Birding Without Borders

Day 195: Seeing Spots

Noah cleans up the Big Five in South Africa.

July 14, 2015: Kruger National Park, South Africa The landscape at Kruger National Park resembles parts of Texas, or maybe Australia. It’s a flat, open, dry, scrubby, wooded savannah with lots of thorny acacia trees, termite mounds, braided rivers, and the occasional upside-down-carrot-shaped baobab tree. This is certainly not the Serengeti of East Africa—Kruger lacks those long vistas that your eyes can get lost in (I’ll reach the Serengeti next month). This environment feels closed in, as if something could pop out from behind a bush at any moment. In South Africa, they call this stuff “bushveld” which just means “the bush.”

We pulled up to a waterhole around midday where a couple of other cars were parked and someone whispered to us that they’d just spotted two leopards on the sandbank below. Whoa! This was unexpected—leopards are tough to spot at Kruger, and I hadn’t thought our chances were very good of finding one. We had a quick glimpse of the two big cats walking into thick grass where they soon disappeared - not the greatest view, but I was stoked to see my first leopard on the day after I saw my first lion. Bring on the cheetahs…

This neatly completed the famous “big five”—the five African animals supposedly most dangerous to hunt: lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard. Pretty cool to see them all within my first 48 hours in South Africa! Now I guess I’ll have to start working on the “little five”—the ant lion, elephant shrew, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, rhinoceros beetle, and leopard tortoise, of which we’ve encountered just the ant lion, buffalo-weaver, and leopard tortoise so far.

Our group ate lunch at an outdoor picnic area, and we soon realized that, besides the glossy-starlings and collared-doves underfoot, the place was crawling with vervet monkeys which had become habituated to human food. Wayne warned us to guard our lunches with our lives, and we survived for about half an hour before a monkey leaped onto the picnic table and onto Janine’s plate. Martha reached across the table and literally slapped the monkey off the table; it went flying through the air with a french fry clutched in each hand, and Martha earned the heroic title of “monkey-slapper.” We ate fast and got out of there.

New birds today: 17

Year list: 3572

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