Day One Hluhluwe Park - Part One

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Sat 16 Nov 2019 23:17
Day One Hluhluwe Park – Part One
 
 
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We left Beez Neez and Slow Flight at eight heavily laden with food and excitement. By ten we were paying our entry tickets at the Memorial Gate, buying a guide pamphlet and taking pictures of recent sightings.
 
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In we drove, as far as the eye could see in all directions was a vast area of green dotted with trees with the occasional hill. We were going to have to work for our sightings. Trevor, map in hand was on point, Kimi in the back on binoculars, me on long lens and Bear on casual lookout with orders to “stop” on seeing anything.
 
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The iMfolozi (or Umfolozi) Park was established in 1895 and covers some 24,000 hectares is set aside for wilderness. Hluhluwe (believe it or not pronounced Shoosh-louie) was established in 1897 and straddles mountainous terrain, several lookouts and The Hilltop Lodge where we will eat lunch. Today we will concentrate on Hluhluwe and the day after tomorrow on iMfolozi.  Love it when we have a plan......especially if it comes together. I feel it in my water. OK then.
 
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In what seemed like seconds Trevor glimpsed a wild boar, then bade Bear turn left off the main park road, the track was narrower and anticipation was at the ready. Bear spotted our first rhino some distance away and well hidden. Well done boys.
 
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Kimi spotted a very colourful chap and took the best picture she could given the angle and lack of help from her subject. We were all very pleased to see our first dung beetle (own blog) with wife along for the ride and then a tree hanging with weaver bird nests. 
 
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We watched the antics of the busy weaver birds (own blog) when we saw a black-throated barbet, our first nyala deer, a yellow jobby and then a cracker from Kimi – a kingfisher. Dragonflies of all sizes in huge numbers all around.
 
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Then I scored a hit, the silhouette of a big boy. Bear crept the car closer and we ended up with a good look at a long-crested eagle. Bodyweight around one kilo, standing at 56 cms with yellow eyes and white trousers. This chap is welcomed by farmers as ninety per cent of the long-crested eagles’ diet is made up of rats, the other bit of frogs, small reptiles and insects. They hunt in the mornings and evenings and rest in the shade during the day on their relatively small home range of about thirty-five square kilometres. Quite happy to make use of another raptors nest, this monogamous bird lays two eggs at different intervals that may hatch up to two weeks apart. The husband takes charge of feeding his wife as she takes to the full-time task through incubating the eggs. The chicks fledge at fifty-plus days but need parental support for another two to three months.

 

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Eyes open, sinister when closed but ever-watchful for a snack.
 
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We stopped at a waterhole but all we saw was some, well, what looked like white candy floss on a couple of branches (we would find out later from our digs owner that it is nothing more than a fungus). Can’t be harmful as no one seems to fazed by it.
 
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We had a river to our right for a time.
 
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The first of our many creatures bimbling beside the road (or track) was a little francolin and then we saw our first male nyala.
 
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Fortunately, he had a friend who was happy to pose.
 
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We stopped to stretch our legs at a picnic site where we watched a troop of monkeys being cute and mischievous.
 
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We followed the track to more water.
 
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A very handsome Cape glossy starling stood to pose and then turned his back for us to see his stunning blue coat.
 
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An osprey soared overhead as we began to slowly go uphill. Of course we stopped for another dung beetle or two.
 
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We were just heading up an incline when we saw several stationery cars. Mincing along were two lionesses, another out of shot as the young male bimbled between the cars to flop down a few feet away under a bush. Trevor took this gorgeous picture of the chap at full yawn. Wow. We spent fifteen minutes with the small group (own blog) before driving away very happily.
 
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Very much off tarmac, Trevor headed us to a lookout but even in a 4x4 we would not have been able to cross as the bridge was missing. Richards Bay to here have had colossal amounts or rain and storms, even a tornado or two that have caused quite a bit of damage and road floods.
 
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Bear took the puddle in his stride on a parallel track, we waited to make sure another car came through OK and then took on a ‘sticky’ bit.
 
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Now I clearly did not get the memo. Tortoises....... really. We ended up seeing three different sorts. We also spotted sparrows, thrushes, swifts, starlings, finches, Indian Mynah birds (they are getting everywhere), a mongoose, a barbet, pigeons, a quail, two Steppe buzzards and a pretty Steenbok.
 
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This chap was on the track making the most of the myriad of insects. Happy to pose too.
 
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Loved watching him march purposefully until he settled in a tree to let several cars go by........
 
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..........to stare at us.
 
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Time for lunch. We made our way to Hilltop where a local dance group put on a lovely show.
 
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Of course he did with a garden ornament.........
 
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The Hilltop. Settled inside (there were a fair few monkeys as well as no empty tables), once a monkey had been shooed away from helping himself to packets of sugar, all was peaceful in our corner. We placed our order and reviewed our busy and productive morning as we watched nyala bimble about. Two of the Big 5 ticked off........
 
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Bear enjoyed wings and ribs, Kimi the chicken whilst Trevor and I went for the cheeseburger. Very naughtily we left room for the lightest of cheesecakes with ice cream.......A quick look around the shop and we were ready for more.
 
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One final look at the nyala and scenery and as it was toilet break, I could take in the endangered cycad collection at the front of the building. The information board read:  These Natal cycads (Encephalartus natalensis) are relatives of pine trees and other cone-bearing plants. They dominated the landscape in the Mesocoic era about 200 million years ago. Individual plants often live a long time. The oldest in South Africa is about a thousand years old and was declared a scientific monument in 1951. Cycads are fitted with microchips too allow for easy identification and tracking. This is necessary because of the trade value of cycads for display as garden specimens. The illegal trade of cycads has resulted in many species becoming critically endangered and even locally extinct in some areas. It is a criminal offence to transport a cycad without a permit from Conservation Authorities.
Cycads are an important food source in nature, It is thought that they were a major part of the diet of herbivorous (plant eating) dinosaurs and today the fleshy seeds are eaten by hornbills, monkeys, baboons and cattle and the gum is eaten by birds and children. The leopard magpie moth (Zerenopsis leopardina) lays its eggs only on cycads and its caterpillars can strip a plant of all its young leaves.
 
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Back in the car Beds was introduced to Nala (Kimi’s new baby), he was incredibly protective from the start.
 
 
CONTINUED