Posted on the 23rd September 2009

(BirdLife Overberg's Treasurer Mike Graham was at it again and this time in the Kruger National Park.  He reports herewith and also forwarded some lovely images).

Trip Report – Kruger National Park 12th-21st September 2009

12th. After a pleasant flight up from Cape Town the previous afternoon and an overnight stay close to Johannesburg Airport, we left shortly after 08h15 for our 7 hour drive to Punda Maria Camp. Traffic was light and we made good time. On arrival at the park gate it was out with the binoculars and cameras the 9 day extravaganza had begun. My aim was to get 20 “lifers” if possible and see as many species as was possible.

We got off to a good start with the 3rd bird sighted being a Bronze Mannikin, a “lifer”. I only count positive I.D.’s for my life-list, recognised calls but no sighting go down as a miss. The road to the camp and the camp itself was busy with birds and for the few hours of daylight that we got after arrival we managed 23 species including Bennett’s Woodpecker, Golden -breasted Bunting, Blue Waxbill and African Fire-finch.

Retz's Helmet-Shrike

13th. By 06h00 we are on the road after a quick look around the camp and waiting for the gate to open. Wahlberg’s Eagle is first to appear, then some sunbirds, Long-billed Crombec, Green-backed Cameroptera, White-throated Robin-Chat, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike and White-browed Scrub-Robin. Back for breakfast, 10 species already. We do the Mahoni Loop. An interesting sight as we leave camp, a Black-collared Barbet regurgitating fruit seeds and sticking them on the bark of a branch. More good birds as we drive the loop anti-clockwise. Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-headed Weaver, Rattling Cisticola, Yellow-throated Petronia, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike, Mosque Swallow, Brown-headed Parrot, Martial Eagle and Purple Turaco. Lunch on the loop was enjoyable and we are back early afternoon for a cat-nap. We have another run out at 1600 but must be back by 17h00 as we are looking for Pennant-winged Nightjar with Sue-Marie, a SANParks Guide. We pause at an area of burnt scrub and there are large feeding parties of White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Temmink’s Courser and White-crested Helmet-Shrike. Our trip out with Sue-Marie isn’t wasted although Pennant-winged Nightjar did not show. We did get to see African Scops-Owl, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Double-banded Courser and Grey-headed Parrot in transit to their roosting site. Another good day, 50 species and 4 “lifers”.

Immature Bateleur

14th. It’s 05h15 again and we are up and ready for gate opening at 06h00. To-day is a long haul to Pafuri Picnic Site to meet up with Frank Mabaso who will guide us at the Picnic Area for the specials. Still, we have many trees and shrubs to inspect before we get there and no doubt progress will be slow. We pick up on water birds to start with, Water Thick-knee, plovers, Wood Sandpiper are all at Luvuvhu River Bridge. Flocks of Red-billed Quelea, a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and a lone White-backed Vulture nesting are there too. Breakfast at the Picnic Site is very welcome and we meet up with Frank who looks after the site and does bird-guiding as well. This site is a must-visit. 6 “lifers” in almost as many minutes, Bohm’s Spinetail, Ashy Flycatcher, Green-capped Eremomela, Black-throared Wattle-eye, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Yellow White-eye. Frank not only knows what tree they are in but which leaf they sit on!!!

We head off to Crook’s Corner with sightings of Little Bee-eater, Hooded Vulture and Lesser Honeyguide on the way. The lookout point is deserted of people but there are plenty of good birds including Pied Kingfisher, Green-backed Heron, Burnt-necked Eremomela, and Variable Sunbird. This was a good day with 36 species and 10 “lifers”. The fillet steak from the braai and a glass of wine went down very well in the evening.

Marico Sunbird

15th. Shifting camps to-day and whilst packing the vehicle an Eastern Nicator graces the trees right outside the chalet, not often do you get a close-up of this bird. It is a fairly long trip to Bateleur Bush Camp, so we make tracks early and take breakfast at Babalala Picnic Site. Birds are a bit scarce to-day but good sightings of Southern Pale-Chanting Goshawk, Neddicky, Cut-throat Finch, Green-winged Pytilia and African Harrier-Hawk.

Bateleur Camp is small and very clean with a newly installed bird-hide and waterhole. A Ground-scraper Thrush calls from a tree above the bird-hide and as dusk arrives Double-banded Coursers fly in to collect water on the breast feathers to feed the young. Rufous-cheeked Nightjar calls and then duly arrives along with a Verraux’s Eagle-Owl which comes to drink. Only 13 species to-day but still managed 2 “lifers”. It will get progressively harder to pick up the species and lifers as time passes.

16th. It’s that time again, 05h15 as the cell-phone alarm calls. To-day we are off to Shingwedzi and the Kanniedood Dam via Red Rocks. So water birds should be common. Red Rocks and the Shingwedzi River do not give us too many sightings. Water is a premium and rivers are bone dry. There is more water on the moon. Rooibosrandt Dam is empty but Silwervis offers up Black Crake, sandpipers, African Fish-Eagle, Giant Kingfisher, storks, African Jacana and Grey Heron.

Red-crested Korhaan

Kanniedood Dam has good water and there are good numbers of birds including African Spoonbill and Darter. I chat with another birder at Shingwedzi Camp who tells me that north of Shingwedzi Camp on the Mphongolo Loop is a Verraux’s Eagle Owl on a nest but before we get to see that we are treated to a display by a Marico Sunbird who doesn’t like his reflection in a car door mirror. No wonder his beak is bent!!! White-browed Robin-Chat was nice to see to-day but the display from a Red-crested Korhaan that flies up, rolls over and then falls like a stone in a ball was really exceptional. Only 17 species to-day but I still managed 1 “lifer”.

17th. Up at 05h15 again. No wonder we are in bed a 21h00 each night. Another run up past Red Rocks and the Shingwedzi River. We get a good sighting of Gabar Goshawk at an artificial waterhole and stopping at a small piece of water find a pair of Greater Painted-snipe. This is a really good spot as water is scarce and this bird looked like it was going to evade us. Another raptor, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle this time. Raptors are quite scarce and I guess with the dryness rodents etc. are in short supply. A Yellow-billed Kite graces the sky and more waders are added to the list with Goliath Heron, Open-billed Stork and Kittlitz's Plover. A Ground Hornbill family ends our day.

Bateleur Camp offers good birding right outside the chalets with barbets, starlings, hornbills, shrikes, turacos and woodpeckers. Keep your shoes on though as scorpions are here also.

Yellow-breasted Apalis

18th. Time to move again down to Shimuwini Bush Camp with a stop at Mooiplaas Picnic Site for breakfast. The weather has broken and the hot sunny days have given way to cloud, wind and lower temperatures. Smells like rain but there isn’t any. A quick visit to Silwervis but only a Little Egret as another species there. We check out Pioneer Dam at Mopani, nothing exciting except a sleeping crocodile with a giant catfish in its jaws. A Black-crowned Tchagra, Rufous-naped Lark, Ruff and White-fronted Plover help to bring the day count to 9. The weather is not helping. Shimuwini Camp is on the Letaba River, the water looks clean and clear.

19th. We head for Letaba and Engelhard Dam. Brown Snake-Eagle, 2 of them close to the camp struggling to stay perched in the strong wind. At last a Malachite Kingfisher at the water plus a Squacco Heron, one in breeding plumage. Red-faced Cisticola ( a “lifer”) and Little Stint make up the days haul. Only 6 new species and the weather is still poor.

20th. Early to rise AGAIN and the weather has improved slightly. We do the gravel roads to Letaba/Olifants and back via Masorini. Some good birds to-day. What a wonderful call the Stierling’s Wren-Warbler has, tiny bird but so loud. This was a real bonus. Lots of Maribou Stork on the river at Olifants Camp. The camp was busy with birds too and a walk around the grounds is a must. Back on the road and again some good sightings with Collared Pratincole, Kurrichane Button-Quail, Marico Flycatcher, Mocking Cliff-Chat and finally a Rock Kestrel. Kestrels were nowhere to be seen, 2 in 9 days, one of which was unidentified.

21st. Time to go, it’s 06h00 again and we have a long haul to Johannesburg Airport from the Phalaborwa Gate.

It’s been a very good 9 days. 189 species, 22 “lifers”. By the way, we did see animals in Kruger including Leopard (1), Hyena (2), Lions (8) plus the usual herds of elephant and giraffe and every single antelope except Sable. Birding is a great way to see animals as well.


Gabar Goshawk
Greater Painted-Snipe














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