South Africa pt.2 – October 2018

After enjoying a brief stop at Satara rest camp (where we would stay the night later in the trip) where we watched the Tree Squirrels, Southern Red-billed Hornbill and the big views over the mostly dry riverbed, we pressed on north towards Olifants rest camp where we would sleep next. Lilac-breasted Rollers, Giraffes, Burchell`s Zebra were frequently seen. Then we saw the first Black-backed Jackal and a small number of Kori Bustard.

Not far from the Olifants River we saw another African Wild Dog! Like before, it was deep in dense layers of branches, and a second dog soon became apparent. Just occasionally numerous shaggy white tails could be glimpsed beyond the two dogs. One of the two original dogs stood up and came out into the open to lie down in the sun alone. Thirty-five minutes later the second dog came and led down beside it. Both gave excellent views and I was so happy to see them like this. Then it went crazy. That distant mass of tails came running out towards us, and before we knew it we were surrounded by an entire pack of chattering, squeaking dogs, wagging furiously, exhibiting all kinds of bonding and hierarchical behaviours. The scene was so chaotic that I didn’t even count the dogs, but I’d guess at somewhere around 20. At a cue that I must have missed, the atmosphere changed, the dogs fell silent, and one dog took the clear lead as the pack’s heads dropped low as they set off in formation towards the Olifants. I was able to drive such that I kept up with the pack, and on reaching the river they had their sights set on a group of Waterbuck. I moved the car to the bridge that overlooks the river from where we enjoyed a tactical view of the whole scene. With just a small stretch of water separating them, a standoff began as the sun began to set. The male Waterbucks stayed between the dogs and the herd. This continued for a while until the younger dogs apparently started to lose interest and get distracted by each other, and it became clear that the hunt would not conclude successfully. This time with the dogs lasted for about three hours in all and would be the most memorable mammal experience of the entire trip. We headed off quickly to Olifants camp.

Olifants River

We’d arrived just in time to see the vast view of the Olifants River before the light completely went, and also just in time to witness what would provide the entertainment at dusk for three consecutive evenings. From the roof-space of various buildings in the camp, thousands of bats audibly grew in excitement until in one mass flock they would all fly over the valley to feed joined by a number of what I presumed to be Fiery-necked Nightjar. This triggered the appearance of a Wahlberg`s Eagle which would hunt on the bats in the low light, along with the elusive Bat Hawk. Sadly I didn’t have the camera with me for this first performance, and I failed to see the Bat Hawk on consecutive evenings.

The next morning we didn’t leave the camp until 8am, when I’d already been enjoying the view over the river, watching the raptors soaring above the slopes of the valley, Goliath Herons hunting and Hippos grazing before the sun got too hot. We went for a walk along the river’s edge where we had excellent views of more Hippos, Nile Crocodiles, Wire-tailed Swallows and Yellow-billed Stork.


Back at the camp more birding time produced African Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bushshrike, vultures, eagles and kites, then we headed off in the car to Timbavati. The usual cast of birds and mammals were easily seen along the way, but the first most striking new bird was the Ostrich, but this was quickly superseded by two White Rhinoceros just a couple of minutes later. They were about as close to the track as I was comfortable with and I made sure to keep the engine running and in gear but managed some reasonable photos. Another Black-backed Jackal crossed the track as we made our way back towards where we’d seen the Ostrich. On the way back to camp we encountered some Common Warthog which gave nice views and, as the sun went down, we chanced upon a Hyena feeding her two pups. We made it back to camp just in time for the bat emergence.

Back out after dark we quickly saw a Double-banded Sandgrouse. Heading for a ford over the Olifants near Balule we spotted eye-shine on a small grassy island in the river, not far from the track. It turned out to be a Pel’s Fishing Owl which had just caught a large Barbel. It was close enough that I was able to take a couple of frame-filling photos with the flash. This was an exceptional sighting given that this year there were only two breeding pairs recorded in the entire Kruger. Later on, we’d see the first Spring Hare, more Spotted Hyena and a perched Fiery-necked Nightjar.