Friday, 6 February 2015

February Days in Kruger.

My first day in Kruger was the 5th, & what a day it turned out to be! I had only gone a few kilometers along the main road to Skukuza when I noticed this, atop a nearby tree!

Adult Sooty Falcon!

What a find!

Sooty Falcon is a very rare bird here, with only a handful of records. This is my first record of this species in Kruger National Park.

I saw over 120 species of birds during the day, but nothing could beat the finale! At the exit just inside Paul Kruger Gate were these eight Wild Dogs giving superb views.

I left home at dawn on the 8th February.  I was going to the far north of the park (six nights), then two nights just outside the park at Pafuri Tented Camp. I had always wanted to visit, but somehow had never gotten around to it. No time like the present though!
It was a blistering hot day (up to 43 degrees Celcius) but the birding was quite good, if not spectacular. Game viewing was average as well. However, 125+ species of birds were seen during the day! Not bad from inside of a car!

Black-shouldered Kite.

Put the tent up at Satara Campsite, then went on a drive along the S100 to N’wanetsi Picnic Site & the Sweni Bird Hide. Back to camp along the H6. Highlight was a Peregrine at N’wanetsi & Buffy Pipit along the H6.

Along the H 6.

 A very young Little Bee-eater.

Swainson's Francolin calling.

A large male Elephant.

Camping was hot, but uneventful, with none of the thunderstorms of late. I did however, have a short visit to my camp by a superb African Wildcat!

African Wildcat.

Heading north, towards Letaba.

I was up in the dark on 9th, packing the tent away. Two Spotted Hyenas were nearby. I then drove north & along the S90, then back again, until I hit the main road & continued to Letaba Restcamp.

The wonderfully atmospheric, Letaba River.

Eastern Paradise Whydah.

 Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark.

Burchell's Coucal.

Male Amur Falcon.

Birding was yet again uneventful, highlights being hoards of Wattled Starlings & quite a few Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks.

Stoffel in Letaba Campsite.

A most important piece of equipment - 
the fridge-freezer!

Why one may ask did I erect my ground tent,
 when I have a perfectly good roof-top tent?
Well, gentlemen of a certain age, have to wake up
 in the middle of the night!


The end of another day!

Arriving at Letaba is always a pleasure. It is an oasis of shade & greenery amid fairly arid surroundings & that view from the river!

 Crested Barbet.

 Woodland Kingfisher.

Chinspot Batis.

Black-faced Vervet, playing.

A walk around camp produced nothing special, apart from an elusive Eurasian Cuckoo. I was entertained by the local troupe of Black-faced Vervet Monkeys who came out to play just before dusk.
Another hot & sweaty night in the tent listening to the calls of Barred Owlet, Pearl Spotted & African Scops Owls.

Up in the dark again (10th) & disaster struck as I was dismantling the tent: I broke one of the poles! Drat!

Burchell's Zebra.

Levaillant's Cuckoo.

Pioneer Dam, Mopane Restcamp.

Drove north along the main road & took the Tsendze Loop & then across to Nshawu 1, 2 & 3. Then across to Mopane Restcamp via Mooiplaas Waterhole. Again nothing special noted. By now the temperature was climbing rapidly, so spent several hours in the relative shade of the restcamp.

Afternoon drive north along the main road, then down the S144 & the Tropic of Capricorn Loop Road. Back to Tsendze Rustic Camp via the S50.

Crowned Lapwing.

Amur Falcon.

Lesser Kestrel - check out the colour 
of those claws!

Red-capped Lark.

Caspian Plover.

Highlights included a fine male Montague’s Harrier, lots of Chestnut backed Sparrowlarks & Red-capped Larks & just before dark, several Caspian Plovers.

The campsite was in a brilliant setting, very secluded & wild! As I was unloading the vehicle & setting up camp. Roger, the camp manager came over & introduced himself. He proved to be a very pleasant chap & a mine of useful information.

Barred Owlet no 1!

Barred Owlet no 2!

African Scops Owl.

Eurasian Nightjar.
All these photos were taken at ISO 5000.
Don't you just love modern digital cameras!

We went to find the Owls before dark: straight away we saw 2 Barred Owlets at close range, then a roosting Eurasian Nightjar, followed by point blank looks at an African Scops Owl! Not bad in ten minutes! Then it got dark!
I cooked dinner & as I was sipping my wine, thought that this was a superb place to be. Definitely more time here next time. I slept out directly on the ground (because my tent was broken)! The night sounds of Spotted Hyena & Lion kept me company. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. It was cooler tonight & the stars overhead were just fabulous.

Blue Wildebeest kicking up a lot of dust!

Red-winged Pratincole.

Red-capped Lark.

African Pipit.

I awoke at 4.30 am & was ready for the off. I was going to return to the same ground as yesterday afternoon – The Tropic of Capricorn Loop Road, & Mooiplaas Waterhole. At the latter site, I quickly found the Caspian Plovers again & around 35 Red-winged Pratincoles.
Red-capped Larks & African Pipits were also present.

Roan Antelope - an increasingly rare sighting in
Kruger National Park.

I then moved off towards the Tropic of Capricorn Loop & spotted the rare sighting (here in Kruger) of 2 Roan Antelope.


A little further down the road was a family of Tsessebe, which gave fabulous views.

Lesser Kestrel.

Amur Falcon.

Lesser Grey Shrike.

Black-backed Jackal.

Lesser Kestrels & Amur Falcons dotted the savanna.

Wahlberg's Eagle.

After this wonderful start to the day, the rest of the morning was uneventful. Once again the heat rapidly built up & the landscape became virtually lifeless. One good sighting was a Wahlberg’s Eagle in a rather unusual plumage.
Wahlberg’s Eagles come in two colour morphs: the common dark brown morph 95%+ of all birds in eastern South Africa) & the rarer pale morph. This individual shown overwhelming characteristics of the dark morph, with just a hint of the pale morph thrown in! A very nice looking bird though.

Sabota Lark.

Drove to Shingwedzi Rest Camp, which was to become my home for the nest two nights. I hadn't been here for many years & was looking forward to seeing it again. Everything was brand new! The summer floods of two years ago had totally destroyed the camp, but the reconstruction had been nicely done.

It was very hot all day today! I mean really hot over 44 degrees Celcius! Which meant precious little bird & mammal activity? I did my afternoon game drive towards Kannadood Dam, but apart from a nice herd of Elephants in the river, very little else.

On my way back to camp I stumbled across an adult Southern Giant Hornbill, with a load of presumably nesting material in its bill! It was calling for its mate all the time & gave fabulous views.

Black Cuckooshrike - this bird has 
large yellow shoulder patches.

Plum - coloured Starling.

I arrived back in camp early but yet again little bird activity. Black Cuckooshrike showed nicely & an adult male Plum-coloured Starling was singing at the top of a tree.

Bennett's Woodpecker.

Just before dusk settled, a Bennett’s Woodpecker put in a show next to my bungalow (no camping tonight)!

Smith's Bush Squirrel.

I spent a very pleasant evening on my verandah drinking beer & sorting out photographs.
I had a poor night’s sleep – the very old fashioned & noisy AC unit kept me awake! I really am better off under the stars!

 It’s the 12th. What shall I do? OK then, I will go birding! I drove very slowly along the northern section of the Red Rocks Loop Road. It was a beautiful, coolish morning, a refreshing change from the previous few days. I saw around 90+ species in woodland in around five hours. Not bad from the inside of a car!

Yellow- billed & Black Stork.

Natal Francolin.

A young Levaillant's Cuckoo.

Lesser Striped Swallow.

Broad-billed Roller.

White-fronted Bee-eater.

A recently fledged Woodland Kingfisher.

The nearby adult bird.
Yellow-billed oxpecker.

 Highlights included: Little Sparrowhawk; Yellow-billed Oxpecker; Levaillant’s Cuckoo; 3 species of Indigobird & both Jameson’s & Red-billed Firefinches.

A young male Nyala.

Best of the mammals were nice views of Elephant in the river bed & a few Nyala.

Me at the Tshinga Lookout.

Enjoyed a late breakfast stop at Tshinga Lookout Point, which brought back many memories of my late wife Carol: she loved it there.

Drove back to camp & arrived at 1pm; lazy afternoon catching up on notes & photos.

An old. male Cape Buffalo.

Marabou Storks bathing & drinking 
in the heat of the day.

A migrant Wood Sandpiper.

Afternoon game drive north along the main road & back via the lower section of the Mphongolo Road. The late afternoon light was perfect & I had great sightings of Elephants in the riverbed. Yet again no cats!

The road less travelled.

Really enjoyed today, as it wasn’t too hot! Had some great bird sightings & good photographic opportunities. 108 species seen during the day.

The 13th dawned sunny! (Slightly ominous for so early in the morning). I drove north along the Mphangalo Loop Road, the light was superb & it wasn't long before I spotted a fine adult male Lion, which gave cracking views. However, he was already panting in the heat & it was only 6 am! I turned up the AC & drove on!

Cape Buffalo with Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

Buffalos were in the river bed, complete with attendant Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.

Variable Indigobird.

A Variable Indigobird sang from high on its perch. Olive Tree Warbler was seen quite well & both Thrush Nightingale & Common Whitethroat sang from deep in riverside thickets.

Red-headed Weaver

Had a leisurely second breakfast at Babalala Picnic Spot & photographed a superb male Red-headed Weaver, weaving its nest.


Then continued north to Punda Maria Camp, arriving around 12.45 pm. After a bit of a rest, drove the Mahonie Loop in the afternoon. It was incredibly hot & little stirred. A bit of a disappointment really, although the scenery was wonderful.
Turned in amid a violent electrical storm albeit without any rain!

Monotonous Lark.
Drove early morning on 14th from Punda Maria Camp to Pafuri. Saw several Monotonous Larks en route.

Limpopo River

A victim of the anthrax epidemic.

A healthy one!

A rare Cape Vulture.

Grey-headed Parrot.

Meeve's Starling.

Fantastic views of Elephants in the Limpopo River. I noticed the largest number of Vultures I have ever seen in this area & the reason soon became apparent; an anthrax epidemic! Several Zebra were seen dead by the roadside. This kind of epidemic occurs every few years in the Kruger.

African Fish Eagle.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - a rarity here!

White-fronted Bee-eater.

Limpopo River at Crook's Corner.

Visited Crook's Corner area. The weather was wonderful & the scenery stunning.

My home for the night.

Arrived at Pafuri River Camp in the heat of the day & was it warm! It was so hot & humid I had to jump in the pool. Spent the afternoon walking around the area: best bird was Black-throated Wattle-Eye.
A Large-spotted Genet paid me a brief visit in late evening. Had a very hot & sweaty sleep!
15th employed the services of the local bird guide, Sam, which was largely a waste of time! Yellow-bellied Greenbul being the best bird (which I can see in my garden)!

Had a long drive to the Big Tree where I saw Mottled Spinetail. Two Dusky Larks were quite a good record as well in the communal lands.

Pennant-winged Nightjar

 Arrived back at camp late & in the woodland saw a female Pennant-winged Nightjar. A fitting end to the day.

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