Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back on-line at last ... and on with the trip.

Well, over the last few days there have been apparent "upgrades" taking place to the Seacom undersea cable that supplies South Africa with a significant portion of our international bandwidth. As a result of this work it has been almost inmpossible (for me anyway) to work on any of the international sites I use, like blogger.

Well, it seems like we're functioning again. So back to the trip.

Just after mid-day we arrived at Urikaruus. A small little camp just off the main road about halfway between Twee Rivieren and Mat Mata camps. A sum total of four two bed chalets, plus the Camp Attendants unit.

The picture on the right is of the chalet we stayed in. You can just see the roof of my car at the bottom of the pic. Gives you an idea of how high these units are on their stilts! The room to the left of our chalet is the kitchen / diningroom beloning to our unit. The image on the left of the two above looks along the back of the units from the perspective of just outside our unit at ground level.

And this the view from the front of the dining room!

Amazing :-) ... One of the things that really amazed all of us was the clarity of and colours in the clouds and sky, I don't think a picture can truely do it justice, but I've tried!

all the best Ivan

Friday, April 23, 2010

On the move again ... Urikaruus here we come!

Urikaruus is described by the offical Sanparks website as :

- Unfenced, built on stilts, tourism assist. on duty
- No children under 12 allowed
- 1 bedroom with 2 single beds - No additional persons allowed
- Equipped kitchen - Gas fridge / freezer
- Provide own drinking water and firewood
- Barbeque facilities on deck
- Solar power for lights, gas for hot water
- Wc and shower
Urikaruus Wilderness Camp - Guests have to provide their own drinking water and firewood.

This really does not do this lovely little camp justice. Once again I'm moving ahead of myself.
We left Mata Mata around 9am in the morning. There had been an impressive rain storm the previous night, so we were interested to see what had happened on the roads and in the veld as a result.
As we moved out into the park it almost seemed; at first; as if the rain had just been sucked into the ground. The nice thing was that the dust had settled and when you drove along there was no real dust being created. we were sure as the day went on and it got hotter again this would soon change!
Our first sighting on this morning was one of our regulars, the black-backed jackal. This one was right by the roadside and I managed to get a couple of decent pictures, this one being my favourite:
Next was another regular, the Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus), I was still searching for a great shot of this bird, and this nwas a little better but still not where I really wanted it.
Then I spotted the comedian of the Kgalagadi! This gemsbok had clearly caught its horns in something and had not managed to rid itself of the foliage.
And then junior! This little springbok was just exercising its running legs as we arrived. I unfortunately was not in a position to catch its first pronk, and dart. I think it could not have been more than 24hrs or so old. At a close look one can see some of the afterbirth remains on its mothers rear.
The light by now 10am, had become extremely harsh and bright, as you can see in the background of this images, making the lighting quite challenging. So, I am relatively pleased with the outcome of these shots, although I had to do quite a bit of post-processing.
Then we spotted a Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor), a Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus), a Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) all in quick sucession.
Closely followed by a striped kingfisher (Halcyon chelicuti) with a grasshopper it had just caught, another Tawny Eagle and two Southern White-faced Owls (Ptilopsis granti).
Then we saw the impact of the previous night rain. The road flooded and the communal nest of some Sociable Weavers (Philetairus socius) that had gotten just too heavy with the water and fallen out of the tree.

The some more Eagles! Wow, we had gotten so used to NOT seeing big raptors in some of the other wilderness areas we visit on a more regular basis, that we were starting to feel quite spoiled! A Juvenile Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) and a Black-breasted Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis).
Whew, quite a morning, and I never mentioned the usual ... herds of springbok, wildebeest, gemsbok and of course ground squirrels and some smaller birds we could not identify. All of this was in two and a half hours! Shortly after that we arrived at our next camp Urikaruus. But thats for my next post ;-)
all the best

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In and around Mata Mata

Having arrived reasonably early in Mata Mata, we took the opportunity to relax, have a swim and stretch our legs a bit. Having now spent the best part of 24hrs in the car over the last three days! We unfortunately had only managed to book a single night here too, so we would be back on the road in the morning, but fortuately not so far this time, about 60km back on the road we travelled to a camp called Urikaruus.

Anyway, once again I'm getting ahead of myself!
Mata Mata ...

A pleasant camp, still quite large with a number of chalets and a camping area. This camp is fenced off from the park, has a small swimming pool, petrol station, small shop and reception.

Yep, thats me and Claire Marie (in front of me) and Gayle (on the edge of the photo). As you can see the pool was not sparkling blue and clean, but it WAS wet, and cool. A big relief after the hot days we'd spent in the car and on the road.

After our swim we were relaxing on the veranda of our chalet, when I spotted a Crimson-breasted Gonolek (formerly Crimson-breasted Shrike) Laniarius atrococcineus, it is an African bird occurring in a broad swathe from southern Angola to the Free State in South Africa. This shrike is extremely nimble and restless, its penetrating whistles being heard far more often than the bird is seen, its bright colour notwithstanding. The sexes have the same colouration and are indistinguishable from each other. A yellow-breasted form is occasionally seen, and was at first thought to be a separate species. (credit wikipedia).

As it says in wikipedia, this bird does not pose for you, it is always on the move. It is however, beautiful! I'm on a mission to try and get a really good picture of it still. Here is my best one from this trip.

Then of course we were visited by the local residents .... the Cape Ground Squirrel (Xerus inauris) is found in most of the drier parts of southern Africa from South Africa, through to Botswana, and into Namibia.
The name Cape Ground Squirrel is somewhat misleading as it actually has a much wider area of habitation. This common name may have been arrived at to distinguish it from a tree squirrel (the Eastern Grey Squirrel) found around Cape Town, which was imported from Europe by Cecil John Rhodes. (credit wikipedia)

Then there are the other little regulars, these cute little birds are so aptly named, Familiar Chats! You'll see them all over the country, and they'll aways be around hopping all over flicking their wings.
The Familiar Chat, Cercomela familiaris, is a small passerine bird of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. It is a common resident breeder in Africa south of the Sahara in rocky and mountainous habitat and around human habitation. (credit wikipedia)
As it started to get dark we settled down the the serious buiness of cooking supper!
That's all for now.
all the best

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The road to Mata Mata

As we drove out of the Twee Rivieren camp on Wednesday just after 8am in the morning, Ria and I had switched roles. She was now driving and I was sitting in the passenger seat with my camera. Every hopeful of some exciting sitings. We were a little wary of the amount of time that it potentiall could take us to get to Mata Mata, even though it was "only" 120km away. As I described in my earlier posts we had already spent almost two full days travelling in the car just to get here, and all of us were somewhat travel weary.

The first aminals we saw on our drive that morning was to be one of the icons of the Kalahari, the Gemsbok.

I think if you have not seen one of these, and taken a photo of it, you have not been to the Kgalagadi! They are beautiful and amazing creatures.

The gemsbok or gemsbuck (Oryx gazella) is a large African antelope, of the Oryx genus.
Gemsbok are mainly desert-dwelling and do not depend on drinking to supply their physiological water needs, but many of the northern Gemsbok live in open grasslands where water is readily available. (credit wikipeadia)

Gemsbok are able to increase their body temperature to 45 degrees from 35.7 degrees C in order to delay evaporative cooling. (credit

They do become, however a very common sight as we experienced on this trip.
The next thing we saw was a Kori Bustard:
The Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) is a large bird native to Africa. It is a member of the bustard family. It may be the heaviest bird capable of flight, although this title may also belong to the similarly-dimensioned Great Bustard. The male Kori Bustard averages about 110 cm (3.6 ft) in length, stands 60–90 cm (2.0–3.0 ft) tall and have a wingspan about 230-275 cm. An average male bird would weigh about 12.4 kg (27 lb), but exceptional birds may weigh over 20 kg (44 lb). The female Kori Bustard averages 5.7 kg (13 lb) and is usually 20% shorter than a male. (credit wikipedia)
Then we spotted a black-backed jackal strolling through the veld, with a couple of curious ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) looking on.
Both these animals were to become regular sightings for us too. Then we spotted these Namaqua Sandgrouse (Pterocles namaqua) is a species of bird in the Pteroclididae family. The male has the plain coloured neck. They tend to flock in numbers to the water holes.
The next animals we saw are also in abundance, and are also, in my opinion icons of the Kalahari. The BlueWildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis). Often seen together, these animals are seen in herds of many hundred animals at a time, however you also see lone males of both quite often.
And then we spotted some real excitement. Three cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) with a springbok they had recently captured. They were lying under a tree with their meal, some 75m or so away from the road.
We sat and watched these cheetahs, who we extremely relaxed and not at all interested in the four or five vehicle loads of humans, pointing various optical devices at them!
We then moved on and spotted these swallow-tailed bee-eaters (Merops hirundineus).
Next on the agenda were giraffe, and lots more springbok, and some wildebeest. The daytime temperatures we starting to hot up some many of the animals we seeking shade. This large herd of springbok, with the giraffe and wildebeest mingling was well over 130 animal strong!

I count 132 just in this bottom image alone, and there were many other spread along the base of this little koppie, as can been seen in the image above.
And finally, at least for this post another two birds I came to identify as regulars in this region. The Pale Chanting Goshawk, and the Secretary bird. Not my best images of either, but I'll save those for a later post.
The Secretary bird, I have subsequently discovered is quite unique:
The Secretarybird or Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey. Endemic to Africa, it is usually found in the open grasslands and savannah of the sub-Sahara. Although a member of the order Accipitriformes, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards, vultures, and harriers, it is given its own family, Sagittariidae. (credit wikipedia)
We pulled into the Mata Mata reception at about 2:30pm that afternoon. A good day all-in-all.
All the best

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the park ... at last

Well, finally we arrived at the gates into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park. The check-in went smoothly, although one could clearly see we were no longer in a fast-paced city, but out on the fringes of the desert (and the edge of civilization!). Nothing was done in any kind of hurry, or with any form of urgency..... but it was done, and in a reasonably friendly manner.

Then off to our chalet just accross the way. Interestingly this reception area is also a border post between South Africa and Botswana, and due to the renovations and developments taking place you actually cross over into the Botswana section to go around to the rest camp, which is back on the South African side.
This is a view of the chalets on the Botswana side from the South African camp.

Taken as the sun was setting, so you can see the sun reflecting off the chalets, with the dark clouds in the background. Interestingly, one of the things Ria had said, was that she would love to be in the Kalahari when it rains! Well, she got her wish, it actually rained three time whilst we were there!

One of the first animals we saw once we were in the park was this:

The yellow mongoose. I was quite excited but came to realise as the trip went on, that these little animals have become quite habituated to humans in the camps and are frequently seen scavenging around for tidbits.

The Yellow Mongoose (Cynictis penicillata), sometimes referred to as the Red Meerkat, is a small mammal averaging about 1 lb (1/2 kg) in weight and about 20 in (500 mm) in length. A member of the mongoose family, it lives in open country, from semi-desert scrubland to grasslands in Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
As many as twelve subspecies of yellow mongoose have been described. In general, the yellow mongoose has lighter highlights on the underbelly and chin, a bushy tail, and a complete lack of sexual dimorphism. Southern yellow mongooses are larger, have yellow or reddish fur, longer fur, and a longer tail with a characteristic white tip. Northern subspecies tend towards smaller size, grey colouration, a grey or darker grey tip to the tail, and shorter hair more appropriate to the hotter climate.
The yellow mongoose is carnivorous, consuming mostly arthropods but also other small mammals, lizards, snakes and eggs of all kinds. (credit wikipedia)

Another of the regulars one sees in the evenings and early mornings are the geckos, they tend to go to the lights so they can catch the numerous insects that flock to them at night:

This is Bibron's gecko (Pachydactylus bibronii) and is a moderate-sized gecko that when fully grown reaches between 6 and 8 inches. It has a stockier build than most other geckos. The female is generally smaller than the male. Its base color is brown, and it has a beaded pattern dorsally, with horizontal black strips and white dots. The belly is white or very light brown. Newly-hatched Bibron's geckos' line and color patterns look solid while the adults' appear to be more broken. The female sometimes lacks the white dots.
Bibron's gecko is arboreal and ground-dwelling. It is territorial, and males are very aggressive toward each other. Individuals can commonly be found missing appendages in the wild. The female usually lays two clutches per year, with two eggs per clutch. These geckos are very fast runners. Also, they are good at hiding in leaves or on rocks.

This species is distributed across the southern part of the African continent. It is common in South Africa, where it is one of the largest gecko species. (credit wikipedia).

After a nice meal, we settled down for our first night in the park. Only to be woken up a little later with bats flying around inside our chalet!, Well there didn't seem to be much that we could do about it so we went back to bed. We woke up the floowing morning to find that Ria's bed had been the target of the bats latrine activity over night .....eeeoww! Anyway we were up and washed, and headed off to the next camp: Mata Mata some +-120km away, over dirts roads with a speed limit of 50km per hour, and hopefully some interesting game viewing along the way. But that's for another post.

all the best

Monday, April 19, 2010

The long and winding road (NOT!)

Well, having jumped around a bit in the last two posts, I'll get back on track with this one. We left Mokala Game Reserve at 6am the following morning (Tues 30th March), and headed out back through Kimberly onto the road to Groblershoop, then Upington and onto Twee Rivieren.

According to google maps, 733 km 12 hours 53 mins. First planned stop was to be in Upington (481 km 7 hours 26 mins). We were hoping it wasn't going to take us that long.

Hmmm... well it looked like it was going to be a long day. Thankfully we'd decided to break the trip by staying over at Mokala.

Well, we got into Kimberly just around 7:30am, and decided to stop at a shopping centre and get some breakfast, this took us to 8 o'clock, when we left Kimberly on the road to Groblershoop. Two things struck me as we headed out.

Can you see anything in particular in the image above? Taken through the front windscreen of my car. This is about and hour or so outside of Groblershoop, admittedly taken on the return trip, but hey, going either way it's still as straight!

Well, for me, the first was just how straight the road was, and the second just how empty! Not another car in sight. I'll have to install auto-pilot in my car for the next trip :-).

We arrived in Upington at about 11:45 (Approx 399km from Kimberly). OK, so google maps got that one wrong ... and estimated 5hrs and 38min, we did in 3hrs and 45min, without breaking any speed limits!

Stopped off at a filling station, and fortunately decided to check my oil and water reservoir. As I was checking I noticed that it looked as if the main hose feeding water from the radiator into the cooling system had started to leak. Asked the attendant if and where the nearest Nissan dealer was, fortunately just around the corner ... whew! Drove around there and asked if they could help us. We had to be at Twee Rivieren reception before 6:30pm to check in ... still another 260km to go. Plus time to repair!

Anyway they Nissan people were extremely helpful and obliging! We left the vehicle with them and wandered off to try and find somewhere to have lunch. An hour and a bit later I returned to the Nissan dealership, and they had fixed my car! Didn't have the exact spare, but they made a plan and sorted it out. Well done guys and thanks, for a mere R363.00 we were back on the road. A certain disaster averted had I not noticed the developing problem, and they had not been so accommodating.

So by 2pm we were back on the road. Eeiisshhh another long straight road:

I was interested to note that there are a number of road signs warning people to be careful because bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) tend to cross the road.

Cute little creatures, aren't they? Well on that stretch of +-240km I counted 6 road kills of these lovely little animals, that was just on the way there, and on the return trip again another 7 or 8 fresh kills. Shocking.
Why is this happening? Are the people travelling these roads not meant to be nature lovers ... the road basically only goes to one place, the game reserve. Well, I try to stick to the advertised speed limit, and generally do fairly well at this, the cars we did see on this road were generally going much faster than us. I would imagine that the bulk of these kills happen either at night or early morning/evening. I presume because the traffic volume are so low on these roads and the roads a so straight the people take advantage of these factors and drive way over the speed limit.

Fortunately this was the only sad aspect on this trip. This post has also got too long, so I'll end off here for now.

All the best

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hmmm..... I've rushed headlong into the trip without telling you about some of the things that went on/in before!

In planning this trip we established that we would need to take drinking water for at least 9 days, all our food and other drinks for that period too, as well as the obvious .... clothing, cameras, books (we like to take at least a bird book, mammal book, reptile book, spider book, tree/bushes, and then reading material too.) and that's for 4 of us. Ria (my wife), Gayle and Claire Marie our daughters, and of course myself. My computer goes too, for downloading images taken on the trip.

Foolishly, I did not take any shots of all of the items packed into the back of my Nissan Sani, it was quite a load! Here's some of the detail just to give you an idea:
1. 65 litres of drinking water, in 2 25l jerry cans, plus 3 5l bottles.
2. 18 litres of fruit juice.
3. 12 beers and 12 ciders (all we could fit :-( )
4. 4 camping chairs and 1 camping table.
5. 1 tyre compressor (you have to deflate your tyres when in the park)
6. 2 camera bags and monopod, 1 laptop and briefcase
7. 2 large suitcases, 1 for Ria and me, and the other for the girls (20yrs old and 17yrs old)
8. 2 vanity cases, one medical box
9. 2 5kg bags of charcoal
10. 1 40l cooler box with all our meat for 10 days.
11. 3 55l crates containing all our other food, the juice and drinks mentioned above
12. 1 large torch, 2 headlamps, 1 camping shovel, some basic braai equipment.
13. 3 pillows ....

To mention the bulk of it I think!! Here is an older image of an earlier trip for which we took considerably less:

Impressive? ... well I think so.

all the best, Ivan
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