Thursday 31 July 2014

Pilanesberg NP, Johannesburg, July 2014

My day dawned as I drove through the pass at Hartebeestpoort and the sun slowly brightened the sky. By 07.20, I had reached Bakubung Gate at the southern edge of Pilanesberg NP, 2 hours west and a bit north from Johannesburg. The roads of the park had been repaired since my last visit, but they were still rutted and rough. Nevertheless, it always surprises me how far one can get on pitted roads in a two-wheel-drive car.

The birds were quiet and even the whistles of the Crested Lark, so often a feature of a drive in the park, were absent this morning. Mammals too were reticent to come out to be seen. Hippos in the first dam were to be expected, but very little else was around. Particularly missed were the Elephants and the other big 5 animals. I like to promote a holistic approach to safari, but the star turns do bring a frisson to the day that was missing on this occasion.

Nevertheless, the bird list slowly began to build and included Hamerkop, Rufous-vented Warbler and Eastern Clapper Lark before I pulled in to the hide at Makorwan Dam. Here an African Black Duck, Blacksmith Plover and Pearl-breasted Swallow were seen.

On the dirt trails that cross the western side of the park, the usual mix of Wildebeest, Impala and Zebra were found along with African Pipit, Tawny-flanked Prinia and Blue Waxbill,
At Pilanesberg Centre there were lots of cheeky birds as usual with Grey Go-away-birds, Marico Flycatchers and Crested Francolins seen at close range.

Namaqua Doves kept their distance from the terrace, but the expected Yellow and/or Red Hornbills did not materialise.

One of my strange, unfounded superstitions is that a mongoose sighting will bring good luck, so a really good look at a Slender Mongoose in the car park of the Pilanesberg Centre filled me with optimism for the rest of the day.
Hoping to turn the slow burn into an explosive burst, I headed for Mankwe Dam and the wonderful hide that reaches out over the water. Even here things were slow, but the resident Barn Owl did not look worried.

I am always astonished by the size of the fish that herons or cormorants consider to be consumable. This Grey Heron had a lot on its plate.

At last I started to find a few animals and a small herd of Giraffe fed very close to the edge of the road.
I spent lunch time at Fish Eagle Picnic Site, a high vantage point overlooking the large lake. African Spoonbill could be seen in the distance but apart from the Little Grebes there were very few waterbirds compared with previous trips. The water levels were very high today and the birds and animals were not forced to stay close to permanent water, so I guess they took the chance to roam where the fancy took them.

It was well into the afternoon before I eventually found a pair of White Rhino and I had had to venture beyond my usual hot spots to get them. 

I returned to my usual haunts for the rest of the afternoon and was rewarded when a White Rhino suddenly appeared from nowhere and pulled up to the edge of the dam for an early evening drink.
A few birds were also added from here with White-faced Duck, African Hawk-Eagle and most notably, a Giant Kingfisher.

It was just a little bit further down the road that shortly afterwards a male and a female Lion were seen at the bottom of a slope, hiding in the long grass. As the light faded a small herd of young Kudus ventured close to the road and a Magpie Shrike sat out for a quick snatched photo.

Before leaving the park, I managed to get snarled up in a Leopard scrum. Despite the park being quiet as far as animals were concerned, there were plenty of people and vehicles and they all appeared to be clustered together on the road ahead. Four large open safari trucks hogged both carriageways in an attempt to see the cat, effectively blocking out any self-drive punters.

Bird list for Pilanesberg; 75

White-faced Whistling Duck 7, Egyptian Goose 15, African Black Duck 1, Yellow-billed Duck 10, Helmeted Guineafowl 60, Crested Francolin 8, Natal Francolin 3, Little Grebe 50, Great Cormorant 25, Long-tailed Cormorant 15, African Darter 6, Hamerkop 5, Grey Heron 1, Great Egret 3, Sacred Ibis 180, African Spoonbill 3, Black-shouldered Kite 1, African Fish-Eagle 2, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle 1, African Hawk-Eagle 1, Blacksmith Plover 12, Crowned Lapwing 2, Three-banded Plover 3, Speckled Pigeon 1, Ring-necked Dove 15, Laughing Dove 4, Namaqua Dove 3, Grey Go-away-bird 25, Barn Owl 1, Speckled Mousebird 8, Red-faced Mousebird 12, Malachite Kingfisher 1, Giant Kingfisher 1, Pied Kingfisher 4, Green Woodhoopoe 4, Crested Barbet 1, Crimson-breasted Gonolek 3, Magpie Shrike 2, Fork-tailed Drongo 3, Pied Crow 3, Eastern Clapper Lark 1, Sabota Lark 1, Pearl-breasted Swallow 4, Common Bulbul 35, Bar-throated Apalis 2, Rattling Cisticola 1, Tinkling Cisticola 1, Piping Cisticola 4, Tawny-flanked Prinia 2, Black-chested Prinia 2, Rufous-vented Warbler 1, Pale Flycatcher 10, Kalahari Scrub-Robin 4, White-throated Robin-Chat 1, White-browed Robin-Chat 1, Stonechat 1, Mocking Cliff-Chat 1, Familiar Chat 15, Capped Wheatear 4, Kurrichane Thrush 1, Karoo Thrush 1, Common Myna 2, Cape Glossy-Starling 8, Red-billed Ox-pecker 1, Cape Wagtail 2, African Pipit 1, Golden-breasted Bunting 2, Yellow-fronted Canary 20, Black-throated Canary 6, House Sparrow 5, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver 1, Red-billed Quelea 15, Common Waxbill 3, Blue-breasted Cordonbleu 30, Green-winged Pytilia 4.

Pilanesberg National Park is run by North West Parks and their website can be used to check the prevailing conditions in the reserve.
Opening times vary during the year. For the most part if you work on 06.00 to 18.00 you won't be far out.Exact gate times can be seen at the web link above.
To drive from Johannesburg will take a little over 2 hours. Sun City shares the volano and can be used as a good direction finder for Pilanesberg NP.
Self-drive safari is the customary way of getting around, but ranger-led open sided safari vehicles operate from the camps at each gate. Again, see the website.
There is no fuel available in the park, but filling stations are conveniently sited close to the gates.
There are toilet facilities at each of the rest stops and hides and refreshments, including hot food at the Pilanesberg Centre in the middle of the park.

Please follow the links below to previous posts from Pilanesberg.

Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from South Africa.
 Birdwatching, birding, safari, South Africa.

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