Birds of Kruger

White-fronted bee-eater
White-fronted bee-eater

One of my favourite things about Kruger is the amazing variety of birds found in the bushveld; absolute heaven for a self-confessed bird nerd. The interesting perches chosen by the birds add to the photographic potential.

The use of the rolling hide (aka your car) is great for many birds as they are much less wary than they would be of someone on foot. The only hassle is when you come across birds like the spurfowl; often only visible when on the road, they are quite tricky to capture as they are too close and at an odd angle. Here I’ve tried a close-up portrait, with a background layer of the birds disappearing into the long grass.

One disappointment bird-wise was only seeing vultures from a distance; for example, this large group circling, possibly over a kill, well away from the roads.The waterbirds were more cooperative; the Egyptian goose posed beautifully on one leg and the Hamerkop provided some interesting action while trying to land on a vanishing hippo – see one of my previous posts for more on that .

My last two images were taken at places where you can get out of your vehicle. The barbet was playing hard to get, so this was the best I could manage. In contrast, the hornbills are fairly tame and quite easy to photograph at picnic sites.


Watery wildlife

Coy baby hippo
Coy baby hippo

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.

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.

Kruger elephants

Elephant swinging trunk in river bed
Elephant swinging trunk in river bed

This young elephant gave us a bit of an uneasy moment when it started shaking its head and trunk. They were quite close and moving towards where we were stopped on the causeway, level with the river bed. Luckily it was just having a bit of a shake. The small herd crossed just in front of the car; quite a memorable experience. I’m really happy to have captured the moment without missing a bit of foot or trunk. After this they were too close for my big lens – sometimes you just have to enjoy the scene and forget about taking photos for a bit. The images below were taken after they had passed the car and were heading back into the bush.

I have decided to abandon the ‘daily diary’ I was doing for my posts. Instead this post is all about the ellies. We were treated to quite a number of elephant sightings in our week in the park – not a problem as they are one of my favourite animals. Often they were at waterholes or in what seemed like dry river beds, digging below the surface to get at the water. They like to play too, chucking mud and water everywhere. This group had a couple of cute babies with them.

Elephants can be quite destructive eaters – not surprisingly, they have huge appetites to match their size. Watching this elephant demolish very unappetizing-looking branches was impressive. They also use their tusks to cause a fair amount of damage to the bark of many trees.

Birds and buffalo

A very pretty Mourning dove in camp at Satara
A very pretty Mourning dove in camp at Satara

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.

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.

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.

Vultures settling in a tree at sunset
Vultures settling in a tree at sunset

Misty morning in Kruger

Sleepy spotted hyena on a misty morning
Sleepy spotted hyena on a misty morning

We were all up bright and early on our first morning in the park – except it wasn’t really very bright at all, rather it was misty and quite gloomy for the first couple of hours. Undeterred we set off along a dirt road toward the N’wanetsi picnic site, and were rewarded with a few interesting sightings,such as a small group of sleepy Spotted hyena. Photography was a bit challenging in the light conditions, so I missed getting anything decent of the Ground hornbill group we came across. The spider webs in the mist were fun to capture, and by the time we saw the zebra it was a bit lighter.

A pair of Bateleur eagles made great subjects – such majestic birds (and so easy to identify, unlike many other raptors!). At N’wanetsi, we could get out and stretch our legs, and enjoy the view over a river and towards the Lebombo Mountains. I took the opportunity to stalk a few birds – I’m really happy with the bulbul on the aloe stalk as I could get a lovely soft background by virtue of being high up. Clean backgrounds were not always easy in the park as you are constrained by having to stay in your car most of the time. Of course, getting clean backgrounds behind a giraffe’s head is not so difficult as it is way above most of the vegetation.

The trip back to camp was not too fruitful – the lone wildebeest pretty much sums it up. I did capture one of the ubiquitous Lilac-breasted rollers, illustrating my struggles with busy backgrounds in the process.

Afternoon drive to Satara

Afternoon drink at the waterhole
Family drink at the waterhole

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.

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.

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.

We made it the camp just in time for sunset.

Satara camp at sunset©Jennie Stock – Nature in focus
Rondavels in Satara at sunset

Golden first day in Kruger National Park

Backlit kudu doe in Kruger
Backlit kudu doe in Kruger

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.

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.