Posts Tagged With: buffalo

XVI: Kruger National Park Part I

Kruger National Park, South Africa from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake

Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake

Red-Billed Hornbill

Red-Billed Hornbill

Burchell's Zebra (Photo by Sarah)

Burchell’s Zebra (Photo by Sarah)

June 25th 2012
We headed out from Pigg’s Peak north, to the Jeppe’s Reef border crossingto get back into South Africa. I could not have had an easier border crossing, we simply pulled up, got our books stamped and drive through, no questions asked, no search of the vehicle, just a friendly “hello”, and “safe travels” to bid us farewell. We were finally on our way to Kruger National Park, a place I has stored away in my memory as a child as a seemingly endless Eden filled with every African animal one could imagine. We were unfortunately coinciding with the winter break holiday of South African schools and everything in the park was booked solid. I knew the park was popular, but with it being the size of the country of Wales I had figured there would’ve been at least a few options in one of the many camps scattered throughout the park. Sarah came to the rescue though. Her travel coordinator for her field camp, Nicole, was South African, and her mom had just purchased a place in Marloth Park just outside of Kruger to rent out as a bush lodge. Nicole’s mom gave us a more then generous discount, which we were extremely grateful for, and allowed us to be their very first guests. We got there and lifted our jaws back up into our mouths as we parked our car under the stilts that held up the huge house. Everything was brand new and immaculate, thatched roof, hardwood floors, and beds for atleast sleeping 10 people. To cap it off it was only a short drive to the Southern gates of Kruger. The deck stood out from the house to make a little stilted hide with a bed and a hammock that overlooked the private lion sanctuary of Marloth Park. The first night of our four-night stay we spent curled up in the bed outside listening to the roar of lions out in the distance somewhere in the dark.

Hyena in the Sunrise

Hyena in the Sunrise

Buffalo and Egret

Buffalo and Egret

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

June 26th 2012
We both hardly slept at least I know I hardly slept, with the anticipation of our first day at Kruger. We were up early around 5:30 a.m. and made some lunch for the day and got to the gate around 6:30 a.m., a half hour after it opened. We were off to a flying start, seeing a hyena not 10 minutes into the drive, followed by a herd of buffalo, three white rhinos; a small herd of elephants, and an all but too brief glimpse of a lion almost all within the first 2-3 hours. The bird life, and small mammals seemed to fill in the gaps; Eagle owls, Lilac Breasted Rollers, Magpies, Coucals, Kingfishers, Warthogs, Impala, Steenbok, Kudu, and much, much more. The mornings are by far the best times to see things. By the mid-afternoon heat your best bet is to find a watering hole and stake out and have some lunch. We ended at a nice spot, a little crowded with people on holiday setting up their afternoon braai areas, but it was a good view of hippos in the water, and waterbucks on the shore.

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Glossy Starling

Glossy Starling

Steenbok

Steenbok

After lunch we continued along and found a group of about 8-10 giraffes that we kept company with for a while. We continued on, spurred on by another hot tip from a passing motorist about possible lions further up the road. Without hesitating we ventured further on eventually finding a young male lion. He almost perfectly blended in with the scenery with the exception of an ear poking up out of the grass to give him away. He was just lounging on the ground not more then 25 feet from us taking in the setting sun. It was quite surreal and we seemed to be lost in the moment as the lion would occasionally turn his head towards us and look with disinterest.
We had failed to notice the time of day and our distance to the gate. It was 4:50 p.m. and the gate closed at 5:30 p.m. and we were much more than 40 minutes away. The gate policy is quite strict since driving in the dark is quite the hazard for people and animals alike. There is also been an increase of Rhino poaching so unauthorized activity after the gates closed probably looks suspicious. We cruised a little bit over the suggested speed limit hoping there might be a grace period or a sympathetic ranger who would let us through since it was our first day at the park. As the light faded our drive seemed to take forever and we finally made it to the gate at 5:50 p.m. to locked gates and a ranger standing there with a flashlight. I am sure we hadn’t been the first late arrival they had had in their history. The ranger opened the gate for us and gave us the phone number of the head ranger, Neels, to whom I would have to call to explain why I was late and the consequences. After a bit of talking I managed to dissuade him from applying the 1500R fine, and instead getting a very very stern warning. They took our license plate number to be sure it didn’t happen again. I will have to apologize in advance to the next person who rents the car and takes it to Kruger. I used their one freebie. We made the drive back, exhausted; we ate, and passed out so we could be fresh for tomorrow.

Lion (Photo by Sarah)

Lion (Photo by Sarah)

Lion in the Sunset

Lion in the Sunset

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XIII: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Bushbaby Bonus Video at Insinkwe Bush Lodge from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Brown Hooded Kingfisher

Brown Hooded Kingfisher

Impala (Photo by Sarah)

Impala (Photo by Sarah)

Giraffe Legs (Photo By Sarah)

Giraffe Legs (Photo By Sarah)

June 18th:

We headed off early to make the 6 hour drive from around Bergville, and headed southeast along R74 to connect with the N2, which would take us north along the coast to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve.  The drive took us down out of the highlands of the Drakensbergs to the more tropical coastline passing sugarcane farms, banana trees, and countless Zulu villages.  The warm air was a nice change and the humidity was very tolerable since it was their wintertime.  We stayed at the Insinkwe Bush Lodge & Backpackers that had an excellent location and facilities.  They also had some resident Bushbabies that crept around the grounds in the darkness.  On occasion they leave a few bits of banana out for them.  Only enough for them to “have a quick snack” so it doesn’t disturb their natural feeding habits.  It provided me a glimpse of an extraordinary animal I probably would never have gotten to see on my own.  The Bushbaby relies  on its stealth, and excellent hearing to avoid predators and the shutter of a camera was enough to make it flinch.

Zebra in the brush (Photo by Sarah)

Zebra in the brush (Photo by Sarah)

Sneezing Giraffe

Sneezing Giraffe

Buffalo Crossing the Black Mfolozi River (Photo by Sarah)

Buffalo Crossing the Black Mfolozi River (Photo by Sarah)

June 19th:

We got up bright and early at 5:15 A.M. and left in the dark along the sandy pothole filled road in order to make it to the gate of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi when it opened at 6:00 A.M.  We crept in the gate as the first light came over the hills, eager to find a Rhinoceros.  The park is a well known rhino sanctuary and might be our best bet to spot either a White or Black Rhino.  The biggest difference between the two is the shape of the mouth.  White Rhinos have a broader flatter lip for grazing on grasses while Black Rhinos have a much more pointed lip for eating foliage.  The first 2 hours of the morning we followed the banks of the Hluhluwe River in the eastern portion of the park with little to show for our effort except a few interesting birds and a couple shy little Red Duikers.  Just as things were beginning to look bleak we decided to check out one of the viewpoints overlooking the river.  Two turns in the short road Sarah spotted it from the car, while I, in disbelief, was slow to react.  I put it in reverse and pulled ever slowly backwards to see in a small clearing a absolutely massive male White Rhinoceros with a 2-3’ long horn to match just laying down.  Knowing how unpredictable Rhinos can be at times we were both a bit nervous.  We were about 300ft away or so, a distance that he could easily cover in seconds.  Rhinos can run up to about 45 mph over short distances despite their lumbering appearance.  We sat and stared in disbelief until the initial shock and nervousness dissipated and we could sit and enjoy his presence.  The rhino was clearly not threatened by our appearance as he remained on the ground, leisurely enjoying his morning while each exhaling breath out of his huge nostrils kicked up clouds of dust from the dirt he was in.  He finally rose, and ambled farther into the bush like a miniature tank until he disappeared from view.  It was only about 9:30 A.M. and our day had been made already.

Impala Profile (Photo by Sarah)

Impala Profile (Photo by Sarah)

Zebra foraging the burn (Photo by Sarah)

Zebra foraging the burn (Photo by Sarah)

Brown Hooded Kingfisher with worm

Brown Hooded Kingfisher with worm

We left full of anticipation for what else was to come and more then satisfied for what we had just witnessed.  As we continued along more and more animals seemed to come out of the woodwork: Nyala, Impala, Warthogs, and Buffalo.  Little did we know we were just getting our feet wet.  Being winter, and the dry season parts of the park were being burned to mitigate large wildfires spreading through the tall grass, so large patches of land were freshly black and charred.  It was coming up a hill through one of these patches that I spotted a head just above the crest of the hill even with the treetops.  A lone male Giraffe was just casually standing in the burnt landscape taking in the hot African sun.  Standing head to shoulders above the landscape, he wasn’t going to hide anytime soon.  This was one animal for which having a zoom lens was more detrimental then helpful, for if he were any closer I would have struggled to fit him in the frame.  Two Red-Billed Oxpeckers casually hopped up and down his long neck picking off insects as they went.  Sometimes even venturing to the top of the Giraffes head until they were shaken off.  The giraffe stood at least 15-20’ tall.  Our luck just never seemed to run out as we continued on, past another Giraffe, and own into a small valley that was a veritable feast of wildlife.  Impala, Wildebeest, Warthogs, Baboons, Zebra, and a large male Elephant all grazing in roughly the same area.  Needless to say we found a good spot and put the car in park and took it in.  During this time a passing car shared a hot tip on some lions they saw about an hour ago.  Before we could follow on the trail of the lion another White Rhino emerged out of the bush making the Baboons scatter, and the Impala shuffle over.  We couldn’t leave now, and got sucked into watching this rare sight.

Giraffe Tongue

Giraffe Tongue

Giraffe above the trees

Giraffe above the trees

Zebra roadblock

Zebra roadblock

The day was slowly beginning to close and we decided to use the last remaining time we had to get to where the passing car had spotted lions in hope that the napping cats hadn’t awoken and left.  We got to the viewpoint as the sun was just beginning to set and an absolutely massive herd of buffalo about 60 strong crossing the Black Mfolozi River.  It was not until the buffalo passed that I saw the two Lions, curled up on a little sandy island in the middle of the river not 300ft from where the herd had just crossed.  One young male lion and a female lion were lying partially hidden in the reeds.  One could not wish for a more perfect end to a day, the sun setting on a pair of lions sleeping on a sand bar island in the middle of the Black Mfolozi River.  I could have stayed all night but we had to leave the park by 6:00 P.M.  before the gates closed.  The drive back to the gate was far from ordinary though.  As I was coming around a bend in the gravel road I soon found myself face to face with another huge male White Rhino in the middle of the road.  Luckily he was just as startled as me and made a hasty retreat into the bush.  It did not end there.  We continued toward the gate and spotted another group of 3 more White Rhinos curled up together in another small clearing.   I wish I could’ve stayed, but was now under a bit of a time crunch with all the extracurricular activity.  It would have been a great note to end on but there always has to be one more.  We saw the last, and 7th rhino of our day in some tall grass no more than 200ft from our car near the banks of the river to finally cap off our thrilling day at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.

White Rhino sleeping in brush

White Rhino sleeping in brush

Lions on the Black Mfolozi River

Lions on the Black Mfolozi River

White Rhino in the dusk

White Rhino in the dusk

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VI: Mountain Zebra National Park, South Africa

May 29th: Mountain Zebra National Park, South Africa

I slept in, getting up at half past six.  I had a short couple hour drive about 200km(125 miles) north to Cradock, and just beyond that Mountain Zebra National Park.  The drive was one of the more fun roads I had driven with bending turns and rolling hills that seemed to last forever.  During my drive I worked my way from the lush coastal forests to the arid Karoo.  I made a short stop in Cradock to re-fuel, buy more food, and use the Internet, which unlike most of South Africa was surprisingly quick.  This dusty computer in the corner of a small electronic shop finally gave me the opportunity to get the plane tickets for Sarah and I to fly from Cape Town to Durban after we met up.  I was then off to Mountain Zebra National Park. I set up my dust-covered tent and went for a short hike to get my legs moving again.  In the vast majority of national parks and reserves in South Africa you have to remain in your vehicle when you are in the park, with a few designated areas where you can get out.  It is understandable from a liability perspective for the parks because there are a number of dangerous animals most people wouldn’t want to run into on foot.  It was hard for me to get used to at first since I am used to the freedom to explore in the parks and forests of the USA.  Mountain Zebra National Park was a good mix of the two.  It had cordoned off hiking areas that contained no large predators, and the largest area of the park containing roads for viewing from your car.

After dinner I took a short drive on a couple small loops to watch the sunset, but I found much more to keep me occupied.  Lo and behold about 15 minutes into the drive I found a pair of the elusive Cape Mountain Zebra grazing on the edge of the mountainside.  The Mountain Zebra were hunted into near extinction in the early 20th century with as few as 100 remaining but through conservation efforts after the 1930s the population is now just over 2,000.  The mountain zebra are generally shorter and stockier then Burchell’s Zebra and are built for climbing steep terrain.  They also have a reddish nose and a dewlap, which is a loose fold of skin on their neck, which aren’t found on Burchell’s Zebra.  The rest of the drive the sightings were sparse with a few Kudu and Eland.  The mountains are different then any I have seen before with grassy slopes interspersed with giant rolling bald sections of smooth barren rock.  The sweet thorn that grows everywhere makes the environment seem all that more harsh.

May 30th: Mountain Zebra National Park

One of the most spectacular sunrises yet, I was up at six and was able to get to the top of the plateau that overlooks the park just as the sun poked its head out from behind the mountains.  From the plateau I was able to head out on some short drives to spot animals in the morning light.  I was not disappointed and saw herds of black wildebeest and springbok.  The highlight of the day came around 10 a.m. when I came across a group of about 10-15 buffalo.  The huge, but often shy creatures were packed into a dense thicket and it was hard to get a clear view, but I did spot a few little ones who would occasionally get away from their parents and poke their head out to see what hubbub was all about.  During the heat of the day I relaxed in the shade of my tent to enjoy the mountain views and the smaller creatures of the Karoo.  My favorite being the small mice that would constantly be popping up on rocks checking if the coast was clear.  They also had the amazing ability to navigate up and into sweet thorn trees to munch on the seedpods.  With unbelievable speed they would weave their way through the tangle of massive thorns on the branches.  The tree also provided them cover from hungry birds with the large thorns preventing a safe landing spot.  To cap off the remaining hours of daylight I took a short hike to watch the baboons from afar chase each other around on the giant rocks.  I returned to my campsite for another redundant meal, one which I had the last four meals, of bread, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried fruit and buttermilk rusks.

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Gianaclis Caldwell

Cheese, Cheesemaking, and Small Dairy

Around the world with Weston & Dana

One big adventure around the world!

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