December 3rd, 2009

Kruger Park September 2009, Jock

Next destination was Jock Safari Lodge. This lodge is a private concession completely in the boundaries of Kruger Park. Jock in a word is the heritage site of the legendary story of Jock, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s dog, a Bull Terrier. Sir Percy lived in the 19th century, one of many gold hunters, seeking wealth and fortune in the area formerly known as the Transvaal, South Africa. Barberton was the center of the gold buz and over time, it looked like this hype was overly exaggerated. There was not that much gold at all in this region and many fortune seekers soon ran out of cash and were desperately seeking for alternative means of income. During this period, the farmer community migrated at the same pace into the region, but was stopped at the boundaries of the tsetse fly, a vicious insect causing certain death under mainly cow stock. Behind the tsetse curtain lied the area now known as Kruger Park or the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This park was in those days packed with great herds of animals and their fate was sealed in the late 19th century. A great number of gold rushers turned into hunters and within 20 years, Kruger Park had only a handful of elephant left. Lions were eradicated and many of the special species (like Roan and Sable antelope) were gone. This went on until Paul Kruger fought for declaring the Kruger region to national park, then named Sabie Game Reserve, the area tied between the Sabie River and the Crocodile River. A former army officer, James Stevenson-Hamilton was nominated as the first park ranger. In later years, the Shingwedzi Game reserve was proclaimed and finally in 1926 the area between Shingwedzi and Sabi was allocated to national reserve as well and the combined area was from now on called Kruger National Park. From 1927 onwards, the park was opened for the general public.

Jock Safari Lodge keeps this story alive with all its historic dramas and heroes and this is where we spent the next 5 days with some amazing experiences. I will take you through our journeys with some images.

My first question to the camp’s management was: what specials do you have here ? The answer knocked me off my feet: Wild Dogs. A pack is residing on our concession. I can’t tell you how excited I was. In all the 16 years I have been visiting the bush, I have never seen them. Can you believe it. In the last couple of years I was asked by the rangers: “What do you want to see ?”. My consistent answer: Wild Dog. And here they are !

Wild Dogs
This image shows the interaction between adult and pup, the pup begging for food. I think this is my killer image of the trip. All puppies are looking at mom for food. Image quality is very pleasing, more so because wild dog interactions (as I experienced) are WILD. Try to keep the camera on them !
As mom and the rest of the adults were without food, this was the sign for the hunt. Puppies were reprimanded to stay (note the puppy on its back in the front), as the adults are moving out. Usually back within an hour, with full bellies and offering the stomach contents to the puppies./td>

On the next morning drive we went out into the general park area and we ‘met’ a small family of Ground Hornbills, 4 adults and a juvenile. Ground hornbills are usually confined to national parks and popular believe is that there are only 1500 of these birds left in the world. A very thin line of genetic survival prospects. It is not hard to find these birds, since they are big and obvious. In Kruger Park they are used to car traffic and will allow for some easy closeups.

Ground Hornbill
Click on the following link to hear its foghorn call.

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On day 2 we planned to go out early and drive the entire day, passing and visiting Sabie River again. And where there are lions, there are a lot of cars in Kruger Park. We decided to mingle and be stuck for a while, watching a pride of lion. For a while not much was happening, until this lioness leaped out of her hiding place to chase an impala.

Lioness hunting
The hunt ended without success.

After a much needed lunch and some drinks we continued and could see a larger elephant herd in the distance. The ranger guessed their plan that they would come towards us to cross the road in order to get to a drinking place at the other side of the road. We parked the car and waited. A while not much was going on until the matriarch decided it was time.

Elephant Herd
The matriarch leading the way. And when she moved, everyone follows. A fascinating show.
Adults following gently, the youth is always playing. Here two male boys sparring.

The weather thus far had been overcast: pleasant for temperatures, but missing morning and evening light conditions. This morning, the skies were clear(er), at least the sun was providing for nice light. On a termite hill a family of dwarf mongoose were posing nicely for us.

Dwarf Mongoose

Nice light by sun in the morning is nice, but as the day progresses, midday light will be harsh. In these conditions we came across a family of white rhino, wanting to cross the road. With cars gathering quickly, the family got a little edgy, taking a position in the middle of the road.

White Rhino Family
Game Jam

The following image was created against the sun, trying to create a silhouette image. In post-processing I adapted the sky color from orange to blue and took the light levels to the dark side. It created a nice silhouette of the bird.

Shelley’s Francolin in Backlight
This is how this call sounds.

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When on bush-trips, the viewing highlights are always mornings and late afternoon. Most animals stay low during the day, simply because it is too hot. Birds like the mornings most, then is when you hear and see them the most. In luxury lodges, the time between is a rest period as well, so mostly people lounge around the pool or try to recover from the morning drive taking a siesta. I cannot. I cannot swim or sleep in the bush. My time there is so short, I need to take full advantage. So, in midday period, when in the camp area, I stroll around trying to find birds. On one of my strolls I got to see two birds that are hard to see, hard to photograph.

Bennett’s Woodpecker
Hand-holding, knee-supporting my lens! The call can be heard to click here.

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Greyheaded Bushshrike
A very elusive bird. Mostly only heard, hard to see because of its camo-colours. Listen to his call !

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Our last day arrived. Always a sad moment. I wish I could stay forever. On our last drive we saw the Pearl Spotted Owl, busy hunting weaver birds, but during our viewing not successful.

Pearl Spotted Owl
This is how he calls.

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Finally an image of a scene that you can see a lot in Kruger: a Steenbok Klipspringer standing on a rock, viewing and watching the activity down below. Sometimes, when you see these guys climbing the rocks, you get jealous. It looks all so simple and goes so effortlessly.

Rock Sentry

Thank you Jock ! It was great.

More images can be found on Kruger 2009 Gallery.

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