Lower Sabie Rest Camp
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Today, we needed to drive south to the Skukuza Camp, about 60 miles (about 100 km). Our group was using cash to pay for fuel, groceries, and restaurants/take-aways. Although there are ATMs in each Rest Camp, none of them were working. In fact, we became quite amused by the phrase "It is broken", as that was the excuse for just about everything in the rest camps that was not functioning properly.
Anyway, there is a bank at Skukuza where we could get cash to carry us through a couple more weeks since we learned we couldn't rely on the ATMs in the park.
We left Satara as soon as the gates opened at 5:30 a.m. and headed south. Within just a few minutes, we came upon two lions with a fresh Wildebeest kill not far from the road. We were the first ones on the scene and had a great vantage point.
Warning: The next series of photos is not for the squeamish.
The lions - it appeared to be an adult lioness and a sub-adult - were lying next to their kill panting.
We watched as the adult eventually got up and walked around the carcass. On the far side, she stopped and scraped dirt like a house cat covering up something in a litter box. Was she trying to cover up a scent or something else?
She walked around the front, passing the Wildebeest and walking over to the younger lion which we assumed was sub-adult cub.
She nuzzled the cub with what seemed to be some silent lion communication, and then she slowly sauntered away.
Shortly after the lioness left, the younger one walked over to the Wildebeest, where it paused on the back side and stared at us for a few seconds before approaching the the underbelly which had been ripped open.
The young lion lied down and began feeding, ripping at the entrails and soft tissue and burying its head in the body cavity.
When it had its fill, it walked away ... it's face covered with blood.
As we marveled at what we had just had the privilege to witness, we could hear a lion roar in the distance. And we could see a Black-backed Jackal far in the background waiting for its opportunity to pick at the lions' kill.
That was an amazing start to our day.
Eventually moving on, we came upon a Wildebeest, and we had to wonder if it had just lost a family member.
Next, we got a great look at a Burchell's Coucal, a cuckoo species that is sometime called the "Rainbird" due to its tendency to sing just before a rain. In learning about this bird, I read many times "it is more often heard than seen". We had just seen one the day before, but this is a much better photo and, apparently, a fortunate sighting.
After that, we had our first sighting of a Common Duiker ram.
We went from the small antelope to the tallest animal in the world, the Giraffe.
After spending a lot of time with the lions first thing this morning, we were getting pretty hungry, so we were all quite ready when we pulled into the Tshokwane Picnic Site. After enjoying their wonderful "bush breakfast", I took some photos of the monkeys and baboons that were hanging around.
This large male Vervet Monkey, kept people away from one picnic table.
There were also a couple of females nursing tiny babies.
And this Chacma Baboon had claimed a table and seemed to be waiting for someone to serve him.
With our bellies full, we continued southwest toward Skukuza.
We were excited to get our second look and first photos (although obstructed) of a Nyala bull.
The Nyala bull and the Kudu bull are very striking, majestic animals. The Nyala has a longer, darker coat while the the Kudu is lighter and its horns tend to be longer with more of a corkscrew look.
The females of the two species are more difficult to tell apart as the female Nyala is lighter than the male.
Interestingly, so I have read, is the Nyala is considered the cut-off on whether a male antelope is called a bull or ram and a female is called a cow or ewe. A Nyala male and anything larger is called a bull while anything smaller is called a ram. A female Nyala is smaller than the male and is called a ewe (as is anything smaller), while any larger female antelope is called a cow. I was quite confused about these different terms, so that helped.
As we approached Skukuza, we crossed a bridge where there were two species of kingfishers sitting on the railing. We have the Giant Kingfisher on the left below and the Pied Kingfisher on the right. Both were new sightings for us.
Next, we got a distant look at a pair of the very small, cute, rock-loving Klipspringers.
Here is a Bushbuck ram.
The day just kept getting better with the sighting of a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills. The one in front with the red is a male adult and the other is a juvenile.
These are the largest of the hornbill species, and they have a worldwide "Vulnerable" status. However, they are "Endangered" in South Africa, and they are one of the "Big Six Birds" to look for in Kruger. This sighting gives us five of the six in our first week in the park - Southern Ground Hornbill, Martial Eagle, Saddle-billed Stork, Kori Bustard, & Lappet-faced Vulture. All we are missing is the Pel's Fishing Owl, and that would be a fantastic sighting if we are lucky enough to see one.
I took lots of pictures of the photogenic male.
Well, that was an exciting morning. Finally, we made it to Skukuza where we got our cash at the bank, purchased thirty minutes of internet time to upload photos, and had lunch.
I, of course, walked around taking photos. I found a pond with a lovely lily blooming.
Over the pond was a colony of Lesser Masked Weavers. The males build the intricate hanging nests and wait for a female to approve them. If the female likes the nest, she'll line the interior and add her finishing touches before laying a clutch of eggs.
We watched as this male displayed while hanging from his nest, apparently indicating it was ready for inspection.
Soon, a female came and did her inspection.
It's very cool to be able witness behaviors we've read about. Now, we don't know if she approved this nest as she didn't stay long and we didn't see her return, but perhaps she was gathering material to start her improvements.
We started our return trip to Satara and were happy to get a close-up view of this rhino.
On down the road was a trio of Warthogs.
We made a brief stop at a pond where we saw this unusual bird, a Hamerkop.
Back at Satara Camp, we discussed our day and rested up for our evening. We had signed up to do a "Bush Braai" which is a guided evening drive outside the camp and dinner at a picnic site prepared by a chef on-site.
We loaded up in an open-air safari vehicle.
We had a driver and an armed guard, and soon we were off.
On our drive, we saw a Waterbuck, a Giraffe, an Elephant, a herd of Impala, and some Kudu cows feeding.
We also got glimpses of several other animals like Zebras, Cape Buffalo, Wildebeest, and more.
When it got dark, we encountered a pride of lions with a couple of small cubs.
When we arrived at the picnic site where they had paper bag lumenaires lighting our path to a table set with tablecloth, place-mats, dishes, stemware, and candles.
Our table was right on the edge of the bush, so we didn't wander too far. It was a bit nerve-wracking considered our last sighting before arrival was a pride of lions AND the smell of steak cooking was wafting out to a bunch of carnivores with a really good sense of smell.
This was certainly NOT just a casual dinner under the stars at your local zoo. There was legitimate danger. Yes, we had our armed chaperone, but any noise in the bushes snapped us to attention. We all had our flashlights (torches), and we scanned the edges of the picnic site every few minutes.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed the unique experience and our wonderful dinner.
On they drive back, Tony had one spotlight and I had the other as we searched for animals.
We spotted a couple of Spotted Hyenas, ....
a Serval wild cat (new for us), a Small Spotted Genet (another wild cat and another new species for us), and two of the biggest Porcupines we've ever seen.
We agreed with Jackie's assessment, "It really is a different world out here at night".
Wow. What a day! Again, we just never know what we'll see when we leave the camp, and we haven't been disappointed yet as we've wrapped up our first week in Kruger National Park.