The trip was going well, with something like 127 bird species and approaching 30 mammals. The big 'misses' up to this point were Cheetah and Wild Dog, though we had seen four individual Leopards, double figures of Lion, Rhinos, lots of Hyenas and all sorts of grazers. We needed to leave the Park by 1pm to ensure that the drive back to Johannesburg was accomplished in daylight, even though the flight itself was not until 9pm. This unfortunately meant less time in the Park than theoretically would have been possible, but I just didn't want to take any chances at all.
We still had a bit of time though, and rather than head out as soon as the gates opened I went birding in the camp - despite being on safari, you simply cannot stop teenagers from sleeping, so I just left them there. One day they will realise how dumb they were but I didn't mind. Birding had been very hard from the car, and it had only really twigged for me that it was the camps that had the biggest eBird lists. And for good reason. I spent two hours walking around Berg-en-Dal from around 6.30am and recorded 42 species, by far the largest count of birds at any point on the trip, and ten new trip ticks. Would that I had adopted this strategy earlier!
Starting at the dam I found Little Grebe. This had no doubt been there on our first stay at the camp and a Black Stork flew over while I was watching it which was rather a bonus. Also present were Kittlitz's Plover, Hamerkop, Little Egret, three Striated Heron, three Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great White Egret, two Pied Kingfisher and a Malachite Kingfisher. An African Black-headed Oriole was showing nicely on the Aloe here and singing from time to time. I then birded to the north of the gate along the footpath that does a loop around the camp, finding a flock of Speckled Mousebird, a Purple-Crested Turaco, and some stunning Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. Also Cape Crombec, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Retz's Helmetshrike, Sombre Greenbul, and a Red-backed Scrub Robin. There were basically birds everywhere and unlike being in the car I could actually take my time, wait or follow, and had a much better success rate of actually identifying them.
|Red-backed Scrub Robin
I went back to wake the kids up to find that not only were they now awake but that they had had breakfast and were thinking about packing! Hurrah! Full packing for the journey home then ensued, and like a fool I decided I would just pack the camera up to because I didn't want to flash it around as I was leaving the camp. This backfired almost instantly as we encounted our showiest Leopard yet as we approached Malelane. Henry, whose camera is supremely portable did rather well here. It was casually walking through the bush about 10m from the car, right out in the open, amazing.
The plan for the morning was to try and find Cheetah along the S25, which broadly runs east-west alongside the Crocodile River between Malelane and Crocodile Bridge. To cut a long story short we did not succeed and so Cheetah remains a big gap on our SA mammals list. They apparently need a large territory in which to hunt, which naturally spreads them out and diminishes your chances of finding one. Oh well. It was a nice drive though, adding some Green Woodhoopoe right next to the car, lots of birds of prey, an immense and very ugly Marabou Stork, and a Groundscraper Thrush. There were lots of Impala along here so I can see why it is good for Cheetah. Also great views of Warthog and Zebra, and we found yet another Leopard asleep in a tree.
Our time was up and a long drive beckoned. We exited the Kruger at Crocodile Bridge and picked up Route 4 westbound. Two final new birds were seen as we drove along - a couple of Red-winged Starling on the fringes of the Park at about the level of Kambaku, and as we got closer to Johannesburg Grey-hooded Gulls began to appear overhead. The drive was incident-free, although we did end up doing the final half hour more or less in the dark having started from quite a long way further east. It had been a superb trip, one that the kids had declared to have been the best holiday ever - a shame that Mrs L and my middle daughter had not been there but there will be other opportunities. And now that we have returned unscathed maybe we can talk about booking it up.
|Berg-en-Dal to Crocodile Bridge is about 2.5 hours along the S25