Departing Shingwedzi Rest Camp for Mopani some 70km further south, visitors to Kruger National Park have two options - the tarred H1-6 or the gravel S50. I know which one gets my vote as the S50 is one of my favourite roads in the park.
And it absolutely did not disappoint this time either!
During a 6-hour run between the camps, I was able to see (deep breath...): elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, crocodile, hippo, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest, impala, nyala, bushbuck, duiker, tsessebe (including calves!), banded mongoose, serrated hinged terrapin, water monitor lizards, tawny and fish eagles, Goliath and grey herons, marabou and yellow-billed storks and many smaller species of bird!
And to cap it all, there was an absolutely wonderful sighting at the southern end of the route - read on to find out more!
The northern section of the road winds along the Shingwedzi River. It is mostly dry at this time of year but semi-permanent pools of water persist through the dry season, offering important sustenance to the animals and excellent game viewing opportunities. The big herbivorous megafauna and antelope are common sightings around here.
This huge herd of buffalo crossed the dry Shingwedzi, no doubt looking for water. They just kept coming and coming, with more than 350 in total by my count - the largest herd of buffalo I've ever seen, although I keep hearing stories of even bigger herds in the south of Kruger at the moment!
This stately elephant was one of many herds encountered on the drive and my arrival disturbed these two male giraffes who were fighting in the middle of the road.
Further south the S50 runs closely parallel to the Mozambique border and easternmost reaches of the Kruger park. The 'sea' of mopane bush here can get a bit monotonous but the outstanding Nyawutsi Bird Hide offers some superb birding opportunities.
- The southern ground hornbill is an endangered species but a favourite bird to encounter on a game drive. Two adults and a juvenile had found this frog and kept taking turns to chew on it before passing it between themselves. Eventually the big male swallowed it down whole!
- This beautiful tawny eagle was sat just a couple of metres away from the hide for a few minutes.
- A short, sharp shower soaked this African fish eagle through and he spent the next 20-minutes grooming and perfecting his look, before diving into the water after prey (unsuccessfully) and messing up his look again!
- The giant kingfisher is Africa's largest species of kingfisher and always a brilliant sighting. This one must have already eaten as I didn't see it dive into the water at all, but it perched very nicely for photos.
In case you’ve been wondering, this is the sort of quality image you’ll be able to access in the KrugerExplorer App to help with identification of birds. Birding can be tough and so we’re very keen to ensure the App really stands up to the test and helps people enjoy brilliant bird sightings with excellent knowledge and first-class photo images. My 7 Weeks in Kruger trip is helping massively with finalising the photo catalogue too!
Back on my S50 journey, I was treated to a wonderful sighting at the southern end, just a few kilometres from Mopani - a cheetah with three cubs!
The viewing was brief as she quickly moved away after seeing my vehicle and they had an impala kill hidden in the long grasses, unfortunately out of sight from the road.
This photo also highlights the difficulty of getting great shots in the middle of the day - I was not more than 20m from the cheetahs but the distortion of the 35C heat means the photo is not very sharp at all.
With that in mind, I thought I would revisit the same spot later before sunset so see if they had emerged from the grasses and look at these wonderful golden hour results...
What a beauty. Cheetahs face an uncertain future and are endangered. Kruger is an important stronghold for them but there is still only some 120 individuals in the park, highlighting the animal's desperate plight.
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Thanks again and until the next post!
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