Views of the bush
What a better way than to fall asleep to the sounds of a tiny Scops Owl and then wake up in the morning to the sounds of a hyaena. That was my alarm clock for the first morning I woke up in Marloth Park. As I got myself dressed and ready for the day I could hear a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, and some Black-collared Barbets duetting beautifully. I went upstairs to join the family and as I walked out onto the deck I was hit with the smell of the bush and a smile on my face. This is my happy.
View of the Crocodile River
I had heard a Black-crowned Tchagra singing and joining the others on the deck overlooking the Crocodile River, they were in fact busy watching that same Tchagra rustle through the bush. There were Blue Waxbills flitting through the trees, which was a good place for them actually as they seem to sit still for longer on a branch than on the ground and I was able to get some pics of them for once. Then I got my first lifer for the weekend, a Red-billed Firefinch, one of those tiny pink birds. The Red-billed is the only one with a pink bill, which tells it apart from the other four Firefinches in our region. Then the Sombre Greenbul came calling and calling and calling, it was a constant sound through the bush, even at the hottest time of day, he still called out. Obviously Willie didn’t want to come out and play! I have learnt the call of this bird by remembering the phrase “Willie, won’t you come out and play, pleeeease?!”
A flock? What is the collective noun for Turaco’s? Well we saw nine Purple-crested Turaco’s come flying over the tree tops and land in the nearby trees with a hop, skip and a jump. They are known for jumping through the trees, being very agile birds. It was quite unusual to see 9 together like that as they are more commonly seen in pairs.
Yellow-fronted Canary, Dark-capped Bulbul, Violet-backed Starling, Vultures flying around and coming in to land in the river, Black- backed Puffback, Egyptian Geese, Helmeted Guineafowl, these were all showing off for us on this morning.
Eventually Dad and I went to check out where all the vultures were going, and it turned out they were all coming in to feed off an old carcass down at the river. Also on the carcass, and possibly dominating it, were quite a few Marabou Storks. We also spotted a Saddle-billed Stork further upstream and we had a Hamerkop fly over.
Back at the house I was given the shocking news that while we were out my Mom, Bobby and Zelda had seen a Narina Trogon! I mean, what! Really! A bird I didn’t even have on my list hoping to see, as this doesn’t feel like the right area for them. Apparently it was sitting on a branch nearby and then flew off quickly, so a very brief sighting. It then made me determined to go in search for one, if not this weekend, then within the rest of my birding year.
Out the back of the house I heard a bird calling and could see it, but had to run inside for my binocs quickly. It was a sunbird but one I had not seen before as its head all appeared to be green. The light was very bad, some clouds were building up with possible rain so I couldn’t complain. I then spotted a female sunbird as she was busy making her messy little pear shaped nest. After seeing both of them, which I’m guessing must be a pair, they turned out to be Marico Sunbirds (Lifer).
As it was a cool day, and the coming days looked like they were going to be much hotter, we decided to go into Kruger park for a drive. We had heard that Kruger was extremely dry due to the drought we are experiencing right now, and boy was it, I’ve never seen it so bare and barren before.
Driving into Kruger through Crocodile Bridge gate was quite depressing as it was so so dry. There is no grass, just trees with no leaves and bare soil.
Crocodile Bridge area, with a teasing of rain in the distance
We made a stop to look at a Korhaan just on the road side. I’m not good at identifying these kinds of birds, they just confuse me.
But when this bird walked onto a small termite mound I knew it was about to call. As soon as I heard the clicking I knew what it was. The call of the Red-crested Korhaan was one of the first calls I learnt on my birding course with Africa Nature Training.
Hopefully now I won’t forget the look of this bird again.
At Sunset Dam just outside Lower Sabie, we saw the resident Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, the ever so cute White-faced Whistling Ducks paddling in the shallow water and then also a Common Sandpiper.
White-faced Whistling Duck
Along the main road we stopped for two Eagles. There are 4 big brown Eagles in our region which can cause much confusion. At first I thought the one was maybe a Wahlbergs Eagle, but after much research and advice from social media, they both turned out to be Tawny Eagles. Maybe one day I’ll get the hang of the big brown jobs.
Further down the road we had three species of Vultures sitting in three trees all next to each other. A group of White-backed Vultures, a Hooded and a Lappet-faced which I have never seen so closely before!
Hooded, Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures
The last bird for the Kruger trip was a Black-chested Snake Eagle. A good challenge for the identification practice as it was a juvenile with very different plumage to the adults which I have seen before.
Black-chested Snake Eagle
The next morning we went for a walk along the fence line between Marloth Park and Kruger. We drove to a more quiet section of the park and on opening the car door I straight away heard the screeches of Brown-headed Parrots, but couldn’t find them as they were hidden so well in the dense foliage of a Weeping Boerbean tree. Moving on from the shade of one tree to the next I was forced to stop in the scorching sunlight just before reaching some shade as I noticed a Spotted Bush Snake slithering up the tree trunk. It’s amazing how well they do that, going vertical with no limbs. It slid up the trunk and then out onto a thick branch, stopping every now and then to check us out. I kept my distance and moved off quickly!
Spotted Bush Snake
Later on we went into the caravan park section of Marloth Park. It all seemed rather quiet at first but soon got pretty active. Luckily there were nice big trees so we were protected and cooled for most of the walk. I spotted some White-crowned Helmetshrikes with their funky yellow eyes; what I think was a Green-backed Camaroptera; Black-backed Puffback clicking and whistling constantly; Great egrets fishing along with a Pied Kingfisher. After hearing the Black-headed Oriole for the whole of yesterday I finally got a visual on a couple of them.
Early the next morning I had my hot choc and Amarula on the deck. It was much quieter birding than the previous morning had been. I heard a Klaas’s Cuckoo calling “Meitjie, Meitjie” in the distance and then who would appear right in front of the deck…a Klaas’s Cuckoo! I’m not sure I’ve ever actually laid eyes on this one before.
Once everyone was up and ready I went for a walk with Dad and Bobby along the fence line. We encountered a Starling party! The gorgeous Violet-backed Starlings were out in force, the males dressed in their striking purple and white plumage. Groups of these starlings were hanging out with Greater Blue-eared Starlings and even Wattled Starlings. We eventually got a White-browed Scrub-Robin, which took much searching as he was calling high up in a tree, but with the many many branches and bad light it made finding him tricky. Another lifer for me, but for Bobby, a long time birder and Kruger visitor, this was a regular sighting.
Violet-backed Starling (back) and Greater Blue-eared Starling
After a quiet stretch of our walk we turned around to start heading home for breakfast but were stopped in our tracks as birds began to burst out left, right and centre. Golden-breasted bunting just over the fence, Bobby asking what bird was calling, me hearing the “Deary me” of a Grey Tit-flycatcher and then hearing Bobby’s bird and answering Orange-breasted Bushshrike, then spotting the Bush-shrike, then spotting the Tit-flycatchers, then spotting Lesser masked weavers…..I didn’t know where to look or what to try photograph first! Awesome chaos! You’ve gotta love it too when a bird displays the behaviour you read about in the field guides. The Grey Tit-flycatcher, 2 of them in fact, were flicking and fanning their tails and showing the black tails with white tail edgings, very cool to finally see this behaviour!
Long-billed Crombec and Grey Tit-flycatcher
Also got a Yellow-throated Petronia and some cool looking lizards.
We left Marloth Park later that morning and headed into Kruger where we would spend the night. The drive up to Skukuza was scorching, I’m not used to that kind of horrible, stifling heat anymore.
Close to Lower Sabie I saw a flash of white flying through the bush which needed further investigation. On closer inspection it was a Black-backed Puffback doing what Puffbacks do, puffing up their back feathers. I had never seen them actually doing this before, such cute little pompoms.
We arrived at Skukuza and did the usual drive around the campsites to find the perfect site. At one point though, I had to bring the search to a halt because I had seen a rather unusual looking Hornbill. It was like the usual Hornbills you would see in camps, fairly tame, sitting right between 2 camp sites, but it looked much darker. Getting out my binoculars I still had no clue what it was. I’ve never seen any other Hornbill species here besides the Red-billed, Yellow-billed and Grey. Turned out to be a Crowned Hornbill, and a really awesome sighting at that!
After settling in to our campsite I headed off for a walk around Skukuza. I didn’t find much in terms of birds but it was still very pleasant walking around at that time of day. On my return to camp, some sort of smallish raptor zoomed past chasing a dove. Luckily it came past again and landed on the top of a tree nearby. Looking at it initially and getting some photos I thought it was a Dark Chanting Goshawk, but luckily as it flew away I saw a definite white rump and boldly barred tail. After asking for help on the ID on Instagram as well, I concluded it was actually a Gabar Goshawk.
The next morning I went off for a walk again and still it was fairly quiet. In the river down by the restaurant there was a small herd of Buffalo. They honestly looked like Water Buffall from another country, not our big and buff Cape Buffalo. The drought is really taking its toll on them and they are looking extremely thin. Even though they were walking through the Sabie river and there was plenty of water at their feet, there is definitely not enough vegetation for them to eat.
Cape Buffalo in the Sabie River
It was then that I heard the first Red-chested Cuckoo for the season. Eventually I managed to track it down where it was hanging out with a pair of Dark-capped Bulbuls.
Red-chested Cuckoo and Dark-capped Bulbuls
An odd looking Lapwing down in the river caught my eye, not the usual plumage of any Lapwing I know, but quickly realised it was a juvenile Blacksmith Lapwing.
Juvenile Blacksmith Lapwing
A flock of Swifts had been torturing me since the previous evening. I couldn’t get a decent photo of them, but finally on leaving the park there were a few flying under and around the Malelane bridge. With the white rumps and square tails they were Little Swifts.
We had breakfast at the Afsaal Picnic Site. The restaurant has been revamped and seems to be quite nice now, breakfast was certainly delicious. Just after our breakfasts arrived, a horde of overseas tourists arrived and noticed that there was an Elephant close by to the unfenced picnic site. This group of people basically rushed straight at the elephant who was minding his own business feeding on the trees and bushes. Eventually the Ellie starting becoming annoyed and gave this group a few little mock charges which sent some of them running, but they quickly turned around and went straight back to taking their Selfies! Wtf!! And where was the guide that was driving them around?! No where to be seen! No one controlling them. Another guide and probably a tour leader eventually came and told the people to move off. These tourists where about 3/4 metres from the elephant, while these guides stayed back about 10m and shouted at them that this was a dangerous animal! What will happen when the elephant actually tramples one of these idiots? The elephant will be put down! Situations like this drive me insane, humans are stupid!
Stupid tourists! The Kruger Park is not a zoo, that elephant is not tame, he is wild, have some respect!