24th to 26th May 2022 Our friends Arthur and Rose stayed a few days longer in Kgalagadi but my sister and husband, Sally and I headed home a few days before them. On our way… More
Tsendze 23rd to 25th February 2022
The next part of our trip took us to Tsendze Bush Camp.
One thing we noticed as we progressed further north in the Kruger was how quiet the birdlife was. And our quest to see loads of raptors swarming among millions of Red-billed Queleas was unlikely to happen. It was for this reason we cut short our stay here to 3 nights.
Despite this we had several interesting experiences while at Tsendze. Most along the Tropic of Capricorn Loop (S143) and the adjoining S50 heading south bordering the extensive wetlands.
It was along the S143 that we had the best sightings of raptors, Amur Falcons, Lesser Kestrel and Eurasian Hobby.
Here are some photos of other birds seen around Tsendze.
Some photos of non-bird creatures seen based at Tsendze.
Along the Tropic of Capricorn loop around the Tihongonyeni waterhole we had brilliant sightings of Harriers – Pallid and what we believe to be Montagu’s.
And what we believe to be a Montagu’s Harrier:
And not to be outdone, we encountered several Temminck’s Coursers. Here is one:
That was all on our last evening there. And we commented how we had not seen any cats while at Tsendze when lo and behold a pride was enjoying a rest against the tank at Tihongonyeni waterhole. The Gnus were waiting their turn and in the process got closer and closer until one Lioness stood up and walked closer to the water trough. Then we came across several more as we headed back to camp.
And that was our short stay at Tsendze – one of our favourite campsites where the Owls are heard calling every night along with the occasional Fiery-necked Nightjars.
During our stay we added another 16 different bird species to our list taking our tally to 206 at that stage.
And then we were on to Shingwedzi for 3 nights.
26th to 28th February 2022.
The campsite was pretty empty except for the sites by the fence. We found a spot on the fence – fully shaded – to the right of the swimming pool. Its only drawback was the late afternoon sun.
Among the few campsite birds was a pair of Bennett’s Woodpeckers. Forever on the ground and totally unperturbed by us – often getting quite close.
Another lovely campsite bird was this one – an African Mourning Dove.
Very friendly to us but had a real prolonged humdinger of a fight with another.
As you approach the camp gate, following the river on your left, you have a view of ponds in the river below and alongside the camp. There is always birdlife in these ponds.
We drove extensively around the area. Going down river, visiting the Red Rocks Loop as well as going further afield further north to Babalala Picnic site following the scenic route by the river.
No abundance of Quelea to be seen. However we did enjoy several raptors.
Then there were the other birds and animals we found in the area.
The highlight of out time at Shingwedzi was undoubtedly when we came across a pair of Dusky larks in the middle of the road. Most unexpected and most enjoyable.
And that was our excitement at Shingwedzi.
We added another 10 species to our total Kruger list bring the total to 216 species for the Kruger up to that point.
Our next camp was Punda Maria for 2 nights followed by 2 nights in Nthakeni to complete our Kruger trip from Bottom to Top.
Paul and Sally Bartho
8th to 16th April 2022
Sally and I went to Sedgefield to visit family just before Easter.
Having looked at the weather forecasts we decided to leave on Friday 8th April. We had planned to go on Sunday the 10th. As things turned out we made a very good decision and missed the deluge which KZN suffered.
We overnighted at River of Joy – just before Bloemfontein (550 kms) and the next day got to Sedgefield (800 kms). Traffic was surprisingly light and hardly any rain.
Our GPS and Misses “Waze” (brilliant App with latest details on traffic ahead as well as warning us of potholes ahead) told us to go to via George and backtrack to Sedgefield. We decided otherwise and take the “shortcut” at Uniondale going through the Prince Alfred Pass. What a great choice despite the extra time it took.
The Prince Alfred’s Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain’s most remarkable work. It is the second oldest unaltered pass still in use and is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa at approximately 68.5km.
We followed the windy narrow gully between steep mountains on either side of us – often unable to see where the next turn would be. The rock formations were outstandingly attractive. Once through the mountains the road opened up and we drove through a fern forest eventually reaching the N2 just north of Knysna.
Half way through we noticed a cosy looking place to stop at and potential stay at. Here is their advertising sign. Zoom in to read the sign.
While staying in Sedgefield we visited the nearby Rondevlei Bird Hide.
We had a pleasant 2 hours of water birds.
Here are birds photographed.
On the way home we stopped in Camdeboo National Park for a cup of tea and a loo break. Some wildlife got our attention.
Paul and Sally Bartho
19th to 22 February 2022
The camp at Satara had plenty of space except along the fence. We were not unhappy about that as the afternoon sun is straight in your face along the fence.
On our three full days there we explored far and wide – going as far north as Olifants, east to Nwanetsi and thereabouts as well as south west of Satara to Ngwanyeni Dam. Going off tar as much as possible.
Noticeable was the presence of many Carmine Bee-eaters. Something it seems you only see late summer.
European Bee-eaters were also abundant
Again we were surprised to see another Dwarf Bittern. This time catching the first rays of the sun.
We found that we often drove for long periods with few birds about. Perhaps it was the overcast weather but more likely after the good rains the birds had dispersed. Big raptors were hardly seen, however there were a few of the smaller variety.
To give an idea of typical scenery in the area:
Then there was an incident with a Pearl-spotted Owlet. We almost collided with it. The bird flew out from the left disappeared for a second below the car and fortunately appeared flying slowly and difficultly and landed in a tree on the right. Why did it behave this was in the middle of the afternoon? We stopped to look and immediately understood why it took such a risk. There in its claws was a creature longer than itself. Take a look.
Satara is known for its cats. We had several lion sightings. Once with cubs and another time with the big cats lying on the road and growling as we passed slowly by.
Our first Cheetah seen on this trip was a marvelous sight – perched on Ngotso staring into the distance right beside the road.
It is always great to see playful Elephants especially when they are frolicking with each other in water.
And the biggest treat for us was a Leopard up to tricks to avoid us. We took a side road to check out some water where we had seen lekker birds on a previous trip to the Kruger last year. Seeing nothing we continued the loop back to the road. As we went round the corner I could have sworn that ahead of us a cat had crossed the road and I had just glimpsed the tail end as it entered the tall grass. We drove up to the area looked down (as they have a habit of immediately hunkering down). Not there. As it was sort of going back to where we had come from I decided to go back and wait to see if it would appear. We waited and then Sally saw it. It was crawling the Leopard crawl – haunches sticking into the air, head low and stomach well down. We all know what Leopard crawling looks like from the many cartoons we have seen. This was a first and wonderful sight.
The Leopard slowly made for a tree across the road in front of us. Jumped up. Seemed to be scratching its bum on the bark in the “V” of the tree and then escalated to the top and lay staring at us.
There was a Crested Barbet asking us what times the gates opened and closed, but our communication was ineffective.
Unusually we were attacked by some Southern Ground Hornbills. Normally they simply walk passed if they come close. However this lot seemed to charge straight at us and proceeded to peck into our car. On the following video you will hear Sally saying that they may come for bugs on the car. And then the pecking started just after the video stopped.
In all we identified a further 28 birds to our Kruger list bringing our total up to 190 different bird species.
Some of the sunsets we had were spectacular.
Paul and Sally Bartho
15th February to 4th March 2022
Our hoped for objective was to see a variety of raptors feeding on the thousands of Red-billed Quelea on the open plains in the park which we were led to believe congregated at this time of the year.
Our first destination was Lower Sabie, followed by Satara, Shingwedzi and the Pafuri area (based at Nthakeni Bush and River Camp just outside the Pafuri Gate).
15th to 18th February 2022
One of the first sightings as we entered the Kruger – a very welcoming sight.
The campsite on arrival was fairly full. We managed to find a suitable spot but it did lack shade. Not to worry as it was almost constantly overcast while we were there.
Concerns started after our first outing. The batteries for car and car fridge were completely run down. Close by campers came to my assistance. A pair of jumper cables came out. They were attached and tried and burnt out! The cables were hot hot. Eventually I went to reception for help to get the car started. In no time help arrived and with 2 sets of jumper cables used the car was started. I then took the car for a 2 hour drive to get the batteries up to speed.
On return I checked all to see what could be causing the problem. This idiot had forgotten to plug the charging cable to the car fridge battery before he left Howick 3 days previously!! So I plugged it in to the Anderson plug on the battery box supplying power to the fridge. Problem solved.
Well not so. The next morning the car would not start again. Help came and this time a much thicker cable was used to start the car. And as I was not sure what was going on, I decided to drive into Komatipoort to buy a thick cable. None available, so I ended up buying a Jump Start battery instead.
On our final day at Lower Sabie the car would not start again but the Jump Start got us going. By now I was frantic to know why I had this continuous problem. So, for some reason I know not why, I decided to double check all my cable connections. And that is when I found a second Anderson Plug at the very bottom of the battery case which I should have used to keep the 2nd battery charged from the engine. The one I used was for charging from a solar panel. Since then all has been hunky-dory.
All those troubles aside, how did we enjoy our stay? Amazing start on the first morning.
Our first morning out was quite eventful. We crossed the bridge over the Sabie River and headed north towards Tshokwane. At the first intersection we decided to turn right on the S29. Then the action started.
We had gone not much more than 2 kms when we noticed an unusual bird on the road – a Crake of some sort. It started to run off the road as we stopped well back to put our goggles on it. Fortunately I was able to get a couple of photos and we were able to positively identify it. What was it doing so far away from water? Perhaps there was some sort of wetland close that we could not see.
What a start to the day. But we had not gone much further before there was more excitement. We heard a call that we immediately recognised as that of a Burchell’s Coucal. But there was another call which was not quite as recognisable and there it was right in front of us perched at the top of a short tree – a Black Coucal.
Wow. Could this get even better! Then it did.
As we watched the pair of Coucals , Sally glanced to the other side of the road as a Pallid Harrier came low past us. The black at the ends of the wings on an all white bird clearly identified it.
From there we headed to Leeupan, 7 kms south of Tshokwane on the H1-2. The pan was full – the first time I had seen it so in many many years.
We were in for a treat there too. Lesser Moorhens, African Pygmy Geese among other waterbirds. We saw a Lesser Gallinule but were unable to get a photo. Lesser Jacana were also present but we never found them. What a place. Apparently Olive Tree Warblers were calling there too.
Lesser Moorhen were aplenty.
And the Knob-billed Ducks
Later we took a stroll around the camp and had a number of lovely birds to see.
Meanwhile round the camp we bumped into a Peregrine Falcon.
And at Sunset Dam the waterbirds were present.
One day we visited Mpondo Dam – not much about but as we approached the dam from below we were again attacked. This time the creatures had really grown since we were last there. They obviously could hear us coming and were on the road as we approached. We stopped and they came after us. Terrapins. Now the size of a fist. Last November they were more the size of a watch face. Sally thinks people have been feeding them and that is why they come after us.
Occasionally we came across Vultures and Eagles but they were few and far between.
Then there were a range of Animals, Spiders and Damselflies which made for an attempt at good photography (they usually are still subjects).
The male Golden Orb Web Spiders try their luck mating with the much larger female. If they are in and out quick enough they might live another day. To help themselves to survive they try to serenade and distract the lady by playing spiderweb tunes to her.
European and Carmine Bee-eaters were seen unlike on our previous visit in November 2021. And there were plenty of European Rollers
On one occasion we came across a pair of White-faced Whistling Ducks alongside a pair of Hamerkops. Each pair were canoodling with each other, grooming and caressing.
Here are some of the other birds seen around Lower Sabie – as far afield as Crocodile Bridge, Skukuza and Tshokwane.
Then there are the endangered Southern Ground Hornbills which made a show.
And finally we end as we started with another Leopard sighting.
Our time in Lower Sabie was up and we were off to Satara for several days. Satara report to follow.
We were amazed to identify 161 different bird species in the time we were there.
Paul and Sally Bartho
5th to 7th March 2022
After all the rains early this year, the wetlands at Nylsvlei were nicely flooded. Sally and I decided to pay a visit.
We stayed at Klein Paradys campsite some 40 kms from the entrance to Nylsvlei.
Interesting campsite with loads of Peacocks and Peahens also rubbish bin thieves at night.
The main wetland hides are entered from the opposite side to the main entrance gate (see map above). We checked in at the main gate, paid and obtained the security number to enter the main wetland area. To get there, you need to drive around to the other side of the reserve and park opposite the entrance gate.
As it happened, we parked and then got chatting to the owner – Brian Frank – of the farm (and wetland area) directly opposite the entrance to Nylsvlei wetland. He just happened to be there and offered us entry to the wetland area right by the parking area. This wetland is part of the Sandfields & Forests Estate – which also offers Birder Friendly accommodation.
As we stood talking to Brian an unusual bird flew at speed close overhead. A large Swallow type looking bird with a strange “U” shaped tail. It was so quick we only got a glimpse of it, not enough time to ID it. We speculated for some time what it could have been and it was only that evening that we had a brain-wave and we thought we knew what it was. Ever hopeful we would see it again the next day.
We decided to enter there first before going into the Nylsvlei Vogelfontein hides and wetland. It was a small area of wetland and a pond to walk around but the birds were brilliant. Little and Dwarf Bitterns flying overhead and landing in the shrubbery around the path. Even a Slaty Egret made an appearance in one of the distant trees before flying over our heads. I was pleased that I had brought our scope for such a viewing.
Then there were the Black-crowned Night-Herons and a youngster flying overhead confusing us by its uniform grey plumage. Squacco Herons were obliging for Photos.
What a treat.
Eventually we entered the Nylsvlei wetland at Vogelfontein.
This is only a very small part of the wetland that you are able to walk around at Nylsvlei. Either side of the paths to the two hides are wetland and ponds almost as far as your eye can see. The two hides are Crake Hide and Dabchick Hide. We spent time in each as well as walking the pathways. Of the two hides we found the Dabchick hide the most productive.
In the area we encountered Allen’s Gallinule; Lesser Moorhen; Goliath, Purple and Black-headed Herons; more Dwarf bitterns; Southern Pochard; White-backed Ducks; Red-billed Teal; Knob-billed Ducks; Little Grebes and Banded Martins – to name a few. Even Fulvous Ducks were seen flying and calling overhead.
Then as we were about to leave our mystery Swallow-like bird appeared, then more appeared and in the end there were hundreds overhead -later we heard there were thousands- Black-winged Pratincoles.
What a wonderful wetland experience. Birds of all sorts were constantly on the move overhead.
One day after midday we ventured into Nylsvlei Nature Reserve itself and drove around to see what we could see. Birds and animals delighted us. We spent a bit of time in the Jacana Hide but were there at the wrong time of the day.
Here are some of the species we encountered.
In all we recorded 103 different bird species. Click to see our bird list:
Hope you have enjoyed the read.
Sally and Paul Bartho
13 and 14th February 2022
On the way to the Kruger National Park, Sally and I spent a couple of nights camping at Miss Chrissie’s.
The campsite is located amidst a forest . No power. Ablutions with hot water provided by a donkey boiler.
Scenery of the area.
We had organised a guide – Peter- through Charmaine 079 252 5235 the booking agent for Miss Chrissie’s. This not only enabled us to go onto farmers’ properties but also to show us where the birds were. We were taken to several spots in and around the area and saw Lesser Flamingos in their hundreds on one of the local farmer’s dam.
Here are pictures of two of the places Peter took us to.
Peter is diversely interesting. He is a man of many skills. He has installed lights in many of the world’s casinos and he currently makes musical instruments to order worldwide – doing all the work himself. He understands what type of wood will give him the sound he requires and he does all the inlay work himself. That is apart from bird guiding.
Here are some of the birds and animals photoed while there.
We came across an unusual sighting of several African Fish-Eagles on the ground. An adult and two fledglings. As we got close so they flew.
How do you like these creatures.
In all we identified 61 different bird species. To see the list then click on this link:
And then we headed for the Kruger with hopes of seeing thousands of Red-billed Quelea altogether with raptors galore in attendance.
Paul and Sally Bartho
PART OF THE MOUSE FREE MARION PROJECT
24th to 31st January 2022
BirdLife South Africa (BLSA) organised a special bird trip to Marion Island on the MSC Orchestra. There were 1700 birders on board – from all over the world. BLSA found 40 seabird guides to help guests positively identify the many different seabird species seen.
The purpose of this trip was to raise funds to eradicate mice on Marion Island. It has a large breeding colony of over quarter of a million seabirds especially Albatrosses. Marion Island is plagued by mice. The mice are eating the young Albatrosses alive and depleting Albatross numbers significantly – in particular the unique Wandering Albatross – with its 3.6 metres wingspan.
We urgently need your support. Please help if you can…. please. Visit the website: https://mousefreemarion.org/ to learn how to support this valuable initiative.
Most of the world’s best known seabirders were on board. In particular we were privileged again to have the distinguished Peter Harrison MBE (considered as the David Attenborough of Seabirds). His new book was published in time for this event and is considered as the definitive guide to Seabirds worldwide. “Seabirds. The New Identification Guide” supercedes his first Seabird book published in 1983 which until now has been considered as The definitive book on Seabirds worldwide.
Sally and I booked our place on the trip as soon as the MSC Cruises started taking bookings. That was three years ago. Covid played havoc with the timetable and the cruise was delayed a year as a consequence.
Map of the route:
The cruise started in Cape Town and ended in Durban. For us, we left our car at King Shaka airport and flew to Cape Town a day before the cruise’s departure. That night was spent with Sally’s brother Robin and his wife Annmaree in Somerset West.
The time of departure was brought forward on the evening before due to potentially heavy winds forecast. We needed to exit the harbour by midday. And that we did. However, as many people were unable to change their travel times the ship anchored outside the harbour and sent several lifeboats to fetch the remaining guests. Looked like they experienced a rough ride to the ship.
A sunny day in Cape Town gave us good views of Table Mountain and some of its aerial acrobatics.
While we waited for everyone to board, we had a look around the MSC Orchestra to get our bearings and to see what was where. However this did not stop us getting lost inside the ship – going to the front when we though we were heading for our room at the stern!!
Some more shots of the ship.
Sally took a video:
Time to leave – casting off as the tugs prepare to take us through the harbour entrance.
And then we were on our way – calm seas and gloriously sunny weather.
With the combination of wind, rough sea and drizzle we even had a sea rainbow.
Sunset on the night before arrival at Marion Island.
Three days birding slowly cruising to get to Marion Island. We had glorious sunshine until we approached Marion Island.
Clouds descended covering the island. However birds and sea mammals abounded especially as we got closer to the island.
Meanwhile there were lectures throughout each day everyday. We attended all three of Peter Harrison MBE’s lectures – Seven Years and Seven Continents; The Penguins: Ocean Nomads- the Albatrosses.
The first, Seven Years and Seven Continents, was a fascinating account of his life during those seven years that he spent with a view to produce a definitive Field Guide of the world’s sea birds. His presentation, anecdotes, animation and enthusiasm captured the audience. What a great speaker.
This cruise was about fundraising for the Mouse Free Marion project. There were many ways funds were raised. From going on the cruise, sponsoring a Hectare of Marion Island, becoming a BirdLife Custodian, Donations, auctions at lectures (seabird plates from his new book donated by Peter Harrison MBE), Silent Auction for a special edition of Peter Harrison MBE’s new book and more. Altogether over 3 million rand was raised. More is needed and I hope many of you reading this will feel the need to sponsor at least one hectare.
In celebration all passengers gathered on the top deck to show their support.
Many marine mammals were seen on the cruise – thanks to the Guides and their ability to identify often fleeting moments that the mammals shared with us. To share how fleeting some of these mammals were here are a few photos I managed to take.
Although we did not get many photos we did see the plumes from a number of different sea mammals. The most exciting that of a Blue Whale – the largest of all mammals this earth has seen.
And the local South African Guides which we sponsored to come on the cruise.
And of course the cruise was about birds. Here are some of their photos which I took. I bear full responsibility for the quality.
But where is the Giant of them all – the Wandering Albatross with its 3.6 metres wingspan. Here are some of my shots.
We were fortunate to see two different species of Penguin (apart from the African seen near Cape Town). The first was a pod of Macaroni Penguins close to the ship side. They were porpoising at speed – a sight which brought Sally to tears. Then we had a view of King Penguins and their colourful beaks again close to the ship.
After our short time near Prince Edward Island we turned north and headed for Durban. Short because that the storm the captain feared was breathing down our coattails. A storm with 12 metre waves which settled over Marion Island as we sailed home.
And so the cruise ends. We awake to see the sun rise behind as Durban appeared in the distance ahead. And before we knew it, we were ashore.
Here is a link to the bird and mammal species identified on the cruise. Unfortunately Sally and I only managed about a half of those listed.
Sally and I thoroughly enjoyed our week on board – excellent and well planned. Thank you Mark Anderson and your team for putting this together.
Paul and Sally Bartho
24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th November 2021
From Balule we went to Skukuza for 4 nights, meeting up with my sister.
On the way there was a dam by the road with some water in it. On the mud bank we noticed Knob-billed Ducks displaying a variety of colours.
Skukuza was nowhere near as full as it was the last time we stayed. That was during Covid restrictions when 50% occupancy was ignored and we struggled to find a campsite. This time we had little problem finding a level site.
We spent our days going to Lower Sabie and Sunset Dam, going to Pretoriaskop, having a wet day picnic at the Mlondozi lookout, visiting Mpondo Dam where we were attacked by Terrapins!!!
. We had hoped to see the renovated Nlandanyethi Hide, however the road to it was closed – roadworks.
We went to Lower Sabie to sit in the Mugg and Bean restaurant and enjoy the view over the river. Not much happening as the river was full and it was overcast. We noticed the burnt out wreck of their Petrol Station – rather sad.
Sunset Dam is always a great place to stop. There were the usual crocodiles and hippos aplenty. Waterbirds were easily visible too, even African Jacanas, Common Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts coming right up to the car. And a crocodile oblivious of us lying on the grass beside us.
On another wetter day we drove northside of the Sabie river to the Mlondozi lookout. Birding was quiet but the view at the lookout is always special.
The Sabie river was flowing well and everywhere was green.
On the road north of the Sabie River we were fortunate to see some Lions resting on a bank.
Elsewhere we bumped into a pack of Wild Dogs. Resting restlessly under trees by the road.
We visited Pretoriuskop in the drizzling rain. We chose to go via the S1 towards Albasini Ruins and then turn off south along the S3 just before reaching the Ruins. One or two patches of the road were a bit slippery. Despite the rain birds were about. A pair of Woodland Kingfishers were heard and seen playing their mating game.
At Pretoriuskop the rain subsided and we took the chance to walk around the camp. Birding in the camp is often rewarding.
During our 4 days in the area we saw many bird species. Here are some of those photographed.
One day as we drove out of Skukuza heading south, we had not gone far when we came across Hyenas including youngsters by the road. Usually they sit around but this lot were different.