Kruger November 2021 Part 1

Number 1 Bird of the trip. A South African rarity.

Sally and I were planning a trip to the Caprivi in November when my sister, Natasha and her husband Dick took advantage of the half price offer for the full November month in the Kruger. As a result we changed our minds and decided to join them from November 7th onwards.

Malelane 7th November 2021

We began with an overnight stop at Malelane – a good resting spot after a nine hour drive from Howick.

We enjoyed a short drive around the area later in the day. Even managed to see a fully maned Lion.

A young Hyena entertained us and a Rhino had lost its horn. There were birds too posing for a shoot out.

As you may have noticed from the picture above, we had not put up our awning. We were only there for one night. So of course it rained that night. Half expecting this we put everything outside that we did not want to get wet into the boot of the car.

As I lay in bed the dribbles of rain started and my mind wandered to what else I had forgotten to do. Ah yes, I need to put the rain cover over the canvas roof over our bed. Up I got and managed to do that without getting too wet. Back to bed.

Almost asleep when it occurred to me that I should push the fridge and stove inside. Up I got again and went outside with the rain a lot stronger and did what I had to do. Back to bed fell asleep the rain now pouring down.

What was that poking me on the shoulder? Now alert and Sally asked me if I had put the rain cover on the power cable where the 2 cables met. Of course I had forgotten that too. Now it was pouring down. Not bothering to get properly clad (no neighbours) I hurriedly went outside once again and simply pulled the plug out from the Cheetah. Now fully drenched and a bit shivery, had a good rub-down and dried off and went to bed. Listening to the rain, thunder and lightening beating down and wondering what else I needed to do, I eventually fell asleep.

But not before I realised I had been bitten on the back of my neck by a bug which caused an intense burning pain. (Took over a week for it to abate). I nudged Sally to say I had been bitten. “Oh”, she said and went back to sleep. The next morning she realised how bad it was.

Satara 8th to 10th November 2021

The following morning we went to Satara to meet up with Natasha and Dick.

Natasha and Dick

We spent 2 nights in Satara as that was all we were able to book at the time.

Natasha and Dick had a camp site along the fence line so we dined with them each night, watching the Hyena patrolling just outside the fence and an African Wildcat patrolling passed us inside the fence as we enjoyed dinner and a bottle of wine.

During the day we went our separate ways to explore what was out there.

The Sweni bird hide is one of our favourite places to visit around Satara. Again it did not disappoint us. There were a number of interesting birds to see. The hide outlook:

At the far end of the first photo above, a herd of elephants came down for a drink. Some young ones among them. As usual they were boisterous and enjoying quenching their thirst. Trouble was afoot. We noticed that a number of the pools hippos were unhappy with their presence and surprisingly advanced to within less than 2 metres with intent. To start with the ellies ignored them then feeling a bit nervous they moved off.

And the birds seen at the hide:

A Yellow-billed Stork was idly wandering about in front of the hide while an African Openbill had found a cosy spot to rest:

African Openbill posing as if it was nesting and then along came trouble and usurped him of the resting place:

Usurper and Usurped.

In another location we came across a male African Jacana attending its chicks.

Photos taken around the Satara area:

And a Little Egret with its catch:

From Satara, Sally and I left a day earlier than Dick and Tasha and headed to Tsendze for 4 nights. Dick and Tasha joined us a day later for 3 nights.

Tsendze 10th to 14th November 2021

Tsendze is one of our favourite camps in the Kruger. It is well treed so owls are present and can be heard calling every night – Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl with its pretty pink eyelids, African Wood-Owl, African Scops Owl, African Barred Owlet and Pearl-spotted Owlet. In the morning you often wake to the sound of Southern Ground Hornbills. Magic place.

There was an interesting campervan in one of the closest sites to the gate – even had its own vehicle attached to it.

Way to Go

Mooiplaas Picnic site is right next to Tsendze and overlooks the Tsendze river. It has a big boma for shelter from both the sun and rain as well as a picnic spot overlooking the river. Like Tsendze it is also known for its owls. Unlike Tsendze camp it is not fenced.

On your way from the camp to Mopani there are a number of short loops to explore. In the past I have experienced a herd of elephant running across one of the tracks right in front of us. Sally and I have also seen a rather large and lame Civet.

Anyway at the end of the last loop you can turn towards a couple of hides. One overlooking Pioneer Dam and the other an overnight hide overlooking the Tsendze river. To get there, you cross a low level bridge. There always seems to be bird activity either side of the bridge. Black Crakes have always been seen there by us. Striated Herons, Hamerkop, Blacksmith Lapwings, Water Thick-knees and other waterbirds are often there too. This time I took several photos of Blacksmith Lapwing juveniles scurrying close by.

Blacksmith Lapwing chick

One of the loops we enjoy doing is to access the S49 from the H1-6 just before reaching Mopani, drive to Mooiplaas waterhole and cut across to the S50, head north following the wetlands then turn onto the S143 – Tropic of Capricorn – past the Tihongonyeni waterhole and back to the H1-6 to return back to camp.

At the Mooiplaas we always see Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks. This time was no execption.

Along the S50 it is worth popping into the viewing points overlooking the wetlands. There, Lions tend to hang around the waterholes.

There was a surprise for us at the Tihongonyeni waterhole along the Tropic of Capricorn S143. There were several Tsessebees including a new born at the waterhole. An animal we don’t often seen in the park and usually as a loner among Red Hartebeest.

Along the way we came across Red-crested Korhaans calling beside the road and we were lucky to spot a Lesser Grey Shrike.

The weather was hot hot so we spent several afternoons in the pool at Mopani.

And then there was this large scaly-backed lizard wandering between the bungalows.

Scaly-backed Lizard about 50cm long.

The H1-4 to Phalaborwa gate is a scenic drive and one where we have seen hyena with cubs regularly especially along the first 20 kms from the H1-6. This time was no exception.

Further down there is a low level bridge crossing the Letaba River. It crosses a wide stretch of the river and has a “stop and view” parking area half way across. The last two times we visited we have seen two male Greater Painted Snipes and this time was no different.

A bit further along there are a couple of short loop roads going down to the river. On one of these loops we sighted a Groundscraper Thrush singing away.

Groundscraper Thrush

We headed on towards the H9. About 6kms before the H9 we came across a large Kopje on our left. It was here that we observed a Southern Ground Hornbill nesting site. There were several on the ground and a couple few out of the nest.

And then we were on our way to visit Sable Dam just the other side of the H9. Relatively quiet except for a herd of what looks like sock-wearing elephants.

A couple of these elephants had a bit of a tussle.

Also seen there was a blue-tongued leguaan, a blue-headed lizard, a crocodile and a Three-banded Plover chick.

And around and about on our way down towards Phalaborwa we took a few snaps of other birds we saw.

And a Village Indigobird.

Tasha and Dick left for Punda Maria and Sally and I headed to Nthakeni – just outside the Pafuri gate.

Our time in the northern region of the Kruger follows in Part 2.

Sally and Paul

Zululand and the Kruger – Part 5

Punda Maria and Pafuri 4 to 9 November

Paul And Sally Bartho

After leaving Tsendze we headed north to Punda Maria via Shingwedzi. Here we had our first bit of excitement – though not the sort which I find enjoyable.  We had just turned onto the road to Shingwedzi when we spotted a small herd of elephants with young well ahead of us. I stop immediately. You definitely don’t want to have to reverse quickly towing a trailer.

They keep crossing the road but one or two linger – the naughty young ones of course. After a while several cars passed us and we watched as they crawled passed the elephants. Getting a bit more courage I too amble forward slowly. As I start to go passed one of the youngsters decided that he would have a bit of fun at our expense and blew his little trumpet and came for us. My foot was ahead of him and well to the floor on the accelerator! We got through but not without an adrenalin rush.

On the way from Shingwedzi we bumped into an immature Bataleur on the road devouring his meal oblivious to us. Sad day for the Burchell’s Coucal.

Bataleur - juvenile. And the remains of a Burchell's Coucal.
Bataleur – juvenile. And the remains of a Burchell’s Coucal.

Then it was on to Punda Maria. Despite our five nights at Punda we were disappointed with the variety of species seen in the area – specifically at Pafuri. Klopperfontein Drift and the road to Pafuri was also quiet. However we enjoyed the Mahonie loop around the camp especially on the Sunset drive when we had one of those special moments.

We spent two mornings in the Pafuri area but found few of their specials. All of the following eluded us – not that we expected to see them all: both Spinetails; Dickinson’s Kestrel; Arnot’s Chat; Pel’s Fishing Owl; Senegal Lapwing; Grey-backed Cameroptera; Thick-billed Cuckoo; Racket-tailed Roller; Lemon-breasted Canary; Green-backed Eromomela. However we did hear a Tropical Boubou and a number of White-crowned Lapwings.

White-crowned Lapwing showing its spurs
White-crowned Lapwing showing its spurs

Definitely our worst sighting there occurred on our first visit at the turn-off towards the picnic site. Three Common Mynahs.

We did have a couple of better moments when we observed what appeared to be an acrobatic duel between two raptors. They eventually perched in the same tree. One was an adult African Hawk-Eagle – very black and white. The other was rufous. Checking our books we realised it was a juvenile of the same species.

The other bit of interest at Pafuri was in the campsite. We noticed two Red-chested Cuckoos flying around together. One was obviously a juvenile as its bib was only just starting to show. So what was this all about? Especially as juveniles are not looked after my their natural parents but by a host bird. One explanation was that the juvenile was a female and they were courting. Could there be another?

Our first sighting of a Red-backed Shrike occurred here. One of only 3 we saw in the park. The other two in Balule and Skukuza.

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike

Some of the other sightings we had in the Pafuri area included:

We trawled the road to Pafuri for Arnot’s Chat and Dickenson’s Kestrel without luck.

In total we saw 115 different species in the Pafuri area.

Most of our time birding in the Punda Maria area occurred on the Mahonie Loop.

On our first morning as we went clockwise around the Mahonie Loop, we had another of those unexpected unwanted moments. Being charged by an adult elephant in musth.

It appeared to be minding its own business munching away some 100 metres from the road. We crawled along and before we could pass he suddenly turned and raced towards us – with intent it seemed. Flat out we raced away. After less than a kilometre our road was totally blocked by a fallen tree. The signs of the elephant were there – his doing. There was no way I was going back. After sorting out the rather thorny vegetation and shifting some large rocks we were eventually able to get round the obstruction.

Further along we had a number of pleasant raptor sightings including African Hawk-Eagles camouflaged in the trees above us as well as a tagged Cape Vulture.

Hairstyles caught our attention on these two birds: An African Paradise-Flycatcher and a Brown Snake-Eagle:

Along with a number of other birds seen on the different days on the loop and in the camp:

In the camp, near the office, we had good views of four different Robins – Bearded Scrub-Robin, White-browed Scrub-Robin, White-browed Robin-Chat and White-throated Robin-Chat

The highlight of our whole trip was the spectacle we had on the Sunset drive around the Mahonie Loop. This is something which all birders should see at least once in their lifetime. We were taken to a donga, alighted from the vehicle and told to sit quietly in the donga. Then as dusk arrived close to 18h30 four birds appeared – a female and three calling males. They flew all around us sometimes as close as three metres above our heads. On occasion they settled on the ground. What a fantastic way to see Pennant-winged Nightjars with their long streamers. I apologise to the photographic purists for the following photos but I did not have a flash. However these photos, to me, capture the mystical magic of the Pennant-winged Nightjar.

Total sightings in and around Punda Maria was 136 different species.

And then it was the start of our journey south – first to Shingwedzi. See Part 6.