South Africa pt.3 – October 2018

Arid landscape near Olifants camp

Setting off from Olifants, a very early morning produced little wildlife (a few impala and a couple of zebra) but we did see an Aardvark burrow and nearby diggings. After a bit of birding back at the camp we drove north to Letaba. White-crested Helmetshrikes were the first new birds of that outing. Pulling in to an area that gave a nice view over the Olifants a Crested Barbet perched next to us and gave superb views for a few minutes. Closer to Lataba we came across a solitary adult male Lion some distance from the road. He was clearly struggling with the heat as much as we were, but was looking well fed. Much nearer to the track was the remains of a partially eaten buffalo. He was clearly staying in the vicinity of the carcass to protect it until he’d finished with it. We drove on to the rest camp at Letaba where we saw Fork-tailed Drongo, Tree Squirrels and Nyala amongst others.

We took the same route back towards Olifants. On reaching the buffalo carcass, the Lion had emerged from the trees and was now lying right next to his kill. Only a brave Greater Blue-eared Starling dared venture anywhere near it. Despite the stench that must have been coming off it, nothing else was coming for that carcass while the Lion remained. We were doing really well for Lion sightings, but apart from the all too brief African Wildcat sighting back near Skukuza, we hadn’t seen any other cats so far. We spent an enjoyable rest of the afternoon watching various herons and warthogs along the track running parallel to the Olifants.

Greater Blue-eared Starling on Buffalo carcass

Heading back out after dark we quickly saw Hyena and Steenbok but it was an otherwise uneventful outing until we reached the same bridge that we’d watched the Wild Dog drama previously. Here we found an African Fish Eagle roosting in a dead tree, while on the bridge itself were two Fiery-necked Nightjars which gave pretty good views. When we turned into the Olifants Camp Road to call it a night we found the road blocked by a pride of yet more Lions. This time 6 or 7 of them. We waited for them to silently disappear into the bush before heading back to camp.

The next morning we virtually retraced our route of the day before back towards Letaba but this time we would be continuing further north. We passed the spot where the Lion and Buffalo carcass were just 24 hours prior, but we couldn’t even find a pair of horns left behind. No doubt more lions, hyenas, jackals and vultures had been to clear up. After a brief lunch at Lataba camp we carried on towards our next camp at Mopani, stopping for whatever we could see along the way.

Pionierdam, Mopani

The Mopani camp was excellent, and I immediately wished we were able to spend more than the one night that we had scheduled for here. It’s located on a hill overlooking a huge lake which at the time was an oasis in an otherwise completely dry landscape, attracting lots of birdlife, elephants, giraffe, impala, etc. In the bushes just outside our rondavel I found Scrub Hare, mongoose, skinks and a Giant Plated Lizard. A walk along one side of the lake turned up a mixture of water birds, predominantly the Egyptian Goose, but also Black-winged Stilt, White-faced Whistling Duck, egrets and herons. Back where we started the walk we had nice views of a Bennett`s Woodpecker – this turned out to be the only woodpecker of the trip that gave us good enough views to positively identify.

Bennett’s Woodpecker

After dinner we set out again in the dark. A Black-backed Jackal was the first thing we saw followed by not very much until I spotted some very distant sets of eyes reflecting back at me. The fact that they were reflecting green made me sure it was something good, and when we got a couple of flashlights it was clear that we were looking at four Cheetah! Taking photos was going to be a stretch given that it wasn’t possible to get closer but considering the distance and the flashlights not providing enough illumination for auto-focus, and my flash not being powerful enough for the job, I think I made the best of the situation. Another highlight was a very brief Honey Badger – too quick for photos. Back at the camp I’d be told of a place where it was sometimes possible to see Honey Badger. Sure enough when I searched I did find two of them, but they were hidden by vegetation to the extent that to get a view of them it would have been necessary to effectively join them where they were feeding and squabbling with each other. I had one hand holding a flashlight, another holding camera gear that I could never hope to use properly one-handed and it was pitch black. The noises coming from the Honey Badgers were quite terrifying, at times sounding like it belonged to something more like a Lion or Hippo in size. For once, common sense and self-preservation eventually took over when I’d closed the gap between me and the badgers as much as possible. Once it become clear that the only way to see them would be to go through the bush right up to them I backed off, keeping a close eye behind me as I retreated!

The next morning we were heading further north to the Shingwedzi River which was bustling with Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks, herons and egrets, with Nile Crocodiles littering the shore and occasionally surfacing from beneath the water. There’s a camp on the river so we stopped in there for a bit before continuing north towards Punda Maria.