Marloth Park, bordering the south of the Kruger National Park along the Crocodile River

22nd June 2021

There is a particular little bird which spends part of the year in East Africa and then when the time is right it heads back to Europe. Only this time it turned the wrong way on leaving and became the first of its kind which has been positively identified south of the equator. And that was in Marloth Park bordering the Crocodile River on the south of the Kruger National Park.

It was immediately reported to Trevor Hardaker – administrator of the WhatsApp group “Rare Birds Report”. And he immediately posted it as a MEGA alert to the birding community on the WhatsApp group. Seen and photographed on Saturday 18th June 2021.

Our immediate thought was ” Pity it was so far away” (about 700 kms away). “Too far to go and probably would not be there if we were to try – also it is so small that we thought it unlikely that we would find it even if it was there”.

Over the weekend the news kept coming through that it was still there and in the same place. Eventually on Monday evening we decided to go the next morning – for 3 days! Our thinking was: “Well we need to get away and we would be right beside the Kruger if the bird disappeared”.

We booked a rondavel in Henk van Rooyen Park -the location where the bird was seen.

So Tuesday morning we left really early – before daylight but after the curfew which ends at 04h00. Arriving about 14h00 to see a number of birders from all over the country scouring the trees near the entrance. Many coming from Gauteng (4 hour journey) as a day trip.

Before we check in we mix with the birders there and learn that it had been seen earlier in the day. The bird hung out in the same general area in the trees close to the entrance we learned. We mill around with everyone for a while then check in and unpack before returning.

And then it appeared to everyone’s delight flittering back and forth among the trees. The bird was forever on the move thwarting the efforts to get a good look and take photos. You had to be persistent to spot it out in the open for any length of time. Being in the right spot at the right time was imperative.

I realised when I saw it for the first time that it was quite non-descript and that I would never have identified it nor would I have realised that it was extremely rare.

Having seen the bird we relaxed and made a plan to look for it each morning and evening and spend the rest of the time in the Kruger.

But first we did some birding around Henk van Rooyen Park.

As it happened my sister her husband and 2 grown children were in the south of the Kruger at the time we were there. We met up at Lower Sabie for lunch on one day and happened by chance to meet again at the Skukuza Golf club on the next day.

As usual the lower part of the Kruger has a great variety of birds to see. It is not unusual to see over 120 different species in a morning. Our count for the 2 mid-days we spent in the Kruger amounted to just that – 120. Not bad considering we did not get into the park early. Click on the link below to see the list of birds we identified.

We managed to see Lions on several occasions and had the luck to see a Leopard too.

There were 4 male Lions on the S28 at one sighting and one of them with a majestic mane.

Our Leopard sighting along the S25 was quite sad.

It had just caught its lunch only to be chased off by a roving pack of Hyenas. It sat and watched as the Hyenas guzzled the lot – squabbling among themselves.

Then there was the unusual sighting of a Tawny Eagle sitting beside a Black-backed Jackal which was devouring a meal – waiting for its opportunity to scrounge a bit.

I am sorry I have digressed. Back to the sighting in Henk van Rooyen Park. Here are some photos I managed to get. And yes it was a …………. see below..

Sally and Paul Bartho

Eastern Cape

7th to 29th April 2021

There were a number of lifestyle changes which brought about this trip down to the Eastern Cape. Firstly Sally’s son (Bryan) and daughter-in-law (Michelle) as well as her step daughter (Michele) recently moved from KZN down to Sedgefield and Knysna respectively over the Christmas period.

Secondly we needed to try out our new Afrispoor Caracal.

Afrispoor Caracal

There was a third motive and that was to try to see the Sooty Gull at the Sundays River. The same Gull we dipped on at Kei Mouth on Valentine’s Day.

Our itinerary: Overnight at Tortoni Guest Farm campsite near Maclear (Cell: 084 200 2548) on the way to Sundays River for 2 nights. Then to spend a week with family in the Knysna/Sedgefield area. Following that Addo Elephant Park for 5 nights, 4 nights at Mountain Zebra NP. Then 4 nights at Balloch Cottages Campsite – near Barkly East in the Eastern Cape close to the border with Lesotho.

Leaving Howick early we arrived at Tortoni early afternoon. A great overnight stop. There are 6 spacious powered camp sites which are grassy and pretty much all level. There is a building with male and female bathrooms (toilet, shower and basin) and a kitchen wash-up area. Hot water comes from a donkey boiler which you need to light up yourself about 15 minutes before you want hot water. Beware the shelter housing the wood and boiler which has a very low roof – head banging if you don’t pay attention.

The campsite overlooks a large vlei and dam which numerous birds enjoy. At sunset the Grey Crowned Cranes can be heard and seen arriving at their favourite roost – a bare tree on the hillside next to the vlei.

After a hectic drive we were happy to just drive in and hook up to power – leaving the car hooked up to our Caracal. By choosing our spot carefully we were able to do this without the need to adjust the Caracal’s level.

The following morning we arose early to find that a wet and misty fog from the vlei made it impossible to see more than a couple of metres in front of you. It was not like that when we stayed there on our way home.

Early the next morning we set off to Sundays River – near Port Elizabeth. We stayed at the Pearsons campsite which is right next to the Sundays River and on the doorstep to the beach where we hoped to find the Sooty Gull which had been seen here for the previous 8 weeks after leaving Kei Mouth.

At Pearsons campsite

Once settled in the campsite we headed out to find the Sooty Gull – often found beside fishermen and slightly away from the Kelp Gulls. The drive out to the estuary was very scenic and not what I was expecting. Large sand dunes lined the opposite side of the estuary as we drove out to the mouth. And a beautiful sunny day to boot.

On the way to the mouth a bare patch of mud had a number of water birds – a place to remember to explore the following day.

From the parking area it was a long walk to the beach front to find fishermen and ever hopeful of finding the Sooty Gull. A tiring walk on the sand carrying binoculars, camera, scope and tripod.

The next morning the gate opened at 07h00 and we were first in. Unfortunately the day was overcast so the scenic drive was muted. As we got to the mud flat area we stopped to see was there – not a lot to keep our attention and definitely no Sooty Gull. A car passed by on the way to the mouth.

As we reached the mouth a lady in the car asked us if we were here to see “The” Gull and then proceeded to tells us that it had been here on her arrival but had literally just flown out to the mouth. A couple of minutes earlier and we would have seen it. So we headed to the mouth carting all our gear but to no avail.

Despite that it was good to see a variety of birds which we don’t see in Howick- water birds. The most notable an Roseate Tern.

Roseate Tern among a variety of other Terns

So we lucked out on the Sooty Gull for a second time – by minutes!! Could we have a third chance.

That afternoon we arrived in Sedgefield for a week with Sally’s son and daughter-in-law.

Oribi Vulture Colony

Saturday 23 May 2021

A Success Story

Sally and I took my sister, Natasha and her husband, Dick to the Oribi Cape Vulture Colony. The colony is situated on farm property. We booked the 2 hour session (09h00 to 11h00) through Andy Ruffle 072 893 3794.

As you drive through the cane fields you have no expectation of the gorge ahead. Even when you have parked you only have a short walk to the site and it is only when you get to the top of the cliff face that you realise that you are there. The colony is situated on a steep cliff face with panoramic views over and beyond.

We arrived with clouds blanketing the hills and valleys – a spectacular sight. The day was perfect – blue skies (a bit cool) and little wind. Gradually as Andy was telling us about the history of the site and the habits of the Cape Vultures, the clouds dispersed. It was only then that the Cape vultures started to test out the flying conditions.

Jumping off the cliff face they hope to go straight into gliding mode. If the conditions are not suitable they return flapping strongly in the process. Once the conditions are right they are off to their feeding grounds – gliding all the way. They have no need to flap their wings accept on takeoff after feeding. Once in the air they need no energy to get home.

Probably the most interesting feature of the birds is their wingspan – up to 2.6 metres. That is approximately a metre more than the length of your outstretched hands. Try it and see how impressive that is.

Here are a few photos of a vulture returning to the cliff and one of the photos gives the impression that it is a vulture wall painting.

About three decades ago the farmer encouraged the colony of about 30 Cape Vultures to flourish. Today there are 94 known pairs of Cape Vultures using the cliff face to breed. A highly successful program. This is attributed to the an increase in supply of food which mainly comes from the carcasses of animals living in the rural communities as well as new vulture restaurants.

The rural communities move dead animals away from their farming areas. They do not eat the meat fearing they too may become affected by whatever caused the animal’s death. And without people about the vultures thrive on the carcasses.

A new feeding station – vulture restaurant – was relatively recently started in Kamberg at a large pig farm. Pig carcasses mainly – which the Oribi Vultures sometimes visit.

The Oribi colony site also has a vulture restaurant and hide. Local farmers bring their carrion to the site for consumption by the vultures. Arrival of the carrion is not only erratic but whatever is brought is not there for long – a pig will be stripped bare in less than 7 minutes.

The Oribi Vulture Hide – rather smart.

It is not only the Cape Vultures that have been seen at the site. Ruppell’s, White-backed, Palm-nut and Lappet-faced Vultures have also been recorded there infrequently. As yet the Bearded Vulture has not been reported despite the proximity to the Berg.

There is another larger colony of about 200 pairs of Cape Vultures further south – about 150 kms away in the Umtamvuma Valley region. On occasion the birds visit the Oribi vulture restaurant. On the whole both colonies appear to have their own feeding grounds.

Breeding season is currently underway. Each pair takes turn to sit on the eggs for about a day and a half at a time with nests often close together.

Once in the air, they circle over the valley below.

Occasionally they give you the eye ball by flying at eye height within metres of you.

The Oribi Cape Vulture colony is thriving and is a must visit for everyone. We were all blown away seeing the spectacle of the vultures flying so close to us at eye height. Pictures only give an impression of the place. Visiting and experiencing it for yourself is mind-blowing – as my sister said.

A success story.

Go.

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.

Cheers

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

Kruger NP Part 7 – Nthakeni and Pafuri

28th to 31st October 2020

Pafuri is a long drive from Punda Maria making it difficult to reach the area early in the morning. As we had previously stayed at Pafuri River Lodge just outside of the Pafuri Gate so we attempted to stay there again but had no response. Eventually someone called us and told us that it had closed down but we could camp at – Nthakeni.

Leaving Punda Maria we headed north. Passing large herds of Buffalos and finding it difficult to spot Red-billed Oxpeckers. Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were everywhere that there were herds of Buffalos or Impala.

There is a large Baobab on top of a hill overlooking the Pafuri plain beyond. Very majestic and noticeable from all around.

Nthakeni is near the village of Nkotswi and about 6 kms from the Pafuri entrance gate. About 4 kms on tar then turn off to the left for 2 kms past the village, across a river through dry pastoral land to the camp. Nthakeni is a concession from the local people who have created the camp.

Upon arrival we were met by a very friendly host and hostess – Annelise and Kobus – and directed to our campsite – Mashato. Annelise and Kobus manage the site with help from the local population. The goal is to make it ecofriendly and comfortably rustic. Cottages run on solar power.

The campsite was right on the river bank and surrounded by trees – much like the setting at Pafuri picnic site. The entry was down a steep slope with a sharp turn to the right. Facilities in our camp included our own Ablutions with hot water and a kitchen fully equipped but without a fridge. No electric power but a donkey boiler. And a great river view.

Some photos of the communal facilities:

And our view of the Mutale river:

Unfortunately in the future the two campsites by the river will be converted to Tented camps and camping will be found in and around the great baobabs nearby – no river views sadly.

Cows and a donkey roamed up and down the river ringing their bells.

Birding was excellent in the campsite – many different species to listen to and observe flitting about.

There are a couple of trails to enjoy: –

When we went to explore the trails, two of the camp dogs joined us and led the way.

What a wonderful life for these dogs. They know how to stay fit as this video shows.

Dogs will be dogs

A few of the special birds seen at Nthakeni

We spent a couple of days traversing the Luvuvu River at Pafuri, from Crooks Corner, past the Picnic site, the bridge and on to the Thulamela Archeological site. The area was quite dry although there were some lush treed areas around the river bed as these photos will show.

The drive between the bridge to Crooks Corner is always variable and interesting. The riverside trees are massive and full of life. No sooner had we turned off the S63 heading for Crooks Corner we ran into a road block – a tree had fallen across the road and we had to find a way around it. We looked for Lemon-breasted Canaries in the palms but probably it was too dry for them.

While there we noticed people on the opposite side walking along the river side. And as we were there a police patrol arrived and shouted at the men opposite. Crooks Corner still lives up to its name.

The picnic site is always a great place to see and listen to birds. We were not disappointed. There were a couple of Black-throated Wattle-eyes attending to their nestlings in one of the very large trees in the picnic site – very hard to spot and impossible for photos unfortunately. Here are some of the birds we did manage to photograph.

The bridge is a great place to look for birds and there is often animal life below. This time was no different. It is one of the bridges where you are allowed out of your vehicle but you must stay between the yellow lines on the bridge surface. Unfortunately there are people who wander over the lines sometimes going off the bridge. If that habit persists then this privilege will cease.

It was here that Sally spotted a Bohm’s Spinetail amongst the Swifts and Swallows overhead.

Mud Fun:

As we drove around the area we had sightings of birds and animals. A lone Eland youngster, a pair of mating Lions, a Leopard below a treetop full of Baboons, Crocodiles as well as Meve’s Starling, Marsh Sandpiper, Red-headed Weaver, Squacco and Striated Herons, a pale phase Wahlberg’s Eagle, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver to name a few.

Bath Time for a White-crowned Lapwing.

And then there was the Leopard lying next to the road among some dead tree trunks. At first we passed by without noticing it but something caught our eye. We reversed and there was the Leopard – keeping an occasional eye on the nearby Buffalo.

The next part of our trip was to be spent at Balule. On the way we overnighted at Shingwedzi. Most of our experience at Shingwedzi has been included in Part 5 of this series. Balule is Part 8 of this series which will follow shortly.

Our bird list for Nthakeni and Pafuri can be seen by clicking on the following link:

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger NP Part 6 – Punda Maria

24th to 28th October

From Shingwedzi we headed north to Punda Maria to continue birding. Our friends left us and returned south through the Park. On the way up we had a delightful experience with a pair of Kori Bustards. They were prancing on a hillock by the road.

The camp in Punda Maria was very busy at the bottom near the fence and the hide overlooking the waterhole just over the fence. The ablutions there were over worked and had an unseemly odour.

We headed for our preferred location nearish to the ablutions at the top and overlooking the campsite – away from people.

The waterhole can get very busy at times with small herds of Elephants and hundreds of Buffalo – especially late afternoon going into the night. Often trumpeting quite loudly and for long periods – presumably to let others know that this is their waterhole.

Marabou Storks sometimes visit as this one did. It sat down in a posture resembling a person playing the piano.

On occasion a Leguaan passes by. But it is not often that you get to see it doing press-ups.

Several times we drove the 25 kms Mahonie Loop around the camp. Birds were disappointingly quiet. However we did come across a leopard once – making up for it – a bit.

While we were there we got a message from Trevor Hardaker that a Golden Pipit had been seen and he gave us the co-ordinates. The Pipit was seen approximately 10 kms south of the turnoff of the H13-1 heading on the H1-8 to Shingwedzi. We got up very early to find it. And we did. The co-ords were perfect. Sally spotted it on the verge as we drove slowly towards it. It went up into the trees by the road and moved about from tree to tree and branch to branch. Lovely bird – seems to float like a butterfly as it flies. A calling Monotonous lark also appeared at the scene.

The next day we needed diesel – however the petrol pumps at the garage at Punda Maria had unfortunately been smashed into by a car which had lost control on the drive up to reception. That meant a trip back to Shingwedzi (70 kms away) to fill up. This was not an inconvenience for us. We had the opportunity to look for the Golden Pipit again, a bit of breakfast at the Babalala picnic site and another drive on the S56 side road which we had so enjoyed when staying at Shingwedzi.

Damage control

As we reached the end of the H13-1 to turn south on to the H1-8 a family of Cheetahs ran across the road. The mother heading left and the two sub-adults to the right across the road. We stopped to look at the youngsters as the mother disappeared into the bush. Eventually she re-appeared, crossed the road and united with the youngsters. Nice sighting.

On the way we stopped again when we found the Golden Pipit. Lovely bird. As we left so the bird flew away but we heard it later returned. At Babalala picnic site we stopped for tea then took the S56 loop road to Shingwedzi. We had not gone far when a pair of Coqui Francolins – Sally’s recent bogey bird – crossed the road ahead of us.

Further along we came across the Elephants digging for water while the Leopard watched. Another Leopard further along was hanging out lying in a tree by the road. Then as we approached the Shingwedzi Gate we noticed about a hundred Buffalo taking advantage of a large pool of water in the river bed below. Closer inspection of something odd in the water revealed a pair of crocodiles holding on to something. With the scope out we realised it was the head of a buffalo.

Buffalo demise at the hands of a couple of crocodiles very close to other bathing Buffalos.

The Klopperfontein waterholes were virtually dry, however an Elephant and a few Buffalo were taking advantage of what was left in one of them. While camping in Punda Maria we refrained from visiting Pafuri as we intended to spend three nights at Nthakeni at a community camp just outside the Pafuri Gate.

Here is a selection of the birds photographed in the area.

The day before we left we returned from a drive to find we had new neighbours. They had put their Campervan up so close to us that it was impossible for me to hook up our car to the front of our trailer when we left – without having to drive over their ground sheet and under their awning. Turning our Serval was not an option as we were on a ledge.

Neighbours to the left

Anyway we managed – with a use of their space unfortunately.

Our bird list amounted to 104 different species identified. To see our list please click on the link following.

Then we were on to the top of the Park and to a community run Camp – Nthakeni near the village of Nkotswi – about 6 kms from the Pafuri entrance gate. From our base in Nthakeni we explored not only the area around Nthakeni but also Pafuri. Our time there will be reported in the next part of our Kruger saga. Part 7 to follow.

Kruger Part 5 – Shingwedzi

21st to 24th October 2020

It is a two kms drive to the Shingwedzi gate once you exit the H1-6. You drive alongside the river bed with many tall trees either side. When we were there the river bed had a number of pools in it. The water was not flowing. It is difficult to imagine that the river sometimes overflows its banks. The volume of water would be immense.

Entrance

Our friends had arrived before us and were in the process of putting up their camp by a spot along the fence. When we had checked-in they told us not to do so as one has to book those sites in advance and all were booked. We mentioned that to our friends and they told us that they had not been told. After much hoohah with check-in they decided to move. Shame.

The campsite was far from full.

After all our travels it was time to do some washing – except the camp’s laundry machines had broken down so the staff were using the one laundry machine to wash hutted guest towels – piling them in to fill the machine completely.

Overload.

We had a friendly Dwarf Mongoose visit us one day looking for food no doubt. Bird wise the camp was very quiet. Not surprising after 6 months of lockdown they went elsewhere to find food.

Some typical habitat in the area.

A Lion kill had been reported. A Waterbuck lying in the riverbed along the S50 heading south. We took a drive out to see what was left. We passed the breached Kanniedood Dam passing a number of good water bird pools- even coming across a Saddle-billed Stork in the bush and a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Owls.

Hippo and Yellow-billed Oxpecker hitching a ride

Just before reaching the Lion kill we spotted 5 male Lions clambering away from us on the opposite side of the dry river bed. Eventually we reached the spot. The poor waterbuck was lying close to our edge of the river bed – just visible through the foliage. Vultures were everywhere but on the carcass – a lioness was lying on the sand close by – perhaps that was the reason. Suddenly the vultures all piled in one on top of another. The stomach was pulled out and carried away much agro as to who will keep it. However once open it looked a soggy mess and most vultures gave up on it. There was a goodly variety of Vultures – Lappet-faced, White-backed, White-headed and Hooded. And then the hyenas arrived,

And when Hyenas arrive then chaos.

Hyena carnage
Vultures at it

Further along the S50 you pass Dipene Outpost monument on the way to the Nyawutsi Hide. Elephant were there and so was an African Fish-Eagle. The Eagle was fluttering between branches and posing for photos.

The R52 – SW of the camp is a double loop road either side of a (usually) dryish river. The Red Rocks lookout is found on the first loop. The second loop goes further to the Tshanga Lookout. The second loop is well vegetated with large trees following the both sides of the river. It was along this loop that we saw some interesting birds. One such was a raptor which challenged us to recognise. Eventually we decided it was a Booted Eagle with an unusual lump on its chest..