Mapungubwe – September 2020

Level 2 of Lockdown, and the ability to travel across provinces was available again! Unfortunately, there was nothing available in Kruger Park, so we decided to go back to Mapungubwe and stay at Leokwe Camp (Forest was not open yet).

12 September

We were on the road just before 7am, despite not setting an alarm. The trip was uneventful but pleasant, except for all the potholes after Vivo!

We arrived at the gate at about 12:30 and were able to check in.

Birds: Dark-capped bulbul, pied crow, fork-tailed drongo, long-crested eagle, grey go-away-bird, helmeted guineafowl, grey hornbill, southern yellow-billed hornbill, black-winged kite, crowned lapwing, ostrich, lilac-breasted roller, secretarybird, magpie shrike, southern white-crowned shrike

Mammals: Baboon, impala, vervet monkey

We drove to the dam close to the museum, but there was not much going on and not too much water, so we turned back towards camp and stopped at a lookout point to eat lunch (KFC twisters).

It was hot and there was not too much to be seen, but a zebra and her foal crossed the road in front of us and a kudu stood on a ridge looking down at us just before we turned onto the access road to camp.

Once in camp, we made our way to cottage 10 and unpacked.

We went out for a drive again at 16:45, deciding to drive along the river road. The Limpopo River was bone dry with just a few pools of water in the distance. By comparison, Zebra Pan was a veritable oasis and we were not surprised to find elephant there. A saddle-billed stork was also standing in the water near some reeds on the other side.

We didn’t stay too long though as we still had to get back to camp before sundown. We saw more elephants and a klipspringer pair on a ridge. We got back to camp just before 18:00 in our “race” against the dropping sun. It didn’t play fair, however, as it shone directly into our windscreen and eyes!

It was a lovely evening and we decided to sit outside on our veranda as the weather had cooled down nicely. We didn’t last too long however, moving inside when we realised that we were being bitten by mosquitos.

Birds: White-fronted bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, black crake, Cape turtle dove, red-eyed dove, red-billed firefinch, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, white-crowned helmet-shrike, southern yellow-billed hornbill, blacksmith lapwing, green-winged pytilia, red-billed quelea, wood sandpiper, southern grey-headed sparrow, African spoonbill, Natal spurfowl, lesser blue-eared starling, saddle-billed stork, blue waxbill

Mammals: Baboon, elephant, giraffe, impala, klipspringer, kudu, vervet monkey, wildebeest, zebra

Other: Terrapin

13 September

Because of our early night, we were both awake very early. We lay in for a while and saw a small herd of waterbuck (8) outside our cottage. We got ready and were out for a drive by 6:30. The access road was very rewarding with plenty of birds, vervet monkeys and 3 eland. Then a red-crested korhaan flew right past us.

Once on the main road, we decided to make our way directly to Zebra Pan, with just a pit stop at the picnic site. There were plenty of giraffe around and it was particularly lovely to see one on a ridge, standing beneath a baobab tree.

We then came across a herd of elephants. They were on both sides of the road, but a teenager was standing in the road eating from the other side of the bush some of the adults were foraging from. It had no intention of moving!

So, we settled in to eat our breakfast there, instead of at the pan. The elephants were very relaxed (just not interested in moving) and we sat listening to them as well as watching. A black-backed jackal walked past, making a circle around the elephants.

Later, a SANParks vehicle stopped. The ranger chatted to us and we learned that he was from Skukuza and in Mapungubwe doing research on baobabs. He then apologised to us, saying that he needed to move through. Terry said that he would follow – we just hadn’t been brave enough on our own. He told me to have my phone camera ready – and I got some really good close shots without much zoom!

The river drive was lovely with dappled shade in places as we drove. There were bushbuck and monkeys to be seen, as well as a tropical boubou and a lovely sighting of a brown-crowned tchagra. We even saw a rock hyrax high in a tree!

At the pan, there was a grey heron, a hamerkop, some water thick-knees and black crakes. We also watched some African palm swifts flying around the palm trees (a real oasis, as I said previously).

We continued to Schroda Dam lookout, where we had cell phone reception and could send and receive messages and email.

We drove the loop near Poacher’s corner, seeing some white-backed vultures flying overhead. We saw some white-fronted bee-eaters and speckled mousebirds, as well as some green woodhoopoe and some bushbuck.

Back at the pan, we found a squacco heron and a wood sandpiper (together with the same birds we had seen earlier).

Along the river road, we saw a common scimitarbill and plenty of elephants again.

At the picnic site, we stopped to walk to the viewing decks at the Confluence and we had a lovely sighting of some klipspringer as we made our way back to the parking area.

We got back to camp just after 10:30, having decided that it was too hot to stop at the boardwalk.

After relaxing, we went outside to have a braai for lunch. It was hot, but bearable. We are lucky that we did, as the smell of the fire obviously attracted the local Verreaux’s eagle. It flew in over our cottage and in front of it over the ridge. It was lovely to see.

After a lovely lunch, we relaxed some more, making our way out for an afternoon drive just after 16:00.

As we exited camp, we saw a young giraffe lying down. There was no adult in sight but we didn’t think mom could be too far away.

We had a lovely sighting of a rock hyrax, close enough that we could see the dorsal gland that can be used to differentiate the yellow-spotted rock hyrax from the rock hyrax. It was the former.

We had a lovely sighting of a kudu standing on the ridge, under a tree, looking down on us. And we found our first Meyer’s parrot. From then on, we saw plenty of them over the remaining days of our trip.

We came across a really small buck and we were trying to work out whether it was a really small duiker when we saw its mom further back – it was a baby bushbuck. They then ran deeper into the bushes.

We made our way via the pan to Schroda Dam lookout and then back to the pan. There we saw a pearl-breasted swallow drinking. We also saw a troop of baboons and moved a little closer to see them backlit by the dropping sun. A female ran across in front of us – we then realised that it had a dead baby hanging from its mouth.

We watched a breeding herd of elephants cross the road and made our way back to camp, arriving minutes after 18:00.

We sprayed ourselves against the bugs and went to sit outside, but then we heard the mosquitos buzzing around us and gave up!

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, crested barbet, white-fronted bee-eater, tropical boubou, dark-capped bulbul, green-backed camaroptera, mocking cliff chat, black crake, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, red-eyed dove, fork-tailed drongo, Verreaux’s eagle, scaly-feathered finch, Jameson’s firefinch, red-billed firefinch, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, hamerkop, white-crowned helmet-shrike, grey heron, squacco heron, grey hornbill, southern red-billed hornbill, southern yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, Sabota lark, speckled mousebird, red-billed oxpecker, Meyer’s parrot, three-banded plover, black-backed puffback, red-billed quelea, lilac-breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, wood sandpiper, common scimitarbill, southern grey-headed sparrow, white-browed sparrow-weaver, African spoonbill, Natal spurfowl, lesser blue-eared starling, white-bellied sunbird, pearl-breasted swallow, African palm swift, brown-crowned tchagra, water thick-knee, white-backed vulture, blue waxbill, common waxbill, red-billed buffalo weaver, emerald-spotted wood-dove, green woodhoopoe

Mammals: Baboon, bushbuck, eland, elephant, giraffe, rock hyrax, yellow-spotted rock hyrax, impala, black-backed jackal, klipspringer, kudu, slender mongoose, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck

14 September

We were again out on drive at about 6:30. We saw the baby giraffe again; this time standing up, but there was no adult to be seen in the area.

We came across a pair of double-banded sandgrouse on the access road and shortly thereafter a pair of klipspringer crossed the road in front of us (this made us think of Rob, who told us that he has mainly seen them in the road and not on rocks). We watched them browse and climb onto the rocks on the other side of the road. The female was quite comical to watch – she kept biting at herself and jumping. We assumed that flies must have been bugging her.

We stopped at Treetops Boardwalk and took in the sights – still very dry ones, although there were some pools with black-winged stilts wading in them. We heard a pearl-spotted owlet calling, but we couldn’t find it.

We had a lovely sighting of a kori bustard wandering among elephant and impala. It then crossed the road in front of us and made its way into the bush on the other side.

As we pulled into the parking near the ablutions at the picnic spot, we found 3 klipspringers in the open area in front of the building. They made their way across the parking area and into the rocks on the other side. They don’t move nearly as quickly in soft sand!

At Zebra Pan, there was a crocodile as well as a green-backed heron.

After having our breakfast, and catching up with our electronics, at Schroda Dam, we drove the loop towards the gate. Along the way, we saw dark chanting goshawk, an oryx and Terry saw a vertically striped snake cross the road and move into the undergrowth. Our guide suggests that it was a type of sand snake.

At the dam near the museum, we watched the terrapins, a lesser striped swallow and a chinspot batis.

At the gate, we made our way to reception to confirm and pay for our night drive.

We made our way back to camp via the Greefswald route – a road we had not driven before.

At camp, we relaxed, had a lovely lunch of leftover braai, and relaxed some more. Terry then noticed some elephant in front of our cottage beyond our vehicle. We watched as they came around the cottages and wandered into the area behind our veranda. We were able to sit on the veranda (which was walled) and watch them for over half an hour. It was lovely to watch their interactions and listed to their rumbling sounds. As the last two walked past, not more than 10m away, they lifted their trunks in our direction to smell us. What a marvellous experience!

Birds: Crested barbet, chinspot batis, white-fronted bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, cinnamon-breasted bunting, kori bustard, mocking cliff chat, Burchell’s coucal, black crake, Cape turtle dove, red-eyed dove, fork-tailed drongo, Jameson’s firefinch, red-billed firefinch, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, dark chanting goshawk, helmeted guineafowl, green-backed heron, grey heron, squacco heron, southern red-billed hornbill, blacksmith lapwing, Sabota lark, red-billed oxpecker, Meyer’s parrot, African pipit, three-banded plover, red-billed quelea, lilac breasted roller, double-banded sandgrouse, wood sandpiper, white-browed sparrow-weaver, Natal spurfowl, lesser blue-eared starling, black-winged stilt, white-bellied sunbird, lesser striped swallow, African palm swift, water thick-knee, blue waxbill, lesser masked weaver, red-billed buffalo weaver

Mammals: Baboon, bushbuck, common duiker, elephant, giraffe, rock hyrax, impala, klipspringer, kudu, vervet monkey, oryx, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Other: Crocodile, snake, terrapin

After an early supper, we got ready for our night drive. We left the cottage at 18:45 to drive to the gate, where we would meet up with the guide and vehicle. On the way, we saw elephants near camp, a spotted eagle owl, steenbok, scrub hares and springhares. It is almost like having a night drive before your night drive!

Our guide was Leonard and there was another couple on the vehicle. They had come from another lodge outside the park.

We saw plenty of steenbok, scrub hares, springhares and klipspringers throughout the drive. He drove the loop towards Leokwe, past the pan and down to the gate. We saw a couple of troops of baboons sleeping on different rock ridges.

At the picnic spot Leonard was excited as he thought he could see a leopard sitting on the rocks (not far from the ablutions). But, to our amazement it was an exceptionally large African wildcat – definitely another highlight of our visit.

We  had several sightings of large spotted genets (three, in fact) – one of which was sitting in the middle of the road and not in too much of a hurry to move off.

We also had only our second sighting ever of a Jameson’s red rock rabbit (the previous has been our first night drive in Mapungubwe back in May 2018 – in fact, it had been the only highlight of that night drive.)

We saw some helmeted guineafowl roosting in a baobab tree.

As we made our way back towards the gate, we saw black-backed jackals. Not long after, Leonard picked up the scent of a kill, but despite reversing back some way we were unable to find it.

We had a brief sighting of a bat-eared fox and then made our way back to the gate.

We then drove back to Leokwe camp. A mouse ran across the road in front of us and we saw steenbok, springhares in the road and some scrub hares.

On the access road, we came across another vehicle and found the ranger from Skukuza. He had been out shooting star trails when he got uncomfortably close to some lions! He was going back out to check on something for his research.

Birds: Helmeted guineafowl, spotted eagle owl

Mammals: Baboon, elephant, bat-eared fox, large spotted genet, scrub hare, black-backed jackal, mouse, Jameson’s red rock rabbit, springhare, steenbok, African wildcat

15 September

We were awake just before 6:00, so we got up and packed everything leaving camp before 7:00.

We drove the river road, past the pan and then down past the museum to the gate (similar to the previous day). We had a couple of sightings of animals silhouetted on the ridge – giraffe and a beautiful kudu bull.

At the pan, we saw some banded mongoose.

Then on the way to Schroda Pan, we eventually found a pearl-spotted owlet sitting in the open in a tree on the side of the road.

At the dam lookout, we ate our breakfast and then made our way towards the gate. At the museum dam, a female klipspringer was in the road. She crossed to the opposite side from the dam and climbed onto a rock.

Birds: Arrow-marked babbler, crested barbet, little bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, mocking cliff chat, Burchell’s coucal, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, western cattle egret, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, green-backed heron, grey heron, squacco heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, southern yellow-billed hornbill, blacksmith lapwing, pearl-spotted owlet, red-billed quelea, lilac-breasted roller, wood sandpiper, southern grey-headed sparrow, white-browed sparrow-weaver, Natal spurfowl, lesser blue-eared starling, white-backed vulture, blue waxbill

Mammals: Baboon, elephant, giraffe, rock hyrax, impala, klipspringer, kudu, banded mongoose, vervet monkey, oryx, tree squirrel, wildebeest, zebra

Other: Terrapin

It was just before 9:00 when we reached the gate. We bumped into our “friend” from Skukuza. He and his wife were also leaving the park. He came across to the vehicle when he saw Terry and had one last chat!

We were home again just before 14:30. It was lovely to spend some time in the bush and this trip made us realise that Mapungubwe will remain on our visit list for many years to come (even if we live in the Eastern Cape!)

Birds: Kori bustard, pied crow, fork-tailed drongo, black-chested snake eagle, common fiscal, grey go-away-bird, helmeted guineafowl, black-winged kite, yellow-billed kite, ostrich, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike, southern white-crowned shrike

Mammals: Baboon, giraffe, tree squirrel, wildebeest

Total Bird List

1. Arrow-marked babbler

2. Crested barbet

3. Chinspot batis

4. Little bee-eater

5. White-fronted bee-eater

6. Tropical boubou

7. Dark-capped bulbul

8. Cinnamon-breasted bunting

9. Kori bustard

10. Green-backed camaroptera

11. Mocking cliff chat

12. Burchell’s coucal

13. Black crake

14. Pied crow

15. Cape turtle dove

16. Laughing dove

17. Red-eyed dove

18. Fork-tailed drongo

19. Black-chested snake eagle

20. Long-crested eagle

21. Verreaux’s eagle

22. Western cattle egret

23. Scaly-feathered finch

24. Jameson’s firefinch

25. Red-billed firefinch

26. Common fiscal

27. Grey go-away-bird

28. Egyptian goose

29. Dark chanting goshawk

30. Helmeted guineafowl

31. Hamerkop

32. White-crowned helmet-shrike

33. Green-backed heron

34. Grey heron

35. Squacco heron

36. African hoopoe

37. Grey hornbill

38. Southern red-billed hornbill

39. Southern yellow-billed hornbill

40. Hadeda ibis

41. Black-winged kite

42. Yellow-billed kite

43. Red-crested korhaan

44. Blacksmith lapwing

45. Crowned lapwing

46. Sabota lark

47. Speckled mousebird

48. Ostrich

49. Spotted eagle owl

50. Pearl-spotted owlet

51. Red-billed oxpecker

52. Meyer’s parrot

53. African pipit

54. Three-banded plover

55. Black-backed puffback

56. Green-winged pytilia

57. Red-billed quelea

58. Lilac breasted roller

59. Double-banded sandgrouse

60. Wood sandpiper

61. Common scimitarbill

62. Secretarybird

63. Magpie shrike

64. Southern white-crowned shrike

65. White-browed sparrow-weaver

66. Southern grey-headed sparrow

67. African spoonbill

68. Natal spurfowl

69. Lesser blue-eared starling

70. Black-winged stilt

71. Saddle-billed stork

72. White-bellied sunbird

73. Lesser striped swallow

74. Pearl-breasted swallow

75. African palm swift

76. Brown-crowned tchagra

77. Water thick-knee

78. White-backed vulture

79. Blue waxbill

80. Common waxbill

81. Lesser masked weaver

82. Red-billed buffalo weaver

83. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

84. Green woodhoopoe

Total Mammal List

1. Baboon

2. Bushbuck

3. Common duiker

4. Eland

5. Elephant

6. Bat-eared fox

7. Large spotted genet

8. Giraffe

9. Scrub hare

10. Rock hyrax

11. Yellow-spotted rock hyrax

12. Impala

13. Black-backed jackal

14. Klipspringer

15. Kudu

16. Banded mongoose

17. Slender mongoose

18. Vervet monkey

19. Mouse

20. Oryx

21. Jameson’s red rock rabbit

22. Springhare

23. Tree squirrel

24. Steenbok

25. Waterbuck

26. African wildcat

27. Wildebeest

28. Zebra

Total Other List

1. Crocodile

2. Snake

3. Terrapin