Mkuze and Mpempe Pan

13th to 16th March 2021

It was time to get away from home and into the bush. Mkuze was our choice. Because our Afrispoor Caracal was not yet ready for collection, rest huts were our only cheap option. The campsite has been closed for a while – no water and it is currently totally overgrown. We wonder if it will ever be open again. There has been talk that the campsite may move to the unused soccer field right next to the main camp. Good option as water and power will be available. the downside will be the lack of shade.

Temperatures were high and the fans in the huts (we took one of our own) were necessary day and night – not much fun especially during the power cuts twice every day – 18h00 to 20h00 and 02h00 to 04h00.

Too much water everywhere due to the recent rains making abundant pools throughout the Game Reserve.

Despite the frustrating conditions we still enjoyed our stay and had some unexpected sightings.

Typical Habitats

In the pan at Mahlahla Hide water was present but it was almost fully overgrown and difficult to see anything unless it was really close. We spent half an hour there and saw nothing. But the journey from the camp to the hide is always interesting. In the open area as you reach the bottom of the hill we saw the usual Little bee-eaters and many Black Saw-wings.

Black Saw-wings

Then there was a Swallow with a lovely red rump hanging out with the Saw-wings..

Swallow with lovely red-rump.

Carrying on along that road towards the airstrip we came across an obliging Striped Kingfisher.

Then along the airstrip we noticed a number of European Rollers. The most abundant of all the Rollers in the Reserve. And as we expected Crowned Lapwings.

From the airstrip we headed for the Kumasinga Hide. The hide was very quiet and the normally abundant birds were absent – even the animals were spartan

Then the Red-billed Queleas arrived – some more brightly coloured than others. One even looked like a red Red-billed Quelea.

We stayed at the hide until nightfall only leaving there close to 18h30. (Had to be back in camp by 19h00). When we hit the tar road back to camp we went left instead of right and trolled that road as far as the Tower. On the way we saw a number of Fiery-necked Nightjars and a Spotted Thick-knee. On the way back I managed to get a shot of a Fiery-necked Nightjar and also the Bronze-winged Courser – both in the middle of the road.

The next day we took a trip towards the Hunting camp, took in the Loop Road and also to the hides on Nsumo Pan, the Campsite and Malibala Hide. As we left the tar road heading towards the Hunting camp , we saw a large bird in one of the fever trees. On closer inspection we were surprised to see a Black Stork.

Black Stork

On the way back from the picnic site (near the entry road to the Hunting camp) we saw a large raptor silhouetted in a bare tree. A juvenile Bateleur with a lovely curly hairstyle.

Juvenile Bateleur

As we turned onto the Loop road we saw our only Lilac-breasted Roller during the time we were in the Reserve.

Following around the Loop road we were in for another surprise – a Lesser Grey Shrike.

Wildlife seen on the loop.

We visited the hides and picnic site on Nsumo Pan. The water level was very high and few birds were seen on the water or on it’s edge. All the birds photographed were in the trees beside the Pan.

The pan at Malibala Hide was full and the bird life quiet. Even the campsite was unusually the same.

Of course being in the area we had to visit Mpempe Pan. Ever hopeful of finding the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. We made our call to advise we were coming and gained permission to do so. That was not the hard part. The hard part was finding the best way to the Pan despite our GPS and the co-ordinates of its location. After following the GPS map into various fields where the tracks ran out, we gave up on the GPS directions and followed our nose instead.

Along the way we saw hundreds of Western Cattle Egrets either side of the road as we approached the Pan. And many other large and small birds were in the air too. Quite a sight considering the paucity of large flocks elsewhere. Eventually we crossed the low level bridge with a huge open flat field to our right full of bird movement. Quite a pleasant surprise.

We parked on the right as we crossed the low level bridge. Out we got, togged up and were ready to check among the Kittlitz’s Plovers for the bird when I decided I wanted to park a little further along the track. Untogged, back in the car and off we set.

After just 20 metres there was the bird right in front of us. What a fantastic chance was that. We watched as it moved about among the Kittlitz’s Plovers before I decided I wanted to take a few photos. The sunlight was coming from the wrong direction not helping with the shots. Taking a circuitous route around I eventually managed to get some more pleasing shots.

Such a great looking bird and just as I had imagined from the photos in Roberts.

Beyond the field was the wetland area. As we walked around to the wetland we walked among flocks of Senegal Lapwings and Ruff. Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings were also seen.

On the right of the wetland we noticed Collared Pratincoles on the ground and Glossy Ibis as well, even a beautiful Malachite Kingfisher. And it was there that a Large black waterbird was seen. We approached to get a better look but it flew then a little later it came back to the same spot. At first we had considered it to be a Rufous-bellied Heron, but now that we were closer we realised that it was a Black Heron. Again it flew and returned. As it flew we could see the yellow feet and black bill. On return it was disturbed by a Purple Heron and flew away with yet another Black Heron – a pair.

To sum up. We only identified 123 different bird species in Mkuze. Very disappointing as we expected closer to 180 or more – shows the impact of the rain. At Mpempe Pan in the short time we were there we identified 32 bird species. Our list can be seen by clicking on the following link.

Despite the lack of species we had some great and unexpected sightings and as we left early for personal reasons we have 2 days banked for the future.


Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger NP – Part 9. Lower Sabie – Final Episode.

5th to 7th November 2020

On our way through the park we always stop at roadside water and especially at some of the larger pans just off the main roads. It was no different this time as we drove down from Balule to Lower Sabie. Most of the pans had a decent amount of water in them. It was at one of these pans that not only were there a number of animal species as well as birds. By chance I looked down to the edge closest to our car. And what did we see. Some beaurtiful little birds which we had not seen for quite a few years – African Quail-finch.

In the sweltering heat and humidity that was a great sighting.

At Lower Sabie we found the campsite we had used previously to be empty so we set up camp there. The campsite was busy so we were happy to have found this spot.

A few habitat photos of the area.

The weather followed us down from Balule – hot (39 to 41 C) and humid. No fun at night despite the use of a fan. Much of our time was spent lolling in the pool. Eventually it got to us and we left the Kruger 2 days early

We tried to visit the Ntandanyathi Hide but it was closed so we continued to Crocodile Bridge and then on to Mpondo Dam. Too hot for many of the animals except elephants having fun at Mpondo Dam.

We also went north to Mlondozi Dam but again the bush was quiet.

The best viewing was both along the main road to Skukuza and Sunset Dam right outside Lower Sabie gate.

Here are some of the sightings which we photographed as we drove around.

A male Steenbuck was very interested in performing with a female but she would have none of it.

We had an odd encounter with a Red-billed Hornbill. It was in the middle of the road and would not move out of the way as we got closer. Eventually we drove right up alongside it and it still would not fly or move. I opened the car door and it stayed put. I got out to make it fly but it would not. Eventually I picked it up and placed it on the verge with no resistance. I could not leave it in the middle of the road where it was likely to be hit by a car. Looking back we surmised that it may have been stunned or else bitten by a snake.

Sunset Dam is probably the most frequented Dam in the Kruger. Not only because of its proximity to Lower Sabie Camp enabling quick access to early morning and evening viewing but also because there are resident Crocodiles and Hippos always to be seen. It is also one of the favourite Dams where other animals and birds frequent.

Large Crocodile

There appears to be a resident Black-crowned Night-Heron there as well. We saw one in the same place previously.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Buffalo sometimes visit – like this one having had a complete mud bath.

Muddied Buffalo.

Then for something different there was this Grey Heron hitching a ride.

Grey Heron piggy-backing a Hippo.

Yellow-billed Storks seen opposite Sunset Dam in the Sabie River late one evening.

Yellow-billed Storks gathering before going to roost.

In all we identified 103 different bird species in the short time we were there. To see the list click on the link below. The spreadsheet will also show you what we identified in each area we camped. In total for the whole trip we identified 254 different bird species.

We hope you have enjoyed our tales from our Kruger trip.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Sunset at Sunset Dam

Kruger NP Part 8 – Balule

1st to 5th November 2020

Balule is one of our favourite camps in the Kruger NP. It is a relatively small camp without power consisting of about 20 campsites and several huts.

At night the hyenas patrol the fence line often lying down quietly within metres of you and staring with their pleading eyes while resting their head on their front paws. A cute deceptive look of innocence.

On arrival we were greeted by the raucous sounds of hyenas battling just outside the entrance gate. The kerfuffle went on for quite some time.

One of the noisy Hyenas

We chose not to camp along the open fence line but rather in a large shady spot close by and using our solar panels to keep our batteries charged.

Balule camp is located close to the Olifants River and to get to the Olifants Camp you cross the river over a low lying bridge.

And on this visit the muddy water was flowing swiftly quite close to the level of the bridge.

On one occasion later in the day we observed more than 50 Openbills flying downriver.

Some scenery shots around the area.

Venturing out one day to visit Olifants Camp and just as we approached the low level bridge we noticed a cat lying under a shady tree. We had heard them during the night so it was a thrill to see them too.

Olifants Camp is set atop of a hill overlooking the Olifants river. It has a great lookout over the river. And from there you can often see herds of Elephant and Buffalo below and in the distance.

View from the lookout at Olifants Camp

Taking the S44 from Olifants Camp, there is another Lookout Point overlooking the river below.

An unusual sight looking over the river on a cool overcast and mistyish morning – looking at some rocks in the river. The photos are as we saw them.

From Balule we went as far afield as the Sweni Hide next to the N’wanetsi picnic site. We went in hope that it was open after being disappointed when we were staying in Satara. We were not disappointed and although there were not many birds we watched young elephants having fun in the water.

Here are some photos of the lovely birds and beasts that we saw while at Balule – some in the camp like the Blue Waxbill.

At night we were treated to some glorious sunsets.

Packing up to leave was hell. Despite the early hour there was not a breath of wind and the humidity was high. By the time we had finished I had a heat rash all round the back of my neck which took weeks to heal.

Then we were on our way heading South to Lower Sabie for the remainder of our stay in the Kruger NP. That will be Part 9 and the final part of our trip to the Kruger NP.

To see our bird list for Balule then click on the link below.

Bird Sunset

Paul and Sally Bartho