Thursday, 13 August 2009

Day 2: Skukuza

Tuesday 28th July 2009

We managed t0 prise Izzi out of bed slightly earlier on the second day, and set of for an early morning drive. We did see some wildlife, but not a great deal (thereby proving to Izzi that she could have stayed in bed after all). It was quite a good morning for birds: the crested francolin; red-billed hornbill (RBHB); korhaan (a small bustard); and a tree full of lappet-faced vultures. It's difficult not to think of Disney and The Jungle Book when it comes to vultures, with the resulting expectation they that they would, at some point, burst into song...

The korhaan wasn't the only animal to cause a traffic jam that morning. A giraffe and several impala were doing a fine job too; but everything cleared when we reached the zebra crossing (ducks and runs for cover at this point!). On a serious note, many of the larger animals were carrying oxpeckers, and there are two hitching a ride on this particular zebra.

A detour to a watering hole gave us our first sightings of water buck and wildebeest (in this case with a drongo in the background). We also got a better sighting of a steenbok, which is one of the smaller antelope and rather timid.

While driving on a dirt track through some trees, having seen very little for quite a while, there was an ear-splitting cry from my spouse: stop - there's a ****ing great big bird! The bird in question (subsequently known as an "FGBB" for obvious reasons) was, in fact, a ground hornbill. It's about the size of a turkey and, although it can fly, it's mainly a ground dweller. Ground hornbills tend to walk around in family groups (there were four in this case, including a juvenile) and it's clear from the way they behaved that people have fed them from cars in the past. Not the most attractive birds in the world, but full of character - plus they do have wonderful eye-lashes!

We had to change accommodation from a rondavel to a tent, so the afternoon was spent unpacking, shopping, playing on the internet, downloading pictures etc. before getting well wrapped up for our first night drive of the trip.

The night drive set off at dusk, and we were lucky enough to see a pair of marabou stork roosting in a tree (how anyone could ever have mistaken them for butter completely beats me). Despite being ugly and ungainly birds, there was something rather fascinating about the way they were silhouetted against the sunset.

We were then taken by the ranger to an area where he hoped there were some big cats, and indeed we were lucky. First came a leopard, walking by the side of the road, which turned out to be pretty well impossible to photograph (my excuse anyway, hence the poor example below). Then came what we'd all been waiting for: a small group of lion, lounging around doing very little close to a watering hole. They didn't seem remotely worried by the searchlights on the truck or the occasional burst of light from a flashgun. Like all cats, domestic or otherwise, they simply yawned and settled down for a long hard snooze.

We then startled a couple of hippo which had gone for a quiet drink, and watched them as they walked off into the night.

Apart from a scrub hare and a fleeting glimpse of a bush baby, we saw very little else that night: so much so that the ranger had to improvise and start telling us about the stars in the southern sky in order to fill the time! On the drive back to the camp, though, we came across a lone hyaena by the side of the road.

It was very cold by the time we got back, so we warmed up by having a braai (barbecue) while listening to the rather strange and menacing noises coming from the bush, just a few yards away.