Mokala National Park

24th to 26th May 2022

Our friends Arthur and Rose stayed a few days longer in Kgalagadi but my sister and husband, Sally and I headed home a few days before them. On our way back home from our trip to Augrabies Falls NP and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we camped at Mokala National Park for two nights.

Reception

The Main gate is at the South of the park. There is also another gate – Lilydale – at the north of the Park. Reception in the south is about 6 kms from the main gate. And the campsite is a few kms from reception.

The main roads in Mokala had been battered by rain and they were terrible in places. The side roads were in far better condition.

Mokala only has six campsites each with their own ablutions and kitchen area. It overlooks a shallow dam.

We were in campsite number 5. Unfortunately, the ablutions for campsites 5 and 6 only had warm water. The solar panel on the roof is facing in the right direction but it has been partially placed behind an obstruction – South African style!!!

As you can see from the photos above the sites are nice and grassy and reasonably apart.

The park has two distinct regions – north and south. In the south it is more hilly and woody. In the north open plains dominate. Both are worth exploring.

There is one Bird Hide – Stofdam bird hide. It was very quiet when we visited. There are toilets present there.

Stofdam Bird Hide.

Mokala is notable for the variety of Antelope inhabiting the park. Apart from the more common Springbok, Klipspringers, Giraffe, Blue Gnu, Zebra, Duiker, Meerkats there are also the rarer Eland, Roan, Sable and Tsessebe. Of the big five there are few.

And some of the birds we recorded.

And a few mystery birds:

Altogether we identified 43 different bird species. See the attached list.

Hope you enjoyed the report and photos.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kandirri and Augrabies Falls N.P.

Kandirri

31st April 2022

My sister, Natasha and her husband, Dick joined Sally and I on a camping trip to the Kgalagadi. Once in Kgalagadi we met up with our friends Arthur and Rose and spent 3 weeks together. Arthur and Rose were on their way back from a 4 week tour of Namibia.

To get to the Kgalagadi we overnighted at Kandirri Game Lodge – 082 741 4444 – about 30 minutes drive west of Bloemfontein. This is one of the few half-way camping stops on the way to Uppington.

A small campsite securely fenced in. Electrified fencing to keep the Lions out of the camp. They have a restaurant (do pre-order), and many animals and birds like in a small Zoo.

Then there are the lions. The special was the White Lion. Located right beside the campsite and constantly patrolling the fence line when people are about. Getting close was not a problem and if you growled then he growled back or called with his deep-throated roar.

Early in the morning the roaring started. They all joined in and it went on for quite a while – terrifying if you are not prepared for it as the sound is all around you.

Picture says it all.

On a previous occasion he was seen playing in its cage with a large black canine. They must have been brought up together. They were playful, each taking turns to smack the other in the face.

Fence Patrol
Sunset

After a very pleasant overnight stay we headed for Augrabies early.

Augrabies Falls National Park

1st to 3rd May 2022

On the way to Augrabies Falls NP via Uppington we crossed the Orange River – it was full full and flowing fast. A promise of what could await us.

In January when they had all the rains there were videos on the news showing how utterly dynamic the water was flowing over the Falls. Now at the end of April we expected the water to have been dissipated but hoped we would see something better than the previous visit when there was only a trickle of water over one section of the Falls.

In Upington we filled up with fuel and did some last-minute shopping.

Approaching Augrabies falls we had seen the plume of water smoke arising.

This started to make us hopeful of a major display. But we were not prepared for what we actually saw. It was unbelievable – the volume and power of the water was out of this world.

Eventually we arrived at Augrabies Falls NP about 15h00. The car park was full to our surprise. Cars and people everywhere. We soon discovered that there had been a fun run and fortunately most were headed home. Thankfully the camp sites were not full and we settled in for a couple of nights there.

After setting up camp we had a bit of time to check out the scenery of the site including a cursory look over the river.

More about the Falls later. The best is yet to come.

We did manage to find some time to explore part of the game area. Different habitat ranging from rocky hillsides, river frontage, open flatland with little vegetation except close to the water.

Here are some of the species we managed to photograph.

We identified 44 different bird species while at Augrabies. See the bird list attached.

Each morning and afternoon we took a stroll along the boardwalk alongside the river below the Falls. In some places the boardwalk was through the river spray. Who cared when the view was so spectacular.

Here are some of the views before we came to the main area of the Falls.

And then the power at the start of the falls.

But to really see the true power then watch these videos. It not only shows the power of water but the extent of the Falls down river. Truely spectacular.

A long way from the main Falls. Shows the extent of the Falls but also the depth that the water falls. Remember this when you see the video at the top of the Falls.

Looking up river to the start of the Falls

And here is the video from the top of the Falls. Remember how deep the fall is when you see this.

And one more time.

One more time.

Our next stop was Kgalagadi for 3 weeks meeting up with our friends Arthur and Rose at Rooiputs campsite.

Our time there will follow in a subsequent post.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Setting sun through the spray

Kruger – Bottom to Top – Part 4 Final

Punda Maria

1st to 3rd March 2022

We took our time to get to Punda Maria from Shingwedzi arriving late morning.

The camp was not full but all the sites by the fence were taken as one might expect. We did find a reasonably shaded site with a view down towards the hide and the waterhole. Away from people as it happened too.

Monkeys – as cute as they are – are always an issue at Punda. You have to be constantly alert to their antics and their attempts to borrow stuff permanently.

In the northern part of the park there was an abundance of elephants to be seen. You just hope they are not on the road as you come round a corner while you are towing a caravan. Difficult to reverse backwards at speed. Turning round is only an option if the verges are flat and wide. We had one or two of such experiences but luckily there was plenty of distance between us and we were able to reverse slowly away from confrontation.

In one instance we hung back for over 20 minutes while the elephant was drinking run-off on the side of the road. He was not happy with the cars that tried to get by. Eventually it moved off when it was ready.

At Klopperfontein there was a fair bit of water in the wetlands beside the dam. And of course there were many male tuskers present each time we were there. Always good to watch the interaction between them especially when they wanted something that another had or were playfully trying to access who was the strongest.

The Mahonie loop was quiet but we did see a few birds that we had not seen elsewhere – like the Grey-headed (Brown-necked) Parrot.

Carmine bee-eaters were aplenty. Always lovely to see.

Coming across Daga boys can be a scary experience if you get too close and they give you the eye as we experienced on the road to Klopperfontein.

Here are a few photos of other birds seen:

In the short time we were at Punda Maria we added an addition 5 new birds to our Kruger list.

All to quickly we were off to Nthakeni Bush and River Camp just outside the Pafuri Gate. Based there we were able to explore the Pafuri area of the Park early in the morning.

Nthakeni Bush and River Camp

3rd to 5th March 2022

This camp is definitely one of our favourites in Southern Africa. Not only because of the setting but also its hospitality. Annelize and Kobus are great hosts and the staff are friendly and competent.

Our camp and its setting.

From Punda Maria we by-passed the turnoff to the Pafuri picnic site just before Pafuri bridge. Our biggest surprise was to see the wetland areas immediately before the turnoff. There was water everywhere. The wetlands were wet. In all the years Sally and I have been to Pafuri this was the first time we had seen wet wetlands in the area.

Towing or not we pulled over and scoured the wetlands. Within minutes we had some great sightings of a Dwarf Bittern (briefly) and a Greater Painted Snipe of which I managed a photo or two.

Greater Painted Snipe

It was here also that we spotted our first Canary for the whole trip through the Kruger – a Lemon-breasted Canary (at that!) calling and displaying.

Lemon-breasted Canary

Eventually Sally saw a Yellow-fronted in the Pafuri Picnic site, however I only saw one on one of our walks in the Nthakeni Camp. We were bewildered by this experience.

Some scenery of the Pafuri area including flowing Luvuvu and Limpopo Rivers at Crooks Corner; the wetlands and flowering Baobabs.

Meve’s Starling and White-crowned Lapwings made there appearance – seen commonly in this part of the Park.

White-crowned Lapwing

The mating pair of Black-throated Wattle-eyes performed nicely for us at the Pafuri Picnic site. Here are pictures of the male.

Brown-headed Parrots were seen along with several different Kingfishers.

And then there were the displays;

Woodland Kingfishers in this instance:

And a Mosque Swallow display:

We looked for the Racket-tailed Roller where we had seen it before – no luck. But we did see a Retz’s Helmetshrike in the same general area.

Freckled Nightjars and African Wood-Owls called at night in the Nthakeni Camp.

Probably one of our most exciting experiences was unfortunately not an actually sighting. We knew that Thrush Nightingales had been heard near the bridge. We drove a short way from the bridge towards the Pafuri Gate and stopped at 2 places where we heard their call. Our search to see one however was fruitless. The call was great to hear though – listen to the video.

Call of the Thrush Nightingale.

So that ended our time in the Kruger before we set off home via Nylsvlei (reported separately previously). In this area we added an additional 12 new bird species to our Kruger trip list bringing the total for the trip to 233 different species. To see our list click on the following link.

Hope you have enjoyed the reports

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kruger – Bottom to Top – Part 3 – Tsendze and Shingwedzi.

Tsendze 23rd to 25th February 2022

The next part of our trip took us to Tsendze Bush Camp.

One thing we noticed as we progressed further north in the Kruger was how quiet the birdlife was. And our quest to see loads of raptors swarming among millions of Red-billed Queleas was unlikely to happen. It was for this reason we cut short our stay here to 3 nights.

Despite this we had several interesting experiences while at Tsendze. Most along the Tropic of Capricorn Loop (S143) and the adjoining S50 heading south bordering the extensive wetlands.

Wetlands with herds of Buffalos.

It was along the S143 that we had the best sightings of raptors, Amur Falcons, Lesser Kestrel and Eurasian Hobby.

Here are some photos of other birds seen around Tsendze.

Some photos of non-bird creatures seen based at Tsendze.

Along the Tropic of Capricorn loop around the Tihongonyeni waterhole we had brilliant sightings of Harriers – Pallid and what we believe to be Montagu’s.

And what we believe to be a Montagu’s Harrier:

And not to be outdone, we encountered several Temminck’s Coursers. Here is one:

That was all on our last evening there. And we commented how we had not seen any cats while at Tsendze when lo and behold a pride was enjoying a rest against the tank at Tihongonyeni waterhole. The Gnus were waiting their turn and in the process got closer and closer until one Lioness stood up and walked closer to the water trough. Then we came across several more as we headed back to camp.

And that was our short stay at Tsendze – one of our favourite campsites where the Owls are heard calling every night along with the occasional Fiery-necked Nightjars.

During our stay we added another 16 different bird species to our list taking our tally to 206 at that stage.

And then we were on to Shingwedzi for 3 nights.

Shingwedzi

26th to 28th February 2022.

The campsite was pretty empty except for the sites by the fence. We found a spot on the fence – fully shaded – to the right of the swimming pool. Its only drawback was the late afternoon sun.

Shingwedzi pool. Photo taken from the best shady area.

Among the few campsite birds was a pair of Bennett’s Woodpeckers. Forever on the ground and totally unperturbed by us – often getting quite close.

Another lovely campsite bird was this one – an African Mourning Dove.

African Mourning Dove

Very friendly to us but had a real prolonged humdinger of a fight with another.

As you approach the camp gate, following the river on your left, you have a view of ponds in the river below and alongside the camp. There is always birdlife in these ponds.

We drove extensively around the area. Going down river, visiting the Red Rocks Loop as well as going further afield further north to Babalala Picnic site following the scenic route by the river.

Scenic route

No abundance of Quelea to be seen. However we did enjoy several raptors.

Then there were the other birds and animals we found in the area.

And birds;

The highlight of out time at Shingwedzi was undoubtedly when we came across a pair of Dusky larks in the middle of the road. Most unexpected and most enjoyable.

And that was our excitement at Shingwedzi.

We added another 10 species to our total Kruger list bring the total to 216 species for the Kruger up to that point.

Our next camp was Punda Maria for 2 nights followed by 2 nights in Nthakeni to complete our Kruger trip from Bottom to Top.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Sedgefield

8th to 16th April 2022

Sally and I went to Sedgefield to visit family just before Easter.

Having looked at the weather forecasts we decided to leave on Friday 8th April. We had planned to go on Sunday the 10th. As things turned out we made a very good decision and missed the deluge which KZN suffered.

We overnighted at River of Joy – just before Bloemfontein (550 kms) and the next day got to Sedgefield (800 kms). Traffic was surprisingly light and hardly any rain.

Our GPS and Misses “Waze” (brilliant App with latest details on traffic ahead as well as warning us of potholes ahead) told us to go to via George and backtrack to Sedgefield. We decided otherwise and take the “shortcut” at Uniondale going through the Prince Alfred Pass. What a great choice despite the extra time it took.

The Prince Alfreds Pass on the R339 gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale is probably Thomas Bain’s most remarkable work. It is the second oldest unaltered pass still in use and is the longest (publicly accessible) mountain pass in South Africa at approximately 68.5km.

We followed the windy narrow gully between steep mountains on either side of us – often unable to see where the next turn would be. The rock formations were outstandingly attractive. Once through the mountains the road opened up and we drove through a fern forest eventually reaching the N2 just north of Knysna.

Half way through we noticed a cosy looking place to stop at and potential stay at. Here is their advertising sign. Zoom in to read the sign.

While staying in Sedgefield we visited the nearby Rondevlei Bird Hide.

We had a pleasant 2 hours of water birds.

Here are birds photographed.

Mr Molie digging his burrow.

On the way home we stopped in Camdeboo National Park for a cup of tea and a loo break. Some wildlife got our attention.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kruger. Bottom to Top – Part 2 – Satara

Satara

19th to 22 February 2022

The camp at Satara had plenty of space except along the fence. We were not unhappy about that as the afternoon sun is straight in your face along the fence.

On our three full days there we explored far and wide – going as far north as Olifants, east to Nwanetsi and thereabouts as well as south west of Satara to Ngwanyeni Dam. Going off tar as much as possible.

Noticeable was the presence of many Carmine Bee-eaters. Something it seems you only see late summer.

European Bee-eaters were also abundant

Again we were surprised to see another Dwarf Bittern. This time catching the first rays of the sun.

We found that we often drove for long periods with few birds about. Perhaps it was the overcast weather but more likely after the good rains the birds had dispersed. Big raptors were hardly seen, however there were a few of the smaller variety.

To give an idea of typical scenery in the area:

Then there was an incident with a Pearl-spotted Owlet. We almost collided with it. The bird flew out from the left disappeared for a second below the car and fortunately appeared flying slowly and difficultly and landed in a tree on the right. Why did it behave this was in the middle of the afternoon? We stopped to look and immediately understood why it took such a risk. There in its claws was a creature longer than itself. Take a look.

Quite a catch.

Satara is known for its cats. We had several lion sightings. Once with cubs and another time with the big cats lying on the road and growling as we passed slowly by.

Our first Cheetah seen on this trip was a marvelous sight – perched on Ngotso staring into the distance right beside the road.

It is always great to see playful Elephants especially when they are frolicking with each other in water.

Frolicking Ellies

And the biggest treat for us was a Leopard up to tricks to avoid us. We took a side road to check out some water where we had seen lekker birds on a previous trip to the Kruger last year. Seeing nothing we continued the loop back to the road. As we went round the corner I could have sworn that ahead of us a cat had crossed the road and I had just glimpsed the tail end as it entered the tall grass. We drove up to the area looked down (as they have a habit of immediately hunkering down). Not there. As it was sort of going back to where we had come from I decided to go back and wait to see if it would appear. We waited and then Sally saw it. It was crawling the Leopard crawl – haunches sticking into the air, head low and stomach well down. We all know what Leopard crawling looks like from the many cartoons we have seen. This was a first and wonderful sight.

The Leopard slowly made for a tree across the road in front of us. Jumped up. Seemed to be scratching its bum on the bark in the “V” of the tree and then escalated to the top and lay staring at us.

Birds photoed:

There was a Crested Barbet asking us what times the gates opened and closed, but our communication was ineffective.

Unusually we were attacked by some Southern Ground Hornbills. Normally they simply walk passed if they come close. However this lot seemed to charge straight at us and proceeded to peck into our car. On the following video you will hear Sally saying that they may come for bugs on the car. And then the pecking started just after the video stopped.

In all we identified a further 28 birds to our Kruger list bringing our total up to 190 different bird species.

Some of the sunsets we had were spectacular.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kruger. Bottom to top – Part 1. Lower Sabie

15th February to 4th March 2022

Our hoped for objective was to see a variety of raptors feeding on the thousands of Red-billed Quelea on the open plains in the park which we were led to believe congregated at this time of the year.

Our first destination was Lower Sabie, followed by Satara, Shingwedzi and the Pafuri area (based at Nthakeni Bush and River Camp just outside the Pafuri Gate).

Lower Sabie

15th to 18th February 2022

One of the first sightings as we entered the Kruger – a very welcoming sight.

The campsite on arrival was fairly full. We managed to find a suitable spot but it did lack shade. Not to worry as it was almost constantly overcast while we were there.

Concerns started after our first outing. The batteries for car and car fridge were completely run down. Close by campers came to my assistance. A pair of jumper cables came out. They were attached and tried and burnt out! The cables were hot hot. Eventually I went to reception for help to get the car started. In no time help arrived and with 2 sets of jumper cables used the car was started. I then took the car for a 2 hour drive to get the batteries up to speed.

On return I checked all to see what could be causing the problem. This idiot had forgotten to plug the charging cable to the car fridge battery before he left Howick 3 days previously!! So I plugged it in to the Anderson plug on the battery box supplying power to the fridge. Problem solved.

Well not so. The next morning the car would not start again. Help came and this time a much thicker cable was used to start the car. And as I was not sure what was going on, I decided to drive into Komatipoort to buy a thick cable. None available, so I ended up buying a Jump Start battery instead.

On our final day at Lower Sabie the car would not start again but the Jump Start got us going. By now I was frantic to know why I had this continuous problem. So, for some reason I know not why, I decided to double check all my cable connections. And that is when I found a second Anderson Plug at the very bottom of the battery case which I should have used to keep the 2nd battery charged from the engine. The one I used was for charging from a solar panel. Since then all has been hunky-dory.

All those troubles aside, how did we enjoy our stay? Amazing start on the first morning.

Our first morning out was quite eventful. We crossed the bridge over the Sabie River and headed north towards Tshokwane. At the first intersection we decided to turn right on the S29. Then the action started.

We had gone not much more than 2 kms when we noticed an unusual bird on the road – a Crake of some sort. It started to run off the road as we stopped well back to put our goggles on it. Fortunately I was able to get a couple of photos and we were able to positively identify it. What was it doing so far away from water? Perhaps there was some sort of wetland close that we could not see.

What a start to the day. But we had not gone much further before there was more excitement. We heard a call that we immediately recognised as that of a Burchell’s Coucal. But there was another call which was not quite as recognisable and there it was right in front of us perched at the top of a short tree – a Black Coucal.

Wow. Could this get even better! Then it did.

As we watched the pair of Coucals , Sally glanced to the other side of the road as a Pallid Harrier came low past us. The black at the ends of the wings on an all white bird clearly identified it.

From there we headed to Leeupan, 7 kms south of Tshokwane on the H1-2. The pan was full – the first time I had seen it so in many many years.

We were in for a treat there too. Lesser Moorhens, African Pygmy Geese among other waterbirds. We saw a Lesser Gallinule but were unable to get a photo. Lesser Jacana were also present but we never found them. What a place. Apparently Olive Tree Warblers were calling there too.

Lesser Moorhen were aplenty.

And the Knob-billed Ducks

Later we took a stroll around the camp and had a number of lovely birds to see.

Meanwhile round the camp we bumped into a Peregrine Falcon.

And at Sunset Dam the waterbirds were present.

One day we visited Mpondo Dam – not much about but as we approached the dam from below we were again attacked. This time the creatures had really grown since we were last there. They obviously could hear us coming and were on the road as we approached. We stopped and they came after us. Terrapins. Now the size of a fist. Last November they were more the size of a watch face. Sally thinks people have been feeding them and that is why they come after us.

Occasionally we came across Vultures and Eagles but they were few and far between.

Then there were a range of Animals, Spiders and Damselflies which made for an attempt at good photography (they usually are still subjects).

The male Golden Orb Web Spiders try their luck mating with the much larger female. If they are in and out quick enough they might live another day. To help themselves to survive they try to serenade and distract the lady by playing spiderweb tunes to her.

Golden Orb Web Spiders.

European and Carmine Bee-eaters were seen unlike on our previous visit in November 2021. And there were plenty of European Rollers

On one occasion we came across a pair of White-faced Whistling Ducks alongside a pair of Hamerkops. Each pair were canoodling with each other, grooming and caressing.

Here are some of the other birds seen around Lower Sabie – as far afield as Crocodile Bridge, Skukuza and Tshokwane.

Then there are the endangered Southern Ground Hornbills which made a show.

And finally we end as we started with another Leopard sighting.

Our time in Lower Sabie was up and we were off to Satara for several days. Satara report to follow.

We were amazed to identify 161 different bird species in the time we were there.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Nylsvlei

5th to 7th March 2022

After all the rains early this year, the wetlands at Nylsvlei were nicely flooded. Sally and I decided to pay a visit.

We stayed at Klein Paradys campsite some 40 kms from the entrance to Nylsvlei.

Interesting campsite with loads of Peacocks and Peahens also rubbish bin thieves at night.

The main wetland hides are entered from the opposite side to the main entrance gate (see map above). We checked in at the main gate, paid and obtained the security number to enter the main wetland area. To get there, you need to drive around to the other side of the reserve and park opposite the entrance gate.

As it happened, we parked and then got chatting to the owner – Brian Frank – of the farm (and wetland area) directly opposite the entrance to Nylsvlei wetland. He just happened to be there and offered us entry to the wetland area right by the parking area. This wetland is part of the Sandfields & Forests Estate – which also offers Birder Friendly accommodation.

As we stood talking to Brian an unusual bird flew at speed close overhead. A large Swallow type looking bird with a strange “U” shaped tail. It was so quick we only got a glimpse of it, not enough time to ID it. We speculated for some time what it could have been and it was only that evening that we had a brain-wave and we thought we knew what it was. Ever hopeful we would see it again the next day.