombec

29. Pied crow

30. Black cuckoo-shrike

31. Black cuckoo

32. Jacobin cuckoo

33. Levaillant’s cuckoo

34. Red-chested cuckoo

35. Cape turtle dove

36. Laughing dove

37. Namaqua dove

38. Fork-tailed drongo

39. Knob-billed duck

40. White-faced duck

41. African fish eagle

42. African hawk eagle

43. Long-crested eagle

44. Tawny eagle

45. Wahlberg’s eagle

46. Cattle egret

47. Intermediate egret

48. Little egret

49. Western great egret

50. Burnt-necked eremomela

51. Amur falcon

52. Jameson’s firefinch

53. Red-billed firefinch

54. African paradise flycatcher

55. Ashy flycatcher

56. Southern black flycatcher

57. Spotted flycatcher

58. Grey go-away-bird

59. Egyptian goose

60. Spur-winged goose

61. Dark chanting goshawk

62. Common greenshank

63. Crested guineafowl

64. Helmeted guineafowl

65. Hamerkop

66. African harrier-hawk

67. White-crested helmet-shrike

68. Retz’s helmet-shrike

69. Black heron

70. Black-headed heron

71. Grey heron

72. Greater honeyguide

73. Scaly-throated honeyguide

74. African hoopoe

75. Grey hornbill

76. Ground hornbill

77. Red-billed hornbill

78. Trumpeter hornbill

79. Yellow-billed hornbill

80. Hadeda ibis

81. Sacred ibis

82. Village indigobird

83. African jacana

84. Brown-hooded kingfisher

85. Giant kingfisher

86. Grey-hooded kingfisher

87. Malachite kingfisher

88. Pied kingfisher

89. Striped kingfisher

90. Woodlands kingfisher

91. Black-shouldered kite

92. Yellow-billed kite

93. Red-crested korhaan

94. Blacksmith lapwing

95. Crowned lapwing

96. White-crowned lapwing

97. Speckled mousebird

98. Indian myna

99. Fiery-necked nightjar

100. Square-tailed nightjar

101. African openbill

102. Black-headed oriole

103. Ostrich

104. Spotted eagle owl

105. Pearl-spotted owlet

106. Red-billed oxpecker

107. Yellow-billed oxpecker

108. Brown-headed parrot

109. African green pigeon

110. Speckled pigeon

111. Three-banded plover

112. Black-backed puffback

113. Green-winged pytilia

114. Red-billed quelea

115. White-browed robin-chat

116. Broad-billed roller

117. European roller

118. Lilac-breasted roller

119. Purple roller

120. Double-banded sandgrouse

121. Wood sandpiper

122. Common scimitarbill

123. White-browed scrub-robin

124. Magpie shrike

125. Red-backed shrike

126. Brown snake-eagle

127. Grey-headed sparrow

128. African spoonbill

129. Crested spurfowl

130. Natal spurfowl

131. Swainson’s spurfowl

132. Burchell’s starling

133. Cape glossy starling

134. Greater Blue-eared starling

135. Meve’s starling

136. Red-winged starling

137. Violet-backed starling

138. Wattled starling

139. Black-winged stilt

140. Black stork

141. Marabou stork

142. Saddle-billed stork

143. Woolly-necked stork

144. White stork

145. Yellow-billed stork

146. White-bellied sunbird

147. Mosque swallow

148. Wire-tailed swallow

149. African black swift

150. African palm swift

151. Little swift

152. Black-crowned tchagra

153. Water thick-knee

154. Kurrichane thrush

155. Lappet-faced vulture

156. White-backed vulture

157. Pied wagtail

158. Blue waxbill

159. Common waxbill

160. Swee waxbill

161. Red-headed weaver

162. Southern masked weaver

163. Village weaver

164. Pin-tailed whydah

165. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

166. Green woodhoopoe

167. Bearded woodpecker

168. Bennett’s woodpecker

Mammals

1. Baboon

2. Honey badger

3. Blesbok (trip)

4. Buffalo

5. Lesser bushbaby

6. Bushbuck

7. Cheetah

8. Grey duiker

9. Elephant

10. Gemsbok (trip)

11. Large spotted genet

12. Bushveld gerbil (L)

13. Rock gerbil (L)

14. Giraffe 15.

Sharpe’s grysbok

16. Scrub hare

17. Spring hare

18. Red hartebees

19. Hippo

20. Spotted hyena

21. Yellow-spotted hyrax (L)

22. Impala

23. Black-backed jackal

24. Side-striped jackal

25. Klipspringer

26. Kudu

27. Leopard

28. Lion

29. Dwarf mongoose

30. Vervet monkey

31. Nyala

32. Porcupine

33. Sable (trip)

34. Tree squirrel

35. Steenbok

36. Tsessebe

37. Warthog

38. Waterbuck

39. Blue wildebeest

40. Zebra

Other

1. Flap-necked chameleon

2. Crocodile

3. Rock python

4. Parabufus scorpion

5. Terrapin

6. Leopard tortoise