Spring Bush Telegraph

4 November 2017, Saturday

Spring time Blooms

Spring is here at last, it feels like it has been a long winter especially for all the herbivores pushing through the dry season. There are many beautiful flowers on view throughout the park adding the perfect mix of colours to brighten up the dry look of the bushveld. We have experienced a few thunderstorms this Spring but a few more will be needed to bring back the lush green summer vegetation.

Spring is a busy period for us and we have had 16 tours depart over the past 2 months. We had many happy guests visiting from every continent on the planet including our first group from Malaysia. Our guests have had some fantastic sightings this Spring including a leopard drinking at a waterhole, wild dogs running next to the vehicle as well as Wild dogs pups playing tug of war, huge elephant herds with numbers into the hundreds and some groups were lucky enough to see over 40 lions in one day! We had 2 tours this Spring that enjoyed a night at an overnight birdhide inside Kruger National Park, keep reading to find out more about this fantastic experience.

Sighting of Spring

Wild Planet Safari guides and their guests enjoyed many great sightings this Spring, in September we enjoyed watching a Female leopard and her cub feeding on an impala wedged in a fork in a Leadwood tree not far from Satara Camp, it was an awesome sighting worthy of the sighting of the Spring season, but in the end we had to go for a spectacular Wild Dog sighting in Hluhluwe National Park (The decision was made easier with Wild Dog being the directors favourite animal).
Hluhluwe sightings have been pumping on our last few trips to the park, we have spotted lions there regularly but we were yet to find any of the Wild Dogs. This particular sighting started from a seed being planted the previous night, we met a South African couple in the communal kitchen who informed us of a Wild Dog pack that had been spotted not far from Hilltop Camp. We then made a plan to be first out of the camp at 6 am the next morning, this was an important decision as the Wild Dogs often tolerate a single vehicle nearby but after a few extra vehicles arrive they often move off into the bush and will not be seen for the rest of the day. 
We departed from Hilltop as soon as the gates opened and started to explain to the guests what to look out for, as we turned the first corner we saw them! A pack of 3 adult Wild Dog and 9 Pups. The excitement filled the vehicle  and we shut off the engine and slowly rolled down the hill toward the pack. All fingers were crossed, we were hoping that they would not get spooked by us and that they would remain on the road. 
The pack sent very little attention our way and continued to relax on the road. It was fantastic to see the sun rising and the first bright rays shining on the restless Wild Dogs. The pups then decided that rest time was over, they jumped up full off energy and immediately started to get on with the most important duty off a Wild Dog pup, Play Time!
The pups play session began with the usual catch me if you can game. They bolted up and down the road chasing each other and nipping at each others tail and legs. It was awesome to see, the pups would work as a group of 8 and chase down the odd one out, as soon as they caught the lone target a new group of 8 was formed and they chased down the next target. The pups were obviously enjoying themselves but what was happening was far more important than a playful game. They were having a self taught lesson in how to hunt as pack, the way the pups were working as a team to chase down the lone pup and then immobilize was just how the adult members would work as pack to hunt their prey. 
Suddenly the lesson was over and the pups approached the 3 adults for some affection. The adults congratulated their youngest members and it was as though they then sent them off for lesson 2. The pups ran after a small branch on the road and all 9 struggled and hustled to get a piece of the branch locked in their jaws, they then pulled and ripped and played an intense game of `Tug o War`. This is another hugely important lesson for Wild Dog pups and replicates the way the pack will pull and tear at their prey at the end of a successful hunt.
The games continued for about 20 minutes and it was pure wildlife bliss. We were all so focused on the pack that we never noticed that no other vehicles had joined us, I guess everyone at camp had decided on enjoying a lie in on this particular morning. This was a good thing as it allowed us to move around on the road uninhibited by other cars blocking the road. At one stage our vehicle was completely surrounded by pups and each window had a private view of a pup or 2. After we had been there for about 30 minutes we saw another vehicle approaching from behind, the pack stopped what they were doing and decided that 2 cars near them was too much and they hurriedly rushed off into the bush to spend the rest of the day in the privacy of the thick forest below.   

What is an Overnight Bird Hide?

Firstly, a bird hide is a man made structure, usually constructed out of wood, it has a raised platform with wooden walls and a small gap to peer out and spot animals. Bird hides are constructed in areas with spectacular views or areas near a permanent source of water. They allow us to silently wait and watch animals whilst remaining hidden. In the winter months bird hides are extremely rewarding as the animals will come throughout the day in search of water. Most National Parks and Reserves in South Africa have bird hides in excellent game viewing areas. Kruger National Park has 11 public bird hides all of them are fantastic places to sit and relax away from the vehicle. Two of the Bird Hides in Kruger can be booked as overnight accommodation.

An overnight Bird Hide has fold down beds that are lowered and allow groups between 6 and 9 to sleep overnight. It is one of the most unique and exciting activities offered in Kruger. Overnight bird hides are booked exclusively for the group and there are no other guests or staff anywhere in the area, this makes it one of the most private experiences in Kruger. It is also one of the most rustic experiences in Kruger as there is no electricity, no running water, no shower and only a long drop/out house for a toilet. We bring everything we need including a 20 litre water tank, lighting, spot lights, cooking equipment and lots of fire wood. Kruger provide us with mattresses, bedding and mosquito nets.



What can you expect from this experience?

As with any wildlife experience what you see depends on luck, we have spent many nights in Bird Hides over the past 7 years, some of the nights have been action packed and others have been dead quiet. One night in particular is imprinted in the memory, just before dinner a male lion was announcing his territory, he slowly walked right by the hide and then crossed the low level bridge continuing to call as he went, the male circled  us all night and was about 5 meters from us at one stage. On another occasion, as we arrived at the hide a leopard casually walked past us and climbed up into a kopjie behind the hide. We have also experienced a huge herd of elephant giving us a private swimming show and a spotted genet that actually spent the night in the hide with us. Each experience is different and unique, there are resident hippo and crocodile in the water in front of each hide and you can expect to see them from the hide every night. 

We usually arrive at the hide half an hour before sunset and our guests enjoy the last rays of light watching any animals that have come down to the water for a last drink for the day. We set up a beautiful bush restaurant under the stars and prepare dinner over the fire. After dinner we make a huge bonfire and enjoy some evening drinks before taking refuge inside the hide for the night. It is a highly recommended experience and a great addition to any Wild Planet Safari.

If you are interested you can add the night to one of our existing itineraries, this will cost Euro 215 per person for the night.

Photo of The Month

This is a photo that was taken in October in an area between Letaba and Olifants River. The area has been overgrazed by animals feeding on the way to the rivers. It was very dry, hardly a blade of grass was visible and the Mopani trees were leafless. It was taken in Spring and the atmosphere of the bush was starting to relax after the dry winter but it was too early for any significant rains. The photo is successful in showing the harsh reality of the dry season.  

Spring Featured Bird: Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

The Red-billed Oxpecker is a common resident of national parks throughout Africa and is present in open woodland where ungulate hosts are present. They have a bright red bill and a large yellow wattle around the eye. Red-billed Oxpeckers feed on ticks and other ectoparasites that they find on host animals. They will also feed on other insects and favour termites. The bird has sharp claws and short legs that are adapted to cling on to the hair of large mammals. They host on a wide variety of mammals including Giraffe, Kudu, Eland, White and Black Rhino, Zebra, Sable, Buffalo and Impala. Red-billed Oxpeckers also feed on the blood of their host and regularly keep wounds open to keep the flow of blood, usually the wound is kept clean and free of infected tissue, however there are records of Red-billed Oxpeckers passing on disease from host to host, thus showing the symbiotic relationship between the oxpecker and the host may be mutualistic and parastitic at times.