Category Archives: Memorable sightings

Summertide Diary: iSimangaliso Rhinos

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to healthy populations of both White and Black Rhinoceros, jealously guarded by the reserve’s rangers and routinely dehorned to deter poachers. Rhino populations all over our country are under severe threat and seeing these animals in the wild, even without their trademark horns, is an experience we’re very grateful for.

Being diurnal in habit and much less skittish, the White Rhino is the easier of the two African species to find while driving around iSimangaliso.

Black Rhinos are solitary, shy, more nocturnal and consequently seen less often than White Rhinos.

This muddy signpost in the park was used by a muddy rhino as a rubbing post. Rolling in mud, leaving it to dry and then rubbing the caked mud off against a sturdy rock, tree or …signpost, is a way for the rhino to rid itself of external parasites like ticks.

Signpost re-modelled by a muddy rhinoceros

Summertide Diary: Rock Pool Wonderland

For landlubbers like us gawking with open mouths at the colourful life in a rock pool at the sea shore is one of the highlights of a beach holiday. Many of the life forms are so unique and different from what we’re used to as to seem utterly alien. We were fortunate in that, during our time in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we had a chance to visit Mission Rocks at low tide in the cool of the afternoon, allowing us to clamber over the rocks from one pool to the next to our heart’s content.

 

Crowned Eagles

We were about half-way through our visit to Cape Vidal in January 2021 when we found that a pair of Crowned Eagles were rearing a chick in a tall Casuarina tree right inside the camp and very near our cabin. The eagles were very careful not to attract attention to their nest and being known for attacking humans that venture too close to their nests we didn’t hang around there too often. We therefore got very few glimpses of the chick in its treetop fortress.

Considered Africa’s most powerful eagle, capable of preying even on mammals the size of bushbuck, the Crowned Eagle is a very large bird of prey – females, the larger of the sexes, weighs up to 5kg and has a wingspan of around 1.6m.¬† Crowned Eagles are forest birds, but have adapted to life in exotic plantations where there’s suitable prey available. Mammals – hyraxes, monkeys and antelope – make up the majority of their dietary intake and small pets regularly feature on the menu of Crowned Eagles living in or near urban areas that fall within their distribution range.

Crowned Eagles are monogamous and form lasting pair bonds, each pair defending a large tract of forest as their exclusive territory. Their large stick-platform nests are built by both partners on cliffs or at the top of tall forest trees. These nests are usually reused for consecutive years and are continuously added to, eventually becoming massive structures up to 3m tall. Clutches of two eggs are laid in the spring months and incubated over a seven week period, mostly be the female. Unless the first laid egg doesn’t hatch the older sibling will kill the younger soon after it hatches. While the male regularly brings food to the nest it never feeds the chick, this task is always performed by the female until the chick is about a month-and-a-half old, at which point it starts feeding itself on meals brought to it by the parent birds. The chick takes its first flight around four months after hatching and is finally chased from its parental territory when it is at least ten months old.

Though occurring widely over Africa’s forested areas, the IUCN lists the Crowned Eagle as being near-threatened, siting a decreasing population of no more than 50,000 mature individuals caused by habitat destruction and persecution by humans. In South Africa they’re found from the Garden Route, through the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal, to the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the Soutpansberg¬† range and the Pafuri region of the Kruger National Park.

Summertide Diary: Spying on the neighbours at Cape Vidal

A few years ago we purchased a very simple trail camera to take along on our visits to South Africa’s wild places, reason being that we were interested to know and see what wildlife roamed around after the humans went to bed. During our week at Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park a dripping geyser overflow that created a small puddle in hardened mud and a pie-dish beneath an outside tap were the perfect locations to set up our little “camera trap” and spy on the wild neighbours that roam the camp by day and night. The camera worked overtime and took thousands of photos, and with great excitement we’d download these on a daily basis to see what came to visit while we were either away or asleep.

Vervet Monkey sneaking a drink beneath the geyser overflow

As was to be expected a wide variety of birds were drawn to the artificial “waterholes” around our cabin. What made us really excited was the very many shots the camera got of usually very shy and retiring forest birds we would otherwise have broken our necks trying to sneak even a single photograph of.

By day the biggest mammals that roamed around the camp at Cape Vidal was the Bushbucks. Male and female, young and old, they all put in an appearance.

By far the species featured most often in the photos taken by the trailcam was the Samango Monkeys, and some of the things they got up to when they thought there weren’t any humans around to see was most amusing.

Nighttime brought a shift in the animals coming to prowl around our accommodations – the bushbuck were still around and genets aren’t really threatening, but I wouldn’t want to encounter the bushpigs or hyenas in the dark!

 

Summertide Diary: Butterfly Bonanza (and a few other insects too)

When we first walked to the KuMfazana hide on our recent visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we didn’t quite find what we expected. Normally, if the pans in front of the hide holds water, there are hippos and crocodiles and a myriad of water-dependent birds to keep visitors entertained for hours. This time however it was the walkway through the swamp forest to the hide that held us enthralled for hours, and not because of some “hairy and scary” creatures either…

We dubbed this stretch of the walkway to the hide at kuMfazana “Butterfly Glen”

It was thanks to the sheer numbers and diversity of butterflies to be seen along this short walk that we visited kuMfazana almost daily for the week that we were at Cape Vidal in January 2021. Last time I saw anything like it was during a solitary autumn visit to the Kruger National Park in 2019. iSimangaliso’s rich plantlife and habitats supports an extraordinary list of butterfly species, each seemingly more beautiful than the one you’ve seen just before. Other spots in the Park, most notably at Cape Vidal and Mission Rocks, also contributed to the bounty but none so richly as kuMfazana. I really hope this gallery gives you an idea of what we experienced that week.

While not nearly as conspicuous as their butterfly cousins there also was a few eye-catching moths to be found.

The diversity of dragonflies on the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia almost matches that of the butterflies, and I was frustrated at not being able to identify the species most of them belonged to. Realising how little I actually know about these often seen insects I’m determined to remedy that as soon as possible.

Insects of all kinds thrive in iSimangaliso’s sub-tropical climate. Regrettably that includes mosquitoes…

When we saw a spider-hunting wasp dragging a paralysed sac spider to its nest I must admit to getting a large dose of pleasure from the hapless spider’s predicament. Sac spiders are among the most venomous spiders in South Africa and responsible for most of the serious spider bites suffered in our country. They deliver a nasty bite of cytotoxic venom and the bite-site is prone to secondary infection. The reason for my schadenfreude? A sac spider bit a then infant Joubert resulting in a visit to the emergency room late night on a New Years eve a few years ago…

 

Ghost Crabs

Subfamily Ocypodinae

The beach at Cape Vidal is alive with Ghost Crabs, a good indication as to the health of the intertidal ecosystem thanks to minimal human impact on this stretch of coast.

Ghost Crabs are omnivorous scavengers, living on any carrion, debris, and even small living creatures up to the size of turtle hatchlings that gets washed onto the beach.

Being semi-terrestrial and living in burrows they dig for themselves in moist sand, Ghost Crabs can breathe oxygen from the air through their gills, provided they can keep them wet which requires the crabs to scuttle into the waves every so often. However, they can’t stay in the water too long or they’ll drown.

This necessity for the Ghost Crabs to go into the water at regular intervals had us quite amused during our recent visit to Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The crabs would run towards the approaching wave, stand their ground, get pounded, and then re-appear when the wave retreats, still standing in the same spot. Not once did we see one of the crabs loose its footing and get tossed around by the wave action!

 

Summertide Diary: Departing Mountain Zebra

3 January 2021

Today we had to leave Mountain Zebra National Park early, for we had a long way to get back home to Pretoria and had to beat the government-imposed curfew at that. It may have been only 12km from the camp to the gate, but still there was loads to see!

Very near the gate there’s a nice waterhole where even this early in the morning a procession of game was already congregating. The serenity of the scene was shattered when a mountain zebra love triangle got out of hand, but calm soon settled again.

During our time in Mountain Zebra National Park we were very lucky to come across a Black Rhinoceros cow and calf. For their protection I won’t be able to share where or when it was that we saw them, but being able to see more of these magnificent creatures was a privilege we were very grateful for.

And with that our summertide ramble came to a halt, if temporarily, as I had important start-of-the-year work to attend to back in Pretoria. As it would be some weeks still before the schools were due to reopen we did have another reservation in the offing, but with South Africa in the midst of a serious second wave of COVID-19 infections we weren’t at all certain that we would be able to take it up…

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

 

Summertide Diary: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part two)

2 January 2021

When dawn found the Mountain Zebra National Park under heavy skies this morning we were already underway along the Kranskop Loop.

When we arrived at the start of Rooiplaat Loop we found a male lion lying there, flat on its right-side. We sat there as the minutes passed, studying it through cameras and binoculars and finally coming to the sad conclusion that this lion was dead – there wasn’t even a twitch of an ear or any movement of its stomach to indicate a breath being taken. Disheartened, I started the car to drive off.

King Roy, fast asleep

The sound of the Duster’s engine had a miraculous effect. The lion lifted his head, sleepily. He rested his head on his paws for a while, then gave a mighty yawn before getting up, stretching his legs and then lying down again to look at us in irritation. He is magnificent, known as Roy, and despite his advanced age one of the ruling coalition of lion males here at Mountain Zebra National Park, along with Nomad whom we saw at a distance the day before .

When the next vehicle arrived at the lion sighting we moved of so that those visitors too could have a private audience with The King. The skies have cleared and it’s turning into a glorious day. On our way back to camp we passed Roy again, and he was fast asleep again.

With it being our last afternoon at Mountain Zebra we opted to visit all our favourite spots along the Ubejane and Rooiplaat Loops and the Link road between them again. There’s just something so indescribably peaceful about driving around wild Africa as dusk approaches.

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

Summertide Diary: Bat-eared Fox puppies

Our new year got off to a great start when we encountered this lovely family of Bat-eared Foxes along the Link Road in the Mountain Zebra National Park on the 1st of January. At the den there were three very lively puppies and four adults who did everything they could to get the pups to hide away from the enamoured humans, without much success!

Summertide Diary: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part one)

1 January 2021

As soon as the gates opened on New Year’s Day we headed for the Rooiplaat Loop, the sightings board at reception having indicated that Lions and Cheetahs were seen there the previous day. And we did not wait long – right where the road skirts the Park’s boundary fence we came across a big male lion, known as Nomad, patrolling his territory.

We supposed that it was the proximity of the big predator that made these Black Wildebeest so jittery!

It’s early morning in the Mountain Zebra National Park and there’s so much to be seen!

It was on the link road between Rooiplaat and Ubejane Loops that we happened upon these cute little Bat-eared Fox pups and their elders. More photos of them tomorrow!

Bat-eared Fox pups

Along the main road, between the two junctions with the Ubejane Loop, we saw this pair of unusually tolerant Secretarybirds – they’re normally quite nervous and move away from the road the moment a vehicle approaches, so this was a great opportunity to watch them in action.

At the southern junction of Ubejane Loop with the main road there’s a small earth dam filled with rainwater. By the time we arrived there at mid-morning Cape Mountain Zebra families were arriving from all corners, along with some other wildlife, to slake their thirst and it was wonderful to watch their social interactions before heading back to camp.

Back at camp there was time to kill either side of lunchtime, and thankfully there’s very much of interest around the accommodation and camping area.

Our route for the afternoon would first take us into the mountains along the Kranskop Loop before taking another jaunt around the Rooiplaat Loop.

A real highlight of our afternoon drive was an encounter with a group of three Cheetahs – one adult and two youngsters – on the Rooiplaat Plateau, just half-an-hour before we had to be back in camp.

 

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)