Thursday 14 December 2023

Kruger National Park, South Africa - July 2023 - Day 5 - Letaba back to Berg-en-Dal

I woke up early and left the kids sleeping for a bit whilst I explored the camp close to our hut. A 20 minute stroll produced a couple of Red-capped Robin-Chat and a a Kurrichane Thrush, which had been high on my list of Letaba targets. Unfortunately as it was still not fully light all my photos were terrible and I had to bin them. Today was a big day, we had to get all the way down to Berg-en-Dal before the camp gates closed, a journey of around five hours without stopping. We would be spending the whole day in the car. That said, we had over ten hours to drive those five hours, and there would be plenty of time to watch animals and look for birds.

Southern Red-billed Hornbill

We packed up and left the camp, and given all the time we had headed in the opposite direction, crossing the Letaba River and driving east towards Mozambique. We stopped on the bridge, the first time we had seen it in daylight, and were amazed by the numbers of birds. Well, I was amazed, the kids by this time were sick of birds. 200+ Little Swift, 20+ Grey-rumped Swallow and Plain Martin, a Saddle-billed Stork, Kittlitz's Plover and a lot more besides. There were also good numbers of Waterbuck.

At the Matambeni hide on the north bank of the river a stiff breeze made viewing difficult. In addition to a lot of Hippo and more Waterbuck we saw Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, 4 African Openbill, a Goliath Heron and lots of Lapwing. I masochistically counted the Egyptian Geese - 60. Not quite Wanstead standards but getting there.

By now 9am, we had to get going as the equation had now changed - eight hours to travel five and a half hours.... The next leg we basically did in one go, two hours back down to Satara. We did stop from time to time, including Red-faced Mousebird, another Kori Bustard and 3 more Southern Ground-Hornbill - what comically brilliant birds these are. This section was also good for raptors this morning, with 7 Bataleur, Tawny Eagle and Martial Eagle


Tawny Eagle

Martial Eagle

We stopped for fuel and snacks at Satara camp. Whilst the kids went to the loo I had a quick ten minutes around the car park. This was brilliant! Both Hornbills, Black-collared, Crested and Pied Barbets, a Cardinal Woodpecker, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Hoopoe, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Spectacled Weaver and Common Bulbul amongst other things - five new trip birds in as many minutes.

Common Bulbul

White-breasted Sunbird

Provisions sorted we carried on, taking the S100 east - this had good reviews as an excellent game drive and so it proved to be, with numerous Giraffe, WildebeestElephant, ZebraImpala, Kudu and a trio of Lions resting in some long grass but also causing another traffic jam. Towards the end of our return back to Satara a Little Sparrowhawk flew over the car.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker

It was now 1pm and we still had a long way to go. The first leg down to Tshokwane took about an hour, and we stopped at the picnic site there for a late lunch. Another Saddle-billed Stork was in the river here, along with Striated Heron and Black Crake, and at some point on the journey we had come across our first Brown Snake-Eagle, Hooded Vulture, and Red-crested Bustard.

Hooded Vulture

Red-crested Bustard

Black-winged Kite

The final leg down to Berg-en-Dal took around 4 hours, the quickest we could have made it in would have been about 3 hours. The speed limits in Kruger are low by design, there are plenty of hazards and also you see more if you drive slowly. We saw plenty of game on this drive, in fact I would go so far as to say that there is rarely any period where you don't see animals. Impala are the most frequently encountered, and when you find them you usually find loads, but Elephants are common. Zebra and Buffalo are also common, and so are Giraffe really. By this stage there were not many of the 'big' animals that we had not seen, and we were soon to reduce that tally by one. As we approached Berg-en-Dal with about ten minutes to go before the gates closed we were amazed to find three White Rhino just off the road. Wow! Certainly this sector of the Park was rumoured to be the best place for this species, but we had been convinced that we were going to miss them as not only had we not seen any but we hadn't really met anyone else who had. We took a few photos in the gathering gloom and made the camp with a few minutes to spare. One last brai? Oh go on then.

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