South Africa pt.5 – November 2018

After three nights at Punda Maria it was time to leave. Our destination was Phalaborwa. We first drove back to Shingwedzi which was again a really good place for watching storks and raptors on the river. We also saw a huge Rock Monitor here which, despite its size, we managed to somehow lose sight of very quickly. The closer we got to Phalaborwa, the more the landscape resembled an infinitely large plain of wig-wam shaped termite mounds, while in the distance a huge rock formation perfectly mirrored them on an epic scale. Equally as repetitious were the nests of social spiders that adorned the dried uniform vegetation everywhere.

Eventually we arrived at our hotel in the town of Phalaborwa. This was meant to be three days of rest and relaxing after what had been a fairly intensive trip searching for wildlife. The private hotel was pleasant and certainly a different level of accommodation to that provided in the rest camps. However, the town experienced power outages for about 50% of the time we were there. Although this was meant to be a break from wildlife I still had to see what birds were about and managed to see things like African Darter, Village Weaver, Paradise Flycatcher, jacanas and herons. We stayed here for three nights before heading to Satara rest camp for one final push at the wildlife before heading home.

The birding on the way was good. Eventually we reached the same bridge over the Oliphants that we’d witnessed the amazing Wild Dogs much earlier in the trip. The bridge delivered again with a Leopard relaxing against a tree in the distance on the opposite side. We scanned the river for other life, including a Nile Monitor and Yellow-billed Kites that were flying incredibly close to the bridge, all the while keeping one eye on the Leopard. The Leopard eventually stood up and starting walking towards the track that we’d just driven down. I jumped in the car and anticipated where I thought it might emerge, if indeed it continued on the path it initially appeared to be taking. It turned out I was about 10 metres out in my estimation as, after a minute or so of waiting, I looked into my rear view mirror to see the Leopard casually crossing the track right behind us. Attempts to keep sight of it didn’t last long as it quickly disappeared into the bush.

Initial distant view of the Leopard from the bridge over the Olifants

Only an hour or so later we came across two huge male Lions some distance from the road. There were clearly scraps of whatever they’d been eating left. Eventually when the Lions decided to move on they headed straight for our location, passing just feet from the car before settling not far away, giving plenty space for the vultures and Black-backed Jackal that appeared on the original location almost immediately after the Lions walked away. The afternoon carried on much like this until evening – one great sighting after another. When we finally decided to head to Satara camp the last thing we came across an Elephant with her newborn baby. It could only have been a few hours old at the most, unable to walk properly we saw it fall over at least twice, carefully righted again by its mother. As special as this was, we didn’t overstay preferring to give the new mother the privacy she needed.

On reaching Satara I immediately set up the trail camera for the second and final time. I had two targets in mind here – African Wild Cat and Honey Badger. Once it got dark it was time for an explore, and very quickly I saw an adult African Wild Cat. I was unable to take a picture, but soon afterwards came across a younger Wild Cat which I managed just a quick snap of. Leaving the camp we saw at least 5 Large Spotted Genet and 1 or 2 Small Spotted Genet, African Civet and yet more Lions. On a final walk about the camp we found an African Wild Cat kitten and a Small Spotted Genet, both of which were able to be photographed.

Battling Giraffes

The next morning we headed back towards Skukuza with various stops along the way. Having not seen one tortoise on the entire trip we saw two Leopard Tortoise within the space of an hour of each other. We also came across a pair of battling Giraffes, and our closest jackal sighting yet and some good views of some nice birds including African Wood Hoopoe, Wooly-necked Stork and Bataleur. There was just enough time for a flying visit to Lake Panic before rushing off the comfort of Skukuza airport where we handed back the trusty Toyota to the hire company and were thankful that they decided not to waste any time inspecting it. Then it was time for our flight back to Johannesburg and then another 11 hour sleepless flight to Heathrow to conclude a very enjoyable and successful trip to South Africa.

I only took one trail camera with me to South Africa, and I only set it up in two locations. Both were within rest camps. The first one was at Punda Maria and stayed in place for two days and nights. The second at Satara was in position for just one night.

The Punda Maria camera was placed with no specific target in mind just to see what would turn up. It repeatedly captured a Slender Mongoose in the daylight, Tree Squirrel and Bushbuck. At night it captured African Civet, Small Spotted Genet, Bushbaby (Thick-tailed?), Large Spotted Genet, African Giant Pouched Rat and Spring Hare.

I knew that there were African Wild Cats making use of the camp as I’d seen at least two individuals for myself, as well as a further individual just outside the perimeter fence. I set this camera up near that location pointing towards the fence. No more than 90 minutes after I set the camera up an African Wild Cat came into view. It re-appeared on a further three clips over the space of 15 minutes. No further triggers occurred at night. Once dawn arrived a number of birds visited including Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and a mix of starlings.

At the time of writing the number of species recorded totals 181. There are still quite a number of photographs that require identification, so I expect the final total to be at least a bit higher.

The fully up to date species list can be seen here.