29 Oct 2012

Kagalagadi Transfrontier National Park, Northern Cape, South Africa

(My 300th posting !  I should be getting the hang of it by now !)

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus

We stayed at Twee Revieren, which is the park HQs, located at its' southern point.  The names means "Two Rivers" and the site is the confluence of the Aoub and Nossob rivers, both usually dry.

It seems incredible that, a century ago, the land was parceled off and farmers invited to try to make a living from the area.   Most had given up by the time people started to get concerned about the wildlife in the 1930s.  I'd read about the dry riverbeds, but they were broader and drier than I'd imagined.

There are "waterholes" here and there, and my experience of Kruger National Park twenty years ago made me think of deep hollows with a body of water the size of a tennis court.  Well, I was wrong about Kgalagadi, the "waterholes" are really just concrete troughs, fed by small pipes from tanks fed by arterial water drawn up by solar or wind power.
Ho hum.  Anyway, there was always plenty to see around the parts of the park we visited, which was really just a "v" shape, with each side about 30km long.  The hire car didn't take to the sandier road sections, and getting out and digging wasn't an attractive option in lion country.
Yes, lions.  Here are the first ones we saw, on our first evening.  We saw another car had stopped, and soon saw why.

We ended up seeing lions every day.  These two different males were more obliging.

Lion Panthera leo

Cheetahs, too.  We sighted one on a ridge line and saw there was a family party of four. Then they crossed the road within yards of us.

Cheetah Acinoryx jubatus

Plenty of "cat-food" on the hoof out there..

Springbok  Antidorcas marsupialis

Gemsbok Oryx gazella

And some good birds around. Not a cosmic variety, but enough to make the place more interesting for birders.

Yellow-billed Hornbill  Tockus leucomelas

Namaqua Sandgrouse  Pterocles namaqua

Burchell's Sandgrouse Pterocles burchelli

Northern Black Korhaan Afrotis afraoides

Crimson-breasted Shrike  Laniarius atrococcineus

Secretary Bird Sagittarius serpentarius

Yellow Mongoose  Cynictis pencillata

Pygmy Falcon  Poliheirax semitorquatus

Photo captions all over the place again; - I certainly haven't got the hang of those yet !

25 Oct 2012

Kgalagadi Night Drives

Spotted Eagle Owl  (Bubo africanus)

The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in Northern Cape Province, South Africa was combined with nature reserves in adjacent parts of Botswana in 1994 to become the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.  We spent five nights there in early October.

The night drive vehicle was a very stable 22-seat Isuzu, driven and guided by the personable Sarah. (Didn't get her last name !) With a beanbag, the 800mm and 5D MKIII were a powerful combination. Here we are waiting for the rest of the passengers.

The "Sunset Drive" from 18:00 to 21:00hrs was the most productive for us.  Some of these photos were taken before sunset, which was at around 19:00hrs. After dark,the two spotlights fitted on the  vehicle provided enough light if the subject was within about 30 metres and not moving much.  We did two "Sunset Drives" and one "Night Drive" which followed-on, from 21:00 to 23:00. (Visitors are not allowed to drive their own vehicles in the park after dark.)

Giant Eagle Owl  (Bubo lacteus)

Meerkat  (Suricata suricatta)

Sandbathing   Kori Bustard  (Ardeotis kori)

Yep, totally failed to line up anything iconic with the setting sun...

Barn Owl  (Tyto alba) - female and male

Cape Hare   (Lepus capensis)

Southern African Springhare   (Pedetes capensis)

African Wild Cat   (Felis sylvestris lybica)

with   Black-backed Jackal    (Canis misomelas)

Bat-eared Fox   (Otocyon megalotis)

Cape Fox   (Vulpes chama)

Spotted Hyaena   (Crocuta crocuta)

Cape (Spotted) Dikkop  (Burhinus capensis)

And we'll end as we began.....

Spotted Eagle Owl  (Bubo africanus)

Next posting, "Kgalagadi in the daytime…."

African Penguins

Words like "Africa" and "Penguin" don't seem to naturally go together, but the southern tip of the continent is a long way south of the tropics. With some weather systems coming from the waters around the Antarctic, the cape can get pretty cool.

We visited Simonstown the day we left the Cape Peninsula.  There are a lot of well-preserved buildings along the main street.

Simonstown has a colony of African Penguins (Sphensicus demersus) at Boulders Beach.  Actually they have only been breeding there since 1982.  From the original two pairs, there are now over 2,000 birds in the area.  But this local success masks a huge decline in numbers over recent decades, mostly caused by human over-fishing of the pilchards and anchovies the penguins depend on.  Sadly, these days, the African Penguin is an Endangered species.

But, penguins look cute and have become a big tourist attraction in Simonstown. The South African National Parks service has built a system of boardwalks, allowing close views of the penguins without disturbing them.  You have to pay to get in, of course, unless you cruise past in a kayak !

Later, after a scenic drive around False Bay, we arrived at Betty's Bay.  

Guess what ?  More African Penguins, - but this time in a rocky setting.  The local council maintains a boardwalk at the penguin colony at Betty's Bay too, but it's a more rustic affair. 

We were able to photograph the penguins coming ashore in the early evening.  Actually "coming ashore" is simple in theory, but in practice quite a lot of splashing and crashing about is involved.

It was beautiful light for photography, and we didn't want to go when the viewing area closed at the end of the day.