Ahhh…where to start with the birds! So many; so different. I guess I’ll again go from the sublime to the ridiculous and begin with my favorites, the raptors…eagles, buzzards, vultures, owls.
According to my field guide there are 59 species of eagles, hawks and falcons; 9 species of vultures and 12 species of owls in South Africa. Obviously I didn’t see all of them and my photos of several were too distant to blow up and publish. Still, I felt very lucky to get images of the 15 I did get.
Bateleur eagle: The name, bateleur, is French for “street performer.” The rocking motion of the bird in flight resembles a high wire walker keeping his balance. A smaller eagle, we had several opportunities at these birds fairly close to the road.
Martial eagle: The largest eagle in the area, about the same size as our golden eagle.
African fish eagle: A smaller eagle but the favorite of the South Africans. Many people have its unique call recorded as their cell phone ring.
Steppe eagle: A medium-sized eagle, fairly rare in the area we visited.
Brown snake eagle: A small eagle found mostly in treed savanna.
Tawny eagle: A medium-sized eagle, previously thought to be a small steppe eagle.
Pale chanting goshawk: We saw lots of these, especially in the drier desert habitats.
Lizard buzzard: Hawks are called “buzzards” in SA. This one is unique in its pale feathering.
Rock kestrel: Similar in coloration but much bigger than our kestrel.
Eurasian hobby: A small falcon migrating in from Europe.
Lappet-faced vulture: A huge vulture with a wing-span up to 9 ½ feet.
White-backed vulture: A smaller, but more common vulture.
Pearl-spotted owl: A very little owl. This one was quite tame.
Cape eagle owl: Much like out Gt. horned owl.
Barn owl: This species is found all over the world except in polar and desert regions.
To many of the tourists in Kruger there is not a lot of interest in small mammals or reptiles other that a casual glance…how can they compete with leopards and elephants? Of course, not being able to leave the vehicle one is only able to see what runs across the road or is within the confines of the protected camps. Still, there were some interesting observations.
Insects: Not as many as I expected (at least not in the car or my room). No mosquitoes on this trip (That was good because I left my anti-malaria medication in one of the first lodgings).
My favorite…the infamous dung beetle!
A colorful locust.
Lots of dragonflies at the ponds.
And a 6 inch millipede.
Reptiles: Crocodiles are fairly common in many of the waters, usually seen lying on the banks or floating in the water.
There are lots of lizards here but we only found a few.
Chameleons change their colors from brown to bright yellow
Giant plated lizard
Tortoises in the road and turtles in the streams and ponds…
Small mammals: Not a lot, but it included this rare sighting of an African wild cat (looks like your neighbor’s cat, huh!)
A few fleeting glimpses of banded mongooses…
An occasional black-backed jackal…
But my biggest disappointment came when we saw the honey badger (ratal) symbiotically hunting with a jackal, a rare—once in a lifetime occurrence. They were about a hundred yards from the road in a brushy/grassy area and were hunting for burrowing rodents (a similar activity has been reported in coyotes and badgers here in North America). We watched for a few minutes until the others in my party got bored and, although the animals were working our way, they opted to go on and look for other things (more elephants?) while I could’ve spent the whole day just observing (but we wildlife biologists are weird!) So, all I ended up with was a few grainy photos. So sad!
The birds begin with the next blog.
As the last segment featured the swift and graceful, this segment will feature the big, bad and ugly. Kruger NP was a wealth of opportunities for many species but the large carnivores were much more secretive and invisible than my trip many years ago to the Serengeti.
Leopard: The only one we saw clear enough for photos. It was an early morning occurrence along the Sabie River.
Lion: The same for lions. We lucked out into 2 adult males a short time after entering the park.
The only other sighting was one in the bush pursuing a female.
Spotted Hyena: Again, only one sighting. It was in the grass at a leopard kill waiting for the leopard to leave but we never got more than a glimpse of the leopard.
Elephant: Lots of elephants! The roads were littered with their droppings and sightings were common.
Watching the adults with the very young was amazing. They constantly caress them and all of the herd’s females participate.
The big bulls were generally alone and allowed us to take photos for a few minutes before saying, “O.K., enough! Leave this place NOW!” Our driver recognized a threat and we would leave.
Hippopotamus: In most pools and rivers. Very strange animals and considered the most dangerous to humans of all of the critters. Still, all we saw were peaceful and docile.
This is a yawn, not a threat.
White Rhinoceros: Actually the name “white” is derived from the Afrikaans meaning “wide.” They are grazers and have very wide mouths. Poaching for the horns (superstitiously thought by the Asians to be powdered and made into an aphrodisiac) has decimated the herds. The going price per ounce is more than gold.
Black Rhinoceros: Very few left in the park. They have narrow mouths as they are browsers. This was the only one we saw and the guide told us we were very lucky.
Warthog: I guess beauty is as beauty does. What else can I say!
Next chapter will be small mammals, reptiles and others. Then we’ll get to the birds…the primary reason for my trip.