Tuesday 12 December 2023

Kruger National Park, South Africa - July 2023 - Day 3 - The Southern Park

Our hut was at the very back of the Lower Sabie next to the river, ideally situated. I left the kids sleeping in the hut and went birding along the fence for an hour before breakdast. A decent tactic and I found all sorts of things that I wouldn't see from the car - a pair of Brown-hooded Kingfisher in the trees just within the camp, an African Black-headed Oriole singing, two Southern Black-Tit, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Great Tit-Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird and some Southern Grey-headed Sparrow. An African Fish-Eagle flew down the river to start its day, and a Hadada Ibis made its presence known.

After a quick breakfast we headed south towards Crocodile Bridge as we needed fuel after yesterday and the Lower Sabie petrol station was closed. So much for planning - top up when you can is the advice. Not far down this road you can take a left turn and head to the Ntandanyathi Game Viewing Hide which overlooks a small creek. Grateful for any opportunity to actually get out of the car we went to have a look. The hide is huge, loads of room, and with patience you could pick out birds - no animals other than Elephants distantly in the bush!

There were Black Crakes running along the edge and walking on floating vegetation, a huge White-browed Coucal in a bush along with a Brown-crowned Tchagra, a small group of Arrow -marked Babbler, and who can forget the mega Egyptian Geese! Lesser Striped Swallow and Wire-tailed Swallow circled the hide. This area was very productive for animals as well, with the largest herd of Buffalo that we saw in this sector of the Park. We had to wait for several minutes as some of them ambled across the road to continue grazing. Some of them were gigantic, but they seemed very calm unlike yesterday's Bull Elephant. We saw our first Yellow-billed Oxpecker associating with these animals.

The drive down to Crocodile Bridge was noteworthy for the birds of prey. More Bataleur and Fish Eagle, a Lappet-faced and White-headed Vulture in the same dead tree, and big lines of White-backed Vulture. At Crocodile Bridge there were some more new birds, a White-breasted Sunbird fed on some nearby flowering Aloes and there were Common Bulbul in the bushes. 

We got some lunch and filled up with fuel before taking the Gomondwane road back north. There were a lot of Zebra on this stretch, and I think it was also here that we saw our first Warthog. This road took us over various small rivers and birds here included Little Swift, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Pied Wagtail, Little Swift and a group of African Openbill just south of Lower Sabie camp. One of the Lilac-breasted Rollers we saw didn't look quite right so I took a speculative photo of it which later turned out to be our first Rufous-crowned Roller though we were to get better views on subsequent days. As we came up on Lower Sabie again we encountered a large traffic jam. Lions, or so we thought, but in fact it turned out to be one of the big bird targets for the trip, the inimitable Southern Ground Hornbill. Massive birds with huge comedy appeal. These birds are so rare that Park Authorities like to hear of sightings, however these birds were wandering around more or less outside the camp gates!

All of this took us to around 2.30pm, so we birded sorry I mean we went looking for animals close to Lower Sabie so we could be close for our first sunset game drive. Sunset Dam is a great spot to see wildlife, with some of the biggest Crocodiles we had seen yet with a big group of Hippos. Occasionally the Crocs would disagree about something and one would have a bit of a go at another, but when two heavily armoured behemoths of approximately the same szie clash basically nothing happens, they are completely indestructible. This was definitely a spot to stay firmly in the car! 

Our sunset drive left at around 5pm and headed off into the bush after first stopping at the Dam we had just left. They tend to take roads that are closed, so you do get to go to areas you can't normally reach. The first hour or so is as the sun goes down, during which we saw quite a few birds including Double-banded Sandgrouse on the track ahead of us, and a Tawny Eagle in a tree. I think we saw Black-backed Jackal on this drive, as well as Steenbok. The final two hours of the drive were in darkness, and in truth a little long and it was pretty cold. Animals are actually few and far between, but there is always a chance of something really good as big cats do tend to use the road network! 

Back at the camp our South African neighbours took pity on our pathetic Brai-building skills, a very funny conversation ensued, and they gave us a crash course on how to do it properly. Interestingly they didn't like the game at all and insisted only on beef, whereas we had so far preferred all of the leaner wild animals. You can buy almost anything in the camp shops - we had Impala, Wildebeest, Buffalo and a few other things besides, all of which we thought much tastier! Despite this disagreement we ended up having a couple of beers with them, sampling their favourite local brews of which they had brought a fair bit with them.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

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