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



Monday, 15 September 2014

Hamerkop

Hamerkop (More than one in a million)

The Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) is more than one in a million, its unique in the avian or bird world due to its extraordinary physical characteristics. The direct Afrikaans translation is Hamer (hammer) kop (head) and its not difficult to see why this bird is named as such with its 'hammer' like head, long bill an crest.  Feeding on amphibians like frog's, fish, shrimp and most aquatic insects as you would expect for one that lives its life in the 'wetland' areas.

The Hamerkop is a drab brown medium sized bird about 56 centimetres (22 in) in length and  found in all in Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and South West on the Arabian Peninsula like rivers, dams and streams where it lives a sedentary life.

One of the most interesting and quite frankly outrageous aspects of a Hamerkop's life is its breeding and nest building habits. Quite frankly this birds loves building nests, they build nests even though they are not breeding and what a nest considering the size of these birds. Usually built in the 'fork' of a tree over looking the water these Hamerkop nests are quite spectacular in size with nest easily reaching 1.5 meters (5ft) in size. Made from thousands of sticks and mud the Hamerkop builds its nest with a bottom entry which can be quite long which the parents can pass up into the nest and stay with the young.

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)
Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) with its peculiar shaped 'hammer' head
Nest of the Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)
The huge nest of the 'Hamerkop'

Monday, 8 September 2014

Steenbok

Steenbok (Dwarf Antelope of South Africa)

Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) are one of South and Southern Africa’s smallest of antelope but what it lacks in size the Steenbok makes up for in its looks.
Being a beautiful reddish brown in colour, male Steenbok only stand between 40-60 cm (16-24 in)  high and weight in between 10-16 g (22-35 lbs) with the females being slightly smaller. In comparison to the rest of their bodies Steenbok have very long legs, other defining characteristic of the Steenbok is its very large ears and a black triangular patch on the bridge of the nose. You can further distinguish males from females as only males posses short straight black horns  or spikes really which stand about 150cm (6in) in length from the top of its head, large dark eyes, give way to preorbital glands.
Steenbok are solitary antelope and only really come together to mate, although breeding does take place throughout the year, births tend to peak in November and December each year which coincides with ‘Mother Natures re-birth’ (Spring) here in the Southern Hemisphere.
As with a few African antelope Steenbok are primarily browsers, (pick from trees and shrubs) feeding at or near ground level, occasionally they scrape the ground with their sharp hooves for roots and tubers. Water is not essential as moisture can be taken from the food they eat.
Steenbok have many different predators, including Leopard, Caracal and even Pythons, in the presence of danger, Steenbok first hide, crouching with the neck pressed against the ground and ears retracted to avoid detection. If the threat persists or approaches the animal will flee, with fast zig-zagging flight interrupted by attempts at concealment by lying down flat.
In South and Southern Africa the Steenbok’s distribution is wide and varied and can be found in various environments throughout South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.


Portrait of a Male Steenbok
Male Steenbook (Raphicerus campestris) showing his horns
large ears and 'preorbital glands'

Monday, 1 September 2014

Springbok

Springbok one of natures supreme athletes

Living in South Africa I could not continue to post about the wildlife and all that's offered in the natural world here without posting about one of South Africa's most famous animals synonymous with the country; the Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis).  The South African ruby union team, called the 'Springboks' have the Springbok emblem of this most agile of animals, along with another well known part of the flora and fauna of the country the 'Protea' flower sewn into their shirts.

The 'Springbok' like the national rugby team are athletes of note. These medium sized antelopes have colouring which consists mainly of a pattern of white, reddish/tan and dark brown, with adult males or 'rams' standing about 80 cm tall (30 in) and about 190cm (72in) in  length. Springbok can reach speeds of up to 100km/h (60mph) and leap 4m (13 ft) through the air which I think you will agree is quite a feat for such a small mammal. Unlike many antelopes, Impala for instance, both the ram (male) and the (ewe) female Springbok have horns which average about 35cm (14 in) in length.

Springbok are also well known for what is known as 'pronking' or 'stotting' which comes from the Afrikaans meaning to 'boast' or 'show off'. The Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) with Marsupialis (Latin: marsupium, meaning "pocket") this word being derived from a pocket-like skin flap which runs along the middle of the Springboks back from the tail onwards. This 'marsupium' is best demonstrated when the male Springbok perhaps wants to attract a mate or to ward off any predators, he starts off with a stiff-legged trot, jumping up into the air with an arched back every few paces and lifting the 'flap' along his back.  Lifting the flap causes the long white hairs under the tail to stand up in a conspicuous fan shape, which in turn emits a strong scent of sweat.

Springbok are inhabitants of the mainly dryer parts of south and south western Africa notably in the 'Kalahari' desert in Botswana and the 'Namib' desert of Namibia but also the vast grasslands of South Africa's Free State. Interestingly Springbok are 'mixed' feeders switching between 'browsing' and 'grazing' and by doing this Springbok can meet their water needs and can survive without the need for water over long long periods.

Sprinkbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)
Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Monday, 25 August 2014

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park - A flagship amongst a large fleet

Anybody who has been following this 'blog' will know that the majority of the wildlife and nature photographs I take are from the 'flagship' game park of the many game parks South Africa has, the 'Kruger National Park' which is run by Sanparks. I thought this week I would introduce briefly to those of you who are not familiar (like I was before I came to South Africa) with the Kruger National Park and provide an overview of this outstanding game reserve which is located in the North Eastern corner of South Africa and bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Lets explore, in this brief post and future posts, the endless possibilities this park offers both the local and international wildlife and outdoor enthusiast.

View from Olifants Rest Camp over the Olifants River
Kruger National Park - South Africa
I say briefly, as it would take several posts to cover what the Kruger National Park has to offer as it is huge and varied, huge in area, varied in things to do and the ways to do them and vastly varied in the bird and wildlife species that inhabit the park both permanently or periodically.   So let begin with some facts and figures, the Kruger National Park is some 20,000 sq kilometres (7,500 sq miles) in size about the size of some small countries!! This equates to about 360 kilometres (220 miles) in length and 65 kilometres (40 miles wide) and spans two of South Africa's provinces (Mpumalanga and Limpopo). The Kruger National Park was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger but only became South Africa's first game or national park in 1926. Over recent years the park has become part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park which links parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique which all form part of the Peace Parks Foundation.

The Kruger National Park has 11 main gates in which the public may enter/exit which includes border crossings into Mozambique (Pafuri & Giryondo).  Once inside there are 12 main rest camps where the public can stay (these also include camping facilities).  These are in order, from north to the south Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Mopani, Letaba, Olifants, Satara, Orpen, Skukuza, (main administrative centre) Lower Sabie, Pretoriuskop, Berg-en-dal and Crocodile Bridge.  All with the exception of Mopani, Olifants and Orpen rest camps  have well appointed camping facilities. The Kruger National Park further provides smaller bush camps (a little more rustic) Bateleur, Sirheni, Shimuwini, Biyamiti and Talamati where only paying guests may enter the camp and surrounding areas. There are also private concessions and private lodges which provide 5 star luxury, all located within the confines of the park.
Matekenyane lookout point Southern Kruger Park - South Africa

As the Kruger National Park is criss-crossed with both tarmac and dirt/gravel roads, this gives the opportunity for the public to 'self drive safari' within the park and stay overnight at any of the camps mentioned. If you prefer you may have 'guided' game drives, bush walks, go mountain biking, 4x4 off road trails (some over night), morning, sunset and night game drives and many more options are available in the Kruger National Park.

In future posts I will provide more insight and detail into the Kruger National Park, its wildlife, birds, flora and fauna all of which this stunning park has in abundance.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Gemsbok

Gemsbok- Desert Survivalists

If you have been following my last few posts you will know that earlier this year we spent sometime in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The Kgalagadi is located in a dry arid savanna biome, plants and animal species that inhabit these arid biomes need to adapt to some of the very harsh conditions that prevail in these areas, one such animal species is the Gemsbok  (Oryx gazella).

We encountered many Gemsbok in the Kgalagadi, these magnificent large antelope stand when fully grown at about 1.2m to the shoulder and the adult bulls weighing in at over 300kg. You may think that an animal of this size would indeed struggle to inhabit and survive in what is basically a desert, which by definition is a dry area with very little rainfall and thus available water, often in drought and with extreme heat.

The Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) has evolved and adapted to not only survive in the dry arid areas but thrive in them. One of the most obviously adaptations to living in an area with     very little water is to actually require very little water ones self. In this respect the Gemsbok takes most of its requirement of water from the food it eats. Grasses, roots which they dig up with their hooves, leafy bushes what ever can be found in these dry arid areas you will find Gemsbok close by grazing. Once of course you have taken on water by means of food and or have drunk some the next trick is to retain it, Gemsbok do not sweat and their deifications are dry.

The Gemsbok also has a very distinctive pattern to its coat, continuing research provides us with evidence that the large light colours reflect heat and the dark colours absorb heat, for example one theory is that the large white patch on the belly of the Gemsbok actually reflects heat from the desert sands. To help with the extremes of heat Gemsbok have specialist physiological adaptations, one such adaptation is 'nasal panting', this is a kind of 'heat exchange' where Gemsbok rapidly inhale and exhale through their nose which is lined with small blood vessels called capillaries.

Cool air is sucked in through the nose which cools the blood in these capillaries, in turn this cooled blood is circulated to the brain, where a fascinating part of anatomy is found called the 'hypothalamus' at the brains stem. The 'hypothalamus' oversees many internal body conditions and monitors chemical and physical characteristics of the blood, including body temperature, blood pressure and water content. Through this 'brain cooling action' Gemsbok can then regulate its body temperature by often allowing its temperature to rise considerably during the day and then gradually radiating any surplus heat away through its body as the day goes on and the temperatures cool. Simple other ploys  such as standing with the smallest portions of its body to the sun and largest to any breeze also helps radiate heat away from the body.

The Gemsbok is without doubt a 'Desert Survivalist'

Gemsbok (Oryx gazella)
Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) a Desert Survivalist - Kgalagadi Transfontier Park - South Africa

Monday, 11 August 2014

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - (Final Part)

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - (Final Part)

We woke early (5am) with sad hearts as this would be our last full day in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as this morning we were leaving Nossob Camp and heading the 161 km along the parks sandy
Nossob Camp Photograph
Gates at Nossob Camp, (hide gate in the middle)
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
roads back to Twee Rivieren camp where we would be spending the night. We had decided that we would visit the 'bird hide' which we had tried the previous evening as it is easily accessible from the camp and despite it still being dark at just a little after 5am we would have the benefit of the 'floodlight' as the generator came on at 5am to light up the waterhole.

The temperature had dropped dramatically from the previous days and the wind had picked up quite a bit as we made our way to the hide, again we sat there for just over an hour and nothing to show for it as we shivered in the cold, as others arrived with hot morning coffee. We decided to head back to our chalet and get the car packed and have breakfast before setting off. We left through the 'south gate' just after 7-30 am and as the sun was rising we noticed a lot of cloud cover in the sky, the cooler weather we were expecting a few days earlier had arrived.

Our first stop on the way out of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and back to Twee Rivieren would be 'Dikbaardskolk picnic spot', the picnic spot we had stopped a few days previously on our way from Kalahari Tented Camp to Nossob. This time no sociable weavers (Philetairus socius) nor people, and our coffee and rusks had to be had sat in the car as it was so cold and windy.

We pushed on towards Twee Rivieren still managing to see several Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest
Picture of a Kori Bustard
Kori Bustard with 'neck feathers'
partially extended
and Black-backed jackal along the way. The cloud cover gave our photographs a soft diffused light instead of the golden yellows and oranges we had experience previously. Something worth noting though is that virtually around every corner so far that morning we had caught sight of the worlds 'heaviest flying bird' the Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori), around 10 in total.  I don't think we'd seen this number in total in a year in the Kruger National Park. Apparently its due to the secretion of 'gum' from the prevalent 'Blackthorn Bushes' in the area. We were fortunate to see a male in a semi mating display (neck feathers extended).

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park although famous for its 'lion' and 'birds of prey' has of course many other much smaller mammals that inhabit this stunning arid landscape and we were lucky to see one of theses little inhabitants going about its daily business; a rodent called a Brants's whistling rat (Parotomys brantsii).  Just after our second picnic stop at 'Melkvlei' (still to cold and windy to get out and have coffees and a sandwich) we came across another quite famous inhabitant of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a family of Meerkats or Suricate (Suricata suricatta). This family entertained us for quite a while, whilst we sat in the car watching and photographing their antics.

Brants's whistling rat photograph
A  Brants's whistling rat, a resident rodent
 in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Having passed the (famous for its big cats) 'Kij Kij' waterhole (again very quiet) we arrived at the Twee Rivieren camp by mid afternoon our stop for the night and the gateway to the Southern Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park . We checked into our chalet and unpacked the car, as the power doesn't go off in Twee Rivieren unlike the rest of the park and as it was quite chilly in our chalet it was time to bring out our little 'fan heater' we had brought all those kilometers with us from home. We decided not to go out again that day except to the shop to pick up some water (we had used all the water we had brought with us) and catch up on any emails as we now had a 'signal' after several days without contact with the outside world. We had planned to go back to the nearest waterhole at first light in the morning before leaving the park and heading home.

We rose early the following morning so we could make a dash at first light for the 'Samevloeiing' waterhole just a few kilometers inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park gates after entering at Twee Rivieren. What is said about 'best laid plans' etc.... We were met with minus 3 degree temperatures and our 4x4 which had carried us over 2000 km  to date would not start. It took another hour and a half and a 'thick' set of jump leads from our neighbours to eventually get us going. What shall we do? pack and leave or head for the 'waterhole'?

We pulled up at 'Samevloeiing' waterhole all was quiet, then along trotted a Black-backed Jackal for its
Photography of a Meerkat
Meerkat or Suricate
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
morning drink and in came the Namaqua Sandgrouse, followed by the Burchell's Sandgrouse weary as ever. The time was moving on and we had to check out at Twee Rivieren by 10am, but the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park gave us one last surprise before we left, 2 lifer's (birds never before seen). A juvenile Black Harrier (Circus maurus) and a Red-necked Falcon (Falco chicquera) were doing aerial battle just above us, the Harrier we believed was some distance out of its range for that time of the year.

We reluctantly made our way back to our chalet in time to complete the packing and head to the garage to 'pump up' our tyre's back to normal road pressures (when you drive on soft sand tyres need to be reduced in pressure). Final check out at Twee Rivieren gate and we were on our way back home, some 1500km. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park had given us a week of outstanding wildlife experiences and photo opportunities, with over 25 'lifers' for us, we hope you have enjoyed travelling along with us and we hope we have given you all just a little taste of what you can experience in this wildlife wilderness and area of outstanding natural beauty. One last tip, if you are wishing to go to the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park and experience it for yourselves, then BOOK EARLY, nearly 11 months in advance to ensure you are not disappointed.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Part 7

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – (Part 7) May/June 2014

We had arrived at Nossob Rest Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park late in the afternoon the previous day and checked in at the reception with our ‘permit’ still intact and generally checked out our immediate location. There are a few things at the Nossob camp that would be of interest for the first time travellers/photographers to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Firstly the camp has ‘electrical power’ via its generator daily from 5-30am to 10pm, Secondly it has a shop and petrol, both of these are far and few between in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Lastly, Nossob has a great ‘hide’ with a made made ‘water hole’.  This hide is located beside the main ‘North’ and ‘South’ gates (more about this later) to the camp and thus is in easy walking distance from the camp. This hide also boasts a webcam which since returning home and checking it out seems to be up and running all the times I have visited. You can find this webcam and other SanParks webcams at the Nossob Webcam.
Yellow Canary (Serinus flaviventris)
Yellow Canary
drinking at 'Cubitje Quap' waterhole
We had done our research and visited the previous afternoon a waterhole about 10km north of the camp called ‘Cubitje Quap’ known for its large flocks of Sandgrouse and Cape Turtle Doves, large Raptors and Black-backed Jackal all coming to drink there as well as some specials like Brown Hyena and Leopard. This waterhole is better for photography first thing in the morning due to the ‘light’ on the waterhole itself and has limited space around the waterhole to take photographs, so we were up early as normal and first at the gate going ‘North’ to get a good location for the mornings visit of the various wildlife species.  Nossob Rest Camp is ‘fenced’ unlike the Khalahari Tented Camp we had previously stayed at and one of only a few camps that are actually fenced in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Nossob is also a little different to all other camps I have stayed at before, as here you have to actually drive ‘into’ the camp. shut the gate and then open the other gate to continue. So coming from the south you would need to open the South gate, close it and open the North gate to continue your journey or vice versa.
We arrived first at the waterhole just after sunrise and we positioned ourselves the best we could with a good view of the waterhole some 30 meters away, It wasn’t long before a whole host of birds started to arrive, Yellow Canaries (Serinus flaviventris),  Red-headed Finches (Amadina erythrocephala) were amongst the first to appear in their droves, quickly flying in and ‘sipping’ the cool early morning waters and then out again to rest on a nearby bush, hardly resting for a moment before starting over again for a further drink. We soon found out why this curious back and forth of birds continued; it’s due to one of the famous predators of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park the ‘Lanner Falcon’ (Falco biarmicus). It swooped in narrowly ‘missing’ a couple of these small birds before returning to its look-out some 100 meters away in an old tree with a good vantage point to see the waterhole.
Next came the birds that have to drink daily in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Sandgrouse,
Buchells Sandgrouse (Pterocles burchelli)
Burchells Sandgrouse taking off after taking a drink
at Cubitje Quap Waterhole
circling a few times like ‘bomber command’, flocks of Namaqua  Sandgrouse (Pterocles namaqua) and Burchell’s Sandgrouse (Pterocles burchelli)  came in one after the other to drink and then take off in the opposite direction in which they landed. Again the Lanner Falcon swooped in, this time ‘clipping’ a Namaqua  Sandgrouse but not sufficiently enough to knock it down. This is a deadly scene that is played out daily in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for these birds, a balance based on a need for ‘water’ and a need for ‘food’.
Next up to drink and our only large mammal that morning was the ‘renowned’ scavenger of the Kgalagadi the Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas), This predator was also very nervous as it drank there for a good few minutes, always raising it’s head and looking around every few seconds. We guessed this was to be on the look out for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Parks apex predators the lions. Unfortunately for us and fortunately for the Jackal none appeared while we were there. We spent most of the morning at Cubitje Quap watching and photographing the comings and goings of the birds and various Jackals.

Later that morning we moved further North to ‘Kwang’ waterhole where it is said to have a large ‘sweet’ waterhole preferred by many animals. Sure enough the hour we sat there, large herds of Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus caama)  as well as the occasional Jackal and the now common flocks of birds came to drink.
Black-backed Jackal taking a much needed drink
at Kwang Waterhole
We made our way back to Nossob for lunch and then took ourselves South this time for an afternoon drive to ‘Rooikop’ and ‘Marie se draai’ waterholes. Not a lot happening unfortunately at the waterholes so we made our way back to camp and the hide, again not much happening there either so we decided to comeback later that evening for a second sitting as it was our last night at Nossob Rest Camp as our winter trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was nearing an end. The night session was also quite quiet but the highlights were a Verreaux Eagle Owl (Bubo lacteus) which landed some distance from the hide just out past the waterhole and five Bat-eared Foxes (Otocyon megalotis) who also just ran through the area and didn’t stop to drink. We decided to make for our chalet and ensure a nice hot shower and cup of tea and jump into bed before the power went off. Tomorrow we were heading back down to Twee Rivieren Rest Camp and we’d also heard that the weather was going to take a turn and temperature were due to drop.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Part 6



Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Part 6) – May/June 2014


As always we rise early when on a ‘safari’ type vacation or photography shoot and more so on these last few mornings as we were on our first trip to the stunning Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa’s, Northern Cape.  The lions and the Black-backed Jackals were, as they had been on previous nights, very ‘vocal’. Would we see them this morning?  My wife and I discuss the possibilities as spotting Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park lion is a highlight of anybodies trip to the park and we excitedly agreed the roars we heard in the night and very early that morning came from the general direction in which we were to travel today.
This morning we were leaving behind the ‘Kalahari Tented Camp’ and surrounding area, where we had spent the last 3 wonderful days and nights, for today we were heading to the ‘Nossob’ rest camp a bit further North into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. A quick breakfast and with the car packed we went through our normal routine of getting our ‘permit’ at the Kalahari Tented Camps reception desk and set off for Nossob.
The sun was just beginning to creep over the sandy dunes of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and we had only been travelling a few minutes down the sandy tracks when my wife spotted him, a magnificent specimen of a male Kgalagadi Lion (Panthera leo) almost blending into the grass as the early morning sunlight bathed both him and the dune grass in a light orange glow. He was almost certainly the male lion we’d heard the previous night and earlier that morning just before daybreak. We tried to manoeuvre to get a better picture of this ‘king’ of the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park but unfortunately we were unable to do so as we had car ‘traffic’ build up behind us and we had a long way to go over the dune roads to Nossob Camp.


Lion (Panthera leo)-Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Kgalagadi Lion (Panthera leo) bathed in early morning sunshine.
Due to the distance we had to travel and the condition of the roads (sandy river beds) in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we didn’t want to waste any time so we pressed on down the sandy river bed road of the Auob river heading for our first stop which was the ‘Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area’ which we later found out would be a welcome break. To get there we had to travel south for about 50 km to the ‘Upper’ dune road turning.  Then a further 50km on the upper dune road which traverses across the dunes between the Auob and the Nossob dry river beds.


Photograph of a female Northern-black-Korhaan-Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Northern-black-Korhaan (Afrotis afraoides) – Female on the ‘Upper Dune’ road
As we hit the ‘Upper dune’ road the soft rutted sand of the Auob turned to deep hard ‘rutted’ course sand which when travelling at a modest 30km an hour was enough to ‘rattle’ the fillings in your teeth loose. About 3km along this road we sighted, strolling in front of us, a male and female Northern Black Korhaan’s, (Afrotis afraoides) the more colourful male unfortunately disappeared into the dune grass but the female gave us some great photographic opportunities. Continuing along the ‘road from hell’ it wasn’t only the ‘fillings’ that were being affected ‘bladders’ were also telling us to hurry along to the ‘Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area’. Ant-eating-Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora) were common place along the road as well as Fawn-coloured Larks (Mirafra africanoides) and of course the ever present Pale Chanting Goshawks (Melierax canorus). The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park never had such a welcome sight as the turn into the ‘Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area’ and an end to the ‘Road from Hell’ or the Upper Dune Road.  The time was already approaching midday and we had travelled just the 100km since leaving the Khalahari Tented Camp at 7:30am that morning.


Photography of Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area-Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area -Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – South Africa
‘Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area’ was in a spotless condition and the toilets were well stocked with hand soap and toilet paper, a credit to Sanparks as basically we were at least 50 km from the nearest main camp Nossob (our destination for the next few days). In the Kruger
National Park at picnic areas Chacma Baboons (Papio ursinus) and Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) tend to be a problem as people often feed these wild animals, who in turn become aggressive and a nuisance around food. DO NOT FEED WILD ANIMALS ..ok rant over, here at ‘Dikbaardskolk Picnic Area’ the problem wasn’t a primate but a bird, the ‘Sociable Weaver’ (Philetairus socius). These birds were everywhere, perching on your head as you sat to try and have a bite of a bun or sandwich. They even tried to take the bun from my wife’s hand as she ate. Amazing little birds though as they were followed around by their ever hungry chicks.
After our short break we pressed on towards Nossob rest camp, now on the dry sandy river bed of the ‘ephemeral’ Nossob River (they only flow for a short period and then only in really good rainy seasons). The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park really is diverse and good sightings of Black-shouldered kite (Elanus axillaris) who were busily feeding on one of the many rodents that inhabit the park. Herds of Sprinkbok (Elanus axillaris) and Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) were in great number all the way to Nossob Camp. We arrived at the camp after travelling the last 50 km at about 3pm in the afternoon and checked in to our chalet, unpacked the car which started our next leg of our trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Nossob Camp.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - Part 5

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Part 5) – May June 2014 – Kalahari Tented Camp (Day 2)

For those of you who have been following our winter trip to the arid Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa’s far North West, you will know that this stunningly beautiful and wild wilderness is certainly living up to its reputation as one of the great true wilderness parks still left in South Africa.
As the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at Twee Rivieren (its southern most gateway) is over 250 km from any form of light pollution and we were 160 km further North, it was a great opportunity for me to try, for the first time, some astrophotography.  I had done some research on this aspect of photography with respect to equipment and settings for the camera, location of the celestial bodies and the phase of the moon as any form of major light pollution in the sky would have negative effects on the outcome of the photograph. I set out to take a photograph of the Milky Way over the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park somewhere and luckily the elements that I couldn't control aligned quite nicely. You can see the result here.
The 'Milky Way' over the 'Kalahari Tented Camp'
taken from our tent
I think it turned out quite well even if I say so myself. Now our 2nd full day in the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park again saw us up, and ready to get our permit to exit the camp by 7-30am (earliest time you can get your permit in June). We were this morning going a little further south to the places we had missed on our way to the camp a couple of days ago namely Dertiende Boorgat (13th Borehole) and  Veertiende  Boorgat (14th Borehole). These waterholes had been well documented as waterholes with a lot of possible ‘action’ in the Kgaladadi Transfrontier Park.
We had heard in the night, as we did the previous night, roars from a male lion, which echoed loud and long into the cold, still night. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that after only 10 minutes out of camp we came across, walking along the top of the dune a fine specimen of what, no doubt, we had been hearing the previous night and early morning, a large male Kalahari Black-maned lion, a beast many people come to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to see. Much to our frustration its was not a good photographic opportunity as there were also 3 cars following us and the lion was moving quite quickly through the desert scrub.

We moved slowly on to the that mornings destinations, along the dry sandy river bed of the ‘Auob river’ plenty of birds in the camel thorns, especially prominent were the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks (Melierax canorus) affectionately known as the ‘Pirates of the Kalahari’ 
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
Southern Pale Chanting
Goshawk
until eventually we reached the 13th Borehole. We parked up ready as always for any serious action but we didn’t get or see anything of great interest but 
still a lot of birds coming and going to the waterhole as well as herds of Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and Gemsbok.(Oryx gazella). 

We moved on to the 14th Borehole which was much the same. After an hour or so we decided to head back to camp for lunch. After lunch and short snooze we set off for the main camp in the area, Mata Mata which was about 3 km from where we were staying at the ‘Kalahari Tented Camp’.  There are 3 main camps in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Mata Mata is one of those.


Yellow Mongoose
'Mata Mata' Rest Camp
On entering the camp we noticed a ‘troop’ or ‘band of yellow mongoose going about their daily business. Scurrying between the shrubs always on the lookout for danger and of course food.  They are so entertaining that we sat and watched them for a while. We then proceeded to the border post between South Africa and Namibia situated in the Mata Mata camp.
You are able to cross into Namibia (on foot) from the Kgalagadi
My wife and I crossing into Namibia
Transfrontier Park without passports and or ID as about 200m on the Namiban side of the border is a small farm stall/shop where you can buy tourist type trinkets, frozen meat, food and deliciousssssss Namibian home baked rusks (a type of biscuit we get here in Southern Africa).

On crossing back into South Africa we though we would spend the last hour of daylight slowly driving from Mata Mata to the ‘Sitzas’ waterhole which was about 10 km from the camp. We were rewarded with a sighting of a cheetah crossing the sandy road in front of us but unfortunately disappearing over the dunes with no opportunity to photograph this magnificent Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park big cat. This would be our last night in the Kalahari Tented Camp as tomorrow we would head further north into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the ‘Nossob Camp’.