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- 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.