This is the rundown of the exciting day that I had yesterday, both on activity with an awesome Studiosus roup from Germany and with Hanroe Taljaard, a fellow ranger working at Bhejane Nature Training.
Wow is all I can say! This was definitely, to date, the best day on the job as a guide at Hluhluwe River Lodge! It was a day filled with very very special sightings, some rare and some spectacular…
After meeting my “puffy-eyed” guests at 4:45 am we set off for a early morning drive to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve guided by Hanroe and myself Julian Parsons. The morning was fresh and we were not to optimistic about having a super exciting start to our day as the wildlife seem to be fairly inactive in chilly weather and seem to stay off the roads. I don’t like to admit this but we were awfully wrong.
We got into the reserve at about 5 30 am after a quick check in at the gate to ensure that we beat the mad rush of the other tour operators that were already lined up waiting for their guests to arrive in their bus loads, literally.
Being the firsts vehicles in the park we headed off along the road in search of some undisturbed game. Luck would have it that the first sighting we stumbled upon was a pack of six wild dog lying on the road waiting for the early morning rays to peep over the majestic hills of Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Completely unperturbed by our presence the powerful dogs just lay there huddled up close to one another for warmth allowing us to admire and photograph them not even meters from the vehicle. In my experience this was an amazing sighting because the wild dog are usually extremely active predators spending most of the sunlit hours on the move and the fact that they are highly endangered with only about 5000 left on the African continent. That is one advantage of being the firsts vehicles in the reserve! As the saying goes, “the early bird catches the worm”.
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Moving on from our amazing sighting, with a high level of excited chatted coming from the rear end of my vehicle, we headed off deeper into the park in search of more of the parks amazing animals. The rest of the drive was just as spectacular with many of the herbivorous species moving out into the open as the sun warmed the earth. The species we sighted that morning included giraffe, zebra, nyala, large herds of buffalo, and copious amounts of the majestic white rhinoceros that we extremely close to our vehicle. We also saw many different bird species, the ones standing out in my memory were the White-backed Vulture, Martial Eagle, Wahlbergs Eagle, Purple-crested Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, Malachite Kingfisher, African Darter and African Fish Eagle.
We also stumbled across a bachelor herd of zebra, about 10 strong, and one of them had massive gashes in its rump from their main predator (and I’m guessing) a lion. Definitely lucky to have got away with only a few cuts and bruises.
After our special morning we headed back to the lodge for a nice heart breakfast while reminiscing about all the spectacular wildlife we saw that morning.
While our guests were having breakfast I suggested to Hanroe that I take him into the forest near our lodge to see if I can call in a Narina Trogan (Apaloderma narina), which is a very elusive bird that is restricted to forests and dense woodlands. Luckily we have a fairly strong population of this fantastic bird which can be attracted by imitating its call. We set out in search of the Trogan and shortly after arriving at my favorite birding spot in the forest we heard a Trogan begin its deep, hoarse two syllable call. It took me ages to call this Trogan in but eventually we got him to perch in a Weeping Boer-bean about 15m away from us! Absolutely spectacular. Under normal circumstances this sighting would be the highlight of any birders day but that was not the case on this particular occasion because while I was busy calling the Trogan in, another very scarce bird, a Green Malkoha (Ceuthmochares aereus) began to call high up in the forest canopy. And it got better! To top all of this off, an even rarer bird began its spectacular mating display, the Smithornis capensis, commonly known as the African Broadbill.
We were absolutely gobsmacked, three extremely special birds in one location, at 11 in the morning, not even a 10 minute walk from the lodge. Anybody that knows a fair bit about birding in Southern Africa would probably tell you that I must have been smoking my socks to have located those three bird specials without even having to spend arduous hours of walking and searching the hot humid climate of the sand forests.
That afternoon the large group of German guests split up and half of the group went to False Bay Park with Craig Clowes and myself, and the rest went back to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve for safari number two. The group that joined Craig and I were taken on a walk through the sand forests followed by relaxing sun-downers on the shores of Lake St Lucia! What a spectacular day…