Highlights – Magoebaskloof/Kruger National Park

March 2020

6 March

We left home before 6am and made our way to Magoebaskloof, arriving mid-morning. That gave us time to go for a drive in the Woodbush forest. We missed our turning so did not do the drive that Terry had intended, but the drive we did do was still lovely. We saw a samango monkey, a forest buzzard and an African harrier-hawk. There were other birds to be seen too, but it was relatively quiet. There was felling happening on some of the plantations, so that may have been partly the reason for this.

We then made our way to Mountain Café on Blueberry Heights Farm for lunch. On our way out to the forest, we noticed that it was closed until 6 March and we weren’t sure whether it meant that it would still open or only the next day. Luckily for us, we spotted it was open on our way towards Haenertsburg. I had bubbles with blueberries to drink and we shared a feta dip with fresh farm loaf. It was delicious. Terry then had chicken korma, while I had the beef open sandwich. They were both good. Terry had his “dose” of blueberries in the form of blueberry cheesecake, while I had a cappuccino. I had to steal a taste (or two) of his dessert – it was out of this world!

We made our way to Sanfern Downs Cottage, our home for the night, and were welcomed by a duiker first (along the road in) and then Megan and her dogs. We settled in and then made ourselves comfortable in the easy chairs, where we spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing.

Supper was fig salad (a recipe from Val) and we both enjoyed it.

Mammals: Common duiker, impala, samango monkey

Birds: Forest buzzard, pied crow, western cattle egret, common fiscal, spotted flycatcher, grey go-away-bird, African harrier-hawk, little swift, swee waxbill, Cape white-eye

7 March

We found the bed too bouncy so neither of us had a good night’s sleep. Terry, in fact, read most of the early hours and almost finished the new Lee Child!

We were on the road by 8am and we made our way through Tzaneen to Phalaborwa. There we filled up and then made our way to the gate into Kruger. It started raining lightly shortly before we got there and it continued to do so on and off during in the morning.

Our mission for the trip was to drive the remaining roads that we had not yet driven since I had taken retirement. There were a number of them in the area – S131 and a number of 4x4 tracks. We started off on the S131 and saw a number of birds, but the animals were few and far between. The bush was thick and green though, so even an elephant could be invisible a couple of metres in!

We crossed the H14 and continued on the S131 until we reached the Shivulani track. That took us to the H9 and we then drove the Masorini track. When this brought us back to the H9, we crossed over again and drove the Shikumbu track. That took us back to the H14 and we drove down to Sable dam, hoping to find toilets at the hide (since it is used for sleepovers) but they were locked. So we made our way to the Masorini picnic spot instead for a comfort break.

It was amazing to see the dam though. The last time we had seen it, it was almost empty and now it was so full that the places we usually park at to look over the dam were under water!

After Masorini we continued on H9 until we got to Machangani track. Back on the S131, we drove up to Mankavi track and did a quick drive of the bottom “loop”, before continuing on the S131 until we reached H14 again. We then drove up towards Shimuweni turning onto the private road and making our way to reception to check in. It was 3:30pm already by the time we got to our cottage (number 8). The river had lots of water and we had a lovely view.

Once we had unpacked, Terry braai’ed some lamb chops, mealies and broodjies, while cooking some sausages on the gas hob. We had a lovely “lupper” and then prepared breakfast to pack in the morning.

We then went and sat on a bench and just enjoyed the animal and bird life, as well as the lovely view of the Letaba River. We could hear a red-eyed dove calling, and a brown-headed parrot made itself known as it flew overhead.

We cleaned up, and filled water bottles, before making our way to bed early – to read first and then sleep (hopefully).

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, impala, kudu, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, zebra

Birds: Bateleur, European bee-eater, southern red bishop, cinnamon bunting, golden-breasted bunting, common buzzard, mocking cliff chat, pied crow, African darter, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, western cattle egret, red-billed firefinch, Eurasian hobby, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, brown-hooded kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, rufous-naped lark, Sabota lark, brown-headed parrot, African pipit, bushveld pipit, red-billed quelea, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, southern grey-headed sparrow, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, African spoonbill, barn swallow, llittle swift, water thick-knee, purple-crested turaco, Cape vulture, white-backed vulture, white-headed vulture, red-billed buffalo weaver, southern masked weaver, green woodhoopoe

Other: Crocodile, terrapin

8 March

We started the day with a beautiful sunrise and a pod of hippos in the river in front of the cottage. We made our way out of camp just before 5:45am, driving the private road with loops along the river. It was really beautiful and we even saw a spotted hyena on the other bank. We stopped to admire a beautiful baobab tree and agreed that it was where we had seen ground hornbills the last time we were in the area. In fact, we had decided to see if they would respond to their call (not realizing that they had a nest site) and utter chaos ensued. We have always been really cautious about playing bird calls ever since!

We encountered our first elephant of the trip. After that, we saw plenty of them!

We then made our way down the H14 until a lookout point. It was really pretty as there was water to be seen (an unusual occurrence for us). We then drove back to the top entrance to the Mankavi track, heading to the main track and making our way towards the Letaba River.

We spent a fair amount of time trying to identify an LBJ. I was convinced that it was a lark, but we couldn’t nail down any identifying details except its flight pattern and we couldn’t find it call. It was everywhere and if we didn’t see it, we heard it. It drove us insane! (We eventually identified it a couple of days later – on our way up to Pafuri. I played the full call recording of one of the larks and we had it!) It was a lifer for us – a monotonous lark.

We then came across a couple of birds in the road and I knew what it was as soon as I saw it – all the books tell you how to differentiate it from the groundscraper thrush, but when you see it, it is totally different and unique – so we had another lifer, a dusky lark.

The view of the river was beautiful but we weren’t the only ones there – there was an open vehicle with guests. We still decided to relax and eat our fruit and yoghurt there. The other vehicle moved off and we had everything to ourselves then.

We then made our way south on the track and continued right down until the S131. We crossed the H14 and continued on the S131 until we got to S132. We had a light shower again as we drove! It was bizarre. As the rain cleared, we found 3 more dusky larks on the road. We then took the H9 and made our way to Masorini for a comfort break, before turning back and heading to the S96 to cut back up to the S131.

The S133 took us back up to the H14 and we made our way back to camp, reaching our cottage at 12:24pm. We first cooked some bacon to make sandwiches for the next day and then cooked some pregos for lunch.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing. The 4x4 tracks were lovely but they meant that Terry had to concentrate on the road a lot more. At 5:30pm we went down to sit on the bench. Later we saw a breeding herd of elephants further down the river.

After doing some packing, we read and relaxed until it was time to sleep.

Mammals: Elephant, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, European bee-eater, southern red bishop, dark-capped bulbul, cinnamon-breasted bunting, kori bustard, rattling cisticola, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, red-eyed dove, fork-tailed drongo, Egyptian goose, white-crested helmet-shrike, green-backed heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, giant kingfisher, pied kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, dusky lark (L), flappet lark, monotonous lark (L), Sabota lark, red-billed oxpecker, three-banded plover, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, wood sandpiper, magpie shrike, southern grey-headed sparrow, African spoonbill, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, barn swallow, little swift, water thick-knee, African pied wagtail, red-billed buffalo weaver, long-tailed paradise whydah, white-winged widowbird, green woodhoopoe

Other: Crocodile

9 March

After our early night, we were both awake at 4:30am! We lay listening to the birds calling and then eventually roused ourselves to get up and finish packing. We left camp just before 6:45am and made our way along the river loop again.

We saw a saddle-billed stork on the top of the baobab tree so we took the loop down to it. The stork and its partner flew off, but we discovered some southern ground hornbills. One was on a branch sleeping with what we first thought was a bird in its mouth (the photos revealed that it was actually a lizard and a grasshopper). It was quite funny to watch it. Another adult was on the ground in front of us and we followed it around the baobab, finding another adult and a juvenile in another branch of the tree. The adult we had followed continued around and flew onto a stunted tree trunk, where it proceeded to preen itself. We spent a fair amount of time watching it before making our way back to the one with the food in its beak. It no longer had any food, as it had taken it to the nest. We saw it move down from the nest hole and make its way along the branch again. We decided to leave them to do their thing as we continued on our long drive to Shingwedzi. It was like déjà vu though, minus the chaos from the bird call! This was definitely one of our best sightings of ground hornbill though. They were stationary (to a large extent) and very relaxed. It was 19 years ago that we last saw ground hornbill here. We wondered whether these were the same ones (we don’t know how long they live or nest in the same place), were family or offspring of the original birds or whether this was just a good nesting site and other birds had used it over the years.

We ate our breakfast at a lookout point over the river, before continuing on to the H14. There we saw a black-backed jackal – our first for the trip and a flock of Amur falcons. We first saw and identified one in a tree, then saw another one in the road and then realized that there were 10 plus of them flying around and perching in trees.

Not long after we turned onto the H1-6, we came across a pallid harrier. It flew to a low branch on a tree and we were able to get a good look at it.

We turned onto S142 and then S146 and made our way to the low water bridge behind Mopani camp, before stopping at camp for a comfort break. We couldn’t really get a good look at Pioneer Dam though as they were replacing the boardwalk.

The dam was really full though so I don’t think we would have seen many waders, etc.

We then continued on the H1-6 to Shingwedzi. We saw a number of bateleurs flying overhead on most of our days in the park, but this time we saw one take off from the road. It was a juvenile and it had killed two guineafowl that were lying dead on the side of the road. We were sure it would circle back for them, but we decided to continue on our way and leave it in peace. (By the way, as an indication of how thick the bush was, these were the only guineafowl that we saw for the entire trip!)

We drove the S144 (the old main road) and saw a number of elephants along the way. Amazingly, we heard and then saw a red-crested korhaan. They often seemed to be just on the verge of the road, making it possible to see them. We also saw our first (but not last) southern carmine bee-eater for the trip. It was lovely to see them again after seeing so many of them at Mapungubwe the previous month.

We rejoined the H1-6 and continued up to Shingwedzi. We came across some lions – 3 females – sleeping under the trees a little way in.

We drove to look at the confluence. There were some pools of water, but no flowing water in the rivers. We turned towards camp and found bigger pools of water than the last time that we had been there, but some of them seemed to be in different spots.

We filled up and then made our way out the back to the low water bridge, which was covered with a shallow layer of water. There was a hamerkop fishing on the bridge, a grey heron, a green-backed heron and a small crocodile.

We made our way to reception to check in and were given the keys to our cottage (A7), but we first went to have lunch at the restaurant before moving in. I had a Cajun chicken salad and chips and Terry had a chicken schnitzel. We then found our cottage and were all settled in and ready to relax by 2pm.

After our long drive, we didn’t go out again, having a light supper and having an early night.

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, hippo, impala, black-backed jackal, lion, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Bateleur, European bee-eater, southern carmine bee-eater, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, brown snake eagle, lesser spotted eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, Amur falcon, spotted flycatcher, Egyptian goose, hamerkop, pallid harrier, green-backed heron, grey heron, grey hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, pied kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, yellow-billed oxpecker, black-backed puffback, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, African spoonbill, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork, barn swallow, little swift, water thick-knee, hooded vulture, white-backed vulture, African pied wagtail, red-billed buffalo weaver, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Crocodile, terrapin, leopard tortoise

10 March

We set an alarm early and were out of the gate when it opened at 5:30am. There was a beautiful moon still out. We turned onto the H1-7 and made our way northwards.

We came across some giraffe right by the side of the road – they were our closest sighting yet on the trip (most of our other sightings had been on the other side of riverbeds or deep in the bush).

As we drove, Terry spotted an eland. On further inspection, we saw that there was a small herd of 6 of them. I am not sure when we last saw eland in the Kruger. Further on, we also saw some tsessebe.

We stopped at Babalala for a comfort break and then continued on northwards. We saw some impala – eventually! Crazy to think that we had already seen eland and tsessebe but not a single impala.

We also came across a terrapin crossing the main road!

The zebras were out in full force again. Plus we saw another monotonous lark in its full glory and we were able to identify the bird that had been worrying us for a number of days.

We turned off onto the S59, making our way to the S60 and back to the main road (H1-8 by this stage).

We turned off at Klopperfontein Dam and found an elephant drinking, a hippo, some impala and plenty of Egyptian geese. In fact, the goslings (almost fully grown but not with full markings yet) were cuddled up next to each other on the dam wall. We ate our fruit and yoghurt as we watched the elephant walk across the dam to the other side.

Back on the main road, we continued until we reached the Luvuvhu River bridge. There were a few vehicles parked there and people wandering around with their binoculars but there didn’t seem to be much happening, so we drove across, turned around and then made our way back across the bridge and to the Pafuri picnic spot.

We cut through to the S63 (tar) in order to drive the small piece of road that we had missed previously. We then continued on that road and made our way to Crook’s Corner. There we saw hippo, crocodile, saddle-billed stork, water thick-knees and a white-crowned lapwing.

We drove the S63 (gravel) and made our way into the little river loops. The river was really pretty with quite a strong flow. We watched four woolly-necked storks circling overhead as we drove.

We drove the cut through road a second time, making our way to the S63 (tar) and heading back to Shingwedzi. On the main road, we saw 3 ground hornbills in a shady tree.

We stopped at Babalala briefly and then continued on our way. There were some buffalo en route and then some elephants at the Boyela waterhole. In fact, we saw plenty of elephants as we made our way southwards.

Back at camp, we drove through and went to have a quick look at the low water bridge, before going back to our cottage. Once there, we walked to the restaurant for lunch. Terry had buffalo pie and I had rump steak. While we ate, Terry spotted an African fish eagle with a fish in its talons. It landed in the riverbed.

Back at the cottage, we had a relaxing afternoon and evening.

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, eland, elephant, giraffe, hippo, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, steenbok, tsessebe, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, chinspot batis, European bee-eater, southern carmine bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, southern red bishop, kori bustard, Levaillant’s cuckoo, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, tawny eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, Jameson’s firefinch, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, grey heron, green-backed heron, Eurasian hobby, grey hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, brown-hooded kingfisher, giant kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, black-winged kite, blacksmith lapwing, white-crowned lapwing, monotonous lark, speckled mousebird, ostrich, brown-headed parrot, red-billed quelea, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, shikra, magpie shrike, African spoonbill, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, greater blue-eared starling, lesser blue-eared starling, saddle-billed stork, woolly-necked stork, barn swallow, little swift, water thick-knee, white-backed vulture, red-billed buffalo weaver, southern masked weaver, green woodhoopoe, Bennett’s woodpecker

Other: Crocodile, terrapin

11 March

We were awake before our alarm and we packed and got ready. We left camp just after 6am making our way out of the back gate to the low water bridge. There was a beautiful sunrise. We turned around and then continued on the S135 to the S50. We saw plenty of woodlands kingfishers as we drove.

A lovely sighting was of a hippo mom lying in the water with her head on the bank. Her calf was lying more out of the water, using her nose as a pillow. It was too sweet! Not too far away, were two massive crocodiles resting near the bank too.

A little further on we stopped to look at the impala under the trees on one of the loops. We heard a hooting call and looked at each other, before starting to look very carefully in the trees above us (which was not easy to do). Luckily, the Verreaux’s eagle owl decided to move trees and we watched it fly across the road in front of us and into a tree ahead of us. This made for a better angle for us to find it in the binoculars.

We stopped at Nyawutsi Hide. It was still pretty but not nearly as much of an oasis as it had been when we last saw it. Then it was painfully dry everywhere and water was a big attraction.

At Grootvlei Dam, there was an elephant drinking on the other side of the dam and herd of elephants in the water in the corner of the dam to our right. They were having a great time in the water. We watched in delight – sometimes all you could see of a single elephant was its trunk or even a trunk and a foot!

While we were watching the elephants, a herd of buffalo came down to drink on the other side of the dam. The elephant on the other side also swam across the dam to the same place as the herd were – most of them had moved on already, with just a few stragglers not quite ready to give up on their swim.

As we continued down the S50 the landscape opened up and we found waterholes and more grassy areas. And we saw our first warthog for the trip – on our 5th day! There were zebra and wildebeest everywhere, and plenty of elephants too (particularly at the different waterholes and pans). We also saw a big herd of buffalo. Then we came across a number of cars and they showed us two female lions deep in the bush, sleeping under a tree. One lifted its head, making it easier to find them. We didn’t stay too long as it was hot when the car wasn’t moving, and there wasn’t much of the lions to see when they lay down flat.

We turned onto the S50 cut through road and there we again saw plenty of elephants. As we rounded a vlei area (not too much water around though), we saw some Kittlitz’s plovers.

We made our way to Mooiplaas picnic spot for a quick comfort break and then drove up the main road, driving into all the river loops and making our way onto the Tsendze loop to the S142 and ultimately the S146. This latter road takes you to Stapelkop Dam, and we had never driven it in all the time we had visited the park. It drives into a wilderness area and there are no other roads in the area, so you have to drive back on the same road. But the dam itself definitely made it worth the drive. On the way there, we saw a dark chanting goshawk and a martial eagle; and on the way back a herd of buffalo resting on the side of the road.

We then made our way to Mopani camp where I was allowed to check in at 12:15pm but could only fetch the key at 13:30. So, we went to the restaurant for lunch. Terry ate a chicken schnitzel and I had a chicken, spinach and feta burger.

We picked up the key and made our way to cottage 56, where we unpacked and updated our maps – we had only two roads left (the S48 and a small section closer to Letaba of the S131).

We then read and relaxed, going to bed early.

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

Birds: Bateleur, European bee-eater, southern carmine bee-eater, common buzzard, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, white-faced whistling duck, lesser spotted eagle, martial eagle, western cattle egret, Egyptian goose, dark chanting goshawk, hamerkop, green-backed heron, goliath heron, grey heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, woodlands kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, Verreaux’s eagle owl, buffy pipit, Kittlitz’s plover, white-fronted plover, red-billed quelea, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, magpie shrike, house sparrow, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, African spoonbill, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Cape glossy starling, yellow-billed stork, amethyst sunbird, little swift, water thick-knee, white-backed vulture, African pied wagtail, green woodhoopoe

Other: Crocodile, water monitor, golden orb spider

12 March

We didn’t set any alarm, but we were still awake and up early. We were on the road just before 6:30am after packing up. There was a large herd of buffaloes not too far outside of camp at the waterhole near the main road.

We drove the H1-6 southwards, stopping to look at the confluence. Then, to our dismay, we had to change our route for the day, as the S48 was closed! We continued down towards Letaba stopping at the waterhole on the H15. There were elephants drinking from the reservoir and two black-backed jackals.

As we continued southwards, we found that the other side of the S48 was closed too. As an alternative drive, we decided to go on the S62 (one of our favourite roads in the area). It was amazing to see how the water hyacinth had been cleared (presumably by the heavy rains). An amazing sighting was 11 African openbills roosting in a tree on the other side of the river. Another unusual but “ugly” sighting was of some armored ground crickets (katydid). They looked just like Parktown prawns (yuck!).

We also saw a really cute waterbuck calf with its mother. They were both lying down next to a small bush.

We drove all the loops and then stopped at the hide on our way back to the main road. We crossed the Letaba River bridge and made our way to Letaba camp for a comfort break. We also popped into the shop to buy some ice creams – it was really hot – and few other things that we knew we needed.

We made our way back out on the H9, and turned onto the S131 so that we could drive the section of road that we hadn’t covered before. We used the S96 to get back to the H9 and stopped at Nhlanganini Dam. There were two African fish eagles – one in a tree and another on the dam wall.

We drove the two loops off the H9 ad saw plenty of buffalo and some more elephants.

We then made our way back to camp to check in and have lunch at the restaurant. Terry had cornflake fried chicken and I had cornflake fried chicken salad. Both of our meals were delicious. We had time to kill, so I had a cappuccino and Terry had a chocolate milkshake.

We then took a walk on the path and found some African green pigeons and red starlings enjoying the fruit on a fig tree next to the restaurant.

After we got our key, we stopped for ice and then made our way to cottage B13. We unpacked and settled in to read and relax. Later, we walked along the river path and sat on a bench.

We bought some toasted sandwiches for supper (and breakfast) and then made our way back to the cottage.

Mammals: Buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, giraffe, hippo, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Crested barbet, bateleur, southern red bishop, common buzzard, Levaillant’s cuckoo, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, common greenshank, Egyptian goose, goliath heron, grey heron, lesser honeyguide, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, glossy ibis, hadeda ibis, sacred ibis, pied kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, Sabota lark, common myna, African openbill, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, African green pigeon, African pipit, three-banded plover, black-backed puffback, red-billed quelea, European roller, common sandpiper, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, African spoonbill, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Cape glossy starling, red-winged starling, saddle-billed stork, woolly-necked stork, yellow-billed stork, wire-tailed swallow, little swift, white-backed vulture, red-billed buffalo weaver, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Armored ground cricket (katydid), crocodile, water monitor, terrapin

13 March

We were awake and out early (not long after the gates opened) as we wanted to drive down to Olifants and see the river lookout and the low water bridge over the Olifants River, after all of the rains. The river loops were beautiful and from the one point we watched a hippo out of water heading back into one of the river channels.

The lookout point was beautiful (as always) but, while we thought that there was more water in the river, it was not obviously noticeable. We saw a fish eagle on the bank of one of the channels. There were an overseas couple nearby and we asked them if they had seen the eagle and they hadn’t. They had a look and he took some photos. They were really excited as he said that they had never seen one before.

As we continued to the high bridge over the river, we came across a leopard tortoise in the road. It only had 3 legs (one back one was missing) and balancing when it stood still was quite a feat.

After turning back across the bridge, we made our way on the S91 towards the low water bridge. We saw hippo at the weir, before making our way onto the bridge. There was not more water here, but the flow was definitely much stronger. We drove back and forth across the river twice, enjoying the kingfishers (giant, grey-headed, malachite and woodlands) as well as other water birds.

We made a brief stop at Olifants camp, but the viewing pavilion was closed – it was also under construction!

We took the back route up to Letaba, driving the Engelhard dam loops, and made our way back to camp by 10:30am. This was definitely a record for the trip!

After some time spent relaxing, we braai’ed boerewors, beef rashers (bought in Kruger) and mealies for lunch.

In the afternoon, we made a brief stop at the shop before going out on a drive just after 4:30pm. We headed north and turned around at the S62, before driving the S95 loop. We saw a number of elephant herds – one in the distance from the bridge and another walking into the riverbed to drink and then crossing to the other side.

On our way back towards camp, we saw two hippos out of the water already (it was hot) and a herd of elephants. Well, truth to tell, we saw clouds of dust with the odd animal outline – the size, trunks and tails making it obvious what they were. We have no idea what set them off, but they eventually slowed down to a calmer walk as we watched them go.

Back at the cottage, we took a walk to the bench in the front of the restaurant and sat enjoying the sunset and view. Another early night was in order…

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

Birds: Crested barbet, bateleur, southern carmine bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, southern red bishop, yellow-fronted canary, long-billed crombec, Cape turtle dove, Namaqua dove, African fish eagle, brown snake eagle, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, common greenshank, hamerkop, white-crested helmet-shrike, goliath heron, grey heron, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, giant kingfisher, grey-headed kingfisher, pied kingfisher, malachite kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, speckled mousebird, three-banded plover, white-fronted plover, European roller, double-banded sandgrouse, common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, lesser grey shrike, red-backed shrike, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, red-winged starling, black-winged stilt, saddle-billed stork, wire-tailed swallow, little swift, African pied wagtail, spectacled weaver, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Crocodile, leopard tortoise

14 March

So, obviously, we were awake before the alarm again after our early night! I read and then later we got up and got ready, leaving camp just after the gates opened at 5:30am. We drove the S95 loop and then made our way up to see if the S48 was open yet.

We were pleased that we did the loop as we saw a spotted hyena (closer than the other one we had seen near the beginning of our stay).

There were plenty of zebra and wildebeest around again, and we saw some more tsessebe. We also saw a kori bustard walking purposefully in the bush to the side of the road.

Unfortunately, the road was still closed, so we continued to the waterhole on the S15 (we could see a herd of buffalo drinking in the distance), but didn’t make it all the way there as there were 3 lions in the road – 2 males and a female. From our spot before them, we watched the buffalo cross the road ahead. The lions got up and the female in particular looked at the buffalo with some interest, but eventually they moved into the bush and flopped down. The female kept putting her head up and looking to the area that the buffalo had moved into, but she didn’t make any further move. We think that they may have been mating.

We drove to the waterhole, but by then there were no animals there. We continued on to the picnic spot for a comfort break and then made our way back to the main road. On the way southwards, we saw some warthogs (!), some more buffalo, some elephant herds and a lone bull elephant sand-bathing near the side of the road.

We took a drive on the S62 and went down our favorite loop. There we saw the waterbuck mom with her small calf again. The calf was a little more frisky and wandered around, not going too far from mom though.

We also drove to the dam wall lookout, before making our way back to the main road and, ultimately, camp. We arrived at the cottage just before 10am – a new record!

After spending the rest of the morning relaxing, we had lunch at the restaurant. Terry had venison pie and I had the cornflake fried chicken. Afterwards, we walked back to the cottage to relax some more.

Since it had been so hot the previous afternoon, we went out a little later (4:45pm) but it was still hot – 37 degrees! Terry said that he thought that we had no chance of seeing anything – little did he know.

We stopped to watch some elephants crossing the river in the distance from the bridge and a man came up to us and told us about a leopard with a kill on my side of the row 3km ahead. He said that there were plenty of cars so we couldn’t miss it.

Well, there were no cars and although we kept looking, we saw nothing. Eventually we had driven over 10km and we were almost at the H15 waterhole. So, we decided to check if there was anything at the waterhole and then make our way back.

We didn’t get to the waterhole, as the lions were on the side of the road with a couple of vehicles (one of which was another Fortuner with the exact same registration number except the two numbers – what a fluke). They were the same lions that we had seen in the morning. There were buffalo still in the area too.

We eventually turned around and made our way back, slowing down to look for the leopard. Terry saw it this time – he was lying near a bush but below the level of the road. We could see the remains of his kill up against the bush. He was a big male leopard, but he was obviously blind in one eye. We spent some time with him before making out way back to camp, with no time to spare to stop for anything!

We got to camp minutes after 6pm, but fortunately the gates hadn’t been closed yet. What a lovely end to our trip.

After a quick stop at the shop (it reminded us why we don’t usually go there after the gates have closed!), we made a light supper and prepared breakfast for the next day. We then packed up the kitchen and clothes and Terry put the packed things in the car.

While we were busy it started thundering, and then the clouds opened while Terry was at the car. We felt sorry for all the people waiting to braai – we could see all their fires burning (before the rain). It rained for some time, but we were in bed reading and then sleeping.

Mammals: Buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, kudu, lion, banded mongoose, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, tsessebe, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, crested barbet, southern carmine bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, kori bustard, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, intermediate egret, common fiscal, Egyptian goose, hamerkop, goliath heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, hadeda ibis, pied kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, common myna, ostrich, yellow-billed oxpecker, three-banded plover, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, common sandpiper, magpie shrike, southern grey-headed sparrow, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, African spoonbill, Swainson’s spurfowl, Cape glossy starling, red-winged starling, saddle-billed stork, little swift, white-backed vulture, African pied wagtail

Other: Crocodile, terrapin

15 March

We were awake just before our alarm and left camp at 5:45am after finishing the packing. Our plan was to drive the H9 to the gate, stopping at Sable Dam en route.

The sunrise was beautiful. We saw a hyena in the road, but it moved off very quickly and just disappeared in the thick vegetation.

We saw a number of elephants and mongoose, before coming across an elephant standing in a pan drinking. He was quite relaxed and Terry even had time to take some photos and a video. The elephant suddenly became unsettled and Terry decided to move off. Unbeknown to him, another car had arrived and pulled up in front of us (we were on their side of the road) and he was reacting to them.

Overall, it was a very quiet drive though. We saw impala shortly after camp and then no more, and we didn’t see a single zebra (they had nearly matched impala in sightings over our time in the park).

Just before Sable Dam, we saw a buffalo. At the dam, there was an elephant drinking on the other side.

And then we were at the gate, and it was time to go home. We had had a lovely trip, seen some great birds (including two lifers) and even managed to see a leopard (we had both given up on that). The only disappointment is that we had now driven all the public roads in the park except the S48 – a loop of only 17km. No other option, we will have to go back soon…

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, slender mongoose, wildebeest

Birds: Namaqua dove, dark chanting goshawk, grey heron, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, brown-hooded kingfisher, black-winged kite, blacksmith lapwing, European roller, wood sandpiper, crested spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, kurrichane thrush, Cape vulture, white-backed vulture

Total Sightings Lists

Mammals

1. Baboon

2. Buffalo

3. Bushbuck

4. Common duiker

5. Eland

6. Elephant

7. Giraffe

8. Hippo

9. Spotted hyena

10. Impala

11. Black-backed jackal

12. Kudu

13. Lion

14. Banded mongoose

15. Slender mongoose

16. Samango monkey

17. Vervet monkey

18. Nyala

19. Tree squirrel

20. Steenbok

21. Tsessebe

22. Warthog

23. Waterbuck

24. Wildebeest

25. Zebra

Birds

1. Arrow-marked babbler

2. Crested barbet

3. Bateleur

4. Chinspot batis

5. European bee-eater

6. Southern carmine bee-eater

7. White-fronted bee-eater

8. Southern red bishop

9. Dark-capped bulbul

10. Cinnamon bunting

11. Golden-breasted bunting

12. Kori bustard

13. Common buzzard

14. Forest buzzard

15. Yellow-fronted canary

16. Mocking cliff chat

17. Rattling cisticola

18. Long-billed crombec

19. Pied crow

20. Levaillant’s cuckoo

21. African darter

22. Cape turtle dove

23. Laughing dove

24. Namaqua dove

25. Red-eyed dove

26. Fork-tailed drongo

27. White-faced whistling duck

28. African fish eagle

29. Brown snake eagle

30. Lesser spotted eagle

31. Martial eagle

32. Tawny eagle

33. Wahlberg’s eagle

34. Intermediate egret

35. Western cattle egret

36. Common fiscal

37. Jameson’s firefinch

38. Red-billed firefinch

39. Amur falcon

40. Spotted flycatcher

41. Grey go-away-bird

42. Egyptian goose

43. Spur-winged goose

44. Dark chanting goshawk

45. Common greenshank

46. Hamerkop

47. Pallid harrier

48. African harrier-hawk

49. White-crested helmet-shrike

50. Goliath heron

51. Grey heron

52. Green-backed heron

53. Eurasian hobby

54. Lesser honeyguide

55. African hoopoe

56. Grey hornbill

57. Red-billed hornbill

58. Southern ground hornbill

59. Yellow-billed hornbill

60. Glossy ibis

61. Hadeda ibis

62. Sacred ibis

63. Brown-hooded kingfisher

64. Giant kingfisher

65. Grey-headed kingfisher

66. Pied kingfisher

67. Malachite kingfisher

68. Woodlands kingfisher

69. Black-winged kite

70. Red-crested korhaan

71. Blacksmith lapwing

72. Crowned lapwing

73. White-crowned lapwing

74. Dusky lark (L)

75. Flappet lark

76. Monotonous lark (L)

77. Rufous-naped lark

78. Sabota lark

79. Speckled mousebird

80. Common myna

81. African openbill

82. Ostrich

83. Verreaux’s eagle owl

84. Red-billed oxpecker

85. Yellow-billed oxpecker

86. Brown-headed parrot

87. African green pigeon

88. African pipit

89. Buffy pipit

90. Bushveld pipit

91. Kittlitz’s plover

92. Three-banded plover

93. White-fronted plover

94. Black-backed puffback

95. Red-billed quelea

96. European roller

97. Lilac-breasted roller

98. Double-banded sandgrouse

99. Common sandpiper

100. Wood sandpiper

101. Shikra

102. Lesser grey shrike

103. Magpie shrike

104. Red-backed shrike

105. House sparrow

106. Southern grey-headed sparrow

107. Chestnut-backed sparrow-lark

108. African spoonbill

109. Crested spurfowl

110. Natal spurfowl

111. Swainson’s spurfowl

112. Cape glossy starling

113. Greater blue-eared starling

114. Lesser blue-eared starling

115. Red-winged starling

116. Black-winged stilt

117. Saddle-billed stork

118. Woolly-necked stork

119. Yellow-billed stork

120. Amethyst sunbird

121. Barn swallow

122. Wire-tailed swallow

123. Little swift

124. Water thick-knee

125. Kurrichane thrush

126. Purple-crested turaco

127. Cape vulture

128. Hooded vulture

129. White-backed vulture

130. White-headed vulture

131. African pied wagtail

132. Swee waxbill

133. Red-billed buffalo weaver

134. Southern masked weaver

135. Spectacled weaver

136. Cape white-eye

137. Long-tailed paradise whydah

138. White-winged widowbird

139. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

140. Green woodhoopoe

141. Bennett’s woodpecker

Other

1. Armored ground cricket (katydid)

2. Crocodile

3. Water monitor

4. Golden orb spider

5. Terrapin

6. Leopard tortoise