Orpen Game Viewing And Bird Watching In The Kruger National Park
A Complete Travel Guide To Finding Animals In And Around Orpen
Orpen Game Viewing: The areas around Orpen Rest Camp and Gate are some of the best parts of the Greater Kruger National Park to see Wildlife; whether it is predators, large mammals, other ungulates, birds or reptiles. Orpen has an abundance of fodder for the browsers and grazers, which in turn bring in all sorts of predators. You can big herds of Wildebeest and Zebra here, and generally a lot of Lions, read bout the Orpen Lions here. Early mornings are a great time to be out and about if you are close to Orpen. Night time is also magical, and if you are staying at one of the camps in the area (Orpen, Maroela or Tamboti), listen out for the calls of the Scops Owl and Southern White-faced Owl. Honey Badgers and Hyaena patrol these camps at night, as well as normal visitors like Genets.
Orpen Game Viewing – What We Have Seen
I remember the first time I entered the Orpen Gate. I was 11 years old and was on a school Tour to the Lowveld. As we entered the Kruger National Park section, we immediately saw a Lioness on a Zebra kill. Ever since then I have rated this area as one of the best in the whole of the Kruger to game watch and even bird watch. I now return to Orpen Rest Camp itself once a year to explore and see what the area has to offer. Orpen Rest Camp itself is a great place to base yourself. It is roughly 7 kilometres from the Orpen Gate and is situated between the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve and the Kruger National Park. The camp has a waterhole, which is very active. There always seem to animals around, especially Elephants, Buffalo, Blue Wildebeest and Impala. Birding around the camp is great, with some of the more special birds to be seen include the Crested Barbet, Brown-headed Parrot, Trumpeter Hornbill, Purple-crested Turaco, Black-headed Oriole, Woodland Kingfisher and Violet-backed Starling. There are also a variety of creatures that can be commonly seen in Orpen Camp:
- Southern Tree Agama
- Vervet Monkey
- Chacma Baboon
- Common Duiker
- Southern Tree Squirrel
- African Honey Badger
In terms of wildlife in the Orpen region, we have been lucky enough to see African Wild Dog on numerous occasions, in different areas. I am sure it is the same pack, but we have been fortunate. All of our sightings have been early in the morning. I think I have seen Lion every time I have visited the Orpen area, and there are at least 2 prides of Lion in the area. Spotted Hyaena are very common because of the high Lion population. The area teems with animals like African Elephant, African Buffalo, Southern Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Burchell’s Zebra, Chacma Baboon, Impala, Greater Kudu, Common Waterbuck, Steenbok, Dwarf Mongoose, Slender Mongoose to name a few. There are also a lot of Cheetah in the area, quite a high population, so your chances of seeing a Cheetah is great. We have also been fortunate enough to see Cheetah many times. We have been unlucky with Leopard sightings over the years. There are a number of them in the Orpen area, and sightings are a regular occurrence, but not lucky with them unfortunately. The Orpen region is a very good place too see the African Honey Badger in the day time and in wild surroundings. We have had a few encounters with them, and then you also get both Black-backed and Side-striped Jackal.
Birding is tough, but rewarding. Some unusual and rare birds can be seen around the roads of Orpen. Kori Bustard, Secretary Bird, Tawny Eagle, White-backed Vulture, Bateleur and a few other larger birds all occur in decent numbers in the region. Bushveld birds are what you need to look out for here, and birds like Doves, Waxbills, Buntings, Francolins, Shrikes are quite easily found. We have been lucky enough to have two great sightings of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl in the daylight and a Bronze-winged Courser pair before sunrise.
All in all the Orpen area has a lot of superb roads and a variety of wildlife to be seen. It is one of the best game viewing areas in the entire Kruger National Park. You have the chance to see almost anything, and you can let your imagination run wild!
Orpen Game Viewing – The H7 Tar Road
Along with the Malelane to Skukuza (H3) road, I think the H7 is one of the best tar roads in the Kruger National Park. As mentioned above, we have seen a lot, and most of these sightings have been on the H7. It is about 45 kilometres of road that heads towards Satara. It runs close to the Timbavati River for a fair distance. Although this is not a perennial river, i.e. it flows all throughout the year, it often has puddles in it that attract huge numbers of animals and birds. We once saw hundreds of thousand of Red-billed Queleas drinking at one of these puddles, the noise they made was deafening, and you could hear it from a kilometre away. You can read more about this experience by clicking the link.
This road is good for birds of prey, and there seems to be an abundance of Tawny Eagles along this route. There are also a lot of Vultures, different species, but in general birding can be tough, besides the more common woodland and bushveld birds. Early morning is best for general birding, and the heat of the day into the late afternoon seems to be a favourite time for raptors.
We have been so lucky with Lions on the H7. I have seen 3 different prides, including the famous white male Lion, Casper. The main prides in the Orpen area are the Mbiri and Skorro prides. The Lions definitely seem to prefer being close to the tar road. I have only seen Lions once on the dirt roads in the area.
There is a decent population of Cheetah, and they can be seen all throughout the day, it is just a matter of right place and right time.
One of my favourite experiences has been the numerous African Wild Dog sightings. All along the H7 the Orpen pack seems to be very active in the early mornings. This makes sense because their favoured prey items of Impala and Wildebeest are very common along the whole of the H7. I have seen Wild Dogs from the Orpen gate all the way up to about 20 kilometres towards Satara on the H7.
General game is very common along the H7, especially when there has been some rainfall.
Orpen Game Viewing – The Dirt Roads
If I had to choose, I would rather drive the tarred H7 road than any of the dirt roads in the Orpen area, but that is just based on personal preference and sightings. There are 3 good dirt roads that I will discuss briefly here. The S106, or Rabelais Loop, is my favourite dirt road, and I will often take this detour while driving back to Orpen on the H7. The S106 can yield a variety of animals, including Honey Badger. There are quite a lot of Kudu and Impala, and the chances of seeing Elephants are very high. I like the birding on the S106. I have seen Golden-breasted Bunting, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Green-winged Pytilia, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark and a number of other very interesting bird species. My favourite bird sighting has to be the time I spent with a male and female Coqui Francolin. They were bathing in the dust and posing so nicely for the camera. There are also at least two groups of Dwarf Mongoose on the S106, and as you might know, these little creatures are very entertaining and always seem to be on the go.
The next road would be the S140 towards Talamati Bushveld Camp. I think this road has a lot of potential, but I also think I have driven it at the wrong times. I know from Social Media and talking to others that you can encounter all sorts of animals on the S140, including Caracal, Sable Antelope and Lion.
The S39, or Timbavati River Road, follows the Timbavati River all the way to the Timbavati Picnic Spot. It is a lovely road to drive, but can be quiet at times. Here you can see a variety of birds that like open savanna and grassland. There are normally Woodpeckers around, and Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles. In terms of larger animalism there are a lot of Buffalo, Elephant, Impala and Blue Wildebeest. I have seen Cheetah on this road as well as quite a lot of Spotted Hyaena.
If you are staying in the Orpen region, whether it be at Orpen, Maroela, Tamboti, Talamati or Satara Rest Camps, you are in prime territory to make your Kruger National Park experience that much better. We hope this article has helped you, and you enjoy your visit to the Orpen area!
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