A chance remark to my sister resulted in Sally and I being invited to join her in the TEBA Cottage at the very mouth of Kosi Bay Estuary for four nights. We had a couple of days to prepare for our trip.
A long way to go for four nights so Sally organised for us to have three nights in Mkuze on the way back – staying in the hutted camp accommodation.
We prolonged the forecast six hour journey by taking a longcut through Phinda on the district road. Instead of turning off the N3 at Hluhluwe we went on a further 20 kms and took the Phinda off ramp to the Phinda reserve entrance and because we were passing through there was no charge.
The 30 km dirt rode through the reserve enabled us to see aminals and birds. Towards the end of the road we encountered a pair of Cheetahs lying in the shade with their legs protruding onto the road. We stopped (although strictly speaking they suggest as we were passing through not to do so in case of trouble). The Cheetahs took little notice of us and stayed put. An pleasant and unexpected start to our trip.
My sister had organised our entry permits for us so we were able to pass quickly through the gate and proceed down to the TEBA Cottage at the river mouth.
The cottage is rustic. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with shower the other with a bath), large kitchen, dining room and a deck with panoramic views across the bay. Yes hot water in the kitchen and for the bath as well as the basins in the bedrooms. No electricity, just a generator powering batteries for lights and the fridges and freezers. That said, it was a privilege to stay there. No neighbours and the bay in front of us.
Each morning, up early and into the coastal forest – following the sandy road to the cottage- listening and trying to spot the many birds present. Getting good sightings was very tricky and many of the birds we identified were by ear – Sally’s mostly.
There were Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eyes, White-starred Robins, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers, Grey and Olive Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weavers, Black-backed Puffbacks, Southern Boubou, Natal Robins, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Rudd’s Apalis, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Terrestial Brownbuls, Brown Scrub-Robins all adding their sounds to the bush.
Of course there were many butterflies too – which we have been unable to identify.
The weather was kind to us – not too hot and cool at night. Mossies were few and far between. A lot of time was spent on the beach and wading up the estuary looking for birds.
A group of waders on one of the sand strips – the tide was out – caught our attention.
Through the scope we decided that we needed to get closer to confirm our ID. A long distance photo confirmed our ID. Then I decided to wade out to get closer. As it happened a group of people got too close to the group and they flew landing on the same sand strip that I was on. I took my photos and then they flew up the coast towards Mozambique.
Here are some photos of other water birds we sighted in and around the estuary.
Fish seemed to be plentiful for the locals – perhaps their methodology was unusual.
A walk the other side of the estuary southwards along the coast with my sister, Natasha and Sally also gave us an unexpected surprise. My sister spotted shoals of fish riding in the waves and then she spotted a Loggerhead Turtle doing the same. In the end we had three more sightings of others doing the same.
Right at the bottom of the stairs leading down to the beach from the cottage there were several large trees which had collapsed into the sea due to corrosion. A the base of one of these lived an eel. Very colourful – bright yellow with dark markings – seen several times.
And in the water at the base of a tree there was a Lion Fish. On one morning it swam around in the sunlight enabling me to get a few nice photos of it.
Our bird list was not prolific and many of the bush birds were identified by sound. In the end we identified a total of 48 different species. Click here to see the list.
After four relaxing days at Kosi, Sally and I headed for three nights at Mkhuze staying in the hutted accommodation. We had two full days to explore the Reserve and visit the hides.
As an aside, if you plan to visit, be careful at night as the hutted camp is not secure. We were told that the previous week a lion was seen around the nearby cottages
We did see an elephant as it walked past the Masinga Hide without popping in to disturb the other aminals there. Other than that we encountered only the usual zebra, giraffe, nyala, impala, warthogs, gnus, baboons and monkeys.
Of course Masinga Hide is always worthwhile to see aminals and birds.
And some of the birds seen there.
The campsite is a good place to see birds and we were not let down when we went there. Here a few of the specials we saw there.
Malibali Hide – near the campsite – was full and we enjoyed the new hide. This time however it was relatively quiet but again we had a few specials to see.
Driving around the bird life was patchy in places yet we did manage to see a wide variety of different species which we had not see at any of the hides.
The second hide to the right of the picnic site at Nsumo Pan is another of our favourite hides except when the wind is blowing. Fortunately the weather was kind to us when we visited. Here are some views from the hide.
On arrival we were treated to a sight we had not expected. Looking out to the left there were pairs of Little Grebes, African Pygmy Geese and White-backed Ducks. And as we scanned the pan there were at least another 20 African Pygmy Geese and about 8 White-backed Ducks. In the past we would have been lucky to see just one pair of African Pygmy Geese.
African Jacana were on the lily pads, a Malachite Kingfisher put on a show, Whiskered Terns were seen all across the pan. And on the far side many other water birds could be seen.
On the shore line heading towards the Picnic site we spotted several Water Thick-knees and what appeared to be a three legged Black-winged Stilt – 2 red legs and one straw coloured!! All close to the African Fish-Eagle which was occupied on a meal.
The picnic site at Nsumo Pan is also one of our favourite places to visit especially for a tea and pee break. Birding is also good normally. And the day we visited was our lucky day – very special.
On the way in an African Paradise Flycatcher welcomed us.
Hippos greeted us bobbing up and down among the lily pads close to shore.
Pink-backed Pelicans and Yellow-billed Storks flew overhead.
Western Cattle Egrets were fishing from Hippo perches. And even a Grey Heron took its chances.
Even the bush around the picnic site had some interesting birds.
It was only as we were leaving that Sally heard a Sunbird calling. When we found it we both were thrilled by what we saw.
On one afternoon drive we returned quite late and driving up from the kuMahlahla hide, we encountered several Spotted Thick-knees as well as Fiery-necked Nightjars.
The Thick-knees I managed to get a few reasonable photos. But I lost out big time with the Fiery-necked Nightjar. There was one sitting on a bare branch right beside the driver’s side of the car. Quickly I put my camera onto Auto and took a shot. Flash goes off bouncing off the inside of the car. Rats. The bird is still there so I try again. This time the flash works perfectly but the bird flew off as the camera took focus. Later I checked the photo and it was a perfect shot of the branch – if only the bird had stayed.
Zululand birding is always full of pleasant surprises. The variety is plentiful. We love going to visit the many different habitats.
In all we recorded 122 birds – identified for Bird Lasser. Click here to see the list.
Friends of ours (Arthur and Rose Douglas) suggested we join them and their two friends (Rodney and Myra) for eight nights in the Kgalagadi. They had space in Polentswa for six nights and two nights in Rooiputs (both unfenced campsites on the Botswana side of the Park).
We decided to go and then return through the Northern Cape and Karoo to find both the Red and Sclater’s Larks which neither of us had seen.
Our program: a stopover at the River of Joy campsite and then spend two nights at Mokala on the way to Twee Rivieren before joining our friends at Polentswa. Afterwards to drive to Brandvlei for three nights and finally three nights at Gariep Dam before returning home.
On the first part of our journey we avoided the Van Reenen’s Pass and took the more scenic route via Oliviershoek Pass. We arrived early at River of Joy near Bloemfontein and set up our off-road caravan in time for a short stroll around the camp before the rains set in. And they set in for the whole night. The ground was fortunately grassy but very soggy in the morning but the rain had stopped. The sole bird of note was the back view of a Gabar Goshawk near the river.
The next day we arrived at Mokala very early so that we could have time to explore the Park. Weather was variable – some sun, cool and mainly cloudy with threats of possible rain.
The sunlight through the clouds had amazing lighting effects on the scenery.
We did see two of the big five animals – a large herd of Buffaloes and a few White Rhinos. Again with strange sunlight casting this Buffalo with a red hue.
Mokala has a very wide range of antelope – abundant and visible. Here are some of the variety that we saw.
There were also a multitude of birds despite the windy, cool and wet weather.
Kgalagadi Polentswa and Rooiputs
Dry weather prevailed during our long journey to Twee Rivieren where we spent the night before heading up to Polentswa the following day
The distance from Twee Rivieren to Polentswa is close to 200 kms – so another long day of driving through the Park.
The main observation was the extreme dryness compared to the same time last year and as a result a paucity of animals and birds. No sign of cats the whole way. Very unusual.
Stopping at Nossob for fuel, provisions and to fill up the trailer with water, Sally went to the Bird Hide to check if there was anything of interest to see. All was desert and deserted.
We did photo a few interesting birds along the way;
Eventually we arrive at Polentswa and set up camp alongside our friends.
There is a waterhole nearby and it was one of the few with water – piped in. This is where we were treated to our daily show of Wildebeest and Springbok;
Some of the animals using the waterhole.
Cape Turtle Doves in their hundreds first thing in the morning and late afternoon;
Black-backed Jackal hopeful of snatching a bird or two;
And at 09h30 the Sandgrouse arrive (Namaqua mainly and Burchell’s) – circling for ages before settling with their beady eyes open for a Lanner attack.
Every day the Lanner Falcons were there – seemingly just hanging about but on occasion an abortive attempt was made to catch a Sandgrouse or Turtle-Dove.
The Lanners did not have everything their own way.
Lanners were plentiful as were the Bateleurs with Greater Kestrels in the air above and the occasional Gabar Goshawk lurking about. Even Tawny Eagles made an appearance.
This Gabar flew and sat in a tree beside a Tawny Eagle. The comparison in size difference was astounding. In the above picture the Gabar looks huge but beside the Lanner it appeared less than half its size.
And sometimes a Lanner was spot-lit in the sun.
The campsite was also a good source of birds as you might expect – especially as we put out water for them. It was also full of incidents. Late night animals, birds close up, snakes, fire and lions.
Every night we had a large fire which we sat around and had dinner together. It was a time when out of nowhere there would suddenly appear – less that 10 metres from us – a Black-backed Jackal, a Spotted Hyena or a Cape Fox. Many nights we heard the Lions calling – we assumed from a distance although they were getting closer.
At midday, we usually gathered together to enjoy the shade of the A Fame and shoot the breeze. Water was put out on the far side of the A Frame giving us a close-up view as the birds flocked in for desperately needed water. And from our vantage point we were able to get photos of them.
Even some non-feathered friends came for a drink.
Two quite similar birds were our constant companions at the A Frame, under our chairs and pecking at the ants. In the end we believe we have identified them correctly.
Others seen around the campsite:
Snakes. An almost 2 metre Cape Cobra slithered across the A Frame in front of us – not stopping for a drink – and headed for my car. Fortunately it took a turn up a tree beside the car. We have no idea when it left but I moved my car away smartly.
The other incident could have had serious consequences. Sally was preparing some food at our campervan kitchen. I then washed up in the same area. As I was putting the pots back in the cupboard I happened to look down at the stool I was standing on. Through the holes I saw something odd.
So I lifted up the stool to find a rather large – fortunately dopey- Puff Adder all curled up against the tyre. Sally and my feet were literally inches from it from time to time.
With help from some other campers we were able to get a spade under it and flick it outside the campsite. This took some effort because the snake kept trying to scamper its way back to what was obviously the coolest place to cool down.
Then there were the Lions. Three playful youngsters. They were heard calling early one morning and everyone in the three different campsites set out (by car) to find them. We were tail-end Charlie. Following the paw prints on the road past our camp, the others soon came across the three youngsters.
When we caught up the entourage of cars were coming back towards us following the youngsters along the road back towards the camps. A couple of them were quite boisterous, stretching themselves on trees and chasing each other.
Eventually they entered one of the camps and found a rubber mat to play with. This was our only sighting of Lions except for an old collared male on our way out of the Park. One even left a landmine on the road.
Sally and I had never been up to Union’s End in the number of times we had visited the Park so we decided to have a drive – some 70 kms north of Polentswa. It was marginally greener but really not by much.
On the way we were fortunate to see a female Pygmy Falcon atop a tree over the road. And unexpectedly a Lilac-breasted Roller. A large family of Ostriches were seen along with Capped Wheatears and a Lesser Grey Shrike.
Otherwise the drive was uneventful until we were arriving at the Lijersdraai picnic site. I ran over a stick missing either end. Except it was a Puff Adder unhurt.
The Kousant waterhole just south of Polentswa had a leaking water tank – perhaps intentionally so. The birds loved it as the tank had encroaching scrubby trees around it.
Black-chested Prinia, Cape Glossy Starling, a Chat-Flycatcher and a Marico Flycatcher all made an appearance. But there was one bird – a Warbler that had us mulling over for ages until we finally identified it.
There was one other incident at the Polentswa campsite which was finally resolved at Rooiputs. It had our other two male friends Arthur and Rodney speculating as to what could be causing this phenomenon over each campfire dinner. And it revolved around the fire itself. Strange colourful flames. Not every night though.
First it must have been the wood itself – or a chemical inside. Same wood next night – no colourful flames. Perhaps it was the paint on the cans burning. Other hypotheses were expressed but it remained a mystery until our last night at Rooiputs.
Finally our six nights at Polentswa were over and we were on our way south to Rooiputs. Along the way there was not much out of the ordinary except that the herd numbers were less than normal and were few and far between. We did however have a reasonable sighting of a Brown Hyena running across the Nossob River; White-backed Vultures and a Secretarybird.
Rooiputs only has six campsites – each distantly apart. Unfenced so risky to use the outside Loo and Shower after dusk.
Every night we heard the roar of the King of the Jungle. His spoor was found around the camp shower each morning.
And of course during our final fire the flames took on their extraordinary colours again. Arthur and Rodney continued their speculation until I put them out of their misery. I handed them a packet each of Mystical Fire which I had sneaked into the fires on several occasions on the pretext of adding rubbish to be burnt.
Eventually we saw the Lion on our way out – an old boy with a collar.
Campsite birds were not as friendly as those in Polentswa but we still managed a pic or two.
During our short time at Rooiputs our birding was limited not only by time but also the dryness of the Park. Despite that we did have one interesting sighting.
Our unusual incident were strange sightings in a Scaly-feathered Weaver’s nest.
And round the side of the nest, this – whatever it is?
And here are a few birds which had us pondering over their ID. We think our IDs are right but are not 100% positive. The first: a Chat Flycatcher (undersides not white enough for a Marico but the white wing bar is confusing).
The Second. Also Chat Flycatcher. Same concerns as above.
Click here to see our bird list for the Park. In all …………….birds were identified.
Brandvlei is a very small town in the middle of Northern Cape Province about 250 kms south of Uppington.
According to Birdfinder is is highly rated and both Red and Sclater’s Larks can be seen there – our goal as neither of us had seen either before.
Early afternoon we arrived at our campsite – Casablanca on the outskirts of town. Rui welcomed us and knew we were birders. It seems many people from around the world stay with him to bird the area. He gave us directions to find the Red Lark close to town.
Fortunately we misunderstood his directions and instead of going about a kilometre we travelled six kilometres down the road looking for the first gate which was open on our left. As it happens we hit paydirt as we entered. A Red Lark flew across our bows and perched closeby. We scrambled out and followed it deeper into the property getting glimpses of it. Eventually it called – very unique call – then flew and perched on a scrub that enabled me to take a photo.
The weather was overcast and windy for the next two days while searching for the Sclater’s Lark. This time we followed Birdfinder’s route along the R357.
We had hardly left town when Sally spotted one right next to us as we drove past. Unfortunately it did not hang around for me to get a good look at it.
We enjoyed the birding along the route – dry open land with an occasional clump of trees usually beside a water trough.
About 16 kms along the R357 we came to a trough about 100 metres off the road. We pulled onto the side and watched from the fence – with binoculars and scope.
We waited and waited watching the the trough and the variety of Canaries and Sparrows which came to drink.
Then two Sclater’s Larks came and drank together. Through the scope it was clear what they were. Photographically the shots were very poor but looking carefully one can make out the face markings.
The next day we went back to the same trough and saw another clearly through the scope. Sorry about the pictures.
Of course there were other species which we enjoyed – Spike-heeled and Karoo Long-billed Larks, Karoo Korhaan, Double-banded Courser, Pririt Batis, White-throated Canaries, Namaqua Sandgrouse, white-backed Mousebirds, Yellow Canaries and Cape Sparrows to name a few.
On the way back to camp five Bat-eared Foxes raced along beside us. Lovely to see.
Another special sighting were the Rufous-eared Warblers – scurrying like mice from one clump of bush to the next.
Severe thunderstorms were all round us on the last afternoon. Rui told us that the last rain that they had was last December – 4 mm only. He offered us a room for the night in the house as he believed that we could be in for a battering – rain, wind and hail. We considered this for 30 minutes until we saw thunder and lightning
Then we raced to get the campervan packed up. As we entered the house 30 minutes later the rain started – and it rained heavily all night. Power went off but we had the comfort of a very unusual home. Very old worldly. Old tims in the kitchen above the Aga, old-fashioned clothing hanging on the walls including corsets and dresses, piles of magazines from the 50s and 60s. Real character. Wonderful place to stay.
The next day we left early for Gariep Dam. The GPS wanted us to use the main gravel roads. After all the rains I think we wisely decided to take the long way round heading south for Calvinia and then across to Gariep Dam – probably 150 to 200 kms further but all on tar.
First it was south towards Calvinia in very overcast and threatening weather. Unusual double rainbows were seen.
The first two hours we experience a little rain now and then. The next five hours it rained constantly and sometimes severely.
The fields were sodden and full of standing water.
On arrival at the Forever Resort in Gariep we decided not to camp but to enjoy the luxury of a Chalet (views above) for the next three nights.
The area was picturesque and birding varied in the different habitats.
We visited the camp’s game park. Small, but it had a busy wetland pond – with many water birds as well as others enjoying the standing water.
There we had views of a sub-adult African Fish-Eagle, Cape Shovelers, Cape and Red-billed Teals, Goliath Heron, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Mountain Wheatear, Yellow-billed Egret, Yellow-crowned Bishops, Common Waxbills, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coots to name a few.
During our time there we visited the Dam itself and drove along the rocky shoreline back to the resort. And we visited the Gariep Dam Game Park as well as walking around the resort.
Several views of the Dam.
On the way back to the resort we stopped at a look-out point and had good views of a Black-chested Prinia and a Short-toed Rock-Thrush.
In the Game Park we managed to see three Game – a Wildebeest, three Reedbuck and a Yellow Mongoose.
However the birdlife on the dam’s edge was prolific in several areas. Hundreds of Egyptian Geese dominated. Waders were present – Three-banded, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers as well as Capped Wheatears, Blacksmith Lapwings and the water birds we had seen at the wetland pond.
Other birds were also seen in the Game Park including:
In total 151 different bird species were identified. Click here to see our combined bird lists and where each was identified