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

Zululand

16th to 19th December 2020

December has been a crazy month for unusual birds in Zululand. Madagascan Cuckoo, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Terek Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Caspian and American Golden Plovers to name a few.

Sally and I eventually managed to go up there for 3 nights – staying at Sand Forest Lodge just north of Hluhluwe. We drove up early on Wednesday morning going straight to the Madagascan Cuckoo site in Hluhluwe Game Reserve.

The bird was calling well but down in the valley. A pair of White Rhino were in the muddied pool right beside us – keeping us inside the cars. Pin-tailed Whydahs were also on display.

After a few hours waiting for it to make an appearance we mossied off elsewhere in the park before returning at about 13h00. Again the bird was calling but did not visit us at the top of the hill. Eventually we gave up and checked in to the cottage at Sand Forest Lodge.

Sand Forest Lodge itself is a great place to see Zululand birds. We wandered around the grounds catching sight of a number of specials. Particularly nice was the call of the Broad-billed Roller….”Naarr”.

Broad-billed Roller

The following day we visited Nibela and Mpempe Pans with Ian Gordon. Nibela is a vast floodplain with coastal forest along one side – fever trees and bush. A great contrast to the floodplain with a whole different variety of birds calling.

Our goal here was to find the Black-tailed Godwit – a lifer for both Sally and me. However it was not to be. Many hours were spent at the different pans, forever hopeful. There were a goodly variety of waterbirds to keep us entertained. Hundreds of Flamingos and Pelicans, Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, Ringed Plovers, Grey Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Marsh Sandpipers, Ruffs, some Terns (some too far away to positively ID) and the occasional Lesser Sand Plover.

We took a 3 – 4 km drive along the side of the floodplain and the bush seeing and hearing an array of different species. In particular there were numerous Bee-eaters – predominantly Blue-Cheeked and some European.

Returning to one of the pans we saw a Terek Sandpiper – a bird which we could not remember when nor where we last saw one.

We then visited Mpempe Pan and drove round the surrounding open grassland. Here, we found Crowned, Black-winged and Senegal Lapwings some with young. Sally saw a Greater Sand Plover and there were at least 4 Caspian Plovers with two in partial breeding plumage.

On the Friday we went back -very early- to Hluhluwe to find the Madagascan Cuckoo. This time we had partial glimpses as it traversed from one valley to the next over our vehicles. After many hours waiting we headed off into Hluhluwe birding.

We got lucky and came across a European Honey Buzzard.

That day we made one last effort to find the Cuckoo. Calling from down the valley. As we were about to leave one of the Rangers ascended from the valley with a group of youngsters . They had great sightings of the bird. On impulse Sally organised for us to take a walk with the guide the next morning at 06h00 on our way home.

On arrival the next morning we could hear the Cuckoo calling close to the top of the hill. The rangers led a group of seven hopefuls down through the rugged prickly bush and we managed to get several fleeting sightings. The light was terrible so we continued following it and had several more close calls. Then it decided it needed to head back up the valley. We followed. This time back up to the top and following it down the other side. At one point we hung about a tree it was happy in – eating the caterpillars. As we heard it calling below it took off and flew straight at us landing in the tree above our heads – in the sun of course. After several more efforts to see it well it headed back up the valley – calling as it went.

Not the best of sightings and certainly terrible photos.

Over the three days we were in Zululand we notched up identifying 168 species of different birds. Click below for list.

A thoroughly enjoyable few days away with many special birds seen including our lifer the Madagascan Cuckoo. Dipped on the Black-tailed Godwit.

Sally and Paul Bartho

St. Lucia

26 to 30 August 2020

After our 5 days at Mapila Camp in iMfolozi we headed to St Lucia for a further 4 nights. We stayed at Sunset Lodge at the suggestion of Sally’s son and wife who used to live there. The owners Rich and Shelly are friends of theirs – a really friendly couple.

The accommodation was excellent. It was a log cabin done very tastefully. Everything kept in “as new” condition. We had a one bed flatlet with lounge/kitchen, bathroom and a stoep.

During the time there, we visited Eastern Shores a few times, Western Shores and a walk through the Gwala Gwala trail with Ian Gordon and of course the beach for waders and seabirds.

The weather was a bit unfriendly – cool, windy and misty at times with the occasional splatter of drizzle.

Sally made contact with Ian Gordon and we met early one morning to visit the Gwala Gwala trail and then to visit Western Shores. Another cool day.

We parked at the entrance and were greeted by several friendly Crested Guineafowl. In the clearing there is probably one of the largest and tallest “Cabbage” trees that I have seen. We then entered the trail.

There was a fair bit of calling along the Gwala Gwala trail but few birds actually seen. Forest birding. September Bells were everywhere in bloom.

Western Shores was a bit quiet too as we arrived quite late in the morning. However we did have some puzzling excitement along the way. On entry we took the uMphathe loop road to the picnic site. Then went to the eMgadankawu Hide at the north end of the park followed by a climb up to the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk on the way out of the park. Slides of the eMgadankawu Hide.

Some animals and birds seen along the way.

The puzzling excitement came as we passed the picnic site. Looking back we noticed a raptor flying towards the picnic site. It appeared to have a ring tail and that excited us. We turned around and set about trying to find it which we did. It was in the reeds at the waterhole just before the picnic site.

Sadly in the end we identified it as an African Marsh Harrier after all. Still it had us pondering for a while.

We spent a morning on the beach looking for waders and seabirds. Very noticeable were the hundreds of Lesser Flamingos on the mud flats. The first day we arrived in St Lucia they were right beside the entrance to Sugarloaf camp site. While there we saw them rise into the air like a swarm of Quelea before settling back down.

Lesser Flamingos and a few Greater.

It was hard to recognize the changes to the estuary. Tall reeds intruded onto what were mud flats making it impossible to see the far end close to Maphelane.

A few other water birds were spotted in this area.

We started early to get to where the birds were. Our goal was to head to the Tern roost. So off we set down the boardwalk to the sea to walk around the reeds and hopefully find them on the mud flats. There they were at the extreme end of the mud flats – a very long walk carrying scope, camera and binoculars.

To get to the Tern roost we had to walk right to the far end of the mud flats and then negotiate our way to a spot where we would get a closer view of the birds. A tricky scenario as with each step you did not know how far you might sink. However we managed, eventually finding a firm place to stand and get the scope on the birds.

There were many terns but all were (Swift) Greater Crested Terns except for a lone Caspian Tern. A few Grey-headed Gulls were present and quite a lot of different waders including Ruddy Turnstones, White-fronted, Ringed and Three-banded Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Common Whimbrels, Little Stints.

There were a few mystery birds – too far away even with the scope to positively ID. One that looked like a Plover or Sandpiper seemed to have a white rump – see poor photos. Even some of the Stints looked unusual.

Behind the Terns and much further away were all the Flamingos which we had seen on our first day. An African Fish-Eagle flew over and they took to the air.

After about an hour or more there we decided to leave. We did not get far. Literally as we turned to go we heard this raucous “wide-a-wake” call from above. It was the Sooty Tern arriving. It sure made its arrival known and quickly took its place among the Greater Crested Terns.

On our first afternoon we went into Eastern Shores. First to look for the Rufous-bellied Heron. No luck. In fact we went three times before realizing that we had gone to the wrong place. We had gone to iMboma Pan.

But still no luck when we found the Amazibu hide overlooking the wetland where the Rufous-bellied had been seen – and was seen again several times after we left..

Just African Jacanas.

On the Vlei Loop we had several interesting sightings – a large herd of buffalos in the wetland area as well as two White Rhinos fighting for dominance. And they were serious. We were pleased to see that their horns had been removed leaving a bulbous stub. If not, then one of those Rhinos would have been badly injured. One Rhino had its head and horn beneath the other’s back left leg and raised him clear off the ground.

Fighting Rhinos

That first afternoon had another exciting sighting. Driving at the end of the Vlei Loop just before we hit the tar, suddenly popping out of the scrub came a Leopard walking straight towards us. Time maybe for a few shots before he disappeared so I turned off the engine, lent out of the window and got a quick blast. Then I realized I ought to close the window – but cannot do that with the engine off. The leopard was due to pass by my window in hands reach. But for some reason the Leopard crossed the road virtually touching our car and then disappeared into the bush.

Lucky Leopard
Lucky Lucky

We visited Mission Rocks. Stopping at the picnic site before heading to the end of the road and the beach. The picnic site had some lovely flowering Erythrina [Coral] trees.

At the end of the road at Mission Rocks we took the passageway to the rocks and looked out along the coastline.

On the way out we stopped at a convenient place to look out over the ocean where we noticed Hump-backed or Southern Right Whales passing by, blowing away and splashing their tails.

The pan at the kuMfazana Hide was dry and at Catalina Bay (Jock’s Mess) the vegetation below was fully overgrown and extremely difficult to spot any waterbirds therein. There was nothing to see out in Lake St Lucia either as it was very windy.

The Kwasheleni Lookout post is set atop the Dunes and gives a 360 degree view. Overlooks the sea, Lake St Lucia and the grasslands and dune forests below.

At Cape Vidal we wandered along the beach and saw a few birds – mainly White-fronted Plovers and Grey-headed Gulls. A Yellow-billed Kite made a close appearance – possible to see if we had anything it could snatch.

As we drove alongside Lake Bhangazi there were very few birds to see.

However on the opposite side there were Kudu.

Kudu.

That led us to the grassland area of the Bhangazi Grassland Loop. Here we encountered Collared Pratincoles virtually one every 100 metres. Strangely they were not prepared to fly off until we were right on top of them. Our journey for many kilometres was a slow one.

Driving through the park we had a number of pleasant bird sightings. There was a Juvenile Crowned Eagle seen from a distance – as were the two Secretarybirds on a nest. Red-breasted Swallows on the road side. A Brown Snake-Eagle and Vervet Monkeys as well as an obliging Yellow-bellied Greenbul.

Despite the weather we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in all the many places to bird. In total we identified 138 different bird species. Our list is downloadable, click below.

We left St Lucia with the rain. And on our way home What’s App messages kept being received saying that not only had the Rufous-bellied Heron been relocated but other special birds had turned up – Gull-billed Tern and Chestnut-banded Plovers. We considered doing a U-turn except that we were already half way home.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

iMfolozi and Hluhluwe

21st to 26 August 2020.

As soon as lockdown allowed us, we booked for 5 nights in Umfolozi staying in Mpila camp. Unfortunately they do not have camping there so we had a choice of the tented camp or a chalet. Both the same cost. The friends we went with seemed to prefer the idea of the tented camps. However Sally and I were not that keen as we had been in late winter before staying in the tented camp and froze.

Our friends, Arthur and Rose Douglas capitulated. The advantage of the tented camp was that it was more like camping and you can easily hear all the night noises. The advantage of the chalets was warmth and staying out of the wind in the kitchen if it blew – and it did on several occasions while we were there.

Surprisingly one of Arthur’s cousins was staying in the tented accommodation while we were there and they froze. I think Arthur and Rose were happy with our eventual mutual choice.

As we were unloading our cars, I mentioned to Arthur that the monkeys are alert to newcomers and hang around for opportunities. Arthur acknowledged. However on my way back to the car for my second load I noticed Arthur had put down an open ammo box containing food next to the car as he was getting out more to carry. So I retrieved my second load, closed the boot just as I saw a monkey on the ground some distance away but with its beady eyes on the ammo box. The monkey saw me and took off for the box. I called out and raced to the box swinging all in my hand. The monkey arrived a split second before me and whipped off with a packet of crisps. Arthur looked on askance and Rose was not too happy!

iMfolozi was very dry. The Ubhejane Hide had no water but the Mphafa hide had a little. The temperatures during the day ranged from 25C to 32C at midday and around 9C at night. It would be very windy early morning and on another day very misty.

Here are some photos showing the dryness of the habitats.

As we had diverse interests, Arthur and Rose went their separate way from us. We got together in the evenings for a meal or braai and told our daily stories.

Some incidents:

After unpacking and some late lunch we set out for the Sontuli loop. A few white rhinos were passed along the way to the start of the loop. We had not gone very far along the loop road when we ran into a disturbed Black Rhino very close to the road. As we started to pass it, the rhino got agitated and showed its intent on coming our way. Quick photo and we escaped trouble.

A rather close and agitated Black Rhino

On the way round the Sontuli loop over the period we were there we enjoyed the birdlife and Sally compiled a healthy Atlas list of birds.

Coming round one corner of the loop we noticed a raptor flying very low at speed. We watched it until it landed and the scope verified it was a Martial Eagle.

Martial Eagle

Here are a few of those we photographed around Sontuli Loop.

Quite late in the day we arrived at the Lookout point just after the end of the Sontuli Loop. The Lookout point overlooks a bend in the Black iMfolozi river and has extensive views either way. There were several cars already there and everyone was watching two White Rhinos fighting. They clashed heads, they ran back and forth from one side of the river to the other. And all the while the loser was squealing – a sound we had not heard in the bush before.

Fighting White Rhinos

One White Rhino dominated and as it chased the other across the sandy river bed, its long pointed horn was poking the other’s backside. We later learned that it drew blood.

The next day we bypassed the Sontuli Loop and headed for the Lookout point. On the bypass we came across another agitated Black Rhino close to the road and when we checked the other side of the road there two more much further away thankfully. Again we managed a few quick photos before moving on.

At the Lookout point we scoured down the river bed to see if there was any evidence of the fighting Rhinos. There wasn’t. However we had good sightings of a number of bird species.

We continued towards the Ubhejane Hide and had not gone far from the Lookout point when we came across what looked like a mating pair of African Hoopoes.

Hoopoe and Mate.

Just as they were getting friendly, another male arrived and they had a face-off before combat began. The sequence of events that follows was repeated several times before a winner was declared.

The ground battle began.

Suddenly they were in the air about 2 metres off the ground and the battle became more intense.

At times they would fly up a further 2 metres and battle would commence again sometimes with clashing of bills.

Eventually the challenger flew off admitting defeat.

Another place where we had some minor excitement was the low lying bridge crossing a parched river on the way up to Mpila camp. On the right as we started crossing the bridge heading for the camp we noticed a large tree leaning on the bridge. It looked like the top had been sawn off. In fact it was a stump which had been washed down when the river was raging and had lodged up against the bridge.

Bridge and tree to its left from this view.

One day we noticed what looked like lumps of rock in the river bed – Buffalos lying down as it turned out on closer inspection. And on another day looking down river there was a large herd of buffalos ambling down river. Several passed close to the reeds on the left as we looked on. Suddenly those closest were startled by a huge elephant poking its head out of the reeds as they came close. On another occasion there was an Elephant crossing the river and further down a Rhino. It was only when I processed the photo that I realised it was another Black Rhino (our 5th).

Another area we enjoy in the park are the cliffs at the end of the road as you pass the Cengeni gate entrance/exit. The cliffs are a boundary to the White Imfolozi river. The lookout point overlooks the river and the cliff faces. This time the river was dry with a few pools here and there where the odd Pied Kingfisher and African Stonechat were taking their chances.

In one area in the north west of the park there were numerous White-backed Vultures including several on nests with chicks.

At one point we stopped next a Burchell’s Coucal. Photos were taken as the bird hissed at us – a new sound for me. It sounded how I would expect a snake to hiss. In another area a well ruff hair-styled Bateleur posed in the mist for a photo shoot. A Red-crested Korhaan made an appearance. So did a pair of Crested Francolins, a rather pale-looking Fiscal Flycatcher, a Pale Flycatcher, several lone elephants and odd looking ant-hill mushrooms.

On another occasion we went to the Centenary Centre and through the tunnel after the iMfolozi Park entrance. Coming down one of the side roads movement was spotted right by the car – about 6 Senegal Lapwings – much to our surprise. Then after the tunnel we climbed up the hill a ways but everything was quiet so we looked for a safe place to turn around. Just as we were about to turn round we heard a Gorgeous Bush-Shrike calling. Ever hopeful to actually see it we stopped. There it was in the tree beside us hopping from branch to branch. Then we noticed another Bush-Shrike even closer but its identity was not immediately obvious. Sally told me it was a juvenile Gorgeous Bush-Shrike – something I had not seen before and which if I were on my own I would probably never have identified.

Senegal Lapwing

One morning wandering around Mpila camp we came across some Vervet Monkeys and one of them showed us how the Monkey Apple tree got its name.

Also around the camp there were Schotia trees in bloom and the birds were in and out all day. Apalis and Crombecs, Bulbuls and Drongos to name a few. From the front verandah of our accommodation we had a view over the cliff. Each day we noticed a White-throated Robin-Chat dancing at the edge in the scrub.

We spent a lot of time in the Mphafa Hide overlooking a small pool of water below the rock face.

View from the Mphafa Hide- elephant to the right.

Baboons came and went, so did Impala, Nyala, Elephant, white Warthogs and numerous birds. The friendly Mocking Cliff-Chats came and visited us in the hide, White-throated Bee-eaters were hawking all day long showing their lovely colours. Even a Greater Honeyguide came for a drink.

On one very misty morning we set off early to visit the other side of the park – Hluhluwe.

We tried not to stop long anywhere on the way as it is a two hour drive to get to the game area by the Memorial Gate entrance/exit to Hluhluwe.

Once through the “Corridor”, we were into Hluhluwe. Here we noticed that the signage had just had a new coat of paint. Unfortunately the manager had not told the painters that the Thiyeni and Seme Hides were no longer in use. We did find the entrance to Thiyeni Hide but it was closed and in the same dilapidated state it was in many many years ago. We followed the signs for the Seme Hide but it was no longer there.

As we drove down the dip to cross the Hluhluwe river, with the mist all around, it looked like we were entering a tropical paradise.

Hluhluwe river crossing

After crossing the dry river we stopped at the picnic site overlooking the Hluhluwe river and the cliffs opposite. Always a scenic place to stop for a cup of tea and a wee.

There was a lovely chorus of bird sound – quite eerie in the mist. And the odd Green Pigeon poked their heads out of the fig trees.

At the iSivivaneni Stones monument we turned right along the dirt road to the east of the park heading to the Memorial Gate. Along the way we came upon a number of bird species which we had not seen in iMfolozi. Including Black-backed Puffback, Crested Barbet, Crowned Lapwing, Red-breasted Swallow, Little Bee-eater and Yellow-throated Longclaw.

We also checked out the road below Hilltop camp along the Nzimane dry river bed. We did not go far as the area looked so arid.

We also enjoyed the flowering Schotia trees and the busy birds in them as we drove around.