South Africa and the Kruger
Leaders: Roy Atkins, Mark
Jane Atkins, David & Sarah Palmer, Mark & Helen Gibbons,
John & Christine Shawyer, Ted & Maureen Cawuley.
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!
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
|We stop to look at a Southern Ground Hornbill
which is like an enormous Turkey with a red face and an enormous
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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 hunt. I 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.