Posted on the 2nd January 2014

I had the privilege of 12 nights camping in the Kgalagadi in early December. On the way there and back I drove the Ceres-Calvinia road to include the Tankwa Karoo. I overnighted both ways in Brandvlei in a comfortable and good value B & B to try and include some of the Namaqua specials. The dirt road, though hard on my bakkie, was in reasonable condition and worth the effort. The seeds for follow up visits have been sown and we are planning to spend a week at Kagga Kamma next September or October.
This account will be short on words and hopefully the photos will carry the message. I do not keep a life list, but do of birds photographed. Over 20 new birds were added to this list – I think I am safely through 400 species now.
It was hot. On a few nights there was thunder and lightning, very, very frightening, but rain was patchy and the Kgalagadi was dry.
Even though it was dry, most birds were busy with breeding which makes this a particularly rewarding time to be in the Kgalagadi.









Pearl-spotted Owlets in the Camelthorn tree at Craig Lockhart Waterhole. They fledged on the day I left. It was magnificent to have them calling all the time we were there.









Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters were more common at Mata Mata than on the Nossob side. A honey badger raided the nest at which most of the photos were taken.

Chestnut-vented Tit Babblers
Kalahari Scrub-Robin











Juvenile Bateleur
This Ostrich had 17 chicks





















Gabar Goshawk. These 3 fledgelings were struggling to stay within the small nest.

Sociable Weavers
Ashy Tits












This is a photographers dream. The guys with the 500mm lenses are quite happy if you are closest to the waterhole as they need to be further back to have more chance to catch the action. From dawn to about 07h30 there are thousands of Cape Turtle Doves crowding in to drink. Thereafter, for the next 90 minutes the Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse flock in announcing their arrival noisily with their distinctive calls. Lying in ambush are jackals with occasional visits from Pale Chanting Goshawk and Red-necked Falcon. Unfortunately, there were no Lanner Falcons on the 2 mornings I spent at the waterhole.




















The challenge is to try and get the jackal and the sandgrouse (or doves) in the frame and in focus at the same time – whilst all around there is chaos of fleeing birds and feathers and water splashing everywhere. I never succeeded and had either the jackals in focus or the sandgrouse. I had enough near misses and that “just about perfect shot” to want to spend a month of mornings at the waterhole next time we are in Kgalagadi. Funnily enough the jackals did not succeed either on those 2 mornings, other than a mouthful of feathers and the grouse all escaped.











Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
Tawny Eagles









Later in the day Bateleurs, Tawny’s, Secretary Birds and Vultures (white-backed and Lappet-faced) arrive and this and the next waterhole, Kwang, were best for raptors whilst I was there. The numbers of raptors was disappointing and was probably due to the dry conditions – for example not one Black-shouldered Kite and only 2 Black-chested Snake-eagles.
Larks and LBJ’s were one of the priorities for the trip as I have few of the arid species on my photo list:

Large-billed Lark in Tankwa
Karoo Long-billed Lark in Tankwa











Fawn-Coloured lark


Spike-healed Lark










Sabota Lark



Lark-like Bunting











Other photo lifers were Black-headed and Black-throated Canary, Tractrac Chat, Fairy Flycatcher, Namaqua Warbler, Chat Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Bustard and Karoo Korhaan and South African Cliff Swallow(all near Brandvlei). On the raptor side Booted Eagle, Red-necked Falcon and Greater Kestrel.

Greater Kestrels
South African Cliff Swallow











On my first day in the Kgalagadi and after a magnificent morning with a Black-maned lion stalking a lioness (she was not ready for mating yet), I spent a fruitful afternoon within the Twee Rivieren fenced area at a water leak which had a steady stream of birds coming to drink and bathe. As you drive back into the fenced area from the game viewing side you will see a concrete structure and some pipes on the left hand side. The pipes constantly drip and water is obviously a major attraction in the Kgalagadi. I set myself up a few metres from the water with sun in the right area and camera steady on a window mount. I did not have many firsts but improved my quality of photos:

Dusky Sunbird
Black-faced Waxbills











White-browed Sparrow-Weaver
Acacia Pied Barbet











I had 11 days in the Kgalagadi and one thing I learnt was that I could easily spend 3 months there. It is a spiritual place. Though the gates open at 05h30 am and close at 17h30 pm, I found it was always a very full day. The siesta over the long hot hours is almost compulsory but with the morning and afternoon drives, the down-loading and sorting of photos, preparing the evening dinner, I was seldom ready for bed before the generators went off at about 10h00 pm.
It was interesting that approximately 60% of the people in the camp-sites were young European couples who hire the full 4 X 4 kitted outfits. There is generally a wonderful camaraderie in the camp-sites. The battery charger for my Canon 7D packed up 2 days into the trip. I had a 40D and 400D as back-ups (both with 2 battery chargers each) but you realise how much better your new camera is once you go back to cameras you last used a few years ago. Fortunately the 7D is a pretty popular camera and there was no shortage of fellow campers willing to charge batteries for me.
The “golden hour” and Kalahari light must be mentioned. There were 2 overcast days and these proved disappointing photographically. You read that clouds act as a giant soft-box to diffuse the harsh desert light. However, in the Kgalagadi you will give anything to have sunshine for the first (few) and last (especially) hours of the day. The light is magnificent and anything you photograph is improved tenfold and you seldom mess up your exposure.
A last word on Tankwa Karoo and Brandvlei. From a birding point of view, I should have spent more time there. I got to Karooport and Eierkop early and they were both very productive. Mid morning was Skitterykloof which was quiet (except for the 6 other cars there who were in party mode). The P2250 was also productive. I think you need a little more experience than I have to get full value and it would be a good area to explore with a group. Brandvlei ditto, although I found most of the birds I was looking for.

Karoo Korhaan
Ant-eating Chat









LINDEN MORRIS (posted: 2014-01-14 08:13:06)
Wow, Richard what a wonderful experience, and with amazing captures!! So glad the foxes never caught the sandgrouses, but amazing captures. I love the peregrine chasing the dove.....EXCELLENT PIC...well done. Thanks for sharing.
JEM RICKETTS (posted: 2014-01-10 06:28:17)
Stunning pictures and inspirational report Richard! Kgalagadi is my favourite place....
PETER WHITELAW (posted: 2014-01-06 19:14:43)
Thanks Richard very inspiring! Great photos ! Peter Whitelaw
PETER HOCHFELDEN (posted: 2014-01-06 15:25:21)
Quite inspirational. Very keen to join you on your next trip up north! Richard for President!
JILL SALMON (posted: 2014-01-06 14:40:43)
Very special, Richard. Im so envious - would love to go.
SARA ABBOTT (posted: 2014-01-06 13:54:20)
What a great read Richard and we are lucky to have you resident in the village!
RICHARD MASSON (posted: 2014-01-05 09:30:43)
What a pleasant surprise everyone. Thanks for the positive comments.
John - it is called Kolarita's B
JOHN BOWMAN (posted: 2014-01-04 09:54:32)
Great report and photos! Thanks Richard.
We're heading that way next month. Thinking of stopping over in Brandvlei. Would really appreciate it if you could let me have contact details for the B and B you stayed at?
NORMAN CLARENCE (posted: 2014-01-03 12:24:21)
Hi Anton
Reading Richard Mason's Kgalagadi trip report and seeing the Pearl Spotted Owlet nest has prompted me to send you the link to my blog report I posted upon returning from the Kgalagadi at the end of November. We must have been there at the same time!

Not sure if this can still be regarded as newsworthy but there it is in any event.
082 414 5865
(021) 855 5743

JOHN TINKLER (posted: 2014-01-02 23:13:00)
Stunning trip Richard, I was guiding in KTP at the same time, very dry but very rewarding if you put in the time, you obviously did just that. Well done
JOHN FINCHAM (posted: 2014-01-02 16:36:08)
There is a great photo of a Lanner chasing a dove but no caption!
ANTON ODENDAL (posted: 2014-01-02 15:16:35)
Spike-healed Lark caption corrected.
BRIAN VANDERWALT (posted: 2014-01-02 14:43:01)
Hi Richard, cannot agree more, it is SPECIAL!!! Just one comment, check your 2nd pic of a "K L-B Lark as I think it is a Spike-healed Lark, maybe you have more to check it. Great report!
CHRIS CHEETHAM (posted: 2014-01-02 13:41:13)
Thanks for an amazing report..must get there in 2014.
DAWIE KLEYNHANS (posted: 2014-01-02 12:36:31)
Wow!! Absolutely amazing stuff by Richard. I agree that it it a "spiritual place". Our last visit was 2 years ago and it's been way too long....
JOHAN SLABBERT (posted: 2014-01-02 12:33:01)
Dankie vir die aanstuur Anton.
Skitterende verslag
ELAINE ODENDAL (posted: 2014-01-02 12:19:07)
Wow, well done Richard. Wonderful pictures.
CARIN MALAN (posted: 2014-01-02 12:01:29)
Thank you for sharing Richard, our favourite place in the world !! Well done.
ANTON ODENDAL (posted: 2014-01-02 11:15:42)
Marvelous stuff Richard. Thank you for sharing