The sky was cloudy as a front had moved in overnight. The unusual warm temperatures of the previous days had dropped dramatically and a cold drizzle started to come down. A light breeze stirred the Sable Dam water but the surrounding bushveld seemed motionless. Despite the rather chilly conditions and no clear signs of wildlife we were all very excited for things to come. Having stayed at Kruger’s bigger and busier rest camps on previous trips, this time we wanted to experience nature from a different angle. Fortunately the Park’s accommodation is very versatile, ranging from luxerious to basic and outright rustic. After six years of Aussie bush training we opted for the latter, booking nights at Maroela and Tzendze, sites designated to campers only. However, when we came across the opportunity to spend one night at Sable we grabbed it with both hands as staying in one of Kruger’s sleepover hides is the ultimate chance to be out in the African wilderness completely by yourself. Although the hide is fenced to keep animals out, knowing no one …
This pair of Swainson’s Spurfowls (Pternistis swainsonii) was one of the little highlights on our last trip into the Kruger National Park. Whenever at the junction of the H7 and the untarred road towards Maroela camp we were sure to spot these two territorial birds. Seemingly undisturbed and rather inquisitive at first, they frantically started to look for cover in the tall grass every time our car approached. After experiencing this ritual half a dozen of times we baptized them Tweedledee and Tweedledum – a funny couple in a wild Wonderland. To listen to their captivating call please read the post and click on the mp3 file.
Lately, I came across an entertaining African folktale in which Squirrel asks his brother-in-law Rabbit to borrow him his beautiful fluffy tail. First Rabbit refuses, but after a few days of pleading he consents. Squirrel puts on Rabbit’s tail, promises to bring it back in eight days time and then goes home. Rabbit waits in vain for Squirrel to return his tail, and after eleven days he decides to claim it back. When Squirrel sees Rabbit he quickly jumps in a tree, laughs out loud and challenges Rabbit to climb up into the tree if he ever wants to see his tail again. Ashamed of losing his tail Rabbit goes away and spends the rest of his life living in the tall grass. Look out for these arboreal rodents chasing each other in Kruger’s rest camp trees – and think about how poor lonely Rabbit lost its tail.
The northern part of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve is set amidst the rugged evergreen hills of Zululand, forming a dramatic backdrop to the prolific wildlife in this area. Although the terrain makes up-close game viewing difficult, as opposed to the more open grasslands around the iMfolozi rivers, the mountains can add an interesting perspective to the composition of your photos. We spotted this giraffe struggling with a steep slope near Hilltop Camp, pausing on the ridge to scan the surroundings that made him look so small.
A flowering Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum) is a colourful beacon in the dry wintery landscape of southern Africa. The plant contains a highly toxic latex which is used for both hunting and medicinal purposes. Some species – amongst which the summer or Swazi Impala Lily – are harvested to such an extent that they are now listed as endangered. While commercial gathering for the horticultural and traditional medicine market, urbanisation and agriculture have almost wiped out the entire population in certain areas, the Kruger National Park forms a save heaven for this beautiful plant. It features abundantly in Skukuza, Letaba and Shingwedzi rest camps, where its stunning pink colour will certainly overwhelm you.
Out of the numerous fascinating features of the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) I find its eyes most intriguing. As a predator hunting by vision rather than scent a cheetah’s eyesight is truly amazing, being able to spot their prey from as far as 5 kilometres away. To protect its eyes from the harsh daylight – unlike other big cats their night vision is so poor they mainly hunt in the morning and afternoon – a tear stain mark runs from each eye to their mouth. These marks are clearly visible in the pictures of this young male taking a late-afternoon rest. He obviously focused on an object in the far distance that we were not able to see, staring right past us and adding an almost condescending air to its handsome appearance. We could only guess what he was looking at.
An encounter with a stately Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) doesn’t seem particularly special, however, with only an estimated 25 to 30 breeding pairs left in the greater Kruger area – on a total of 150 breeding pairs in South Africa – we were incredibly lucky to spot this couple collecting nesting materials in a dry riverbank next to the S133. Little is known about the dwindling numbers of this big bird, but a combination between an irregular breeding pattern and the degradation of their wetland habitats by upstream human activity seems to seal their fate. This striking bird is in serious danger and needs all our conservation efforts to change its dire future!
Mpila is a place that will stay in our memories forever. Perched on one of the numerous hilltops in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park, this camp offers stupendous views of its surroundings. The rich wildlife is the main drawcard though, wandering about freely as there are no fences to protect the nature-loving visitor. On our first night hyenas checked out the braai with the roar of a distant lion enhancing the overall wilderness experience. At dawn we were woken up by the chorus of the birds foraging in front of our bungalow, with mixed parties of Black-bellied starlings, Burchell’s coucals, Bush-shrikes, Crested-Barnets and African Hoopoes, followed by some late-morning entertainment of the inevitable gang of Vervet monkeys, ready to snatch about everything lying around unattended. After lunch our lawn was cut by a family of warthogs, and with the occasional herd of Kudu and Impala close-by, we felt no urge to go on a game-drive. The highlight of this relaxing day was a personal encounter with this lone Nyala male, his horns covered in mud to show his prowess to the ladies nearby. As the real king of Mpila he grazed undisturbed, looked back to inspect the surroundings before continuing his way.
The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is probably the most common wading bird in The Netherlands. The number of breeding pairs has increased since it became a protected species in 1963, but rigorous winters in the past years have decimated the population in some areas, resulting in an ever greater number of migrating herons. While some individuals leave for Southern Europe, others fly to the wetlands of Mauritania and Senegal. For now most herons are still stalking their prey locally, searching ponds and pools as thorough as a minesweeper.
The red deer rut is a spectacular phenomenon. On our last trip into the OVP (Oostvaardersplassen) we hoped to find the testosterone inflated stags competing for their harems as rutting activity normally reaches its peak when the days shorten. But hinds and stags were still in separate groups, and we therefore knew it was too early to witness the spectacle of roaring and fighting males. Due to abnormally low spring temperatures nature has simply delayed all processes, however, it didn’t stop us from chasing the deer for some nice shots.
The Netherlands is a land of water. The country has been shaped by its force and largely exists due to sound water management. A major example is the Zuiderzee, a large shallow inlet of the North sea consisting of multiple lakes, marshes and channels. As rising sea levels and storms made it bigger over the centuries, surges and floods caused death and disaster. These perilous waters have finally been tamed by closing them off from the open sea in the 1930s, creating a manmade freshwater lake. A big block of land has since been reclaimed for farming, housing and industrial development, but when the drainage of the lowest part was finally concluded in 1968, no one could have foreseen it would become one of Europe’s most important wetlands. Too wet for construction this part was planted with common reed, providing food and shelter for numerous (near) extinct species of waterbirds. Some of these species, as for example the Grey Goose (Anser anser), Great Egret (Ardea alba) and Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea Leucorodia), returned in such numbers that the significance of this area as a major nature …
At Mission Rocks lookout point the wetlands of the St. Lucia estuary unfold in front of you, with sweeping views of evergreen forests, ancient coastal dunes and open savannah. Some specks in the far distance turn out to be grazing rhinos, but tiny as they are my attention is drawn to some flowering Natal creeping figs (Carpobrotus dimidiatus) that grow in the area abundantly. This succulent plant is indigenous to the coastal habitats of KwaZulu-Natal, thriving on sandy soils and therefore often used as a stabilizer near roads and railways. Even more fascinating is its traditional use as a remedy against dysentery, blue bottle stings and eczema. Because I took a few extra pictures of this wonderful flower we apparently missed out on a spectacular leopard sighting a bit further on, but hey, I’ve learned to be content with the little things in life, to slow down and experience nature in all its nuances. Besides that, in Africa the next big thing is never far away anyway!
The thick-tailed bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus) is the biggest species of a primitive group of African primates called galagos. They are arboreal, just as their smaller cousins, and walk and run along branches like monkeys. Although they sometimes hop around as if they were kangaroos, they don’t posses the same agility and quick-grabbing reflexes other bushbabies display. Their diet therefore consist mainly of fruit, gum and seeds rather than insects. They are solitary feeders most of the time, but often congregate and socialize on fruiting trees and gum-oozing acacias, even in man-made habitats as plantations and gardens. We were lucky to witness these lovely big-eyed residents of the Bushbaby Lodge near Hluhluwe, eagerly anticipating some slices of banana. After a minute or two they quickly moved into the dark canopy again to continue their usual foraging route. Eye to eye with an ancient ancestor: totally awesome!
We spotted this beautiful black rhino on the 8th of august in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. According to information provided by KZN Wildlife this individual should still be alive – a reason to celebrate on World Rhino Day and honour all those who are involved in conservation efforts. Make your contribution to save the rhino and play this game! iTunes link for Rest of the the world: itunes.apple.com/us/app/wwf-rhino-raid/id603031304?ls=1&mt=8 Android link: play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=za.co.flintsky.rhinoraid&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsInphLmNvLmZsaW50c2t5LnJoaW5vcmFpZCJd
“I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the giraffe, in their queer inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing” – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa I simply love giraffes, the way they look, eat and walk in all their gracious glory. These were not the first animals we came across on this golden hour morning drive near Orpen: lions and black-backed jackals had crossed our path just five minutes earlier. Although the predators didn’t offer the same photo opportunity, I’ve never had such an exciting start of the day!
Just south of the Letaba the S-46 crosses a side arm of this mighty river. At the water’s edge our attention was drawn to a solitary hippo bull, clearly not amused by our presence according to his resonant grunts. It was only after he submerged when we spotted this Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) right next to the car, waiting for an unsuspecting fish or frog in the shallows. We observed this fascinating bird for a few moments, but as it is a symbol for bad-luck and human futility in South-African folklore we didn’t wait for the hippo to reappear…
“A woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart” – Hal Borland
Browsing giraffes are a common sight on any safari as they love the tender leaves and twigs of acacia trees. Since a giraffe eats up to 34 kilograms every day in order to sustain its bulk, acacias have developed clever defence mechanisms to avoid being stripped completely. Apart from their big thorns – that can be negotiated by the giraffe’s flexible upper lip and prehensile tongue – acacias charge their leaves with alkaloids, chemical compounds that bind with tannins, rendering the leaves indigestible. As soon as an acacia starts this chemical defence it warns other trees in the vicinity, forcing the giraffe to browse upwind in order to continue his love affair with these thorny trees.
We had seen mum cooling herself down in the mud of the riverbed earlier that afternoon. But when a foul smelling odour of territory-marking secretion reached our tents later on, we knew a den of hyena’s would be nearby. The whole family emerged out of their holes early that night and we had a close encounter with them just outside the gates of Letaba. Its reputation as a craven scavenger is perfectly demonstrated by the fearful, almost ashamed body-language of these six month old cubs, constantly glancing at everything except us.
“Much as I love the lion, elephant, kudu and eland, the animal closest to the earth and with most of the quintessence of Africa in its being is for me the buffalo of the serene marble brow.” – Laurens van der Post Buffalo are one of my favourite subjects. They show an interesting spectrum of behaviour ranging from docile to outright malevolent and offer enough drama for a good photo. This old bull didn’t show much action, but the worn boss of its horns and two diligent red-billed oxpeckers did the trick.