Today is the worst of Kruger days. A strong, cool 20℃ wind is blowing from the south and thick leaden clouds mask the sky as we follow a number of cars down the S100 Nwanetsi River road at 4.30am. Folk here at Satara are far more committed than their counterparts at Skukuza where never once did we suffer the indignity of being No. 7 in the queue at 4.25am. Everything is wrong this morning.
You regular bloggers will know that my primary objective is to photograph the wildlife and scenery of Kruger. Rushing around ticking off lion sightings is not for us so on days like today, we just accept conditions are poor and we return early to camp early.
We learn that a good friend and previous teacher at Grantleigh, Dave McGaw, is also in camp so we enjoy his company for lunch where we catch up on news.
Late afternoon, I trundle down the S100. At one point, a bird dives down onto the ground and rather mysteriously remains there with wings outspread.
At first I think it to be another Great Spotted Cuckoo but once I have my camera trained upon it, I find it to be a Little Sparrowhawk that has swooped down and made a kill of a small bird. It soon flies off carrying its trophy in its talons.
After searching for a while I eventually find him perched on a branch but he has already dispatched his catch.
Dave McGaw is joining me today and at 4.30am in more gloomy weather we head north for 16km up the H1-4 road. We then turn off left along the S127 towards the Timbavati Picnic Site where we join the S39 river road. The first part along this beautiful road has received good October rains but the further we proceed along it, the drier it becomes.
And although we travel slowly, we disappointingly see very little. Returning to the main H7 road back to Satara, we are told about a leopard up a tree 1km along the S36 road that passes the Rockvale water trough. We turn to investigate but find the leopard has just climbed down the tree and the fun is over. Just not our day.
At 3,30pm I head northward again along the main H1-4 heading north. In the light of day I find how terribly dry is the veld. There are sporadic flushes of green from the patchy October rain but generally speaking, the landscape is bleak and brown and the grass non existent. Over the 25km from Satara to Ngotso Dam I see not a single animal – nothing at all. The rains forecast for tomorrow afternoon and next week cannot come quickly enough.
In line with Sanparks policy of doing away with artificial water points, the large Ngotso dam wall has been breeched and contains no water. The object of my interest this afternoon is the S147 road which is a narrow one-way track that runs for about 8km on the east side of the (very dry) Ngotso stream.
This little road is quite outstanding following the tree lined streambed. This is also the scene of my mishap in February when I got stuck and had to walk some distance for help.
Despite the dearth of any exciting spots, I enjoyed the day as the weather improves and the skies clear this evening.
Far to the west one can make out the mountains of the Blyderivier Canyon.
As all Kruger folk know, one just accepts that some days one sees wonderful things whilst on others one sees little or nothing.
Sunny mornings always make the Sweni S126 road a good option so this morning we head there. Dave McGaw is again with us to add support. We stop at the Sweni water trough and admire the sunrise.
Kruger isn’t just about its prolific wildlife. To sit quietly in this paradise and watch the new day dawn around one is a spiritual experience in itself. We remind ourselves continually of how privileged we are to be able to enjoy it.
Nearing the Welverdiend water point, we come across a small group of ellies next to the road.
Amongst them is a little baby that is busy suckling from its mother.
It always appears odd to me that an elephant mother’s udder should be between her front legs. These ellies are surprisingly placid and allow us to sit next to them for some time.
Sweni is not on form this morning and we see little along the road. Nearing the Muzandzeni Picnic spot, it becomes evident that this area has received a really strong downpour of rain and large pools lie in the veld. In one is bathing a Burchell’s Coucal.
Breakfast in Muzandzeni with Dave McGaw for company.
Word has it that the lions have killed a buffalo on the main Satara – Orpen H7 road near so we head northward up the S36 and then eastward along the H7. Half a Km beyond Nsemani dam and group of cars indicate the buffalo kill with the carcass lying some 8m off the road and four lions concealed under nearby bushes. It is quite curious how after a kill both lions and leopards will leave the dead prey for some time before feeding off it. We quickly leave the cars to jostle and return to camp.
Weather forecaster yr.no has all week been forecasting rain at 2pm today. How they manage this is quite incredible to me as bang on schedule heavy clouds suddenly develop, a cool south wind whips up and down comes the rain. In a short space of time my rain gauge measures 13mm – not much but enough to reach the roots of the parched grasslands. Perhaps this is a forerunner to the summer rains starting in earnest.
Late afternoon the sky clears and in glorious evening sunlight we drift down the S100 Nwanetsi river road.
Dave McGaw returns to his home tomorrow and we will continue duty here at Satara until 4th December after which we move to Lower Sabie. We look forward to a refreshed Kruger tomorrow after today’s rain.