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The hide life – Lake Panic is tops in Kruger

Words: Romi Boom. Images: Jan van Wyk. Article from Wild Magazine Winter 2015.

Kruger’s hides put you at the heart of the action as birds and wildlife seek out water and do their best to avoid becoming prey. Wild explores the most popular hide, Lake Panic.
Jan van Wyk
Jan van Wyk

“Look there, it’s a squacco heron,” I was told upon slipping into Lake Panic hide, a birder’s paradise in one of the most game-rich areas of Kruger National Park. Right in front of us, the mottled buff squacco was sidling up to a young crocodile which was ignoring two Egyptian geese strolling by. I could hardly believe my eyes. Even though Lake Panic teems with fish, crocs are known to hunt the shallows for wading birds. Was it no threat on dry land?

The croc’s presence was unsettling and my gaze wandered back to it repeatedly. Crunching jaws made me look carefully. It was nibbling on a mouthful of elephant dung, occasionally hitting the jackpot of a scrumptious beetle. Elephant pats on river banks appear to be a favourite snack of crocodiles, who know that dung beetles and insects, feeding on the same dung, attract insect-eating birds. Eating faeces [coprophilia ‒Ed] is not uncommon in the animal kingdom, the attraction being valuable minerals, vitamins and protein in the scat.

The presence of crocodiles, hippos, monitor lizards, terrapins and various insects, such as gorgeous dragonflies on the water lilies in front of the hide, makes Lake Panic one of the most scenic and productive spots in all of Kruger. The hide is ideal for photography and large mammals are seen at all times of the day.

For me, the non-stop comings and goings of southern masked-weavers provided the most memorable birding. Their nests, suspended over the water, were being woven seemingly at an arm’s length from the hide. No need even for a big zoom lens!

Jan van Wyk

Being less than seven kilometres from Skukuza Rest Camp, some people believe the name Lake Panic originates from visitors who are tempted to stay longer than they should, resulting in panic to get to the camp before the gates close. Other versions suggest that Lake Panic got its name from its status as the emergency reservoir for Skukuza Camp. Early Skukuza staff used to say there was no need to panic about water supplies because of the reliability of the dam. In fact the name was given shortly after completion of construction around 1975 when, during torrential downpours, it was feared that the dam wall would give way, creating panic at Skukuza.

What to expect

Despite being situated in a crowded area of the park, Lake Panic Hide is a relaxing spot as only eight cars are allowed at a time. From the car park you walk about 50 metres to the hide down a fenced-in walkway. The hide is L-shaped, allowing views in two directions. Towards the east is the bend in the dam and towards the south, across the short width of the dam, about 100 metres, is the creek inlet with aquatic plants such as water lilies, reeds, various grasses and trees. Most sightings are at very close quarters and you may well spend longer than you’d anticipated. Apart from your camera and zoom lens with beanbag support, bring binoculars, a bird book, drinks and snacks.

Getting there

GPS coordinates: -24.98137, 31.56618

Lake Panic is accessed from the main road between Skukuza and Paul Kruger Gate (H11). From

Jan van Wyk

Skukuza, drive to the four-way stop and turn right onto the H11. After 4 km, turn right onto the S42. You will reach the hide after 1,5 km. To get back to Skukuza, give yourself at least 30 minutes as you might want to stop for other sightings. The gravel road from the hide is good for leopard sightings in the late afternoon, while the H11 tar road is known for wild dog at dusk. Beware of the speed traps on the H11!

Birds rule

When two juveniles, the one plucky and the other plain curious, had a run-in right in front of Lake Panic Hide, amateur photographer Jan van Wyk captured this once-in-a-lifetime sighting.

“A juvenile fish eagle, about 90 days old, landed on the small island in front of the hide, watched by its parents from a nearby tree. First it harassed an adult bushbuck, then some thick-knees and Egyptian geese.

“A young bushbuck, which also wanted to explore new things, investigated the noises made by the Egyptian geese, then walked to the eagle. Both animals held their heads low and stared aggressively at each other. The eagle then ignored the bushbuck and started grooming itself, which is common behaviour to look more intimidating.

“When the standoff resumed, the eagle decided to open its wings to look bigger, to scare the bushbuck. The tactic to achieve dominance worked and the naive bushbuck backed off as fast as possible. The young eagle was plain arrogant.”

Top ticks to seek
Jan van Wyk

Kingfishers abound at Lake Panic in summer, particularly the pied, woodland, and malachite species, as well as giant and brown-hooded varieties. White-fronted bee-eaters hunt along the water, while black crake and African jacana stalk the lily pads. In the reed-beds, look for African rail, one of the few places in Kruger where it has been seen.

On the fringes or in the reeds, check out larger birds such as African darter, purple and green-backed herons, along with black-crowned night-heron. Heavyweights such as African openbill stork, tawny eagle and African fish eagle can be seen. Lake Panic also turns up sightings of osprey.

Waiting game

The striated or green-backed heron, only 40 cm in length, with piercing yellow eyes, legs and feet, is one of southern Africa’s smallest herons. It is resident along rivers that have a fringe of trees or reeds along their banks. Visitors to Kruger will encounter it at most low-level bridges. Prey is mainly small fish, but they also take aquatic insects, frogs and even small birds. Birding guru Warwick Tarboton recounts that unlike other herons, their technique of fishing involves placing ‘floating bait’ in the water and then ambushing any fish that comes to take it. Bait is usually a small insect or spider. On the edges of streams the birds drop the bait into the water, then move downstream and wait at the ready for it to come past. If the bait fails initially, it may be retrieved and dropped again or taken to another position and the exercise repeated.

More info on the area of Lowveld More info on the Mpumalanga area


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