Kruger NP – Part 4 Tsendze

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.

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

Satara

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.

Letaba

14th to 17th October 2020

Letaba

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.

Cheers

Sally and Paul

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

Kruger National Park – Part 2

7th to 11th October 2020

Skukuza

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:

Of course there were animals too:

There were many bush birds about. In Pretoriuskop there were Red-headed Weavers and Brown-headed Parrots. It was there that we heard unusual calls from a flock of very small birds in an open tree. Sally was convinced they were Green-capped Eremomelas. We had fleeting views of them as they bobbed around in one of the trees. Pity I was unable to get a photo.

Here is a gallery of bush birds we photographed as we travelled around:

Another surprise for us was to see a YELLOW-billed Oxpecker so low down in the KNP. On a buffalo at S 24.87; E 31.748.

Altogether in our time at Skukuza we identified 144 different bird species.

On Sunday 11th October we left Skukuza to join our friends at Satara for 3 days. The story continues in Part 3.

Paul and Sally

Kruger National Park

4th October to 6th November 2020

Introduction

Sally and I were one of three couples who decided we needed to escape the “Rat Race – haha” and get away from C-19. We had previously booked to go to the Kruger in July for a month or so but C-19 and lockdown forbade us to go. Eventually we got a booking starting on 4th October.

Our plan was to camp our way from the bottom to top of the Park and back – spending 3 or more nights at each camp. Each couple towing their own off-road trailer.

At Shingwedzi near the top of the Park we split off from the other two couples to explore the bird rich Punda Maria and Pafuri area at the very top of the Park.

Our Itinerary:

  • Malelane – 3 nights
  • Skukuza – 4 nights
  • Satara – 3 nights
  • Letaba – 3 nights
  • Tsendze – 4 nights
  • Shingwedzi – 3 nights
  • Punda Maria – 4 nights
  • Nthakeni (outside the Park near Pafuri Gate) – 3 nights
  • Shingwedzi – 1 night
  • Balule – 3 nights
  • Lower Sabie – 3 nights
  • Malelane – 1 night

Part 1 Malelane

4th to 7th October 2020

After an 8 hour trip from home we arrived at Malelane Camp at about 14h00 and set up on some flat ground. Little did we know that this was not a good choice.

We chose this camp as it is centrally located to visit a good network of roads – unlike Berg-en-dal.

The weather was overcast and rain threatening as we arrived. At night is was very cool +- 13 C.

Malelane Camp photos. The Scotia trees draw in all kinds of birds.

Scotia

The campgrounds:

The campsite is beside the lovely green and well treed area around the huts. It is an open area without grass and few trees.

Owls were calling at night in particular the Pearl-spotted Owlet.

Pearl-spotted Owlet

In the afternoon we went out to bird as the cloudy conditions changed to a drizzle. On return we realised our unfortunate position in the campsite with runoff coming right under our trailer. Hastily out came the spade to create a trench around the topside of our site. It worked fine until the storm hit us hard during the night. The storm was very noisy and at one stage we heard the crack of the thunder a split second BEFORE we saw the lightening.

We awoke to a stream of mud flowing through our groundsheet. More digging and more protection needed for the next couple of days. The rain persisted.

Some photos of the park around Malelane camp ground.

Not surprisingly the Gardenia hide had little water and the Berg-en-dal dam was totally empty. The rain was well welcomed. In Berg-en-dal we had an emergance of allates which drew out the birds. This camp was surprisingly empty. Apparently management had designated the camp as an overflow camp and that is why you could not book ahead. The website showed nothing available.

Our birding was interesting in the rain. Birds were looking decidedly bedraggled and made for different and interesting photos.

This Raptor had us puzzled. Especially the white feathers over the legs. Can you Identify it.

Here are some of the other birds we were lucky enough to Photograph.

A red-billed Oxpecker caught our attention as it had a meal on a Buffalo.

Of the many birds we saw this was our favourite.

In total we identified 114 different bird species.

From Malelane we went to Skukuza. See part 2 to continue our report of our trip to the Kruger.

Paul and Sally

La Mercy

2nd and 3rd February 2021

On the afternoon of the 2nd of February, Sally and I went down to Durban and up to the La Mercy estuary. Our goal to see the White-cheeked Tern which had appeared there. This was only the 5th time one of these Terns had appeared in South Africa.

We arrived about 15h00 only to be told that the bird had just flown out to sea. We were also told that it had being doing this regularly throughout the day and then returning.

So we waited and waited enjoying the birds on the beach – and keeping a close eye amongst the Terns with which it had been roosting. Mainly Common and Little Terns with the occasional Sandwich Tern. Even a Grey Plover made an appearance.

As we waited an uncommon bird appeared among the Terns – a Hartlaub’s Gull – which we were very happy to see.

We waited and waited peering closely as the Terns took flight and returned – ever hopeful the White-cheeked Tern would appear amongst them.

After 3 hours we gave up, intending to return very early the next day.

At about 05h45 the next day we were on the beach only to be told that the bird had just flown. Another stretch of waiting and watching. Eventually as 09h00 approached we said goodbye and we returned to Sally’s son’s home for some brekky and to pack up and head home. At 09h10 we got a message on the KZN Rare Birds Alert WhatsApp group to say the bird had re-appeared. We quickly packed up, forgot about breakfast and headed back to the site.

As we arrived we were told the bird had just flown out to sea and one chap there said he had watched the bird as it flew way over the ocean. Just our luck.

Anyway, I got out the scope and peered into the Tern roost to see what was there – and there it was with its distinctive dark colour (compared to the other Terns) and its red bill and feet. Showing off its white cheek from which it got its name. Were we ever happy to see this distinctive and handsome bird.

Unfortunately we were too far away for any decent photos but we snapped away anyway.

The bird hung around for a while and then it flew out into the ocean – it seems for the last time as there have been no reports of it at La Mercy since. Here are a few shots of the bird as it flew away for the last time (for now).

Success.

Paul and Sally