DAWID & CARIN MALAN IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARKPosted on the 25th August 2012
(Dawid and Carin again illustrate what brilliant birding there is on offer in Kruger. There are so many images to choose from and I only included a fraction of these (those that I really liked) - we will get them to come and talk at a club meeting. The summer migrants seen early in August are of great interest. - Ed.)
After previous bad experiences in Kruger we were convinced by our good birding friends Anton and Elaine to visit Kruger again. “Get to the north as quickly as possible“, Anton said, “specifically Punda Maria and Pafuri Picnic Site”. We knew it was not the best time of year, because we would miss out on the summer migrants. There were, however, more than enough other species to keep us busy for a while. Our specific target species was Pel’s Fishing Owl. So, with a huge map and little yellow stickers I started to research which birdies could be seen on different roads. I must say there is lot of fantastic literature on this, as well as other interesting facts and figures.
It was an early start in Cape Town to get to Johannesburg for a connecting flight to Nelspruit. Next time we will fly directly from Cape Town to Nelspruit: although expensive, it would save a lot of time. We collected our car at the airport and set off for the Malalane Superspar to buy our provisions for the trip. Although good, we missed our Grabouw Superspar - thank you Wimpie for looking after us so well in Grabouw! Almost forgot, then Dawid had to buy a braai rooster. “Ek haat ‘n vuil rooster” – watch this space ! Just before entering the park at the Malelane gate, we bought fruit next to the road from one of the friendly local ladies: what lovely fresh paw-paws, avo’s and citrus (not to be found in the SPAR).
We all know the history of Kruger, but just a short refresher: in 1890 Paul Kruger became alarmed by die declining game numbers and he started lobbying the Volksraad to establish Sabi Game Reserve. His aim was to prevent the area from being devided into little farms to be used for livestock. In 1899 an area of 46, 000km2 between the Crocodile and Sabie rivers was proclaimed as the Sabi Game Reserve. The Anglo-Boer War almost spelled the end of Kruger’s vision, but in 1902 James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed the Head Ranger. He retired in 1946 after 44 years in Kruger. In May 2002, the Kruger, Limpopo National Park (Mozambique) and Gonarezhou (Zimbabwe) National Parks were formally merged into a 35 000m2 Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, one of the largest in world. Interesting to note that the first motorist entering the park in 1927 paid a R2 entrance fee.
|Southern Ground Hornbill|
We entered the park at Malelane Gate and travelled along the H3 to Afsaal. Unfortunately the little shop was closed so we turned onto the H2-2, which should be good of the Cuckoo Finch? It was already dark when we reached Pretoriuskop. Not a good start to our trip, BUT the next morning we awoke with lots of unfamiliar bird calls. I opened the door and the first photo I took was of a Brown-headed Parrot having a feast on a Common Coral Tree. So were the Scarlet-chested Sunbird, African Green-Pigeon, Black Flycatcher and some Yellow-eyed Canaries on the ground. Needless to say we spent about 2 hours birding.
Finally we got going, still having to travel to Olifants Camp, 200km north and at 50km an hour, a whole day's travelling. I did, however, hear that little voice again: “get to the north as quickly as possible”. We took the H1-1 to Skukuza, as this is supposedly good for Wild Dogs, which we had only seen twice before. We reached Skukuza late morning, got coffee and moved on, taking the H1-2 to the Tshokwane Picnic Site. We decided not to stop at the Tshokwane picnic site, but rather go to Orpen Dam to stretch our legs. This seemed to be a good call with a pair of African Fish-Eagles hunting, Goliath Heron, Water Thickknee, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and one unidentified raptor. More time should be spent here. The H1-3 towards Olifants is great for grassland species, specifically Grassveld and Striped Pipits. At the Nwatinungu dam we found a breeding herd of elephant coming for water, and noticed a teenager who had lost its trunk in some way – he has adapted well and made a plan!
We stopped for coffee at Satara, but it was getting late and we had get to Olifants, taking the H1-4 with new enthusiasm. Lots of Striped Kingfishers, both European and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Magpie Shrikes, etc. Some of the roads around Olifants are still being repaired due to the floods in January. The very famous low water bridge on the S92 at Olifants is a hive of activity with men repairing it. We saw lots of waterfowl, and it looked as if they were returning after the recent floods: Yellow-billed and Great Egrets, Cormorants, Darter, Hamerkop, Three-banded Plover, Grey Heron, Comb Duck, both Pied and Giant Kingfishers, Swifts, Black Crake, Marabou Stork and both Common and Wood Sandpipers.
The next morning we would finally reach the NORTH, and we took the S44 from Olifants to Shingwedzi, another 141km. We only made a quick stop at Letaba as we were scheduled to spend 2 nights there on our way back. After taking a turnoff from the H1-6 onto the Tsendenza Loop (S48) we saw that it was starting to get drier and drier. We reached Shipandani bird hide by lunch time and had our packed lunch in the hide. There were a Brown-hooded Kingfisher hunting, Grey Heron, and again Common Sandpiper present. The hippos were noisy and the buffalo came to drink. This is much more relaxing than sitting in the restaurant at Mopani. Due to limited time we followed the H1-6 north and not the S50, which is a gravel road. Finally we reached the NORTH, we visited the Kanniedood dam and did the Shipiriwiri Loop at sunset. It was very dry and dusty!
The next morning we spent 3 hours birding in Shingwedzi camp, admiring the beautiful Impala Lilies that were in full bloom. Aside from the ever present hornbills, starlings and weavers we must have had at least another 15 to 20 species. The picnic spot was particularly good, and we were able to get real close-ups of the barbets, francolins, and Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike. We were also fortunate to see African Hawk-Eagle, as well as Tawny Eagle in this area. This really is a wonderful camp, with good accommodation and friendly staff.
We left Shingwedzi with the thought that on the way back we would enjoy it once more. Today was a short drive to Punda Maria. We took the S57 river loop ending at the Babalala picnic site. There is a small water hole within the Sisha River system. Most of the water holes on the H1-7 have dried up, the Mopanie trees were looking dreadful, and those not “dying” because of the drought were being eaten by the elephants. I am concerned about the amount of damage the elephants are doing to the vegetation. I do believe that a solution should be found sooner rather than later, although this is an emotional issue.
Finally we turn onto the H13-1 towards Punda! Now we started to see the most magnificent Baobab trees. Punda seems like going back in time, the original little thatch huts dating back to 1933. Our accommodation was a beautiful safari tent with a lovely open deck looking over the valley. We took our drinks and spent the two hours till dusk at the bird hide. We saw Nyalas and elephants and lots of birds came down to the water: Grey-headed Parrot, Black-headed Oriole, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Crested Barbet, and both Blue and Violet-eared Waxbills. That evening there was a Large-spotted Genet begging for food. We also had both Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl calling, together with some nightjars. An entire day can be spent at Punda as the hide and the Flycatcher Trail offer great birding.
The next morning early we walked part of the Paradise Flycatcher route, not picking up on a lot of species – probably too cold for the birds. We left Punda along the S61 that leads to the Klopperfontein Dam, which was a hive of activity with zebra, kudu, buffalo and one huge elephant keeping the rest of the animals out of what remaining water there was. The Klopperfontein dam has about run dry. We then left for the Pafuri Picnic Site, the Holy Grail for most local and international birders. One drives over a little hill, and then in front of you lies the most beautiful site with huge trees and the river barely visible in the background, the sun just penetrating the thick leaf cover - it is beautifully neat, clean and quiet !
We started walking around and saw lots of new species. This was all a bit overwhelming and we decided to sit down, have our lunch and rather let the birds come to us. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the camp and made an appointment with Frank, BirdLife South Africa trained bird guide for the next day.
We took a drive to Crooks Corner and were again concerned about of lots of smaller Fever Trees being pushed over by elephants. It seems as is the bigger trees are ok, but how are the little trees going to get big to replace the old once when they have died? Accommodation for the night came in the form of a tree house at the Pafuri River Lodge, not recommended if you are afraid of heights, or for the elderly. This did, however, give us a head start to get to Pafuri Picnic site before all the other tourist arrived.
We met with Frank at 07h00: what a wonderful and knowledgeable guide - a huge asset for Kruger and a wonderful ambassador for BirdLife South Africa. He showed us Mottled Spinetails in the Baobas on the way to Crooks Corner – I actually haven’t got words for the knowledge of this man. This must be the most productive birding territory in SA and besides many species of robins, sunbirds and firefinches, we must have seen another 30 species, if not more. Later that day we also found what we actually came for: a Pel's Fishing Owl on the Luvuvu river, what a wonderful bird !
|Pel's Fishing Owl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!|
The next day we returned to Shingwedzi and did a lot of birding in the camp and had a lovely dinner at the restaurant. Thereafter we did part of the Shingwedzi North Loop looking for Village Indigo. Along the H1-6 we watched a potential lion hunt, with 4 lionesses trying to ambush some Impalas, luckily the Impalas saw them and ran away. We reached Mopani and tried to locate the little African Scops-Owl. The staff directed us to the tree where the little Scops was roosting. Unfortunately this was a very bad experience: some SA visitors literally took photos with the camera 20cm away from the little owl, despite huge notices requesting visitors not to use flashes. From Mopani we made our way to Letaba, spending a delightful afternoon at the Matabeni hide. African Fish-Eagles were calling and flying by and a family of Klipspringer posed for us, literally 1m away. On our way to camp we drove the S47 and found Woolly-necked Storks and Great Egret.
We spent two days at Letaba and explored the area. This camp was very busy as the Phalaborwa gate is nearby and in our view it should be skipped if one is looking for a real bush experience. Thereafter we took the long haul to Skukuza for our last night in Kruger. We made our way to the Lake Panic hide as birding there is always particularly good. It was late afternoon, with beautiful light for photography, and we saw at least 10 species. A particularly interesting interaction was an African Fish-Eagle attacking between a pair of Goliath Herons. One of the photographers showed me his photos of a Nerina Trogan that he took there that afternoon. This was a first for him in the 18 years that he has visited the hide.
Skukuza's newly renovated accommodation was a wonderful surprise, as it was far less busy than with our previous visit. It might have something to do with the fact that there is now a day visitor site outside of the camp. The next morning we birded in and around camp. The Selati Restaurant area is particularly good, and we had good views of a Tawny-flanked Prinia and Purple-crested Turaco. We again stopped at Lake Panic before we exited Kruger Park on our way to Nelspruit.
In total we were able to identify 204 species, with a further 6 that we are still working on. We unfortunately dipped on three of our target species, Eastern Nicator, Bat Hawk and African Finfoot. Maybe next time.
Will we do it again? Yes, but differently: we will fly to Hoedspruit, enter the park in the north and stay in the Punda Maria/Shingwedzi area. Keep in mind that we could not get accommodation in any of the bush camps and that might have changed our minds. I would also include more time to visit all the archaeological sites within the park.
After 1600km we returned home to our beautiful green and cold Western Cape after not using that braai grid once – not because we didn’t braai, but that’s a story for another time !
Carin and Dawid Malan