Cat House

Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa/Botswana Trip part 3 Kruger Park - 28-31 October

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We entered Kruger Park through the Crocodile Bridge gate, seeing African jacana in the river. Our only serval sighting of the trip was, unfortunately, the stuffed one at reception. Inside the gate the first sighting was - wait for it - impala!! Then scimitarbill bird, fish eagle, then we saw several cars and safari trucks pulled over. I reminded Eric this meant something good usually - we pulled off on a side road, at the head of the line - and had the best position as a cheetah walked past us. We didn't even realize how rare it was to see cheetah in Kruger (although, not as rare as seeing leopard on a boat cruise.). We then checked in to Lower Sabie, checked out their skull collection, and got safari tent #15. Wow - we could have stayed here a week! Camp birds included crested barbet and doves. We headed out again and saw a troop of baboon crossing the river (well, they mostly used the bridge like we did). We tried some back roads but they were very quiet except for birds like purple roller, yellow-billed hornbill, and magpie shrike, so we headed up towards Skukuza to the "pizza slice" of tarred roads around the two rivers there. We did see bushbuck, a large breeding herd of elephant, saddlebill stork, a skink, and hippos.

The next morning we were one of the first cars out the gate. A quick stop at Sunset Dam revealed gray heron, fish eagle, and hippos. A pair of klipspringer were posing a bit further on. Other cars stopped for a distant white rhino but we didn't, not after Umfolozi! Thus we were the second car to come across - 3 lionesses laying in the middle of the road. This video is great, as we slowly backed up to parallel them, a waterbuck came into view behind us - you can see the instant change in their demeanor. We drove by just *feet* away, with the car window open.

As we drove on, there were 3 more lions in the riverbed, including at least one young male. We saw more elephant, a hyena, and many great birds like guinea fowl, blacksmith plover, goliath heron, wire-tailed swallow, and vulture. After shopping at Skukuza, we started to head north. The same large elephant breeding herd was there, crossing the road for us - with a tiny baby! One youngster wanted to smell us. The drive north revealed fields of flowers, steenbok, rhino, and hippo. At Tshokwane picnic area, the local pests included yellow-billed hornbill, glossy starling, and vervet monkey. Mazithi Dam was a wildlife hotspot, with many buffalo and zebra and birds. After passing more elephant and a rhino, the next car jam was at Sweni River bridge - 3 male lions (sorry about the guard rail in the photo, we were good and did NOT get out of the car, unlike some others). We then checked in at Satara, a no-frills rondavel. In the afternoon we headed down the S100 gravel road. We had great general game - waterbuck, impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, buffalo. The best was a brown-hooded kingfisher killing a scorpion! Continuing down the S41 we crossed a river and saw the odd-looking black crake and a black-backed jackal. Then to the H6 and giraffe and elephant and our first ostrich and more steenbok. We quickly zipped back to the Sweni bridge, and were the last ones there as the lions got up to go out on prowl for the night. We squeaked inside the gates at closing time. In the morning we saw gray lourie in camp, with a nice sunrise and hyena right outside the camp gate. We then tried the H7 towards Orpen, photographing Burchall's coucal, giraffe, spur-winged geese, lilac-breasted roller, francolin, and grey-billed hornbill. After some mongeese, Eric spotted hyenas some ways off the road on a kill, and then followed snorting impala to - another jackal. The only "cat" was this leopard tortoise. We hung out at the dam on the way back, watching male elephants get their day's mud bath.
In the afternoon we headed north, a drier area, and found a secretary bird. A large herd of buffalo had many young. We were headed to Oliphant's Camp but never made it past Olifant's Bridge, one of the few places you can exit your car in the park. We watched 4 different breeding herds of elephants, swallows, hippos, and photographed: We returned via the tar road (with one major car stoppage for a VERY distant lioness sighting) to Satara and immediately entered S100 again, as it is well known for cat sightings. A slender mongoose posed nicely, and the target end of a waterbuck. Eric was quite tired from all the driving and suggested just returning to camp. I asked him to just pull over for a while while I scanned. Within a minute I said, "I have a lion!" Two black ears were peeking out over the dry grass. Soon she walked over to two other lionesses, then a male also joined the group. There was a younger cat in there too, but it was difficult to see as you can't go off-road and the grass was tall. By now we had created a traffic jam of our own, but gate-closing time was approaching. One car left, and we followed, back towards Satara. Coming around a bend, there was a Singita safari vehicle. Of course we asked what they were watching, and right next to the road in a tree was a leopard. She looked very pregnant. We left as the light was failing, but were actually back at camp with 20 minutes to spare. We should have stayed, as the other cars that left the lion sighting after us drove right past the leopard and didn't see her! In the morning we tried the S100 again - no leopard, no lion, but a nice hyena sighting. Heading south again, a fish eagle posed, and the Mazithi Dam was again a hotspot - this time, with 6 lions in a clump of grass, watching a waterbuck. Plus a sleeping male lion. The waterbirds were great - a grey egret, hammerkop, and saddlebill stork all used this hippo as a platform to catch frogs from! From there it was back through Skukuza and out past the hippos through the Paul Kruger gate.

Part 1 - South Africa/Botswana Trip
Part 2 - Hluhluwe/Umfolozi and St Lucia
Part 3 - Kruger
Part 4 - Mala Mala and Exeter Leadwood
Part 5 - Mashatu and Planet Baobab
Part 6 - Mobile Safari to Moremi, Kwai, Savuti
Part 7 - Vumbera Plains
Part 8 - Jwana Game Park, Cheetah Conservation Botswana