Saturday, 22 March 2014

Pilanesberg NP, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 2014

My beautiful colleague, GJ, joined me today on a restricted trip around Pilanesberg National Park. It was restricted by damage to the roads and bridges caused by biblical rain over the last couple of days. The topography of the park funnels water down gullies in the mountain-sides and feeds streams that barely see a flow from one year to the next. Most of the roads in the park are unmade and had flooded or been washed away. We were limited to the main tarmac roads; Kubu/Kgabo that runs northeast/southwest and Tshwene that spurs from the Pilanesberg Centre to Manyane Camp in the east.



The flow had ebbed by the time we arrived at 06.30, but evidence was all around. Vegetation for many meters either side of tiny streams had been knocked down by the torrents and meadows were flattened as sheets of water washed down the slopes without the benefit of a gulley to guide them. The first turn-off from Kubu crosses a bridge, but the road had almost completely gone from the nearside of the span. The dam at Lengau, where the Baboons often spend the night on the wall, had become a waterfall.



Animals usually rely on the dams as reliable permanent water and can be predictably found in the proximity, but with so much water and green vegetation available, there was no reason for them to stay nearby and they were widely dispersed and difficult to find during the morning.


Impalas however, are always reliable and a young male was found shortly after we entered the park. He looked bedraggled and cold, but out of respect, I show him only from the neck up where he looks much better.



Brindled Wildebeest are also very common and were seen a number of times during the day.
Rufous-naped Larks appeared to top every thorn bush that projected above the grass. Their call was a constant presence through either window of the car. One called from close to the road and enhanced his performance with a wing flap at intervals.



Our first puzzle was set by a Levaillant’s Cuckoo which stubbornly refused to turn around to show its streaky throat that would distinguish it from the otherwise similar Jacobin Cuckoo. Secretary-Birds at the top of an acacia bush (possibly on the site of a nest?) were easy by comparison. 



We were close to Mankwe Dam and cheekily poked our noses down the gravel road that leads to the hide, but were immediately turned back by the flood water. A bridge the crossing a small river looked to be damaged. 
We gallantly allowed a young lady to go first from the opposite direction to see if her low-slung car would become grounded in the large pot-hole. She negotiated it successfully, so we were able to continue on to the Pilanesberg Centre.


At last we started to find a few animals as we drove along Tau Link. GJ was especially pleased to find Giraffes.


We were headed towards the eastern gate and found more Impala, Kudu and Zebra along the way.
We brunched at Golden Leopard’s Manyane Complex and compiled a list of 23 birds in just a short walk there, including the day’s only sightings of Crowned Plover, Black-collared Barbet and Groundscraper Thrush.



A Crested Barbet was very approachable as it fed from a fruiting tree near the entrance and a family of Warthogs were relaxed enough to crash out on a small lawn beside reception.



Back in the park we decided to head to Bakgatla to pad out the bird list and were stopped along the way by a large bull Elephant as he crossed the road. I am sure that the elephants of Pilanesberg should have an identification guide, but I was unable to find one on the web. This one should be very distinctive with his broken right tusk. He was leaning on his longer, left tusk and digging it into the ground. He ate some of the dirt that he had dislodged and threw the rest up onto his back.



Shortly afterwards, we came across a small group of White Rhino. I heaved a big sigh of relief at seeing some of the mega-fauna at last. My companion was very patient and seemed to be enjoying the drive, but I wanted her to see some of the big stuff.



Other animals and birds began to appear and be more cooperative. A herd of Zebra were feeding by the roadside and a young foal followed its mother out onto the tarmac causing a short-lived zebra-jam.



European Bee-eaters sat out on dead snags and hawked for insects in flight and the smallest giraffe I have ever seen passed in the wake of its huge mother.
At Bakgatla, also run by Golden Leopard, we took a stroll around the camp and added Green-backed Camaroptera, Cape Wagtail and Rufous-vented Warbler that would otherwise not have appeared on the list below.



Two Southern Red-billed Hornbills with the vacant stare of new parents everywhere were feeding their large youngster which appeared happy to sit and ingest anything that came its way.



The last pass down the main road featured mostly giraffe with a number of close sightings. The day had brightened up and the place appeared to be drying out a little and getting more productive. 



We stopped in at Pilanesberg Centre, I can’t remember why, and found a large herd of Kudu licking the ground where the salt lick used to be (it may have dissolved in the rain). A White Rhino had just come close to the centre and was still grazing just beyond the waterhole.



Finally and to GJ’s delight, we found a family of Hippo in the stream beneath Lengau Dam. The stream was much higher than normal and would not normally be able to support such big animals. No doubt they will return to the dam as the levels drop.


Birds seen; 67

Ostrich 2, White-faced Whistling Duck 2, Egyptian Goose 2, African Black Duck 2, Yellow-billed Duck 2, Helmeted Guineafowl 5, Natal Francolin 11, Little Grebe 1, Great Cormorant 3, African Darter 4, Cattle Egret 30, Sacred Ibis 30, Black-shouldered Kite 6, Brown Snake-Eagle 1, Secretary-Bird 2, Blacksmith Plover 3, Crowned Lapwing 3, Speckled Pigeon 12, Red-eyed Dove 2, Ring-necked Dove 29, Laughing Dove 17, Grey Go-away-bird 13, Levaillant’s Cuckoo 1, Dideric Cuckoo 2, White-browed Coucal 2, African Palm-swift 2, Red-faced Mousebird 15, Woodland Kingfisher 1, European Bee-eater 15, Lilac-breasted Roller 2, Southern Red-billed Hornbill 3, African Grey Hornbill 3, Crested Barbet 3, Black-collared Barbet 1, Black-backed Puffback 1, Crimson-breasted Gonolek 2, Red-backed Shrike 9, Lesser Grey Shrike 2, Fork-tailed Drongo 3, Pied Crow 4, Rufous-naped Lark 20, Sabota Lark 1, Barn Swallow 15, Pearl-breasted Swallow 1, Greater Striped-Swallow 6, Black-fronted Bulbul 16, Green-backed Camaroptera 1, Rufous-vented Warbler 1, Cape White-eye 2, Spotted Flycatcher 9, Familiar Chat 3, Groundscraper Thrush 1, Karoo Thrush 1, Common Myna 20, Cape Glossy Starling 20, Red-winged Starling 4, Red-billed Oxpecker 12, Cape Wagtail 1, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting 2, Black-throated Canary 3, House Sparrow 6, Cape Sparrow 8, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow 3, White-browed Sparrow-weaver 2, Southern Masked-weaver 30, Blue-breasted Cordonbleu 11, Pin-tailed Whydah 2.

Groundscraper Thrush
Mammals seen; 13

African Elephant 1, Black Rhinoceros 1, White Rhinoceros 4, Giraffe 22, Impala 60, Kudu 45, Brindled Wildebeest 120, Waterbuck 3, Springbok 20, Zebra 25, Vervet Monkey 2, Hippopotamus 5, Warthog 12.


Pilanesberg National Park is administrated by the Northwest Parks Board. It has a dedicated website at this link. http://www.parksnorthwest.co.za/pilanesberg/index.html  The website includes a phone number for the park office. If I had used this number, they may have been able to forewarn me that many of the roads were closed. Would that have mattered? Would I still have gone? Of course I would have!
The park is about 2-2.5 hours drive northwest from Johannesburg. Call it 3 if you are heading out from the airport. It is close to Sun City with which it shares the volcano.



The closest entrance is at Bakubung, the southern gate (Google Earth ref; 25 20 22.75S 27 3 48.45E)
Facilities in the park include; Restaurant and gift shop at Pilanesberg Centre and Toilets at each viewing hide. There is accommodation at each of the 4 gates, but they differ greatly in standard and budget. See the link above.


Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from Johannesburg including; Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens, Zaagkuildrift Road and Kruger National Park


 Birding Birdwatching, Safari, Pilanesberg, Johannesburg, South Africa