Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Day 6: Letaba

Saturday 1st August 2009

After the exertions of the previous day, there was no way that Izzi was getting out of bed before 8:00, so Harriet and I wandered down to the Letaba river to watch the sunrise.

After breakfast of bread and marula jam, by which time the sun was well risen, we all set off for a morning's drive south towards Satara. I've included the following pictures to illustrate what happened to the camera which Harriet took with her. Izzi "borrowed" it for much of the time (and took some very good shots with it too). Look out for them in the children's section of the CCC annual exhibition in October!

As always we stopped off at the occasional watering hole to see what was happening (usually nothing, but with the occasional crocodile or hippo). Other highlights of the morning included zebra, wildebeest, open-billed stork (unsure of this one) and vulture (both white headed and lappet-faced).

In all my postings (and comments about how common the pala pala are), I realise that I have forgotten to show a picture of probably the commonest thing we saw in Kruger Park: namely Swainson's francolin. They're about the size of chickens, and there are literally dozens of them running about, squawking happily to themselves. There are several different types of francolin in the park (I've already shown a picture of the crested francolin in a previous post), but after a while we gave up trying to tell the difference; instead they all became known collectively as "Benjamins" (think about it). A phrase which I read in the bird book 10 years ago (the last time I went to Kruger) has stuck with me, and it refers to the Swainson's francolin: flies reluctantly. Seems to say it all!

In the heat of the day most of the animals retired to the shade, so I was reduced to photographing trees - in this case a couple of specimens which had been subjected to the elephant treatment. Being so destructive, it's really no surprise that the number of elephant within the park (and outside it too, for that matter) is causing real concern.

The occasional tree was playing host to some wildlife, however - in this case a giraffe tucking into the uppermost branches of an umbrella thorn (a type of acacia).

Just before lunch we spotted a black speck in the distance, and it turned out to be an ostrich. I took plenty of shots of this wretched bird, but very few are any good. As well as being perpetually on the move, the head provides such a small target for focusing that it's almost impossible to get sharp pictures. The heat haze didn't help either (it was about 12:30).

We had an excellent lunch in the cafeteria at Satara, and much to Izzi's relief I avoided being told off by the rangers on this occasion. Mind you I was on pain of death...

On the way back to Letaba we saw some kudu near a river. Interestingly, the big brave male watched us suspiciously from behind a bush while the females were perfectly happy to come out into the open to take a look.

As the sun went down we were treated to other memorable sightings that afternoon. Firstly we spotted a pair of cori bustard walking through the grass (tall birds, standing at about 1m). This was the first time I'd seen the male and female together, and wanted to take a picture which showed both of them. As luck would have it they eventually walked past us, one behind the other - and, more importantly, in the same focal plane! - meaning that I was able to get both of them sharp.

Later on we spotted something lying in the shade of a tree, although we could easily have missed it given the quality of the camouflage. It turned out to be a hyaena taking an afternoon nap.

The real highlight of the afternoon was seeing a train of elephant approaching the car from the side. The late afternoon light and the apparent symmetry of their movements resulted in an unforgettable spectacle, although we did cause them a bit of a problem by parking at the exact point where they were going to cross the main road. One of the juveniles took exception to this, but otherwise the herd just ambled past quietly behind us.

Before returning to Letaba we made one last detour to the elephant carcass, just in case anything interesting was going on. The site was deserted, though, and on closer inspection it's clear why: there was virtually nothing left to eat! By this time the elephant had been dead for about 5 days...