We spent two nights at Punda Maria and the second night we decided to take a night drive with the camp staff. One way to extend your time in the park and get outside the camp when the gates are closed is to sign up for an official trip in an open safari vehicle with a staff member from the camp. They are allowed outside the gates after 6:30 PM.
Our guide was Thomas and at 7:30 PM we climbed into the open sided vehicle in the first seat right behind him. The three sets of seats were tiered so that each one was a little higher than the next as you went towards the back. Another couple from South Africa were in the last seat of seats. Right before we left 2 men from Australia joined us in the middle set of seats. One of the men was probably in his 40s and the other one in his late 20s. The rest of us had been talking to Thomas about the possibility of seeing a leopard as Punda Maria is known to have many leopards around it. He told us that in the previous five nights the “night drive” had seen 0,1,2,3, and 4 leopards. We were hopeful.
When our 2 Australian companions joined us and Thomas asked if anyone was looking for anything specific right away the older man said “we came for the birds, don’t bother with any mammals“. I thought “surely he is joking with us”. Well after we got going it was only a few minutes before I realized he was serious!
We spent the next hour and a half looking in trees for nocturnal birds like owls. The safari vehicles have two spotlights in it and one person on each side of the vehicle mans the spotlight. The idea is that when you see eyes shining back at you, you tell the driver to stop and then everyone looks out in the dark for whatever they can see. Occasionally we saw a bird, like owls, very far away but we did hear them closer. Then Thomas saw a Nightjar on the road. Nightjar is a type of bird, a funny name for a bird, I think. It wasn’t until we got back to our room and I looked it up that I even got the name right. I thought they were calling it a Night Jowl. Nightjars sit on dirt in little dips or scooped out spots and frequently are found on the dirt roads in the park. The first one flew away before we had a good look at it so we drove all over looking for another one. We finally found several more and two different types, the Mozambique NightJar and the Fiery-Necked Nightjar. The bird watchers were very excited to tick off two more birds on their list. Bob and I thought it was a bit much, even though we do like birds.
Along the way, we did see some mammals, lots of Spring Hares which are called that because they bounce like a spring, making them resemble a tiny kangaroo, some male Cape Buffalo making up a “Batchelor Band”, Bush Hares which are like a rabbit, some giraffes, tons of impalas, a bushbaby, and the most enormous porcupine I have ever seen but no leopard. We didn’t take too many pictures since photos don’t turn out well in the dark but I did get this one of the NightJar nesting on the road. You can see that they blend in with the road which is good camouflage and makes them very hard to spot. They are very pretty when they fly as they have a white stripe on their wings which really catches your attention as they flutter around.