Zululand and the Kruger – Part 4

Tsendze 31 October to 4 November

Paul and Sally Bartho

Tsendze is the satellite camp to Mopani. It is situated right next to the Mooiplaas picnic area. It is a rustic camp for campers only and has no power available. There is however, a kitchen and washup area,  solar energy for lights and gas heating for hot water. As a new addition there are gas freezers available for those who need them. The camp is well treed so there is ample shade. This was our favourite camp in the Kruger and it has the friendliest and most helpful staff. The birding in the area was also pretty good.

To start with, Roger – the camp attendant – noticed that we were birders. “Come with me”, he said. Right next to our campsite he showed us one of the resident African Scops Owl. Then he took us to see the resident breeding pair of African Barred Owlets. What a start to our stay.

Late one afternoon on our way back to the camp we took one of the River Loop roads. As we approached the river, Sally yelled “Stop”. Brakes on and stop. “What is it?” “Look behind the tree on the right”.  And there it was, an animal with a head like a bull mastiff and the size of a large hyena – black and white with a long bushy tail. Neither of us had seen one before so stared at it uncomprehendingly for a long time. Eventually we got out the wildlife book and discovered it was a Civet. Unfortunately this Civet had an injured right back leg and was limping badly. It took no notice of us and continued foraging within 10 metres of us. We were so engrossed with watching this lifer for both of us that we paid little attention to anything else around us. For some unknown reason Sally happened to look round and yelled “Elephant”. It was less than 5 metres from us and approaching straight at us with determination. Somehow the car managed to reverse at an unnatural speed without hitting anything. The elephant calmly strode up to where we had been parked, reached up into the tree and snapped off a small branch. Scary or what!

There is a waterhole south of the camp – Klein Nshawu. A lion had feasted on a buffalo right next to the waterhole and left its carcass there. So we went to take a look. Hyena and jackal were present as well as quite a few Vultures including White-backed and Cape.

On one of our drives we stopped at the Tihongonyeni waterhole on the S143 Tropic of Capricorn Loop. The place was abuzz with Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, Kittlitz’s Plovers, Magpie Shrikes unusually congregating, around six or more in one small shrub. Elephant were drinking. We hung around for a while fortunately. Suddenly the birds all took to the air. A small raptor with a ringtail appeared and landed in a tree at least 100 metres away. Out came the scope and we realised it was a Harrier – not a mature male. On closer inspection we understood that it was not a female but a juvenile – luckily, as we would never have been able to conclusively identify it. The bold black markings round the eye indicated that it was a Pallid Harrier juvenile – much as we suspected because of the flat open dry habitat.

At another waterhole – Mooiplaas on the S50 we had another what we thought was an unusual sighting of 5 friendly Collared Pratincoles foraging in the desolate landscape.

We encountered numerous elephants in the area but one stood out. It had only one very long tusk.

Elephant - one tusker
Elephant – one tusker

Yellow-billed Oxpeckers appeared on many of the Buffalo that we saw. Not so long ago you had to go right up to the Pafuri area to try and see one.

One day we took a drive on the Tsendze loop to the south of the camp. A pleasant drive following the river. At one of the many small loops to the river we noticed a pair of unusual birds skulking near the reeds but coming out into the open now and then. Out with the scope to confirm what we thought. Our second sighting of 2 Greater Painted Snipes.

The next day we took a walk around the Mopani camp trail in front of their restaurant – a short but pleasant trail along the banks of Mopani’s Pioneer Dam. At the end of the inlet of water we came across another 2 Greater Painted Snipes – our third sighting of them. So far all males.

Next to the camp is Mooiplaas Picnic site. It has a lovely thatched picnic spot overlooking the river. It was here that we heard then found an African Cuckoo and a Black Cuckooshrike.

Both the Pioneer Hide and the Shipandani Hides are worth a visit and the river crossing before the latter always seemed to yield an interesting variety of birds in the reeds, on the water’s edge and on the causeway itself. There is also the wetland area along the S50.

And the main road, the H14 to Phalaborwa had a number of interesting minor loop roads along the river’s edge – a pretty drive.

In all this is one of our favourite areas in the park as it has a wide variety of habitats.

Here are pictures of some of the other species we saw in and around the area.

In total we observed 143 different bird species in and around Tsendze.

Our next camp for five nights was Punda Maria from which we spent a couple of mornings in Pafuri. See Part 5.

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