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. 

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.