Kruger NP Part 8 – Balule

1st to 5th November 2020

Balule is one of our favourite camps in the Kruger NP. It is a relatively small camp without power consisting of about 20 campsites and several huts.

At night the hyenas patrol the fence line often lying down quietly within metres of you and staring with their pleading eyes while resting their head on their front paws. A cute deceptive look of innocence.

On arrival we were greeted by the raucous sounds of hyenas battling just outside the entrance gate. The kerfuffle went on for quite some time.

One of the noisy Hyenas

We chose not to camp along the open fence line but rather in a large shady spot close by and using our solar panels to keep our batteries charged.

Balule camp is located close to the Olifants River and to get to the Olifants Camp you cross the river over a low lying bridge.

And on this visit the muddy water was flowing swiftly quite close to the level of the bridge.

On one occasion later in the day we observed more than 50 Openbills flying downriver.

Some scenery shots around the area.

Venturing out one day to visit Olifants Camp and just as we approached the low level bridge we noticed a cat lying under a shady tree. We had heard them during the night so it was a thrill to see them too.

Olifants Camp is set atop of a hill overlooking the Olifants river. It has a great lookout over the river. And from there you can often see herds of Elephant and Buffalo below and in the distance.

View from the lookout at Olifants Camp

Taking the S44 from Olifants Camp, there is another Lookout Point overlooking the river below.

An unusual sight looking over the river on a cool overcast and mistyish morning – looking at some rocks in the river. The photos are as we saw them.

From Balule we went as far afield as the Sweni Hide next to the N’wanetsi picnic site. We went in hope that it was open after being disappointed when we were staying in Satara. We were not disappointed and although there were not many birds we watched young elephants having fun in the water.

Here are some photos of the lovely birds and beasts that we saw while at Balule – some in the camp like the Blue Waxbill.

At night we were treated to some glorious sunsets.

Packing up to leave was hell. Despite the early hour there was not a breath of wind and the humidity was high. By the time we had finished I had a heat rash all round the back of my neck which took weeks to heal.

Then we were on our way heading South to Lower Sabie for the remainder of our stay in the Kruger NP. That will be Part 9 and the final part of our trip to the Kruger NP.

To see our bird list for Balule then click on the link below.

Bird Sunset

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kruger NP Part 7 – Nthakeni and Pafuri

28th to 31st October 2020

Pafuri is a long drive from Punda Maria making it difficult to reach the area early in the morning. As we had previously stayed at Pafuri River Lodge just outside of the Pafuri Gate so we attempted to stay there again but had no response. Eventually someone called us and told us that it had closed down but we could camp at – Nthakeni.

Leaving Punda Maria we headed north. Passing large herds of Buffalos and finding it difficult to spot Red-billed Oxpeckers. Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were everywhere that there were herds of Buffalos or Impala.

There is a large Baobab on top of a hill overlooking the Pafuri plain beyond. Very majestic and noticeable from all around.

Nthakeni is near the village of Nkotswi and about 6 kms from the Pafuri entrance gate. About 4 kms on tar then turn off to the left for 2 kms past the village, across a river through dry pastoral land to the camp. Nthakeni is a concession from the local people who have created the camp.

Upon arrival we were met by a very friendly host and hostess – Annelise and Kobus – and directed to our campsite – Mashato. Annelise and Kobus manage the site with help from the local population. The goal is to make it ecofriendly and comfortably rustic. Cottages run on solar power.

The campsite was right on the river bank and surrounded by trees – much like the setting at Pafuri picnic site. The entry was down a steep slope with a sharp turn to the right. Facilities in our camp included our own Ablutions with hot water and a kitchen fully equipped but without a fridge. No electric power but a donkey boiler. And a great river view.

Some photos of the communal facilities:

And our view of the Mutale river:

Unfortunately in the future the two campsites by the river will be converted to Tented camps and camping will be found in and around the great baobabs nearby – no river views sadly.

Cows and a donkey roamed up and down the river ringing their bells.

Birding was excellent in the campsite – many different species to listen to and observe flitting about.

There are a couple of trails to enjoy: –

When we went to explore the trails, two of the camp dogs joined us and led the way.

What a wonderful life for these dogs. They know how to stay fit as this video shows.

Dogs will be dogs

A few of the special birds seen at Nthakeni

We spent a couple of days traversing the Luvuvu River at Pafuri, from Crooks Corner, past the Picnic site, the bridge and on to the Thulamela Archeological site. The area was quite dry although there were some lush treed areas around the river bed as these photos will show.

The drive between the bridge to Crooks Corner is always variable and interesting. The riverside trees are massive and full of life. No sooner had we turned off the S63 heading for Crooks Corner we ran into a road block – a tree had fallen across the road and we had to find a way around it. We looked for Lemon-breasted Canaries in the palms but probably it was too dry for them.

While there we noticed people on the opposite side walking along the river side. And as we were there a police patrol arrived and shouted at the men opposite. Crooks Corner still lives up to its name.

The picnic site is always a great place to see and listen to birds. We were not disappointed. There were a couple of Black-throated Wattle-eyes attending to their nestlings in one of the very large trees in the picnic site – very hard to spot and impossible for photos unfortunately. Here are some of the birds we did manage to photograph.

The bridge is a great place to look for birds and there is often animal life below. This time was no different. It is one of the bridges where you are allowed out of your vehicle but you must stay between the yellow lines on the bridge surface. Unfortunately there are people who wander over the lines sometimes going off the bridge. If that habit persists then this privilege will cease.

It was here that Sally spotted a Bohm’s Spinetail amongst the Swifts and Swallows overhead.

Mud Fun:

As we drove around the area we had sightings of birds and animals. A lone Eland youngster, a pair of mating Lions, a Leopard below a treetop full of Baboons, Crocodiles as well as Meve’s Starling, Marsh Sandpiper, Red-headed Weaver, Squacco and Striated Herons, a pale phase Wahlberg’s Eagle, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver to name a few.

Bath Time for a White-crowned Lapwing.

And then there was the Leopard lying next to the road among some dead tree trunks. At first we passed by without noticing it but something caught our eye. We reversed and there was the Leopard – keeping an occasional eye on the nearby Buffalo.

The next part of our trip was to be spent at Balule. On the way we overnighted at Shingwedzi. Most of our experience at Shingwedzi has been included in Part 5 of this series. Balule is Part 8 of this series which will follow shortly.

Our bird list for Nthakeni and Pafuri can be seen by clicking on the following link:

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger NP Part 6 – Punda Maria

24th to 28th October

From Shingwedzi we headed north to Punda Maria to continue birding. Our friends left us and returned south through the Park. On the way up we had a delightful experience with a pair of Kori Bustards. They were prancing on a hillock by the road.

The camp in Punda Maria was very busy at the bottom near the fence and the hide overlooking the waterhole just over the fence. The ablutions there were over worked and had an unseemly odour.

We headed for our preferred location nearish to the ablutions at the top and overlooking the campsite – away from people.

The waterhole can get very busy at times with small herds of Elephants and hundreds of Buffalo – especially late afternoon going into the night. Often trumpeting quite loudly and for long periods – presumably to let others know that this is their waterhole.

Marabou Storks sometimes visit as this one did. It sat down in a posture resembling a person playing the piano.

On occasion a Leguaan passes by. But it is not often that you get to see it doing press-ups.

Several times we drove the 25 kms Mahonie Loop around the camp. Birds were disappointingly quiet. However we did come across a leopard once – making up for it – a bit.

While we were there we got a message from Trevor Hardaker that a Golden Pipit had been seen and he gave us the co-ordinates. The Pipit was seen approximately 10 kms south of the turnoff of the H13-1 heading on the H1-8 to Shingwedzi. We got up very early to find it. And we did. The co-ords were perfect. Sally spotted it on the verge as we drove slowly towards it. It went up into the trees by the road and moved about from tree to tree and branch to branch. Lovely bird – seems to float like a butterfly as it flies. A calling Monotonous lark also appeared at the scene.

The next day we needed diesel – however the petrol pumps at the garage at Punda Maria had unfortunately been smashed into by a car which had lost control on the drive up to reception. That meant a trip back to Shingwedzi (70 kms away) to fill up. This was not an inconvenience for us. We had the opportunity to look for the Golden Pipit again, a bit of breakfast at the Babalala picnic site and another drive on the S56 side road which we had so enjoyed when staying at Shingwedzi.

Damage control

As we reached the end of the H13-1 to turn south on to the H1-8 a family of Cheetahs ran across the road. The mother heading left and the two sub-adults to the right across the road. We stopped to look at the youngsters as the mother disappeared into the bush. Eventually she re-appeared, crossed the road and united with the youngsters. Nice sighting.

On the way we stopped again when we found the Golden Pipit. Lovely bird. As we left so the bird flew away but we heard it later returned. At Babalala picnic site we stopped for tea then took the S56 loop road to Shingwedzi. We had not gone far when a pair of Coqui Francolins – Sally’s recent bogey bird – crossed the road ahead of us.

Further along we came across the Elephants digging for water while the Leopard watched. Another Leopard further along was hanging out lying in a tree by the road. Then as we approached the Shingwedzi Gate we noticed about a hundred Buffalo taking advantage of a large pool of water in the river bed below. Closer inspection of something odd in the water revealed a pair of crocodiles holding on to something. With the scope out we realised it was the head of a buffalo.

Buffalo demise at the hands of a couple of crocodiles very close to other bathing Buffalos.

The Klopperfontein waterholes were virtually dry, however an Elephant and a few Buffalo were taking advantage of what was left in one of them. While camping in Punda Maria we refrained from visiting Pafuri as we intended to spend three nights at Nthakeni at a community camp just outside the Pafuri Gate.

Here is a selection of the birds photographed in the area.

The day before we left we returned from a drive to find we had new neighbours. They had put their Campervan up so close to us that it was impossible for me to hook up our car to the front of our trailer when we left – without having to drive over their ground sheet and under their awning. Turning our Serval was not an option as we were on a ledge.

Neighbours to the left

Anyway we managed – with a use of their space unfortunately.

Our bird list amounted to 104 different species identified. To see our list please click on the link following.

Then we were on to the top of the Park and to a community run Camp – Nthakeni near the village of Nkotswi – about 6 kms from the Pafuri entrance gate. From our base in Nthakeni we explored not only the area around Nthakeni but also Pafuri. Our time there will be reported in the next part of our Kruger saga. Part 7 to follow.

Kruger Part 5 – Shingwedzi

21st to 24th October 2020

It is a two kms drive to the Shingwedzi gate once you exit the H1-6. You drive alongside the river bed with many tall trees either side. When we were there the river bed had a number of pools in it. The water was not flowing. It is difficult to imagine that the river sometimes overflows its banks. The volume of water would be immense.


Our friends had arrived before us and were in the process of putting up their camp by a spot along the fence. When we had checked-in they told us not to do so as one has to book those sites in advance and all were booked. We mentioned that to our friends and they told us that they had not been told. After much hoohah with check-in they decided to move. Shame.

The campsite was far from full.

After all our travels it was time to do some washing – except the camp’s laundry machines had broken down so the staff were using the one laundry machine to wash hutted guest towels – piling them in to fill the machine completely.


We had a friendly Dwarf Mongoose visit us one day looking for food no doubt. Bird wise the camp was very quiet. Not surprising after 6 months of lockdown they went elsewhere to find food.

Some typical habitat in the area.

A Lion kill had been reported. A Waterbuck lying in the riverbed along the S50 heading south. We took a drive out to see what was left. We passed the breached Kanniedood Dam passing a number of good water bird pools- even coming across a Saddle-billed Stork in the bush and a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Owls.

Hippo and Yellow-billed Oxpecker hitching a ride

Just before reaching the Lion kill we spotted 5 male Lions clambering away from us on the opposite side of the dry river bed. Eventually we reached the spot. The poor waterbuck was lying close to our edge of the river bed – just visible through the foliage. Vultures were everywhere but on the carcass – a lioness was lying on the sand close by – perhaps that was the reason. Suddenly the vultures all piled in one on top of another. The stomach was pulled out and carried away much agro as to who will keep it. However once open it looked a soggy mess and most vultures gave up on it. There was a goodly variety of Vultures – Lappet-faced, White-backed, White-headed and Hooded. And then the hyenas arrived,

And when Hyenas arrive then chaos.

Hyena carnage
Vultures at it

Further along the S50 you pass Dipene Outpost monument on the way to the Nyawutsi Hide. Elephant were there and so was an African Fish-Eagle. The Eagle was fluttering between branches and posing for photos.

The R52 – SW of the camp is a double loop road either side of a (usually) dryish river. The Red Rocks lookout is found on the first loop. The second loop goes further to the Tshanga Lookout. The second loop is well vegetated with large trees following the both sides of the river. It was along this loop that we saw some interesting birds. One such was a raptor which challenged us to recognise. Eventually we decided it was a Booted Eagle with an unusual lump on its chest..

Other birds seen along this loop:

We visited Red Rocks on the first loop as well and saw a small herd of Elephants walking on the rocks.

Just north of Shingwedzi is a dirt road – the S56 – going up to the Babalala Picnic site. For many people this road is considered one of the most scenic in the park. It was certainly that for us, as well as just as exciting.

As we drove along we found Buffalo and Elephant ambling in the river bed. In one area there were over 150 Buffalo enjoying a largish pool of water. Elephants were digging for water.

Further along there were elephant scattered in the dry river bed digging for water. Sally took a video of one Elephant at work and was surprised what she saw. Have a look. And be surprised.

Birds too were lovely to see

We ventured along the S56 several times and came across leopards each time. We found the one in the video several times in the same place and another in the same general but resting on a branch. Our favourite cat.

In the three days we were in Shingwedzi we recorded 112 different bird species. Click on the link to see our list.

From Shingwedzi we headed to Punda Maria which forms Part 6 of our report.

Kruger NP – Part 4 Tsendze


17th to 21st October

Splat at the Tropic of Capricorn near Tsendze camp.

Our next camp was Tsendze. A well treed campsite only. No electric power but solar power for hot water and a shared freezer.

The camp is right next door to the Mooiplaas picnic site and about 8 kms from Mopani where check-in takes place. It is possible to pre-book a campsite we are told and we would argue that some of the best sites are Numbers, 1,14,17,18 22, and 25. However much depends on whether you need sun for your solar panels. Some sites are large and suitable for 2 or 3 off-road trailers or caravans.

The following photos show our site among many others and gives you an impression of the vegetation in the camp.

The camp is managed by Elena Mona and Rodgers Hobyane. They are the best managers in the Park by far – in our opinion. Every evening they come round to check everything is ok. They are social and helpful.

Tsendze camp is famous for its owls. We have seen and heard African Barred Owlet, Pearl-spotted Owlet and African Scops Owl there in the past.

This time was no different. In fact we were greeted by an African Barred Owlet as we set up camp – number 25. The Owlet came with 3 metres and watched us set up. Magic welcome. It checked in on us every day we were there.

In fact there were a pair breeding in a tree quite close by. At night we heard their call as well as that of the African Scops Owl and occasionally the Pearl Spotted Owlet.

The Mooiplaas picnic site, literally next to the camp, is one of our favourite tea stops. It is run by Phineous – another very helpful person and well knowledged on the birds there. Again well treed and shady with a shaded lookout over the Tsendze river.

One morning we visited and Phineous showed us where to see the African Scops Owl. He had heard it early morning and had searched for it till he found it. Such a small Owl and well camouflaged to hide next to the bark of any tree.

It was not till we got to Tsendze that we saw our first Kori Bustard – being bombed by a Crowned Lapwing as it so happened.

Here is a quick slideshow of some of the habitat in and around Tsendze.

Driving along the H14 towards Phalaborwa gate, Sally heard a bird call which she recognised but could not quite put her finger on it immediately. We stopped and it kept calling from a distance. Eventually moving back and forward the bird was spotted and we immediately knew what it was – the familiar Coocuk sound which did not immediately identify – An African Cuckoo.

African Coocuck.

The H14 at that time provided us with some interesting memories. At separate places – quite close to each other – there were Hyenas – mainly curious pups. Very cute looking and very inquisitive – even inspecting the underside of our car. Further along seven Wild Dogs appeared on the road and the leader took them alongside our car on their way to somewhere. Then there was a Grand-daddy of a Lion imperiously lying on the road daring anyone to pass. After that we took a loop down next to some water and there in the water were Hyenas having a relaxing bath. On the way back another pair of Lions were seen in the foliage by the road sleeping off a wild night by the looks of them – well zonked out.

Just after we turned around to come back we ventured off on a side road. Not far along Double-banded Sandgrouses popped across the road in front of us. The road eventually dwindling out at a river crossing which we were not prepared/supposed to take. Returning we had sightings of some raptors too.

There were many Buffalo and Elephant sightings alongside all the roads we explores. The Buffalo in large herds. One Elephant also took advantage of a stepping stone to access water from a storage tank. Another a nearby tree to have a good scratch and yet another with a forward facing floppy ear.

One morning we went to Mopani to walk below the camp alongside Pioneer Dam. As we turned off the main road we spotted three Cheetah – a mother and two youngsters. Lovely unexpected sighting. They had obviously been drinking at a waterhole right by the road up to Mopani. They were trotting off at a distance so we enjoyed watching them disappear and no photos were taken.

Pioneer Dam from Mopani Camp restaurant

We also visited the other side of Pioneer dam and the hide there. Unfortunately there was little to see from the hide. On the way you cross the Tsendze river on a low level bridge. At the bridge we have often seen Black Crake scurrying around on the bridge and in the vegetation beside it. Again they were there and also a Lapsmith (try the mouthful Blacksmith Lapwing) chick. A Marabou Stork was also hanging around with the Hippos on the other side.

One late afternoon we followed this same road down to its dead end at Stapelkop Dam hoping to see lots of water birds. The vegetation along the way is pretty flat except for an outcrop of boulders about half way along. We always stop there to have a good look for birds and the occasional Klipspringer. A Red-headed Weaver was seen but little else. We had the same scenario at the Dam – just a Water Thick-knee. It was on the way back that we had an unexpected sighting at the boulders. I don’t know how Sally saw it as it was well camouflaged – a Spotted Eagle-Owl. And then we found the Klipspringer that we were looking for earlier.

On another morning we took the S50 along the wetlands up to the Shibavantsengele Lookout and then to the Grootvlei Dam. We always enjoy this section of the road. Buffalo and Elephant along the wetland section. Further along we always seem to come across Red-crested Korhaans often making their call (the click song as I call it) and sometimes their flight display. Now that is special. At the end of their call they suddenly take flight – vertically and then at about 10 metres they drop out of the sky like those acrobatic airplanes falling erratically to ground. At the last second they pull out of their dive and land. We were not fortunate to see that display this time but we did video their click song.

Red-crested Korhaan and its version of the Click song.

Grootvlei Dam is off the beaten track – one of those places we like to visit. Here we saw a Grey Heron flying over, African Spoonbills, Curlew Sandpipers, African Pied Wagtails, an African Spoonbill between an African Openbill and a Yellow-billed Stork.

A pair of Black-winged Stilts were interesting to watch as they swapped over nest duties.

Photos of birds seen in the area include:

On the way back to camp, an amorous Steenbok made numerous attempts to seduce its female companion but she was having none of it. Amusing to watch her antics and his persistence.

The said male Steenbok

Tsendze is probably our favourite place to camp in the park. The campsite is well run, the staff are friendly, the ablutions maintained. It is well treed and has awesome birds. Its location provides a variety of habitats to explore.

In all we identified 108 different bird species in this area. To see our list, click on the following link.

Next stop was Shingwedzi for 3 nights and this will be Part 5 of our report on our visit to the Kruger National Park.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger National Park – Part 3 – Satara and Letaba

11th to 14th October 2020


Our friends went to Satara a day earlier than us. We arrived as the rain paused making our life easier in setting up in the campground. Our friends had experienced some rather heavy rain during a big storm that night. We don’t normally put our sides up but we did while here in Satara in case there was a combination of wind as well as rain.

Exploration round the campsite was limited due to the heavy rain. It seemed the lions were enjoying the cooler weather. There were 6 lions close to camp – as usual lying down – beside the road in a rather bedraggled wet state.

The following morning we decided to drive along the S100. However when we got there the road was closed. We later learned that our friends had got there at opening time and the road was open. So we headed along the H6 to the N’wanetsi picnic site with the intention of visiting the Sweni hide close by. Not to be, the road to the hide was closed too.

However we did get a slight (maybe more) fright as a lone bull elephant came crashing out of the bushes.

Having travelled thus far into the Kruger, we at last had our first sighting of a Black-backed Jackal.

From there we went to Gudzani Dam along the S41 and enjoyed having the place to ourselves.

Gudzani Dam and African Openbill

As we passed the S100 we noticed that the road was open so we went back that way only to find it was still closed at the other end much to our annoyance. Somehow we managed to drive round the blocked road.

It was along the S100 that we had some good sightings of a variety of birds.

There was even an African Harrier-Hawk searching for food.

African Harrier-Hawk

Driving along the H7 we stopped at the Nsemani Dam with Brown-headed Parrots flying alongside the road right next to us.

Further along on the Timbavati Road we were fortunate to see 7 wild dogs. They were lying beside the roar in all sorts of contorted positions. One rose and promptly flopped down again.

We had heard good reports about a locally run campsite in Manyeleti. A reserve adjacent to the Kruger near the Orpen Gate. The next day we all decided to check it out. We were under-impressed. Bare stony and open campsite. However there was a large dam close by with numerous Collared Pratincoles flying about.

On the way photos were taken of several animals and birds.

In the 2 full days we were there we did identify 106 different bird species. Click on the link below to review our records.

From Satara we went to Letaba for 3 nights.


14th to 17th October 2020


The campsite at Lataba was only half full and we camped on the fence line for a change with bushes either side so although it was not necessarily that shady it was private from neighbours.

Both game and birds were unusually scarce in the area.

One of the animal highlights at our time in the Letaba area was seeing inquisitive Hyena pups alongside the car.

The African Scops Owl called each night in the camp – a magic sound.

This was well before the recent floods so the rivers were not that full and the landscape was parched.

The roadsides were lined by bright yellow bushes creating a colourful impression especially in the early morning light.

There were few campsite birds. Not surprising perhaps due to C-19 and the closure of the camps and the birds having to forage elsewhere. No easy snacks for them.

Stopping at Mingerhout Dam for a tea break we noticed a Black Egret below the dam wall and loads of Hippos frollicking in the water below.

Mingerhout Dam

Here are a few bird photos from our time in Letaba.

Despite the lack of many bird sightings, Sally managed to record 111 different bird species – seen and or heard. Click here to see the list.


Sally and Paul

PS Part 4 will follow soon with our stay at Tsendze.

Kruger National Park – Part 2

7th to 11th October 2020


With Malelane behind us on a cool Wednesy morning with rain threatening, we headed for Skukuza. On arrival we were told the campsite was only 50% full. That was definitely not the case as we struggled to find a spot for our off-road trailers. Our friends found a tight spot where they could set up together and eventually we parked in a spot where others were leaving. Fortunately on level ground.

The camp birds were very vocal and some quite friendly too. Lovely to hear their call especially first thing in the morning.

During the four days we were there we made good use of our time and birded as far afield as Tshokwane, Orpen Dam, Pretoriaskop, Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge. The weather remained overcast but the rain had abated for now.

Some photos of the terrain:

Lake Panic was virtually dry so we wasted no time there. Sabie river was flowing strongly – presumably from all the rainfall up river. The river side was very quiet bird-wise but hordes of Buffalo enjoyed a good soaking.

On several of the bridges Giant Kingfishers hung about. On one bridge a Kingfisher let us get right alongside.

Elsewhere a Lappet-faced Vulture took off and headed straight at us.

And a Dark Chanting Goshawk was seen polishing off what looks a bit like the tail end of a snake.

Then there were the waterbirds we saw: