Magical Kruger - Remembering a Week in Paradise Pt 2/2

This is Part 2 of a two part article, to read part 1 https://www.thebirdinglife.com/post/magical-kruger-remembering-a-week-in-paradise-pt1-2


We decided to drive west from Satara on the dust roads, what was great about this was that there was a lot less traffic. The day started easy enough – not much to get the heart racing – Cisticola’s, Babblers, Rollers and Hornbills – pretty much the standard Kruger fare – almost like the burgers that you expect to see on a Burger King Menu, they are nice but they don’t excite you too much. I managed to get my first lifer of the day which got the heart racing a little faster – a Marabou Stork which was sitting perched high in a tree.


Then at 7:46am after driving – just after seeing one of my favourite little birds the Green-winged Pytilia - and looking for more than 2 hours the stars aligned and the birding forces smiled down us. We were driving across a low level bridge and I stopped the car and said to Tyron in a joking tone; ‘Let’s stop and look for Finfoot’. I looked out the driver’s window and he looked out the passenger window, and all of a sudden Tyron spoke in a voice which suggested either that he had won a years supply of red wine or he had seen an amazing bird! Lucky for me it was the latter, he had just managed to see a White-backed Night Heron under the tree!! The bird was open enough for us to see it and enjoy it but sadly not enough to take good pics – but we were blown away – this wasn’t a bird that we had even planned to see!


White Rhino feeding at the Kruger National Park
White Rhino

The day had many other bird species which were amazing, but I would see another sighting that would become one of the highlights of the trip for me. We were driving along the dust roads doing a slow route back to the camp and as we drove, we saw two cheetahs walking up a side road to the road that we were driving on. We stopped the car and they kept on walking along – almost ignoring the two camera men clicking away on cameras taking photos of them. They walked slowly towards us giving us the opportunity to get many other photos, and then they walked past the car only a few meters away and disappeared into the bush behind the car. What made the sighting even more special was the fact that we were the only car there – it was a moment where man and nature were able to have an intimate moment together.


Cheetah walking on the road in the Kruger National Park
Cheetah

We got back to the camp in time to make a quick fire – ate some good steaks probably with some big smiles on our faces. We did a night drive later on in a noisy San Parks truck with a group of people from all around the world, including some Asian tourists that didn’t speak English so it was challenging to try and get them to aim the back spotlight in the right place – sometimes their only reply to our requests was a big teethy smile! The night drive was a special night with our first lion sighting, elephants, scrub hares and a nice wild cat sighting. On the bird front many nocturnal specials were seen such as Bronze-winged Courser, European nightjar and another lifer in the form of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. I strongly suggest a nightdrive for anyone that does Kruger – the park opens in a whole new way from the daytime drives.


Verreaux’s Eagle Owl on a night drive in the Kruger National Park
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

As we started to head to the back in of our trip and our last day in Satara we headed North towards Olifants Camp where we wanted to see the White-throated Robin-chat. On the road up we heard a bird that provided a constant soundtrack on the trip and finally got to see it properly – the Harlequin Qual. Highlights on the drive up included White-backed Vulture in the trees near the road as well as a well camouflaged Temminck’s Courser in a sandy patch alongside the road. We got our LBJ fix with Rufous-naped Lark, Rattling Cisticola, Monotonous Lark and Sabota Lark. At Olifant’s Camp sight we went to the look out point to find our target species – and in the shrubs around the viewing deck we managed to get good views and even were able to show some other interested onlookers the White-throated Robin-chat. Once I got back to Satara I managed to coax Tyron finally to watch a fire while I did a bit of birding around the camp – I managed to get a few lifers including Jameson’s Firefinch, Yellow Breasted Apallis and a bird that had been a bogey up until then – an Acacia Pied Barbet.


White-throated Robin-chat

The trip was now starting to wind down and we needed to make the long drive back to Pretoriuskop to spend our last two nights. We left bright and early to try make the most of the early morning. We managed to see a Red-crested Korhaan – that I had spent time before the trip learning its call. The long drive back would provide us with many Cuckoos such as – Diedricks, Levaillant’s, Klaas’s, Red-chested, Jacobin and a bird which was another highlight of the trip the Great Spotted Cuckoo, which was tricky to photography but provided a great sighting. Just past Skakuza we encountered a Kruger traffic jam and saw many people peering up a small hill – we finally managed to see what they were looking at – and managed to get a not so great view of one of the great cat species of Kruger – a leopard having a daytime nap. This is one cat species I have been very unlucky with - I have seen it twice, and got two really bad views of them.


Great Spotted Cuckoo

For our last full day in Kruger we decided to head down to Lower Sabie. We wanted to try and get some birds that a local guide had said we would find by Sunset Dam. The drive there was productive like every other day with sightings of Kori Bustard, Marabou Stork, African Wattled Lapwing, Saddle Billed Stork, Brown snake Eagle and Amur Falcon. Sunset Dam would deliver the species that the guide had promised – another great lifer – a White-crowned Lapwing. We also managed to get a wader in a Wood Sandpiper and got to see a grey heron hitching a ride on the back of a Hippo in the middle of the dam. The small dam is well worth a stop for any birder and time spent will produce a few special species.


The Mugg and Bean at Lower Sabie seemed like a good place to have a celebratory lunch for the lifer that we had just got – and it was great to each lunch overlooking the river and sitting under a Barn Owl in the roof rafters! The small water feature outside the shop was also a hive of activity with Dark-capped Bulbul, White-browed Robin Chat, Sombre Greenbul and Green Winged Pytilia enjoying the provided water! After a long drive back we finally got back to Pretoriuskop – and while the braai was heating up I was able to add another lifer as a Purple Indigobird hopped around on a tree just beyond the fence and a close up sighting of a Woodland Kingfisher.


We did our last night drive that night – we got stuck in a good roadblock as a small pack of Hyenas ran in front of the car giving us all some great views. The night drive will forever be stuck in my mind as Spotted Eagle Drive – we saw no less than 20 Spotted Eagle Owls as we did the night drive! The were all over the roads and provided many awesome sightings. We also got to see a small puff adder crossing the road. Which would be the second of two snake sightings.

A Spotted Eagle Owl in a tree at the Kruger National Park
Spotted Eagle Owl

So sadly, all good things come to an end – we left the camp early and got a tasty breakfast and cappuccino at Afsal picnic sight. While we were waiting for our order, I happened to talk to someone that had just come from a lion kill that was close to the picnic sight. This was exciting as I had not seen any good lion sightings yet. We ate our breakfast which now felt like it was taking an eternity to finish! Once we got going just outside Afsal there was a White Rhino which drew a lot of attention – but my mind was consumed by the lion kill. We drove to where the person said that the kill was, and sure enough we knew just where it was as there was lots of cars stopped trying to see the lions with their kill. We eventually managed to get close and get some amazing views of the pride of lions – what a special way to end a week in Kruger!


A lion at a kill in the Kruger National Park
Lion

In so many ways Kruger had delivered and shown off! My heart was heavy as we drove out the gates and got back to what so many people call ‘normal life’ – but Kruger had left a footprint in my heart and no sooner had I driven out the gate than I started working out how to come back again!


Over the week we managed to see 215 species of birds.


For everyone Kruger has a different story that it tells them – it whispers to them in a different way. For me it took me back to the start of my birding journey, to that difficult time that only God and birding help me get through. It was a time when I lost my mother after she had a long struggle with cancer. And yes, I was sad that he never got to experience Kruger for herself and I couldn’t pick up the phone and tell her all about it when I got home. But she loved Giraffe and when I got to see these majestic animals at the park – for some it was just a sighting – but for me it was a connection to someone that had gone before her time and had shaped so much of who I was. This is what makes Kruger so special for many people – it’s not just the animals and the birds – but how nature has a way of connecting with the life that we live and the memories that we carry. Until next time Kruger – I can’t wait to smell that welcoming thatch all over again!



This article has been adapted from a talk that I did for Birdlife eThekwini KZN. For more information about the club please visit https://blpn.org/

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