A new discovery for us in Kruger was the hide at Lake Panic, near the Skukuza rest camp. The light wasn’t great when we were there which made bird photography quite tricky but I did manage to capture some of the other aquatic wildlife, like this cute baby hippo and his mother, feeding in the shallows.
Mother and baby hippo
Have they gone?
Crocodile eye close-up
Some of the other inhabitants of Lake Panic were a bit more camera-shy, just peeking their eyes out of the water. More entertainment was provided at other waterholes we stopped at, with a yawning hippo seen from the Tshokwane-Satara road and foolhardy birds trying to use a hippo as a perch at Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie.
Good sightings of elephant and buffalo quickly knocked two of the Big Five off the list, but the other three proved a bit more elusive. It was mid-week before anyone saw a cat, in the form of a rather distant leopard on the sandbank across the river from Skukuza camp, only seen by some of us who stayed in camp for a break. The next morning three of our group were lucky enough to see the leopard in the main photograph, at much closer quarters. I’m thrilled to have managed some decent images of this cat, as the light was terrible – thank goodness my camera has reasonable high ISO performance. I do love the way she is so camouflaged in the long grass. She was hunting and bolted across the road (terrible pics through the front windscreen) and soon disappeared into the thicker bush on the river edge. I hope she found some breakfast.
Where did it go?
We only realised how lucky we had been when we got back to camp for breakfast – we thought some of the others had also seen her but we’d misidentified the car in front of us! At least we all saw the white rhino the previous evening – I’m counting that as part of the Big Five even though strictly speaking I think it is meant to be a black rhino. The term Big Five refers to how dangerous the animals were to hunt on foot, so the black rhino would be more appropriate as they are much grumpier. This rhino didn’t seem very grouchy at all, having a moment with a starling on the road before drifting off into the bush. I just hope it gets to live peacefully and keep its horn – Kruger is not immune from the current rhino poaching epidemic.
White rhino with starling
Rhino in long grass
Our last tick on the Big Five list was lion – not a very exciting sighting but at least we saw them, on a sandbank next to the river on the way from Skukuza to Lower Sabie. Lazing around as is usual for lions, for all the world as if they were on a summer holiday. If you look carefully at the one on the left, it has a radio-tracking collar around its neck.
Satara is a lovely camp – we all wished for more nights there. What should have been a post-lunch siesta time was spent stalking birds, like this lovely Mourning dove, in front of the rondavels (the round thatched huts typical of Kruger). I wish I managed a better shot of the Green Wood-hoopoes; they were very busy foraging for bugs in gaps in the bark of a tree. The Red-billed buffalo weaver was much more relaxed.
Green wood hoopoe (or Red-billed) foraging for bugs
Green wood hoopoe foraging for insects
Red-billed buffalo weaver in Satara camp
During our late afternoon drive heading north from camp, we came across a huge herd of Cape buffalo. I changed to my wide-angle lens to try and capture a sense of the size of the herd. It probably would have worked better if I could have got out of the car and low down, with one buffalo in the immediate foreground – but I wasn’t going to try that. Buffalo may look a bit like cattle but they aren’t one of the Big Five for nothing! Even this one trying to scratch his head looks a bit dangerous, especially when you look at those horns closely.
Huge buffalo herd near Satara
Glossy starling showing off its shiny feathers
Cape buffalo having a scratch
We stayed out as late as we could – as ordinary tourists in Kruger you have to be back in camp when the gates close at sunset. Some vultures hanging about in a tree were intriguing but too far away to see if there was something exciting on the ground attracting their attention. I am glad I managed an African sunset shot – not bad for handheld at 250mm.
We were very lucky with elephant sightings throughout our trip. I could have spent ages watching this group drinking and splashing about at the waterhole, but we did have to keep going to make Satara before the gates closed.
Time for a refreshing drink
Drinking with a trunk is a messy business
Lovely splash of cooling mud
Catching the hippo yawning at the waterhole was pretty cool, as was this mid-tree squabble between two Tawny eagles (I think?). Never did figure out what the issue was though.
This is my tree!
Another ‘Big Five’ species we saw plenty of was buffalo, especially near Satara where the grass must be tasty. The late afternoon light was lovely to work with, as long as the animals were on the right side of the road. A Burchell’s coucal and a pair of male Waterbuck posed very cooperatively.
Our main reason for visiting South Africa last year was to celebrate my parents’ golden wedding with a family trip to the Kruger National Park, one of the oldest and largest game reserves in Africa. For my sister and I, it was a chance to share one of our more treasured childhood experiences with our own children. We used to visit the park almost every second winter, but only the eldest of the four grandchildren had been there before this trip.
We stayed in the town of Malelane for one night before heading into the park nice and early in the morning. One of our first good sightings was a small group of Greater Kudu – I love the way the back-lighting emphasises the huge ears of the doe. The young male with her didn’t have the massive horns some of the older males possess, but was still impressively stately. First stop was at the Afsaal picnic site, where we could get up close and personal with Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills and Cape Glossy Starlings while cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast.
Cape glossy starling in the sunlight at Afsaal
Young male Greater Kudu
Southern yellow-billed hornbill on the lookout for scraps.
As we headed north towards Skukuza, it began to warm up and the sightings slowed. We did get some good views of Klipspringer on a rocky outcrop, as well as seeing a couple of groups of elephants and a Red-crested Korhaan. After stopping in Skukuza for lunch and tyre repairs (one vehicle had a flat on the drive from Johannesburg), we headed towards Tshokwane, another picnic site where you can get out of your vehicle. A very tame female Bushbuck wandered around and we were entertained by one of the staff chasing a baboon out of the kiosk with the aid of a till roll and good aim. Once back in the car, the light began to improve from a photographic standpoint, allowing a lovely portrait of a female Waterbuck.