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Sharifa

Giants Castle Game Reserve

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South Africa is a country with varied tourist attractions, from the Game Reserves to see the big five to the beaches to catch the highest surf, from mountains to get the best hike to the best cultural experience of the locals.

 

One such attraction is the Ukhahlamba (which means barrier of spears in Zulu) Drakensberg Park – a world heritage site. Here you have the choice of Bed & Breakfasts, Camping, self-catering to five star accommodation. The hikes vary from a gentle amble to strenuous day hikes to rigorous mountaineering feats. You can overnight in a cave. Mountain biking, swimming and fishing in the many lakes are also popular sports.

 

The Drakensberg is home to an extraordinary variety of plants and animals, many endangered and threatened species are protected in this Reserve. Rock Art paintings by the San people are another treasure well preserved in the Berg (as we Saffies refer to the Drakensberg)

 

In this Park you can savour the ultimate freedom of great open spaces in a world of gigantic peaks and buttresses, of towering sandstone cliffs and hidden valleys, virgin forests and crystal clear rivers, of rolling hills and far-reaching plains. Quote from the Giant’s Castle Hiking Map, # 3. Published by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

 

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For us Giant’s Castle Game Reserve in the Drakensberg holds a very special attraction - the birdlife. Although you could be fortunate to see Eland, Bushbuck, Oribi, Mountain Reedbuck, Grey Rhebuck amongst others. Chacma Baboon and Rock Hyrax (Dassies) could keep you well entertained too. You could be lucky to see a caracal. The special attractions of Giant’s Castle are the rare Bearded and Cape Vultures.

 

When booking in at the Hotel it is always worthwhile to book the Lammergeier Hide - it is very popular and has to be booked well in advance. It costs ZAR600 per day and the Chalets which comprise bedroom, fully equipped kitchen, WC and bath cost ZAR900 a day.

 

The hide, Lammergeier Hide at the top of one of the ridges and once you have booked it, it is yours for the day. It can take a maximum of 6 people and you need a 4x4 to get to the hide. If you do not have a 4x4 the Rangers will drop you off at the hide and pick you up at a pre arranged time.

 

Panthera Pardus sitting outside the hide

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You are given some bones by the hotel staff to scatter around and then all you do is wait for the Vultures to arrive.

 

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Inside the hide

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While you are waiting for their arrival you can enjoy the breathtaking views around you and it is just great to see the mist lift from the edge of the mountain

 

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And you will see more than the Bearded and Cape Vultures :)

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Looks amazing! What is the best way to get there for those of us who don't live in SA?

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@@kittykat23uk - You can drive from either JHB or Durban. You drive the N3 Highway till Estcourt from where the directions to Giants Castle are well posted.. Look http://www.wheretostay.co.za/kzn/dr/

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Some of the birds you will see from the hide

 

Jackal Buzzard

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Cape Rock Thrush

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Red winged Starling

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Cape Vulture

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Those two bald patches you see on the chest apparently are temperature sensors to detect when the thermals are right for the Cape Vulture to start soaring in search of food.

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Posted (edited)

Oh wow, Panthera Pardus and Sharifa - both of you are such great additions to ST! Welcome to both of you and really enjoying your contributions!

 

I had already been pondering KTP for a while, but little detours and digressions like this can make for a fascinating side trips. Thanks so much for sharing!

 

If one were to drive from Durban to KTP, then what other interesting things like this would you suggest incorporating along the way? I know you've only just started on this - making sure we give you enough to keep you busy after this is done :)

Edited by Sangeeta

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Those two bald patches you see on the chest apparently are temperature sensors to detect when the thermals are right for the Cape Vulture to start soaring in search of food.

Such a great snippet: thanks! Learning with Safaritalk and its membership :)

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Posted (edited)

@@Sangeeta

 

I am no expert in South African geography but Mokala National Park, just south of Kimberley, might be enroute between Durban and KTP - we stayed there again for the second time last month and had a great time...I might actually start a trip summary soon

Edited by ice

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@@Sangeeta - Thanks Sangeeta. Durban to KTP is like 1600km but plenty one can see on the way. Giants Castle is about two hours from Durban.

 

Thanks GW and see ice knows about Mokala - a little gem of a National Park

 

We going to keep you busy too Sangeeta ;)

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I love these photos and thanks for showing a bit more than just the birds. Wonderful.

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Beautiful shots of these birds. Thanks for informing us about this fascinating activity.

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Great trip report Sharifa, the photos you posted are great, that hide was well worth the money :D

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Thank you twaffle, Atravelynn, Safari Cal

 

Sure worth the money to get the hide for the day.

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The Greek playwright Aeschylus was said to have been killed in 456 or 455 BC by a tortoise dropped by an eagle who mistook his bald head for a stone – if this incident did occur, the Bearded Vulture is a likely candidate for the "eagle".

 

Farmers thought the Bearded Vulture killed lambs and therefore poisoned them. The reasoning was that they were seen to be flying off carrying large bones. Farmers assumed, wrongly, that the Bearded Vultures were killing their lambs (Lammergeyer means lamb killer)

 

During the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa, smoking the powdered brain of vultures was thought to bring the gambler good luck and help him win. Sad, considering most vultures are endangered.

 

There are so many myths surrounding the vultures and they are getting killed because of it.

 

Seven of the nine vulture species in South Africa are endangered. The Cape and the Bearded Vultures are included in the endangered list.

 

The Bearded Vulture is a specialized scavenger, unlike other vultures that eat the meat off the carcass. Their appearance also is very different from other vultures and could easily be mistaken for Eagles. They do not have the bare necks distinctive of other vultures. The adult Bearded Vulture has a dark back and wings with rufous underparts and a distinctive dark beard which contrast on the white face. This is where they get their name from. The juvenile Bearded Vulture is chocolate brown with golden underparts but still with the distinctive dark beard.

 

Though a scavenger, 70% of their diet is made up of bone and bone marrow. At a carcass they would wait for the Cape Vultures, ravens, crows and the jackals to reduce the carcass to a skeleton. Then they move in. They swallow the small bones whole; they are able to digest them. To get to the marrow in the larger bones, they fly up high with the bones in their talons and drop them from great height onto large rocks to break them open. Their aim is quite accurate too. Though, when they have young to feed they do need meat as well.

 

In South Africa they are found only in and around the Drakensberg and the Maluti Mountains of neighbouring Lesotho.

 

In the 1997 count, there were only 204 breeding pairs of Bearded Vultures in these mountains. The Cape Vulture numbers are also dropping rapidly and in the count in 2010, only 380 breeding pairs were in the country.

 

Lack of food, poaching, poisoning by many farmers and vultures colliding into power lines are the main reasons for the numbers dropping in South Africa.

 

The most abundant bird at the hide is the white necked raven, and it does not like sharing, always ready for a scrap (in both senses of the word)

 

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here giving chase to a juvenile bearded vulture

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hitching a ride on a cape vulture

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Enjoy the beauty of the bearded and cape vultures in flight

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In the next installment I will tell you about the African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)

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Fantastic pictures of such marvellous birds. Thank you @@Sharifa.

 

I have only seen Lammergeier (or Lammergeyer) once (in Ethiopia), but it is such a beautiful sight.

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Wonderfully informative report! And with great pictures! Keep it up please :)

 

Disturbingly low numbers for those vultures, tough :(

 

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@@Paolo - Thank you. I agree they are the most special birds and absolutely gorgeous, especially in flight.

 

@@savoche - Thank you. Fortunately the population of these vultures are healthier in some other countries.

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Posted (edited)

As we watched and waited for the vultures to arrive, we were entertained by the white backed ravens that kept landing and taking off. Then we noticed a few ravens bombarding another bird in flight, trying to chase him away. As they came nearer we recognised the enemy as the gymnogene (African Harrier Hawk). The African Harrier Hawk is called the “Blusher Bird” because of its bare cheeks. The cheeks are yellow but turn a bright red during courtship.

 

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This is an amazing bird and we always enjoy watching it when it is in search of a meal. Though it is a bird of prey it is does eat the fruit of the Oil Palm too. The most unusual feature of the Gymnogene is the knee joint, which allows the leg to bend in all directions, unlike all other birds of prey, whose lower legs can move in one direction only. This allows the bird to put his foot in to the nest holes of other birds like the woodpeckers and barbets. A favourite prey is the cape weaver and the gymnogene will hang upside down with wings outstretched and do all kinds of acrobatic moves to get his foot into the nest and grab a fledgeling.

The Gymnogene is a specialist nest raider and appears to be universally hated by other birds. It is often seen hopping about in the tree canopy, flapping its wings for balance as it grips on vertical surfaces looking for holes in trees.

Here is video we too in Kruger showing the Gymnogene searching crevices in the tree for nestlings

 

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Bact to Giants castle, here are the white necked ravens mobbing the gymnogene

 

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Edited by Sharifa
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Thank you JohnR, michael-ibk and Pennyanne for liking my post.

 

The Bearded and the Cape Vultures are very shy birds and you are very fortunate if they land. You will see them flying overhead but you have to be very quiet and very patient to get them to land.

 

We were fortunate to see this Bearded Vulture land and claim his pound of flesh.

 

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One morning we drove up to the Hide to find these Cape Vultures relaxing and sunning themselves

 

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and you will even find a Black backed jackal coming to pick a bone

 

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Gorgeous shots!

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Hi Sharifa, thank you for a very engaging, educational and thoroughly enjoyable report. Great shots - I really loved the "hitching a ride on a cape vulture" picture! I had never heard of this particular area before so thanks for "putting it on the map" for me. The hide looks really cool.

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Thanks PT123. I do hope I have wet your appertite enough to visit it soon. The hide is very secluded so you get the feeling of being all alone which is in itself wonderful and if mist closes in below you then you have the feeling of being up in the clouds.

 

A few of the other birds we had visiting us at the hide

 

The Cape Crow

 

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This cape rock thrush was being blown away

 

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The buff-streaked chat

 

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Speckled pigeon

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Olive woodpecker

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This is a fascinating different kind of trip report. You are giving vultures their due by showing their majesty and beauty. Your in flight shots are especially good. Thanks for sharing this.

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Thank you @@Atravelynn. The vultures and hyenas have always had a bad press and are much maligned. It is unfortunate that the habitat of the Bearded and Cape Vultures has been reduced and this has led to their decline.

 

I find them to be such fasinating and beautiful creatures. We need to change all the negative perceptions about these gorgeous creatures.

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Thank you @@Atravelynn. The vultures and hyenas have always had a bad press and are much maligned. It is unfortunate that the habitat of the Bearded and Cape Vultures has been reduced and this has led to their decline.

 

I find them to be such fasinating and beautiful creatures. We need to change all the negative perceptions about these gorgeous creatures.

Hear! Hear!

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