BIRDLIFE OVERBERG IN KRUGER: FROM PHALABORWA TO SIRHENIPosted on the 11th October 2013
Twenty members of BirdLife Overberg are going on a tour of the northern parts of the Kruger National Park. We will attempt to give a short report with photographs as regularly as we can given the fact that we will out of 3G range on at least 5 days.
Charel and Marlien will be travelling with Elaine and myself and our itinerary is as follows:
8 October: GARIEP DAM
10 & 11 October: Flight for Birders course at PRETORIA
12 October: MAGOEBASKLOOF
13 to 15 October: SHIMUWINI BUSHCAMP
16 & 17 October: SHINGWEDZI
18 & 19 October: SIRENI BUSHCAMP
20 to 24 October: PUNDA MARIA
25 October: SHINGWEDZI
26 October: LETABA
27 October: BERG-EN-DAL
28 & 29 October: GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL PARK
30 & 31 October: ADDO NATIONAL PARK
1 November: Possibly somewhere along the Garden Route
DAY 1: TUESDAY 8 OCTOBER
The four of us, Charel and Marlien Bruwer and Elaine and myself, left Onrus at 08h00 and traveled via Route 62 and Meiringspoort onto Beaufort West. We enjoyed a wonderful picnic at Meiringspoort. This route is significantly longer than the normal N1 road and brought about a full day's driving, due to zillions of 'stop and goes' along the way. We had a great 'boerekos' dinner at the RAPTOR RIDGE guesthouse at the Gariep Dam.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 78 species
LEKKER BIRDS SEEN: Forest Buzzard, SA Cliff-Swallow, Blue Crane, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Cape Rock-Thrush, Cape Sugarbird.
|Cape Bunting (Meiringspoort)|
|Beautiful locust (Meiringspoort)|
DAY 2: WEDNESDAY 9 OCTOBER
A hot, dreadful day through the very dry Free State with many more 'stop and goes' and not much to report on as far as birds are concerned.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 89 species
LEKKER BIRDS SEEN: Lesser Flamingo, Karoo and Northern Black Korhaans.
Upon arrival at Nick and Maureen's smallholding at Vastfontein to the north of Pretoria however all hell broke loose. We enjoyed tea on the patio and added the following species in 30 minutes: Black-collared and Crested barbets, Diderick and Klaas's cuckoos, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Black-headed Oriole, Black-backed Puffback, Amethyst and Marico Sunbirds and so on. Ons is in die bosveld!
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 112 species
|Crested Barbet (Vastfontein|
|Southern Masked-Weaver (Vastfontein)|
DAYS 3 AND 4:
We presented the Flight for Birders course at Petronella to the north of Pretoria and did not have time to bird much. It was a very enthusiastic group of birders and we will hopefully report on this course at some later stage. The birding potential in the Dinokeng area is limitless and many of the participants believe that the Zaagkuilsdrift road represents of the best birding in the region.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 125 species
LEKKER BIRDS SEEN: European Bee-eater, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Lesser Honeyguide, White-throated Robin-Chat, Magpie Shrike.
Tomorrow morning at 08h00 our holiday proper starts when we pick up Charel and Marlien in Pretoria and leave for Magoebaskloof. Hopefully we'll start reporting more regularly from then.
|Lesser Honeyguides waiting for barbets to drop their guard|
|Part of group on practical at Petronella|
DAY 5: TOWARDS MAGOEBASKLOOF
Before I report, here is what Charel and Marlien were on about when we presented the course at Pretoria. They visited friends who own a game lodge outside Brits. They went past a python that was lying as if dead on the road. They turned back to inspect and he of Boesmanland origin decided to pull the snake by the tail to see if it was alive or not. The reptile was off and gone – Marlien took a classic photograph with her cell.
The trip from Pretoria to Magoebaskloof did not produce much to write about: A beautiful Black-breasted Snake-Eagle in flight, several White-fronted Bee-Eaters and a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird kept the interest going however.
Then we arrived at a brilliant accommodation establishment at Magoebaskloof: a bit of a rough 2 km dirt track in the end, but beautifully appointed, 5 star self-catering cottage within an indigenous forest and really affordable. HERB COTTAGE is a must-do: it reminds a lot of Little Stone Cottage along a river, but this is for two couples en-suite and equipped with all mod-cons, thank God, without radio and television. We decided immediately that this place should be visited for a week or more. A pool on the deck, fantastic butterflies and moths, Samango Monkeys raiding the extensive herb garden, and without birding seriously we were delighted to find species such as Pygmy Kingfisher, Pale Flycatcher, Red-capped Robin-Chat, with Nerina Trogon calling in the distance. And wait for it: our 149th species on the trip was a small flock of CAPE PARROTS flying up the valley chatting away while we were attending to the fire and the 150th was an AFRICAN WOOD-OWL mournfully calling during supper. We will post contact details of this wonderful destination shortly.
Tomorrow the group will get together in the KRUGER NATIONAL PARK at last. We will not be able to connect for three days and we will report again on Wednesday evening.
|Samango Monkey raiding herb garden|
|A river runs through it|
DAY 6: MAGOEBASKLOOF TO SHIMUWINI
Our day started with a dawn chorus of huge proportions. A MOUNTAIN WAGTAIL was singing away happily at the water feature along the deck and we quickly picked up on BLACK-FRONTED BUSH-SHRIKE, AFRICAN EMERALD CUCKOO and three other cuckoos, SCALY-THROATED HONEYGUIDE, (several host species are in for a tough time in this valley), both RED-CAPPED and WHITE-BROWED ROBIN-CHATS, KNYSNA TURACO and many more. As we were about to leave an AFRICAN CROWNED EAGLE circled it's way up the valley. We were bitterly disappointed having to leave HERB COTTAGE as we were still looking for Orange Ground-Thrush and Green Twinspot, both regulars here. We'll be back.
By coincidence fourteen of our BirdLife Overberg members bumped into each other in the SPAR at Phalaborwa. We will never know how Charel and myself managed to get all of the groceries into the vehicle and trailer – very proud of the IX 35 coping with all of this. It was unfortunately heavily clouded over for most of the day and a very strong wind wind further made birding and photography just about impossible. Aletta, Anita, Elsabe and Hele arrived very late from the airport, with the result that we had supper and turned in early. Elaine did however insist to put up our club feather banners, despite the gale blowing.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 183 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 72 species
LEKKER BIRDS SEEN: Tawny Eagle, Green-backed Heron, African Green Pigeon, Saddle-billed Stork, Barn Swallow, Red-headed Weaver.
|Grean-backed Heron from chalet|
DAY 7: SHIMUWINI BUSH CAMP
The bad weather that we brought along from the Cape still persisted with the result that Elaine decided that we will all make our way to Letaba for lunch. This part of the Park is bone dry at present. My early morning walk did however produce LITTLE BEE-EATER, RETZ'S HELMET-SHRIKE, WHITE-BROWED SCRUB-ROBIN and a GOLIATH HERON that swallowed a huge snake.
We took every turn-off and loop road along the Letaba river and had a great morning's birding despite the very bad weather. As far as raptors go we got species such as BATELEUR, an MARTIAL EAGLE that was regurgitating heavily, a pale-phased WAHLBERG'S EAGLE, DARK CHANTING GOSHAWK, BROWN SNAKE-EAGLE and many AFRICAN FISH-EAGLES. At Letaba we were fortunate to be able to compare the sizes of all four egrets and saw other interesting species such as AFRICAN PALM-SWIFT, MARABOU STORK and ORANGE-BREASTED BUSH-SHRIKE. On our way back we found large flocks of BUNTING-LIKE LARKS (as Charel calls it), GOLDEN-BREASTED BUNTING, SABOTA LARK, DOUBLE-BANDED SANDGROUSE and others. At dusk we had great fun watching an old bull elephant testing the electric fencing in front of our chalet (ten yards away) and then casually climbing over it : Elaine in panic state about the feather banner. We all are hoping for improved weather conditions tomorrow.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 210 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 109 species
|Elephant in rest camp|
|One of our banners|
DAY 8: SHIMUWINI BUSH CAMP
The RUFOUS-CHEEKED NIGHTJARS were out in force last night and their “engine-like churring” continued until well after sunrise. Elaine and myself got up to watch the day break and were able to identify more than fourty species while having coffee. How privileged one is to be able to sit on the patio and watch as species such as AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE, GREEN-BACKED HERON, BLACK and SADDLE-BILLED STORKS starting the day. We then decided to take a short drive doing the loop road outside the camp. We added CINNAMON-BREASTED BUNTING, RATTLING CISTICOLA, EMERALD-SPOTTED WOOD-DOVE, FAWN-COLOURED AND FLAPPET LARKS, BEARDED SCRUB-ROBIN and SOUTHERN BLACK TIT.
We decided to spend the day in camp and just rest, while the rest of the group went on a day's outing to Marula rest camp. No rest for the wicked though as I found three species involved in breeding rituals within a radius of thirty yards from our patio: the female RED-HEADED WEAVER had great fun tearing apart every nest-building offering that the poor male came up with, two YELLOW-BILLED HORNBILLS were working a surprisingly small nest hole in a “huilboerboon-tree” and a pair of BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHERS was very busy at a hole in a jackalberry tree. Their mutual 'wing-flick' ritual is something to behold. A pair of BLACK CUCKOO-SHRIKES was also very active in the general area, but we couldn't find or figure out a nest. Watching this lot performing is certainly my favourite type of birding.
As I type this, Elaine and Marlien point out a pair of of SADDLE-BILLED STORKS gracefully striding past in front of the patio – an AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE then takes a dive at them, but just passes on, followed by a BLACKSITH LAPWING giving them a hard time. When it is unsuccessful with this it tackles a MARSH SANDPIPER and then a WATER THICK-KNEE and drive these off. The storks eventually take off showing the brilliant black and white markings on their wings. Tough life out here in Africa.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 221 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 127 species
|Goliath Heron in front of chalet|
|Saddle-billed Storks in front of chalet|
DAY 9: SHIMUWINI TO SHINGWEDZI
The group moved to Shingwedzi this morning. The four of us had a close run-in with a massive bull elephant that burst out of the bushes at the right – fortunately Elaine was able to brake in time to avoid a collision. He stood there lifting its trunk and flapping his ears a matter of meters away from us and Charel repeated a few times “stay dead quiet”. In the end he moved away slowly and we became somewhat hysterical. Dykie and Martie were right behind us and were unfortunately not quick enough to get their cameras out.
We added some good species along the way including a magnificent African Hawk-Eagle soaring above us, all of the local vultures, excluding the hooded variation, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Woolly-necked Stork and African Openbill. By the time we reached Shingwedzi it was VERY HOT and most of the group went for a swim. We'll go on a sundowner trip later this afternoon.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 232 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 138 species
|African Harrier-Hawk from chalet|
DAY 10: SHINGWEDZI
I took Bob on an hour long birding trip late yesterday afternoon and we basically only got a few Pearl-spotted Owlets and nothing much more. This started a conversation about the drought, the possible impact of the devastating floods in this area earlier during the year, and the general lack of mammals and birds when compared to previous trips during the month of October. We have seen very few migrants till now and Klaas's Cuckoo was the only species of this family that we have heard in the park until now. This caused a major debate around the fire last night and most members of the group expressed their disappointment with the slow progress of our species counts and the rare photographic opportunities. Here's holding thumbs that Punda and the Pafuri will come up trumps again.
The four of us left camp early this morning and took a slow drive to Redhills. We added species such as Burchell's Coucal, Yellow-billed Stork, Blue Waxbill, Yellow-throated Petronia and Long-billed Crombec before returning to camp to have brunch with Bob and Christa at the picnic site. The trip is becoming increasingly laid-back and relaxing – most members of our group are having a nap in air conditioned rooms as I write this.
|Elaine with fan|
Anita, Hele, Elsabie and Aletta, together with John and Josh went to inspect Serheni where we are heading tomorrow. They came back with great news and reported that it became greener and more lush with zillions of birds on show the further north they went. They came upon a pride of 21 lions feeding on a carcass and later saw a lion being chased by three buffalo. Birds found included MARTIAL and VERREAUX'S EAGLES and SECRETARYBIRD, as well as lots of smaller species, too many to report on now. They were hugely impressed with the chalets that were refurbished at Sereni after the floods – these now all have wooden decks, equipped with stone water features. Things are suddenly showing up and the group is looking forward to moving to Sereni tomorrow when Gary and Janet Risto will join us.
This afternoon we will go and have sundowners at the Kanniedood dam wall that had been taken out by the floods.
(I forgot to mention earlier that we were highly disgusted to find a pair of Indian Mynas at Shimuweni earlier in the week – these damn birds will eventually take over everywhere).
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 248 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 159 species
The weather had been very bad up here in the north and we had only been able to connect today. We post as much text as we can and will add images later as we go along:
DAY 11: SHINGWEDZI TO SIRHENI
We had to move again today and I went for a short walk at dawn. RED-CAPPED ROBIN-CHAT, WIRE-TAILED SWALLOW and BENNETT'S WOODPECKER were added to the two lists. We traveled along the Mphongolo loop road on our way to a 10h30 brunch date with the rest of the group at the Babalala picnic site. The birding really picked up as we were able to add brilliant species such as BLACK CUCKOO, VERREAUX'S EAGLE-OWL, EASTERN NICATOR, BROAD-BILLED ROLLER, NARINA TROGON, GOLDEN WEAVER and a transitional LONG-TAILED PARADISE WHYDAH. This loop road certainly remains my favourite de-tour in the whole of the Kruger National Park.
Sirheni Bush Camp is an experience in itself: we spent most of the afternoon on the decks of our chalets and were able to pick up on species such as GREATER HONEYGUIDE, WHITE-FACED SCOPS-OWL, WHITE-THROATED ROBIN-CHAT and HOODED VULTURE. We spent a lot of time on the deck after supper admiring the beautiful full-moon lit trees and landscape after supper. The FIERY-NECKED and RUFOUS-CHEEKED NIGHTJARS were going crazy all around us, only to be interrupted by the screeching of BARN OWLS every now and then. The highlight however was when a lone bull elephant slowly walked past us on the other side of the fence some ten yards away.
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 264 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 179 species
|Vultures at kill|
DAY 12: SIRHENI BUSH CAMP
Most of the group decided to spend the day in the camp as birding at Sirheni is out of this world. It was heavily cloudy with a soft drizzle, making photography almost impossible. Anita, Charel, Marlien and myself left camp at first light and decided to do every single de-tour along the Mphongolo loop road. At the first one we found a group of birds harvesting fish from a stretch of rapidly drying river: Seven HAMERKOPPE, a GREAT WHITE EGRET, three GREY HERONS and two SADDLE-BILLED STORKS caused a spectacle that will stay with us for many years. We also had the opportunity of watching a transitional female BATELEUR that looked like an artist was gradually adding in her colour: The white, grey and black colours on the wing were beginning to take over from the brown and the red in the face was about half-way there. Shame, not too attractive, but adulthood is beckoning.
And then we hit the (mostly) tiny little birds jackpot: we stopped at one point spent more than an hour reversing and turning to give everyone the opportunity to study the absolute mayhem of feeding birds. It was decided to give the list of all the species seen at this spot just to give an idea of the fun we had. (Some readers might find this boring): There were SOUTHERN BOUBOU, LAZY CISTICOLA, FORK-TAILED DRONGO, CUCKOO FINCH, AFRICAN-, JAMESON'S and RED-BILLED FIREFINCHES, GREY-, RED-BILLED and YELLOW-BILLED HORNBILLS, GREEN-WINGED PYTILIAS, RED-CAPPED and WHITE-THROATED ROBIN-CHATS, BEARDED SCRUB-ROBIN, GREY-HEADED SPARROW, many starlings, BLUE WAXBILL, VILLAGE WEAVER and BENNETT'S WOODPECKER on view, with BRUBRU, GREY-HEADED and ORANGE-BREASTED BUSH-SHRIKES and BLACK-BACKED PUFFBACKS calling in the background. A simply spectacular bird party that will remain embedded in our memories forever. We returned to camp after nine and decided to spend the rest of the day in camp and bird with the rest of the group. Later we heard that at the same time Dykie and Martie spent more than an hour watching and photographing a mating pair of lions – brilliant images at that!
All hell broke loose when staff members took us to watch a pair of WHITE-FACED SCOPS-OWLS with its young!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CUMMALATIVE TRIP COUNT: 275 species
CUMMALATIVE KRUGER COUNT: 201 species
It was decided to report on our five day visit to Punda Maria Rest Camp in a separate report as the size of this report is becoming too large. The Punda report can be found at the following link: