Tuesday 23 August 2016

South Africa - August 2016 : Part 4

10th August - Day 7

This was probably our most productive morning birding at Kruger, I woke up at 6am and soon went outside to look around for any bird activities. I found Captain already outside with his camera and binoculars, I joined him in the garden just outside the lodge and we soon had a Golden-tailed Woodpecker in the trees! The female lacks the red moustache and only have half a red crown comparing to the male, but it's a beautiful species of Woodpecker.

Golden-tailed Woodpecker - female

My Father soon joined in, he managed to get the woodpecker before it flew off. Captain was already on the other side of the lawn, taking photographs of an African Grey Hornbill! It's a small Hornbill that lacks the bright yellow or red bill of the other two common Hornbills, but it's by no means an unattractive bird, the creamy stripe at the base of the upper mandible is diagnostic. Someone had left out some leftover food for the birds in the garden, and that attracted a lot of birds including the three common species of Glossy Starlings, Grey-headed Sparrows, and a few large smart looking finch type birds with red bill, they were in fact Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, they were pretty big for a weaver, nearly as big as a Greater Blue-eared Starling! Unlike other finches, they walk instead of hop, giving them a lark like behaviour.

African Grey Hornbill

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

Where there are food, there are squirrels. A few African Tree Squirrels came along for food, they looked quite rounded and my guess is that their main staples must be leftover BBQ from campers. Vervet Monkeys also patrolled the camp ground in search for food, a few climbed into rubbish bins to retrieve any edible tasties left by people the night before...A few Banded Mongoose were also spotted, a few were active around the camp grounds, although I wasn't sure whether they were looking for food or just passing through.

African Tree Squirrel

Vervet Monkey

Banded Mongoose

A mixed feeding flock added a few more birds to the morning's list. Long-billed Crombecs were amongst some of the most numerous, a few of these tail-less african warblers even descended down onto a log in search of food and gave me some brilliant eye-level views. A Grey Tit-Flycatcher hopped around overhead, not allowing any particularly good views, but it's signature move of tail fanning made them easily recognisable. A few Southern Black Tits were also around. A single Orange-breasted Bushshrike was the most eye-catching bird in the flock. While a Black-backed Puffback foraged along with the flock, although it stayed quite high up.

Long-billed Crombec

Grey Tit-Flycatcher

Southern Black Tit

Orange-breasted Bushshrike

Black-backed Puffback

Yuen joined us afterwards as he didn't get much sleep last night, in time for the two Cardinal Woodpeckers that were present, they were much smaller then the Golden-tailed, with male having a brown forehead and the female lacking any red feathers on the crown. Soon after we spotted a pair of Bearded Woodpeckers! The largest arboreal species in the region with distinctive facial patterns that tells them apart from other species. This made three Woodpeckers at Satara in one morning!

Cardinal Woodpecker - male

Cardinal Woodpecker - female

Bearded Woodpecker - male

Bearded Woodpecker - female

Although Grey Go-Away Birds were extremely common within Kruger where you see and hear them all the time, getting a good shot of one was not particularly an easy task, they prefer to stay near the canopy or tall trees, rarely coming down to eye-level. A fruiting tree provided a good opportunity to see this species up close. We headed back to the lodge for breakfast, a pleasant surprise awaits us at the house in form of a flock of gregarious Green Wood-Hoopoes, it's been a species I have longed to see since seeing them in books as a child, and finally seeing them was indeed very magical. Their beautiful feathers reflected all it's colours under the morning sun, their red bills really pops out from their dark plumage.

Grey Go-Away Bird - they have one of the most peculiar calls of all SA birds

Green Wood-Hoopoe - a species that will leave in in awe

We soon headed out after breakfast, we followed the H1-4 towards Olifants where we planned for a lunch break. Steenboks were quite common in this region and we regularly saw them along this stretch of road, unlike other antelopes we have seen they are usually solitary.


Not too far from the camp we came upon a few cars parked along the road looking at something to our right. As it turns out a Lioness was sitting under the shade with her kill; an African Buffalo. We got some pretty good views of the predator but a huge log blocked most of her kill from our sight. It was likely that her pride took down the Buffalo last night together and have now gone to find water while she stays to guard their prize.

Lioness with kill (out of sight)

Helmeted Guineafowls were very common here, we found many crossing the roads. We encountered yet another Red-crested Korhaan, this time a little further away, I took some time to make sure it wasn't another species of bustard before moving on. Purple Rollers were more common in this region, we encountered quite a few of them along the way.

Helmeted Guineafowl

Red-crested Korhaan

Purple Roller

A herd of Blue Wildebeest decided to cross the road after drinking at a waterhole, they took their time to do so while we had to stop our car and wait. It was quite a spectacle to see the herd moving together. A lonesome Giraffe fed close to the road what was our closest encounter! Being next to such a huge animal really puts into perspective how small we really are in this world; I could hardly reach those leafs it's munching on.

Blue Widebeest crossing


We noticed Captain's and Yuen's cars both slowing down in front of us, just then we caught the sight of three huge birds walking in the tall grass just to our right, Kori Bustards! I was overjoyed as my biggest target in Kruger was finally fulfilled after dipping it on our first day here! The three of them walked slowly across the grass, eyeing downwards to pickup any insects that get flushed from their long legs. Kori Bustards are famous for being the heaviest bird species that is capable of sustained flight, an adult can stand as tall as 120cm, with wingspan up to 270cm! Generally scarce in South Africa, they are mostly confined to larger reserves, and is listed as Near Threatened due to ongoing habitat lost. The trio allowed amazing views for as long as we wanted before slowly walking deeper into the bushes.

Kori Bustard - my main target at Kruger! No doubt the bird of the day!

Everything afterwards felt like a breeze, we added a Saddle-billed Stork that sat quietly under a tree to rest. We were able to get out of our car at a bridge crossing to enjoy the view there over the Olifants. An African Pied Wagtail came looking for food on the tarmac road, picking up a breadcrumb left by previous picnickers. We scanned the river for any activities and found two White-fronted Bee-eaters perched on a long grass on the river bank. Hippos were easily observed here and a flock of White-backed Vultures descended upon the bank for a dip and drink in the river, perhaps to wash the blood off their heads after a meal somewhere.

Saddle-billed Stork

Bridge crossing

African Pied Wagtail

White-fronted Bee-eaters

Hippopotamus with Blacksmith Lapwings

White-backed Vultures

Further ahead we went up to the Nwamanzi view point just before the turn off to the H-8 towards Olifants Rest Camp, the view there was excellent over both the river and the forest below. A large herd of Elephants came through, looking like little toy figures from the distant. Another Saddle-billed Stork walked along the bank leisurely. A Giraffe walked across the forest slowly in the distant, it's head way above the tree tops with matching colours to the brown and orange leafs, creating an interesting picture.


African Elephants

Saddle-billed Stork


We soon arrived at Olifants Rest Camp for lunch, the camp was situated on a hill overlooking the Olifants river, the view itself was spectacular enough and the viewing platform allows you to sit and observe the movements of animals below, I am sure if given the time I could have stayed there all day and not get bored!

Olifants Rest Camp

View Point overlooking the river valley

After ordering food from Mugg & Beans (again) we took some time walking outside to look for birds, knowing that the food will take a while. An African Fish Eagle drifted passed, a Marabou Stork stood on the river bank below, while Red-winged Starlings dominated the camp site, replacing other species of Starlings common elsewhere. The best bird there was no doubt a White-browed Robin-Chat, arguably one of the most handsome Robin-Chats in South Africa, it was singing it's melodic and very loud song in the bushes, allowing excellent views for us to enjoy it's smart looks as well as it's beautiful song. A few Collared Sunbirds were observed feeding on the aloe flowers near the camp's entrance before we headed back out.

African Fish Eagle

Marabou Stork

Red-winged Starling - most common bird at Olifants Rest Camp

White-browed Robin-Chat - song as beautiful as it's looks

Collared Sunbird - female

We decided to take the S44 which runs adjacent to the Letaba river towards Letaba Rest Camp, hoping that the river will attract more animals. It was however not the case and we encountered very little along the way, only herds of Greater Kudus allowed any descent views after passing the famous Von Wielligh's Baobab. We added two Black Storks onto our trip list, sitting next to a few Yellow-billed Storks and African Spoonbills. A flock of distant Collared Pratincoles in flight were our only addition worth mentioning.

Von Wielligh's Baobab

Greater Kudu

Black Storks (to the right) with Yellow-billed Storks and African Spoonbills

We arrived at Letaba earlier then expected, mostly due to the fact that we hardly stopped along the way. The camp itself was quite well wooded, with much taller trees all around the camp. We checked into our lodges and went to the camp office to book for the night safari. 

Letaba Rest Camp

Seeing that there were still sufficient amount of sunlight, we strolled along the camp to see what birds we could find. Amongst the first birds were a pair of Brown-hooded Kingfishers, giving quite good views on a bare branch. It was evidently not the best season for Kingfishers, as this was to be our only Halcyon Kingfisher species on this trip. African Green Pigeons were quite common here, a flock congregated on their roost just before dusk. A bird in song drew our attention up to a tree top, we soon spotted the Groundscraper Thrush that was singing.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

African Green Pigeon

Groundscraper Thrush

Out by the river lookout I managed to spot a single Squacco Heron, they look quite similar to the Chinese Pond Heron in their winter plumage. A Yellow-breasted Apalis made an appearance which allowed some decent shots to be taken, you can really appreciate it's features when seen closeup, I especially love the combination of their smart yellow bib and red eye-rings. Back to our lodge, quite a few Bushbucks had made their way into the camp grounds, they seemed quite tamed and obviously very used to people.

River view at Letaba

Squacco Heron

Yellow-breasted Apalis


After dinner we met at the office entrance for our night safari, we were amongst a group of nearly 25 getting onboard the truck that was to take us out for the two hours night drive. We encountered a few Spotted Hyenas quite close to our camp, they sat on the tarmac road heated by the sun during the day as radiators. The drive thereafter was in fact quite disappointing, we only encountered a few Springhares and a lot of Scrub hares. A Fiery-necked Nightjar was one of the nicer addition where it flew right into the side of the truck, probably stunning it in the process, it later perched not for off from the truck where I managed a record shot of the bird. The best find was however not a creature of the night, but a roosting Martial Eagle of which we disturbed from it's sleep. This is one of the largest raptors in Kruger with a wingspan of over 2 meters wide, they are known to be able to take down large prey including Baboons, Monkeys or even young Impalas! We were already half asleep by the time the truck got us back to camp.

Spotted Hyena - looking quite tamed like a puppy...

Fiery-necked Nightjar

Martial Eagle

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Great birds and animals...I think I like the distant giraffes in the bush shot most...atmospheric.