Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Part 3 – Letaba, Orpen area, Hoedspruit and Pretoriuskop (May 2017)

African Wildlife and Nature Photographs – (7 provinces in a 7 week trip around South Africa)

Part 3 – Letaba, Orpen area, Hoedspruit and Pretoriuskop (May 2017)

Our stay in Letaba camp was in one of their permanent tents, as we were just staying for one night. These tents are great, not too expensive and serviced by a few ablutions. No utensils provided but there is power and a fridge/freezer. 

Breaking from the usual evenings cooking we decided to eat at the Letaba camps main restaurant and even though the restaurant is going through management changes (again) we were very pleased with the service and great meal we both had. We would therefore, at the time of writing, recommend the main restaurant at Letaba rest camp if you want a simple coffee, breakfast or a 3 course meal, good food at reasonable prices can be had.

We left Letaba early in the morning and traveled further south as we were due to have our first nights stay at Tamboti tented camp but for various reasons, we ended up staying in a chalet at Orpen Camp, which is just a stones through away from Tamboti. As we had stayed there before we were aware of the ‘resident’ honey badger that does the rounds every night raiding cupboards and dustbins. All cupboard doors and draws have locks on them and when checking-in you are warned not to leave any food out and even to keep your garbage out the bins until the morning.

We had only deposited a plastic wrapper, two teabags and an empty 5L bottle of water in our bin but decided to see what would happen so we placed the bin in an area where we could then set up our camera trap. True to form, the honey badger paid a visit. Firstly, it seemed to take off with a tea bag and then at 4am we both woke to a strange noise. Peeking outside with the torch there was said honey badger wrestling with the empty 5L bottle of water. Just gotta love them for their no-care attitude.

Honey Badger
Honey Badger and the water bottle at Orpen camp
We heard via friends later that day that people who stayed at Tamboti tented camp had a honey badger raid their cooler box. We were astounded to hear it got away with yogurt, cheese and wine! Seems honey badgers tastes are improving. Glenda was wondering if it was in-fact the same honey badger who then came to visit us, (the camps are close in honey badger terms) and perhaps it needed the water after the wine…..




Outside Orpen camp there is a very nice water hole in front of the camp and the general public can view the Orpen Webcam via the internet.

When we arrived there were a few African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) drinking and there was a steady stream of plains game Burchell’s Zebra (Equus burchellii), Impala (Aepyceros melampus),and Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) etc coming through to quench their thirst.

Scene of the Blyde River
Blyde River
We left Orpen in the morning as the following 2 nights / 3 days were spent in Hoedspruit, catching up with old friends and joining our old bird club on their monthly Saturday outing. Great to see many members at the outing and we had a great walk along the Blyde River and being pleasantly surprised by how many species we managed to spot, considering it was mid May. Highlight for a new member was a lifer (first time a bird has been seen by a person) in the form of a male Narina Trogon (Apaloderma narina).

Glenda and I were invited to stay with goods friends on the wildlife estate we used to live in (Raptor's View Wildlife Estate) and made the most of being in the bush and placing our camera trap near their birdbath. Great to see overnight visitors of porcupine, Small-spotted Genet (Genetta genetta), Common Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) and two duelling male Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii).

All to soon it was then time to head back into the Kruger National Park and we managed to finally stay in the permanent tents at Tamboti camp overnight. As with Letaba tents they are very comfortable but a little more secluded, they are located on a dry riverbed and there are only 40 tents in total with a central ablution block and shared kitchen area. You certainly feel like you are alone in the bush when staying at these ‘bush’ camps. 




The bush is quite thick around the camping area and we gather in summer it is great for birding. It will be on the list to return to and perhaps spend more time there as we had to make an early start the following day to get to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp.

Tented Camp, Tamboti
Our tent at Tamboti camp
The Kruger Park gets a bit busier when going down to its Southern parts, both with people and animals but we were pleased to finally get to see a pride of 5 Lions (Panthera Leo) on the road between Pretoriuskop and Phabeni gate, especially seeing that we had heard lions roaring most nights. 

It was a good area for us as we then had two good leopard sightings soon after, one with a kill (Impala) which it had managed to drag up a tree reasonably close to the road. 



I managed to practice some macro photograph by finding some butterflies close to the camper, follow the link where you can see the results of my macro photography.

Again …. Time for a little moan about the camping at Pretoriuskop. The camping site is split into two sections and it has always been reasonably comfortable, but now most of the lower camp and a third of the upper camp have been taken over by a tented concession with their permanent tents. Why, I ask !!! It seems the same number of campers can book at the camp but now there is less space. We eventually found a spot near the fence but it was also close to the ablutions, which meant we had people wandering past us at all hours of the night. We were not happy camper ! 

After a pleasant stay in the southern part of the Kruger National Park it was time to head back to Johannesburg to stock up and head off for the next part of our travel. 

Our next blog post (Part 4 Heading west to Kuruman and the Kgalagadi National Park) 





Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Part 2 – Phalaborwa and Punda Maria (May 2017)

African Wildlife and Nature Photographs – (7 provinces in a 7 week trip around South Africa)

Part 2 – Phalaborwa and Punda Maria (May 2017)

As we mentioned in part 1 prior to staying in the Kruger National Park, we spent 3 nights at the Forever Resort in Phalaborwa, due to the park being full. However, this gave us chance to visit friends in Phalaborwa we hadn’t seen in years and allowing us a day visit into the park to Letaba rest camp, one of our favourite Kruger camps. 

The area around Letaba, and moving up to the Northern part of the park is dominated by Mopani bush, a favourite for the parks elephants and we were surprised at just how many elephants we were actually seeing. The most abundant large mammal species in the park are Impala (Aepyceros melampus), a staple diet of the large predators, however we kept saying we were seeing more elephants than impalas, so you can just imagine how many elephants we were seeing. Not that we were complaining as one can spend hours just watching the interaction between these African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) family members, especially when there is a breeding herd with very young calves.

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) drinking
African Elephants at Punda Maria Waterhole - Kruger National Park
With most of the migrant birds having left South Africa, we were very surprised to find a pair of Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) in Letaba Camp as these intra African migrants are usually gone at this time of the year (mid May).

South Africa and the Kruger Park have for the past 2 – 3 years suffered from a serious drought but this past year has seen a bit of a recovery in the park which has resulted in an inundation of Red-billed Queleas (Quelea quelea). In all the years we’ve been travelling into the park we have never seen quite so many flocks of Red-billed Queleas swooping through the trees in waves. It has been caused by the apparent late rains late last year and early this year and thus an abundant supply of grass seed.

Burchell’s Coucal - Centropus burchellii
Burchell's Coucal - one of the many
We were also pleased with the number of Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) that we saw considering these are regarded as a vulnerable species in Southern Africa, they do however seem to be thriving in the Northern part of the Kruger National Park particularly. Another plentiful sighting were Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchellii) and in one day alone we counted 9 which for us was some sort of record. 

Eventually the day dawned for us to move into the Kruger Park and travel from Phalaborwa gate up north to the furthest camp, Punda Maria. Arriving there mid-afternoon after a pleasant drive, counting elephants and Burchell’s Coucals with sightings of the plains game species like, Impalas, Burchell’s Zebra (Equus burchellii) Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and a few Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros).

This was the first time we’d camped in Punda Maria having previously stayed in the chalets and permanent tents. The camp site is a real treat as the bird hide is located in the camp and it overlooks a beautiful waterhole.

While setting up camp a large herd of elephants came to drink, a great opportunity to take some photographs as they were bathed in soft golden afternoon sun a photographers dream. I stopped what I was doing and rushed to the bird hide to watch them. A fellow traveller advised me they’d been there every day for the last 4 days at the same time. As I was in the middle of setting up camp I thought I might as well catch them the following day. BIG MISTAKE, I was never to see them again in such numbers and in such awesome light in the whole 6 days we were there.. Great opportunity missed. (Lesson: Never leave for tomorrow what can be done today, take your opportunities as they arise). 


One small consolation was the small video footage I took on my mobile phone of the event, which I will share on my website www.africanwildlifeandnaturephotographs.com later. The elephants were constant visitors to the waterhole though and the sounds of elephants communicating in the middle of the night is quite something. Besides the elephants we were lucky to hear and fall asleep to lions roaring every night, but they proved to be elusive when trying to find them during the day.


The advantage of staying in Punda Maria is that it is only an hour’s drive to the Pafuri area, which is one of South Africa’s most prolific birding spots throughout the year , albeit missing the migrant birds in winter. Again, this trip didn’t disappoint with good sightings of African Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus), Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) African Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Meves’s Starling (Lamprotornis mevesii) White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) and White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps), to name a few.

Martial Eagle - Polemaetus bellicosus
Martial Eagle at Pafuri - Kruger National Park
Now for a little moan and word of warning; so please take note…we enjoyed Punda Maria for its great location and the wonderful Mahonie Loop around the camp for late afternoon game drives, however the downside of the stay was that the camping was full, possibly overbooked and the camping area was like a car park in a shopping centre, but not as organised…. 

It’s a free-for-all for campers, hence people camping extremely close together, having access to power when not paid for with no control or checking by Sanparks who run the camp. We also soon realised that we were in a pensioner’s discount period (Sanparks have them a couple time a year) meaning there were far too many people camping in the Kruger Park due to its warm winter climate and no doubt cheaper utility costs. Unfortunately, in our opinion, not that interested in the parks wildlife either as some people just parked up and didn’t bother leaving camp, it would seem. 

Sanparks, Punda Maria camp is one camp that should have restricted camping numbers, frequent checking on who has camped where and paid for what. Sadly also there are too few ablutions based on the numbers allowed to camp with some in a poor state of maintenance and repair.

So it was time to say farewell to Punda Maria and head off further south to stay in Letaba and Orpen camps and visiting our previous ‘home town’ of the past few years; Hoedspruit.


Our next blog post (Part 3: Letaba, Orpen and Hoedspruit)

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Part 1 - Johannesburg to Phalaborwa (May 2017)



African Wildlife and Nature Photographs – (7 provinces in a 7 week trip around South Africa)

Part 1 - Johannesburg to Phalaborwa (May 2017)

Our trusted SUV and Camper for our trip 
So here we go, time to put fingers to the keyboard. We have been in South Africa for just over 7 days after leaving the Middle East, the first few days were spent in Johannesburg catching up with family and friends; gathering supplies and ensuring our SUV and our off-road camper, that will be our home for the next 7 weeks, had services. This, all before setting off on a 7 week tour of South Africa, covering 7 of South Africa’s provinces. 

Our planned trip will take us the whole length of the Kruger National Park in the North East of the country, endearingly known as the ‘bushveld’ or just plainly ’the bush’, to the far North West and the arid desert region of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which at this time of the year (winter) has extreme cold at night. Then we will travel down to the Cape, along the beautiful Garden Route to Addo Elephant Park with many stops in-between. 

We hope you will follow our journey over the coming weeks on this blog, so come along and see beautiful South Africa with us an African Wildlife and Nature Photographs trip (7 Provinces in a 7 week trip around South Africa)

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For stunning wildlife and nature photographs and interesting information about the subjects many of which we will meet and photograph along the way.


Don’t forget our website at www.africanwildlifeandnaturephotographs.com

We left Johannesburg on a Sunday which was a good idea as the roads were quiet but as we had a long journey ahead of us, we were on the road by 7:00am with a chilly temperature (in my wife’s opinion) of 11ºC, which we really felt as we'd left the Middle East in spring temperatures of around 40ºC.

Driving north on the main N1 highway towards our first few days camping at Phalaborwa in Limpopo province, we were soon doing a steady 'caravan towing' speed singing along to all the golden oldies that are played on various radio stations on a Sunday morning in South Africa.

First coffee stop after 2 hours of driving (yes you will come to learn we stop often for coffee) then 'On the Road Again' - our signature tune.

Our next stop was once we'd turned off the N1 travelling east was the Lewark Restaurant, outside Haenertsburg. We had a great brunch in a beautiful area, as now we were driving through some of South Africa most beautiful scenery around Magoebaskloof and Tzaneen in the Limpopo province. We pushed on to our final destination for the next few nights, this being the Phalaborwa’s Forever Resort.

Our camp set up (night shot) at the Phalaborwa Forever Resort
Our timings were perfect, arriving in ‘Phalaborwa’s Forever Resort’ at 2:30pm with a much warmer temperature of 30ºC. A bit too warm to set up camp, but as it was our home for the next 3 nights, we had time to relax, have an ice cream before the work of setting up camp began. 

We have yet been able to measure the length of time it takes us to set up our whole camping setup as we find camping a very friendly affair and your neighbours tend to come over and chat.

 I think people are just curious to check out our camping set up and do comparisons ! but also to find out who is travelling where, when and what have you seen on the road etc.

It was wonderful to be sleeping back in the 'bush' as we tend to sleep really well in the fresh air with the sounds of the African night including Pearl-spotted Owlets, Scops Owl and as we were just outside the Kruger National Park (this is our next stop) we could hear the whoops of Spotted Hyena and what was that sounds again .... Oh yes .....rutting Impalas.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Little Egret

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta garzetta)

Yesterday my wife and I found ourselves heading for a great nature reserve  on the outskirts of Pretoria in South Africa. The reserves name is Rietvlei Nature Reserve and we return there when we find ourselves in this part of South Africa. Bird life is quite prolific and in a mornings outing we manage 61 species including Little Egret, Northern Black Korhaan, White-throated Swallow, Yellow-billed Duck, Malachite & Pied Kingfishers, Ostrich, Red-collared Widowbird and many many more.
On approaching Ottterbrug (Otter Bridge) at the reserve, where infact we did actually see an awesome sight of two beautiful African Clawless Otters (Aonyx capensis) swimming and fishing together in the dam, then get out, cross the small road between the dam and its tributary stream, climbed back in to fish then they disappeared together as quickly as we saw them. We parked the car next to the small dam and started to scour the dam with our binoculars, immediately my eyes fell upon a small white Heron known as a ‘Little Egret’ patiently and as still as a ‘statue’ waiting for the slightest of movement in the water.
The Little Egrets are small in comparison to its larger cousin the Great Egret at only 65 cm (2ft 1in) long with a wingspan of just 105 cm (3ft 2in). A snowy white plumage, black legs an distinctive bright ‘yellow’ feet make this Egret easily recognisable.
Little Egrets eat fish, insects, amphibians,and small reptiles and as observed this morning they stalk their prey in shallow water, often running with raised wings or shuffling their feet to disturb small fish but as witnessed they also stand still and wait to ambush prey.
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta garzetta) standing rock steady waiting for the slightest movement
Rietvlei Nature Reserve - South Africa

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)

Its big, in fact its the biggest flying bird in Africa, its the Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) and one of 4 species in the bustard family. African birds come in all shapes and sizes but the Kori bustard is unmistakable not only for its sheer size but also distinctive plumage which is interestingly coloured, being mostly grey and brown but finely patterned with black and white colouring.
With huge sexual dimorphism the Kori Bustard is Africa’s largest flying bird, the male Kori Bustard being twice the weight of the female, maybe the heaviest animal capable of flight and currently weighing typically between 7 kg – 18 kg (15 lb – 40 lb) which outstrips the Andean Condor where males weigh in at a small 11 kg -15 kg (24 lb to 33 lb). The physical size is just incredible, the male Kori Bustard  stands 71–120 cm (2 ft 4 in–3 ft 11 in) tall and has a wingspan around 230cm – 275 cm (8 ft – 9 ft )
A mainly ground dwelling omnivore (eats plants and or other animals, in this case mainly insects and small vertebrates..) the Kori Bustard can be found throughout Southern Africa where it can be seen slowly strutting through the veld in search of its food in open grassy areas, often characterized by sandy soil, especially like the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa but generally in low rainfall area’s.
During the mating season, these birds are usually solitary but for the breeding pair. Otherwise, they are somewhat gregarious, being found in groups often including 5 to 6 birds and generally silent but when the Kori Bustard is alarmed both the male and female birds let out a loud ‘growling’ type bark.
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) - Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - South Africa

Monday, 6 October 2014

Scaly-feathered Finch

Scaly-feathered Finch

On our recent trip to South Africa’s  Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park  we came across in great numbers the small but delightful Scaly-feathered Finch (Sporopipes squamifrons) or as I like to call them which should become apparent to lovers of cricket and in particular Australian cricket the 'Merv Hughes' bird.
We encountered this little bird in great numbers both by the waterholes, where they would ‘fly in’ sip water and fly back out to the nearest bush and in again, as well as perched on the flora and fauna along the sandy roads we drove. Its interesting to know that the Scaly-feathered Finch only drinks water when it is available and can last months without actually drinking, as it can produce what is called ‘metabolic water‘ from its diet of dry seeds and insects. This phenomenon clearly makes the Scaly-feathered Finch well adapted to the harshness of the more semi arid regions of South and Southern Africa like the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Closely related to the sparrow and weaver families, the Scaly-feathered Finch is a small bird of some 10 cm (4 in) and weighs in at around 10 grams (0.35 oz) with a very distinctive small pink bill and broad black malar stripes, hence my ‘nickname’ for the Scaly-feathered Finch of the ‘Merv Hughes’ bird.
Scaly-feathered Finch
Scaly-feathered Finch (Sporopipes squamifrons)
Kgalagadi Transfontier Park - South Africa

Monday, 29 September 2014

Bushbuck

Bushbuck (Antelope)

Having a few days off this week, we headed into the Kruger National Park (South Africa). As is most times we enter the gates we wander on the first bird and or animal we will come across. More often or not its the common Impala (Aepyceros melampus) and this this got me thinking, although the most widespread antelope in the Kruger National Park by far, how did it fair in Sub-Sahara Africa? I must admit I was shocked to learn in fact in was the Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) and (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) that are the most widespread of the Sub-Saharan antelope.
I was further to learn that the Bushbuck were in-fact split into two species (as detailed above) which was something new to me. They are the kéwel(Tragelaphus scriptus) and the imbabala (Tragelaphus sylvaticus). The imbabala is related to the Bongo and the Sitatunga, and the kéwel to the Nyala. Here then in South Africa, the Bushbuck we refer to are (Tragelaphus sylvaticus related to the Bongo and the Sitatunga,  which occur from the Cape of South Africa through to Angola and Zambia.
That over with, other information about the Bushbuck. This antelope is found virtually in all habitats from woodlands to montane forest and rain forest. The Bushbuck found here are slightly bigger than the other species found further North and the colour differs quite substantially with difference in the spots and the stripes in both species but both species have light brown coats, with up to seven white stripes and white splotches on the sides in a variance.
The Bushbuck stands about 90cm (3ft) to the shoulder and depend on male or female weighs between 40-80 Kg (88-176 lbs) as their is sexual dimorphism.

Bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) Female - Kruger National Park
South Africa

Monday, 22 September 2014

Ruff

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) – Boys Bigger Than Girls

The gregarious Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a medium sized ‘wading’ bird that is about to grace our shores again here in the North Eastern part of South Africa again shortly. Being a summer visitor to these shores the Ruff is what as known as a Paleartic Migrant a bird which visits from outside the African continent, in this case from Eurasia where it breeds in the marshes and wetlands.
The Ruff over winters here in Southern Africa but does not breed, which is a shame as we in Southern Africa are unable to see that magnificent breeding plumage (or Ruff) of the male bird, that also includes brightly coloured head tufts, bare orange facial skin, extensive black on the breast, and that large collar of ornamental feathers which no doubt gave way to it its name.  The male Ruff also shows a marked sexual dimorphism (size) over the female which are known as ‘Reeves’ and has three different plumage types which includes the rare mimicking of the female bird. The male carries out these courtship displays at a ‘Lek’ and is thus known as ‘Lekking
While breeding it primarily feeds on aquatic insects it forages for in the soft mud of the wetlands it inhabits, however during its winter migration to Southern Africa it has been known to also feed on plant materials like maize.
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Female Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) - Male
Male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) (non breeding) with white head and neck