Zululand and the Kruger

A Summary

Paul and Sally Bartho

The purpose of this final chapter in our saga through Zululand and the Kruger is:

  • to show a detailed Bird List of birds we saw in each place we visited – as an Excel spreadsheet. Highlighting the birds we considered special.
  • to display the possibly contentious and mystery birds we encountered and photographed – feedback always welcome.
  • to identify our worst sighting on the trip.
  • to comment on a few observations we made.
  • to post a summary of photos of birds and animals we saw on our trip.

Click here to see our bird list for each area we visited.

Next are some photos of birds which require ID. Have a go if you are interested and make your comments in the assigned place beneath each photo.

Then we have birds which are contentious. Again have a go if you are interested and make your comments in the assigned place beneath each photo.

Definitely the worst sighting of our trip occurred as we reached the turn-off from the main road to Pafuri Picnic site. Right on the corner we saw three Common Mynahs.

Highlights and Observations:

  • We never saw nor heard a Woodlands Kingfisher between 22 October and 19 November – the whole time we were in the Kruger. Our first sighting was in Ndumo.
Woodland Kingfisher - all mouth as it tries to scare off a Broad-billed Roller
Woodland Kingfisher – all mouth as it tries to scare off a Broad-billed Roller
  • We did not see an European Roller until Eastern Shores, Isimangoliso on 24 November and it was the only one we saw.
  • Red-backed Shrike had only just started appearing in the Kruger when we reached Pafuri on 5 November. Only a few more were seen on our way south.
Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
  • Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were seen as far south as Balule – mainly on Buffalo. There was a time not long ago when you needed to be in the Punda Maria region to be lucky to see one.
  • Eurasian Golden Orioles were seen in pairs on four occasions -Tsendze; Shingwedzi; Skukuza and Ndumo.
  • By far the best camp we stayed at was Tsendze. The staff are exceptional, the habitat varied and interesting, the campsite full of Owls in the many tall trees. Balule and Malelane are two other campsites that we will visit again.
  • On the S114 heading N/S to Skukuza a Cocqui Francolin was heard – try as we may we were unable to see it – Sally’s current bogie bird. However this led us to an excellent sighting of a Stierling’s Wren-Warbler nearby.
  • Being at the right place at the right time – that is how we were lucky enough to see the African Finfoot as we crossed the Sabie Bridge on the way to Skukuza.
  • Our Owl sightings started in Mkuze with a great view of a juvenivle Pel’s Fishing-Owl followed by Verreaux’s at Crocodile Bridge; Spotted Eagle Owl in Ndumo; Scops, Barred and Pearl-spotted in a number of places.
  • In Mkuze there was a Crowned Plover on its nest right beside the road – it had 2 eggs. Two days later there was nothing to be seen.
  • An amazing hairstyle of an African Paradise-Flycatcher and an Afro-styled Brown Snake-Eagle in Punda Maria.
  • Exceptionally dark colourations of Laughing and African Mourning Doves in Tshokwane Picnic site and in the Satara camp.
  • On the S100, N’wanetsi River Road, we came across what at first we believed to be a pair of Red-necked Spurfowls – we were excited. However we later found out that they were hybrids. This poses further questions: Why a pair of hybrids together? Brothers, sisters, brother and sister or a mating pair? Mating pair – more questions!
  • We had four different sightings of Greater Painted-Snipes. A sole male at the Sweni hide, Satara; a pair of males on the Tsendze loop; another pair of males on the walk below the Mopani restaurant; and two males and a female together on the S93 just north of Olifants.
  • The Green Sandpiper at the Sweni bridge on the main road south of Satara was observed by us on a number of occasions.
  • Two Red-chested Cuckoos were seen together in the Pafuri Picnic site – a male paying attention to a juvenile. Shouldn’t be offspring so it is assumed that the juvenile was a female coming of age and being swooned by an adult male.
  • Also near the Pafuri Picnic site we observed 2 squabbling Eagles – on settling in the same tree we noted that they were both African Hawk-Eagles – an adult and a rufous juvenile.
  • We had the challenge of identifying a Harrier seen in the distance at the Thongonyeni waterhole on the Tropic of Capricorn loop just north of Mopani. Luckily not a female but a juvenile – a Pallid Harrier.
  • In St. Lucia we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits along the mud flats at the mouth of the Lake St. Lucia estuary. There were also 13 African Black Oystercatchers on the beach. Many other waders and Terns were also seen.
  • In Ndumo there was a female Little Bittern dashing between the reeds right in front of the Nyamithi Hide. At the Vulture restaurant on separate occasions we noticed an adult and then a juvenile Palm-nut Vulture.
  • Interesting animal sightings include:
    • a one tusker Elephant with a very long tusk
    • a Civet in broad daylight unconcernedly foraging right next to us. It had a sore back right leg and was limping. This was the only lifer that either of us had on our trip. As we watched we did not notice an elephant approaching directly towards us from the other side until it was just metres away. Mega hasty retreat was called for – adrenalin does wonders to focus you.
    • a male Leopard coming for a drink at Lake Panic Hide, Skukuza.
    • Dwarf Mongooses around our campsite at Malelane.
    • Hippos resting in peace at Sweni Hide
    • Numerous very large herds of Buffalo. One herd was over a kilometre long and it appeared to be over 20 animals across most of the way – must have been thousands of animals.
    • A rather interesting Waterbuck – rather suave and foppish!

Some of the other animals photographed:

  • There is one photo which does not appear real – it looks as if a tree has uprooted itself and is coming straight for us.
  • However the “piece-de-la-resistance” is definitely the two magical mystical photos of the Pennant-winged Nightjars we saw while at Punda Maria.

And finally an album of some of the other bird photos follows:

 

Again I hope you have enjoyed the read and the photos.

Paul & Sally.

 

Zululand and the Kruger – Part 10

Ndumo 19 to 23 November

Paul and Sally Bartho

We left Malelane and the Kruger very early and arrived at the Mananga gate to Swaziland half an hour early at 06h30.

The drive through Swaziland was uneventful except for the potholes on the 40 kms stretch between Siteki and Big Bend.

We arrived at Ndumo midday with the intention to camp for one night before we joined the Game Rangers weekend – staying in the huts. However we negotiated a good price to upgrade from camping to the huts for the night and took full advantage of it.

Once settled in we took a drive to the Nyamithi hide passing the Vulture Restaurant on the way. At the Restaurant we spotted an adult Palm-nut Vulture feasting on one of five giraffe. Also noted were a pair of Spotted Thick-knees behind one of the carcasses.

At Nyamithi hide it was very quiet as the water level was quite high. However Sally noticed a Little Bittern in the reeds immediately in front of the hide.

The next morning at 06h00 Sally and I went with Bongani on a drive to the back side of Nyamithi Pan and Banzi Pan. This was the first time that some of the roads were passable after recent rains – in particular around Banzi and Bongani spent a bit of time cutting and removing fallen trees and bush across the road. That said, it was a very productive drive and we did not get back till after 11h00. Here are pictures of a smattering of the birds we saw.

On this drive we heard and saw our first Woodland Kingfisher of our trip so far. Not one seen nor heard in the Kruger!! The one we observed here was giving as good as he got from an annoyed Broad-billed Roller.

Late that afternoon we had a short but heavy thunderstorm which effectively closed the back roads around the Banzi Pan where we had gone. We were fortunate to arrive a day early.

In the camp a juvenile Spotted Eagle-Owl was seen.

Spotted Eagle-Owl - juvenile
Spotted Eagle-Owl – juvenile

The Game Rangers long weekend involved three walks with guides and a Game drive around the back of Nyamithi Pan as well as a sundowner at Nyamithi Pan.

On the walks we were taken to Shokwe Pan, the western side of the park and a central walk near the main gate.

On Friday we left the camp and had only reached the camp entrance when Bongani spotted an unusual implement in the bush by the road – an arrow. The park manager and rangers were called to deal with potential poachers. Then 100 metres further along the road Bongani spotted a knife in the road. The manager and rangers were called again. Some start to what was meant to be a game drive.

Here are some photos of birds seen on the Game drive and on our walks.

The camp has many large trees habituated by many birds. this is where the Spotted Eagle-Owl was seen. A Purple-crested Turaco paid a visit and a pesky Scaly-throated Honeyguide called seemingly from everywhere but where I was looking. Eventually I managed to get a shot or two of each.

There was little time during the weekend to go off and do your own thing. However on the last lunch break, we managed to visit the Nyamithi hide again – hoping to see the Little Bittern. We were not disappointed. The Vulture Restaurant was also active with a number of Yellow-billed Kites and a juvenile Palm-nut Vulture.

Ndumo was the most productive of all the locations we visited with 181 different bird species observed.

After 4 nights at Ndumo it was time to leave for our final destination at Sugarloaf campsite in St. Lucia. See Part 11 to follow.

Zululand and the Kruger – Part 9

Malelane 17 to 19 November

Paul & Sally Bartho

We left Skukuza early morning and arrived at Malelane about 10h00. As you can check in at the Malelane Gate, we took advantage of that rather than checking in at Berg-en-dal. here we heard there had been a Leopard kill at the turn-off to the camp a couple of days earlier – all gone when we got there.

The first thing we noticed was that there had been a massive fire. It turned out that the fire had burnt all round Berg-en-dal from Malelane S110 as well as the S110 dirt roads back to the bridge over the H3. Massive burnt area with little bird life.

Malelane entrance
Malelane entrance

The campsite was empty and so we chose a site near the viewing point over the Crocodile river.

Campsite birds were calling – Diderick and Klaas’s Cuckoos; White-throated and Red-capped Robin-Chats – and the Swallows were everywhere – on the ground and in the air.

Our neighbours on the fence-line were adult and juvenile Dwarf mongooses. The little one crept along our side of the fence and was not too concerned about us. It could be heard cheep cheeping and the adult responding in a lower pitch – keeping in contact no doubt or perhaps it was the other way round with the adult asking, “Where the heck are you?”

Dwarf Mongoose
Dwarf Mongoose

This was the first time we had camped at the Malelane campsite- and it won’t be the last despite the lack of shade. Having said that we are beginning to realise that shade is not really essential in winter or if a silver cover is put over the campervan. Level ground and a good birding outlook is far more important and grass is a bonus.

During the short time we were there we planned to look for the Cocqui Francolin which we heard several weeks earlier (we had its GPS co-ords); visit Berg-en-dal to look around the grounds and to go to the bridge over the Crocodile river to see what birds were below.

Early the first morning we set off to try and find the Cocqui. At the bridge over the Matijulu we see a small herd of buffalo and a male Comb Duck perched at the top of a bare tree. In the nearby tree there were his 5 wives!

Further along on the S114 we find a bare patch of grass and two pairs of African Wattled Lapwings with chicks. Then an Eurasian Hobby in the gloom of a tree some way away followed by a pair of lovebirds – canoodling European Bee-eaters.

We push on towards the jock of the Bushveld Plaque where we had heard the Cocqui before. No luck – not even a peep this time. However in a tree beside the road out pops a Stierling’s Wren Warbler giving us some excellent views.

On the way back we spot a king of the Beasts in all his majesty lying beside a fallen tree close to where we had just seen several White Rhinos and a number of elephant. Birds adorned the route as well.

Despite such a short visit we observed 126 different bird species. Here are a few more pictures of other birds we had seen.

And then we were on to Ndumo for one of the Game Rangers’ Weekends. More in Part 10.

Zululand and the Kruger Part 8

Skukuza 14 to 18 November 2014

Paul and Sally Bartho

After Balule we drove do our next destination – Skukuza. As we travelled south the countryside became greener and greener – from some much needed rains.

There was some water flowing on the south side of the Sabie River as we crossed the bridge. We stop, looking up and downstream to see what birds are about. As we are doing this one of us jokingly said keep an eye out for Finfoot, and with that Sally looks downstream and says “There it is”. It was quite a way down but walking in and out of the water at the upper end of some rapids.

Surprisingly the campsite was relatively empty, so we chose a level spot close to one of the kitchen areas with a reasonable amount of shelter. There were only one or two level spots on the fence-line but they were taken.

Skuskuza Campite
Skukuza Campite

During our time there we took an early morning drive along the road to Lower Sabie and were surprised that there was virtually no traffic. Breakfast on a cold gloomy morning at Mlondozi Dam – looking out for the Collared Flycatcher which had recently been reported there. No luck.

On the way back we took the S30 – the Salitje Road and at its end followed close to the Sabie River on the north side. At one of the lookout points over the river bed we were very surprised to see a pair of Mountain Wagtails. Unfortunately no photos of them. But I include some of the other birds seen.