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A Report from

South Africa's Kruger National Park,

Bren and Ruth McCartney

(Bren is the proprietor of the Berkshire Birds Web-pages, see links)

This was to be our first "serious" bird-watching trip abroad and we were doing it alone! Although reasonably familiar with most of the species likely to be seen in the UK, we found the prospect of sorting out the 400+ species likely to be seen in the Kruger somewhat daunting!

Whilst taxiing in at Johannesburg airport Bren had a brief glimpse of a Crane on the airfield. Noting Ruth's wild gyrations in attempting to see the bird, a South African passenger assured us that by the end of the week we would be fed up with Cranes. We saw none! The long drive to the Kruger Park produced some memorable birding sights, but no ticks as we had to reach the park before dusk and could not stop. However, once inside the park - at the Malelene Gate - we blew our minds. Our first rest camp was Berg en Dal and the short drive from Malelene took us over two hours! Every tree was scoured, with due reward, and dozens of Long Tailed Shrikes, Hornbills, Rollers and Bee Eaters greeted us.

Next morning a riverside walk at Berg en Dal produced Giant Kingfisher (giant being the operative word), Water Dikkop, Greenbacked Heron, Striped, Malachite and Brownhooded Kingfishers, White-bellied Sunbird, Crested Barbet and lots more. Our drive that day, via Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie produced nearly 50 species, including several Vultures, Kites and Eagles, a fantastic Diederik Cuckoo, three more species of Shrike, Storks, Weavers, African Jacana, Hadeda Ibis, etc. No sign, however, of the Narina Trogon, which we had hoped for in that area.

The second night was spent at the park headquarters at Skukuza - Warblers, Mannikin, Chinspot Batis, Paradise Wydah, several Ducks, Striped Cuckoo, Golden Bishop, Grey Lourie, Redfaced Mousebird, Saddlebilled and Woolynecked Storks, Redbreasted Swallows, etc.

We continued north via the rest camp at Satara, which we shall mainly remember because of some German people in the next hut attempting to feed a Hyena through the fence - which was only 3 ft high! We went indoors and locked the door! Next morning, sitting on the veranda we saw Woodland Kingfishers, European Golden Oriole (which we had never previously seen, despite hours standing on the bridge at Fordham), Redbilled Buffalo Weaver and a Redbilled Hornbill which walked around our feet at breakfast and was partial to Special K! The camp also has a pond which has been colonised by Black Crakes, affording excellent views of this species. Early morning starts are recommended and departure as soon as the gates were open produced Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Grassveld Pipit and Namaqua Dove sitting on the roads around the camp. Later that day we found Chestnut-backed Finchlark, Kori Bustard, Redwinged and Plum coloured Starlings, Hammerkop, Bateleur, Longbilled Crombec, Eastern Redfooted Falcon, Puffback, Kurrichane Thrush, Whiteheaded Vulture, Whitecrowned Plover and Goliath Heron.

The furthest north we reached was the camp at Oliphants, where we experienced more frustration at the sight of many Nightjars flying around the floodlights near the camp entrance. There are at least six species of Nightjar in the park and we did not positively identify any. However, during the next two days the surrounding bush gave us Arrowmarked Babbler, Gymnogene, a spectacular Goldenbreasted Bunting, Jacobin Cuckoo, Rock Bunting, the extraordinary Secretary Bird, etc.

We did not go just for the birds and devoted a good 1-2% of our time looking at animals! Giraffe, Zebra, Impala were seen in vast numbers but it took five days before we saw our first lion. Camp regulations state that visitors should remain in their cars whilst outside rest camps but several times during our drives Brendan got out of the car in his eagerness to scope birds at waterholes. On day five we saw our first lion - well hidden approximately two feet from the edge of the road. Brendan remained in the car thereafter!

We spent our last night back at Berg en Dal, adding Blue Waxbill, the colourful Blackcollared Barbet and the long awaited magnificent Paradise Flycatcher to our list. Then it was time to leave.

So what really stands out in our memories of one week in the Kruger Park? Simply huge numbers of spectacular birds. We positively identified 143 species and dipped on at least a further 50 as we had to be satisfied with identifying mainly those birds with unique and colourful plumage, but there were dozens of LBJs which "got away". Of those we identified we especially remember... Red and Golden Bishops - never had we seen such brightly coloured birds; the Giant Kingfisher and the Goliath Heron - incredible birds so different from those back home; the large number of raptors, some of which remained unidentified; the hundreds of thousands of hirundines, sometimes forming a carpet on the roads and tracks. We took two excellent books with us: Field Guide to the Birds of the Kruger National Park, by Sinclair and Whyte, and Newman's Birds of Southern Africa. Both proved to be invaluable, with Brendan frantically searching through one and Ruth the other!

Will we return? God willing we shall. The trip described took place during March. Next time we shall try September, which we estimate should pull in nearly 100 new species.

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