At the dwarf mongoose project, we work 6 days every week and the day off is always something to look forward to. Now that’s not to say I dislike the work, in fact it’s the complete opposite. I love working with the mongoose, how could I not? They’re gorgeous and fascinating, not to mention the rest of the bush and the fact that I’m in South Africa! (I remind myself of this often, yet it still hasn’t sunk in properly, I mean… South Africa!!)
But I still enjoy a day off, whether it is chilled day with the rare occasion of using internet properly or celebrating Christmas in the bush. However I think that the most recent day off definitely tops the list as we drove an hour or so, having got up ridiculously early and left the house at 5am, and went on a day trip to Kruger National Park. Luckily we aren’t too far away and we are just over an hour’s drive from the one of the main entrances (Orpen Gate). Before we even got there I was marvelling over something, this was the second time that I’d got up before sunrise here and it was still fully dark with an amazing view of the stars. I even saw Orion, which I didn’t realise could be seen from the southern hemisphere (showing my lack of knowledge of stars!). I would’ve taken a photo, but my camera isn’t suitable for that (or I just haven’t worked out how to do it).
Kruger itself was just fantastic. Our first sighting was a group of giraffes not long after sunset which provided a very atmospheric photo opportunity. I find giraffes so interesting, and having worked with them, watched a post-mortem of one and written university essays on them, I have found that my regard for them has just increased each time. But I shall save my praise for another time.
Not long afterwards we came across a stunning kudu bull who we estimated to be roughly 6 years of age (due to the number of twists in his horns, but none of us know much about kudus so we may be wrong). Our first good bird sighting was a Pearl-Spotted Owlet (Glaucidium perlatum) perched in bush not far from the road, presumably on the lookout for a small mammal or bird.Our first of the ‘Big Five’ was a duggar African Buffalo bull. A dagger bull is an old solitary male who is past breeding age and has left the herd.
Our fifth sighting caused much excitement amongst us. Can you guess what it might have been? No doubt you’re thinking something big or rare – elephants, leopards, lions, cheetahs, rhinos? I’m afraid not, it was in fact a group of dwarf mongoose! Yup, we were getting excited at spotting the animal we work with day in and day out. I would say that could be conceived as slightly sad, but to me, I think it just shows how awesome dwarf mongoose are. It was at 8am in the morning, quite an early time to be spotting them during the winter but perhaps they were keen to get foraging before the heat of the day set in.
Further sightings that I shan’t go into too much detail about were: steenbok, waterbuck, black-backed jackal, vulture (possibly a White-backed), baboons and lilac-crested roller bird.
We came to our first dam, where a fish eagle circled overhead two of the animals I’d been longing to see. In the water, with just the tops of their heads visible, were a number of hippos. We have been hearing them in the river outside our house and they apparently graze on the lawn in the early morning, though I’ve not seen them yet. So I have been hoping to see one, and here were a whole group of them! In addition, there was a large crocodile lying on the bank and relaxing in the morning sun. I think I caught of glimpse of one at the reserve where we work, but it was quite a brief viewing. I was very impressed by this one and a discussion about their death rolls and larders quickly reinforced my opinion of the species.
Further sightings for part one: another Pearl-Spotted Owlet, a second group of dwarf mongoose (yippee!), wildebeest, giraffes and zebras (if you know me, you’re probably surprised that I am not writing a long essay about zebras, but don’t worry I’m just saving it up for another time).
I shall wrap up this post and tease you with a couple of details from part two – a suckling youngster, and close encounters with a Big Five animal.