Bateleurs are beautiful eagles, and always attract attention from visitors to our Kruger National Park, one of their few remaining strongholds in South Africa. Being able to watch this one gulp down a Natal Spurfowl – feathers and all – that it had killed next to the road leading to Nwanetsi from Satara is another lasting memory from our visit to Kruger Park in December 2021.
We were still very fresh into our latest visit to the Satara area of the Kruger National Park when, on the 14th December, we came across a pack of seven African Wild Dogs, or Painted Wolves, near the Nsemani Dam on the H7 road leading to Orpen. To find such rare animals so early into our Kruger visit really was a good omen of things to come, and we were very excited even with the dogs resting so sedately in the heat of the late afternoon.
In the early morning of the 30th December we had just finished breakfast at the Muzandzeni Picnic Spot when the attendant alerted us to a pack of Wild Dogs rapidly approaching. We were just in time to see 10 of them run past the picnic spot and into the marshy area covered by long grass next to it. They paused a while on a little rise and then continued running, clearly seriously on the hunt. We decided to try and find them again on one of the roads leading from Muzandzeni.
As we left Muzandzeni we found three Spotted Hyenas following behind the Wild Dogs, no doubt hoping to score an easy meal.
First we tried turning south on the S36, but quickly realised that it leads away from the direction we last saw the dogs heading into, so we turned around. The S126 Sweni River Road might be the better option. Just as we started thinking following the S126 might be a lost cause too, we saw a hyena loping along. And then, just around the next corner, two dogs in the road – we found them again! Pretty soon all ten dogs were running in the road ahead of us, with the hyenas following some distance behind and just visible in the rear view mirrors every now and then. We followed the dogs for almost 10 kilometers, over the course of an hour-and-a-half, while they hunted. Every now and then they’d pause, take a scent trail leading into the long grass to disappear from view, only to return to the road a minute or two later. The dogs, with us in tow, decided against taking on a big warthog boar and then actually passed an impala ram standing in the long grass, not any the wiser how close he was to death. Just short of the Welverdiend waterhole however the dogs must have picked up a very promising lead as they left the road a final time, ears pulled back and bodies kept low to the ground. We waited around for several minutes, then searched up and down the road for a few kilometers either side of where we last saw them, but they didn’t re-appear. This probably means that they were successful at their kill.
Our plan for the morning of 31st December was a slow drive to a picnic breakfast at N’wanetsi. Our meal plans were slightly delayed however when we found another pack of Wild Dogs – nine animals – not 200m from the picnic spot! The dogs had a fresh kill and most were still feeding deep in a bush and not very clear to the eye. We stayed a few minutes and then moved to the picnic spot for a much needed comfort break and a quick bite to eat. When we returned to the dogs the whole pack had moved into the open and treated us to wonderful views.
The African Wild Dog is endangered, not only in South Africa but across the whole continent, where its range has been drastically diminished. South Africa is home to approximately 500 of these beautiful animals, about half of which live in Kruger National Park and adjacent reserves. For us to have seen three different packs during our 3 week visit to the Park was extremely lucky! The Endangered Wildlife Trust is again calling on citizen scientists to submit photos of Wild Dogs (and Cheetahs) taken during visits to the Kruger Park to their 7th Wild Dog Census, and Joubert and I will definitely be making our contributions.
We’ve been bird-watching for quite a while now, and finding a new species for our list does not happen all that often anymore. The 15th of December therefore was a red letter day for us when we encountered this Dwarf Bittern between Lower Sabie and Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, taking our number of South African bird species seen to 588 (of roughly 973 ever recorded in this country).
The Dwarf Bittern is a small species of heron that is mostly nocturnal and found singly or in pairs. It generally occurs around seasonal and permanent water bodies surrounded by dense and emergent vegetation. They feed mainly on insects, crabs, frogs and small fish.
Dwarf Bitterns breed in periods of highest rainfall, often nesting in association with other kinds of heron. Their nests are flimsy platforms of twigs, built in a hurry by both partners. Clutches of 2-5 eggs are incubated for around 3 weeks by both parents. The chicks leave the nest before they’re 2 weeks old, although they can’t fly yet.
The Dwarf Bittern is an uncommon summer visitor to South Africa, with most records from Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It occurs in low densities over much of sub-Saharan Africa and the IUCN considers the Dwarf Bittern to be of least concern.
Early into our recent visit to the Kruger National Park we were parked on the high bridge crossing the Olifants River, stretching our legs and admiring the views upstream and downstream.
At one point we peeked over the railings and noticed a Little Swift splashing in the murky, fast flowing water below. The Swifts breed beneath the bridge, and this one must have miscalculated a dive, ending up in the water. It seems such aeronautical miscalculations are relatively common with this species as we’ve found them marooned on the ground on more than one occasion – their short legs and long wings make it very hard for them to get airborne again.
We watched as the water quickly swept the little bird along. We could only hope that it was swept onto a sandbank before it became a snack for a crocodile, tigerfish, catfish or fish eagle, and that it would somehow manage to get back into the air.
Happy New Year, Everyone!
Today we had “lion fever” here at Satara – our paths crossed with those of four different groups of lions! The absolute highlight was getting to spend some time, up close and personal, with Satara’s famed white lion male. If today was an omen of things to come in 2022 it is going to be a very good year!
Sadly our time here at Satara in the Kruger National Park has come to an end and we will be heading home tomorrow. Of course there are still hundreds of photos and dozens of stories to share in the weeks ahead.