Satara 1-2nd March

Satara 1-2nd March

Friday, 1st March

The humidity is oppressive as we leave camp at 5.30am and we note huge clouds to the south. It therefore comes as no surprise when we run into a torrential downpour about 4Km’s south of the camp. We quickly do an about turn and return to our campsite in order to make it flood proof.

However this early morning rain is patchy and does not reach Satara – yet. We continue slowly along the Sweni road (S126) and at one point find the road a mass of minute 5mm newly hatched frogs. I suspect that the frogs know something that forecaster doesn’t as the latter has been forecasting no rain.

At the end of the road we head northwards towards Rockvale (S36) and soon come across a herd of a few hundred buffalo feasting off the lush grass.

It was not so long ago that the Yellow-billed Oxpecker had disappeared from Kruger mainly due to cattle dipping. On this trip I would say that these oxpeckers have happily out numbered the red-billed species everywhere in the north. I can remember once being very excited to see my first Yellow-billed Oxpecker north of Shingwedzi some twenty years ago. Now they are common.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Oxpecker

Turning east along the H7 tar towards Satara, we note a wall of black cloud to the southeast with attendant lightning and thunder.

We have no sooner reached camp when the storm hits us. Heavy thunder rolls about as the rain sluices down and the campsite is awash. After about an hour it abates and I measure 22mm in my rain gauge – nothing like what the Skukuza area experienced with +100mm falling.

At midday Renette interrupts my nap to tell me that there is a Nightjar perched outside in the bush. I rush for my camera but he is off before I can photograph him. He was no doubt flushed from his day time roost by the rain earlier.

I go out looking for birds drying out on the road but only come up with a fine Bateleur near the Nwanetsi Bridge.


After sunset we sit wondering what type of Nighjar we had seen earlier. I play the Square-tailed (Mozam) nightjar on my Roberts on the cellphone. No response. I try the Fiery-Necked that draws nothing. I then try the European Nightjar and immediately four of these large nightjars begin circling us – one coming as close as two meters to where I was sitting. Their flight and shape is not dissimilar to a large bee-eater. This is the nightjar that unusually perches parallel to a horizontal branch. Son John once brilliantly spotted one at the Siloweni Dam south of Tshokwane.

Saturday, 2nd March

This morning we go slowly down the S100 in cloudy, cool weather. This time no stops but also no leopard in the road. At the end we turn northward along the S41 past the causeways that feed Gudzani Dam.

Gudzani Stream

I just cannot see evidence of any flooding of these two streams that feed the dam so it is rather a mystery how it filled to overflowing.

The S41 road north of Gudzani East windmill

There is interest along this most beautiful road.

Black-backed Jackal

Nest building Sabota Lark
Harlequin Quail
Double-banded Sandgrouse

I was particularly pleased to get this Village Indigobird which is quite difficult to photograph.

Village Indigobird

We humans are prone to lose perspective. We were feeling a bit disappointed having not seen our favourite leopards or cheetah until we did a reality check. How can anyone spending time in this paradise dare grumble at all about anything.

Coming to the end of the S41 we turn westward along the S90. You may remember that I mentioned a month ago that this road had ankle high grass with no birdlife and precious few animals. Well that has spectacularly changed. Everywhere there is a carpet of lush meter long grass with vast herds of zebra and wildebeest enjoying the fresh growth. This is what Satara is so well known for.

Burchell’s Zebra

We come to the little oasis that is the Mavumbye Causeway and I pause to photograph this scene.

Mavumbye Causeway

At this point Renette cannot contain the pressure on her bladder any longer and slides open the side door to seek relief. Hearing a loud gasp I swing around just in time to see a large black maned lion, about 5m distant, rear up, growl and give a stare. Then together with a lioness he bad temperedly made his way to some shade in the long grass nearby. A shaky Renette forgets all about her call of nature.

Meanwhile vultures are pouring in to a spot a few hundred meters off the road and a tourist tells us that three lions are on a kill there. Meanwhile Renette’s black mane makes his way through the thick grass to join them.

And so ends a really interesting morning drive.

After our customary midday swim we decide to not go out this evening. I am using my bird caller to try and entice the European Nightjar to settle nearby for a photo. Four birds again come in and circle but none settles for long enough.