Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Marievale Bird Sanctuary

It is 27th January & today I drove from Heidelberg (where I am staying) to Marievale. The weather has been very wet here recently & the roads were not exactly pristine! The main entrance to the sanctuary is now no more. You  now continue on the R 42 Delmas Road, until you seen the sign telling you to turn left. Do not follow the old directions as in the South African Bird Finder. 
After an uncertain start to the morning (a tremendous downpour & some spectacular thunder & lightening) the weather was hot & sunny. It was a good, if unspectacular days birding. 76 species recorded, but the very best was a new mammal for me!

It is an extensive area - you really do need
 a vehicle to get around the entire area.

The HQ.

Extensive pans among huge reed beds.

Old mining spoil heaps, dot the area.

Marievale is a mixture of grassland; farmland, extensive reed beds & open pans. Wetland birding is good, with African Darter & six species of Heron present. Tricky species like African Water Rail were seen, but not photographed!

A young African Darter.

Goliath Heron - quite unusual on the highveld.

Black Heron (Egret) - an even rarer bird here!

Around 35 Squacco Herons were seen.

Hottentot Teal.

Red-knobbed Coots were everywhere, 
over 800+ noted!

Common Moorhens were equally common.

Whiskered Tern

African Jacana.

One of the many Eastern Red - footed Falcons
 in the area.

Blacksmith Plover.

White-throated Swallows were nesting
 in one of the hides!

White-throated Swallow nest.


The wonderful African Clawless Otter
a lifer for me!

The highlight for me was the sighting of African Clawless Otter in broad daylight! My third species of Otter in South Africa!

The magnificent male Long-tailed Widow.

Pin-tailed Whydah.

The other highlight was away from the water. The sheer numbers of Widowbirds, Whydahs & Bishops was hard to believe. All in stunning summer plumage & displaying like mad!

The road to Suikerbostrand Nature Reserve

I also visited, or rather tried to visit, the fabulous Suikerbostrand Nature Reserve. Unfortunately it was closed due to water problems. So I birded the entrance road & it was quite good.

Rufous naped Lark

European Swallows were numerous
 & all in moult.

The resident Greater Striped Swallow.

Levaillant's Cisticola.

Common in the long wet grass & in marshes.

Southern Masked Weaver.

Southern Red Bishop in full breeding attire.

It was a good day out in kind of unusual surroundings. Please note all of the bird photos here were taken with my Canon SX 50 Power shot camera. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Central Kruger

The 14th January saw me with Rob, Cath & Sean checking in to Kruger, via the Paul Kruger Gate. It was a very grey, overcast morning, but our spirits were high, as we were driving north to the game rich savannas centered around Satara Restcamp.

Between the Sabie & Sand Rivers.

African Wild Dog

Pack ties are very strong.

This is why we shouldn't litter!

The first part of the drive was very quiet, with only the commoner plains game evident. But then our luck changed as just north of the low water crossing over the Sabie River we spotted nine Wild Dogs running ahead of us down the road. However, there were three vehicles ahead of us & so initial views were not great.  But as so often the case, tourists move on to the next possible sighting very quickly & we had the wonderful dogs all to ourselves. And they performed beautifully, being if truthful, a little too close. I had my large lens on the camera & at times, could only see heads & shoulders in front of me! Eventually the dogs moved off the road & trotted purposefully away into the surrounding bush. What a start to our trip!

White-faced Whistling Duck.
Yellow-billed Kite
Tawny Eagle
Carmine Bee-eater

We moved ever northwards, along the main road, spotting quite a few bird species at Leupan & just north of Tshokwane. I love the road here, as it is elevated above the surrounding bush & you can obtain great sightings of both birds & mammals.

Breeding herd of Elephants.

Two male Cheetahs, resting in the heat of the day.

We arrived at Satara just after 12.45 pm. Checked in to our accommodation & then Rob & I went on another game drive down the S100 to N’wanetsi Lookout & back via the H6.

Black-bellied Korhaan.

Immature Martial Eagle.

Me enjoying Africa!

Water Dikkop & Egyptian Geese.

Half-collared Kingfisher.
Heavily cropped.

Male Ostrich.


The hide at Sweni Dam proved to be the highlight of the afternoon, as a superb Half-collared Kingfisher was present for at least twenty minutes. Views of this very localized species were distant, but sustained & this was my first record at this location. I was delighted with this sighting.

The superb male bird.

I forgot to take any photos of the 
much drabber female!

Eastern Red-footed Falcons 
with a few Lesser Kestrels.

A female Eastern 
Red-footed Falcon.

Lots of Blue Wildebeest calves
 were along the roadside.

The next morning we were up at 4.am & on our way as soon as the gates opened thirty minutes later. We drove down the Orpen Road & then went to the Timbavati Picnic Spot via Girvana waterhole. As so often the case, viewing was a little slow but we started picking up great bird species like Double – banded Sandgrouse; a host of Eastern Red-footed Falcons (c.70) & dotted in among them, a scattering of Lesser Kestrels.

The start of it all!

This is savanna country.

The truck, in its natural habitat!

It was really muddy out there!

Not much grip on those tyres!

Quite a large Leopard Tortoise.
This had been dead a while & 
there was no meat left inside.

 We then returned to camp to obtain the permit for the Mananga 4x4 Adventure Trail. I had never done this before in Kruger, so was keen to give it a go.

A superb male Kudu.

Adult male Eastern Red-footed Falcon.

Kori Bustard.

Male Namaqua Dove.

The abundant Carmine Bee-eater.

European Roller - a very common summer migrant
 to the grasslands.

The grass was very tall so viewing wasn't too good, but the scenery was splendid & not another vehicle for the next six hours!
It was very wet, slippery & muddy in places & in one spot we got stuck, until we gathered enough material to place under the wheels for extra traction. We hauled ourselves out & eventually found ourselves on one of my favorite tracks, the wonderfully open S90. 

We were looking at this Steenbok, when......

Serval in broad daylight!

A little bit of an altercation between the two species!

The undoubted highlight here was a hunting Serval at 2 pm! We enjoyed prolonged views for several minutes. This was a special day indeed to see this elusive animal so well in broad daylight!

Mourning Dove at Satara Restcamp.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning the car. It was a real muddy mess! Then, sundowners on the terrace. Not a bad day at all!

Swainson's Francolin.

The 16th January was like all other days! Up at 4 am & out by 4.30 am! We drove up the main road in darkness & then on to the gravel S 90. Today wildlife viewing was quiet (yet again)! The recent rains mean the grass is very high & it is difficult to spot animals in such dense & lush vegetation.

Not too difficult to spot this one though!

 Black-bellied Korhaan displaying.

We saw a few good birds though, perhaps the best being a displaying male Black-bellied Korhaan. After the poor showing we decide to retrace our steps & go back down the S 90 again, until it joined the main north – south road. This proved to be a good decision, as the road is elevated & we could see so much more.
 Cape & White-backed Vulture.

This species is rare  & endangered.

A few vultures were seen loitering around in the trees & among the abundant White-backed were a couple of Cape Vultures. This species appears to be on a downward spiral & presently is a real cause for concern.

An amazingly pale bird.

A nearby Tawny Eagle was one of the palest birds I have ever encountered.

Kori Bustard.
A Kori Bustard also showed well.

Hard to spot - there were four, not three!

As I arrived at Nagotse Waterhole, I spotted four Lionesses, they were a little distant for great photos but their cool was about to be shattered by the arrival of 30+ Elephants, which were a female dominated breeding herd, who really don’t like Lions!  The Lions lasted a few seconds, before beating a hasty & rather undignified retreat!

Wattled Starlings.

Male singing.

I moved ever north & saw a large group of Wattled Starlings singing & getting ready for breeding. It was fantastic seeing them at close range, as all too frequently sightings are of rapid flying flocks across the grasslands.
The wondeful Olifants River.

Rob, Sean, Cath & myself  on the bridge 
over the river.


We enjoyed a nice brunch at Olifants Camp, surely one of the best views in Africa.  In my mind’s eye, exactly what Africa should look like!

Finding the heat a bit much!

Then I took the long but beautiful, S39 Timbavati River Road. The weather was really hot, reaching 38 degrees Celsius & consequently sightings were not plentiful, but a second group of five Lionesses also had a small cub present, in a dry but very shaded river bed.

Marabou Stork.
Marabou Storks sailed overhead.

The power of this bird was phenomenal!

The lizard was really thrashing around.

In the struggle it got its wing caught in the tree.

It eventually flew away with its prey.

A little further down the road an adult Martial Eagle had hold a a large Land Monitor Lizard, which was thrashing wildly in its talons! The eagle flew into a nearby tree with its still alive prey & promptly got its wing stuck in the tree branches! After several minutes it managed to free its wing & also finally kill the monitor lizard!

I finally took a shot of a female!

Lilac-breated Roller 
looking wonderful, as always.

European Roller.

The rest of the journey was largely uneventful, but the light was wonderful & I managed some great shots of a pair of Double-banded Sandgrouse & two species of Roller.
The rest of the evening was spent talking, drinking wine & eating pizza! A terrible job, but someone has to do it!

It was a stormy night; lots of thunder & lightening but strangely, no rain! We were all up at 4 am & off soon after. It was dark & cold (unbelievable)! I drove south & then went west along the Sweni Road. Very few birds & no animals at all! Everything must have hunkered down because of the bad weather.

Two Square-tailed Nightjars were on the track in the darkness. The only wildlife on note in the early hours was a pair of Southern Reedbuck, which performed nicely for us.

Quite an uncommon species in Kruger.

Southern Reedbuck.

Impalas for comparison.

A young one.

Cape Buffalo are common in this part of Kruger.

Wahlberg's Eagle.

Woodland Kingfisher.

Rob, Cath & Sean then peeled off down a different route from me. I continued down the gravel S 36, seeing over 100+ Eastern Red-footed Falcons, 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles & an African Cuckoo.

Some down time in the heat of the day.

When I rejoined the tar road, I found nine Wild Dogs sleeping deep in the bush. This was the same pack I saw at the beginning of this little trip, four days ago! A really nice little sojourn into Kruger.