Kruger National Park
It took us about six hours to get from the park gate to our tent even though I think it is less than 10 kilometers. We noticed some of the birders had a bumper sticker that said, “Please pass, I am looking at birds.” That would have been helpful. It was just insane. Insane. We saw so many birds as soon as we entered the park. There were Red-billed Hornbills for goodness sake!
Punda Maria is a magical place. It is perched on a ridge in the sandveld region and is nice and quiet. “I’ve never been fenced into a more diverse landscape” reads my journal. Starting at the northern end of the park meant that we slowly got to know the animals. They are less dense up there, so that when we saw our first zebra or elephant, we got some nice one on one time with them before seeing herds as we drove south. I might have cried a little the first time we saw an elephant. The plants were spectacular too!
Once you leave your fenced rest camp, you cannot get out of your car, but luckily Punda Maria has a nice little hike and all of the camps have great birds and smaller animals safely within the fence. Our first day was about 91F and the sun seemed to really fuel the fancy flights of the Lilac Rollers. I once got a card from my sister who was away at college with a Lilac Roller on it. I never thought I'd actually see a real one. We watched a family of baboons grooming and running about, our first Hamerkop at a water hole, and Warthogs eating while kneeling down on their elbows…or are they called front-knees (??), Burchell’s Zebras, Impalas, Nylas, and many others. We did a night drive and got glimpses of a Spotted Eagle, Fiery-necked nightjar, African elephants, Springhares, Small-spotted Genets, Spotted eagle owls, Water buffalo, Common Duiker, and a Leopard. I got a really blurry photo of the Leopard's bum...if anyone wants to see it.
The road to warthog land on the left and the road to Mozambique on the right and the feather of a Crested Guinea Fowl
We stayed in what was called a “safari tent,” but it had a nice bathroom and a kitchen on our braii (deck/porch). We cooked our meals and ate while watching the valley down below.
Coffee and yogurt with rasperries and Cape gooseberries ( Physalis peruviana)
Tiny Chacma baboon female and a momma with a little one holding on for a run
Pride of De Kaap (Bauhinia galpanii)
Chacma baboons in the shade
Tasty biltong (toothpick included) and the best way to watch animals without being eaten by a lion
The first African elephant we saw at dusk before we had to get back to camp. It looked like a shadow and then it moved and had wrinkles. It was giant and seemed a little shy, so we gave it some space. Turns out, it was much cooler than seeing one at a zoo or experiencing the terror of riding one with my siblings (and dad) at age 3.
Mid-day listing and zebras eating grass
Some Vervet monkeys raided our lunch bag and scored some fruit. I was impressed with their satsuma eating style!
Southern yellow-billed hornbill
On our drive south toward Shingwedzi, we saw our first giraffes eating leaves from Acacia trees (formerly known as Acacia trees) with their wildly precise lips...just like we had learned it. It was a nicely cloudy day and we were just in total awe.
Babalala picnic area was a nice little spot to walk around and watch elephants and have some tea (they provide the hot water).
Female impala in some sort of male-guided formation
Pin-tailed wydah in the middle of an elaborate display
Sad to see this as roadkill - Double-barred sand grouse
South African Honeymoon, 2016
I figure I might only make it to Africa once in this lifetime, so I better make a few notes to keep it as fresh as possible in my mind and to honor the opportunity. Because I took thousands of photos, I divided these posts up into geographic regions. A note on the photos: many people who visit Africa to watch wildlife have fancy lenses so that they can nicely photograph animals from a distance, but these are all point and shoot (a lovely one) and iPhone 4s. My wildlife photos are taken through binoculars and are terrible quality, but provide me with a memory that I once got to feast my eyes on such creatures. The photos are also totally lacking many of the things I found to be most wonderfully interesting about the people and the culture.
Our general route took us to Johannesburg where we rented a car and drove up into the Drakensburg escarpment to the Magoebaskloof region near a town called Haenertsburg for a couple of days, through Tzaneen for groceries, and then into Kruger National Park via the Punda Maria gate. We then took 10 days/9 nights to drive south stopping at various rest camps for a night or two. We stayed at Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Olifants, Lower Sabie and Skukuza. After leaving the park, we explored more of the escarpment near Sabie and then up to some native remnant forest to find the Gurney's Sugarbird before driving to Old Joe’s Kaya for a wonderful night’s rest and then on to Joburg to fly down to Cape Town. We spent a couple of days in Cape Town and then two more in Simon’s Town before heading home.
NYC under our wing
We had a funky couple of months before leaving and some travel for work so I was overwhelmed with the thought of making plans for this epic trip, but I tried. There were quite a few details to get together just hours before leaving. After a mad-dash at making last minute reservations and plans we were as ready as we were going to be. We left Ellis Hollow in the middle of the night to head to New York City for our flight to Johannesburg. We navigated rush hour while making further last last minute plans before settling in for our fourteen-hour flight. We enjoyed “Totally Anura” wine, aka sleep juice from a flight attendant with perfectly shiny dark periwinkle fingernails. Wine and frogs are a better match than I would have thought.
After landing in Joburg, we drove up into the most amazing mountains for a couple of nights and some serious birding. Lesson number one in how dumb my iPhone has made me was with navigation. We were smart enough to get a GPS for the car because I didn’t have an international data plan and Eliot didn’t have tons of data. We didn’t have a paper map, but the GPS got us close and some directions from helpful people got us to destinations eventually. Just outside of Pretoria, we got a look at African culture and we saw so many beautiful fruit stands, lots of baby wearing, children playing, very young children caring for other children, women balancing giant cases of yellow soda or 5 gallon buckets on their heads and men drinking at these little pop up stores under the shade of expansive trees, roadside car washes, older women with wheelbarrows stacked high with branches and the trees (just like the ones in my textbooks that always used African examples). Acacias, or at least the family formerly known as acacias. Acacias, oh my gosh, we were in Africa. We had to keep reminding ourselves.
We stopped for a few groceries and directions in the adorable town of Haenertsburg and then on to our quaint lodgings at Diggersrest. You see, I tried to book a little bungalow for us, but only the “main lodge” was available and it wasn’t much more, so we took it. It was giant and absolutely delightful! We swam, we lounged, we battled our jet lag and we birded our hearts out!
One of my favorite sensations is to leave winter and arrive in a blooming and sunny warm place. Well, this ticked all those boxes. The grounds were full of various Sunbirds and flowers and nooks and crannies and fairy crowns. We wondered around in the sudden warmth wearing our swimsuits (with binoculars) looking like the giant tourists that we were. That is the official relaxation cue: swimsuit/binocular wondering.
Agroforestry is a pretty big deal there. Lots of pine and eucalyptus.
My dear friend Taryn, who I was in grad school with at CU, is South African AND a birder, so she gave us some materials that helped us plan our Afromontane birding adventure.
I often get distracted when Eliot's birding enthusiasm outlasts mine and I look around for other stuff to check out. That day, I found a chameleon!
We spent a nice solid day in Afromontane forest. It reminded me of afternoons on Mauna Kea when the clouds would roll in or Pojo, Bolivia with the cotton clouds flowing over the mountains or near the divide in Costa Rica where the fog hangs out with the Quetzals, but no, we were in Africa (pinch yourself). We could drink the water, drive on amazing roads, and we had a wood fired pizza for dinner in an English pub where everyone was watching a cricket match.
A hike in Woodbush Forest
Watch out! If the American Dipper is the reigning bird king of your heart, this Grey Wagtail might steal its thrown. It was bobbing and dipping and hanging out in white water.
Leaving the escarpment (highveld) to head down into the lowveld.
Sometimes you need to leave work before the sun sets.
Luckily, our new Canadian friends taught us how to play Crokinole, and it is super fun!
It isn't a real party until there is a blow dart competition.
Bathroom art is important.
The Cayuga trail blazes are works of art. Below, old and new beaver sign. There is nothing for scale, but that Cottonwood is one of the largest I've seen.
A stop at our local brewery, Hopshire, for some sunset behind oak.
Sunday brunch at Classic Chef's in Watkins Glen before some chilly, but sunny hiking. This place was amazing!!! There were people eating old school tall dish sundays, rice pudding, BLTs and dressed up! The lady behind us had definitely had her hair done and her most exquisite clip on earrings adorning her ears. It was like a little time capsule with perfect home fries, golden glittered formica tables and chunky white coffee mugs. I love diners!
You can even see a waterfall from the diner!
Check out these sweet bathroom tiles!
Below is a hike in Watkins Glen State Park. The lower trail is closed due to its state of ice, but the upper trail had great views, hemlock, sunshine, flocks of birds, and we finished up at an area with a lot of cattail and a hemlock hammock tree. It was a grand adventure.
And then, the Superbowl, biologist style, with a a little hedgehog friend at half time.
After my second Christmas Bird Count (I'll cover this in the next post) in a couple of weeks on January first, I was ready for some fast/sweat-inducing hiking on the the 2nd. So, we set out from home and did a hike that connected some local preserves. It was a bit gray, but the blanket of snow made for a nice backdrop for pops of red (and Eliot's new hunting safety hat). We need to keep working on our winter tree identification skills and animal prints for that matter, but there were a few old favorites we remembered. Below are some photos from the hike.
Beech leaves still clinging on.
A surprisingly active spider.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill these wells on trees for the same reason that we drill holes to make maple syrup. Many hummingbird species feed from these sap wells and some even time their migration to align with Sapsuckers. They are the only woodpecker in North America that migrates.
American Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), called winterbloom by some, has a showy flower in October and November. Quite the floral treat for winter eyes. The petals have fallen here and now only the calyx remains. Aside from being one of the only winter flowers, witch hazel also has medicinal and historical uses. Native Americans first taught European settlers about how to use it for inflammation and it is still commonly used as an astringent. Another use that I've heard my mother's side of the family talk about is it being the best species for divining rods to locate water (a skill my Grandfather had because, logically, he was the seventh son of the seventh son). That's a story for another day.
Clematis vitalba (Old man's beard or travelers joy): A plant that emulates the hairstyle I most wanted in 1987
Physalis alkekengi (Japanese lantern): cool, but nonnative
A Thanksgiving walk at Wright-Locke Farm and over through Whipple Hill was a nice way to focus on gratitude. We were able to meander around various ponds and wetlands and even spotted some beautiful Hooded mergansers. I just realized that these ducks nest in cavities in trees like Wood ducks and that they are also known to put their eggs in the nests of other Hooded merganser nests. This nice little chunk of nature sure is an oasis for people seeking glimpses of wild. There were lots of bird nests (many of which had pieces of plastic woven in), a White-throated sparrow practicing a very rusty song, alders, oaks and their various acorns, beeches, beautiful signs of herbivory like lace on oak leaves, and ice chunks reflecting the blue sky. Though, I did take my nice camera to Boston, I forgot it on both walks, so these are just iphone shots.
We spent Black Friday at Castle Island where we found an adorable little flock of Dunlin and I got some sea water mist on my face, which is important to do as often as possible.