Thursday, 19 January 2012

Night time Predators

Our first day at Berg and Dal was busy and H-O-T with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius. As a result we spent most of the afternoon in the pool. We decided to do an afternoon drive.

At 16h30 with the temperature cooling a little bit we gathered at the reception area and boarded our 'safari-vehicle'. Raymond was our guide for the evening and he guided us strait to our very first sighting of one of the 'ugly 5'. Marabu storks in my opinion also earn a spot amongst the 'stinky 5' and the 'disgusting 5'. They defecate on their own legs in an attempt at thermo-regulation.
We also got to see the only blue wildebeest in the area. According to Raymond there used to be 3 wildebeest left in the berg and dal area but both of those have been killed by lions. Apparently it is only a matter of time until this one meets the same fate...

After that the sightings came thick and fast with warthog, elephants and yet more rhino's. We even saw a boomslag pick up some road kill. (unfortunately we did not manage a picture.)

The age old saying goes, 'red sky at night is a Shepard's delignt'. We spent some time trying to take some artsy pictures of the beautiful evening sky.

Besides the spectacular sunset the animal sightings kept on coming...
and some very relaxed looking impalas.

The highlight of our trip was the 2 predator sightings. The first being 8 lions. These guys seemed very interested in something just outside of our line of sight. All of them were looking in the same direction. We tried and tried again to photograph just one looking in our direction.
After about half an hour of taking pictures of the back of their heads, one finally looked in our direction... Lions have black tips to their tails and black behind their ears. These are 'follow me' signs. The black tail is at exactly the right height for a cub to follow a female through tall grass. Lions are also the only cats with tassells of hair at the tips of their tails.

On our way back to camp we came across one more predator. Hyenas. :) They were very relaxed and one of them had a suckling cub with it. It looked really big and I am sure is almost weened.
The spotted hyena is arguably the most successful large carnivore in Africa because it is both a proficient hunter and scavenger. Hyenas are extremely mobile and will travel up to 70km in a night to access food if need be. Unlike other carnivores, hyena cubs are born with their eyes open, canines fully erupted and aggressive tendencies intact.

After a wonderful drive we made it back to camp and fell asleep with the sounds and smell of the African bush.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Berg en Dal Bliss Day1

21 December 2011, the first official day of our holiday, but our 3rd day away from home. :) (Slow and steady wins the race.)

We got out of bed at 04h30, made coffee and packed the leftover braaivleis. We gathered all our belongings and headed for the gate. There were no ques and by 05h37 we were in the park.

Before we left I did extensive research and according to my gathered information campers are allowed to check in at 09h00 in the morning. This means that we had a good three and a half hours of early morning game viewing before checking in and the arduous task of pitching the tent.

First animal we saw was a couple of beautiful kudu's.
When threatened, the kudu will often run away rather than fight. Wounded bulls have been known to charge the attacker, hitting the attacker with their sturdy horn base rather than stabbing it. Wounded females can keep running for many miles without stopping to rest for more than a minute. They are great kickers and are capable of breaking a wild dog's or jackal's neck or back. They are good jumpers and can clear a 5-foot fence from a standing start.

A mutualistic relationship has evolved between Dwarf Mongooses and hornbills, in which hornbills seek out mongooses in order for the two species to forage together and warn each other of nearby birds of prey and other predators.

These cute carnivores are often found around old termite mounds, their favourite place to sleep. We saw a lot of them in the Berg and Dal area especially in the campsite where they scurried around tents and trailers looking for discarded food.

Rhino's was on the menu again! This time they were completely relaxed and we parked the car and had some coffee with the family unit.

The big male was clearly the head of his family, but he did try and play a little hide and seek with us.

First he tried hiding behind a bush...

Then he decided a nearby tree was a better option...

He finally decided to give up the fight and had a lie down with his family...
After a while all three got really restless and started standing up and walking around! We could not figure out what alarmed them. Stiaan was convinced that they could smell the coffee, or maybe they wanted a bite from our 'braaibroodjies'. Finally we saw the reason for their restlessness.

A group of hikers on their morning walk was standing only a couple of meters away. They were all really quiet and since Rino's have really bad eyesight they settled down again after a couple of tense minutes I am sure. :) (would loved to have been in that group!)

As we drove away from the Rhino's a car coming from the front flagged us down. It was a young lady and possibly her mother. They warned us that there was some really cheeky elephants next to the road up ahead and one of them had already mock charged a couple of cars.

When we arrived we could see a commotion in the road ahead. We stopped to take a bum-shot of some less-cheeky elephants and then sneaked onto a side road away from the action. (I had no intention of challenging a big male elephant in a bad mood!)
The side road turned out to be an excellent idea as it lead to more Rhino's!!!
These boys were right next to the road, unfortunately we could not get a good picture because of the long grass. The sound however was absolutely amazing and something I will never forget. To hear them munching away was really special. I could not believe how loud it was. You could hear, see and smell how much they enjoyed their breakfast! I just hope that my children would also be able to experience this one day.
The buffalo's hiding in the grass proved to be a bit of a challenge to try and photograph even though they were really close. :) We did however manage to get a whole lot of different bum-shots on a variety of animals.



and another Elephant, this one without a tail. :) Apparently elephants sometimes loose their tails when they hold on to each other as they walk. Maybe that is what happened to this one.

We did manage to get a nice head-shot of a Rhino. Just look at those huge ears. All the better to hear you with my dear...
Community nest spiders make large untidy web constructions that superficially resemble bird's nests. Many spiders, including males, females and young , live together on the web but each may recline into a separate one of the many tunnels and chambers present. Part of the web is designed to entrap prey, which is immediately overcome by a hunting group of the community nest spiders which drag it back to the retreat where it is shared by all the members of the nest. Community nest spiders can be fairly large, up to 2cm, but they are harmless.

Of course we saw some birds, lots of them actually. This purple-headed turaco (I think) whas the highlight and the only bird we managed a picture of. :) The turaco family has some pigments that are unique to them. This includes a green pigment called turacin. The green in the turaco's feathers is the only green caused by an actual pigment. All other greens in birds' feathers are caused by either tyndal scattering or a combination of yellow and black pigment in the feathers.
We finally arrived at Berg en Dal Camp at around 09h15 that morning. We had a very friendly and efficient check in and then started the search for a camp site. Eventually we found one (not by the fence) but at least we had 3 out of the 4 things we really wanted. Shade, a braai and electricity! Not bad. Pitching the tent was slow going as it was very hot (yes at 09h30 in the morning.) Most of my jobs are inside the tent whitch was by now a large oven! Finally an hour and a half later we rewarded ourselves with a swim and a beer!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Holiday Magic Part 2

We are still on our first little drive through the Kruger. :)

This giraffe was beautifull, so relaxed and so close to our car. Giraffes are classic browsers, their long necks giving them access to the highest follaige. They do however bend down to pick up bones or soil that they chew to supplement calcium and phosphorus that is lacking in their diet. This is called osteophagia and geophagio respectively.

I have to confess that Stiaan and I started this trip as non-birders, BUT the feathered creatures of the bush have the tendency to grow on you. By the end of the trip we were spending a lot of time looking up in the sky or scruitinising small branches. Prior to this trip ALL ground birds would be promptly identified as 'boshoenders' a.k.a bush-chickens. This year at every bird sighting we would screech to a halt and out would come the cameras and books. We ID'ed the firs bird as and the second as a shy Red-billed hornbill. Any help and corrections will be more than welcome as we are a couple of Green-hornbills when it comes to birds. :)

I often think that the abundance of Impala in the Kruger is a shame. Because there are so many of them very few people stop to really look at these magnificent annimals.
There are a lot of elephants in the Kruger Park. In fact there are about 8000 to many! If you think that an adult bull elephant consumes 300kg of food each and every day you can understand why so may there are so many broken trees around and a fully grown bull elephant will expell 155kg of dung each day. That explaines the neetly formed grass packages all over the roads. :)
The short afternoon drive was turning out to be quite spectacular. This was Stiaans very first trip to the Kruger Park and I could see that already he was hooked for life. On that very first day we stopped for everything. We took pictures of everything and when we got home we discussed every sighting untill the wee hours of the morning.

We saw quite a few Grey Loeries during the first few days. These birds are clumsy in flight, but very agile as they moove from branch to branch. It was very difficult to get a clear shot.
Glossy starlings are some of the most striking birds in the Lowveld.

Their feathers have an iredescent sheen that shimmers with hues of blue, green and purple. Remarkably, this effect is not caused by pigmentation and in fact glossy starlings have no colour pigment in their feathers at all. The colourful effect is created by the manner in which the keratin (structural material that makes the feathers strong) is layered. As light falls on the feathers, these keratin layers reflect different wavelengths of light differently.
I told you we took pictures of everything! We even snapped this sossage tree. The fruit is used in an array of traditional magico-medicinal treatments. The unripe fruit is used to cure syphilis and rheumatism. The powdered form is applied to skin sores, ulcerations and acne. Boiled the bark and fruit can cure stomach complaints. The powdered fruit improves milk productuin in lactating woman and will fatten up your baby if you rub it into its skin. The fruits are often strung up in tribal huts to ward off whirlwinds and red dye can be extracted by boiling the fruit.
The best part of the day came very unexpectedly. I was busy studying the map when all of a sudded Stiaan started making weird noises. I looked at him like he was crazy! He pointed into the road... and there he was!
The largest, most beautifull rhino I have ever seen.
I was devastated that I missed his entire crossing. I only saw him when he already reached the opposite side of the road. He walked off into the bush and refused to turn around. This bum-shot was all we saw of him. 
I was elated at seeing my favourite animal, but very disappointed that I missed the first part of his crossing. I was just about to start sulking when I saw the last of the mohecans poke his head through the bushes right next to me.

Now it was my turn to make funny noises! I elbowed Stiaan in the ribs and pointed. This rhino sauntered across the road allowing us a good view. Excited chatter erupted in the car. The smile remained on my face well into the night, but also some sadness. How can people harm these stately creatures. Already in 2012   11 rhino's have been killed in the Kruger National park. In 2011 a record number of rhino's have been poached and 2 sub-species of rhino have been announced to be officially extinct. I wish I could personally strangle every single poacher in the world, weather he is on the top or the bottom of the piramed, I don't care. This has to STOP!! 
That day we crossed the crocadile river back to Malelane with big smiles and a little sadness. Tomorrow we will be back, but so will the poachers...