Easter weekend in the Kruger National Park 

After a long drive on the N4 from Joburg through heavy rain, we finally dropped down into the Lowveld and were welcomed by blue skies and a noticeable temperature increase. We arrived at the bridge overthe Crocodile River heading to Malelane gate and instantly I took in a deep breath because this is the place where I feel most at peace and where I can simply relax and breath!

Hyaena tracks, Fever Tea Bush, Giant Land Snail, Exploring on foot, Horn Moth larva feeding on the keratin in the buffalo horns

(Top) Bush bud Easter bunnies, Fish Eagle, Puff Adder. (Middle row) White-browned Scrub-Robin, Woolly-necked Stork, Russet Bushwillow Seed Pods. (Bottom row) Three-banded Plover, Saw-tooth Lovegrass seeds, Striated Heron.


We did a quick trip into the park for an hour before the gates closed and got 2 of the Big 5, rhino and ellies. In the dry river bed a small bird caught my eye and turned out to be a Dark-capped Bulbul with a touch of Leucism I think, some of it’s plumage being white instead of its normal colouring.

Golf cart safari at Leopard Creek; Beautiful sunset in Kruger; White-crowned Lapwing; Male Chinspot Batis, Marico Sunbird; Dark-capped Bulbul


We did two bush walks while in the park, the first being at Berg en Dal camp and the other at Lower Sabie. The major highlight of the walks was walking into a breeding herd of Buffalo. I have done approaches like this before and they were great, but something was different this time, I just absolutely loved it. The Buffalo in a breeding herd are fairly relaxed and curious. You can walk up to them and they will also walk up to you, keeping a distance of approximately 15-20m between them and us. They approach you only to try figure out who and what you are and to decide if you are a threat or not. They inch closer and the noses go up in the air to sniff us out and eventually if something spooks them, they spin around and put foot running to a distance where they feel safe, and then will immediately start approaching again. Even when we turned to walk away they continued to follow us for a while just to make sure they constantly knew where we were and that we were not a threat.

The amazing and photogenic Buffalo

Another huge highlight on the walk out of Lower Sabie camp was sitting on the rocks on the banks of the Sabie River to have our breakfast stop. Sitting in the Sabie River! How amazing is that!

The freedom of walking in the bush; time for a bit of yoga in the bush, a better place I could not find; African Rock Python, possibly killed by a Wild Cat; Huge flocks of Wattled Starlings, #teambushbuds on the Sabie River


As we continued our walk our lead guide spotted some Kudu far off on the opposite side of the river; shortly there after he spotted a lioness following the kudu. Obviously this created great excitement within the group of 7 people as everyone moved quickly to get to a spot where we could all see the action. Somehow in this rush all 6 people walking ahead of me, walked straight over a dead African Rock Python on our pathway. I honestly don’t know how they did it, it was a fair size snake, how did they not even step on it! The snake was headless with the head lying down by the tail and the head/neck side had already started to be eaten and the ribs (I guess) were visible. It looked fairly fresh still so perhaps we had actually scared off the predator who caught this creature. Seriously, but how did everyone miss this right in the path of their feet!!!!  The lion sighting was cool too…the lioness made a half hearted attempt at chasing the Kudu but very quickly turned around and walked off.

The major mammal highlight for the weekend was two separate sightings of Wild Dogs. The first sighting was on the tar road just North of Afsaal picnic spot. We could only see maybe 5 dogs in the pack but most were lying flat under the bushes. One walked across the road so we had great sightings of him which continued even as he lay down in the grass too. We stayed with the dogs for ages, and noticed that so many people who drove passed didn’t seem that excited to see the dogs, only stopping for a few minutes before moving on until on a couple of occasions we were the only vehicle left there.

Hamerkop nest, Spider-hunting Wasp, Young elephant, Impala, Wild Dog marking its territory, Typical Kruger Roadblock, Tree Squirrel, Wild Dog having a drink and cooling off in the mud wallow


Our second Dog sighting the next day was just South of Afsaal, at Renosterpan,  but seemed to be a much bigger pack. A lot more of the dogs were out in the open, and slightly more active. The people viewing the dogs here also seemed more genuinely interested in the dogs and realised the importance of what they were witnessing; these dogs after all, are a very endangered species. 

(Left) Arrow-marked Babbler. (Top middle) Dancing Acraea (Top right) Common Orange Tip (Bottom middle) Some sort of Orange Tip, female? (Bottom right) Wasp

The lastest day trips into nature… 

Well it has definitely been a while since I last updated my blog, so here goes…..
I’ve done a few one day trips here and there and most recently long weekend trip out to Kruger National Park.

We’ve had some nice birds, butterflies and moths in the garden lately starting with an unusual visit from the Southern Boubou who seems to be hanging around the area quite a bit. We’ve also had the alien Rose-ringed Parakeets frequenting the area more and more and even landing in nearby tree’s for a rest. In previous months and years they have only ever flown over the house enroute to and from their roosts. The species seems to be becoming more invasive as the years go by.

(L) Southern Boubou. (Top) African Hoopoe. (Bottom) Cream Striped Owl Moth


Its amazing what little creatures you can find in the garden when you go looking for them.  We’ve also had numerous visits from Cream Striped Owl Moths. There has been a population explosion of this species throughout the country, with many people heading to social media to share their sightings. The reason for so many of these moths being around lately is possibly due to the recent drought and then the major rainfall we had which has now provided a good environment for their life cycle to continue in.

(Top row) Karoo Thrush, Red-eyed Dove, African Olive Pigeon. (Bottom row) Speckled Pigeons, Beet Webworm Moth, Common Zebra Blue


A couple of visits to Rietvlei Nature Reserve have produced some nice birds and new insect species. We have seen hundreds of Pied Crows flying around, definitely a ‘murder of crows’, a sweet family of Ant-eating Chats, frantic Pied Starlings, African Hoopoes dust bathing and hundreds of African Migrant Butterlies. 

(Top row) African Hoopoe, Ant-eating Chat, Crimson-breasted Shrike. (Bottom row) African Migrant, Cape Longclaw, Pied Starling.


On the second trip there we had Cattle Egrets catching a ride on the Zebras’ backs, unfortunately I didn’t get a decent photo of that scene. New bugs on that visit included a stunning Eyed Pansy, some sort of Longhorn Beetle and a Crimson-speckled Footman. 

(Top) Egyptian Goose, Green Woodhoopoe, Crimson-speckled Footman. (Bottom) African Grey Hornbill, Eyed Pansy, Longhorn Beetle


Our trip to Pilanesberg was a rather quiet one in terms of animals, but we did get an awesome Leopard sighting, and we even managed to relocate the Ingwe a few times after it kept disappearing. We witnessed a kill…well sort of…we witnessed a Lesser Grey Shrike eating a grasshopper, and got great footage of this too. A lifer on this trip was a Pearl-breasted Swallow, a very sweet little bird.

(Top clockwise) Lesser Grey Shrike, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Rufous-naped Lark, Leopard


Thanks to social media I was alerted to a Half-collared Kingfisher that had been seen at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens bird hide. I wasn’t holding out much hope of seeing this stunner, but I dragged my Mom off to the gardens with me anyway. We sat at the bird hide for approximately 45 min with no luck on the Half-collared, however we did have lovely views of a Pied Kingfisher fishing and preening and posing beautifully. We decided to leave and obviously had the timing just right because as we left the hide and walked up to another little dam, a small flash of blue caught my eye, and before I could even get my binoculars to my eyes I just knew it was the bird I had come to see! I managed to get a few shots of it, before it flew off and actually landed much closer to us, but then straight away it flew off again. I left the gardens as a very happy birder that day!

(Top) Mandarin Duck. (Right) Pied Kingfisher. (Bottom) Half-collared Kingfisher

First outing for the year – Umhlanga 

My first birding outing for 2017 started off very quietly as we walked through the forest of the Umhlanga Nature Reserve. 

On our last visit there we had seen Tambourine Dove and Black-throated Wattle-eye all within 10 minutes of being in the reserve. This time, nothing, but some nest building Yellow Weavers and a Tawny-flanked Prinia as we crossed over the wetlands. There were no birds to be seen and they were equally quiet. 

Bronze Mannikin – note the juvenile coming in for a landing as well

Yellow Weaver – this bird was frantically working on this nest, much wing flapping going on


Eventually I heard something interesting, something that I knew! Well, sort of know. It sounded to me like an Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, but knowing you don’t find them in the forest I then went to the forest doves and realised it was a Tambourine Dove. After a bit of searching we found it high up in the canopy. I saw a bum view of it and then a glimpse of the white and brown, before it disappeared again. 

We continued our walk and were planning on heading out, when my Sister and her family also arrived and so we went back into the reserve for some more walking and birding. I think they brought the good luck that morning because instantly the forest woke up and in one tree I had 4 species flitting around, including the Golden-tailed Woodpecker which has eluded me since last year, only ever hearing it screeching.   

Golden-tailed Woodpecker


Walking back across the wetland we saw a Thick-billed Weaver busily building its oval nest. It is such an amazing structure, they use very thin strands of whatever material it is and weave it perfectly, producing one of the neatest looking nests around. 

Thick-billed Weaver

Thick-billed Weaver

Oh Hi! I didn’t know I had company


Spectacled Weaver, Tawny Flanked Prinia, Burchells Coucal, and a Yellow-billed Kite entertained us as we crossed the river. 

The one trail in the reserve comes out on the beach, and we were greeted with a grey panorama of a calm sea, big clouds building on the horizon and grey clouds overhead. 

We also saw this bird…haven’t figured it out yet

Umhlanga skies putting on a show


I was hurriedly called over to see a bird posing nicely on the dune vegetation. I was rather surprised to find a Tchagra sitting there. Tchagra’s don’t seem like coastal birds to me, let alone birds inhabiting dune vegetation a few metres away from the ocean. I figured it was Black or Brown Crowned Tchagra, but on closer inspection and a look at the distribution maps it turned out to be a Southern Tchagra, which in fact does enjoy coastal habitats. Yet another thing I have learn’t! 

Southern Tchagra


There were also many smaller creatures around that morning. Plenty of the intensely annoying mozzies, some stunning and delicate dragonflies, a frog or two, a few crabs, some freaky ass spiders and one kiff kite spider. 

Common Tigertail (?)

I’ve never seen a spider like this before. Any ideas?

Kite Spider


So in the end, what started as a very slow morning turned out to be fairly productive and very enjoyable. 

Xxx 

And that’s a wrap folks! 

The year has come to an end which means my Big Birding Year has come to an end. The last couple of weeks were pretty hectic with all the birding outings and trying to get in as many birds as I could!


I have had so much fun this year with this challenge. I set out on the 1 January 2016 to see how many bird species I could see in a year, to make the effort to go on more birding trips and travel to new places, and to learn more about the birds I find.  I reckon I have successfully done all of that! 


I have seen 343 bird species! 

134 of those were Lifers! 


Travelled through all 9 provinces, although only birding in 7 of them. 

Visited many new, never heard of before birding locations. 


Seen birds that I never thought I would see. 

Seen birds that I’ve never even heard of. 


Been on 3 twitches to see rarities. 

Learn’t some bird calls. 


Learn’t the differences between some tricky raptors. 

Learn’t the differences between some tricky waders. 


And discovered a huge birding community within South Africa. 

It has been amazing!!! 


I must also Thank everyone who has supported me during this year and put up with all my bird talk and bird outings! 

A big Thanks to my folks who have joined me on many of these trips.  Thanks for finding me a bunch of these birds, I would have missed them otherwise! 

Here’s to 2017 and all the birding adventures that await! (Just not quite as intensely!) 

xxx 

The Final Count Down! 

30th December 2016 – There were 2 days left of my Big Birding Year and I was on a mission to get my total for the year to 350. 

 We headed out for the first of my last two attempts to reach this goal.  We went up to the Rust De Winter area just over the border into the Limpopo province as I have heard good things about the birding in this area. We started off just doing the roadside routes and very quickly had ticked off 3 birds which was a great start.

There were Amur Falcons lined up on the telephone lines, as well as Lesser Kestrels who were also sitting on the Centre pivot irrigation out in the farmlands. I finally got a Greater Striped Swallow, which has only taken forever to find. 

Amur Falcon

Lesser Kestrel (male)

Greater Striped Swallow

There was a Zitting Cisticola zitting around close by which we managed to spot and watched it land on the fence close by so I could get a decent shot. It’s one of those birds which if I had just seen it sitting there, I would never be able to tell you it was a Zitting Cisticola, damn LBJ’s. 

Zitting Cisticola


 

Closer to the “village” of Rust De Winter in a big open field we found a large flock of Abdim’s Storks which are funny looking birds, with their pink ankles and feet on grey-green legs. There were also about 4 large raptors sitting at the far end of this field, which I think could have been Harriers, but were just too far off to even get a decent pic of.

Abdim’s Stork


From here we went into the Rust De Winter Nature Reserve were I saw my first ever Indigobird! Much excitement for this tiny black bird.  After looking through the 3 Indigobird species we get in South Africa, I concluded that this one was a Purple Indigobird with white bill and white legs.

Purple Indigobird


The rest of the reserve was very quiet, with the most species being seen down by the river inlet. Herons, including the funky Black Heron hunting with his ‘cape’ up, egrets, waders, terns, ducks, geese, swallows, spoonbills and even a baby croc!

I then decided we should try the Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo Kgomo Route.  Another area spoken very highly of in birding groups. It started out with a tricky raptor which turned out to be a female Lesser Kestrel and then got quieter from there on. It was the middle of the day again so what can you expect. I imagine the floodplains can be quite entertaining earlier in the morning and when there has been more water coming through.  From there we headed home…

Lesser Kestrel (female)


I was still short of birds and so we would have to make one last effort to reach the target number.

The next morning we drove out with no real plan. I was desperate for birds but didn’t know where to go to find them, or where to go to get the maximum number of different birds. I also didn’t want to have to drive out to far, so looked closer to home for places. I decided to start with the Hartebeespoort Dam wall in the hopes of seeing some different swallows, swifts and the Cliff Chats which can be seen there. But when we arrived there it was fairly early, not many people around and it didn’t look like there was anywhere to actually walk along the dam wall safely, so we gave up on that one very quickly.

After a coffee break we headed out to Buffelspoort Dam to hopefully see something, but got nothing. There were hardly any birds of any kind there anyway. 

 We then went up to the Mountain Sanctuary Park, which is a popular hiking spot that has trails to some awesome looking natural swimming pools. As we were driving up to the camp, my Dad stopped the car, looked out his window up into the sky and asked “What’s that?” whilst clapping his hands fast. With him looking up and clapping his hands like that, I knew straight away it was a Flappet Lark. They display by flying high up with rapid wing clapping for a few seconds which causes that flapping sound, and then fall quite fast back down again. Yay, finally a new bird for the list…and this would turn out to be the final bird for the list and for the year!

My Dad and I did a short trail down to the river which was flowing nicely, a very beautiful spot with amazing views across the Magaliesberg area. There were a few cisticola’s and prinia’s around, and the mournful song of a Black Cuckoo nearby. We also had a fairly good sighting of a female Dideric Cuckoo, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen, only the males. The female has buff coloured throat so this threw me off the ID for a bit.  A male did arrive, and I think he was trying to win her over by bringing her food. 

We stopped in at Cradle Moon to see what their day visitor facilities are like for future reference, and of course to look for some more last minute birds. We did see another Dideric Cuckoo there. This one sitting on the leaf of a Aloe posing quite nicely in an unusual plant, although a bit hidden in the shade.  It looked like we were watching the same scene again with the male bringing in juicy worms for the female.

Dideric Cuckoo

African Pipit


We didn’t find anything new, but it was still nice to walk around the place. We ended off the day having a late lunch and enjoying an ice cold drink, while listening to the trill of a Woodland Kingfisher close by. A great way to end off my Big Birding Year!!!

 

Stanger and Umhlanga 

While staying in Umhlanga over Christmas I managed to drag my Dad up to Stanger to visit the Sappi Mill Bird Hide for the second time this year. My first visit to this spot produced quite a few Lifers and one rather interesting looking Baillon’s Crake – a leucistic form. I was hoping for an equally fun morning and to get in some practice with the waders. 

It was a horribly windy morning from the start so that made holding the binoculars still quite hard work. We first stopped in at the hide and the usual characters were present – Great White Pelican, Egyptian Goose, Grey Heron, Common Ringed Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Common Moorhen, Goliath Heron, Cormorants and a Black Crake or two! There were also a couple of similar looking waders hanging out with a Black-winged Stilt. A fellow birder pointed out the Marsh Sandpiper compared to the Wood Sandpiper, and now I feel like I have a good grasp of these two species. It really helps to have guidance from people who know, sometimes having someone explain the birds sticks with me more than just reading through the book notes.  

Common-ringed Plover

Marsh Sandpiper

Family outing – White-faced Whistling Ducks

 
A Spotted Crake and Pectoral Sandpiper had also been seen here recently and reported by the South African Rare Bird News. I had seen a Spotted Crake earlier in the year, the famously popular one from Midrand in Gauteng, so I wasn’t desperate to see one again. I was, however, keen to see the Pectoral Sandpiper. This was really just a twitch bird, I needed more birds for my list, I had never even heard of or acknowledged this bird, so it certainly wasn’t on my wish list. I had made sure to read up on the bird and look at photo’s of it from this location so that I at least knew what I was looking for. 

We heard that there was a guy with a scope further down the wetland who had located the bird and he could help us see it. However, when we got to him the bird had flown off and he was just checking for other birds. We continued our walk down the path and returned to the spot a bit later on. This was wader heaven, birds everywhere, all busily searching for food, bobbing up and down, occasionally flying off in panic caused by a Yellow-billed Kite. 

Wader heaven

Little Stints battling it out


I was just snapping away so that later on I could sit with the photo’s and my books and work through the ID’s of these birds, although I was picking out the Marsh Sandpipers fairly easily, along with the Ruffs by the dozen!  

I read somewhere that the Pectoral had a similar look, build, size to a Ruff so I was checking them extra well. Working our way through the waders and edging ever closer to the car park in preparation to leave, we kept checking the birds saying “is that it?” “Could that be it?” Eventually, and quite surprisingly, “That’s it, I’ve got it, surely that’s it!” After much photo taking and comparing to the books and even YouTube videos to see how it moves, we were 100% happy that we had found the rarity! It is actually quite a pretty wader with a streaked breast that ends abruptly in a distinct line. 

Pectoral Sandpiper


Happy with this outing and having added two birds to my list, we drove back down to Umhlanga and stopped in at the Umhlanga Nature Reserve. 

As you enter the reserve you walk across (yet another) boardwalk through reeds and bulrushes which are home to many weavers, but the first one I spotted was a bird I hadn’t seen this year, the Yellow Weaver. We walked along more boardwalks and open areas of wetland with little joy in terms of birds. We turned around and tried the trail that leads through the forest.  The forest was very quiet and we hardly saw any birds, quite a let down compared to our forest experience at St Lucia. 

Yellow Weaver


On Boxing Day we ventured down to the Umhlanga Ponds (a couple of little ponds at the sewage works). Ah, the hobby of birding, always taking you to the most wonderful of locations 🙈 (I have visited 3 different sewage works this year!) 

I was impressed with the number of species we found there, and it was quite an active spot. The Wood Sandpipers camouflage so well against the grass that we kept flushing them as we walked around. There was one Marsh Sandpiper, a family of Egyptian Geese, Three-banded Plovers, African Jacana, Hottentot Teals, Common-ringed Plover, Dabchicks,  Hadeda, Hamerkop, Spurwing Geese, Lesser Striped Swallow, White-throated Swallow, Southern-masked Weavers and a couple of Black-chested Snake-Eagles flying overhead.   Nothing new to add to the list, but still a worthwhile little visit. 

Egyptian Geese family outing

Wood Sandpiper


Desperate to get new birds, we returned to the Umhlanga Nature Reserve one last time in the hopes of possibly finding something, even if it had just started drizzling as we arrived in the parking lot. 

As we were walking along that first boardwalk and trying to look for some new Weaver or something in the reeds, I nearly fell off the boardwalk! In the corner of my eye, I saw something was flying in from the direction of the forests on the opposite side of the river. It was basically a flash of white on the belly and a rich brown/grey on the back, dove shaped! I knew straight away it was a Tambourine Dove, something I was really hoping to see on one of these forest trips! It was so quick, no time for a photo, but I seem to remember flailing my arms around in excitement. It flew in the direction we were going and I hoped it would land just in the forest so we could try find it but alas, it flew way past and was never seen again.  

After I recovered from that excitement we took the trail that leads into the forest again.  We hadn’t gone far at all when we noticed the presence of birds in the bushes to our left. The combination of dark light and a mangled mess of branches made seeing the birds near impossible.  Fortunately we both kept getting glimpses of the birds, of which there were three, including a juvenile.  I got a fairly decent look at the juvenile at one point and noted the slightly red marking above its eye…which could only mean one thing…Black-throated Wattled-eye! Another major lifer for me, within the space of a few minutes!  The trail we were on seemed to be rather popular that morning and we had to put up with noisy walkers passing us every few minutes, not ideal when you are waiting for an important bird to make an appearance! The chick seemed to stay in the general area, with the adults possibly moving off to fetch food and hen returning. I did eventually get a look at one of the adults, and could definitely confirm the red wattle above the eyes.   After that they seemed to move off completely and so did we, to try keep this run of good luck going! 

There was much birdsong in one area of the forest in particular, but impossible to see any of the birds! Next time I think an early morning visit is necessary to hopefully see more of these forest dwellers being a bit more active. 

Extremely calm Vervet Monkeys in the forest. There were two Mother-baby pairs sitting like this, they hardly even blinked an eye at us

A beautiful forest indeed


We left KwaZulu Natal the next day, so it was going to be up to Gauteng to produce a whole lot more birds to try and reach my target of 350 species. 

Although, Natal did give me one more, as we headed north on the highway through the beautiful Natal Midlands, in the form of a Grey Crowned Crane. 

St Lucia – iSimangaliso Wetland Park 

We arrived in St Lucia on a rather overcast, drizzly afternoon so Iwas holding thumbs that this wouldn’t be the norm for the weekend.

After checking into our accommodation and having some lunch we headed out in search of the St Lucia birds, My folks would probably have preferred to just relax for a bit longer after a very long, busy road and slow drive down from Johannesburg. But they are awesome and joined me anyway to help in my search!

Shortly after leaving our Bed and Breakfast I heard the first cool bird for the trip. That tell tale baby cry of a Trumpeter Hornbill.  Although a tricky view through many branches, this was the closest I’ve been to this bird, and they really are quite large, funky looking creatures.

Green-backed Camaroptera’s were calling all over the place and actually became “just that annoying bird again”. Closer down to the estuary I spotted some White-eared Barbets, which I’ve only seen once before, and which we saw plenty of during the rest of our stay there. 
We took a walk down the road hoping to find anything on that mizzly, cool afternoon when we all heard a rather strange sound. After hearing an initial one ‘note’ of the call I thought Black-backed Puffback, but as the call continued it didn’t sound like any Puffback call I’ve ever heard. The bird was high up, the call was loud and in our face but we just couldn’t lay eyes on this one. Eventually I spotted it, and it was indeed a Puffback, and this became yet another “that annoying bird” call for all our walks in St Lucia. I still don’t know what was up with its call though, I’ve never heard them doing that before.

We walked along the Estuary Boardwalk and far off in the water there were Yellow-billed Storks, Saddle-billed Storks, Great White Pelicans, Grey Herons, Crocodiles and Hippos, African Fish Eagle, Yellow-billed Kites and a Pied Kingfisher.

There had been recent reports of a rather popular rarity in the area of the estuary mouth, a Sooty Tern. I had received info that you need to walk south down from the main beach and go past all the machinery to find this individual bird amongst a tern roost of hundreds of birds. On this particular afternoon it was getting late and was horribly windy so I decided to try on another day.

Early the next morning Dad and I were up early and off to do the GwalaGwala Trail, a well known trail for awesome birding. 

Start of the forest trail


 We parked the car and climbed out. I was about to start putting on my walking shoes when something got my attention as it flew overhead out of the forest. I turned to look and doing a double take at the bird which had landed on a low branch only a few metres away, I realised it had the shape of a Narina Trogon! I can’t even remember what exactly I did next, but I think I ran around the car to grab my camera and slowly, yet quickly, started to make my way around the large tree in the open parking area. When I first saw the bird, it was silhouetted and dark, I needed to get on the sunny side of it. I snapped a picture and slowly moved around some more and managed another shot, before an extremely rude fisherman who I had seen approaching for a while, walked straight at the bird and it flew off! I could not believe what had just happened…..this is a bird that was obviously on my wish list, but never would I have thought that the Narina Trogon would be the very first bird we would see on this trail, let alone so close. Of the two photo’s, one was shocking and the other only slightly better, but undeniably the silhouette of a much sought after bird.

Narina Trogon


This was my first walk through a forest since really getting into birding a few years ago and my senses were blown. Forest birding is a tricky thing. I had been trying to learn the calls and songs of the more common forest birds but wow, I’m sure I must have missed about 10 different species in the forest. It is so difficult to separate the calls. Trying to actually lay eyes on the birds is another story all together. They are either high up and just not possible to see or close by in deep shade, and hopping around to fast in the branches to get a decent look. Some highlights we did get were Brown Scrub-Robin, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, African Green Pigeon, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-capped Robin-chat and as we left the forest I heard the foghorn like ‘dooooo’ of a Buff-spotted Flufftail.

Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Crested Guineafowl


After a delicious breakfast and little rest back at the BnB we headed off for the Western Shores of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It was close to midday, the sun was high and it was pretty hot as we entered the park so I wasn’t holding out much hope for birding success. It turns out that I was to be extremely pleasantly surprised! A short while into the park and my Mom spotted a Black-bellied Bustard, posing nicely a few metres off the road, and it was doing it’s champagne pop call, although very quietly. This was a bird I learnt when I worked in the Sabi Sands, I always remember it being a favourite find when we went out on staff bumbles. Some other finds were Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Barn Swallow, about 3 different Osprey, and an awesome Black-chested Snake Eagle.

Black-bellied Bustard

Black-cheated Snake-eagle


But now back to the highlights from the Western Shores. We had met some fellow birders in St Lucia village, and we then happened to bump into them whilst driving through the Western Shores. They seemed new to birding (despite having already clocked in over 400 birds this year, I think they’re keen!) so when we stopped to chat they said they had seen some birds just further up the road in a mud wallow, but weren’t 100% sure of the ID so we should go and check it out to confirm. They were 100% correct in their identification of a bird that has for sure been on my wish list, Collared Pratincoles! There were about 10 or so birds, some around the mud, some on the grass and a couple would come and sit right on the road. The light was bad at the time so getting pics was hard, but I really enjoyed seeing these rather unusual looking birds.

Collared Pratincole


We continued our drive and wanted to check out the Charters Creek camp section of the park, which turns out to be completely abandoned and getting overgrown. As we were driving out of that area you pass through quite a dense forest section and we came to a stop to listen to a very loud call, a bird which seemed to be right in your face, but could we find it, of course not. The call was almost Black-headed Oriole like and right there, right next to the road, it shouldn’t be that hard to find the bird responsible for this loud noise. After much searching I caught a movement, and then saw a fairly large bird, olive green in colour with yellow spots on the wings. Even though I’ve never seen one before, I knew it from the books as an Eastern Nicator. Pulling out my phone to compare the songs, and I was spot on. Sasol eBirds of Southern Africa describes its distinctive song perfectly as “a short, rich, explosive, liquid jumble of notes”. Another one for the life list, and a rather unexpected one

We then drove to the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk, which turned out to be a really amazing and special place! The trail up to the boardwalk starts as just a trail through a forest, so my search for more forest birds continued. We heard the call of a Turaco, but this wasn’t the Purple Crested, this was a Livingstone’s Turaco call, I was quite sure. All of a sudden they appeared. At first we only got short glimpses of the birds through the branches and for a few seconds I was doubting myself and thought they were only Purple-crested Turaco’s, as I only saw the dark lower body and red under the wings. When they stopped moving and I managed a decent look, there was no doubt that they were definitely Livingstone’s Turaco’s, and simply stunning!

So much beauty lies at the end of this pathway

Livingstone’s Turaco

Dragonfly on the Western Shores

After the excitement of seeing these wonderful birds we continued our walk up the hill to the beautiful aerial boardwalk section with incredible views of the iSimangaliso wetland park. The end of the boardwalk is set at the top of a hill overlooking the wetlands, situated up in the canopy, with large platforms to walk around to get views in different directions. It felt so peaceful there, and the cool breeze high up on the hill was most welcome. It is the kind of place you could stay all day long, having a picnic and drinking some chilled white wine. The most magical part of the spot for me was the butterflies…..there were so many of them, they were everywhere, floating around gently like something out of a fairytale.

Views across the wetlands to the Eastern Shores

I could hang out here all day

Stunning views

A magical place

 

The next morning we went in search of the Narina Trogon again in the hopes of getting a better view with some decent photo’s. The previous morning we had been at the parking area at 5:30 and that is when we saw the bird, so we figured we would aim to be there at 5:30 again on this morning. I climbed out the car not holding out much hope of seeing the bird again. We stood and looked around recalling the events of yesterday morning to my Mom who joined us for this outing. Then I heard it, the deep hoo call of the Narina Trogon. I knew the bird must be close by so we slowly started walking towards the noise.  We started walking towards a no-entry road so I hoped we would see it soon before we got too far down this road. All three of us were looking up, trying to find this well camouflaged bird. They have green on their backs which they often turn towards people when they are approaching. However, on the front they have brilliant crimson plumage. I was just explaining to my folks that the bird will probably be difficult to see due to this colouration when Boom, my eyes caught the crimson red of a gorgeous male Narina Trogon. It was sitting fairly out in the open, easy to see and we watched him calling for a few seconds. I managed some better photos this time, at least getting some colour and not just the silhouette. It was probably over in less than a minute and the bird was gone! Mind blown! I still couldn’t believe we had been so lucky with 2 sightings of this much sought after bird.

Narina Trogon


We then went down to the beach and following all the directions from fellow birders and from social media we eventually found the tern roost. The Sooty Tern had been present on and off for the past month or so around the mouth of the St Lucia estuary. It was this bird, an individual bird, that I was looking for amongst about 100 other terns and gulls. The only Terns I recognised were the Swift Terns, as for the other bunch of much smaller Terns I’m still not sure what they were. We never did find the Sooty Tern, even after working through my photo’s it still wasn’t there. There were only reports of the Tern again a few days after we had left St Lucia. I wasn’t really bummed about missing out on this bird.

Swift Tern, Yellow-billed Kite, Grey Heron

Swift Terns and some other Terns

Early morning evidence of some busy birds


We went back to the GwalaGwala Trail in the hopes of finding some more lifers. Due to us being there later in the morning than the previous day the forest had quietened down, but there was still plenty to hear and see, or catch frustrating glimpses of at least. I had a possible sighting of a Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, but it was so brief and far up in the dark canopy that I don’t feel right putting it on my list for the year. Oh well, just another reason to go back to St Lucia! As we had arrived at the forest I heard the call of the Livingstones Turaco which I now feel like I can differentiate from the similar Purple-crested Turaco call. So I was on the hunt again for another sighting of the Livingstone’s Turaco, in the hope of getting better pics. It was only as we were about to exit the forest trail that I got my wish. My folks had been walking up ahead, and stopped to wait for me, but I guess they got bored and carried on around the corner just as a Livingstone’s appeared right above my head and inquisitively was checking me out. I tried to get my folks attention but they were already gone, so I had this sighting all to myself. The Turaco was making soft croaky noises as it moved down the branches of the tree above me and then flew across the path to another bush where it practically disappeared, but then turned around and popped his head out again and began feeding on the berries of the bush. All the while I was watching this a Brown Scrub-robin burst out of the low bushes nearly giving me heart failure, a Southern Boubou was jumping around in the tree above me and the Square-tailed Drongo’s were chatting loudly. A fantastic sighting and a great way to end our visit to St Lucia! I can’t wait to go back…

Brown Scrub-Robin

Livingstone’s Turaco

Juvenile Cuckoo, Dideric I think. Spider web (Species?) Butterfly – Solider Pansy.


We then headed south down the coast to the Dlinza Forest in Eshowe.  We arrived there at midday in the blazing heat, not ideal for birding but we gave it a go anyway. There is an aerial boardwalk which takes you through the canopy of the Dlinza Forest and ends at a platform which is accessible by climbing some flights of scary stairs and you end up on top of the canopy looking out across the trees and down into a valley. Down on the boardwalk level there was quite a bit of bird activity, but again we heard a lot more than we saw. I did manage to get one lifer, a Grey Cuckooshrike, so that was great. We did the shorter of the two trails on offer through the forest. It was a really nice walk and I would like to go back to do it again.

Inside the Dlinza Forest, on top of the forest and at the bottom of the forest


We left Dlinza and continued further south down the coast to spend the next week with my sister and her family in Umhlanga. The birding didn’t stop there though, as I dragged my folks on yet a couple more birding outings in that area. Those blog posts to come soon…

A quick visit to Pilanesberg Game Reserve

I recently spent a night camping at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in the North West province with my bush bud Kat who was up from Cape Town. I arrived at Pilanesberg hoping to find some of the birds I’ve missed all year but I know can be quite easily found in the park.

Team Bush Buds

#teambushbuds at it again

Ellie coming down to drink

Armoured Darkling Beetle

Golden Breasted Bunting

The vast views across the centre of Pilanesberg

Pilanesberg views

The first birds I added to my year list were a flock of White Storks at the Lengau Dam. The typical “baby delivering” stork and the first time I have seen them this year. At the dam there were also the ever present Egyptian Geese, Blacksmith Lapwing, Lesser-striped Swallow, White-faced Ducks and Sacred Ibis.

Lesser Striped Swallows

Lesser Striped Swallow – such gorgeous markings

The calls of the Rufous-naped Lark and Rattling Cisticola’s were a continuous sound throughout most of the park. At times it feels as though they are following you, flying alongside the car as the sounds carry so far.

Taking a detour from the main tar road we drove down a dirt road, where I hoped to find some sort of quail or buttonquail, the only place I have seen them before. Alas, I didn’t find them but finally got my first, and only second ever sighting of a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler. It was a brief sighting, with the bird busily hoping through the bushes but I got a definite view of its pale eye and chestnut vent. A very attractive bird indeed. I got a better view of this bird later in the day and got one lucky shot of it!

Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler

Red-chested Cuckoo’s (Piet-my-vrou) were also calling all over the park and we managed to get a good visual of a pair of these birds.
Driving along one of the more quieter roads in the park I slammed on the breaks when I heard it … the Monotonous Lark. This bird caused much frustration a few years back when my Dad and I were in the park and kept hearing it, it was so loud but we just couldn’t find what was making this croaking sound. This was at a time before I had started really learning the bird calls. Eventually we discovered that it was the Monotonous Lark, and eventually spotted the bird when we knew where to look for it.

So the other day when I heard its call, I was very happy that I could add it to my year list, and managed to spot it straight away, sitting fairly far off the road on top of a dead clump of branches.

The next day we had an even better sighting of one which landed only a few metres off the road and began singing with all its might. It looks rather uncomfortable the way it does this call, like its throwing its back out. It stretches its body out and with each call, puffs out its white throat.  I guess it’s this part of the body which makes the call so extremely loud and far carrying.

Monotonous Lark

See how he contorts his body to call

There was much bird activity at our campsite, so much so that I could easily have just sat there the whole time and be entertained. Just after settling down at camp, and after the sun had set with quite a dramatic display there was a sound. It sounded almost like a little puppy dog or even a child’s toy. It dawned on me quickly that it was neither and as I looked up I saw the flash of a Nightjar across the sky! That “chew chew, chew, chew” was in fact coming from a Freckled Nightjar. It was flying in circles overhead but I just couldn’t get a decent, long enough look at it, but the call is definitive! Very very cool!!

Stunning sunset with the storm clouds passing over us…for once it did not rain (pour) and there were no major dramas on one of our camping trips #cursebroken

I heard a Woodlands Kingfisher?! Or did I? Another one of those mysteries. I just don’t associate Woodlands  Kingfishers with Pilanesberg at all….it’s a Kruger bird, so hearing it at Pilanesberg sounds out of place and maybe it was something else. I never did get a visual of the bird.

We also had plenty of Dideric Cuckoo’s singing all around us. Early in the morning I was entertained by a pair of these Cuckoos being harassed by some Weavers. There was much chirping and tussling through the bushes, leading to a big chase across the campsite from tree to tree.

Pilanesberg is big, not Kruger big by any means, but it’s big and wide, and you are able to see across vast plains fairly easily at times. This landscape, particularly in the centre of the park around Mankwe Dam allows for wide angle views over many of the tourist roads, so if there is a Big 5 sighting you will see it. You won’t see the animals necessarily, but you will see the Joburg style traffic jam it is causing. So on Sunday while we sat at Hippo Loops, we spotted one of these traffic jams across the dam. Far off on one of the generally quieter roads (in terms of sightings) in the park we could see one of these typical snakes of cars. It looked ridiculous, it seemed as if the whole park was there. As we had not seen any big cats we decided to head over and join the crazy crowd. This is not my idea of a nice sighting, fighting and jostling for space, with rude game drive vehicles pushing past like they are the only people wanting to view the animals. It turned out to be worth it though! We knew there was a leopard around, but didn’t really know where it was. It turned out that the leopard was in a tree which was actually quite close to the road, so we had been sitting so close by to the leopard but didn’t even know it. Once we were a bit closer we did have a really good angle to see this gorgeous creature. She was very relaxed up in her tree, moving her head every now and then to look around at all the commotion. After a few minutes she was off, climbed down the tree and wondered off up the hill, again providing amazing photo opportunities. A definite highlight of the trip, and worth the shocking car traffic to see it.

A very relaxed Leopard

Motsamai – female

Another great sighting in the park was of a Jackal Buzzard. I’ve had brief glimpses of what I though was a Jackal Buzzard throughout the year, but mostly in my home province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. I would see a bird as we drove along the highway at speed or have a view of a bird, but only from the back so I was never 100% sure that it was a Jackal Buzzard, but this sighting was fantastic, and most definitely a JB! Happiness!

Jackal Buzzard

We also had a nice sighting of a Steppe Buzzard, yes, another Steppe Buzzard. Since my first sighting of one a couple of weeks ago on Birding Big Day I have become quite familiar with them as every second person seems to post a Steppe/Common Buzzard on social media for identification help.

Steppe Buzzard

I also got a pair of Green-winged Pytilia which I was hoping to see in the park. Only my second sighting of the colourful little birds, the first being in the Kruger Park a few years ago.

And finally minutes before leaving the park I got a male Mocking Cliff Chat, another one on my wish list for this short visit to the park. A stunning bird with the most bold colours of black, chestnut and white. Very happy to add it to my list!

Mocking Cliff Chat

My year list is now sitting at 316, only 34 to go to reach my current goal of 350 by the end of 2016. My next birding destination is St Lucia in Zululand on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Cannot wait to get there and see what amazing birds I can find!

These Red-billed Hornbills were fascinated by their reflections in the windows, and I’m sure they were going to try peck the rubber off the windscreen wipers.

Birding Big Day 2016 

Last Saturday my Dad and I took part in Birdlife South Africa’s Birding Big Day, a 24 hour period in which you have to see how many bird species you can count.

You have from midnight to midnight to record birds seen or heard, but we are not that crazy so we didn’t wake up at midnight!  Our day began at 5am and ended around 6pm.  You have to be within a 50km radius of your centre point for the birds to be counted. We made our centre point Bapsfontein out on the east rand so that we could include Roodeplaat Nature Reserve and Marievale Bird Sanctuary, as well as the Bapsfontein to Rayton birding route.

I just happened to locate Bapsfontein on the map as a good centre point but had no clue what was out there or where it actually was.  After referring to my newly acquired “Birding Gauteng” book by Etienne Marais and Faansie Peacock, I discovered that it was actually a really amazing birding area.
We started our bird count from home, and managed to pick up quite a few of the commoners along the highway enroute to our first destination, Roodeplaat Nature Reserve. Having checked out Roodeplaat the weekend before, we knew what to expect and where to look for all the good birds.
The highlight from Roodeplaat has to be hearing a Black Cuckoo fairly close to the road we were travelling on and then actually finding it in a tree right next to the road. We slowly drove up and parked next to the tree and I could even climb out the car and walk around to get the best angle for a photo, all the while the cuckoo carried on with its sad sounding call, one of my favourites.

Black Cuckoo


Leaving Roodeplaat we wanted to head to Rayton to start the Bapsfontein birding route, however we came upon some road works and a few detours had to be made. This worked in favour slightly as we came across a raptor sitting at the top of a tree not far off the road. I couldn’t add it to my Birding Day list at the time because I didn’t know what it was, but have since decided it was a Steppe Buzzard, a lifer! We also saw another raptor further on flying gracefully overhead which also turned out to be a Steppe Buzzard.

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard


Once we were on the farm roads we were driving along slowly and came across Yellow-crowned Bishop, Zitting Cisticola, African Pipit, Black-shouldered Kite, Barn Swallows and then heard a rough, rasping, kraak kraak call, but could not find the bird for all the long grass around. I knew it was some sort of korhaan or bustard type bird. I then turned to my bird call tracks and apps for help, and narrowed it down to the Northern Black Korhaan which Monty Brett and Clive Hopcroft describe as being difficult to see due to the long grass of its preferred habitat.

African Pipit

Further into the farm grasslands we came across the Osspruit Bridge going over a little stream which provided a lot of entertainment.  Besides the Malachite Kingfishers, Capped Wheatear, Southern Red Bishops, Village Weavers, Red-billed Queleas and Guineafowl there were flocks of Swallows and Swifts hurtling around our heads and under the bridge. I spotted a couple of Little Swifts, the majority were White-rumped Swifts and then surprisingly South African Cliff Swallows, Lifer! They were busily collecting mud from puddles in the dirt road and constructing their nests under another smaller bridge close by.

Red-billed Quelea

Capped Wheatear

Southern Red Bishop

South African Cliff Swallows

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher


Further down this road an extremely quick sighting of a Namaqua Dove flying off the road had me second guessing myself. As we were searching for it in the area it had landed some fellow birders drove by and stopped to chat. We told them what we were searching for and as they drove off they spotted the Dove back on the road, now behind us, and reversed to come tell us, so luckily I could confirm my sighting.

Namaqua Dove


We headed down to Marievale Bird Sanctuary next to end off the day.
Just after entering we jumped out the car to check in the water and reeds around the chalets and I heard a familiar call but couldn’t remember what it was. Turns out it was a familiar call but only from my bird call cd’s not from hearing it in nature before. I was very excited about it being the Red-chested Flufftail! Now to hopefully see the actual bird one day.
We stopped in at one bird hide but due to it being late afternoon and fairly warm the birdlife was rather quiet. We were entertained by a White-throated Swallow which was flying in and out of the hide only cm’s from our heads, as well as an African Swamphen feeding. They hold on to plant stems with their funny feet and eat the soft pulp from the stems.

African Swamphen


Driving alongside the water I mentioned to my Dad that I really wanted to see a Great Crested Grebe and Black Heron, they have been on my wish list for this year. I have seen Black Herons before, but never the Grebe. Not even a minute later down the road my Dad spotted it…a Great Crested Grebe!!! What!! Needless to say I was very excited and it was made even more special when that individual was joined by its partner and they greeted each other so beautifully. 

Great Crested Grebe and Red-knobbed Coot

Great Crested Grebe


A few minutes after this we turned into the main picnic site, made some tea and started to walk to the bird hide when what flies across in front of us….a Black Heron!!! It landed nearby in the reeds so I dashed over to relocate it and found it perched on a log sticking out the water. It didn’t hang around for long and flew off in the direction of the more northern section of the sanctuary. Later in the afternoon we had a few more sightings of what could very possibly have been the same individual.

Black Heron


Other Marievale highlights were Squacco Herons, which just seemed to be everywhere, the Burchells Coucal which landed out in the open on a pole next to the road and a Ruff.  

(Top) Burchells Coucal, (Bottom) Ruff, (Right) Squacco Heron


We left Marievale and headed back home, where I was able to tick off the last of our common garden birds to get our days total up to 104.
All in all we saw 105 bird species, I only ID’d that Steppe Buzzard today so I couldn’t include that in our official team total which only shows that we got 104. I hate to think how many more birds we could have got if only I knew some more bird calls…better get practicing!
I have finally reached and passed the 300 species mark, and my year
list is now sitting at 307. I’ll be heading to Pilanesberg again next weekend and hoping to find a Pearl Spotted Owlet, and then we’ll be heading down to St Lucia and Eshowe where I hope to make a big jump in that year list number. Really looking forward to some coastal and forest birding!! 

Stay tuned!

Marloth Park and Kruger 

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?!”

Blue Waxbill

Red-billed Firefinch


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. 

Red-crested Korhaan


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

Common Sandpiper


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.    

Tawny Eagles


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. 

Klaas’s Cuckoo

 

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

Orange-breasted Bushshrike


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! 

Crowned Hornbill


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. 

Skukuza Campsite

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!