Kruger National Park and 115 new birds!

After the Drakensberg trip it was off to the Kruger National Park where another friend and I had booked on a 3 night stay at a wilderness camp.  The camp has only 8 guests and it is located in a wilderness area of the park far from the normal visitor areas and each day one is taken out on walks in the bush with ranger guides, so it is a very special experience.

Sa trips

brindled gnu
Brindled gnu seen on our transfer to the wilderness camp
on the trail
Walking through the bush lead by two rangers.   The rifles are carried as a safety precaution.  Although there are large predators and other potentially dangerous animals about, they are seldom threatening to humans.
camp waterhole
Approaching a waterhole with warthog, kudu and impala
rhino rampage
We startled some rhinoceros which panicked and came running directly towards us.  While I still have the mental image of thundering beasts with horns bearing down on us and frantic scrambling down a rocky embankment, by the time I got my camera out, the rhinos had turned to the side and were starting to disappear into the bush.   So all I have is this photo of the slightly anxious ranger getting his rifle ready and a couple of grey beasts disappearing into the bushes.

 

elephant at sunset
We had another great encounter when we sat on this outcrop for sunset drinks and a herd of elephant came wandering past us.  When the elephant on the left started to approach a bit too close, a small, well aimed stone to the forehead and a few shouts gave it the message that it was time to back off.
giraffe painting
Being on foot also gave us the chance to see some ancient San (bushman) rock art.  Unlike the Australian aboriginal rock art, which is normally more figurative and stylistic, the San seem to depict animals in more realistic proportions, although human figures are normally portrayed in a stick figure form.
rhino painting
Black rhinoceros painting
more paintings
One of the rangers explaining the rock art.  Although not very clear, at his eye level is a curious image of an elephant with a man standing on its shoulders.  I wonder if this means that the San once had contact with the asiatic elephant riders of south Asia?
breakfast spot
Packs down for a breakfast break on one of our walks
wolhuter camp
Named after the Kruger National Park’s first ranger, the Wolhuter wilderness camp where we stayed is well hidden in the bush.  Accommodation is in small A-frame huts just big enough for 2 single beds. There is also a dining area, a kitchen and a couple of shower and toilet huts.
dead elephant
This elephant had died about a week ago of unknown causes and was largely eaten out by scavengers with only bone, skin and an awful stench remaining.  It was interesting to see fresh tracks of other elephant around its remains.  One can only wonder if this is part of a mourning process or if they are simply being inquisitive.  The rangers have to remove the tusks to prevent them falling into the hands of illegal poachers and traffickers – it must be a pretty gruesome job.
watching elephant rhino and buffalo
While we saw a fair bit on our walks, it was also great to sit at the camp and watch over the waterhole.  Here 3 of the so called big 5 are visiting at once: elephant; white rhinoceros and cape buffalo in the distance.
baby elephant
A very young elephant calf.  Probably only a few weeks old.
hyenas
Spotted Hyena

impala and elephant

dwarf mongoose
As with any camp in the wild, human activity inadvertently attracts a few critters.  In this case a dwarf mongoose hunting for dropped crumbs.
wolhuter sundowner dam
Sunset over a dam near our camp.
yellow billed hornbill
Another camp critter – yellow billed hornbill

After the wilderness walk we joined our parents for a couple of days staying at traditional rest camps and doing regular drives to look for birds and animals.  As with most parts of the temperate Southern hemisphere, it was very dry.   However we still saw plenty of game and many birds.   During my stay in South Africa I managed to spot 115 new species of birds, bringing my total for the year close to 440.  However to avoid upsetting one of the more competitive bird watchers that is following our travels, I will continue to count only birds seen in Australia on my main list.

Some animals seen on our drives. Clockwise from top left: vervet monkey, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, greater kudu, steenbuck, waterbuck

Sightings of lions tends to cause traffic jams in the Kruger park.

Above: rhinoceros, giraffe, common duiker, scrub hare.  Below:  A kudu sculpture at Skukuza; a night photo from Talamati bush camp; A Baobab, Elephants at Talamati waterhole; elephant calf bath time.

Below is a small sample of bird photos.  Clockwise from top left: Helmeted guineafowl, scarlet chested sunbird, greater blue eared starling, white bellied sunbird, ground hornbill, red crested korhaan, white crowned shrike, brown snake eagle, black headed oriole, lilac breasted roller, golden tailed woodpecker, white browed robin, pearl spotted owl.

and some more birds: blue waxbill, secretary bird, purple roller, black helmetshrike, rosy faced lovebird, hadeda ibis, tawny eagle, coqui francolin

On the way back from the Kruger National Park we stopped off at the historic gold mining village called Pilgrims Rest.   Initially established in the late 19th century, it contains several historic buildings and mine diggings which continued to operate until the early 1970s after which the town was converted into a living museum.  One building has particular significance as being the hotel where my parents spent the first night of their honeymoon.

Main street in Pilgrim’s Rest, outside the Royal Hotel; inside the Royal Hotel bar which was originally a church in the Mozambique capital of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) before being relocated and converted to a pub.

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