Mammals, birds & spring flowers

Mammals, birds & spring flowers
Day 1   Sunday 16th August
The group took an overnight flight to Cape Town.

Day 2  Monday 17th August
The plane from Cape Town landed right on time at Upington Airport, with all the correct passengers and all their luggage….. We headed straight off into the Kalahari getting to the Kalahari Lodge in good time.
The first birds that we noticed were the Sociable Weavers and their huge nests. We stopped to have a closer look at one of these amazing nests en route to our lodge. Kalahari Scrub-robin, Pygmy Falcon, Cape Turtle Dove, White-browed Sparrow-weaver and Sociable Weavers were photographed by various members of the group around the lodge before an early dinner and to bed!

Day 3  Tuesday 18th August
We had a late start by Kalahari standards, just to let the last vestiges of jet-lag disappear… breakfast first and then we were away by 8am and into the Park. We decided to follow the Nossob River road and our first stop was a group of Yellow-billed Hornbills and Cape Glossy Starlings feeding on some termites. We drove via the Leeuwdril, Rooiputs and Kij Kij waterholoes seeing Bearded Woodpecker, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Chat Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Red-headed Finch, Cape Sparrow, Larklike Bunting, Yellow Canarie, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Cape Turtle Dove, Namaqua Dove, Scaly-feathered Finch, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Tawny Eagle and a Verraux’s Eagle Owl were seen…. At this stage of the trip, when just about every bird is a new bird our progress was slow – but deliberate!
On the mammal front: Gemsbok, Blue Wildebeest and Springbok were plentiful and Ground Squirrels were also very entertaining.
We were fortunate to see an African Wild Cat resting in the open near a burrow, which we presumed must be it’s home and three Cheetah were seen on a ridge overlooking the dry riverbed. A lone Black-backed Jackal, a Yellow Mongoose and a few striped Mice were also seen – not bad for our first game drive!
We had lunch back at base and then some rest time. We went on a shorter late afternoon drive, this time up the Auob River road. Brant’s Whiseling Rat and quite a few Steenbok were seen on the dune road. Also on the dune road we saw some new birds for our ever-growing birdlist; Southern Anteating Chat, Spike-heeled Lark, Northern Black Korhaan and a few Spotted Eagle Owls.

Day 4  Wednesday 19th August
We were all on duty at sunrise so as to be the first vehicle into the Park. We had decided that we were going to have a picnic style breakfast at the Auchterlonie picnic site in the Park, so with this in mind we took the dune road across to the Aoub River and then up past the Houmoed, Munro and Kamfersboom waterholes. Our breakfast turned into a brunch as we were kept entertained all morning, with the best entertainment coming from a large pride of 14 Lions. After slaking their thirst at the Munro waterhole the younger ones in the pride started larking about in a tree. The pride then walked up the red dunes to find a rest spot for the day. As a group we must have taken a thousand photos! Springbok, Gemsbok, Steenbok, Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest and Ground Squirrels were seen and photographed as were many birds and a few flowers. Some of the new birds were: Black Crow, Lanner Falcon, Familiar Chat, Ashy Tit, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Secretarybird, Kori Bustard, Fiscal Shrike, Red-billed Quelea and Black-headed Heron. We only finished our breakfast at 11! We took the long dune road across to the Nossob River. The road was quiet, as it was getting a bit warm by now. We stopped at the Kij Gamies waterhole, where we found a ‘bird’ tree. A tree with a mixed flock of hundreds of birds: Cape Sparrows were the majority with yellow Canaries, Lark-like Buntings, Red-headed Finches, Red-billed Quelea and many other odds & ends!
After a leg stretch and refreshment stop at the Melkvlei picnic site we headed for home only to be stopped by a fantastic sighting of three Cheetahs walking through the grass not more than twenty meters away from the vehicle. We watched them walking slowly parellel to the road, keeping pace with them and taking many photos. We left the Cheetahs after they decided to sleep out the afternoon in the shade of a tree. On the way back to our lodge we had a few more stops for Gabar Gosshawk, Verraux’s Eagle owl and a small herd of Red Hartebeest. It was past three when we arrived home so we had R&R for the rest of the afternoon. A few of the group went for a walk around the camp finding a few flowering plants and trees.

Day 5  Thursday 20th August
Today we explored the dry Auob River towards Mata Mata. We saw all the usual suspects – Steenbok, Gemsbok, Lion, Ground Squirrels, Yellow Mongoose, Whistling Rats and Striped Mice, with a large herd of Springbok at the Monro waterhole and a large herd of Blue Wildebeest at the Dertiende Boorgat waterhole. After a late alfresco breakfast at the lookout point, we continued towards the Mata Mata Camp. We came across a beautiful Slender Mongoose. These mammals are usually quite shy, but this one decided to keep us entertained by scuttling through the grass and under bushes parallel to the road. So we all managed to get various types of photos of the individual – some quite comical! Just when I was considering turning back for home we came across a group of nine Giraffe (four females with four young and one large old male). We watched the Giraffe for a while and then headed back to our lodge. On the way back we saw some new birds for our trip list.
Day 6  Friday 21st August
After a lovely breakfast we set off for the town of Upington and then on to Augrabie’s Falls National Park – ‘place of great noise’.We stopped on a number of occasions en route to photograph birds or flowers. We saw and photographed, Lilac-breasted Roller, Double-banded Coarser, Pygmy Falcon and a flowering Aloe claviflora, with the bright red flowers branching horizontally. We made it to the Park in time for a lovely lunch on the terrace. Afterwards the group all went in different directions to photograph the falls from many angles, as well as the birds, plants, mammals, reptiles….. The group reconvened at 18:15hrs for a two hour night drive. Unfortunately the mammals were a bit shy and the only nocturnal creatures seen were Scrub Hares and a Spotted Eagle Owl.

Day 7  Saturday 22nd August
We planned to watch the sun rise over the falls this morning but heavy cloud with the threat of rain scuppered that plan! So after breakfast we went for a slow drive in the Park stopping and botanizing on several occasions. We looked at the spectacular river gorge from some of the view points and we also saw a few new birds and mammals. Chacma Baboon, Cape Mongoose, otherwise known as a Small Grey Mongoose, a Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, plenty of Rock Hyrax (Dassies) and Klipspringer were seen. There were a few dragonflies at a small area of still water, later identified as a Blue Emperor and a Red-veined Dropwing. After lunch some of the group went for a walk to the top of ‘Whale Rock’ for a panoramic view of the Park and then a birdwatching walk through the camp produced a good number of birds: Fiscal Flycatcher, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orange River White-eye, Cape Wagtail, Acacia Pied Barbet (and a brief view of a Crested Barbet), White-breasted Cormorant and Reed Cormorant, Familiar Chat, House Sparrow, Hamerkop, Bradfield’s Swift, Little Swift, Alpine Swift, Rock Martin, White-throated Canary and Cape Robin-chat.

Day 8  Sunday 23rd August
We had a very loud thunderstorm during the night but with no rain… After breakfast we set off for Springbok. We pulled in at a small water resevoir where we had great views of a Giant Kingfisher on a fence post and an African Darter(snake bird) half submerged in the water. We also saw a Hamerkop, Pied Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird and Southern Masked Weaver. We saw a few roadside birds and flowers at 120km/hr but instead of stopping we decided to spend more time at our destination. We arrived at Goegap Nature Reserve in time for a picnic lunch in amongst the spring flowers. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at, photographing and identifing the many different species of flowers. We saw a few Gemsbok enjoying the lush green grass (and flowers!), a distant Black-backed Jackal was calling and heading off into the hills and a Dassie Rat was also seen. A few new birds for us were Jackal Buzzard and Capped Wheatear.