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.

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3 thoughts on “A quick visit to Pilanesberg Game Reserve

  1. Your trip sounds awesome! I love the pictures. The Hornbills look like they could be ancient. Was it difficult to set up and take down the tents? I feel like that’s the hardest part of camping, haha.

    • Thank you so much! They are definitely rather strange looking birds. The setup is really easy, those are simple tents to put up, even by yourself. Packing it all away is the hard part, so sad, haha

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