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

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 an European Hobby.

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

Kruger Part 9 – Lower Sabie

Kruger Part 9

Lower Sabie and Malelane

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

4 to 7 December 2018

Our journey from Satara to Lower Sabie produced some exciting sightings.

Leaving early we headed to Tshokwane for breakfast. As we neared the picnic site we encountered quite a few cars watching lions sleeping. A quick squizz and we went through.

Within minutes, another bunch of cars watching a Leopard asleep in a tree. A little more time here to try and get a photo and then we were off leaving the mêlée behind.

Leopard trying to snooze off his dinner

Not much further along we noticed an animal slowly crossing the road. Our first impression was that it could be a mongoose of some sort. But it had a humped back. A quick look with our binoculars told us to get up there quickly. We arrived just as it was entering the scrub by the road.

Pangolin

At Tshokwane there was no monkey business with our breakfast this time!! Still a paucity of birds around – a few Starlings and one African Mourning Dove. However in the river bed we heard a Red-faced Cisticola. It was so loud it was unmissable. Eventually it came close and I got a snap.

Red-faced Cisticola

From Tshokwane we decided to head down towards Skukuza instead of taking the direct route to Lower Sabie. All of the dams were dry and the journey passed quietly except for a Sable sighting. About five in the bush beside us about 30 metres away.

Sable Antelope

Once we had crossed the Sabie River we drove towards Lower Sabie with the river alongside us all the way. As expected there was much going on in the river. Elephants and Buffalo all the way along – sometimes in their hundreds. Hippo out of the water and many birds to be seen.

Even a Grysbok made an appearance – something we have found hard to spot.

Grey Duiker

Birds too were in the air and in the trees. There were dozens of Vultures and Tawny Eagles were seen in a couple of trees from the main Skukuza bridge over the Sabie River. In another tree we saw three Hooded Vultures, one of which was a youngster.

As the river “roared” down the rapids we also had a few sightings of other birds in the bushes.

Sabie River rapids

Eventually we arrived and set up camp. By the time we were through the temperature had soared up into the 40s C. So after a lunch at Mugg and Bean we took the rest of the day off to enjoy a rest and the swimming pool.

At our site we found a couple of Grey Go-away-birds anting in the dust.

Grey Go-away-birds anting

The heat was draining our energy and having had such good experiences over the past month we decided to only stay 2 nights at Lower Sabie and then head to Malelane for one night and return home directly from there. In other words we cut our stay short by three days.

The following day we took a drive along the river to Skukuza and Lake Panic hide. A stop at Sunset Dam first to watch the Hippos and Crocodiles and see what birds were around. On the round concrete tank close to the road there were Giant and Malachite Kingfishers as well as Green-backed Herons.

Then there was a Red-billed Oxpecker using a Hippo’s eye to perch on while it had a drink.

A Yellow-billed Stork was showing off its finery.

Yellow-billed Stork

And not to be outdone a Black-crowned Night-Heron was seen in the territory of the Green-backed Herons.

Immediately after Sunset Dam the lions were seen feasting on a Buffalo. Some exhausted from eating were seen taking a rest nearby.

On one of the many loops we came across a gathering of White Storks much to our surprise.

White Storks

At the Skukuza camp we had a quick look at the river – seeing very little of interest – and hurried to get out of the bedlam.

Lake Panic Hide had had some rain and there was a lot more water in it compared to when we visited a month earlier. There were even elephant cavorting and getting stuck in the mud. Trying to get out of the mud involved kneeling down to push itself out. Eventually it succeeded and actually pushed too hard resulting in it falling over onto its back.

A number of birds arrived and some were photographed. The star of the show in our minds was the Woodland Kingfisher.

At the deck of Mugg and Bean we had a sundowner and watched the activity in the river below us. There were some excessively large Crocodiles making a meal of a Hippo. And Lions on the opposite bank in full flow chasing Wildebeest without much joy – giving up and resting under the shade of the large trees.

Of course the pair of Western Barn Owls were still to be seen in the rafters. We spent some time at the reception entrance bird bath hoping to see the Olive-tree Warbler which Jane had told us about. No luck. However it was good to watch all the activity and inter-action between the different birds. Also it was a pleasure to listen to the call of the White-browed Robin Chat.

From the M&B deck we noticed a Black Heron doing its thing in fishing mode.

Black Heron in fishing mode

Then there was this beauty. which really confused me the first time I had ever seen one.

In the Lower Sabie area we identified 131 different bird species. Click here to see the list.

We spent most of our last morning getting to Malelane. Once there our goal was to try and find the Egyptian Vulture which Jane and Mike had seen along the S25 a few days earlier. No luck. So we returned via Berg-en-dal. The dam had water in it unlike our first visit four weeks earlier. Sally noticed some Ducks flying around and we went to investigate. They had landed beside the water. I think we counted thirteen Knob-billed Ducks. Several males were showing off their colourful finery. Notice the yellow feathers near their vent.

And in the short time we were in Malelane there were 46 birds identified. Click here to see the Malelane list.

Despite the heat and dryness we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Kruger. Hopefully the next time we go the Park will have had pleanty of rain to fill up all the dams.

We hope you have enjoyed these reports.

By request we shall make one final report summarising our highlights. Kruger Part 10 – Summary.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger Part 3 – Lower Sabie

Kruger Part 3

Lower Sabie

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

14 to 18 November 2018

Lower Sabie Camp Site

The next morning we left Malelane on our way very early to Lower Sabie for 4 nights.

We had not gone far on the tar when we were accosted by the same pack of 10 Wild Dogs that we had seen the previous evening. Again a lovely sighting with them surrounding our vehicle on their way to somewhere.

Wild dog

Our journey was mostly on the dirt roads – starting with the S25 towards Byamiti before heading north to Lower Sabie.

Animal sightings were few and far between. No Buffalos, no Rhinos and a paucity of Elephants. A remarkable contrast to the previous two days.

We beetled along the S25 reaching the Byamiti bridge in quick time. On approaching the bridge a large male Leopard strolled towards us in the river bed. Our bit of excitement for the day – very unexpected yet it was not for long before he had disappeared into the bush and gone before anyone else came along.

Leopard

Once we were on the tar of the H4-2 (Croc Bridge to Lower Sabie) we headed north and on approaching the S82 shortcut on a dirt road, we noticed a pile of cars not too far up the road so we went for a look see. More Wild Dogs doing one of their favourite things – sleeping in the shade.

Eventually we arrived at Lower Sabie and by 10h30 we had set up camp.

We had planned to meet up with some friends who were staying at Ngwenya lodge, Cecil and Jenny Fenwick and Dave and Jenny Rix. I gave them a buzz and they were at Sunset Dam right outside the camp. We enjoyed a very tasty lunch in the Mugg and Bean with a few tipples and caught up on their news of the area.

Lower Sabie is centrally based to explore a wide range of habitats. There are many special places to visit.

  • Crocodile Bridge is south – often an excellent campsite to stay at. However, at the moment it is very very dry, parched with hardly a blade of grass. Taking the S28 backroad to Crocodile Bridge there is the Ntandanyathi bird hide. Well worth a visit as there always seems to be water there. It is comfortable and birds love it too.
  • North there is the Mlondozi picnic site overlooking the dam – unfortunately now bone dry.
  • Further north is Tshokwane Picnic site – a good stop off point for breakfast or heading north and checking out the birds in the campsite. African Mourning Doves very much darker than anywhere else.
  • Then there is the main tar road to Skukuza following the Sabie River with numerous lookout points along the way. Very popular, justly so, as a wide variety of big game is often seen along the river. On the opposite side there is also a dirt road which is less used to follow the river.
  • The bridges across the Sabie at Lower Sabie and near Skukuza are both worth a visit especially when there is lots of water.
  • Mpondo Dam – a longer drive – always seems to have water and is good for both birds and animals. Pity that it does not have a place where you can get out of your vehicle.
  • Then there is the Deck at Lower Sabie at the Mugg and Bean restaurant. A good place for sundowners and to watch the wildlife along the long open stretch of river. Often Lion, Leopards, Elephant and Buffalo are seen.
  • Sunset Dam just outside the gate is special. The hippos are constantly noisy throughout the day and soak happily with the dozens of crocodiles. Of course, the bird life is also good and many unexpected animals often make an appearance.

Unless you book well in advance it is always difficult to get a campsite booking. November seems to be one of those months where bookings are possible. We spent four nights there.

During our time at Lower Sabie we visited most of the places listed above and had some very active birding – identifying 142 different species. Click here to see our list.

And birding in the camp and from the deck at the Mugg and Bean restaurant is always good. The water fountain as you enter reception has it seems resident White-browed Robin-Chats.

Then there are the Barn Owls in the rafters of the Mugg and Bean restaurant.

A pair of Barn Owls

And then there are the birds found in the grounds.

Colourful lizards running around on the trees.

Colourful Lizard

And lucky sightings off the deck.

Greater Painted-Snipe

On our first day we went to the Bird Hide on the S28. It was here that my bird expert, Sally, spotted a bird nearby with a pink bill. She called me over to see the Greater Honeyguide. Fascinating as four more turned up. It was only then that we realised we had made a big booboo. See photo below.

Also making an appearance was a wiggly snake in the bushes immediately in front of the hide. It had a dual bluish tone to it and was at least a metre long. Some suggested it might be a water snake – see what you think and let us know.

While on the S28 we took the turnoff to what was the Nhlanganzwani Dam – having been told by Cecil that there were 3 Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls in a tree part way down next to a large muddy area. Missed them all on the way to the dam but Sally’s sharp eyes found one on the way back.

The following day we took the dirt tracks S128 and S30 on the north side of the Sabie River towards Skukuza. The highlight of this decision was to have an excellent sighting of  an Eurasian Golden Oriole.

There was very little water under the main Skukuza bridge. So we headed for the Lake Panic hide. There was water but much of the area was dry. However, the birds made their appearances and we enjoyed an hour or more in the hide.

Our trip back to Lower Sabie on the tar road turned up the usual sightings of many elephants and some lions – doing what they always seem to be doing – lying down!

On one of our drives we were fortunate in seeing a Cheetah with cubs. At first we thought there was only one but as they moved on another came out of hiding.

Sunset Dam is so close to the camp that it gets lots of attention. Birding is always interesting and animals are often seen drinking.

Some of the other animals seen around the area included many elephants and a good sighting of a leopard dozing in a tree.

Photos of other birds seen in the general area:

Eventually it was our time to leave. North. We headed for Tshokwane then on to the wild camp at Balule for 3 nights.

The sky had got a bit overcast and blustery but still there was no sign of rain.

Just after passing the Mlondozi Dam we noticed a bird flying just over the grassland. Fortunately it did not disappear behind us as there was no way to turn around while towing the campervan.

It was some way off but we recognized it immediately – a white Harrier with black at the end of its underside wings – a Pallid Harrier. How lucky were we!! Even managed a photo or two.

Pallid Harrier

Tshokwane was quiet. Perhaps it was the weather as there were few birds about.

Greater Blue-eared Starling

Breakfast time. I set up the table as Sally inspected the plumbing. Out came the coffee, tea, sugar, milk, water, hot water, mugs and spoon, a few biscuits and bananas. The next thing I saw was a ghost fly across the table and suddenly disappear. No more bananas – the monkeys enjoyed them as did the people watching !! They always catch you underwares.

Paul and Sally Bartho

And on to Balule for Kruger Part 4.