Zululand – Part 2 – Mkuze

Mkuze

27th October to 1st November 2022

Mkuze Map. Campsite is immediately after the entrance on the left of the map.

Mkuze is a short 130 kms drive from Sugarloaf in St. Lucia. We stopped for diesel on the way and went through Mkuzi town to do some shopping. We arrived early. As the campsite is next to the entrance, we immediately set up camp before checking in at reception some 6 kms further into the park.

Like Sugarloaf the campsite was virtually empty, so we chose a site sheltered from the wind but out in the open so that if there was any sun it would warm up our Cheetah and our solar panels could charge our batteries. We were told that there was no power available anymore when we booked and the staff at the entrance confirmed this. But that was not the case. We had power every evening from 17h00 to 22h00.

Again, the weather was overcast and rainy on most days.

Kumasinga Hide is usually bustling with birds, however it was very quiet whenever we visited. That does not mean we saw nothing interesting. We watched Red-billed Oxpeckers bathing, a green snake crawling along nearby branches as well as a large leguaan stalking along the bank.

Red-billed Oxpeckers having a bath:

The Leguaan crawling up the bank:

And the Green Snake slithering along the dried branches by the hide:

Malibala Hide was also quiet but we did enjoy the Terrapin castles and the ever resident Three-banded Plover.

The swimming pool looked good for a swim – alas a tad wet and cold.

One of the sunny moments.

Camp birds were not too shy despite the need for shelter.

At the picnic site by Nsumo Pan we did observe a distant Squacco Heron.

Squacco Heron on the other side of the Pan

A few other creatures caught our attention:

And finally, a few bird shots as we circled the Park numerous times.

And that sums up the time we spent at Mkuzi. Our bird list will be available to see in our final Zululand Report on Bonamanzi.

Hoping for better weather we headed for Nyalazi Campsite close to the entrance of Umfolozi. Part 3 follows.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Zululand – Part 1

Needing a break from the Ambers, Sally and I took our campervan to Zululand for 2 weeks. We spent 4 nights in St. Lucia at Sugarloaf campsite; 5 nights in Mkuze; 3 nights in Nyalazi camp (2 kms from the Umfolozi entrance); and then 2 nights in Bonamanzi.

Bonamanzi is not shown on this map, but it is just SE of Hluhluwe town.

Most of the time it was wet and overcast which was a shame, but you take what you get and make the most of it. It certainly did not help with photography.

St. Lucia. Sugarloaf Campsite

October 23rd to 27th 2022

Sugarloaf campsite.

From a birding perspective, Sugarloaf is centrally located to visit a number of interesting birding sites in the immediate area. Both Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetlands are a short drive away; then there is the estuary and beach a short walk from the campsite – as well as the Gwala Gwala trail. An hour’s drive will get you into Umfolozi.

The campground has about 100 sites and 4 ablution blocks. The grounds are a birders paradise. On many an occasion we have recorded over 90 different species in the camp alone. And it harbours specials such as Green Twinspots, Tinkerbirds, Wood Owls, Livingstone’s Turacos, Wattle-eyes, Green Malkoha, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Narina Trogan, Brown Scrub-Robins, Shikra, Little Sparrowhawk, Hornbills, Woodwards Batis among many others.

This time we had an opportunity to take pics of the Green Twinspots and a very friendly Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird as well as a Golden-tailed Woodpecker within metres from our Afrispoor Cheetah.

Apart from monkeys there are buck, Red and Grey Duiker, Mongooses in particular Banded which form part of the attraction in the site. Monkeys were seen actually playing with a young Bushbuck – each playfully chasing each other.

Monkeys come for food so don’t leave any temptations and they will soon stop bothering you.

Banded Mongoose.

On the first morning the sun was shining. We took this opportunity to walk down the beach to see the Tern roost next to the new estuary mouth.

On the way, we unexpectedly came across a couple of Eurasian Whimbrels in the dunes. Others were on the beach along with White-fronted Plovers.

Our timing was good as the tide was out. However, the numbers and variety of species was limited and of course IDing the birds was made difficult as they were on the other bank and we had no scope with us. It was still a treat as we were able to sit and watch the antics of the birds and get somewhat excited as new birds flew in.

So that was when the tide was out. One lucky afternoon the sun came out and I was able to go back down to the estuary and watch the tide coming in. Here is a video.

Tide incoming taking part of the bank I was standing on with it.

The rains came and came again most of the time there. However, we still took drives into both Eastern and Western Shores. Western Shores was very quiet and if I remember correctly it took us an hour to see our fist aminal. We came across the Martial Eagle’s nest with a chick on board. Otherwise, the rain kept all the animals and birds in shelter.

At one of the river crossings this Hamerkop remained fishing on the bridge as we crossed, and it let us stop and take a picture.

Hamerkop

On one of our trips into the Eastern Shores we came across these three Zebra having a pow-wow. The picture of the three standing in the burnt-out bush looked unreal – as if they were placed there. More like a picture you might see on the cover of a jigsaw puzzle box.

On several occasions we visited the Amazibu Hide to search for the resident family of Rufous-bellied Herons. It was third time lucky but only one appeared. And it moved to a new location, the sun and shadows moved over it and gave it a remarkably blue appearance.

Here are photos taken in mainly the Eastern Shores side of Isimangaliso Wetland Park

At the end of this series, we shall include a bird list showing what we saw and where. From Sugarloaf we headed to Mukuze.

Sally and Paul Bartho

The St. Lucia Ski Boat Club is directly opposite to the entrance to Sugarloaf. We found it a great place to have fish and chips (and a beer) at lunchtime. In the evening the mossies can be bit off-putting.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Part 4 – Twee Rivieren

21st to 24th May 2022

Eventually the time came for all of us to head homewards. We left Polentswa heading south via Nossob to the Two Rivers camp (Botswana side) at the entrance to the Kgalagadi.

We arrived at the Two Rivers campsite on a cold and windy afternoon. There was no water anywhere including in the ablutions and the campsite allocated to us No. 2 was probably the worst of an uncomfortable bunch.

Sally and I decided to go to Twee Rivieren instead where we had decent ablutions and hot water for showers. The others opted to stay in Two Rivers. The two camps are a short 2 or 3 kms apart.

On an early morning drive heading towards Mata Mata we had more success seeing animals than birds. We attributed this to the weather conditions.

On one occasion we encountered a rather twisted Ostrich.

We spent a lot of time birding inside the campgrounds with pleasant surprises- Black-faced Waxbills, Groundscraper Thrush, friendly Brown-throated Martins, Black-winged Kites, White-backed Mousebird and a Marico Flycatcher to name a few.

Also, in the camp we had a singing display by a Chat Flycatcher which then boasted its fly catching prowess.

Chat Flycatcher singing and feeding.

And so ended our visit to the Kgalagadi. We spent the next few days heading back to Howick, KZN via a stopover in Mokala.

Our bird lists for each of the places we stayed and in total can be seen in the following download. It does include our time in Augrabies – on our way to Kgalagadi as well as Mokala on our way home.

Augrabies and Mokala reports have previously been posted on the website.

Hope you have enjoyed our feedback and photos.

Cheers

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Part 3 Polentswa

Polentswa

15th to 21st May 2022

Polentswa campsite is only an hour’s drive north of Nossob. There are only 3 campsites – each taking a maximum of 3 couples. It is located in the Botswana side of the Park and each site has a separate shower, long drop but no water nor power. Take rubbish bags.

Campsite fire and braai.

One of the major benefits of Polentswa is that there are only 3 campsites and it is a good hour’s drive from Nossob. Hence little traffic till later in the morning.

On our previous visit we had playful lions passing through our camp. This time they were nearby too. And another large male staked his claim on the main road to Nossob.

On one occasion we took a drive to Unions End at the far north of the Park on the South African side. Much to our surprise at the Unions End waterhole we observed a Barn Swallow flying around us.

On the journey north we also came across a large herd of Red Hartebeest. Beasts we had not seen elsewhere in the Park.

Just north of Polentswa – about 12 kms – is a picnic site – Lijersdraai. It has a waterhole nearby..

The Burchell’s Sandgrouse were the predominant Sandgrouse that we observed at waterholes. They could be heard and seen swirling around above then take a dive for the waterhole only for one to decide to head back into the sky and they all followed. Once at the waterhole they did not stay long and any nervousness sent them all back into the air. Their antics were fun to watch – especially when the raptors were about.

Once landed it is a case of absorbing as much water under their breasts and wings to take back for their young. A sip or two for themselves and then they were off. Ever watchful for marauding Lanners and Goshawks.

We saw a good selection of raptors while staying in Polentswa – Eagles, Goshawks, Snake-Eagles and Falcons and a lone White-backed Vulture.

Then there other species of birds and animals that we saw during our time driving around the area.

Much of our time was spent at the Polenswa Porontsoab waterhole – some 2 kms from camp. There always seemed to be some sort of activity present every time we visited. Jackals catching Sandgrouses, Lanners trying to catch Sandgrouse, Jackals befriending raptors, raptors befriending other raptors, raptors bombing other raptors and the usual influx of thirsty animals.

Porontsoab Waterhole

Here are some photos of Black-backed Jackals and their interaction with each other. And they are very successful at catching Sandgrouse especially compared to the antics of the Lanner falcons. Having caught a bird one Jackal would come very close to the car and scoff down its meal.

The Lanner Falcons – sometimes six in a tree – would watch the jackals and wait to make their move. however, it seemed that by the time they reached the waterhole they had been spotted and their prey had already taken flight. For some strange reason the Sandgrouses were not so intimidated by the close presence of the Jackals – much to their demise.

And there was obvious friendship at times between animals and birds; and raptors and raptors.

And animosity between raptors for no apparent reason. As this Lanner Falcon attacks a Pale Chanting Goshawk.

Others that appeared for a drink.

Thirsty Wildebeests coming in for a drink

After six nights at Polentswa it was time to leave and head for our last three nights in Twee Rivieren. Meanwhile we had recorded 51 bird species during our time in Polentswa. Full list shown in Part 4 Twee Rivieren.

We hope you have enjoyed the read so far.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Part 2 Nossob

Nossob

10th to 15th May 2022

We all left Mata Mata early and headed for Nossob. Sally and I went on ahead to see if we could find a spot in the campsite where we could all congregate. As it happened, we found two adjacent semi-shaded sites right at the end on the top level.

And at night we felt as though we were the only people there. However the temperature dropped – significantly to about 2 degree C. Then rose to 32 degree C during the day. Thankfully the electric blanket kept us warm at night.

Nossob is a well situated camp. It is the place to overnight before heading across the dunes to Mabuasehube almost 200 kms to the east. Although you can only travel north or south from Nossob, there are waterholes to visit in each direction. Heading south the road goes to Twee Riveren bypassing Rooiputs and there are two cross roads to Mata Mata along the way.

The camp has a shop and petrol & diesel pumps. There is a wifi spot just outside the office which is available for a fee. It has a swimmong pool and the ablutions are clean and have good hot water. There is also a hide at the camp overlooking a waterhole which is open all day and night..

The two closest waterholes are Rooikop to the south and Cubitje Quap to the north.

Over the five days we were at Nossob we spent time wandering around the waterholes north and south as well as time birding in the camp.

Some of the animal species seen included Bat-eared Foxes, a Leopard with family, Hyenas, Giraffe, Steenbok, Springbok and Yellow-tailed Mongooses.

We came across a (very long) Cape Cobra raiding a sociable Weaver’s nest – with no luck it seemed.

Here are some of the birds photographed as we travelled around.

Nossob Camp is well worth a walk around – not only around the open area by the north gate but also in the glamping and camping areas. We even saw Black-backed Jackal in the camp on one of our walkarounds.

Nossob camp is the home to a variety of Owls and we were fortunate to see and photograph a few of them. We heard Barn Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Scops Owl and White-faced Owls every night. And I was able to get photos of the latter 2 during the day.

Over the five days there we recorded 64 different bird species. Full list shown in Part 4 Twee Rivieren.

Then we were on our way to Polentswa for six nights. See the next installment – Part 3

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Part 1 Rooiputs and Mata Mata

3rd to 23rd May 2022

Having spent a couple of nights at Augrabies, the 4 of us – my sister – Natasha – and her husband – Dick, Sally and I headed to the Kgalagadi for three weeks. On the way we stopped in Upington to stock up. And then again at Askham to top up with diesel and to buy firewood.

Our program was 3 nights in Rooiputs (Botswana), 3 nights in Mata Mata (RSA), 5 nights in Nossob (RSA), 6 nights in Polentswa (Botswana) and 3 nights in Twee Rivieren (RSA).

Showing both the South African and Botswanan side (Mabuasehube) of the park.

Looking at the map above to give you an idea of a sense of the scale of the park, the road from Nossob to Bosobogolo in Mabuasehube is 180 km. The road is thick sand and numerous dunes to maneuver. Allow 8 to 10 hours depending on the conditions at the time.

We visited the western side of the park.

The area we visited

Rooiputs 3rd to 6th May 2022

Once we were through check-in we drove to Rooiputs campsite. Typical scenery is flat following the east side (Botswana side) of the riverbed.

We met our friends Arthur and Rose at camp number 2 in Rooiputs as planned.

Camps on the Botswana side are not fenced. We have seen Lions, Brown Hyenas, Black-backed Jackals, Bat-eared Foxes wandering through our campsites over the years. Once in Polentswa a Cape Fox rested under Sally’s chair as she was sitting on it.

Our set ups can be colourful.

Arthur and Rose

Driving around, we took advantage of many of the picnic sites and waterholes.

Many smaller raptors were displaying along many of the roads we travelled. Red-necked Falcons, Gabar Goshawks and African Pygmy Falcons in particular.

One Tawny Eagle did make an appearance on the ground.

Tawny Eagle

There is a set of thorn trees immediately after a small waterhole (on the right) not far back towards the main gate from Rooiputs. Over the course of the three weeks that we were in the park we always saw 5 White-faced Owls well hidden in that set of trees. They were not only hard to find but they were almost impossible to photograph.

On another occasion we came across four Cheetahs strolling up to a ridge where they stopped and posed for us on the skyline. Mom and 3 youngsters. Always a special sighting.

We spent the early part of each day in the car exploring the various waterholes and picnic sites sometimes making a circuit up towards Nossob then crossing over towards Mata Mata at Kij Kij and back via Twee Rivieren. Along the way we saw plenty of Springbok and Oryxes along with othe animals and birds.

Midday was mostly spent in camp relaxing and then late afternoon we would take a short drive around. Evenings were spent around the campfire watching out for predators, listening to the silence and enjoying the starry skies.

In all we identified 64 different bird species in the area. Full list shown at the end of Part 4 – Twee Rivieren.

Sunset

And then we were off to Mata Mata for 3 nights.

Mata Mata 6th to 9th May 2022

South Africa’s Mata Mata camp is on the western border of the Park. It is an enclosed camp and is located at the border post into Namibia.

The ablutions and wash up area were clean and recently upgraded.

The site also has a hide with nighttime lighting. And there is a large area around the cottages and camp to walk round. Photos below of the campsite, its hide, ablutions and views over the fence.

We each found a site near the fence. Although we looked for shade it was fortuitous that we did not find much as the weather was quite bitterly cold early mornings.

Between the Camp and Kamqua Picnic site (60 kms) there are three short loop roads. This drive follows the dry Auob riverbed. There are small waterholes along each of these loops which attract many small birds – in particular Red-billed Quelea as well as Sandgrouse. Of course, raptors are there to feast – especially Lanner Falcons and Gabar Goshawks. It is fascinating to watch the raptor antics as they try to catch a meal.

Often on that 60 kms of road we have seen prides of Lion as well as Leopards, Honey Badgers, Bat-eared Foxes, Owls, Secretarybirds and Pale Chanting Goshawks.

At one of the waterholes – Veertiende Boorgat – we spent a lot of time bird watching.

The Lanners often arrived too late to catch a meal- even when they were working together.

The Gabar Goshawks waited patiently for the Lanners to rest before they had a go. They were in the tree directly across from us.

Typical countryside.

During our travels in the area we came across a few snakes on the road, a lion having a drink and a male leopard languishing below an overhang on a rocky hillside.

And some of the other critters photoed as we drove around.

Our next destination – Nossob campsite. To follow in next post.

In all we identified 50 different bird species in the area. Full list shown at the end of Part 4 – Twee Rivieren.

Sunset

Paul and Sally Bartho

Mokala National Park

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 back home from our trip to Augrabies Falls NP and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we camped at Mokala National Park for two nights.

Reception

The Main gate is at the South of the park. There is also another gate – Lilydale – at the north of the Park. Reception in the south is about 6 kms from the main gate. And the campsite is a few kms from reception.

The main roads in Mokala had been battered by rain and they were terrible in places. The side roads were in far better condition.

Mokala only has six campsites each with their own ablutions and kitchen area. It overlooks a shallow dam.

We were in campsite number 5. Unfortunately, the ablutions for campsites 5 and 6 only had warm water. The solar panel on the roof is facing in the right direction but it has been partially placed behind an obstruction – South African style!!!

As you can see from the photos above the sites are nice and grassy and reasonably apart.

The park has two distinct regions – north and south. In the south it is more hilly and woody. In the north open plains dominate. Both are worth exploring.

There is one Bird Hide – Stofdam bird hide. It was very quiet when we visited. There are toilets present there.

Stofdam Bird Hide.

Mokala is notable for the variety of Antelope inhabiting the park. Apart from the more common Springbok, Klipspringers, Giraffe, Blue Gnu, Zebra, Duiker, Meerkats there are also the rarer Eland, Roan, Sable and Tsessebe. Of the big five there are few.

And some of the birds we recorded.

And a few mystery birds:

Altogether we identified 43 different bird species. See the attached list.

Hope you enjoyed the report and photos.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kandirri and Augrabies Falls N.P.

Kandirri

31st April 2022

My sister, Natasha and her husband, Dick joined Sally and I on a camping trip to the Kgalagadi. Once in Kgalagadi we met up with our friends Arthur and Rose and spent 3 weeks together. Arthur and Rose were on their way back from a 4 week tour of Namibia.

To get to the Kgalagadi we overnighted at Kandirri Game Lodge – 082 741 4444 – about 30 minutes drive west of Bloemfontein. This is one of the few half-way camping stops on the way to Uppington.

A small campsite securely fenced in. Electrified fencing to keep the Lions out of the camp. They have a restaurant (do pre-order), and many animals and birds like in a small Zoo.

Then there are the lions. The special was the White Lion. Located right beside the campsite and constantly patrolling the fence line when people are about. Getting close was not a problem and if you growled then he growled back or called with his deep-throated roar.

Early in the morning the roaring started. They all joined in and it went on for quite a while – terrifying if you are not prepared for it as the sound is all around you.

Picture says it all.

On a previous occasion he was seen playing in its cage with a large black canine. They must have been brought up together. They were playful, each taking turns to smack the other in the face.

Fence Patrol
Sunset

After a very pleasant overnight stay we headed for Augrabies early.

Augrabies Falls National Park

1st to 3rd May 2022

On the way to Augrabies Falls NP via Uppington we crossed the Orange River – it was full full and flowing fast. A promise of what could await us.

In January when they had all the rains there were videos on the news showing how utterly dynamic the water was flowing over the Falls. Now at the end of April we expected the water to have been dissipated but hoped we would see something better than the previous visit when there was only a trickle of water over one section of the Falls.

In Upington we filled up with fuel and did some last-minute shopping.

Approaching Augrabies falls we had seen the plume of water smoke arising.

This started to make us hopeful of a major display. But we were not prepared for what we actually saw. It was unbelievable – the volume and power of the water was out of this world.

Eventually we arrived at Augrabies Falls NP about 15h00. The car park was full to our surprise. Cars and people everywhere. We soon discovered that there had been a fun run and fortunately most were headed home. Thankfully the camp sites were not full and we settled in for a couple of nights there.

After setting up camp we had a bit of time to check out the scenery of the site including a cursory look over the river.