Report by Sally and Paul Bartho
19th to 27th July
The Egyptian Vulture had hung around so long around the Oliphants Bridge that Sally and I took a decision to try our luck and spend some extra time in the Kruger taking our off-road campervan.
First we had to find nearby accommodation to the bridge. First attempt – no continuous availability for the duration planned. The next day we tried again and managed to find space in various camps for the period planned without any choice of length of stay at each.
So it was in a hut the first night in Pretoriouskop then 3 nights camping in Letaba followed by one night in Maroela Caravan Park near Orpen Gate then 3 nights camping in Malelane Rest Camp.
Off we set on the 19th from Howick and arriving in Pretoriouskop at around 15h00. Very nice to have a hut for the night after the long journey. Also fortunate to have a place to park with the campervan still attached to the car.
We managed a bit of camp birding before dark and had an unexpectedly good meal at the camp’s Wimpy restaurant.
The next morning we were up with the sparrows and exited the camp when the gates opened at 06h00. The park was dry yet there was water in the pans.
Our first sighting of note was a Cheetah crossing the road just ahead of us – too dark for photos.
We bipassed Skukuza and headed to Tshokwane for a late breakfast – amongst the pleading birds and monkeys. We were careful enough to keep our food safe unlike several of the other visitors who had their own biscuits dropped on top of them as the monkeys tried to open the packet.
One of the interesting observations we had was the comparison in differences in colour of the African Mourning Doves we had seen so far in the Park.
On the way to Tskokwane we were detoured around a bridge which had been swept away – literally – by the floods – see the pictures.
What it should look like.
And how it is now:
At about 13h30 we stopped on the Oliphants high water bridge – our prime destination. Fortunately you are allowed out of your vehicle between demarkated yellow lines. We stayed for 2 hours.
There were numerous vultures on the rocks and sand up stream- about 400 metres away. Most were easy to identify – White-backed mainly with several Hooded. However there was one group of vultures all close together which were more difficult to identify clearly as they blended one with the other. It was this group which we gave the most attention with our scope. But even with a 60x zoom it was difficult.
On occassion the group shuffled about helpfully. We identified the White-backed amongst the group and several Hooded.
But there was one – Hooded Vulture sized – that appeared to have different facial markings. It did not have any red in its face so we assumed it was a juvenile Hooded however on closer inspection it seemed that there was no bare skin below its face.
Using the latest Roberts on page 136 we saw that there was a comparison of the faces of juvenile Hooded and Egyptian Vultures. Great excitement as we assumed we were seeing the head of the Egyptian but the bird rarely moved about and did not fly so we reluctantly agreed that we needed a better viewing for positive ID. The scope had more clarity than the photos shown below.
Several other people used our scope and they all thought they were seeing the same as us.
We eventually left to get settled in the campsite in Letaba – we still had a couple more days to come back and look.
Despite the knowledge that we had the very last campsite available, we were surprised to find a nice private site away from the hoards on the fenceline. The Letaba campsite must be one of the best for shade in the Kruger – not so important in the winter.
We were welcomed to our camp site by a seranade from a vocal and friendly White-browed Robin-Chat.
Over the next two days we paid seveal visits to the Oliphants high water bridge without success in seeing the Egyptian Vulture. However there were numerous birds to be seen there.
Time was also spent visiting other places of interest in the area – Engelhardt Dam and Hide, Balule area and the Makhadzi picnic site.
At Engelhardt we went to the Matambeni Hide to see if we could spot the Skimmers. And we did manage to spot them at a great distance upstream from the hide. They tended to stay at the same sandy spot and whenever a potential predator flew overhead they chased it away – suggesting they may have a nest. Later on the same day we approached the area from the other side and spotted the pair again.
Other birds and nature of interest photographed at Matambeni Hide included:
We took a drive to the Makhadzi picnic site – near the border crossing into Mozambique. The birdlife to and around the picnic area was busy.
From Letaba we headed south to Maroela Caravan Park near Orpen Gate.
Along the way we stopped frequently for Southern Ground-Hornbills – 4 times. Among those we only found one with a tag. Here are some photos.
But there were many other occassions when we saw interesting birds along the way. These included.
And a mystery raptor.
Also it is interesting to show together the variety of Hornbills seen on our trip:
Of Course the Lilac-breasted Rollers were everywhere.
And some of the animals:
On reaching Satara we hoped to find a vacant campsite there – nothing available. So we left our campervan in the car park and spent several hours exploring the area around Satara. The S100 – the N’wanetsi River Road is one of our favourites.
Along the way there was a herd of Waterbuck by the road and one of them appeared to be giving birth. We decided to stop and watch. However the Waterbuk walk to a shady spot and chose to lie down in its shade. We fully expected the birth to be quick so we waited. After half an hour with nothing we thought about moving off however we decided to wait a further 5 minutes. Our thoughts were with the poor Waterbuck as it seemed she must be having difficulty.
Then another 5 minutes with no change – so we decided to go and leave her in peace. All this time no cars had come along. Pulling out I checked my rear view mirror and thought I saw a dog in the road behind. But it was not a dog but a male Leopard. We reversed and found it hunkering down in the bush close to the road.
No doubt it was there because it was obviously aware that the Waterbuck was having difficulty with its labour. Perhaps we should have left it alone as it would have put the Waterbuck out of her misery. But we hung around until the Leopard slunk away.
Traveling round to the Sweni hide a variety of different birds were seen.
For a short time we got stumped identifying a bird. A bit like a Fiscal Flycatcher but it seemed to have a feint rufous collar around its neck.
It was only when it turned round that we were able to ID it.
Then we spent some time at the Sweni Hide – always good for strange happenings. Here the Hippos were waking up and there were crocodiles about as well as a Black-crowned Night-Heron which we had seen in the exact same place the last time we visited.
Maroela Caravan Camp was an entertaing site with Hyena and Elephant traipsing round the outer fence line. The former hoping for tit bits without success. It is a small but pleasant site. However we were given advice to protect our food from Baboons and Badgers. We had no issues – arriving late and leaving early.
Unknowingly we took the back roads cutting across to the main H1-3 road which were well corregated all the way. I suppose this is expected due to the lack of rain. Skukuza was our next pit stop for a breather and loo break.
And then we got to the Malelane Camp just in time to set up and relax before sunset. So far the weather had been cool but here it got quite cold at night.
From Malelane camp we explored the area around Berg-en-dal as well as along the Crocodile River.
On our first day there we went out of the park to enter at Crocodile Bridge to drive with the sun behind us. It took a bit longer to get there than we expected as we hit major roadworks.
On entering the park at Crocodile bridge we came across a noisy bird party and on inspection the reason for the noise was obvious. There in the tree eating its prey was a Pearl-spotted Owlet.
Mpondo Dam was our next place to visit. On the way here are some of the birds we saw and photographed.
Mpondo Dam was a bit crowded but we managed to find a quiet spot. Elephants appeared further down, otherwise the wildlife was quiet.
Gardenia Hide is always worth a visit if there is water. As we arrived there were a herd of elephants in and out of the water. Getting up to antics, the young males were pushing each other around as tests of strength. One walked right up to the lookout point in the hide. Needless to say he had me scampering for the exit – the viewing windows are a lot bigger than usual in other hides. Two of the males seemd to kiss and make up – check the photo.
A pair of African Fish-Eagles were calling in a dry river bed and attracted our attention with their courtship. We were amused by their antics and their ruffling of feathers.
We came across a large herd of Buffaloes near a river bed – there must have been over 200 in one of the 3 groups nearest us all lying down.
The whole area was particularly dry and dusty especially around Berg-en-dal. Yet there were birds about and some good ones at that.
Cane fires were burning across the river from our campsite – thankfully the wind was blowing the ashes away from us – but they were seriously impressive.
Despite missing out on the Egyptian Vulture, the Kruger Park is a fantastic park to visit – one never knows what is round the next corner. In all we identified 143 different bird species. To see our list – click here.
Paul and Sally Bartho