We are back in the same area of Kruger again today, but what a change from yesterday, when the heat of the day came quickly. Today is cold and blustery – I wish I had warmer clothes! It's almost too cold to take pictures and, I suspect, most of the wildlife is also cold and hunkered down trying to stay warm. I can’t say I blame them.
Juan is determined to find lions today, so we head off in the direction of the same rocky outcrops we were exploring yesterday afternoon.
We don’t see any lions around (although Juan says his dad tells him the lions are out there laughing at him for not being able to spot them), but other wildlife is starting to come out of hiding.
(For whatever reason, we see a lot more small antelope today than we did yesterday morning (although we saw quite a few yesterday afternoon), including this duiker. Lane caught a couple shots of these famously quick-to-hide antelope.)
Of course, we are looking for lions and, of course, there are no lions visible.
Since wildlife seems a little scarce, we are happy stop and talk with the workers gathering thatch along the roadside. (A new policy allows thatch to again be harvested within Kruger for use on park buildings, providing a range of economic and ecological benefits.)
Nearby, we come across a litter of spotted hyena pups along the roadside.
They look so sweet – a real case of how looks can be deceiving. Hyenas can be deadly hunters and aren’t afraid to attack. It seems weird to see them just laying by the road in the middle of the day like this since I think of them as more nocturnal (we never saw any in Botswana).
While the pups at first appear to be on their own, an adult is resting on a low rock rise across the road – keeping watch.
There are a few other animals out.
Juan really wants us to see lions . . . and we have to get all the way down to the Malelane Gate in order to leave the park and meet the rest of our group, so there is a lot of ground to cover.
But then a lion sighting comes in over the radio.
It’s too far to go to where they were seen last (and they would be gone by the time we got there anyway), so Juan makes a quick calculation based on the direction they are heading, the speed they are moving, the terrain, and their mostly likely destination and heads for a waterhole where lions had also been seen earlier.
It seems like a good guess as, when we arrive, there is a herd of nervous-looking impala pacing around nervously high above the waterhole and looking intently into the distance.
Clearly there is something out there that has them on edge. Still, Juan is impatient, thinking the lions should be here already and we move to a couple other areas nearby before we end up back by the impalas again.
When the impalas bolt, we know there must be lions somewhere. The question is: where?
Then someone spots one, still far in the distance crossing along the edge of an open meadow. At first even Juan can’t spot it, but then suddenly another one comes into view. Soon others see them too, and then see more – up to five (including at least one male) moving single-file in the distance. Eventually even I finally see one, but by then they have almost finished crossing the meadow.
By the time I get my camera up and focused, the last one has moved out of sight into the brush.
(Really, she’s right there, just past the edge of the meadow. You just can’t see her in this shot :-)
Juan expects them to come to the waterhole, but when they don’t and he races back and forth between likely viewing spots trying to figure out where they will come back into view again.
They never do.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of game in this area, but we are treated to a chance to observe a group of southern ground hornbills, dramatic, prehistoric-looking birds that would seem able to compete well in an ugly bird contest!
We also find more warthogs (or “hogwarts” as June refers to them).
Then it is time for lunch.
Today we are at the Afsaal picnic area, which has a small snack counter (hot dogs and such), some local folks doing braai (South African BBQ), a snack counter, a coffee shop (which, now that the weather has turned cold, doesn’t have a working machine to make espresso or hot chocolate), picnic tables, and lots and lots of birds that are totally unafraid of humans. Our lunch isn’t very tasty, so the birds are a nice distraction even if most of thema re very common - the kind that get to be a nuisance, including laughing doves, some sort of quail, red-billed hornbills, and southern yellow-billed hornbills.
Lane has a good time photographing them.
We see a few more animals (including some elephants) along the way out of the park, but mostly it is quiet.
And then we are back on our bus, on our way to our next adventure.