Kruger Park- through the gate

In mid-January this year, Helen and I visited the Kruger Park. We had some timeshare points which we had to use or lose before the end of January so we chose Burchell’s Bush Lodge next to the Kruger gate. At that time of the year in the Kruger Park we expected some of the days to be rainy and overcast which could bring welcome relief to the high summer temperatures.

“Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass…. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~ Vivian Green

The Kruger Park is located on the north eastern east side of South Africa, bordering on Mozambique. Kruger National park is massive, covering an area of 19,485 square kilometres. The park is about 360 kilometres long from north to south. At its widest it is 90 kilometres, west to east. This area was first protected in 1896 and declared a national park in 1926.

Despite the persistent rhino poaching problem, Kruger Park offers a diverse variety of animal and bird life with 15 different ecozones yielding rich biodiversity. January is mid-summer in South Africa, so the lowveld which includes Kruger Park can be very hot but also variable because it is the rainy season.

“Of all the roads you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ~ John Muir

We tend to steer away from the tarred roads in the park because they carry a much higher density of traffic than the gravel roads. The only problem was that several of them had been closed due to washaways from the heavy rains the week before we arrived.

“Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” Denis Waitly

The Kruger gate gave us easy access to the southern section of the park from the western side. One of the first roads we like to drive along from Kruger gate is towards the main Skukuza camp but turn right onto the Phabeni road and a few kilometres along that road we turn left onto the Waterhole road. This is a gravel road which can be quite productive and is also offers a very scenic drive.

On the waterhole road, this female Natal spurfowl was not fazed by us at all. She quietly when on preening herself in the middle of the gravel road. The female Natal spurfowl is smaller than the male and has much less pronounced spurs on the back of her orange-red legs.

“When you are in the bush your senses recover. The rain brings welcome relief. It’s coolness quenches the lowveld heat. The smell of rain on the earth carries its own memorable fragrance. The rain washes the dust from the leaves revealing a palette of green hues. The bush refreshes and you feel it.” ~ Mike Haworth.

We travelled on down to Transport dam, the site of many a dramatic wildlife sighting. We spent about half an hour just watching but it was very quiet so we moved on. It had just rained and as we were driving away from the dam we saw another female Natal spurfowl perched on a fallen tree trunk just watching the world pass by. It also seemed to be the driest place to stand.

Deciding to stay in the area, we continued down toward Pretoriuskop camp and turned right on the road which meets the Phabeni road and passes Shabeni hill. There is a drive around the granite outcrops of Shabeni which is very picturesque. We were fortunate to find several Amur falcons perched in the dead trees at the foot of Shabeni’s massive granite domes. These migratory falcons seemed to be hawking insects flushed by the rain. I have seen very few Amur falcons this summer season, which might be because so many were killed in hail storms last year. This female was suitably wet after the downpour.

On the short drive around Shabeni hill, we found large groves of Pride of de Kaap. The bushes were large and covered in a soft salmon red-orange coloured flowers with two lobed butterfly-shaped leaves. Despite its name it is usually found in the bushveld region, of which Kruger is part. This bush is named after the De Kaap valley near Nelspruit, now called Mombela at the south west toe of Kruger park in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

We found several more Amur falcons a few hundred metres from the other group. I have occasionally seen them in the Kruger in summer but never in great numbers. The female has dark brown streaks on a buff coloured chest and yellow feet. The male has a grey chest and red feet.

“I feel like the earth. astonished at fragrance borne in the air, made pregnant with mystery from a drop of rain.” ~ Rumi

My bird photography was frequently interrupted by the rain and the lower light forced me to push up my ISO or sensor light sensitivity. My subjects such as this pale flycatcher unfortunately looked quite bedraggled after being soaked. This flycatcher was also out and about because of all the insects flushed out by the rain. Flycatchers have prominent bristles protruding from the base of their bill though this one’s were not very prominent.

This foxglove-like perennial is a ceratotheca trilobia. It stood about one and half metres high and I could not resist taking photograph of it trying to capture its delicate softness which was quite incongruent in the wild grassy bush.

The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret and that we are united with all life that is in nature.” ~Albert Schweitzer

This red-billed oxpecker seemed to have lost its host. This species of oxpecker is identified by its red bill, dark brown back and creamy coloured breast feathers. It has two sharp claws facing forward and two facing backward to hang onto its host when it is moving. It also has stiff tail feathers to support while it is ridding it’s host of parasites such as ticks and flies. This bird feeds almost exclusively on what it can forage from the skin of large African mammals. It also feeds on dry skin and blood from open sores on its hosts hide. I am not sure what this character was doing sitting in the middle of the road all on its own.

A beautiful young adult zebra mare with big watery eyes and a perfectly groomed mane.

A Cape vulture perched in a dead tree in the rain. It was cool and still early enough so that thermals had not yet begun to develop. It is fascinating to watch these large scavengers waiting for the temperature to rise and the first thermals to develop before taking off to catch one to lift them for their high altitude, long distance aerial surveillance.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Given where I was raised as a child, I have a penchant for flame lilies. It is the national flower of Zimbabwe. This is the yellow variety but the most common variety has the red and yellow petals. Although very beautiful this plant has a toxic bulb. These plants prefer sandy soils and semi shade, and a degree of wind protection because they are so flimsy.

A dark morph adult tawny eagle. It was scouring the area from the high vantage point of a dead tree trunk.

A semi-adult brown snake-eagle. The adult is a pure brown colour and it also has those characteristic piercing yellow eyes.

On our way back to camp we briefly stopped at the Lake Panic bird hide and in a tree right next to the small car park was this pair of African barred owlets. The light was low and these two were trying to nap though their resting place was never going to allow them much peace.

We were concerned about going to Kruger just before the school term started but we were pleasantly surprised not to find too many people in the park. As a photographer the issue is always trying to get into the park at first light just as the park opens. At a main entrance such as Kruger gate if you are unlucky you can spend more than half an hour in a queue waiting to get an entrance permit, even if you have South African Park’s Wildcard.

“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Of course once in the park and away from the crowds of people, the quiet and the natural beauty of the bush soon settles you. After about an hour of driving we usually find a secluded spot overlooking a river to stop the car and have a cup of coffee and a rusk – idyllic. After our break we moved on, full of expectation not knowing what will be around the corner!

You cannot leave Africa” , Africa said, “It is always with you, there inside your head. Our rivers run in currents in the swirl of your thumbprints; Our drumbeats counting out your pulse; Our coastline, the silhouette of your soul”. ~ Bridge Dore

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

2 thoughts on “Kruger Park- through the gate

  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed travelling this route with you for I ‘know’ where you were driving. Those owlets are a special sighting indeed. Having grown up in the De Kaap Valley, feel the same about the Pride-of-De-Kaap as you do about the Flame Lilies.

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