A few days break in Johannesburg and I realised how long it’s been since I last put finger to keyboard and recorded some of what both I and that small slice of African bush called Kruger National Park have been doing.
Last night we had the first thunderstorms of the rainy season, as usual much flash and noise but a bit lacking in the wet! The Southern African interior does not look it’s best at this time of the year. Spring does bring out our beautiful flowering trees and many of the acacias are a vibrant luminous green, but the overwhelming colour scheme is still a dingy grey, straw, and black.
In the bush the animals are generally looking in poor condition, except for the predators who don’t have to work nearly as hard to hunt for their dinner. The Olifants River has dropped to just a trickle in the last few weeks and on the cool cloudy days we had last week it seemed that every hippo in the river was out on the sand banks to escape the overcrowded, drying up, hippo pools. Nature taking it’s course – we have no shortage of hippos inside Kruger National Park and if a small percentage didn’t die at this time of year from starvation and exposure then there would be a real problem next year! As it is, the ground for hundred’s of metres around the waterholes is now totally devoid of grass.
The safaris have been the usual mixed and wonderful bag of sightings, people, experiences and joy.
For a change, in early September I took an 8 day safari to Zululand – revisiting the delights of Lake St Lucia, Kosi Bay, Hluhluwe Reserve and the Dlinza Forest at Eshowe. Some of the wonderful experiences we had included spotting humpback whales from the beach at St Lucia, being very, up close and personal with some elephant and their calves in Hluhluwe, listening to the invisible birds in the high forest canopy of the cool, shadowy Dlinza Forest and walking on the pristine, endless beaches near Kosi Mouth. Northern KwaZulu-Natal including Maputaland have a wealth of hidden treasures and outside school holidays it is a little visited destination. This area of course includes Sodwana Bay – my most favourite dive destination – but not on this safari unfortunately!
The people that have been with me on safari over the last 4 months have ranged from a 4 year old Australian to two energetic 83 year old, British South African ladies, and every age group and nationality in between. I couldn’t help crowing over the Springbok rugby victories to the 2 parties of Lion’s supporters that I had in July and it was especially nice to have a friend from my field guide course come on safari with me in August. I have also been lucky to have several safaris with people keen on seeing our bird-life and we have had some very rewarding encounters.
At my favourite bird hide in the south of Kruger, there is one pair of Goliath Herons and no less than 4 pairs of Grey Herons all currently nesting within easy view of the hide. Just to join in the breeding frenzy, an Egyptian Goose is also sitting on a nest amongst all the herons and the masked and spectacled weavers are frenetically collecting fresh thin strips of green grass and reed to speedily build their new nests. Just to add to the delights of this particular bird hide are the many crocodiles and hippo that frequently slumber near by. On one memorable visit a couple of months ago a small elephant herd came down to drink at the waters edge right next to the hide, literally within touching distance, and another time last summer we had a large hippo sleeping right under the floorboards of the hide – inches away, I could look straight into it’s bright pink nostrils – there was no difficulty in keeping everyone quiet on that day!
The antics of the animals continue to astonish and delight – the absolute highlight of the last few months being the Grey heron that landed on the mostly submerged back of a hippo charging across the bottom of a waterhole, and giving the distinct impression that it was enjoying the ensuing “surf ride”.
The handsome zebra stallion with whom we had a face off – we waited for him to cross the road a little way in front of us, he wouldn’t, and when we gave up and slowly drew level with him, he walked up onto the road next to us giving us a very haughty look as he passed nonchalantly by. The closest I’ve ever been to a zebra in Kruger!
Then, just two weeks ago we came across an hours-old elephant calf, the afterbirth still freshly red and wet on the road, the mother, calf and second adult female just a few metres off in the bushes. The little one could hardly stand and was obviously still not capable of moving very far. We came past the same spot about 6 hours later and the mother and calf had only moved about 100m. I could see very clearly then why baby elephant mortality is so high in the first year. It would be so easy for a pride of lion to separate mother from baby…………
Another elephant mother, gently nudging her days-old calf with her front foot as it lay totally “lights out” on the dry, dusty ground and then tenderly supporting it with her trunk and front leg as it tottered sleepily into her shadow.
|Southern ground hornbill|
At sunrise one morning, the deep, haunting song of the Southern Ground Hornbill, as a small family group moved down onto the sands of the Letaba River.
And I could go on and on. I feel so privileged to be spending so much time in the bush and above all being able to share it with so many other people.
So to all my old friends out there as well as to all of you who I am still to meet – keep well, happy, and saving hard to come on safari with me with me soon………
|Water Monitor Lizard|
|Young female Waterbuck|