Saturday, 16th February
Vodacom went on the blink yesterday evening and I was not able to complete my diary. We went down the very damp Kanniedood road and in a thicket we heard a most familiar song. A little investigation revealed a White-browed (Heuglin’s) Robin-chat surely one of the most beautiful of all the songsters.
Click below to listen – sound on.
For non-birders this may be a little tedious. I subscribe to the SA Rare Bird News group who distribute information of recent sightings of rare birds throughout the country. Yesterday I had a report that a Golden Pipit had been seen on the ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ loop road (S143) down towards Mopane Restcamp. We seize the opportunity and in light drizzle we set off at 6.30am down the main H1-6 road southward.
Travelling next to the Shingwedzi river we note that it is now flowing strongly and one of these enormous rain clouds that have been floating around must have passed through the catchment area out west. After a promising start, the rain fizzled out at Shingwedzi and we recorded only 38mm over the past three days.
Travelling southward, the transformation of the veld has been spectacular. Grass is sprouting everywhere and everything looks well soaked and lush.
We come across a big male lion snoozing on the road but he soon moves off. Somehow cats always come as a bit of a surprise up here.
We turn off left after 50 Km’s and the ‘twitchers’ are then held up by a strolling ellie before turning on to the S143 road.
We soon realise that this road has turned into something not short of spectacular. It is very flat but soon the mopane gives way to open grasslands that are bristling with activity. These waterlogged basalt flats are fertile and rich attracting herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, tsesebe, jackals and many birds. The most striking of these are the White Storks that are here in their thousands striding through the grass and feeding continually.
These are the storks that migrate from Europe where they often nest on top of chimneys.
This is a photo that I took five years ago of a vast flock of White Storks circling over these very same plains.
However, our goal lies towards the end of the road and a passing twitcher informs us that the Golden Pipit is present again this morning. I must explain that this bird comes from Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia and is a very rare vagrant to South Africa. To date only 21 birds have ever been recorded here despite the vast army of twitchers that prowl the country. So we are quite worked up to see him. We reach the end of the road and oh my goodness, a youngster in another car gesticulates wildly and there is our quarry perched next to the road. However, before I can photograph him he is off and lost to view. We are determined to stay the whole day if necessary but after twenty minutes I find him on a bush right next to us before he dives down onto the road verge and I get my photos. How thrilling. This is by far the rarest bird that I have ever photographed and what a thrill it gives me.
Buoyed by our success we begin to make our way back to Shingwedzi across the plains that are absolutely seething with birds and animals.
What an incredible place and what a difference good rains make. The miracle of Africa has transformed what was a sterile landscape a fortnight ago into a frenzy of activity.
Back in camp I download my photos and note that my photographed bird species tally now stands at 494. I must work hard to top the 500 mark.
At the swimming pool we learn that Punda Maria has had 65mm of rain over the past few days and that the Luvuvhu River flooded. You will know that we felt a little short changed over our Punda stay because of the heat and drought. So we have decided to do a day trip there tomorrow leaving at 5.30am and hopefully catching up with some things we lost out on. With Vodacom on the blink we cannot access the internet for blogging and weather forecasts so our plans may alter from our scheduled move to Letaba on Monday. This is an advantage of caravanning when one can easily make impromptu moves and changes – especially in summer.
The sun comes out at 2pm and I mention at the pool that the rain may be over. “Not on” says someone with internet, “they are predicting more general rain this coming week”. Which is probably true because we stay in camp this evening and cook an early supper as the sky darkens again and heavy thunder rolls in. One of the joys of caravanning is constantly meeting like-minded, lovely people – especially in the summer months when people come to Kruger for the right reasons. Campers are always well behaved and considerate and if I think back on all the time we have caravanned here, I can only once remember a rude character at Skukuza in a campervan.
Our lifestyle here is just superb. Absolutely no stress, good physical exercise, non-stop entertainment and every comfort we could hope for. It is thrilling to know that we have such a haven in our lives.