Day 193: Touchdown in South Africa

Birding one of the largest game reserves in Africa.

July 12, 2015: Kruger National Park, South Africa — I landed in Johannesburg just after 1 a.m., cleared immigration, and crashed for a couple of hours on the airport’s tile floor. At 6 a.m. sharp, a South African birder named Wayne Jones picked me up. Thus begins two and a half weeks of birding in South Africa!

For the next 10 days, I will be tagging along with an official Eastern South Africa trip run by Rockjumper, an excellent international birding tour company. This goes a bit against my local-gone-global style this year, but Rockjumper is based in South Africa and Wayne, this tour’s leader, is from this area. It’s logistically easier to visit some of South Africa’s birding spots with a group, so I’m glad this trip worked out! This morning I met the rest of the tour’s participants: Brian (an environmental teacher) and Alan (a biologist) from the U.S.; Martha (a curriculum specialist) and Janine (an economist) from Canada; and Klas, a high school physics teacher from Sweden who will be my roommate this week. We all left Jo’burg and made our way toward Kruger National Park.

I have dreamed of visiting Kruger long before planning this big year adventure—it’s deservedly one of the most famous sites for birds and other wildlife in all of Africa. Kruger has the classic big animals: Giraffes, zebras, hippos, elephants, rhinos, lions, buffalo, cheetahs, impala, leopards, hyenas, wildebeest, baboons, and all manner of more exotic-sounding beasts (hartebeest, topi, suni, rhebok, duiker, klipspringer, oribi, steenbok, blesbok, nyala, eland, kudu, sitatunga, bushbuck, serval, caracal, etc.). You stay in tented safari camps surrounded by a high fence, with the gates locked at dusk and dawn. At least after dark, the place becomes a reverse zoo, with the humans locked up and wild animals roaming all around.

We birded our way slowly toward Kruger throughout the day, picking up many of the region’s common birds with some good highlights. Brian spotted a Secretary-bird, an iconic African plains species which runs on the ground and kills snakes by stamping on them with its feet, and Wayne latched on to a pair of soaring Verreaux’s Eagles near a rock escarpment. Our group rolled into camp at Kruger just after dark this evening. Just outside the fence, a group of elephants browsed at a waterhole and a buffalo wandered past. As I type this, an African Scops-Owl is calling from the tree over my safari tent, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Milky Way shine so bright. I’ve landed in a different world! It’s hard to comprehend that just yesterday I was deep in the slimy wet jungles of Cameroon.

New birds today: 45

Year list: 3498

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