Posted on the 16th September 2010

A short report on our annual trip to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - 2010

It was with great excitement that we left home to visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for our 12th consecutively year and for a 6 nights stay at the smallest of the bush camp, Urikaruus located in the dry riverbed of the Auob river.

We decided to travel the 900km from Kleinmond to Keimoes in one day. Traveling at high speed is not the best way to spot birds, but we did spot a few of the bigger species. At Philladelphia we encountered a pair of secretary birds and lots of Red and Yellow Bishops.

Traveling through the Swartland, Malmesbury and Moorreesburg we spotted lots of Red & Yellow Bishops in breeding plumage. Lots of Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptia Geese, Spur-winged Geese, Blue Cranes, Black-shouldered Kite, also South African Shelduck and a pair of African Black Ducks near Piketberg.

Between Brandvlei and Kenhart, we encountered Pied and Cape Crow, Greater Kestrels, Karoo Korhaan and Northern Black Korhaan. Telkom is busy removing all the poles as cables are being laid underground now - one can’t imagine where many of these birds will breed when these poles are no longer available? About 100 km before Kenhart, we started seeing endemics like Pale Chanting Goshawk and both Namaqua and Burchell’s sandgrouse. 10km before Kenhart we spotted a beautiful juvenile Martial Eagle giving us the feeling that it was going to be a good trip.

We arrived in Keimoes at dusk with lots of Brown-Throated Martins and Black Sawwings sweeping over the Orange river and several Water Thick-knees. The next morning we quickly did a work meeting at one of the big agriculture companies in Keimoes on “Die Eiland”, after the meeting we decided to make a quick visit to Augrabies Falls National Park. At Augrabies we saw Greater Kestrels, Southern Double-collared and Dusky sunbirds, Pale-winged Starling, Ant-eating Chat, Rock Kestrel, Orange River White-eye and then one of the familiar Africa calls, the Acacia Pied Barbet !

That afternoon we visited the Ikaia Guesthouse (, on the banks of the Orange River. The very friendly owner did not just show us around, but also pointed out the Goliath Heron, Water Thick-knees, etc. They have big plans that the B&B and camping facilities (each with its own ablution) have been completed. Their next project will be Tree Houses on the Orange River!

After two days in Keimoes we left for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. After a brief stop in Upington we had tea at the Molopo Lodge and reached the park at 14:00. It was warm and dry, very dry !

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was formed through the almagamation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in SA with the Botswana Gemsbok Park now comprising of an area of 3.6 million hectares. It is heaven for birders, especially those interested in birds of prey. The Park has a list of 280 species of which only 92 are resident, 17 species are nomadic visitors, 50 species aremigratory visitors and about 121 vagrant species have been recorded. 

For us, 2010 was the year of the cats, 11 lions near Kamfersboom and at about 17:30 we encountered Elana (Cheetah) and her to very grown cubs Pudding and Pie lying in the Aub riverbed preparing for the night's hunt – needless to say the light was beautifull for photography, sadly we had to leave them at 18:30 to head back to camp. At Urikaruus we were greated by Marius, the very friendly tourism assistant. We had a beautiful first night at Urikaruus hearing the barking gecko’s, the resident Pearl-spotted Owlet, as well as the Barn Owl pair, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, although it might have still been to early in the season, and of course the ever present noise of hoofs at the waterhole, springbok, wildebeest, gemsbok and the odd jackal, common hare and a first for us, a pair of Cape Fox’s.

On the first night we set the alarm for 00:15 to photograph the almost full moon. After getting up, photographs taken, we spotted the Barn Owl pair going about hunting around in the camp. That morning it was only 3 degrees and very cold, so the birding was slow, but by 09:00 the doves started to come to drink and the the Lanner Falcon started doing his dive bombing. He eventually got lucky with attempt number seven, just imagine how much energy this must have taken? We stayed in camp and photographed the birds in camp. We saw Lanner Falcon, a pair of Secretary Birds coming to bath, Gabar Goshawk, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, a pair of Crimson-breasted Shrike, Cape Glossy Starling, etc etc, but most of the time was made up of getting a crisp clear photo of the pair of Green-winged Pytilias.

Day two we left early traveling north towards Mata Mata. Just after the dry Urikaruus water hole we saw a female leopard and her youngster. We spend about an hour with the family, the baby running from tree to tree, sharpening its nails, etc. Then the highlight of the trip: the youngster leopard trying to catch a Secretary Bird - luckily the bird got away ! The next stop was at 13th Borehole. If you are a photographer and you want to take photo’s of the small birds of the Kgalagadi, this is the place to go (no need for long lenses). We saw Common Ostrich, Crowned Lapwing, Namaqua and Burchells sangrouse (Q20 bird), Namaqua Dove, flycatchers, Cape Wagtail, Cape, Great, House, and Southern Grey-headed sparrows, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Scaly-feathered Finch (Baardmannetjie), Southern Masked Weaver, Violete-eared and Black-faced Waxbill, Redheaded Finch, as well as Black-headed and Yellow Canaries.

Further north towards Mata Mata, we managed to identify a few Pink-billed Larks, Ant-eating Chats, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Common Scimitarbill and a few Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. There were far less birds than in 2009, but we were visiting the Park a little earlier than normal.

While in camp, Marius came to report about a cheetah that has just killed a Springbok at the Melkvlei Parking area, and that Elzette (cheetah) has not opened her kill yet – we got into our car and rushed to the scene. On the way we met up with Dr Gus Mills, researcher on the Cheetah project, we chatted, us congratulating him on his new book “Hyena Nights & Kalahari Days” and he showed us Elana and the cubs resting under an Acacia tree. We said goodbye and rushed to Elzette, just in time to see her opening her well deserved meal. Later that afternoon we met up with dr Mills again and followed him and Elana and her two grown cups for about 2 hours in which time they tried to hunt once, unsuccessfully.

The next day we decided to stay in camp. We watched the birds, ground squirrels, Lanner Falcon having a go at the doves again and the ever present sound of the sandgrouse. We saw Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, Pririt Batis, Black-chested Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Red-eyed Bulbul, Marico Flycatcher, Red-headed Finch and Yellow Canary. These species are however all widespread in the park. At midday all the big species came to drink, so there was a constant movement of animals coming and going at the waterhole. That evening as our little fire was going and everyone had settled down, a leopard come to drink at the waterhole in camp.

Day four: We got up early and while making coffee, we spotted the resident Barn Owl sitting a mere 2m from our bedroom window. After some photo’s and a bit of breakfast, we left camp. Just outside camp we saw a Pearl-spotted Owlet, (only weighing 76g), calling its mate in beautiful morning light. Another stop at 13th Borehole with a female lioness having a drink and then the birds descended to the water again.

Day five: The morning started lazily with the birds and doves coming and going at the waterhole. Next moment all hell burst loose - the Blue wildebeest started snoring and gemsbok started running. Through my binoculars I saw one of the biggest black mane Kalahari lions that I had ever seen coming down the riverbed. He drank long and lots, then he moved off in the opposite direction. The next morning we found the evidence of what used to be a gemsbok – the job of the male lion of yesterday ?

We again took the road north, we saw both Verreaux’s and Spotted Eagle-Owl, as well as African Scops. A pair of Martial Eagles had a young on the nest and another was preparing its nest. Just before Craigh Lochardt we found a White-backed Vulture with young on the nest. At 14th Borehole we found a huge Brown Snake-Eagle and suddenly the Lilac-breasted Rollers started showing themselves - four at a time, very vocal with their ghak ghak gharrak notes. They are starting to get ready to breed. We watched them while they eagerly ate termites from the ground. In the soft light of the late afternoon at Rooibrak we watched a Tawny Eagle bath to get rid of the 41degrees of midday. On our way back to camp we saw a Shikra (Little Banded Goshawk – Red Eyes and Yellow Legs), not to be confused with the Gabar Goshawk (Yellow Eyes and Red Legs).

Day six: Sadly our time in the Kgalagadi had come to an end and we had to say our goodbye’s to Marius and leave this magical place. At Gemsbokplein waterhole though I saw something that look like a honey badger (our all time hope to see), but it turned out not to be, it was a Martial Eagle bathing! He could not be bothered by the Gemsbok or Springbok, he just carried on bathing. After about a hour he flew up, preened himself and called for his juvenile, which responded and came flying over. We identified 103 species of birds in total. A magical end to this magical place – we will be back !!

Carin Malan
























JILL MORTIMER (posted: 2010-10-19)
What a fabulous trip - I always to to the Kgaligadi after the first rains - about end Feb/early March. I have always felt this time of the year must be so fearfully dry, so I am amazed at the amount of birds seen. Thank you for a very interesting report.
ANTON ODENDAL (posted: 2010-09-16)
Wonderful stuff Carin. It looks likes it often pays to stay in only one camp when one compares your article with the ones that Elaine and myself and Wilfred and Marcia wrote elsewhere on this site.