15-17 June 2012 – just can’t get enough of sanbona

After our very successful trip to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve about a month ago, we always thought that we would be back some day. The place has so much to offer and since it is situated within the Western Cape, it’s the perfect place to explore for our challenge. We were a bit more than surprised when Trevor got the call from Alouise querying if we would be interested in another weekend. Lets think about that…..OF COURSE!!!!

During our first visit to Sanbona, we were targeting a number of species that we had not come across in the Western Cape since our challenge started at the beginning of 2010 (where we are trying to see and photograph all the species of birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs recorded in the province), and boy, were we successful. Keir and Alouise really exceeded all our expectations and we came away with some incredible sightings. This time, the agenda was slightly different. Just like us, Keir and Alouise are also partaking in the SABAP2 project. For those of you that don’t know, SABAP2 (South African Bird Atlas Project) divides South Africa into a 5’ by 5’ grid (known as a pentad) and it requires people to record all the birds that they come across in the pentad in order for them to accurately update the current distributions of all the bird species in the country.

The aim for this weekend would be to atlas the two remaining virgin pentads on the reserve and also to do some baseline data collecting for small mammals, reptiles and frogs. We would also have the opportunity to try and find the elusive Riverine Rabbit again and, hopefully, add a few more species to our ever-growing challenge list. In light of this, we called on our friends, Cliff and Suretha Dorse and Phil and Sam Hockey, to come along and join us assisting with collecting the various data.

Friday afternoon couldn’t arrive quickly enough. We were like children on Christmas morning… desperate to open the presents, but we had to wait until everyone was there. Ahhh, what a wait…!

We arrived at Sanbona by mid-afternoon in convoy with Phil and Sam. This time, we were staying at Khanni Lodge which is in the southern part of the reserve. Just like our previous accommodation, Tilney Manor, this lodge was equally superb. There are 4 double rooms with en-suites, a huge lounge and dining room area and a lovely stoep and pool looking out over the Karoo landscape. Magnificent!

The sign says it all…

Khanni Lodge

Our suite

Our suite

View from the stoep

Not long after arriving, the sun started setting and one or two bats made their appearance. It didn’t take Sam long to fetch her little gadget which picks up the bat’s call frequency and, from that, one can identify which species it is. We tried to take photos, but that was clearly not going to happen! Based on what she recorded, Sam was able to identify them as Cape Serotine Bats which was a new challenge tick for us!! Very cool little toy! Thanks Sam.

Sam busy identifying the bats

Once Cliff and Suretha had arrived a couple of hours later, it was time for dinner, courtesy of Sam (which was delicious!!!) and then to get ready for the night drive. I thought I had put on enough clothing, but oh my gosh, there were times that I thought the temperature had dropped by 20 degrees! Fortunately, we had prewarned everyone else about how cold these night drives could be, so they came well prepared…

Sam and Phil looking well prepared for the night drive

Despite the slightly cooler temperature, we managed to spot the first Riverine Rabbit within the first hour. Not fair!!! We worked very hard for our first one – it took us over 4 hours of spotlighting before we found it and, here they had bagged it within the first hour! We also managed to see an African Wild Cat, Black-backed Jackal and some Gemsbok. We then spotted a small rodent or insectivore running across the road. It didn’t take us long to get Keir to screech to a halt and jump out the vehicle to see what it was. Anybody who had been watching the spectacle from the outside would’ve been in hysterics watching us run around in the veld trying to get a photo of this little thing. But, eventually, we had success and could confirm that it was a Round-eared Elephant Shrew. What a cute little thing!! And a new tick for our challenge. Fantastic stuff! After that, we didn’t really find too much else and the evening ended with Keir’s killer hot chocolate back at the lodge at just past midnight.

Round-eared Elephant Shrew

The next day, after a rusk or two and some coffee, we headed out on the game drive vehicle into the field again working on the pentad list as we went along. Initially, the list grew quickly as we picked up a number of common species of the area…

Heading out into the field

Habitat at Sanbona

Karoo Scrub Robin

White-throated Canary

Familiar Chat

White-backed Mousebird

Not only did we see plenty of birds, but we also managed to squeeze in some Greater Kudu, Striped Mouse, Bush Karoo Rat and even had a distant view of some white Lions. We also took in some of the flora of the area, as Cliff, Suretha and Alouise really seemed to know their stuff. Coffee was served at Tilney Manor, which was very welcome after the chilly morning on the game vehicle.

Stopped for a look around

Getting lessons in the local flora

Birding outside Tilney Manor

We then carried on with our drive adding a number of new species along the way including several raptors.

Rock Kestrel attacking an African Harrier Hawk

Pale Chanting Goshawks

When we were eventually “allowed” to have lunch back at Khanni, it looked like we were feeding an army! Were we stocking up in case we might miss out on dinner… (Just kidding Keir!!)

Lunch is served

After our feast, we headed back out to into the field seeing Common Hippo’s, Burchell’s Zebras, Gemsbok and even managed to add a Cape River Frog to the weekend list. We also found birds like South African Shelduck, Chat Flycatcher, Peregrine Falcon and a whole host of other species for the pentad list. The biggest surprise of the day was a Common Quail spotted by Trevor on the side of the road. This little one should already have headed off to North Africa or Europe by now and certainly not be sitting in the middle of the Karoo in winter! What was even better was that it even vaguely posed out in the open for us (well, as open as quails ever do!) – anybody who has ever tried to see a Common Quail will know that your sightings are generally restricted to a bird flushing from your feet and flying directly away from you…

Ready for another drive


male South African Shelduck

female Common Quail

We also found an Aardvark den which, according to Alouise’s tracking skills, was occupied. Our plan was to head back out there at sunset and maybe we are lucky enough to find an Aardvark emerging from his home. However, one half of a rugby game that went reasonably well and fire wood that was burning a lot quicker than anticipated had us deciding to watch the end of the game, have dinner and then head out again. Considering the final score, that might not have been the best decision… But at least, there was some time to socialise around the fire while Cliff put his braaing skills to use.

Masterchef Cliff at work

We headed out into the night again with me properly prepared for the cold. Two layers of thermal clothing and a few more jackets had me struggling to actually get into the game drive vehicle because I resembled the Michelin Man, but I was prepared. Except, as Murphy would have it, it turned out be quite a warm evening. I just cannot win!!

We managed to spot another Riverine Rabbit, this time really close to the vehicle. Some of us actually managed to get out the vehicle and came within very close proximity of the animal. A 500mm lens won’t really help you in situations like these, as Trevor discovered. You should have seen the confusion on Trevor’s face when the rabbit sat about 2m away from him. He just couldn’t do anything about it other than just enjoy the sighting. Priceless…!

The night drive also delivered another African Wild Cat, Common Duiker and another Round-eared Elephant Shrew. We also had a Spotted Eagle Owl on a tree that allowed us to get closer and closer, not exactly normal Spotted Eagle Owl behaviour. At one o’clock in the morning, we were heading to bed after another of those hot chocolates with Keir’s secret ingredients…:)

Riverine Rabbit

Spotted Eagle Owl

After a slow start to the morning, with an outside shower, loads of coffee and a rusk or two, we said our farewells to Phil and Sam who had to get back for an appointment and then headed out. Early sightings included a male Southern Black Korhaan trying to blend in with his surroundings and not get seen by us as well as a pair of Steenbok, the male of which only had one thing on his mind…:)

Southern Black Korhaan


We then headed towards Leopard Gorge which was a lovely walk, even though the weather was starting to turn. We added birds like Peregrine Falcon, Cape Rock Thrush and Orange-breasted Sunbird to the pentad list and were quite surprized to find Cape Rockjumpers and Cinnamon-breasted Warblers calling in close proximity to one another from the same cliff face. We cannot think of any other site anywhere where one can find both of these hugely sought after species together like this. Reasonably fresh leopard spoor in the gorge got our interests peaked and, when we saw a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles that looked like they were bombing something on the cliff, our hopes of finally bumping into a Cape Leopard spiked. We scoured the cliffs in the hope of finding the spotted myth of the Cape, but it was not to be. We will just have to come back for that one again sometime… 🙂

Heading into Leopard Gorge

Hopelessly scanning for Leopard

On our way out of the gorge, Cliff found a Karoo Toad under a rock, a last little surprise and another new tick for our challenge list.

Photographing the Karoo Toad

Karoo Toad

We then stopped at some ruins and old barns on the way to the lodge, turned over some rocks and other bits and pieces and managed to find Cape and Variegated Skinks, Southern Rock Agama and Common Sand Lizard. Not bad for a quick stop. Next time, we should definitely spend more time there looking for reptiles…

Trevor and Cliff looking for reptiles

Cape Skink

Southern Rock Agama

Common Sand Lizard

The weekend had come to an end. Our challenge list had grown by 3 species with two other previous records also being photographed for the first time and we managed to record 68 and 49 bird species respectively for the two new pentads that were atlassed for the first time. Not bad going for winter in the middle of the Karoo! We left with heavy hearts not really wanting to go back home and really hoping that we could come back to visit our friends and to visit one of our favourite destinations, Sanbona, before too long again. We were sent on our way by a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite just outside the gate, the first one we had seen the entire weekend… A great end to a fantastic weekend!

juvenile Black-shouldered Kite


~ by hardakerwildlife on June 27, 2012.

3 Responses to “15-17 June 2012 – just can’t get enough of sanbona”

  1. Fantastic Margaret! Lovely report and, as usual, great photos.

  2. awesome! thank you so much!

  3. Thanks for the great photographs. I can’t decide which I like best, the Riverine Rabbit or the Round Eared Elephant Shrew. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Di Gilfillan.

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