14 May 2018

From Phalaborwa gate, we made our way to Sable dam, where we were spoiled by some lovely elephant sightings. A number of small herds came down to drink and bathe, two of the herds crossing the dam to the far side. They really enjoyed the swim. There were some really small calves though, and sometimes all we could see was their trunk sticking out of the water! We spent a fair amount of time at the dam enjoying the viewing, so we made our way back to the main road (instead of driving the rest of the loop) and on towards Letaba.

Just after Nhlanganini dam, we saw another herd of elephant – our 5th for the day – crossing the road ahead of us.

We arrived at Letaba at about 14h45, checked in, went to the shop and then had sandwiches for lunch.

At 16h00 we went out for another drive, heading north on the main road. Along the Letaba river we saw plenty of elephants down in the river bed, marabou storks, impala and waterbuck. We also saw some hippo.

As we came across our 6th or 7th herd for the day, Terry said “YAHOE” – yet another herd of elephants!

As we continued north, a vehicle stopped us to tell us that there was a cheetah up ahead. He didn’t have a distance or any markers, but told us that we wouldn’t miss it because there were lots of cars.

We drove and drove, starting to stress about time, but we found no cars and no cheetah. Eventually, we turned around. This time there were vehicles stopped and we could see the cheetah – the position wasn’t favorable viewing from the other direction! It wasn’t a great sighting but we could see her and her bloody head as she watched the vehicles. We didn’t stay very long as we did not want to risk getting back to camp too late.

It was too early to eat, but too cold and windy to sit outside, so we prepared a snack for later and climbed onto the bed to read. While we were reading it started raining, and before too long Terry was lying under a large drip. So we moved my bed and his bed across as far as they would go with no bedside cabinet in the middle. At least that way his duvet cover dried and he didn’t get wet again.

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, hippo, impala, tree squirrel, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Bateleur, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, western great egret, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose Helmeted guineafowl, goliath heron, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, black-bellied korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, Kittlitz’s plover, three-banded plover, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, Cape glossy starling, marabou stork, saddle-billed stork, pied wagtail

Other: Crocodile

15 May 2018

We decided to sleep and wake up naturally, which was a good thing as it was still raining lightly. We showered, packed breakfast and made our way out of cam just before 7am. We drove south on the main road towards Olifants camp.

We were thrilled when we came across a flock of 5 southern ground hornbills and spent a little time watching them waking in the bush.

We drove past the turning to Olifants in order to go to the N’wamanzi lookout. While there we ate our yoghurt. The rest of breakfast had been eaten en route. We then decided to continue on the main road and connect back to Olifants camp on the S89/S90/S92. It was still cold enough that we put the heater on our feet!

We weren’t too far along on the S89 when we heard a red-crested korhaan calling and then it burst out of the bush and did its aerial display. I don’t think it was trying to attract us though! It was a little early in the season but according the guidebook they do sometimes practice. A little bit further along we saw a female korhaan cross the road ahead of us, too far to have been impressed by the display.

At Olifants, we checked the view from the lookout area in front of the camp, and then we bought some sandwiches and a book on birdcalls at the shop.

We took the S93 to get back to Letaba camp. We came across a black-backed jackal in an open, sandy area. It sat down and started calling. Our only thought was that it was looking for its mate. It continued to call and call, and then it lay down looking around. When nothing changed, it started calling again. Its calls obviously attracted a spotted hyena that came across the road and approached the jackal. It was almost as though they walked circles around each other. Then the jackal lay down again and the hyena continued looking around the area, obviously hoping to steal some food.

Along the Engelhard dam loop, we came across an African fish eagle sitting on a branch in a tree with a fish in its claws. The fish looked like a tiger fish and when we investigated further we found that there are tiger fish found in the Letaba river. The eagle flew off and we could see the fish hanging down from its talons. It settled in a tree ahead of us and we could see the fish even more clearly. Then we noticed that there was a second fish eagle on a tree on the other side of the road. But it didn’t look like the first one was going to share its catch!

Once back at our chalet, we walked to the shop to buy a few things and then, after unpacking the shopping, we walked to the restaurant. We both had ribs and fries for lunch.

After some time to relax and read, we took a drive north and along the river loop. We saw a Verreaux’s eagle owl on the ground under some trees and stopped to enjoy the sighting. We continued our drive to the Letaba River bridge and stopped to enjoy a saddle-billed stork there. As we drove further north we came across a pearl-spotted owlet in a tree to the side of the road. It sat still for a while, turning its head around; so, we were able to see both its eyes and its false eyes.

A little while later we turned around and made our way back to camp, where we had bacon griller hotdogs for supper. We then read until it was time to walk to reception for our night drive.

We saw a spotted hyena crossing the main road and running into the bush with a piece of fur/meat in its mouth. As we drove the road towards Phalaborwa gate, we saw a side-striped jackal and then came across a hyena den with 3 adults. One cub came out and interacted with another young female. Its mom chased off the young female and the cub ran into the culvert. Another female and cub came from down the road and we realized that there was a second culvert in use too. For the rest of the drive, we saw mainly scrub hares and then a brief glimpse of the hyena again as we drove back. At the intersection to the main road, we turned north and then we started seeing spring hares. There were plenty of them. Parsee, the guide, calls them “krugeroos”! This drive was definitely the first time that we saw more spring than scrub hares in the Kruger.

Once back at camp, we walked to the chalet and made our way to bed, as it was reasonably late.

Mammals: Elephant, giraffe, scrub hare, spring hare, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, side-striped jackal, tree squirrel, warthog, waterbuck, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, crested barbet, bateleur, white-fronted bee-eater, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, tawny eagle, western great egret, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, grey heron, purple heron, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, sacred ibis, African jacana, brown-hooded kingfisher, pied kingfisher, striped kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, white-crowned lapwing, sabota lark, Verreaux’s eagle owl, pearl-spotted owlet, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, southern White-crowned shrike, African spoonbill, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl. Cape glossy starling, red-winged starling, marabou stork, saddle-billed stork, wire-tailed swallow, little swift, white-backed vulture, blue waxbill

Other: Crocodile, leopard tortoise

16 May 2018

We left camp at 6h20 and made our way north as we wanted to drive the new road to the Giriyondo border post into Mozambique.

Just after the Letaba River bridge, we stopped to watch an impala barking. Initially, Terry thought it was its rutting call (the soundtrack to our trip!) but then he realized that the impala had seen something. It was looking across the road so he looked there too and saw a leopard’s tail moving into the bush. We waited and the leopard came out to cross the road ahead of us. Luckily for us, he stopped about a third of the way onto the road and just looked at us, before crossing to the other side and disappearing into the bush. It was a short but beautiful sighting!

At Malopenyana waterhole we stopped and ate our breakfast rolls, watching a black-backed jackal move off into the distance. A little further we saw a secretarybird on top of a tree.

Once we got to the border post, we turned around and made our way to the Makhadzi picnic site, for a bathroom break.

As we returned past the Malopenyana waterhole, we saw a herd of buffalo making their way towards the main road. It looked like they wanted to cross the road, but the number of cars that kept moving past made them hesitate. We waited patiently and eventually they crossed the road. As we watched them, we were also looking at the oxpeckers moving along with them. Unusually most of them were yellow-billed oxpeckers, with a few red-billed to be seen too.

We then stopped to watch two lilac-breasted rollers calling from perches on top of two different trees. It is not often you hear them call and their call definitely does not match their beautiful plumage!

At the Letaba River bridge, there were a number of vultures on the bank and in the trees. Some of them took off and started circling overhead.

As we made our way back to camp, we saw a waterbuck mom with a suckling youngster. We also came across a pod of hippos lying in the water. The one had a small crocodile perched on her back. It was lying with its mouth open.

We walked to the restaurant for lunch. We both had the chicken stack. It was chicken schnitzels stacked with spinach and cheese (Terry opted out of the spinach!). The meal was so large (and delicious) that we took doggy bags to have for lunch the next day too.

We went out for an afternoon drive at 15h15, heading towards Olifants on the main road as the sightings map had indicated that lions were seen along here in the morning. In the end, we drove as far as the N’wamanzi lookout before turning around and making our way back to Letaba. There were no lions in sight, however.

At the intersection to camp though, we turned towards the hyena dens and watched two adult hyena sleeping on the side of the road. A third female came in and checked the den. Two cubs then came out. Then a 3rd one. And they all wanted to suckle! They greeted the adult and then followed her into the den. A 4th adult came into the area as we left the sighting.

Back at camp, we made some rolls for the next day’s breakfast, had a snack supper and went inside to read and, eventually, sleep.

Mammals: Buffalo, bushbuck, common duiker, elephant, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, leopard, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, crested barbet, bateleur, dark-capped bulbul, rattling cisticola, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, western great egret, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, white-crested helmet-shrike, goliath heron, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, pied kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, sabota lark, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, green-winged pytilia, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, secretarybird, magpie shrike, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, wattled starling, marabou stork, saddle-billed stork, white-backed vulture, white-headed vulture, green wood-hoopoe

Other: Matabele ants, crocodile

17 May 2018

We made our way out of camp not long after 6h00, driving across the Letaba River bridge and then onto the S62 to the Engelhard dam lookout. On our way we saw a pair of Kori bustards.

We stopped to have breakfast looking over the river and the dam wall, watching a herd of buffalo in the other side.

We had a brief sighting of a southern ground hornbill. It was in the road and then it flew off.

We stopped at the Mantambeni hide for a short while, and then made our way back to the main road. While driving along we saw a group of banded mongoose. It was lovely, as we haven’t seen them in Kruger for a very long time.

A drive along the river loop did not reveal any more owls so we made our way back to camp, detouring to the hyena den where we found two adults and one cub lying down. Another cub peeked out of the den briefly.

Back at the chalet, we read for a while, before walking to the shop and then having our leftover chicken schnitzels for lunch.

We left at 15h00 for an afternoon drive taking the main road south to the S46 and driving along the S46 past Engelhard dam. We then rejoined the main road and drove north. We had our first sighting of a kudu for the trip!

On the way back south, we stopped to watch a troop of baboons on the riverbanks just before the bridge.

Back at camp, we did some packing, had a light supper and then read before we slept.

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, kudu, banded mongoose, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, white-fronted bee-eater, kori bustard, Burchell’s coucal, black crake, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, tawny eagle, western great egret, Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, helmeted guineafowl, goliath heron, grey heron, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, African jacana, brown-hooded kingfisher, pied kingfisher, striped kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, double-banded sandgrouse, common scimitarbill, African spoonbill, crested spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, black-winged stilt, marabou stork, saddle-billed stork, emerald-spotted wood-dove, green wood-hoopoe

Other: Crocodile, terrapin

18 May 2018

We were up and ready to leave camp just before 6h15. We made a quick stop at the hyena den before making our way north on the main road. There were 8 adults near the den! A couple of young adults were play-fighting. One cub popped out and joined in the play.

Up near Middelvlei dam there was a large herd of impala on the side of the main road, standing in a close bunch. When we looked closely we realized that they were all females with one male. A couple in another vehicle told us that they had watched him herd them all into the tight grouping!

We stopped briefly at Mopani camp, but found no sandwiches at the shop. We did however see a hippo out of the water on the side of Pioneer dam. As we exited Mopani and were about to turn north, we spotted an Eurasian hobby on a tree just south of the intersection. We turned that way for a closer look.

We then turned around and continued northwards to Shingwedzi, where we stopped at the shop again. From camp, we made our way to the confluence loop and then onto the Shingwedzi River bridge. We saw some dwarf mongoose.

We stopped at Lamont waterhole (just in case – there were lions on a kill there last trip) but there was nothing to be seen. Quite a bit further north, we spotted a juvenile martial eagle swooping over the grass and bushes. Terry spotted the victim of its attention – a kori bustard, which moved quickly under some bushes to get away from the eagle. It would have been a very adventurous catch!

We also saw our first steenbok of the trip.

We then came across a group of three southern ground hornbill, all adults. What made it really special is that they were calling – two of them in a duet. You could clearly see them taking turns to keep the “song” going. We stayed with them for a short while, enjoying the experience.

We made a quick stop at Babalala picnic site, before heading north again for the last leg of our journey. We saw a number of elephants around the pans and another big herd of impala. We took the turn-off towards Punda Maria gate and then again to the camp. We arrived at just on 12h30.

We went to the restaurant for lunch. Terry had chicken schnitzel and I had buffalo pie (something that we have not seen on the menu for a very long time). I enjoyed the pie so much that Terry decided that he would have it the next day. I then had a cappuccino and we checked in a little early.

We were in Tent 1. We unpacked, and settled in to read. At 16h45, we talk a walk down to the camping area and the bird hide. There was not too much activity but we stayed to enjoy the sunset and then walked back to our tent.

There we prepared some rolls for breakfast, had a light supper and moved inside to read and sleep.

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, hippo, impala, kudu, dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, kori bustard, Burchell’s coucal, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, martial eagle, tawny eagle, western great egret, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, dark chanting goshawk, crested guineafowl, helmeted guineafowl, white-crested helmet-shrike, grey heron, Eurasian hobby, crowned hornbill, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, brown-hooded kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, three-banded plover, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, magpie shrike, house sparrow, crested spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, marabou stork, woolly-necked stork, African palm swift, little swift

Other: Crocodile, terrapin

19 May 2018

We were out at 6h30 and it was overcast and cool. Terry had heard lions roaring in the night, so we changed our plans and decided to stick to the Mahonie loop. Not long afterwards we heard parrots screeching again. We eventually found them flying overhead. After some hard work we confirmed that they were grey-headed parrots (L) and we were thrilled. Although we kept hoping that we would see them again and get a better sighting. But that was not to be.

Instead we found brown-headed parrots feeding in trees later in the morning. The sounds and the whole feeling of the birds were totally different.

We drove to the Thulamila loop and then down to the Punda Maria gate, before turning around and making our way back to camp.

Back at the tent, we cooked some sausages, bacon and hard-boiled eggs for the rest of the journey (to Mapungubwe, where there were no shops) and then read for some time. We walked to the restaurant for lunch, but sat inside, as it was much cooler and threatening to rain. Unfortunately for Terry, another couple had ordered the last buffalo pies and they were making more, but it would take time for them to be ready. So we both had burgers – Terry’s was a beef burger with bacon and cheese and I had a chicken, spinach and mozzarella burger.

We left for our afternoon drive at 15h20, taking the same loop as the morning, but driving it the other way around. We saw an elephant with no tusks.

Eventually we found a lion sighting, but the two females and two cubs were so deep into the bush that it took some serious help from the vehicle in place to show us where they were! We eventually returned the favor for the next vehicle in line. We saw plenty more brown-headed parrots, but no more grey-headed unfortunately.

Back at our tent, we packed up ready for our departure the next morning. Terry walked down to the shop to buy some water for Mapungubwe, while I finished off some packing. We then decided that we were sheltered enough to sit outside and have our light supper. We were very pleased that we did – two thick-tailed bushbabies visited us, sitting on some Adirondack chairs on the side of our veranda.

We left our dishes in the sink, but later heard a bushbaby moving the plates around, so we went back out to wash and lock them away. We didn’t want any breakages or stolen items!!

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, thick-tailed bushbaby, bushbuck, common duiker, elephant, impala, kudu, lion, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, zebra

Birds: Yellow-breasted apalis, arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, dark-capped bulbul, lizard buzzard, yellow-fronted canary, Burchell’s coucal, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, grey go-away-bird, white-crested helmet-shrike, African hoopoe, crowned hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, brown-hooded kingfisher, striped kingfisher, brown-headed parrot, grey-headed parrot (L), African green pigeon, green-winged pytilia, red-billed quelea, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, little sparrowhawk, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, Cape glossy starling, red-winged starling, violet-backed starling, blue waxbill, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Matabele ants

20 May 2018

We left Punda Maria at 6h15. The weather had been weird and the stay had definitely been too short, but we knew that would probably be the case when we made our bookings. We didn’t get to walk the trail in camp and we did not hear or see any birds in camp either. I have no doubt that we will return to do it better justice.

Our plans for the day were to drive north and exit that park at Pafuri gate, making our way from there to Mapungubwe. We started on the S60 though, planning to join the main road after Klopperfontein dam. Just outside of camp we saw a very dark giraffe.

The sun started to break through the clouds and we even started hearing a lot of birdcalls for a change. Unfortunately though, we passed a dead scrub hare in the road. There was nothing scavenging on it though.

We saw some large flocks of red-billed queleas flying around and then landing in a couple of trees.

We had our breakfast at Klopperfontein dam. We had seen a lot of spurfowl on our travels but for the first time we saw a group 6 Swainson’s in the road. Other sightings of them were normally singly or in pairs.

Once back on the main road we made our way to the Luvuvhu River bridge and then turned back to take the Pafuri loop, stopping at the picnic site for a comfort break and some birding. Amongst other sightings, Terry found a pair of African paradise flycatchers. We spent a little time enjoying them as they hopped around one of the large trees in the centre of the picnic area.

We came across another juvenile martial eagle, but this one was just sitting on the ground. We saw a fair number of buffalo, and lots of really big crocodiles resting on the riverbanks. We also saw an adult and juvenile African harrier-hawk.

We were spoiled again, by a sighting of two southern ground hornbills. They flew into some trees, and then flew deeper in and stopped at what could be a nesting hole. At that point we could only see one of them.

At Crooks Corner we could hear hippo but could not see them. They were in the confluence area, almost around the corner from us. We did, however, see a saddle-billed stork.

We saw a small herd of kudu. One female was lying on the ground with two red-billed oxpeckers cleaning her ears – it looked like she was wearing earrings! She started to flick her ears as they irritated her.

We then made our way onto the tar road (away from the border post) and back to the main road. And then we were at Pafuri gate (11h30) and ready to leave the park…

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, giraffe, hippo, impala, kudu, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, warthog, waterbuck, zebra

Birds: White-fronted bee-eater, southern boubou, dark-capped bulbul, Burchell’s coucal, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, martial eagle, African paradise flycatcher, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, African harrier-hawk, Retz’s helmet-shrike, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, blacksmith lapwing, white-crowned lapwing, speckled mousebird, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, three-banded plover, tawny-flanked prinia, red-billed queleas, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, common scimitarbill, magpie shrike, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, lesser blue-eared starling, saddle-billed stork, white-backed vulture, African pied wagtail, spectacled Weaver, emerald-spotted wood-dove, green wood-hoopoe

Other: Matabele ants, crocodile, golden orb spider

Our over-riding memory of this trip to the park will be the sounds of rutting impala and the numerous and often amazing sightings we had of large birds – southern ground hornbills, kori bustards, secretarybird, fish eagles and martial eagles. Also, the special soundtracks will stay with us too – the black-backed jackal calling in the hyena and the booming duet of the southern ground hornbills.