Kruger Part 6 – Punda Maria

Kruger Part 6

Punda Maria

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

23 to 28 November 2018

Campsite away from it all

We arrived at Punda Maria quite early. Two signs greeted us at the entrance. One read “Go to reception to check in before choosing your camping site” and the other “no caravans to be taken to reception”. We ignored the former and chose our site before checking in.

There is a large waterhole just the other side of the fence next to the Hide. Also there is an ablution block with only one loo for men right there. Now this is the choice for everybody it seems – one on top of the other. Well not for us – we found a hardly known spot well away from the others – peace and quiet and a decent sized ablution block unused by most people. A level site in the shade to boot. Rocky helped with the set up.

Rocky having fun with the Serval

Our normal routine was up at 04h00 and out of the camp before 05h00. We spent two long days in the Pafuri area and one early morning on the Mahonie loop round the camp. Another day was spent celebrated Sally’s birthday with a lie in till 06h00!! and then a relaxing time round the camp in the pool and with a short drive later in the afternoon.

Entertainment was never far away. And the elephants made sure of that. Every afternoon they arrived at the waterhole and what followed was much hooha. Elephants barging each other to get to the freshest water, male dominance displays especially when the hundreds of Buffalo came for a drink. Tussles between two males frequently and much bellowing – sometimes all night long. When we arrived the water level seemed reasonably high, on leaving it was almost bare.

Buffalo and Yellow-billed Oxpecker

Then there were the Cicadas. On previous visits they were most noisy along the road to the Klopperfontein Dam – sometimes deafeningly so. And it was unusual in the camp. This time they did a Mexican wave of sound in the camp. You could hear it coming and going from one end to the other. Fortunately it was not deafeningly loud but it did interupt conversations.

The Pafuri area next to the Livuvhu River is the place to visit for all birders. Unfortunately it is a one and a half hour drive to get there – very necessary therefore to get going as the gates open. Most birding is done between the bridge and Crooks Corner and sometimes a drive on the Nyala road. Probably the most productive place is the Pafuri Picnic Site.

Here we saw many of the species that we were hoping to see again along with some unexpected birds like the Black-throated Wattle-eye, Black Cuckoo and a close up view of an African Hawk-Eagle.

African Hawk-Eagle
Crooks Corner

Most notable was the abundance of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. They were once a dream to see, now the tables have turned and you hardly see any Red-billed Oxpeckers on Buffalo and Giraffe. The Red-billed are now on the smaller game – Impala and Warthogs.

Warthog and Red-billed Oxpecker

We toyed with the idea of going on a sunset drive to see the Pennant-winged Nightjar but in the end we did not go. It is still being seen on those sunset drives. Fortunately for us we had seen them the last time we visited. I guess our decision was based on the fact that we had seen them before and we did not fancy spending three hours on a game vehicle. Here is a shot of one from the past:

Mystical Pennant-winged Nightjar – Punda Maria

The camp was relatively quiet except for those surrounding the hide on the fenceline. It still has the old-fashioned feel. We intended to catch up on our laundry as we were there for five nights. Not to be – the washing machine broke down in 2011 and now has disappeared as they could not fix it. About time they replaced it.

The restaurant still operates but the fancy food is highly priced and of questionable taste. I did let their management know in polite terms of course.

Everywhere was dry and dusty yet we had good sightings of many species – the most productive of the camps at 151 different bird species. Our bird list for Punda Maria can be seen by clicking here.

These pictures show the extent of the dryness and some of the scenery.

Baobab Flower despite the dryness

Animals too entertained us. Numerous elephants and Buffalos everywhere. No Rhino nor cats to be seen. A collared Kudu female was spotted on the Nyala Road in Pafuri – not seen one collared before.

The odd Leguaan also made an appearance;


Of the 10 South African Kingfishers, we saw seven and heard one other – the Striped Kingfisher. We had heard the Woodland Kingfisher from time to time on the way up to Punda and around Punda but it was only on our last day there (28 November) that we had our first viewing. Subsequent to that they were everywhere on our trip back down through the park.

We saw some of the specials seen mainly in that area, White-crowned Lapwing, Meve’s Starling and Tropical Boubou. No sign of any Spinetails and the more unlikely Senegal Coucal or Racket-tailed Roller.

Some of the other species photographed include:

Despite the heat and the dryness we enjoyed being back in Punda Maria.

Our next camp – Taendze for three nights. See Kruger Part 7 – Tsendze comming soon.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Grey-headed Kingfisher



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.