The Most Amazing Game Viewing Day In The Kruger National Park
Game Viewing In All Its Glory – “The Cat Day”
As I write this, the fire is going, nearly ready to braai, and we can hear the faint calls of a Lion roaring in the distance. This was true magic, especially after the game viewing day we had in the southern section of the Kruger National Park today.
When we woke up to 4 different Scops Owls calling at 5am we never imagined the kind of day we were in for! As we drove through the last darkness of the day to come, we saw Impala and Burchell’s Zebra on the S100 tar road. There was a lot of Elephant activity…
We turned towards the north onto the H3, which was very quiet in terms of animal sightings, but the bird life was prolific. We captured the most beautiful sunrise too! We saw birds such as the Black-backed Puffback, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, African Hawk Eagle, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Coqui Francolins amongst other more common birds.
A few kilometers after the Matjulu Bridge, in a similar spot to where we saw the male Lion the night before (Read here), we were stopped by an OSV (Open Safari Vehicle – or game drive vehicle). He told us there were some Lions up ahead. We drove for 2 kilometers and we saw them. They were apparently in the road but had moved off, a bit too far for any photo’s unfortunately. There were 2 huge male Lions with 6 large female Lionesses. The one Lioness was collared. This was before 7am, and Aimee said this could be our cat day (We had not had much success with cats in our last few visits to the Kruger), and was she right!
We stopped at Afsaal where we saw Helmeted Guineafowl, Yellow-billed Hornbill and Vervet Monkeys.
The H2-2 Produced, Rhebok & Leopard!
We then joined the H2-2 (Voortrekker Road) towards Pretoriuskop. This would be an exceptional choice. As we started the route we saw more common bushveld birds including Streaky-headed Canary, Black-crowned Tchagra, Red-faced Mousebird and Dusky Flycatcher.
Warthog, Kudu and Bushbuck abounded, and as we approached a koppie, I thought to myself, this would be a perfect area for a Leopard. Then what happens? A female Leopard crosses the road with her cub! The cub must have been between 4 and 5 months old, it was still very small. This was a very brief sighting as they both disappeared into the thick vegetation. We looked and scanned the area for a while but could not see them. Right and place and right time strikes again!
To top off the H2-2 we saw a Grey Rhebok standing in the road! This is one of the least common antelope in the Kruger National Park and can only be found around the Berg-en-dal and Pretoriuskop areas. This was also a very brief sighting, as the lone male quickly disappeared before we could get a photograph. This was a new sighting for me in the Kruger. I had seen many in Dullstroom, but none in the Kruger National Park.
We had a lovely breakfast at the Wimpy in Pretoriuskop, and as we left we saw a bull Elephant close to the camp. The dogs from the staff area were barking with it and he seemed to be playing around with them, it was very interesting to watch.
Game Viewing On The Dirt Roads
We took the S7 to join the S3 eventually, to do the drive along the Sabie River. We did the Shabeni Loop, which is the S10. Another perfect choice. As we turned onto this road we saw a Black-chested Snake Eagle flying above, and to our amazement, this raptor had a small snake hanging from its mouth. This was amazing. It was the first time I had actually seen a Snake Eagle with a snake as its prey.
A few meters away on the S10 we saw a lovely pair of Klipspringers right out in the open on a hill-face.
We turned back towards Pretoriuskop as we joined the S3 to visit Mestel Dam. We arrived to a huge breeding herd of Elephants browsing and then going down to the water to drink. There were probably about 50 Elephants in total. There was also a young Waterbuck suckling amongst many Impala. It was very cute and special.
There was a funny moment on the far side of the dam. A Hippo emerged from the water, picked up a Leopard Tortoise and then proceeded to take it back into the water. The Hippo was flinging it around and have a great time playing with this poor reptile, I wonder how the Tortoise must have felt, and what happened afterwards. It was very peculiar.
Bird life was prolific once more. African Darter, Egyptian Goose, Wood Sandpiper, Blacksmith Lapwing, Reed Cormorant, Hamerkop, Grey Heron and a lone Saddle-billed Stork.
We saw more Elephants along the S3, a lot of Impala, Chacma Baboons and Vervet Monkeys, and we finally found some Buffalo. We came across 2 “dagga” boys feeding and then we found a brilliant huge old male sitting right on the road. We managed to get some amazing photographs and video of this bull. We also saw a decent sized breeding herd too.
Lake Panic Time, Yay!
We merged onto the H-11 road from the S3, where we saw our first Tree Squirrel of the trip, and planned to go towards Lake Panic. It had been drained recently and we were unsure of how much water would still be in the dam. We arrived and were pleasantly surprised that the dam was fairly full. Nowhere near it’s former glory, but full enough for a pod of Hippo’s and a Crocodile basking on the bank. A Pied Kingfisher was looking around for minnows, barbs and tilapia, so the fish were there too!
The African Jacana’s were around and a pair of Fish Eagles could be seen in the distance. A huge White-breasted Cormorant came into land. These birds are really big, and you often forget how big they are compared to the Darter and the Reed Cormorant.
A herd of Kudu came to drink, some juveniles and males included. They were very wary, and who wouldn’t be, it is a dangerous place to drink after all. Besides the Crocodiles, there is thick bush all around the dam, perfect for an ambush from a big Leopard or Lion.
As we left we saw a very small Water Monitor Lizard walking through the mud, this is one of the smallest Monitors we had ever seen. Then there was a small group of Nyala browsing away close to the entrance of the hide, they must feel very safe there because of the amount of people and noise that comes from the area, surely keeping the predators away… At times anyway.
The H3… Take 2!
We headed down the tar road again, just to make sure we were back at Berg-en-dal by 5.30pm, as that is what time the gates close in May. Once again, it was the right route and a perfect game viewing experience. We saw a herd of Wildebeest, Impala, Kudu, Bushbuck, Zebra and Elephants. The best was yet to come though.
There were 2 cars stopped and I had a good feeling about it. We stopped and watched the cars pile up behind us. We had no idea what was going on. I assumed a Lion lying in the thick grass.
To my amazement, a Cheetah appeared out of the grass, and then even better, 2 sub-adults, probably both a year old, still with their fluffy appearance. The sad thing was, the mother Cheetah had a really bad limp, and was very skinny. There was a herd of Kudu almost right on top of her, and it is almost like they knew she had no chance against them. She limped across the road and her cubs followed shortly after. As I was shooting some video, my Nikon died, so we quickly got our back up Canon camera out to capture some more photographs.
The Cheetahs crossed right behind our car, and to make things even better, this was our second ever Cheetah sighting in the Kruger National Park! (Read about the first one here).
Aimee and I sat quietly for the rest of the drive, just thinking about how lucky we were to see the Cheetah and everything else we had seen that day. We were speechless, and we even looked at each other and smiled, we both knew what we were thinking about. We had also seen so many baby animals, including Buffalo, Leopard and Elephant.
We came across 2 mature Southern Ground Hornbills, with a big juvenile. Another endangered species to tick off the list after the numerous species we had seen that day. That definitely just put the cherry on top, and as we entered the gates of Berg-en-dal, we were just so lucky that on the day of our first wedding anniversary, we had been blessed to see what we did.
As we listened to the Lions calling and I put the meat on the braai, more reminiscing happened, and the calls of the bats and nocturnal birds ended off the day. What a day, arguably the best game viewing day we had ever had in the Kruger National Park. We also saw some rare sightings and nearly 50 different birds. I cannot say it enough… What a day!
Listed below are all the species we saw on Day 2:
Animal Species Seen Around Berg-en-dal – Day Two (23)
- Baboon, Chacma
- Bat, Vesper
- Crocodile, Nile
- Lizard, Water Monitor
- Monkey, Vervet
- Rhebok, Grey
- Squirrel, Southern Tree
- Tortoise, Leopard
- Wildebeest, Blue
- Zebra, Burchell’s
Bird Species Seen Around Berg-en-dal – Day Two (50)
- Babbler, Arrow-marked
- Bulbul, Dark-capped
- Bunting, Cinnamon-breasted
- Canary, Streaky-headed
- Cormorant, Reed
- Cormorant, White-breasted
- Darter, African
- Dove, Cape Turtle
- Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood
- Dove, Laughing
- Drongo, Forktailed
- Eagle, African Fish
- Eagle, African Hawk
- Eagle, Black-chested Snake
- Fiscal, Common
- Flycatcher, Dusky
- Flycatcher, Fiscal
- Francolin, Coqui
- Francolin, Crested
- Go-away Bird, Grey
- Goose, Egyptian
- Guineafowl, Helmeted
- Heron, Grey
- Hornbill, African Grey
- Hornbill, Southern Ground
- Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed
- Jacana, African
- Kingfisher, Pied
- Lapwing, Blacksmith
- Lapwing, Crowned
- Mousebird, red-faced
- Nightjar, Fiery-necked
- Owl, African Scops
- Owl, Western Barn
- Owlet, Pearl-spotted
- Oxpecker, Red-billed
- Puffback, Black-backed
- Quelea, Red-billed
- Sandpiper, Wood
- Shrike, Magpie
- Shrike, Red-backed
- Shrike, White-crowned
- Spurfowl, Natal
- Starling, Burchell’s
- Starling, Cape Glossy
- Starling, Wattled
- Stork, Saddle-billed
- Tchagra, Black-crowned
- Woodhoopoe, Green
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