Posted on the 24th February 2012

Elaine and myself are again off to the north of the Kruger National Park and this time to celebrate Anita's 70th birthday.  We will again attempt to load some of our birding experiences and hopefully photographs on a daily basis starting on Saturday evening 25 February.

DAY 1: ONRUS TO GARIEP DAM  I started out very early in a twitching sense to see if I could add some species that we won't find at Punda, just to add to our trip list.  I went to the Vermont Salt Pan, the Onrus caravan park and Harderbaai and got 75 species in an hour and a half.  These included CAPE variations that included batis, cormorant, gannet, sugarbird, spurfowl and the like.  An endemic blowout.  And species like  AFRICAN GOSHAWK, AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, three terns, three warblers, and other lekker things.  And then we hit the road to the interior and the north ................  (May I add that the Western Cape is a top birding destination).

Upon leaving Onrus the area around 'honeymoon bridge' gave us brilliant sightings of FOREST BUZZARD, AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE and GREAT WHITE PELICAN and several other species. There was nothing going from here to De Doorns and I was shocked to drive all this way through the Overberg without seeing a single BLUE CRANE – we only found a large group of them at a feedlot in the Karoo. Driving through the Karoo at speed is not good for birding. We did though start picking up on SOUTHERN PALE-CHANTING GOSHAWK, KAROO KORHAAN, KAROO SCRUB-ROBIN and good numbers of JACKAL and STEPPE BUZZARDS. It seems as if these guys will be working on the N1 forever and we experienced 9 (yes, nine) stop-and-goes. If you are on holiday however you just wait and look at what is available in the veld: we saw FAMILIAR and KAROO CHATS, ROCK and GREATER KESTRELS and CINNAMON-BREASTED and RED-EARED WARBLERS at these frustrating 'hang in there and be patient spots'. Really good birding and I hope that we can get 'Karoo birding' on the map now that Cape Town Routes Unlimited have committed to the sponsorship of a birdfinder brochure for the region!

Beyond Hanover (or is that Hangover) we found huge numbers of AMUR FALCONS and later literally thousands of LESSER KESTRELS sitting on wires. Amazing stuff. We are spending the night at the Gariep (Verwoerd) Dam and will see what happens tomorrow.

TRIP TOTAL: 114 species (Sorry no pics, maybe we'll get time tomorrow).


Eight hours on a Sunday when one expects chilled times. Only eight species added in all that time and this includes COMMON MYNA. Bad birding and terrible traffic on a Sunday afternoon – Jo'burg is a weird place, don't go there.

Then we hit Niklaas and Maureen's smallholding at Bultfontein to the north of Pretoria. We could chill and bird: EUROPEAN BEE-EATER, PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET, MAGPIE SHRIKE, YELLOW-FRONTED TINKERBIRD, WILLOW WARBLER and so one could go on. Great birding!

This left us on 152 species after two days. We will be in a camp for the next two evenings where we won't have contact with the outside world until Wednesday. I will write daily after this and load reports and images then.

European Bee-eater


Damn wing position









 DAY 3


The less we say about today's trip the better. There are extensive stop-and-goes between Pietersburg and Tzaneen and we had to sit waiting for close on two hours in total. Very frustrating when one is so close to Kruger. Elaine did however find an OLIVETREE WARBLER at one of the stops – a lifer for her. Our last provisions were bought at Phalaborwa and at last we could enter the park. A frightening total of 2,035 km's to get here.

European Roller


Lilac-breasted Roller







The first bird we saw inside the park was a WHITE-BACKED VULTURE and this was quickly followed by BROWN-HEADED PARROT, AFRICAN GREEN PIGEON and PALID FLYCATCHER. Sable dam looked rather promising as we picked up on THREE-BANDED PLOVER and MARSH and WOOD SANDPIPERS. We drove to Shimuwini at a leisurely pace and we started stopping for everything and tried for some photographs. I was focusing on a roller when I saw a flash of red, black and white fly into the tree. At closer inspection we found Elaine's first GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO! - an immature bird. The bridge over the Letaba river also produced BLACK STORK and LESSER STRIPED and WIRE-TAILED SWALLOW. Anita and her family have already been at Shimuwini for three days with the result that we just settled in while they produced an outstanding supper.

TRIP TOTAL: 194 species

Immature Great Spotted Cuckoo
White-winged Widowbird











This camp must be experienced: practical and well equipped chalets are positioned on the banks of the Letaba river allowing magnificent vistas and awesome birding. Elaine and myself already made our intentions clear last night: there was NO WAY that we would get into a vehicle today and we stayed behind while the rest of the party went on a breakfast run to Letaba rest camp in celebration of Anita's 70th birthday. I got woken by my cell phone ring tone, but there is no reception here – a WOODLANDS KINGFISHER started my day with its piercing call right outside my window.

Spotted Flycatcher


Village Indigobird








It was cloudy and we just started strolling along the river – three flycatchers, three hornbills, four kingfishers, both thick-knees and so one could go on. AMUR FALCONS roost in the Jackalberry tree in front of our chalet and RED-HEADED WEAVERS are feeding their young just three yards from our chairs on the patio. So this is 'twitching-on-foot' day. Elaine figured out a WILLOW WARBLER with the help of 'ROBERTS BIRD GUIDE: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK AND ADJACENT LOWVELD'. The more we use this book, the more we are becoming convinced that one doesn't need to take along anything else when visiting Kruger – brilliant descriptions and very practical. Get one.

Young Bateleur Eagle


Little Swift







The day was however dominated by vast numbers of elephants that came down to the river in front of the chalets throughout the afternoon. There were three breeding herds with cows and very small babies at one point and young and old bulls were either running after the cows or became involved in all out scraps. There was a major head butt just outside the fence, less than twenty yards from our chalet – an amazing spectacle to close for me to photograph with the long lens. The rest of the day was about food, drink and merriment. Anita's nieces produced outstanding food for both lunch and supper and we partied late into the night.

TRIP TOTAL: 209 species









Anita's family left very early to return home and the three of us could now start taking it easy and start birding seriously. We saw some good birds and picked up BLACK-BELLIED BUSTARD, EURASIAN HOBBY (a lifer for the girls), a pair of adult GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO, a SQUARE-TAILED NIGHTJAR (unfortunately a roadkill), GOLDEN-TAILED WOODPECKER, FAWN-COLOURED and MONOTONOUS LARKS and many more.

Brown Snake-Eagle


Southern Carmine Bee-Eater









We were then fortunate to get a run of raptors that really gave us the feeling of being in Kruger: BROWN SNAKE-EAGLE, my first DARK CHANTING GOSHAWK in more than a decade, SECRETARYBIRD (a very special bird to see these days now that they are in such trouble), a kill with all the local vultures except WHITE-HEADED VULTURE and TAWNY EAGLES, and later on a brilliant sighting of a stovepipe-legged LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE.

Closing in on the kill 1


Closing in on the kill 2







 By the time we reached Shingwedzi the temperature was 40+ with the result that we had time to catch up on our reports and correspondence. The girls went for a swim and we will again go birding when (hopefully) the day cools off.

We went on a sundowner spin to Kanniedood Dam and had a real ripper: BRUBRU, AFRICAN MOURNING DOVE, SQUARE-TAILED DRONGO, SWAINSON'S SPURFOWL, MARABOU STORK and more. But then our final four additions to our list for the day were WOOLY-NECKED STORK, GROUND AND TRUMPETER HORNBILLS and three different sightings of BROAD-BILLED ROLLERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TRIP TOTAL: 241 species



Broad-billed Roller in the distance


Marabou Stork










We woke up to steady and continuous rain and 100% heavy cloud cover. It literally rained all the way to Punda. We managed to find a few good species even though most were very wet and bedraggled: GREEN WOOD-HOOPOE, LONG-BILLED CROMBEC, four sightings of SOUTHERN GROUND HORNBILL all sitting high up on dead tree-trunks, clearly not happy with the wet grass. Also an immature CROWNED HORNBILL. We again had good fortune with raptors and found a pair of WALBERG'S EAGLES (both dark brown), several wet BATELEURS, more BROWN SNAKE-EAGLES and an immature OVAMBO SPARROWHAWK. This bird represented a tough identification challenge as it was some distance away and light conditions not good at all. Chris van Rooyen's illustration in the Roberts bird guide to Kruger saved the day however as it is just about perfect. This really is an excellent book. The highlight of the morning was undoubtedly a magnificent MONTAGU'S HARRIER quartering over a marshy area. The rain was unfortunately falling heavily onto my side of the vehicle and it was impossible to try for images.

Barn Swallow








It is still raining and we decided to settle in as we are here for five nights even though Elaine already started with her usual schemes of maybe adding an extra night or two. (She once added three nights to a three night stay here). We did though get a few good teasers as CHINSPOT BATIS, GREY-BACKED CAMEROPTERA, YELLOW-BELLIED GREENBUL, PURPLE INDIGOBIRD and PURPLE-CRESTED TURACO were seen. Highlight? We drove down to the hide and found a SHRIKA with interesting white markings on the wings that we had seen in LITTLE SPARROWHAWKS before. We'll send this to Trevor for comment. (Trevor confirmed that it was a SHRIKA that suffers from partial leucism and that this phenomenon is very rare in this species - not certain if this had been recorded before).

TRIP TOTAL: 261 species. KNP TOTAL: 154 species.

It actually swallowed it










We got away early to visit our favorite birding spot on earth. Again very bad weather and rain and we were further tormented by about 30 km.s worth of MONOTONOUS LARKS calling nonstop. Very beautiful, but it gets a bit much after a while. We turned the radio on at news time and heard about the weather warning of a tropical system coming this way – Elaine reckoned 'great stuff, maybe we get caught up here for a few weeks'. We did get good sightings of COMMON SCIMITARBILL, RED-BREASTED SWALLOW and STEPPE EAGLE with its extended gape, and others, but photography was impossible.

African Cuckoo


Common Cuckoo









We decided to have breakfast under the lapa at the Pafuri picnic site and waited for the rain to clear. We did though get TERRESTRIAL BROWNBUL, WHITE-BROWED and RED-CAPPED ROBIN-CHATS and KURICHANE THRUSH. The weather fortunately started clearing and we drove slowly towards Crook's Corner. There were BROAD-BILLED ROLLERS all over the place and we saw a lot of cuckoos – pairs of JACOBIN CUCKOOS on six different occasions.

Meves's Starling


Attack on snake








 But then the experience of our trip so far: we found a very agitated pair of MEVES'S STARLINGS and this mother of a BLACK MAMBA with its head and a substantial part of its body down their nesting hole. This must have been two meters from the ground and a part of the reptile was on the ground!!!!!!! The birds physically attacked the protruding part of the snake's body continually. Then the mamba started with strange movements clearly beginning to pull itself out of the hole. Eventually it simply fell free from the tree. What drama. I will load more of the photographs on one of the photo galleries when I get the time.  Did the snake devour the eggs or chicks, or did the birds manage to repel the snake?  Open question.

and again


Falling free from tree









Crook's Corner was again birding at its best: JAMESON'S and RED-BILLED FIREFINCHES, two bee-eaters, three woodpeckers, AFRICAN YELLOW WHITE-EYE, WHITE-CROWNED LAPWINGS and many more. Also the usual pair of AFRICAN FISH-EAGLES. Also interesting that huge numbers of RED-BILLED QUELEAS (it sounds like a car speeding past when they come over) were flying east everywhere throughout the day. We wondered what this was all about.

African Fish-Eagle
In flight










We then returned to the picnic site for lunch and the birding hotted up – TROPICAL BOUBOU, GOLDEN-BREASTED BUNTING, GREEN-CAPPED EREMOMELA, BOHM'S SPINETAIL, GREY TIT-FLYCATCHER, the list can just go on. We did miss out on a few of the specials up there and will certainly return to the Pafuri on Monday it the weather allows this.

And to crown it all Elaine just got an EASTERN NICATOR some twenty yards from our chalet. We are just so blessed to have such experiences and see such brilliant birds on a single day.

TRIP TOTAL: 290 species

KNP TOTAL: 183 species.

White-fronted Bee-Eaters
Crowned Hornbill










A perfect morning at last. The girls are planning to go on a sundowner game drive at 16h00 this afternoon and we decided to do the Mahonie loop road early in the morning, then do some rest camp birding (and laundry) and I'll braai before they return from the game drive. Mahonie is a 25 km road that encircles Punda and we did it in two and a half hours.


Purple Indigobird


Happy family






The vegetation and trees here are fantastic and the birding outstanding. We stopped at a tree and found CHINSPOT BATIS, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, BURCHELL'S COUCAL, TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA, WHITE-BELLIED SUNBIRD, BROWN-CROWNED TCHAGRA and BEARDED WOODPECKER from one fixed spot – not to shabby a start to the morning. We further has great sightings of pairs of LITTLE BEE-EATERS and MOSQUE SWALLOWS. The latter represented our 300th sighting on the trip. Punda is certainly one of the best places to use as base for fantastic birding.


Woodland Kingfisher


Young Brown Snake-Eagle










I spent the rest of my day just walking around in the camp. We decided to just relax with rest camp birding as Christopher Muthathie, one of the guides on the Nyalaland trail will be taking us on a guided outing to the Pafuri on Monday. Most of you will recall that he was the 'hero' during the trip of the 'Four Grey Tits' during February last year. (See that report elsewhere on this website).  Most of us have some birds that we are simply not able to get meaningful photographs of. One of mine is ORANGE-BREASTED BUSH-SHRIKE. I spent an hour in frightening heat following and tracking this bird, but with no success. (Eendag as ek groot is …........) I did find BLACK CUCKOO and SOUTHERN BLACK TIT though and managed to pick up on all the woodpeckers that the Park has on offer. To be honest – I did not go on the game drive as I wanted to follow the Bulls's progress on radio.

Male Bearded Woodpecker


Mean old man








Anita and Elaine went on the game drive as they still need to see Pennant-winged Nightjar and this sunset drive is apparently one of the best opportunities to find this elusive bird. They unfortunately dipped on it again but really enjoyed the outing. Anita will write a short report on this as it comes highly recommended. They did add GREY-HEADED PARROT, AFRICAN SCOPS OWLS and SHAFT-TAILED WHYDAH however. They also heard a VERREAUX'S EAGLE-OWL and Thomas, the guide took them to the MOSQUE SWALLOW roost. The little scops owls were all over the place in the rest camp last night.

TRIP TOTAL: 305 species

KNP TOTAL: 195 species

Chinspot Batis


Another reptile in a hole









Elaine decided that we have had enough of braai and pasta and is doing traditional Sunday potjie in the well equipped, thatched kitchen facility. Its the only place where there is some breeze and we are lying low. (46 degrees with added humidity). We took an early morning walk and for the first time in my life I saw mixed flocks of RETZ'S and WHITE-CRESTED HELMET-SHRIKES working and chatting away through the trees. Magnificent sighting. We might go for a drive this afternoon and will report on this tomorrow.

Retz's Helmet-Shrike


Preening Yellow-bellied Greenbul









Another one of those wonderful days in Africa: Christopher Muthathie is a senior trail ranger on the Nyalaland trail and volunteered to take us out for the day. The wonder of being able to experience the passion and commitment of someone who totally cares for the environment in a truly holistic sense is simply mind-blowing. We had lunch at the Pafuri picnic site and a plastic bag came past us in the wind – the man actually ran after it, went down what I believe is a dangerous drop and collected it before it landed up in the river. And the continuous stream of stories, of dung beetles, elephants, boababs, conservation, Bob's Zim …... And unbelievable knowledge of birds and being able to relate English and Afrikaans names was something to behold. A really remarkable day.

Elaine, Christopher and Anita


Young Bateleur






Christopher actually took us out to watch birds and we had a fairly extensive 'wish list'. Conditions were not good for birding as there was a very strong (and hot) easterly wind blowing all day. Again we went on a run of raptors: MARTIAL EAGLE, GABAR GOSHAWK, GYMNOGENE (I still refuse to use that new name, as Christopher does), EURASIAN HOBBY, LIZZARD BUZZARD and a mass of vultures fighting at an impala carcass dat die stof so staan.

There are a few vultures around here

We further got good species such as KURRICHANE BUTTONQUAIL (twice), LEMON-BREASTED CANARY, BURNT-NECK EREMOMELA and many other specials that we have already mentioned earlier ….......... and again BROAD-BILLED ROLLERS all over the place. We dipped on two of our requests, namely ARNOT'S CHAT and RACKET-TAILED ROLLER, but he was so kind to take us to the exact locations of his normal 'stake-outs' for when next we visit the area. It hopefully won't be to long down the line.

TRIP TOTAL: 322 species

KNP TOTAL: 211 species

Monotonous Lark


Wire-tailed Swallow










We left Punda with heavy hearts on a drive that produced no new sightings. It was very cloudy and we saw many BROWN SNAKE-EAGLES, a LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE and the usual rollers, bee-eaters and hornbills. The only real excitement was a MOZAMBIQUE SPITTING COBRA that lifted its head right next to my open car window – Anton had window closed for about ten km.s and battled to get his heartbeat under control for ten minutes.




Another Woodland Kingfisher









Shingwedzi is a great camp and we just strolled around looking for action. It came in the form of a PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET that attracted a huge number of irate birds that tried to drive it out of an Acacia tree. Species in the mob included AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER, SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS, SOUTHERN GREY-HEADED SPARROW, CHESTNUT-VENTED TIT-BABBLER, BLUE WAXBILLS and even two GREY GO-AWAY-BIRDS. Funny how this beautiful little bird can get on the nerves of others.

Pearl-spotted Owlet


Another one of those starlings












I believe that Shingwedzi actually means 'the place of the woodpeckers'. We saw all species to be found in Kruger and had brilliant views of BENNETT'S. These birds are known to forage mostly on the ground and to eat ants. We were able to study this behavior up close and got relatively good pics.

Female Bennett's Woodpecker


Male Bennett's Woodpecker at ant hole










This was a day for mammals and what we thought was a big rinkals, but we'll confirm this later. (Good run of snakes they are having - it in fact was a rinkals). We regularly got held up by huge herds of buffalo crossing the road and had very good sightings of vast numbers of zebras, blue wildebeest and elephants at the Middelvlei waterhole. The Middelvlei area also also produced a lot of larks that made for interesting identification debates. The Letaba area like most of the north is lush green with very tall grass and we started suspecting that we won't see a single pipit on this trip.

Dusky Lark


Sabota Lark








The trees around our tent immediately produced species such as ASHY and SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS. BLACK-HEADED ORIOLE, GREEN WOOD-HOOPOE and SCIMITARBILL and BEARDED SCRUB-ROBIN. We look forward to some brilliant birding around here for the next three days and hope to start picking up on more waterbirds.

We will add up our species count later.

Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark


Cinnamon-Breasted Bunting








We have seen very little water birds and waders on this trip up till now and ascribed this to the lush vegetation and lots of water in the veld. We therefore planned to spend our entire Thursday along the Olifants river in pursuit of the more than 30 water bird species that I have photographed here in the past. But then we started getting to more and more secondary gravel roads along the river that were closed. The flood of a few weeks ago was totally destructive as a few images that I add herewith illustrate. The Olifants river as a top birding destination in unfortunately no more and there are only a few Egyptian Geese and Blacksmith Lapwings around.

No more jackalberries, maroelas or sycamores at Balule


What used to the the Balule low-water bridge








Tree trunks at top of Olifants high-water bridge



The sand used to be riverine forest








We did find a few good birds on our way back to Letaba and these included CINNAMON-BREASTED BUNTING, WHITE-BACKED VULTURES (at last – I think this species is in trouble), BUSHVELD PIPIT (the first Pipit of our trip) and again GREEN-CAPPED EREMOMELA. Report continued at:


PER (posted: 2012-04-25)
Hi Anton,

Nice report. I still have not done a real Kruger trip only a couple of nights in Pafuri Camp and now I am migrating north :-(
CONRAD VAN HEERDEN (posted: 2012-03-25)
Baie dankie Anton - dit is uitstekend ! Kom elke dag meer en meer agter hoeveel ek nog nie opgemerk het nie. Spoor my aan om beter te doen
FRIK WIESE (posted: 2012-03-17)
Hallo Anton,
Ons het ontmoet een aand om die braaivuur in Punda Maria. Bly jyt my e-mail adres onthou! Inderdaad pragtige fotos en gaan beslis met julle kontak hou!
Groete uit Pretoria....Frik
CHRISTOPHER MUTHATHI (posted: 2012-03-13)
Good afternoon
Thanks for the nice report, I didnít think you will make nice report like this and the pictures are very nice and thanks for everything that you did for me while you were at punda Maria, I hope Gogo she is well also and I believe you all had a very safe journey back home. Thanks to Anton for a good report and the nice pictures. Did he manage to identify that raptor and the lbj that we struggle to identify?

KTAE COLLINS (posted: 2012-03-06)
Dear Anton,
Thank you very much for the use of your blog and stunning photos!
Please see the link:
Let me know if you have anything you'd like us to change.
Kind regards,
Kate Collins
Digital Editor
ROMI BOOM (posted: 2012-03-03)
Dankie, Anton. Dit lees heerlik. Ek is ook jaloers, nes almal anders.
Die episode van die mamba wat deur die spreeus aangeval word, is verstommend. As jy 'n fotoreeks daarvan vir my wil aanstuur, sal ons dit graag op ons webwerf of in die Wild Card nuusbrief plaas.
Geniet die res en toer veilig.
CARIN MALAN (posted: 2012-03-03)
WOW ! all the Cuckoos, I thought they were all in the Gadi ! I like Elaines plans - not bad !!! Enjoy !
OTTO NEL (posted: 2012-02-29)
Wonderlik. Baie mooi fotos
CARIN MALAN (posted: 2012-02-25)
Lekker to follow another wonderful trip report ! Arrived home safely - saw 10 blue cranes 1/2 way between Brandvlei & Calvinia. Pls travel safely ! Carin
JENNY (posted: 2012-02-24)
Anton, I just cannot believe that life can be so tough for some people in the birding fraternity...Jenny