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Monday, January 16, 2017
11/28: At Last, the Big 5 in Kruger!
Just after 8:30, we began driving from Crocodile Bridge in the far SE part of Kruger National Park, due west toward a game hide, then on to near the park's western boundary before eventually heading NW toward Skukuza in the south central part.
Within just 10 minutes of entering the park, we'd already seen a giraffe, an elephant, several impalas, warthogs, a ground squirrel and this nyala!
Peering into our very limited bird guide that only included about 10 photos, we wondered if this was an African Darter, a Giant Kingfisher? No and no - it's a ....? No idea!
Noticed masses of these tiny white flowers we hadn't seen the past two days.
It was a full 40 minutes before we came across another car. Noticing these impalas broke up the monotony of not seeing anything else and kept Steven on his toes in case any other animals darted onto the road.
An exceptionally dry river bed:
Wonder what transpired to cause the impala to lose a horn?
The profusion of dead trees gave me an excuse to look at them more closely and a new appreciation for their beauty and also for the mighty elephants who had felled them.
The water level was also low in Crocodile River.
I think this majestic blue bird was a Cape Glossy Starling but I'm not sure! If it was, our limited guide said the starlings, who often perch in treetops, can be a delight as they perform aerobatics before roosting at night. They are very gregarious and usually quite tame around camp.
Stopping off yesterday at the rhino hide had been a huge highlight of our day's drive. We hoped spending time at the Gardenia Hide would be equally exciting as only seeing animals from the confines of our car or game drive was limiting.
From the safety of the hide, it was the perfect opportunity to watch a huge number of animals coming down to the large water hole.
Luckily our limited guide did include a photo of the Egyptian Goose so that was one bird we could identify!
Another couple in the hide were able to identify these birds as red-billed buffalo weavers with their binoculars and bird field guide. Guess both would have been handy for us to have had too, huh!
I wish I could convey how unbelievable it was for us to see in one spot the multitude of birds, two rhinos, a hippo, an elephant and a crocodile.
Just before we left the blind, we saw these rhinos in another pool. It was fascinating to watch their ears pop up and down.
Dung beetle crossing! It was fun watching it roll the small piece of dung across the road. I wonder how many of them die doing that because they're not seen by drivers able to stop in enough time.
A 'striped' rhino, i.e. it was partially wet!
Several times this morning, we'd passed areas where there were particularly ripe smells. We didn't know whether it was as a result of a fresh kill or what but that was new for us.
First time seeing these feathery red flowers:
When we stopped at one of the concession areas for snacks, we noticed the day's color coded Sighting Board of Animals in the park. Crocodile Bridge Gate, in the far SE of the park, was where we stayed for three nights. Skukuza Rest Camp, our 'home' for the next two nights, is just to the right of the top black dot. This map only showed about 15-20% of the park!
From the concession area, we observed the African Fish Eagle bird in the distance thanks to my camera's telephoto lens.
Back on the road again, we were so excited when we caught sight of a leopard, our final Big Five animal! Leopards are solitary and secretive animals who spend most days in hiding. They hunt at night by ambushing their prey and live in dense bush, forested or rocky areas.
Since we'd already seen every animal we'd really wanted to see on numerous occasions the last couple of days, Steven said, he wanted to be on the lookout for a large number of cars blocking the road! That would mean there was bound to be a Big Five animal nearby. After driving in the park for almost two full days, we couldn't get over the complete absence of any park rangers on the roads. We likewise had seen very few carcasses along the sides of the roads.
Buffalos, another of the Big Five animals, live in herds of up to 500, although old solitary bulls are often seen. The hot-tempered bulls can charge unexpectedly, and are therefore considered one of Africa's most dangerous mammals. On reading that, I was so glad we weren't any closer!
Our first sighting of waterbucks was in the far west of the park near Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. Their lyre-shaped, forward pointing horns and a white ring around the derriere made them unmistakable. When they're pursued, they often seek shelter in water. Waterbucks live in small herds, in medium to tall grass and hilly areas close to water.
The eco-zone around the rest camp, called Pretoriuskop Sourveld, had rolling granite plains with tall grass growing in deep, sandy soils. For the first time since being in the park, we saw a small hill called Shabeni Mountain. At just, 2,500 feet high, it looked little more than a molehill to us as we're so used to Colorado's Rocky Mountains! Even so, it was a welcome change from the bush and grassland we had been seeing.
Tourists enjoying an afternoon game drive in the park as we made our way east toward Skukuza, one of the biggest rest camps in the park.
Wonder what this bird was we saw at the Nyamundwa Look-out point?!
These, I think, were Saddle-billed Storks.
Another Egyptian Goose that we had seen this morning.
Sorry - I was only able to take photos of these baboons from the rear. NOT the most attractive view, I agree!
Almost completely hidden in the brush was this male kudu, identifiable by his long, spiraling horns. When kudus feel threatened, they hide or freeze motionless between trees. Kudus browse leaves, shoots and trees' seed pods.
As we headed slowly back south from Skukuza to Crocodile Bridge, we caught sight of this young bushbuck. This area was supposed to be one of the 'best' areas in which to spot wildlife in the entire park.
This was the first turtle or was it a tortoise we saw? I must admit to not knowing the difference between the two.
When we then saw these two female lions, it meant that we had seen the Big Five animals all in one day - yeah!! I couldn't believe our luck being so close to them and getting such great pictures. As you can see, I did go just a little crazy taking pictures of them!
Once we finally pulled ourselves away from the lions, we drove on apiece before coming across more vervet monkeys in the road.
It was so adorable seeing this mum and baby together.
After driving for nine straight hours with only a 20 minute pit stop, it was heavenly to finally return to Crocodile Bridge Safari Lodge at 6 and relax by the pool. As I mentioned at the beginning of the previous post, the lodge and its amenities were all that anyone could have wished for.
With Michelle, the wife of one of the co-owners.
Michelle and her husband, Allan: two of the most charming hosts imaginable.
Every night Michelle made an assortment of delicious side dishes and often a dessert for the guests who only had to grill their own meat on the lodge's braai or BBQ.
Having an opportunity to interact with Michelle, Allan and the other guests over dinner nightly in the open-air kitchen was the perfect ending to a long day's drive.
Posted on January 16th from Littleton, Colorado.