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Report on our visit to the southern sections of the Kruger National Park

Posted on the 9th June 2021

Report on our visit to the southern sections of the Kruger National Park – 14 to 28 May 2021
(Report and images by Theanette Staal)

A visit to the Kruger National Park is always a treat. This time, however, it was extra special!

Two weeks in the same area in the KNP may sound excessive, but having recently recruited my dad to the art of birding, a whole new world opened up for us.
I’ve been to the Kruger many times, but always to see animals and yes, it was nice to see birds, but I never really looked for them and tried to identify them. Of course, when you are driving around with non-birders, they don’t understand the need to stop for every flutter and feather!
This time, I had my dad on board and we went all out to bird. The other sightings were a nice extra.

African Fish Eagle
Bateleur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


We stayed at Ngwenya Lodge, across the Crocodile River from the Kruger NP, and about 7km from the Crocodile Bridge Gate.
The gardens at Ngwenya offer ample opportunity for forest and riverine birding. We spent many hours with our necks at awkward angles, looking up into the trees to spot birds, and following bird calls to try and find the birds associated with the calls.
Sightings at Ngwenya included the Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Ashy Flycatcher, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted bushshrikes, White-browed Robin-Chat, Purple-crested Turaco, Collared Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied sunbirds, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, African Palm Shift, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Green-backed Camaroptera and many more. A birding paradise. Many of these species we also encountered in the KNP.
Waterbirds along the river included Goliath Heron, Great Egret, Glossy Ibis, African Jacana, White-crowned Lapwing and many more, including the usual suspects like Blacksmith Lapwing and Sacred Ibis.

African Spponbills with crocs
Saddle-billed & Woolly-necked Storks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egyptian Geese seem to have taken over as the “ducks of choice” and no other ducks or geese were around anywhere in the areas we visited. We saw one family of White-faced Whistling Ducks that came through one day and we never saw them again.
We also saw a lone, juvenile, Lesser Flamingo, that stayed around for 1 day and then disappeared again.
And of course, a special treat at Ngwenya is the bat hotels. Every night the dusk sky is flooded with bats and the tiny flying insects and mosquitos disappear as the bats dined in flight.

Bat Hotel
Ngwenya gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


In the KNP we drove several routes, some of them we repeated if they were particularly good for birding. We went out at first light every morning and stayed until lunchtime. After that we birded at Ngwenya – our “garden birding” area.
We followed the “sun behind us” rule and it being winter time, one could also drive north to south anytime of the day and still get good sightings.
We also spent time in the car as a hide, just enjoying whatever came along and listening to the bush and bird sounds around us.

Some routes where we found specific birds were the following…
The S28 is a Burchell’s Coucal and LBJ paradise! This area also recently burned, and we found Senegal Lapwings attending the area. We saw a flock of Long-tailed Paradise Whydah where one male still had his tail feathers so we could positively identify them. They move as one being when they fly and it was magnificent to see.
There is a turn-off from the S28, about 2km in, where you can access the running river – we spotted Green-backed Heron, Squacco Heron, Malachite Kingfisher and various other birds at this spot.

Burchell's Coucal
Green-backed Heron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The S130 or Gomondwane Loop, is great for raptors, LBJ’s and other birds – we always found something new and interesting here, including the Yellow-throated Petronia, Golden-breasted Bunting and Little Sparrowhawk. There is also a Bateleur family active along this road – we saw a parent with an immature here, and saw one or both adults in the air here on most days. Along the main road from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie, there is a Purple Roller that can be spotted amongst all the perched Lilac-breasted Rollers.

Purple Roller
Lilac-breasted Roller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The S82 from Lower Sabie offers LBJ’s, various Firefinches, Blue Waxbills, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Green Wood-hoopoe, Chinspot Batis, Cut-throat Finch and a resident Bennett’s Woodpecker and many more. Driving with windows open, it is easy to hear the Blue Waxbills, and where they are, you are guaranteed to find some of the other tiny bird species as well. Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and various hornbills use the gravel road here as hunting grounds in the afternoon – we had to be careful not to run them over as they are not keen to move from the road.

Red-billed Firefinch
Yellow-fronted Canary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The S25/S108/H5 loop offers Yellow-fronted Canaries, Red-billed, Grey and Yellow-billed hornbills as well as Ground Hornbill and juveniles, Brubru, Black-crowned Tchagra, Magpie Shrikes, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and so many more. This is also a great area for vultures as there was a female cheetah with two teenager cubs in the area. We saw White-headed Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture and many White-backed Vultures.

Young White-headed Vulture
Lappet-faced Vulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Chanting Goshawk
African Hawk Eagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Salitje Road is indeed fascinating and here we saw Red-crested Korhaan, Bronze-winged Courser, Kurrichane Buttonquail, Saddle-billed Stork, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Hamerkop, African Hoopoe and Little Bee-eater.

Red-crested Korhaan
Bronze-winged Courser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we crossed the Sabie River, a Giant Kingfisher was sitting on the railing on the bridge, and we stopped within touching distance. What an experience to be that close and see him blink his eyes! Along the Sabie River and at the Nkuhlu picnic site we spotted Dusky Indigobird, Pied Kingfisher, Marabou Stork, Black Crake, Black-backed Puffback (they seem to be everywhere!), Paradise Flycatcher, Wire-tailed Swallows, White-fronted Bee-eater and more.

Giant Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


At Sunset Dam, other than more than 70 crocodiles and many hippos, we saw Yellow-billed Stork, Spoonbills, Grey Heron, Giant Kingfisher, Three-banded Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover and more. During the heat of the day there were also Blue Waxbill, Red-billed Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia and Yellow-fronted Canaries. We were lucky enough to see a Pied Kingfisher catch quite a large fish and it was interesting to see it trying to swallow the fish, after beating it repeatedly before swallowing. This dam always offers something special.
The S29 and Mlondozi Dam has become a favourite route for us, with LBJ’s, Yellow-throated Longclaw and African Stonechat numerous on this road and Mocking Cliff Chat and African Harrier Hawk at the dam.
Up towards Satara we saw Kori Bustard and several pairs of Bateleur in the air.

Yellow-billed Stork with Grey Heron
White-fronted Bee-eater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Towards Malelane Gate and Berg-en-Dal we mostly saw Fork-tailed Drongo and Dark Chanting Goshawk.
In Crocodile Bridge camp, we spotted Bronze Mannikin, Black-headed Oriole, Kurrichane Thrush, various weavers, many Puffbacks and Batises, Golden-tailed and Cardinal woodpeckers and many more tiny birds.
Raptors we most saw were Brown Snake Eagles, Bateleur, Martial Eagle (they caught a Guineafowl along the river and caused great panic among the Guineafowl population), many Fish Eagles, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle (including an immature), Dark Chanting Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk and several unidentified flying high, mostly against the sun.
We also saw Secretarybird hunting close to the gate on the grassy plain.

We identified 163 species, excluding many of the LBJ’s and little fast flying flocks that are hard to identify without breeding colours.
I added 70 new birds to my life list – what a treat!
Two weeks were not enough – we could’ve carried on for another week in this area as each day brought something new – too many birds to mention here – and there are still many outstanding that are on my wish list.
Highlights for me were the tiny and small birds, like Golden-breasted Bunting, Pytilia, Waxbills, Firefinches, etc. I have a soft spot for them!
And on our last day I finally found the African Green Pigeons I’ve been wanting to see.

Verreaux's Eagle-Owl
African Green Pigeon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



In between, we saw a male lion, hyena, including swimming hyenas, Black-backed Jackal, cheetah, elephant, buffalo (north of Lower Sabie they were still attended by Yellow-billed Oxpeckers), a croc trying to catch a waterbuck, white rhino with baby and more rhino, a wild dog and so much more.

The southern parts of the Kruger National Park is certainly very rewarding for birding!

(Herewith a small sample of some of the mammals encountered)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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