Punda Maria 1st to 3rd March 2022 We took our time to get to Punda Maria from Shingwedzi arriving late morning. The camp was not full but all the sites by the fence were taken… More
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 an European Hobby.
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.
Then this happened. A game of catch me if you can.
And then we went to Berg-en-dal for one night which turned into 3 nights – staying there until my sister planned to leave.
28th, 29th and 30th November 2021
Tasha and Dick arrived a day before us. The campsite was overflowing. It was an Honorary Rangers get together that weekend. When we arrived the next day the place was relatively empty and my sister had found us a site right on the fence – where an elephant liked to visit. With other game popping by including a tame Bushbuck which walked up to our front door.
We were camped right next to a couple of Honorary Rangers who kept telling about these wonderful bird sightings in the camp. In particular a Greater Spotted Cuckoo (among many other cuckoos) as well as an Eurasian Hobby. Neither of which we had seen on this trip and which over the coming days we searched far and wide for them.
We were so nicely settled that we decided to stay an extra day then another extra day as we were enjoying both the birding and animal sightings!!
The first afternoon a water pipe burst and the camp was without water for long periods over the following 2 days. We managed. As it had happened next to our ablution bloc it got closed!
One evening on the way to the wash-up area a snake was sighted – a thin 1 metre long culprit – which we all eventually agreed was pretty harmless (or so we hoped). Also a stick insect appeared on a wall at the entrance to the loos.
Of course we spent many hours wandering around the camp. At the main reception area overlooking the dam, there was a ruffle over our heads and a Little Sparrowhawk was seen flying away. But it did not go far. it have food in its claws but not eating. Looking around a juvenile was spotted. We were able to watch as the juvenile screeched away and the parent gave it food.
In the trees above Tasha and Dick’s campsite a lovely pair of birds were courting – not Lovebirds but very colourful. Female and male Red-headed Weavers.
A sort of leucitic Kurrichane Thrush was hopping round our campsite – an odd looking bird.
Another very special bird seen in camp. Retz’s Helmetshrike.
Lions and Leopards were seen as well as White Rhinos, Elephants and Buffalos. A good but busy part of the park to see many of the “Big Five” in one day.
Probably one of our favourite sightings in the Kruger was this Chamelion crossing the road in its unique way – “one foot forward, shake it too and fro in a jerky motion then put it down” Repeat this with each leg until you are eventually across. One eye looking up the other looking all around etc. (Tap on photo to enlarge it).
We focused our drives around the Berg-en-dal and Gardenia Hide areas. At times quiet and as you might expect sometimes busy. Quite a number of large birds were seen including a few Eagles – some of which we are still unsure of their ID. Here are some of their pictures.
Other birds in and around these areas:
We get up early on our last day determined to find the Great Spotted Cuckoo and maybe the Hobby. We listened for calls where we were told they had been present – at the meeting of the S100 from Malelane and the main road north H4-2 to Skukuza. We give up after a while – no calls at all. So we head to look and see if there is anything interesting along the road to the S25. We cross the bridge and turn right towards Croc Bridge. The light is terrible for seeing silhouetted birds. I think I see a Falcon so we retreat to the main road to get a better look. It is the Great Spotted Cuckoo with the Eurasian Hobby close by. We were both happy and could not believe our luck.
And that was the end of our time in the Kruger. In all we had identified 243 different bird species. To see our list download the following:
On the way out we crossed the Malelane Bridge over the Crocodile River making our last Atlas additions.
Lastly to say that on the way out we were escorted. Watch this video.
Nthakeni Bush and River Camp
14th and 15th November 2021
We arrived at Nthakeni around midday and settled in.
That afternoon we spent time in and around Pafuri and for most of the next morning.
Each night we heard three different Nightjars, the Fiery-necked, the Square-tailed and the Freckled as well as the Wood Owl. This is a special place for us.
Midday and early afternoon was usually spent in the pool to cool down and in late afternoon a bird walk around the camp.
Here are some of the species we managed to get photos of in the Pafuri area mainly.
As we drove towards the Pafuri picnic site on one occasion we spotted what we thought was a shiny flapping something wrapped round a tree trunk. A better look revealed that it was a very long shedded snake skin right round the trunk and back.
Two birds stood out for us. In the Pafuri picnic site there was a nesting pair of Black-throated Wattle-eyes and three kilometers from the Pafuri Bridge heading north we saw a Racket-tailed Roller – definitely our bird for the trip.
From Nthakeni we went to Punda Maria for a few days with my sister and her husband.
16th and 17th November 2021
Sally and I had booked to stay at Punda Maria for one day only so that we could go to Shingwedzi at the same time as my sister. However we ended up for 2 nights and persuaded my sister to stay an extra night – sacrificing a night at Shingwedzi. We had all booked Shingwedzi for 4 nights so it meant only 3 nights in Shingwedzi.
We were camped on the fence line for a change within close proximity to the Hide and good views of the waterhole from our camp spot as well.
At night the waterhole always had herds of Elephants – a ghostly bunch creeping silently in and out. Their massive size emphasized by the moonless night.
At night we heard the calls of Nightjars, Square-tailed and Freckled as well as the trumpeting of the elephants around the waterhole.
In the afternoons it was very hot so we ended up in the green waters of the swimming pool to cool off.
On one evening in the hide we watched as Buffalo arrived to drink (later they retreated when the Ellies arrived). Anyway as we sat there in the hide we watched an unusual sight of a Buffalo lying with its back in the water. It was straining to give birth. Eventually the calf popped out in its sack into the water and the Buffalo walked away. We assume the Buffalo knew it was a still birth.
We circled the Mahoney loop and went out to Klopperfontein. After the first couple of early hours in the mornings the birds became quiet and scarce because of the heat.
It was unusual to see two impalas at the top of a well bushy and tall ant hill.
And then we headed to Shingwedzi.
18th, 19th and 20th November 2021
Shingwedzi campsite was far from full so we had a lot of choice as to where we camped and because we had booked a fence line campsite that is where we headed. The heat had followed us! But where was the shade? Eventually we made a decision which we regretted later.
Empty campsite and empty river.
During our time in the area we explored the Red Rocks Loops, drove up to Babalala picnic site on the S56 and went down river along the S50 as far as Nyawutsi Hide. Each of these routes have had their attractions in the past – weather dependent. November 2021 the heat was almost exhausting so whenever possible we resuscitated in the swimming pool.
On our way down to the Nyawutsi hide following the river there were patches of water in the river. The hide is situated in a tropical setting.
Here are some of the birds we photoed along these routes.