i n t e r n a t i o n a l !


South Africa and the Kruger National Park

Leaders:         Roy Atkins, Mark & Caulton
Guests:           Jane Atkins, David & Sarah Palmer, Mark & Helen Gibbons, John & Christine Shawyer, Ted & Maureen Cawuley.

Day 1  

The flight from the UK to Johannesburg is straightforward and we meet Mark and Jean outside the airport. Everything is put in the van and we all climb in.  We have quite a long drive ahead of us to get to the Kruger National Park but it is a nice introduction to South Africa, initially going through some stretches of farmland before reaching some very hilly country with thornvelt and big cliffs and crags.  We manage to see quite a few birds along the way including Pied Crows, Sacred Ibis, Cattle Egret, Blacksmith and Crowned Lapwings, Black-shouldered Kites on the wires, Fiscal Shrikes and Palm Swifts.  As we get nearer to the Kruger Park itself we spot more raptors such as Wahlberg’s Eagle, White-backed Vulture and a brief Gymnogene.  There are lots of Grey Go-away Birds perched on top of the bushes and it is almost a shock to suddenly see a Giraffe right beside the road followed very shortly by an elephant.  This rpveryone up!
We arrive at Orpen Camp and have a short walk around the grounds whilst Mark is dealing with the paperwork.  We soon pick up a Marico Sunbird and also a Long-billed Crombec. This nuthatch like bird is initially going rather berserk and seems to be frantically hopping round a tree alarm calling but then suddenly it becomes as still as a statue on the end of a branch allowing people to go right up to it and take photos, just inches away from it. This seems like very strange behaviour but no one is complaining!  There is a nice group of Grey Go-away birds on top of one of the trees, a few Magpie Shrikes, a Kurrichane Thrush, Cape Glossy Starlings and a superb Bateleur flying overhead.  Higher up still is a flock of Little Swifts. As it gets darker, four Fulvous Whistling Ducks circle the waterhole and a couple of Double-banded Sandgrouse fly in to drink. 

We then enjoy a delicious evening meal during which Mark gives us a run down of what we are going to be doing for the rest of the week.  He also lets us know that we have an early start in the morning so after a last check at the waterhole we all head to bed.  In the distance there are Lions roaring as we go to sleep – it’s all very exciting!

Day 2

Everyone is up bright and early and we are having breakfast by 05:45am but how can you concentrate on eating when there are so many new birds around!!!

Yellow-billed Hornbill and Cape Glossy Starlings

There are Burchell’s Starlings and Cape Glossy Starlings everywhere, Grey Go-away Birds, a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, there are Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills on the grass, a Crested-Barbet flies in, noisy Green Wood Hoopoes and a superb Grey-headed Bushshrike gives us excellent views hopping around on the ground in full view. These are usually quite skulking birds.  A Bearded Woodpecker feeds on a tree at the far side of the lawn. What a start! And we haven’t even left the camp. 

At 06:20 we head off and soon find that the place is teeming with birds and other wildlife. There are Swainson’s and Natal Francolins beside the road and Hornbills every few minutes.  We see two Giraffes very soon after we enter the park one of which is a baby one.  There are Crested Francolins, a warbler called a Neddicky, Lesser Striped Swallows, Red-breasted Swallows, a Pearl-spotted Owlet perched right beside the road and a White-backed Vulture sat on its nest shielding its young from the sun.  A little further on we come across a Red-crested Korhaan, a lovely Bustard type bird which is very well camouflaged in the brown grass.  We spend a little while trying to decide whether a large Eagle on top of a tree is a Tawny Eagle or a Steppe Eagle and eventually decide on Tawny.  There is a fantastic male Greater Kudu right in front of us beside the road which is the largest and most impressive of the Antelopes.  In some areas there seem to be lots of little birds flitting about in the bushes including Melba Finches and Blue Waxbills.  There are also Sabota Larks on the side of the track and we see at least three or four Marico Flycatchers.  There is the occasional Magpie Shrike and we also see another little Shrike like bird called a Brubru. 

The day just gets better and better, the sun is coming out beautifully as it was a little overcast earlier and the temperature is just perfect.  We see White-bellied Sunbird on top of a tree and it looks glorious as it catches the sun on its iridescent feathers. There are Emerald Spotted Doves, a White-browed Scrubrobin and we get excellent views of a normally very skulky bird called a Brown-crowned Tchagra.  There is a Puffback, several Long billed Crombecs and a beautiful White-crowned Shrike.

We stop to look at a Southern Ground Hornbill which is like an enormous Turkey with a red face and an enormous bill.
Southern Ground Hornbill

And the list goes on with Wahlberg’s Eagle, Brown-headed Parrot, Bateleur, Southern Black Tit, Hadeda Ibis, Grey Heron, Alpine Swift and a lovely Woolly-necked Stork perched up on a tree right by the road.  Then we find a Hyena with two suckling cubs and it doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by us pulling in to park quite close to it, all it does is lift its head have a quick look and then lies back down.  There are a couple of beautiful Little Bee-eaters, Grey-headed Sparrows, Fish Eagle, Chinspot Batis, Rattling Cisticola and a female Black Cuckoo-shrike.  ‘Look… is it a Cuckoo or a Shrike?’ asks Mark G… ‘No’ replies Mark C. and for a moment it doesn’t even sound like he’s going to clarify that it’s a Cuckoo-shrike …which isn’t either!  Then a fantastic Gabar Goshawk comes flying in and lands in a bush quite close to the road. We get wonderful views as if flits from perch to perch peering in to the mass of twigs looking for something to eat. 

In some areas it is much more open and grassier with just scattered bushes and then its back to thicker bushes.  In one of these grassy areas we spot our first Lion, a female some way away from the road but through the binoculars she looks absolutely superb as she looks back towards the van.  Very shortly after this we come across quite a large group of Zebra’s maybe this is why the Lion is in the area.  Other birds include a superb Marshall Eagle perched on a large tree, Arrow-marked Babblers, Grey Hornbill and a Brown Snake Eagle flying over.  We also stop and have a look at an enormous Saddle-billed Stork beside a pool which is drying out. There are dozens of catfish stranded in the mud that make the occasional feeble flip, but surely they are doomed. There are plenty of creatures who will be happy to finish them off including an enormous Maribou Stork on the other side of the pool.. 

We arrive at Satara Camp which is where we are going to have lunch, but before we sit down to eat we have time to take a walk around the grounds to see what is there.  There are Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, a couple of Groundscraper Thrushes and two Dwarf Mongoose run across the grass.  There is a Bearded Woodpecker, Southern Masked Weavers, African Mourning Dove and several Yellow-billed Kites wheeling around overhead.  As we eat our lunch Mark throws some bread on the ground and within seconds it is swarming with Starlings, Cape Glossy Starlings, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starlings and Burchall’s Starlings.  A few Arrow-marked Babblers join the throng and the odd Red-billed Buffalo Weaver then from underneath the fence comes a Natal Robin! What a beautiful bird it is! In the bushes above we get lovely views of a Marico Sunbird.

On the way back to Orpen we see Helmeted Guineafowl for the first time and excellent views of a Fish Eagle.  Back at the camp we have a couple of hours free time but we can still do a little birding around the camp and see such birds as Black Flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler which is a real surprise.  We also see Tree Agama, a lizard with a bright blue head.  Maureen spots an Elephant walking in to drink at the waterhole and we all rush across to the fence getting a lot of pleasure seeing this animal drinking from the pool.  Apparently they can suck up to five gallons of water at a time and then squirt it into their mouths barely spilling a drop.  It also plasters mud all over itself particularly on its ears, which it is flapping to keep cool.  A wonderful sight.

We all meet up again at 16:00 and get back in the van for a short drive.  We see many of the same  birds as this morning, such as Glossy Starlings, Grey Go-away birds, Hornbills and Francolins crossing the road in front of the van.  We make a brief stop to look at the very first accommodation that was available in the Kruger Park, which is now a little museum showing pictures of some of the very early rangers of the park and pictures of the man after whom this camp, Orpen, is named.  He donated some huge areas of land to the Kruger National Park some years ago. We also get very good views of more Kudu as well as several Giraffes including some right beside th e road. Its funny how often they walk behind a bush and look at you over the top of it.  We get fantastic views of a Martial Eagle perched up much closer than the one we saw this morning.  It’s an adult in full plumage and is absolutely fantastic.  We drive down to an area called Rabelais where there used to be a large water hole unfortunately this has now disappeared as they broke down the dam, it’s very quiet here but we did see some Leopard prints in the sand at the edge of the road.  Driving back we pass several herds of Impala and a few Zebras and quite a lot of Blue Wildebeest and then we cut down to another little waterhole where there are 4 wonderful White Rhinos which we watch for about 10 minutes. They are completely unperturbed by our presence.  Time is running out now so we head back to the camp. Even though we look very hard there are no signs of any Leopards something we are particularly keen to see. 

Back at the camp everyone has gone their separate ways when Roy and Jane find a Lesser Bushbaby down by the fence so while Jane tries to keep on it Roy races around letting everyone know. It is incredible to watch how far they can jump from one tree to another.

Day 3              

Today we are travelling from Orpen Camp to Oliphant’s Camp.  We set off at 06:00 sharp after a cup of tea and some biscuits and are soon seeing a good selection of birds; Red-billed and Yellow-billed Hornbills, Lesser Striped Swallows, Red-breasted Swallows, Grey Go-away Birds, Burchell’s Starlings etc and we also find a couple of new mammals – a small group of Chacma Baboons in a tree beside the road and a Black-backed Jackal which crosses the road and disappears into the bush.

At one point we are beside a river and get nice views of African Jacana, Three-banded Plover and a Wood Sandpiper.  New birds for the trip include Black-crowned Tchagra, White-headed Vulture and Rufous-crowned Roller.  The star bird must be Lilac-breasted Roller. We get wonderful views of these superb birds including one which sails down and lands right on the road in front of the van the sun shining through its turquoise wings as it lands. 

The weather has turned out nice again and as we carry on the bush gets slightly thicker and Jean points out a few tree species as we go including Marulla Trees and Leadwood Trees (who’s wood sinks in water!) and Bush Willow recognised by their four sided seeds.  There are also a few Sausage Trees and different kinds of palms beside the river. 

We continue at a nice relaxed pace seeing small groups of Giraffes and the occasional Elephant, Wildebeests and things until we arrive at Muzandzeni picnic site.  This is where we have our breakfast feeding the Hornbills and Starlings while we eat. A Yellow-billed Kite is soaring around above of us and we get fantastic views of a Bateleur.  There are a small group of Water Buck feeding a little way off with their odd white ring on their bottom! 

We continue heading north in the direction of Satara Camp, the habitat opening up into more open patches of grassland and we start scanning hard to find a Secretary Bird but no luck.  We do get superb views of another Bateleur which actually glides down in front of us and lands on the road briefly before flying off and we also stop for a short while at a lovely waterhole where there is a beautiful scene with lots of Impala all coming into drink and Wildebeest with Oxpeckers on there backs.  There are a few Grey-headed Sparrows and Doves and all sorts of things. It looks very peaceful and it is a bit of a shock when one of the Impalas falls into the waterhole and struggles frantically to get back out again.  Fortunately it gets out eventually looking very wet and dejected and wanders off into the bush.
A little further on we make another stop to take a look at two elephants that are just stood resting in the shade one even looks as if it is asleep.  One of them then decides that it is time for a dust bath and starts throwing large amounts of dust all over itself.  We also get fantastic views of two White-browed Scrubrobins displaying at each other.  A little further along the road, when we reach an area known as Sweni, Jane brilliantly spots a Leopard on the far side of the river. We back up and the tension really mounts as there is no sign of it ….then suddenly there it is strolling into the open and what a fantastic animal it is.  It is an enormous male and everyone is thrilled. As it disappears in to the trees two huge Verreaux’s Eagle Owls come flying out – a real bonus!

We are on a real high now as we continue on our way to Satara Camp where we pause to pick up some snacks to keep us going on the rest of the journey.  The only extra bird being picked up here is African Scops Owl, which is extremely well camouflaged in one of the trees near the centre and we all get fantastic views of it sat there just above our heads.  We carry on away from Satara Camp and within minutes we see another new bird African Hawk Eagle a superb looking black and white Eagle perched reasonably close in a tree.  A little further on still and we come upon a wonderful scene. In amongst the scattered bushes and long grass there are at least six Giraffes and an Ostrich.  The lighting is just lovely and the whole scene is just perfect. 

We continue on our way picking up a few birds - we see two or three Red-crested Korhaan, Wahlberg’s Eagle and then a Hammerkop flies across the road in front of us landing on a branch to our left. When we stop the van to look we realise that there is another Verreaux’s Eagle Owl perched in the tree. We can even see its pink eyelids through the binoculars!

Our next stop is at the bridge over the Oliphant’s river and at this point birding gets a little bit frantic as new birds are coming thick and fast – there’s Goliath Heron, White-fronted Bee-eaters which are absolutely beautiful, a Yellow-billed Kite gliding around so close that it virtually skims the tops of our heads, there are Pied Kingfishers hovering over the river and White-crowned Plovers a real speciality at this site down on the river bank.  There are also Blacksmith Plover, Three-banded Plover, two or three Yellow-billed Storks, Grey Heron, African Pied Wagtails and one or two birds that we are used to seeing at home such as Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Egyptian Goose.  There are also some Crocodiles here and some wonderful Hippo’s asleep on the bank.  All too soon it is time to move on to the camp itself as it is getting rather late for lunch.  We settle in quickly to our rooms and then meet back at one of the cabins for lunch. While we are eating we throw a few crumbs down for the birds and very quickly there are loads of them around.  There are lots of Red-winged Starlings, Cape Glossy Starlings, House Sparrows and a couple of Crested Barbet plus a few Yellow-fronted Canaries and a Brubru in the trees. A couple of Woolly-necked Storks circle overhead.  Chinspot Batis and Wire-tailed Swallow make an appearance and those of us that are staying at the other side of the camp see Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Marico Sunbird and Streaky-headed Canary.

About 15:00 we head off for a drive taking a road that leads down to the river and follow the riverbank quite some way.  There are lots of Vultures down there, mostly White-backed Vultures but one White-headed and two or three Hooded Vultures as well.  We make a stop at a bridge over the river where we see Green Heron, Wire-tailed Swallows, Wood Sandpipers, Three-banded Plovers, Goliath Heron, Kittlitz's Plover and Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Storks plus a lovely little bird  - a Black Crake.  This is the most bizarre looking little thing, it is completely black with a bright yellow beak and bright red legs that look like they are plastic! 

We finish the day at the bridge over the River Oliphants where we stopped earlier. The lighting is beautiful as we watch many of the same birds that we saw earlier but at least now we have time to look at them properly!
The River Oliphants

We finish the day at the bridge over the River Oliphants where we stopped earlier. The lighting is beautiful as we watch many of the same birds that we saw earlier but at least now we have time to look at them properly! Grey-rumped Swallow is added to the list and Little Swifts wheel overhead.  A large troop of between 30 and 40 Baboons are crossing the river and chasing each other around – they look delightful.  Three Elephants cross the river, looking two-toned as they have been up to their waists in water.  There are also a group of Impala looking really nervous as they try to find a way across the river.  There seem to birds everywhere at this site and its difficult to know where to look!  There are Lesser-masked Weaver nesting in the reeds and as we enjoy these a Burchell's Coucal appears and starts pulling one of the Weaver’s nests to bits – very odd behaviour! As dusk approaches the number of Little Swifts increases until there are literally hundreds of them wheeling around. And to think just one caused a major twitch in Britain last year! We get really good views of Fish Eagle and a Wahlberg’s Eagle which flies right past us but the real crème de la crème comes right at the end when Jean points out a female Lion walking across the road at the other side of the bridge.  She pauses briefly in the middle of the road before carrying on to the other side and disappearing into the bushes – a superb sight.  We drive back to the camp enjoying the most beautiful sunset.

Day 4              

We start the day with a cup of tea before leaving Oliphant’s at 06:00 and head towards Letaba Camp.  We immediately get excellent views of Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Kites and Little Swifts and there are also Lesser-striped Swallows and Sabota Lark plus an African Darter flying down the river.  We pause by the river and have a look at the view there are Yellow-billed Stork and our first Water Thick-knee of the holiday. There is a Black Crake wandering about at the edge of the reeds and our first Striped Kingfisher. A little further on we find two Klipspringers on a rocky outcrop they are odd looking little antelope which stand right on their tiptoes. They apparently have quills instead of fur so they bounce if they fall off the rocks!  Sounds like fun!!!  There is a female Mocking Chat on the rocky outcrop as well.  There seem to be lots of Zebras around this morning with lots of them crossing the road in front of the van. There are two Marshall Eagles perched up close to the road.  We continue on and suddenly Jean shouts “Mark stop I think I’ve seen a Leopard!”  We back up, all peering into the undergrowth hoping for a glimpse and then suddenly there it is creeping through the long grass!  It seems to be a much smaller animal than the one we saw yesterday but it is still just as beautiful.
Eventually it disappears into the undergrowth and we set off again stopping almost immediately to look at a flock of Golden-breasted Buntings beside the road, then two Spotted Hyenas come walking in from the right-hand side.  We watch them walk across the road in front of us completely unperturbed by our presence.  A little further along and our next stop is for a small flock of Red-faced Mousebirds and a Grey-headed Bushrike.  We soon stop again to look at three huge Elephants right beside the road.  There is also a group of Vervet Monkeys which sit beautifully until we produce cameras and then of course they disappear! 

We make a stop at a bridge over the River Letaba, a beautiful spot where the river spreads out over rocky outcrops and sand banks.  The first bird we see here is a Giant Kingfisher, which is an enormous bird with a huge beak.  It catches a fish which it beats to bits on a rock!  There are quite a few waders on the mud and sand including Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpiper, several Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt and Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers.  There is a Malachite Kingfisher on the edge of the river, iridescent blue with a bright reddish orange beak.  There are several Palm Swifts whizzing around above our heads, two very distant African Hawk-Eagles, a couple of Wahlberg’s Eagles, then David spots a Collared Pratincole which is a good bird for the trip.  There is also Rock Bunting, now called Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, which comes down to the river for a drink before flying off and perching on the top of a bush allowing everyone to see it through the telescope.  Finally it is time to leave here and head back to Letaba Camp where we finally have breakfast or rather brunch, an excellent feast of eggs, beans, bacon, sausages, bread and tomatoes that Mark puts together. 

We go for a walk around the campgrounds and from the viewpoint over the river there is a whole load of birds – Grey Hornbills, our first Red-headed Weavers with their absolutely fantastic orangey red heads, Village Weaver, loads of Maribou Storks along the river and also two Saddle-billed Stork, African Jacana, a Hammercock flies by, there are Crested Barbets, White-bellied Sunbirds, Marico Sunbirds, our first White-browed Robinchat and a couple of Natal Francolins.  There is a small group of Waterbuck on our side of the river and some incredibly tame Bushbucks that you can almost walk right up to!

We follow the riverbank along finding more good birds including at least two Orange-breasted Bushrikes which put on a great display of chasing each other backwards and forwards in front of us giving us.  There are Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starlings here and also good views of Scarlet-chested Sunbird and a wonderful Golden-tailed Woodpecker that performs within feet of us.  There is a Green-backed Eremomela which must take the prize for best bird name even if it isn’t quite as exciting as it sounds.  As we get to the end of this walk we come across a tree that has maybe 15 or so Red-headed Weaver nests which are in the process of being built and it is fascinating to watch the birds going inside and constructing the nest with the petioles of leaves. 
Finally we go back to the river viewpoint to see some Green Pigeons that Mark has found and there are quite a few of them in the trees above our heads.  Then its ice creams all round before we head off back to the camp.

Oliphant’s Camp is a beautiful place with fantastic views from the top of the cliffs looking down over the river where there is thorn-scrub as far as the eye can see with the occasional Baobab trees.  We are staying in delightful little rondarvels; little round huts with thatched roofs.

After relaxing for a little while we gather at the look-out point over the river. It is very relaxing to sit for a while enjoying the view in the warmth.  There is a little troop of Baboons crossing the river, a few Impala, a Waterbuck, several Giraffes over the other side of the river and a family of Elephants with a tiny baby, which is the smallest we have seen.  There are a few Hippos and birdwise it’s quite good too with Goliath Heron, Great White Egret, lots of Egyptian Geese, White-crowned Plover, quite a few Greenshank and also the occasional Vulture circling round in front of us plus the odd Bateleur.  The whole scene seems so typically African with the thorn scrub to the horizon, the Boabab trees, the animals and birds  - it is just beautiful!

A few of us decide to go for a short walk around the camp ground itself, it is a little quiet but we do see Yellow-fronted Canary which seem to be in abundance here and we also get one new bird in the form of Cape White-eye.  At the far end of the camp there is a single bush with lovely red flowers which is full of Sunbirds.  There are three species – Marico Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.  There is one White-bellied which is quite close in a little bush feeding on the nectar from the flowers there and is just stunning as it catches the sunlight.  Then Maureen who is peering up into one of the trees spots an Epauletted Fruit Bat!  This is a real treat and it turns out that there are three of them all hanging upside down from one of the branches near the top of the tree.  They have little white tufts of hair poking out from behind their ears and are really cute.
We then wander back to the look out point to have one last look at the view before calling it a day.  The evening meal is very atmospheric. Mark has set up tables and lighting outside one of the huts and we sit and eat under the stars to accompanying night sounds. There is a glow in the distant sky from a fire burning out on the reserve, apparently a very common sight.  David serves the pudding at the end of the meal and somehow turns this simple activity into the most hilarious entertainment…he really should be on the stage!

Day 5              

Once again we start our day with a cup of tea at 05:45 and we set off at around 06:00 having packed all the bags ready to head south.  But Oliphant’s has a surprise for us before we go as two Trumpeter Hornbills fly across in front of the van. These big black and white birds are not meant to be here at all!  We set off and haven’t travelled very far down the track at all when somebody shouts that they think they have spotted an Owl.  We reverse back up the road and Roy points out a Tawny Eagle perched on top of the tree.  “No not that!” everybody says. We soon realise that the Owl is in fact an enormous spiders web!  We drive on….clearly we are getting very blasé about Tawny Eagles already!

A little further on we cross the bridge again where Yellow-billed Stork, Great White Egret, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Fish Eagle and a few waders are visible – it is a lovely scene.  The next thing we see is a Hyena crossing a track, “Just the one?” says Mark G sounding disappointed…we really are getting blasé!  We pass some lovely ‘African’ scenes such as herds of Zebra and Giraffe, Wildebeest and the occasional Steenbok.  We also see Swainson’s Francolin, Chacma Baboons, we find a Wattled Starling perched up on a bush and there are quite a few Blue Waxbills.  We see Golden-breasted Bunting and a little flock of White-winged Widowbirds which is a new bird for the trip but not particularly spectacular as none of them are in breeding plumage.  A little further on and we come out of the thornvelt into much more open grassland and soon see our first Ostrich of the day.  It is a little way off the road but still pretty impressive.  Its all on its own and Maureen reckons its been ‘Ostrichsised’…groan!  The second one that we see a little later on is much closer and we get fantastic views as it comes straight towards the van and stands right in the middle of the road in front of us before striding off to the left.  There are Magpie Shrikes on both sides of the road and we get good views of a Bearded Woodpecker.  Suddenly we come upon several cars parked up and they are clearly watching something, which we suspect might be Lions.  However when we get closer we realise that a big male Leopard is walking through the long grass occasionally looking over its shoulder in our direction.  It is the best view that we have had yet and after watching it for a little while we are just about to head off when we realise that there is a second Leopard.  This one is considerably smaller and disappears behind some bushes before we can really get good views of it. It is astonishing to see four Leopards in one trip!

We head on as we have a long way to go today but we continue we pick up birds such as Southern Ground Hornbill, Woolly-necked Stork and Bateleurs flying over when Christine suddenly spots a raptor sitting in a tree.  We reverse up to look at it and realise that it is a Gymnogene and although it appears to be quite poorly equipped for the job this bird is flying around, landing on the sides of trees and sticking its feet inside woodpecker holes in the trunk.  Apparently the bird can bend its leg in either direction to help it reach baby birds or animals that are inside the holes.  The strange thing is, its face keeps changing colour sometimes looking red and sometimes yellow, apparently done by flushing the face with blood.  What an extra-ordinary bird!
Next we come to a lovely scene with a mixed herd of Impala, Wildebeest and two or three Giraffes all feeding together in a scrubby area by a stream.  There is a Mosque Swallow perched up on a dead tree and then a little further on we find a family of Elephants, which includes a tiny baby.  There seems to be at least two adult females accompanied by one fairly young animal and two tiny ones. The smallest one can fit underneath the tummy of its mother so it must be less than a year old.  After a few minutes they seem to become a little agitated by our presence so we decide to move on and as we do one of them trumpets at us and flaps its ears, it’s really quite spectacular! 
We pass some Kudu right beside the road and at another spot we see Eastern Black-headed Oriole African Paradise Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Southern Black Tit, Brown Snake Eagle, Chinspot Batis and Black Crake oh, and I nearly forgot…a Moorhen!  And all this is before breakfast!!

We arrive at a little picnic area called N’Wanetsi and this is where we have our breakfast in the company of lots of Black-eyed Bulbuls and a Mocking Chat.  We take a walk up to the viewpoint to have a look out over the scene and from up here we see our first Buffalo of the trip.  They are very impressive and seeing them means we have now seen all of the BIG 5, something most visitors are keen to see. They are Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino and Buffalo and were apparently the most dangerous animals to huntI think these days this is well out of date and we should have the big ten at least, hey why not make it twenty!!!  We also see Giraffes, Zebra, a few Kudu, Impala’s, Elephants and lots and at least three or four more Mocking Chats from here, the latter giving superb close up views.
We continue driving slowly south seeing plenty of birds and mammals. A Greater Scimitarbill is  another new one for the trip then we get very poor views of a Honey Badger that runs across the road ahead of the van but it quickly disappears into the undergrowth.  We see quite a few Warthogs around the edge of a big muddy wallow. This results in a wonderful rendition of  “Mud, mud, glorious mud.  Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!” Everyone seems to know the words!!!
Our next stop is to look at an enormous Baobab Tree.  It must have a girth of about 30 metres or more which Mark says makes it at least 1000 years old!  I’m sure I heard someone say ‘That’s even older than David!’

Further on we start seeing more and more Buffalo and some very large herds of Wildebeest, there are Rufous-crowned Roller, Black-shouldered Kite and a very pale bird of prey spotted by Maureen which turns out to be a Wahlberg’s Eagle - it is a real creamy colour.  On the far side of the river with a few Zebras are four or five Tsessebe.  These are extremely odd looking animals and are probably most like a Harty Beest but they are actually one of the Antelopes.  Most people have never even heard of them and they are most certainly unusual! 

We finally arrive at Lower Sabie where we are spending the next couple of days and after booking in and before lunch we have a wander around and look at the river.  There are Village, Lesser Masked and Spectacled Weavers around, Brown-headed Parrots, Paradise Flycatcher, a Reed Cormorant flies up the river and Little and Great White Egret are on the banks.  There are also one or two huge Crocodiles.  David tries to take some pictures with his digital camera using his scope but he can’t see the screen in the sunlight.  He looks just like an old fashioned photographer as he stands there with his jacket over his head and the scope!  Next we sort out the rooms and Roy decides that Mark and Sarah are to go in one room and David and Helen in another….which causes great hilarity!  I guess they aren’t into wife swapping!
Even over lunch we don’t stop birding as Pied Barbet is added to the list and also Terrestrial Bulbul.  We relax for a little while after lunch and then head off at about 16:00 to have a look at the Sabie River, parking beside the bridge we scan around the rocks and amongst the reeds to see what we can find.  At first there doesn’t appear to be very much, we see African Pied Wagtail and a Jacana on the far side and there are Hippos above the bridge.  The bridge seems to act as a sluice creating a wide area before the river splits into lots of little channels of faster flowing water below the bridge.  There is a Terrapin out in the middle and a couple of Bushbuck and then we notice a Pied Kingfisher flying around and hovering above the river and at least two Black Crakes in the background.  There is a Wood Sandpiper and a second Jacana and then from on top of the bridge itself we spot Green Heron and a Hammercock.  There are one or two Palm Swifts, and Lesser-striped Swallows and a couple of Three Banded Plovers on one of the little islands.

From here we turn the van round and head back past Lower Sabie camp to a large beautiful looking waterhole which is completely covered from bank to bank with Water Hyacinths.  As we arrive there is a Maribu Stork perched high among the trees and then we start scanning over the pool itself.  There are Hippos which occasionally surface with vegetation all over their backs.  There are also lots of African Jacanas walking around on the tops of the plants and also on top of the Hippos!  On the far side there is a Great White Egret plus Purple and Squacco Herons and two Wattled Lapwings.  A group of Baboons come down to drink and a small flock of Helmeted Guineafowl come wandering past the van.  A couple of trees have loads of nests in them including Hammercock nests in the fork of the tree and lots of Red-billed Buffalo-weaver nests even higher up and Lesser-masked Weaver nests hanging off the bottom of these.  At one point two Hammercocks come flying in and land at one of their nests and then very cleverly drop down and fly into the hole at the bottom of the nest.  The nests are huge mounds and the only way into them is through this little tunnel at the bottom.  For such an odd looking bird it seems the most unlikely way for it to get into its nest.  On the far side of this pool there are at least three enormous Crocodiles probably the biggest we have seen on this holiday so far.  There are a few Common Waxbills and Jane spots a Water Monitor which is a rather large lizard sunbathing on the bank of a pool.  We spend about an hour here and it is very relaxing and enjoyable just taking in the whole scene.

We head back to camp and finish the day off by going to have a last look at the river. Most of the birds have gone to bed by now but the Reed Cormorants are flying down the river in flocks and we see probably 30 or 40 of them flying past.  We after our evening meal we head to bed that evening to the sound of Crickets and Fruit Bats which make a lovely piping noise. 

Day 6              

We start our day at Lower Sabie with a Collared Sunbird flitting about in the canopy above us whilst we have our breakfast. Not a bad start!

At 06:15 we are on our way.  “Charlotte Green”, the local radio reporter, (alias Helen) gives us an entertaining “news” summary, including a report from Jenny Bond on the local disappointment that the Queen has decided not to visit us in this her Jubilees year, and we have a quick weather report from Roy (“Turned out nice again”) then our first stop is at a little pool where we see Fish Eagle, Crowned Lapwing, Great White Egret, African Jacanas and as we carry on we see Speckled Mousebirds, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Little Egret and some very smart Bushbuck right by the road.  At one point Jane shouts “Lion!” and we back up just in time to see a Lion running off between a couple of bushes and disappearing into the undergrowth never to be seen again.  At the same time a Purple-crested Turaco flies over the van causing a real dilemma …do you look for the Lion or the Turaco???. 
Highlights of the drive include a troop of Velvet Monkeys, African Hoopoe, Black-headed Oriole and extremely good views of Brown Snake Eagle both perched and in flight.  There are Magpie Shrikes all over the place and we get some of our best views of Bateleur and superb views of Warthogs and Bearded Woodpecker.  For most of the drive today the vegetation has been completely burned creating a rather black and slightly depressing landscape. The first shoots of green are only just beginning to come back through the black earth and the Zebras, Wildebeest and Impalas that we are still seeing everywhere must somehow be surviving on these.  This is part of the management of the park but looks drastic to us, especially when the burned areas are so huge.  Although it doesn’t seem that windy there are several mini tornadoes which lift up the black dust to about 100 feet into the air. They are amazing and at times we can see four of five at a time!  We are quickly brought back to birding by the sight of a flock of Chestnut-backed Finch-larks hopping around right beside the van. 
We stop for a short break at Mlondozi Dam. The view from here is fantastic. We are looking across a large reservoir at which a large group of Zebras has come to drink.  There must be dozens and dozens of them down there and at one point a whole load of them rush away from the water’s edge and we suddenly realise that there are at least two Lions down there chasing them.  They fail to make a kill and quickly disappear back into the undergrowth out of sight, but it takes the Zebras a long time to calm back down. 

There are lots of birds here including several African Jacanas at the waters edge and on the backs of he Hippos.  We get fantastic views of White-throated Robinchat and two of them are displaying to each other – they really are spectacular birds.  We also see a Chinspot Batis without a chinspot which is very odd!  There are Black-shouldered Kites here and Mocking Chat, Red-breasted Swallows and a superb Goliath Heron.

From here we drive round Muntshe Ridge with its outcrops of huge boulders on top. We get excellent views of Black-crowned Tchagra, a zitting Cisticola and manage to identify a rather distant Black-breasted Snake Eagle.  There are groups of Zebras, Wildebeest and Impalas everywhere.  However our next big animal is a White Rhino and this spectacular animal is only about a hundred yards away from the van. It is huge!!!  Everyone is most impressed and lots of photos are taken.  When we have had our fill we move on but haven’t got much further when we come across a group of cars; always a sign of something interesting. We quickly realise they are looking at Lions.  There are two females and a lovely little cub lying under a bush trying to get some shade.  We watch them for a while as they relax, occasionally having a short wander to a different bush to see if that one offers better shade. The cub is really cute.  Bateleurs are circling above and as soon as we set off again there is the excellent opportunity to compare Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagle which are perched adjacent trees.  The tawny is so much bigger!  There are Black-shouldered Kites on lots of the trees with a couple of Marabou Storks flying around and we also see our first Yellow-throated Longclaw but Shelley’s Francolin are nowhere to be seen. 

As we head back to camp and we see a few Black and White-rumped Swifts which are new and at the bridge we get a fantastic Goliath Heron with the feathers on its head catching the wind giving it a real punk hair-do.  A Marshall Eagle is circling over the bridge.

We arrive back at camp and whilst Mark is preparing the barbecue lunch we walk around the grounds. There are Black Stork on the river and Little Egret on the far side and some huge Crocodiles.  Right outside Ted and Maurine’s house is a tree with loads of Sunbirds in it including Maricos, White-bellied, Collared and Scarlet-chested and there are at least two Black-headed Orioles giving fantastic views.  In another tree, which is covered in fruit, there are dozens of Black-eyed Bulbuls, more Black-headed Orioles, a few Grey Go-away Birds and several Green Pigeons.  We get good views of a White-browed Robinchat.  We then head back to base where we have a very tasty lunch in the form of barbecued game sausages after which, as it is so hot we decide to have a break for the afternoon. 

At 16:45 we meet up in the car park ready to go on the night drive. Everyone is excited as we climb aboard the large open-sided vehicle.  We have a short introduction from Charles, our guide and we set off.  Once in the park he stops and gives us the low down on the kinds of things that we might see and also a little bit of background on the park itself, including some of the geology.  This is very interesting as he doesn’t just tell us what the underlying rock is but also what effect that has on the vegetation, the effect that has on the herbivore animals and the effect that has on the carnivores.  This explains why some parts of the park are much better for Lions whilst other parts are better for Leopards.  We then start our drive almost immediately finding a Spotted Hyena. Five Buffaloes are sat on the far side of the river and there are Warthogs and Giraffes and all sorts. Birdwise it is quite quiet though there are a couple of Marabou Storks high up in a tree and there are loads of Magpie Shrikes around following the grazing animals.  As it gets dark we stop on an area of short grass where we stretch our legs and our guide explains how to use the torches then we set off again into the dark.
We have not been driving long when he stops the vehicle and we are asked to sit in silence and just listen to the night sounds. It is a magical experience listening to different animals and birds, including two species of owl, calling in the darkness.

We make a short stop to look at some Hippos at the edge of a pool then we drive the tracks searching with the torches for any eye-shine in the bush.  Roy has one of the torches and quickly picks something out.  It’s a Genet but before anyone gets to see it, it has run off into the dense undergrowth.  A few minutes later the same thing happens again, which is really frustrating.  We get fantastic views of Elephants crossing the road in front of the vehicle and hear them make the very deep rumbling sound that goes right through your chest!  We also see an enormous White Rhino stood right in the middle of the road. We slowly approach it in the vehicle and it stomps off into the undergrowth never to be seen again.  There is more frustration for Roy as he spots a Servel, which again disappears into the undergrowth before anyone gets a chance to see it.  We see a couple of Bushbucks and then Roy spots a Honey Badger right at the edge of the road and we drive up to where the animal is digging a hole, half expecting it to run off.  It backs off as we stop but then creeps its way forward again and carries on digging pulling out some Tortoise eggs, which it promptly eats. This is usually a very difficult animal to see but here we are getting brilliant views of this animal just a couple of yards away from us…then a second animal appears!!! It hovers around in the background as if it would like to join in but it has no chance as the first animal still has its head jammed down the hole!  It is just magical watching these two animals. The first continues to dig out eggs and eat them and the second keeps trying to get a look in.  After 15 minutes or so we turn the van round allowing the people on the other side to get a better view. The second animal finally gets a chance to dig in the hole but there seems to be nothing left and we witness a Honey Badger with a look of real disappointment on its face!  Charles tells us that he has never had a sighting of Honey Badgers as good as that before so we are well pleased.
After this it is not very far back to the main camp but before we get there we are treated to a sighting of a Large-spotted Genet.  This is a cat-like animal related to the mongooses, (or is it mongeese?) and is really elegant with a very long, stripy tail. A real treat.
We arrive back at the camp totally satisfied, having had a delightful experience and Judy and Sarah invite us back to their place for a cup of tea where we sit and do the log at the end of a superb day. 

Day 7              

Today we leave Lower Sabie and the Kruger National Park, to head for Wakkerstroom and after a very early breakfast we set off at about 06:15 and drive slowly through the park heading southwards to Crocodile Bridge.  The weather “turned out nice again” and Charlotte Green once again entertains us all.   Nobody really wants to leave Kruger Park and everyone is trying to soak up as much of the atmosphere and the animals as they possibly can.  And there are plenty of animals this morning.  We see Elephants, Giraffes, Kudu, Zebra, Wildebeest and Warthogs including two that are eating White Rhino dung which seem rather appalling but they seem to be enjoying it!  Further down the road we see a fantastic male White Rhino with huge horns and a female with a young one nearby.  Some distance after this we approach a group of cars parked up.  They are watching a Lioness with three delightful little cubs. Ahhhhhh!

There are a few birds in this area as well. A couple of African Green Pigeon, Arrow-marked Babblers, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Burchell’s Coucal, we see a Steenbok and then a bit further on Mark suddenly slows the van and says that the impala are looking nervous. They certainly are and as we look into the bushes in the direction they are looking out walks a Lioness!  Now that’s fieldcraft!  The Lion is wearing a large red collar round her neck which is presumably a radio tag, and we get fantastic views as she walks past us very slowly. We follow her for a while before she disappears into the bushes.  Further down the road we get a new bird… a Lappet-faced Vulture perched in a tree right beside a White-backed Vulture, which is excellent for comparison.  Then a matter of yards further on there is a White-headed Vulture as well. 
We make a brief stop at Crocodile Bridge to do a little shopping and watch a large colony of Village Weavers building their nests.  From the bridge itself as we leave the park we see Saddle-billed Stork, a few Buffaloes lying around, a couple of Wood Sandpipers and a couple of Black Crakes.  Then it is with great reluctance that we drive through the gate, out of the park and into the slightly more normal world of agricultural fields and ‘civilisation.’   There are massive areas of sugar cane crops, other crops and orchards of citrus trees…and people out of their cars!  And birds of course, there are one or two Pin-tailed Wydah on the wires and verges and we regularly see Black Shouldered Kites perched on the telegraph poles.  Fiscal Shrikes are suddenly quite common.  We drive for ages through this agricultural land before eventually arriving at an area that cuts through a range of mountains and the scenery becomes much more impressive.  We also spot one or two more impressive birds like Red-winged Starling and a superb White-necked Raven.  There are still plenty of Black-shouldered Kites around and a possible Steppe Buzzard.  The scenery is quite beautiful here including some fantastic cliffs and big rocky copies and in some places there are terrific views looking down over the big agricultural plains.  Eventually the scenery flattens out again but we are now much higher and the scenery is dominated with rolling hills covered in short grassland.
As we approach a small area of water close to the road we notice a small group of Greater Flamingos out in the middle of the water so we stop to check them out and see what else is here.  It becomes obvious very quickly that there are loads of waders here including Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stints.  Some of the Ruff are still in good breeding plumage with their extravagant head plumes.  It has to be said that the heat haze is dreadful, making it quite difficult to identifying the more distant birds.  We manage to work out that there Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard and Cape Shoveler over the far side, though most of them are asleep!  However the Avocets are feeding and there is a lovely Sacred Ibis.  Other birds include Hadeda Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilts, a few Cape Wagtails around on the shore, Blacksmith Plovers and above the water lots of Swallows and Swifts including Black Swifts, White-rumped Swifts and our first White-throated Swallows.  Not long after this we stop for lunch beside a pool at the town of Ermelo.  There is an African Darter on to a branch drying its wings but not much else here. 

We move on and quite near to Wakkerstroom itself we pick up a few other good birds with the rare Southern-bald Ibis being the highlight.  These are really odd looking birds with dark shiny wings and little red caps on their heads.  We also see more Pied Starlings and our first Long-tailed Widows of the trip. They don’t have full length tails yet but they are getting there.  We also pass a couple of Spur-winged Geese right beside the road. 

Wakkerstroom itself is a small town with a little church in the middle with a tall spire, it looks out over an enormous reed bed with several open areas of water at one end where there is a bridge. The scenery, though not spectacular is still beautiful with rolling hill in all directions.
After we arrive and settle into our rooms we all meet up at one of the cottages to have a cup of tea before we head off to do some birding.  We pick up a few new birds whilst we are having our cuppa.  There are Speckled Pigeons in abundance and several Cape Weavers perching on the trees nearby.  The highlight however is a Bokmakerie a wonderful shrike-like bird with a yellow face bordered in black...but what a great name! We finish the day off by going to the bridge at the end of the marsh.  The sun is quite low in the sky now so looking one way things are silhouetted but looking the other way everything is lit up beautifully.  There are birds everywhere and it’s hard to know where to look.  There are loads of Swallows and Martins around and we add three new species to the list whilst we’re here – African Cliff Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow and Rock Martin, there are also White-throated Swallows and lots of White-rumped Swifts speeding around above our heads.  There are both Great and Reed Cormorants, Grey Heron and Purple Heron and we get Purple Gallinule, Moorhen and Red-knobbed Coot all together.  There are Hottentot Teal, Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck and a lovely Le Vallant’s Cisticola singing from the top of the reeds.  In the background a Sacred Ibis is feeding and displaying over this scene are African Snipe.  There are a few Weavers of various species and we finish the day with a wonderful Malachite Kingfisher at the edge of one of the pools.  It is a wonderful scene and we can’t wait until tomorrow to spend more time here and explore it properly.

Day 8              

We actually have a lie-in today and don’t have breakfast until 08:00!  Most people arrive at the cottage at around 7:30 and have a wander round to look at the birds in the gardens.  There are four species of Doves here and Minah birds everywhere with Fiscal Shrikes on the telegraph wires and Pied Starlings in the fields.  Ted and Maureen see a Malachite Sunbird in the back garden and we also watch a Black-collared Barbet having a real go at a Fiscal Shrike for no apparent reason at all…the Fiscal Shrike looked most upset….who says birds can’t have expressions on their faces!? 

After breakfast we set off to investigate the high grasslands nearby which is an area well known for its Pipits and Larks and pretty soon we are picking up some good species.  However the first one we pick up is neither a Pipit or a Lark it’s a Bokmakerie.  A couple of them are dueting from a bush near the van.  Further on we start seeing our first Pipits including an Orange-throated Longclaw, beautiful birds with bright orange throats bordered in black.  There are plenty of African Pipits some of which are song-flighting.  There are African Stonechat on the fences, a couple of Le Vaillant's Cisticola beside a stream and then a Yellow Mongoose is spotted running across the field.  These are funny little animals that look like tiny foxes with very short legs.  They frequently stand up on their hind legs like Meerkats to have a look round.  We spot a Cape Crow and Anteating Chats on the fence beside the road and then we stop to chat to a couple in a car who tell us that there have been Blue Cranes and Blue Korhaans further along the road.  We decide to ignore all the little brown birds in an attempt to try and get these birds as soon as possible.  We head quickly to the area but unfortunately there is no sign of these birds in the area say mentioned.  Roy nearly stands on a Quail which shoots out from under his feet and runs into the adjoining fields where it quickly crouches down allowing us to get the scope on it.  At this point Mark notices that there are some Blue Crane in a very distant field but the heat haze is so bad that you can hardly make out that they are birds let alone Blue Crane!  We try one or two other vantage points but they are no better so we come back to the same area and start scanning the fields looking at the other birds that are there.  We see African Pipits, Red-crowned Lark, Stonechat and a Rudd's Lark is picked out.  This bird has a really limited distribution and is only found here and in a couple of other small areas nearby. Many birders come here just to see this species and Botha’s lark which also occurs here. 
At this point Mark flags down a local farmer and asks his permission to walk across a couple of the fields to see if we can get closer to the Blue Cranes.  The farmer is quite happy with this so we cross the road and go into the fields, we cross the famous football pitch where everyone looks for Botha’s Lark but we don’t manage to find any.  We eventually get to a spot where we get absolutely wonderful views through the scopes of two of the Blue Cranes.  They really are one of the most beautiful birds in the world.  There are two others that have flown a little distance away and after a few minutes they take flight again and head off down the valley calling as they go.  Whilst watching the other two birds a Pale-crowned Cisticola hops up on to the fence for a short while and we also get very good views of two Spike-heeled Larks.  As they fly we see the distinctive white spot at the end of their tails.  We enjoy the Cranes for quite a while before they too eventually take flight and head in the direction of the van quite close to us calling beautifully as they go. 

We head back across the fields to the van arriving back at the road to find that there are two Mountain Chats perched up on fence posts close by.  We all climb back into the van comparing how black our socks and feet are having crossed the field which had been recently burned!  As we drive back towards Wakkerstroom there are plenty of African Pipits, but we also see one odd bird that we finally decide is a short-billed version of a Long-billed Lark!  Whoever said birding was easy?  We stop briefly at the wetland by the bridge where we pick up Purple Gallinule, Glossy Ibis, Red-billed Teal and then we head along to another small patch of water near the bird hides.  There is another lovely marshy area here and walking round in the middle of it is an Egret that everybody decides must be an Intermediate Egret just because of the shape of it even though it doesn’t appear to have the yellow thighs that it is meant to have.   A Black-headed Heron is asleep at the back of the pool and there are gallinules feeding round the edge.  We continue on towards the town and Mark spots a Jackal Buzzard circling around above the field.  Suddenly we realise that there are about twenty Meerkats all rushing away from us to a mound of earth in the middle of a field and disappearing down holes.  They immediately reappear standing up on their hind legs to peer at us.  They are delightfully inquisitive bobbing up and down to peer at us. Often there are four or five all stood together looking round in all directions.  They are very nervous about the Jackal Buzzard and keep a good eye on it as well as us. They eventually relax a bit and start running around, grooming each other etc but there are always a few keeping a good lookout.  They must be one of the most delightful creatures we have seen and everyone is enchanted.
We spend time after lunch relaxing in the garden before going out for another drive in the afternoon at about 15:00.  A good opportunity to clean our feet!  Again we head up into some grasslands nearby, an area favoured by Yellow-breasted Pipit but unfortunately we don’t find any.  There are plenty of African Stonechats and a beautiful Red-capped Lark close to the road.  There are more Orange-throated Longclaws here and we also see Wailing Cisticola confirmed by its call.  On a slope of large rocks we pick up a pair of Buff-streaked Chat with the male singing from the tops of some of the rocks.  We also play the tape of Ground Woodpecker near a small quarry.  We have already seen evidence of their presence in the form of holes in the rocks…these guys are tough!  Nothing happens and we are just about to set off when Maurine says she can hear a bird replying to Marks tape.  Mark gets back out of the van and plays the tape again and almost immediately a Ground Woodpecker flies right past us and over to the hillside nearby.  Quickly scopes are set up and we all get great views.  This bird then flies back past us onto a telegraph pole then back over to the hillside where it is joined by its mate.  Eventually they come much closer giving us superb views of these bizarre birds, the only terrestrial Woodpecker in the world.  Looking at the male it is hard to believe that their beak is hard enough to make holes in solid rock. 

After this we head back down to the village where we pop into a nice little art gallery.  There are some very good pictures and most people buy paintings of birds done by a local artist.  There is also a Cape Robinchat in the garden which is a nice bonus.  From here we head back to the bridge looking over the marshland and immediately we pick up an African Spoonbill, quite a surprise as it doesn’t seem quite the right habitat.  There are also Glossy Ibis here with mostly the same ducks and waders that we saw yesterday but we also get good views of an African Marsh Harrier hunting in the background, a couple of Tawny-flanked Prinia and a Lesser Swamp Warbler. 

We finish the day with a delicious meal and lots of chatting and laughter before heading our separate ways to our bungalows for bed. 

Day 9              

We start the day at 06:00 heading up to the high grassland for our second attempt at Blue Korhaan.  The shock is that it is thick fog!!! (A bit of a problem for Roy’s weather report) Mark still seems astonishingly confident as we get into the van but most of us feel that the chances of seeing these birds is about nil, you can only see a few yards into the fields as we drive along.  We drive through the village, along the road and up the track in thick fog and it really is looking hopeless.  We keep going, trying to convince ourselves that it might burn off as the sun gets higher and as we get higher up the hill the fog clears a little and the sun is beginning to break through and then suddenly we break out of the fog into absolutely beautiful weather.  The air is clear, there is no heat haze at all and the sky is blue…incredible!   We drive on to where the Korhaans were seen yesterday and set up the telescope to scan around.  There, quite some distance away are five Blue Korhaans…hooray!!!  They are odd looking birds and everybody enjoys looking at them through the scopes.  There are also two Blue Cranes way off in the distance.  At one point the Cranes call and it is amazing how well it carries from that distance.  We decide to head a little bit further down the road to see if there are any closer birds and we soon come across another three Korhaans that are much closer to the road and again we set up the scopes and get excellent views.  At one point one of the male birds starts displaying at one of the other birds.  It sticks its head straight out and then jerks it up and down whilst puffing out its throat and making a really strange croaking noise at the same time. It’s amazing what some women find attractive!

We don’t have much time left now so we have to head back down as fast as we can unable to stop for the occasional Black-shouldered Kite, Red-crowned Lark and Long-tailed Widows some of which are nearly in full breeding plumage.  We plunge back into the fog as we head back down the hill and are grateful for our luck.
Back at base we load up the van, have breakfast and are on our way by 08:30.  As we leave Wakkerstroom the fog here is only just clearing but it is a nice day as we set off and becoming rather cloudy as we carry on which is makes it quite pleasant for the drive as there is no sun beating in through the windows.  It also means that we have good viewing and we see lots of Black-shouldered Kites and Fiscal Shrikes on telegraph wires, a few Guinea Fowl in some of the fields, Fork-tailed Drongos, the occasional Black-headed Heron and a Steppe Buzzard circling over one of the fields.  The scenery is quite interesting as we go through some quite light industrial areas then come to some of the Zulu villages; scattered houses of the old style, small, round buildings with thatched roofs a bit like the old traditional mud huts really.  In amongst these are the more modern ones which are rectangular in shape with corrugated iron roofs.  It’s a very rural scene and Mark and Jean tell us all sorts of bit and pieces about how they live here, family life, food etc etc.  Further on we stop to look at Ghost Mountain and Mark tell us all about the last battle with the Zulus that took place here.  It is an horrific story where two or three thousand Zulus were killed here in the final battle, the last two or three hundred committing suicide by jumping off the mountain and landing on the rocks below.  Because of various superstitions the dead bodies weren’t moved and the bones and skulls lay there for years and years until the 1930’s when they were eventually cleared away.  This was also the site where another tribe used to bring their kings to be buried, carrying them hundreds of kilometres. On top of all that, because of the odd shapes of the rock formations higher up, when the wind blows in a certain direction it makes a howling sound. Put all that together and it is not too surprising that Ghost Mountain is a feared and revered place.  Many of the local people will not even look at it and it is considered as bad luck to point at it. 
It is not long now before we drive through the gates of Mkuzi Park and after a short drive we stop for lunch at a little picnic spot.  Whilst Jean is setting up the lunch the rest of us take a wander around and soon pick up a new bird – Fiscal Flycatcher.  Black-collared Barbet is also new for some. 

After lunch we set off in the direction of the camp where we are staying tonight and very soon we get excellent views of a White Rhino very close to the road.  Suddenly there is great excitement as Judy spots a Secretary Bird.  We have all been hoping to see one off these and we get great views as we travel slowly alongside this bird as it struts through the long grass.  It is such a strange sight and must be one of the most bizarre looking birds in the world.  It’s not really like anything else with its long legs but hook shaped beak, like a cross between a bird of prey and a stork.  We pull in several times so that the bird can wander past us, sometimes quite close, and the cameras a really clicking.  Further on and we come across a rather large Tortoise in the middle of the road.  It’s shell looks rather tattered and worn so presumably it must be quite old and it wanders off into the long grass.  We then come across several small herds of Impala and in amongst them is an antelope we haven’t seen before; a Nyala.  They are all females which are a lovely fawn colour with white stripes on their backs.  Further on still and we come across a nice flock of 12 Crested Guinea Fowl.  They are a lot smarter than their helmeted cousins with an incredible density of white spots on their feathers and Jane gets quite poetic talking about stars in a night sky.  It has to be said the effect is rather spoilt by the silly hair cut!
We arrive at the camp and everyone is dropped at their various chalets.  We all meet up again at 15:00 to go for a short walk.  We pick up a few good birds straight away such as Yellow-throated Petronia and a beautiful Bearded Scrubrobin, which performs well, hopping about in the open quite close to us.  We also see several Nyala and are watching a mother with her fawn when suddenly a bird lands on its head – it’s a new one Yellow-bellied Bulbul.  There is also a Paradise Flycatcher here with a nice long tail.  Further on we see Long-billed Crombeck, Ashy Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Buntings and Black-bellied Starling.

At 16:00 we set off in the van for a little drive around to see what we can find.  We have hardly covered any distance at all before we see White Rhinos.  There is a mother with a really small baby with virtually no horn at all, just a bump on the nose.  The mother on the other hand has an enormous horn and following them across the road is a very large male who we think is a bit horny too! 

We soon arrive at one of the hides that overlooks a superb waterhole.  We spend some time here watching the doves coming down to drink.  There seem to be Red-eyed Doves coming down to drink all the time as well as Cape Turtle Doves and several Emerald-spotted Doves.  There are more Yellow-bellied Bulbuls and we get excellent views of both Greater Honey Guide and Lesser Honey Guide - amazing to get both of them at the same place.  There are also Vervet Monkeys coming down to the waters edge to drink and then we pick out a Sunbird in one of the bushes coming to drink from the red flowers.  This proves a little tricky to identify.  There are two species it could be; Neergaard's Sunbird or Purple-banded Sunbird and it all comes down to the colour at the band across its chest.  Sunbirds have these iridescent feathers and the colour changes depending on how bright the light is so at some points it seems quite reddish and at others it looks purple.  Our final conclusion is that it is Neergaard’s Sunbird, which has a reddish chest but I’m not sure any of us is 100% certain.  Either way it is a stunning little bird.  We also see Brown-hooded Kingfisher, White-browed Scrubrobin, and the day finishes with a Wildebeest coming down to drink.  As it is now getting late we have to leave this delightful spot but everyone says they would like to come back here.

Day 10            

We decide to make another early start to make sure that we get the best of the birding so we all meet up at 05:30 for a walk around the camp itself.  Mark uses his tapes to great effect and we are soon watching a Red-fronted Tinker Bird shortly followed by a Purple-crested Turaco, which has the most amazing red patches in the wings.  There are Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Sombre Bulbul, brief views of Purple-banded Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Horus Swifts and lovely little Green-backed Cameroptera..  We also see a nice little Antelope called a Common or Grey Duiker.

We return for breakfast at about 07:00 and by 07:30 we are on our way, with everyone copying Mark Gs excellent notes from before breakfast.  There are loads of mammals around Wildebeest, Impala, Zebra and a wonderful White Rhino with a lovely little baby that is suckling.  They have Red-billed Oxpeckers on their backs too.  We also see a little group of Warthogs that have clearly been rolling in the red mud as they are bright orange!  We then start to pick up a whole lot of birds.  Black Flycatcher, Three-streaked Tchagra and Southern Tchagra, Long-billed Crombec, Crested Barbet, Village Weaver, Red-faced Mousebird, a couple of people manage to get on to African Penduline Tit but only Judy manages to see the Gorgeous Bushrike.  This is a real shame for the rest of us as this looks like a wonderful bird in the book.  Also seen are Speckled Mousebirds, Wahlberg’s Eagle including a beautiful blonde individual, Yellow-breasted Longclaw, Fiscal Flycatcher, a lovely group of 7 White-helmet Shrikes (apparently always seen in flocks of an odd number!), Yellow-billed Hornbill, quite a few Yellow-throated Petronias and Cardinal Woodpecker.  At times it is all pretty frantic with birds all over the place possibly because it is a bit cooler this morning as it has been overcast, however by about 10:00 it is really clearing and Roy reports that it has “has turned out nice again” as it becomes much hotter and sunnier. 

We arrive at Nsumu Pan, a large area of open water but before we go down to scan it with the scopes we stop to look for Rudd’s Apalis.  Having heard it call Mark plays the tape and in no time at all the bird is out in the open giving superb views.  Down at the water we see a good list of birds including Greater Flamingo, Spur-winged Geese, Open-billed Stork and a Pink-backed Pelican flies by.  It is in good breeding plumage with a pink back.  There are a lot of Waders including Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Greenshank and our first Marsh Sandpipers of the trip.  There are one or two Black-winged Stilts and Avocets, an African Spoonbill and flying round above these are Whiskered Terns.  There are several Hippos very close to the shore which occasionally make us jump by suddenly snorting loudly. There are also some enormous Crocodiles on one of the islands on the other side.  On the far bank we see a Reedbuck, this is a pale looking antelope with rather curved forward pointing horns.  An African Fish Eagle flies over and there are also a few Vultures circling including White-backed and Lappet-faced.  We also see one or two Storks as well, and our last bird here before we move on is a Water Thick-knee. 

Travelling down the road towards one of the hides Jean suddenly shouts for us to stop and points out a tiny little antelope that races off into the bushes and is soon out of sight but most people have at least managed to glimpse it.  It is a Suni and is probably the smallest Antelope here.

We arrive at Kumasinga Hide, where we stopped yesterday evening but this time it is much busier with a steady stream of animals coming to drink.  When we arrive there are already some Nyala and Impala, then a few Zebra appear and as they leave a large herd of Wildebeest appear. They are remarkably timid taking ages to settle down to drink and then rush off again.  Meanwhile there are more animals coming and going with several beautiful male Nyala coming in to drink and plenty of Warthogs.  It is odd the way that most of the animals come in looking very nervous but the Warthogs couldn’t care less!  They come charging in at a run, straight into the water and have a drink with some of them even walking right round to a patch of mud below the hide window, rolling around and covering themselves with mud.  A Warthog decides to investigate a Terrapin on the bank, it sniffs at it and prods at it with its nose and even lifts its back end up before suddenly the Terrapin decides that it has had enough and decides to move.  The Warthog jumps back in astonishment and looks completely horror struck, it very carefully walks right round it as if it going to explode in its face before heading to a lovely patch of mud for a roll – it’s very funny to watch.  The birds are good too with lots of Doves around including Red-eyed, Cape Turtle, and more Emerald Spotted Doves than we have seen in the whole holiday with small flocks of them coming down to drink.  There’s Black-collared Barbet, Yellow-bellied Bulbuls and dozens of Black-eyed Bulbuls coming through and we also spend a while trying to sort out those Sunbirds.  We finally decide that we have Neergaard’s and Purple-banded here, in fact the females prove easier to identify than the males!  Just before we leave we pick up another new bird, a Tambourine Dove which looks really pretty with its white face.
After lunch we have a bit of a rest before a few of us meet up at 15:00 to go for a walk round the grounds. We meet outside the shop where one of the rangers points out a green snake in a hole up a large tree.  It is a Boomslang and has apparently been living in this tree for about two years!   The target bird is Pink-throated Twin-spot a speciality of this area but initially it all seems pretty hopeless as there are very few birds about in the heat of the afternoon.  We do get brief views of Purple-banded Sunbird and eventually get superb views of a Red-fronted Tinker-bird.  There are one or two Bulbuls around too but we have pretty much given up on the Twin-spot as we head back towards the house.  We stop to go through a gate by the swimming pool when suddenly Ted says “What’s this here?” we look down and there at the bottom of one of the bushes is a superb male Pink-throated Twin-spot!  A female comes and joins it and we spend several minutes watching these delightful little birds hopping around only about three metres away from us. 

Black Rhino is our next target and we drive a route that goes through some very thick bush…their preferred habitat.  The big problem is that in this habitat they can be really difficult to see but we drive slowly along peering into the vegetation picking out the occasional Fork-tailed Drongo and Nyala or two.  Its all quite exciting.  At one point we come out near the airstrip, one of the few open bits of ground that we have seen and Ted spots a Black-bellied Korhaan walking through the long grass.  Further on we come across a small flock of Crested Guinea Fowls which cross the road in front of the van and then further on still just as the day is really coming to an end we finish off with two Trumpeter Hornbills dust bathing on the road.  There are also a group of seven fantastic male Kudus close to the road.  They really are magnificent animals; all adult males with fully grown horns.  We are running out of time now and we make one small stop to photograph the sunset, which is beautiful setting behind the mountains in the distance.  We then head back to camp and our last bird of the day is Little Bee-eater.  A shame about the Black Rhino but I guess you can’t have everything.  We finish our day with another delicious meal and lashings of trifle and chocolate mousse!  Fantastic!!! 

Day 11            

We start the day at 05:30 meeting up for a walk round the camp again.  Masked Weaver, Fantail Flycatcher, Purple-banded Sunbird, Black-collared Barbet, Red-fronted Tinker-bird were all seen yesterday but we do get a couple of extras such as Cape White-eye and Square-tailed Drongo and there are a few Black Saw-winged Swallows flying around above the river.  In the distance we pick up three Trumpeter Hornbills perched on a bare tree and we also get superb views of Green-backed Camaroptera. 

We arrive back for breakfast just before 07:00 to find a Cardinal Woodpecker perched just outside the house and an Orange-breasted Bush-shrike. 

After breakfast we set off at about 07:30 to drive through the reserve heading slowly towards the gate.  It is astonishing what we manage to see in this short space of time  - Zebra, Wildebeest, lots of Impala, Giraffe, Nyala, a couple of Warthog, Kudu, Vervet Monkeys, White Rhino and a new mammal a Red Duiker.  We work out that we have seen 10 species of mammal before 08:30! Helen once again amuses us all with our daily dose of  “Charlotte Green” entertainment17.

The weather has turned out nice again and we are driving through rather rugged hilly countryside which is scattered with Zulu houses.  We drive on until we get to Hluhluwe, this is an excellent set up where products are sold from lots of the neighbouring tribes and villages.  There are some absolutely beautiful items and everybody buys something perhaps with the exception of Ted and Maureen who are still birding the car-park, picking up a new bird for the trip, Bronze Mannikin.  As well as the shop there is a museum here which is very interesting, and a little Zulu village where we are welcomed and shown round some of the huts.  Eventually we all gather back at the van and Mark plays the tape of Red-faced Cisticola. The bird immediately appears and sings its head off from the top of a bush.  We all catch up with the Bronze Mannikins again and also some Common Waxbills. 

From here we drive on to St Lucia where we head down to the point where the river heads into the sea.  There is some lovely forest here and we go for a walk through what appears to be tropical rainforest almost.  After quite a quiet start suddenly the birds begin to appear thick and fast and it is hard to know where to look.

We see three or four new birds for the trip within a minute.  There are Rudd’s Apalis, Puffbacks, Mouse-coloured Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Large Golden Weaver, White-eared Barbet.  John and Helen seem to be finding the birders more entertaining than the birds as we all try to stand on the same spot to look through a gap in the leaves.  They reckon once we all move on the birds come right out in the open!  Brown Scrubrobins hop down the path (bearing in mind that these are supposed to be little skulkers!) and Ted manages to pick out a Livingstone’s Lourie.  This is a large green bird with a tall, pointed crest.  We get excellent views of Blue-mantled Flycatcher, and some Grey Waxbills feeding right above us in the trees.  The Natal Robins seem tamer here than anywhere we’ve been looking stunningly colourful in the sunshine and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird eventually gives us superb views after a bit of a chase around.  Further on down the track there are about six Thick-billed Weavers feeding on the path including a couple of smart males and we get brief but good views of an Olive Sunbird.  There are Terrestrial Bulbuls, Yellow-bellied Bulbuls and a Forest Weaver feeding on one of the high branches.  A couple of us get poor views of Cuckoo Finch, a really difficult bird to see, and back at the van there are a couple of Crowned-Hornbills. Judy and Helen are having great fun swinging on a big liana hanging over the path...what a great place!

We drive down the road just a little way to find a nice lunch spot beside the river and as we arrive there are a group of at least a dozen Banded Mongoose running around and chasing each other on the road.  They stand up on their hind legs to look at us as we pass.  Very cute!  As we set up the meal table a Long-crested Eagle comes circling around above us as well as three or four Yellow-billed Kites.

We head down to the river after we have eaten where there are a few gulls and terns hanging around and a group of Pink-backed Pelicans.  The gulls are all Grey-headed Gulls and the terns are a mixture of Caspian, and Swift Tern.  There is also a Curlew, a Sanderling, a Kittlitz's Plover and a Goliath Heron.  After we have seen everything here we continue to Durbon, which is quite a long drive of two or three hours.  This is mostly through a mixture of agricultural land with bits of forest and stuff.  There are very few birds really with just one or two large flocks of Little Swifts, a Black-headed Heron, a couple of Yellow-billed Kites, the odd Black-shouldered Kite and one Black-breasted Snake Eagle which is definitely the highlight.

We arrive in Durbon with the intention of going and looking at the sea front for more terns etc.  Unfortunately the tide is right in which has pushed them all off the sandbanks so there is nothing to see.  We do have quite an interesting tour of the centre of Durban itself and Mark and Jean point out various buildings and some of the more interesting features.  We also get Pied Crows and one or two House Crows. 

We continue on our way to Scottburgh arriving at our accommodation just as it is getting dark.  We then pass an extremely pleasant evening with a lovely meal at the guest house and chatting with the owner, Joan, who tells us all sorts of bits and pieces about the area.  She tells us about the massive shoals of Sardines that come through at certain times of the year and the festival that takes place to celebrate their coming.

Day 12            

We start the day at Scottburgh going for a short walk on the golf course very near to where we are staying.  There are a few Minah Birds, Cape Wagtails, Black-bellied Starlings and a Spectacled Weaver but as we arrive at the golf course birds take second place to Humpback Whales!  (No not on the golf course…in the sea!)  Roy was just explaining that you don’t see the Whale first you see a blow when a Whale shoots vertically straight out of the water and lands with a massive splash.  Astonishingly everyone is looking in the right direction and seconds later we get a repeat performance – fantastic!  We gradually realise that there are three Whales in a small area and they really put on a show for us tail-slapping, fin-slapping, launching out of the water it’s just wonderful.  We even get excellent views through the telescope.  It’s an incredible start to the day.  Eventually we leave the Whales and look for some birds so we carry on our walk finding Southern Black Tit, Pin-tailed Wydah, Square-tailed Drongo, Hadeda Ibis flying around and we get excellent views of Yellow-billed Kite. There are one or two Cape White-eyes, a Chinspot Batis, a Thick-billed Weaver flies over but we only get one new bird and what a nice bird it is – Amethyst Sunbird.  It’s a lovely jet black one with green and purple patches on its head. 
After a superb breakfast we say goodbye to Joan who has looked after us, then we go to take a look at the sea.  There are few birds passing but some members of the group are keen to dip their toe in the Indian Ocean.  David decides he doesn’t want to join us but the thought is quite enticing so he sends his toe down to the sea to be dipped in which is possible for David as he has a false leg!  There is much hilarity as his false leg is carried down the beach to the edge of the ocean and the toe duly dipped.  He seems a bit miffed when it is returned as he now has sand between his toes!

Our next stop is Mark and Jean’s house to pick Jean up and they invite us in to look around.  Everyone is very nosey or should I say interested to look at the house which Mark built himself!  It’s another relaxed start to the day but the weather is beginning to close in now and is starting to drizzle and as we set off towards the Drakensburg we end up in thick fog.  Most people catch up on some sleep but we do make one stop at a place called High Flats where there is a nice little waterfall and a stream.  We see a Cape Robinchat here and Helen spots an Olive Thrush and she reckons that this is the first new bird she has spotted for herself on the whole trip!  We also get dreadful views of a Harrier, either Montagu’s or Pallid and since you don’t get Pallid in this area it must be Montagu’s but we don’t get to see any of the markings. 

We continue on our way eventually coming to an area of large plantations of pine and eucalyptus.  Suddenly there is a Long-crested Eagle gliding along beside the van before landing in one of the trees so we stop to see if we can see it. It disappears into the trees but we decide to make this our lunch stopas it a little picnic area with a table.  Birdwise it’s very quiet being all eucalyptus trees and pine trees, which are all introduced.  Instead we focus on the flowers of which there are quite a variety.  We do not manage to name most of them but some of them are really beautiful, others are just plain strange! 

We set off again and as we are now getting nearer the Drakensberg area, and are getting into some nice habitat, we take some back roads to see what we can find.  We start to build up quite a nice list of birds including Alpine Swift, Anteating Chat, some beautiful Cape Longclaws, White-throated Swallows, Plain Martin, Cape Canary is a new one, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Black-headed Heron, there are Stonechats on the fence posts and we also start to see flocks of Long-tailed Widows, the males of which are now starting to get very long tails.  We also see a couple of White-necked Ravens and then turn down a road that leads to a couple of beautiful pools.  There are quite a lot of ducks and things here so we get the telescopes out and have a look.  There are lots of Red-knobbed Coot, a couple of Moorhens, both species of Cormorant, Snake Bird and dozens of Little Grebes, the first we have seen on the trip.  We see plenty of Yellow-billed Ducks, a couple of Cape Shovleler and another new duck African Shelduck, which has some little ducklings with it.  Roy picks out a couple of White-backed Ducks and everyone looks at them through the telescope but when Jane looks all she can see is otters!!! By now some of the others have walked on ahead to get closer views of the ducks so we race down to join them and all watch these three Spotted-necked Otters playing in the shallows before they disappear into the reeds.  We look at a few other things there and soon the Otters reappear and two of them climb up one of the trees into a hole and then spend quite a while gambolling around inside there, peering out now and again looking really cute. 

Eventually we decide it is time to leave and we head off on our way making a stop for some Red-collared Widows with a few Red-billed Quelea in amongst them.  Then some distance on we Roy spots a Stanley’s Bustard.  This magnificent bird is just on the top of a rise some distance off and we all scramble out of the van to get the scope set up on it.  It puts on a great performance puffing its neck up in display before disappearing off over the horizon.  It reappears briefly and everyone gets good views through the scopes before we head off.  We also get very good views of Reedbuck from this spot. 

Further on we come across a large flock of Pigeons, ome of which rather dark.  We park the van and scan them and realise that they are Rameron Pigeons.  These are not a very easy bird to see usually as they are a bird of the forest but this flock seem to be feeding on grain in a stubble field. Many are perched in a tree beside the road giving us excellent views.  In the same field there are about 20 Southern Bald Ibis…what a great field!  Time is really pushing on now so we head on to the hotel and the only other birds we see on the way are White Storks and Spur-winged Geese. 

Arriving at the hotel we get all our bags unloaded and into the rooms and settle in.  The rooms are beautiful and the view from the hotel towards the mountains is stunning. We then go for a short walk in the grounds. There are two or three Olive Thrushes then after a short distance we see Cape Canary and a lovely little flock of Common Waxbills.  There are Plain Martins flying around and we get our second Amethyst Sunbird of the day.  We lose part of the group as they spend a while plucking up the courage to cross the rather scary bridge over the river. It is getting quite late now so there is not really much to see as most birds have gone to roost however we do finish the day with good views of Southern Boubou.  This is particularly pleasing as it has proved quite elusive so far and these have been our first good views.  All in all it has been a fantastic day.  After a splendid meal we go to bed full of anticipation of what tomorrow will bring, certainly the scenery is stunning. 

Day 13            

We are at Sani Pass Hotel and start the day with a walk at 06:00 through the grounds and down in the direction of the waterfall.  It is incredibly windy making looking for little birds in bushes rather difficult but there are some long breaks between the gusts giving us time to spot stuff.  We head to the hotel entrance first to check the Bottle-brush Bushes.  There are lots more birds around than last night and in a very short distance we see Olive Thrush, Cape White-eyes of which there are several, and some lovely Speckled Mousebirds behaving very like mice, scuttling through the tops of the bushes with their long tails dragging behind them.  At the Bottle-brush Bushes there are Cape Weavers in the distance in amongst some twiggy branches and a Southern Boubou below the bushes themselves.  We then spot a Greater Double-collared Sunbird, a spectacular bird with a bright red chest band.  It sits right out in the open looking superb with its iridescent plumage.  We walk down to the path that leads to the waterfall passing several Cape Canaries and a nice flock of Common Waxbills.  At the top of a tall tree is a bird that looks to the naked eye like a European Starling but obviously you only get those in the towns so it can’t be.  We set the scope up on it…it’s a European Starling!!!  The walk down to the waterfall passes through some very nice scrubby areas and we are soon picking up some new birds here.  There are at least four African Yellow Warblers chasing each other through the bushes and eventually they perch up out in the open and we get very good views of them.  There are a few Le Vaillant's Cisticolas and Plain Martins are darting about above our heads.  At this point we also find a bird that looks like a Flycatcher and is rather dull looking but when it flies we see that the outer tail feathers are completely white…a Honeyguide!  One look at the beak and we realise that is none of the ones we have seen already and is in fact a Sharp-billed Honeyguide which is quite a rare species.  Time is running out and we need to get back for breakfast so we head back instantly picking up more new birds – Dusky Flycatcher and Olive Woodpecker perched high up in a tree and Drakensberg Prinia.  We are all relieved that the strong wind we had started the day with has dropped away almost completely and it is looking like a good day for heading up the mountains.

After an outrageously luxuriant breakfast we are all ready for our trip up the Sani Pass at 08:00.  We are met by our two guides as we are splitting into two vehicles. One guide is called Fourfeet and the other is called Matthew.  Mark, Helen and Judy go in the front vehicle and the rest of us go in the larger vehicle behind.  We are entertained all the way up to the top with all sorts of little stories told to us by Matthew.   He has been born and brought up in this area and is extremely interesting.  He points out all sorts of rock formations that have local names such as the Fairies Castle, The Goblins Castle, The White Witches Palace etc (or is he having us on?) and he shows us where the locals collect water and also tells us all about the local people, their customs and their way of life.  As we head up the pass we see Stonechats on the wires and a Malachite Sunbird flies over at one point and then Jane spots a Gurney's Sugarbird through the back window of the van.  We stop quickly and get fantastic views as it feeds on a Protea Flower right on top of one of the trees.  This species has a very restricted world distribution indeed and is a real ‘must-see’ for birders visiting this area.  A Kestrel flies over, it is called Rock Kestrel in Africa but is just the same as the one we get at home.  A little further on and we make another stop to look at group of about twenty Eland.

We eventually reach the border control where we all have to show our passports to get into Lesotho and then we carry on our way.  The path gets higher and higher and really starts to wind its way up the slope.  At the top (after 27 hairpin bends according to Matthew) the track levels off.  There are a few huts and even a few birds, such as the Red-capped Lark, Sickle-winged Chat and also Familiar Chat, which is quite difficult to tell from Sickle-winged but has an orange, not pale, rump.  We stop to listen to a shepherd who is sat playing a very strange instrument.  It looks as if he has stuck a large branch into an oil can, put a string across it and is playing it with a small bow!  It sounds like a fiddle when played and reminds me of some Irish fiddle music. Matthew calls him over and tell him how much we like the music. We stop to look at a Sentinel Rock Thrush and struggle to get decent views of it when a message comes over the radio that Mark’s car has a Pale-chanting Goshawk.  We race on ahead to try and see it but we needn’t have worried because it is just sat on the ground not too far away from us and we get superb views. It is an unusual find here as according to the maps it shouldn’t be here at all but there have been a few records in the past.  After a brief stop we continue way, the views are astonishing as we are on an enormous plateau surrounded by even higher mountains.  It is almost a tundra type habitat with occasional collections of little huts where the sheep herders live in the summer months.  Our main problem is that the wind is much stronger up here and this makes it very difficult to locate the birds. It is almost impossible to hear any calls and trying to use the tape to call the birds proves pointless.  We do see a few Drakensberg’s Siskins and get excellent views of a Sentinel Rock Thrush.  We also find our first Yellow Canaries, however the commonest bird up here is Stonechats as they seem to be everywhere.  The real stars of the show are the Slogget’s Ice Rats.  These just catch everyone’s hearts as they are delightful little things looking like big hamsters.  They run around on the short grass and then sit up on their hind legs like tiny little Prairie Dogs.

We have lunch at the café which claims to be the highest café in Africa.  It is a very homely place and we have a lovely meal there.  It is run by some local Lesotho people and has a superb veranda with a view that is simply stunning.  There are more Slogget’s Ice Rats here, running around among the boulders.  There are lots of Cape Sparrows, a Cape Vulture flies over at one point and a White-necked Raven, more Drakensberg’s Siskins and we get fantastic views of Orange-breasted Rock Jumper; a bird that everyone is keen to see.  There’s a pair of these really unusual birds hopping around about ten feet in front of us. They are unlike any other bird I can think of but are apparently related to the warblers.

After this we do a short walk on the plateau, our main target here being Large-billed Lark and we very quickly pick one up.  It then puts on a wonderful display of singing right above our heads, we also have the advantage of having Matthew with us as he can speak to the locals who have come across on horseback and are very keen to have their photographs taken.  So keen in fact that at one point thinking that Roy’s telescope is a camera one of them goes and poses beautifully between it and the Thick-billed Lark!  Fortunately Matthew can explain the situation and get him to move out of the way! 

We have to be out of Lesotho by 16:00 as this is when the gates close so at about 15:00 we set off on our way down.  We stop initially to look at a Jackal Buzzard which is flying around and Roy then spots a Lammergeier which flies straight across the valley in front of the van and then soars around at the top of the cliffs to the left of us.  It is rather distant but still a magnificent bird.  We see lots more Cape Buntings, Sickle-winged Chats and Drakensberg’s Siskins then Sarah and Maureen spot a Fairy Flycatcher.  This is a lovely little bird but looks completely out of place in this habitat, it seems too light weight and the wind seems to pick it up at times and throw it around.  We call the other car up on the radio and they also come back and manage to see it.  Soon we arrive back at the Protea Trees and there are more Gurney’s Sugarbirds and there seem to be lots more Malachite Sunbirds than there were on the way up.  We see at least six or eight of them and a couple of them give fantastic views on the tops of the trees – they really are stunning in the sunlight.  A bit further down and Judy spots a Red-necked Wryneck which flies from where their car is watching it to right beside our van and gives fantastic views from the top of a dead tree.  We seem to get down far too quickly and in no time we are back at the hotel, it has been a wonderful experience.
There is still a little daylight left so a few of us decide to go for a short walk in the grounds and down to the waterfall.  We pass a small flock of Common Waxbills and Cape Canaries, a Cape Robinchat, Olive Thrush and we get excellent views of another Olive Woodpecker as we set off down the track.  Looking across at some distant fields there is a nice group of Sacred Ibis feeding and after a few minutes they are joined by a small group of Southern Bald Ibis.  We set the scope on these and suddenly the whole flock go up, they have clearly been flushed by something and scanning around we quickly pick up a Black Goshawk.  It has obviously already killed and it is carrying something with it as it flies across in front of us and lands in one of the tall trees – unfortunately out of sight but a very pleasing find.

Looking across the river the habitat looks good for Grassbird (lots of grass!) and after scanning around for a while we pick up a bird sat on top of a bush and through the telescope we realise that is exactly what we have found.  Another pleasing find is Mountain Reedbuck a new mammal. This rather nice little Antelope is found on rocky slopes and there are at least three or four of them high up on the on the hillside. 

Next we get a fantastic display of about 70 Southern Bald Ibis spiralling around and circling in to come and roost in some trees near the waterfall.  They actually wiffle as they come down to their roost site and we feel rather awful as we approach the waterfall as the whole lot go back up again and circle round.  We have a quick look at the waterfall as we head back and fortunately as we leave they appear to be coming back in so we obviously haven’t disturbed them too much.

We arrive back at the hotel for another superb evening meal and then we all meet up for coffee and tea in the lounge afterwards.  Todays list seems quite bizarre compared to other days it seems like almost everything we have seen before we don’t see today and everything we see today is new!  We have over 20 new birds.  We then re-live the whole holiday by trying to decide where our Place of the trip is and what was our Bird of the trip and so on and the variety is enormous.  Almost everyone seems to choose something different although having said that there is one outstanding winner in the birds category and that is Secretary Bird – clearly a real favourite.  Other birds that get a mention include Long-billed Crombec, one of the first birds we saw on the whole trip right through to Gymnogene which was fishing around in Woodpecker holes to Lilac-breasted Roller which we saw lots of times, African Scops Owl, Malachite Kingfisher and right up to date with Orange-breasted Rock-jumper today.  On a trip such as this you’ve got to have Mammal of the trip which everyone agrees is a really difficult decision.  Warthogs, Leopards, Giraffes and Nyala all get a mention but the outright winner, because we saw them doing so many different things from throwing dust over themselves to drinking water to getting cross because we were approaching their young ones, is Elephant.  We have a vote on the best Antelope in which Nyala beat Kudu by a clear five votes.  The best place is really difficult to choose, however it is the Kruger area that wins and Oliphant’s Camp is the outright winner because of its fantastic view.  Magic moment has to be the night drive when the two Honey Badgers were digging out the Tortoise nests.  It is certainly obvious from all the discussions that everyone has had a wonderful time.

Day 14            

After another superb breakfast at the Sani Pass Hotel all the bags are loaded into the van and we head to Durban.  We haven’t got a lot of spare time to play with however as we drive along we do see one or two birds including a superb Long-crested Eagle, one or two Jackal Buzzards, Black-shouldered Kite, then we are into Crane country again.  No sooner has Mark said to keep an eye out for Cranes than Jean calls for the van to stop and we all look to the right and at the back edge of a larger field there are three Wattled Cranes.  Two adults and a little chick! This is a very rare bird in South Africa with probably less than 20 pairs nesting and this is one of the few areas where you can still see them.    It’s amazing how far away they show up with their white necks.  We can’t stop and enjoy them for long as we have a deadline to meet and must move on, but after another few hundred yards Roy calls out and the van stops again this time we see two Crowned Cranes in a field on the left however the rest of the group are concentrating on a flock of about 40 that he has completely missed!  These are much closer and we get very good views of them.  We are all delighted as this is a bird we thought we had missed and it is such a fantastic way to finish the holiday.  Not just a new bird but a really spectacular one. 

From here it is non-stop to Durban airport chatting about what we have seen and what a brilliant holiday.

Species Lists