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This is a list of species that I can identify from photographs or otherwise positively remember. I'm sure we saw many more but could not identify them all, particularly the hirundines and little brown jobs (LBJ's). The total is 175 species.
After leaving Kruger we headed back to Pretoria which is close to Johannesburg and the airport, but we wanted to check out the famous Botanical Gardens and the birds that could be seen there. We did stop at one private reserve on the way, the name of which I have forgotten as it was not very productive, but the Botanical Gardens were spectacular. Here's a shot of Stephen modelling what the well equipped birder is wearing this year. Nice eh?
The Sacred Ibis was given its name by the ancient Egyptians who revered the bird as a symbol of one of their gods. The Ibis were said to kill mythical winged serpents & prevent them from entering Egypt. Unfortunately they no longer inhabit Egypt, they breed in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Iraq. I guess the winged serpents must be getting in then?
This is a Yellow-Billed Duck. It's a duck with a yellow bill. Not much more to add really, it's quite a nice looking dabbler which is threatened by hybridisation with the common Mallard, but it is still quite abundant in Southern and Eastern Africa.
This little brown job is a Tawny-flanked Prinia. Quite common in sub-Saharan Africa it is related to the cisticolas.
Can't help liking this shot of a Lesser Grey Shrike showing off its pink tinted breast.
...and here's a new one, a Red-faced Mousebird, captured in a tree bearing some very vicious looking thorns. Later we would watch small flocks of these flying directly from tree to tree in earch of fruits and berries. A very attractive sight with those red striped faces and very long tails weaving their way through the branches of fruiting trees.
This one is a White-crowned Lapwing, otherwise known as the White-crowned or White-headed Plover. It is a striking looking wader with a very distinctive yellow wattle below a bright white forehead. The yellow wattle matches the leg coloration nicely and in flight the black and white tail and wings contrast well with the rest of the soft grey-brown plumage.
The next one has a similar name but is another species of lapwing, it is the Crowned Lapwing. Not easily mistaken for its White-crowned cousin as it has red legs and bill, white underparts and quite different head markings. It is the most numerous of sub-Saharan Lapwings.
This very large antelope is a Kudu. I could write some biological or scientific facts about Kudus but frankly the most interesting thing I know about them is that some Afrikaaners enjoy the sport of "Kudu Dung Spitting" (yes you did read that correctly). They hold an annual Kudu Dung Spitting Championships and I can reliably inform you that an individual called Shaun van Rensburg spat Kudu shit a World record distance of 15.56 meters in 2006. I am not shitting you.
The next two images are a couple of Boubous. No, not mistakes, that is what they are called. The first one is a Southern Boubou and the second is a Tropical Boubou. They are actually Bushshrikes buy have been named Boubous after their call which can sound like the word.
Boubous are renowned for their passion for singing duets. No I am not kidding. I am going to quote a passage from Wikipedia about the Tropical Boubou. I am not given to quotes, particularly long-winded ones, but this just cracked me up.
Like many bush-shrikes, they have a wide vocal repertoire that includes duets in which two individuals give notes alternately in so rapid a sequence that they sound like one bird. Males probably start most duets, and their notes are mostly low-pitched whistles and/or harsh croaks; females' notes are typically higher whistles and/or "harsh tearing or rattling sounds". But although the birds' vocalizations are somewhat harsh, they are still able to create a wide range of frequencies and males provide the higher voice in certain duets.
Duets usually consist of one exchange, two or three calls in total. But up to seven exchanges have been recorded. A duet may be repeated up to 75 times, and in experiments where the birds were confronted with taped vocalizations, they could be enticed to up to 200 duets. A dozen or more duet types exist, and some seem to confer specific information, forming a Morse-code-like sort of language. Examples of typical duet sequences include hoooooo-ho-ho, hoho-u-ho, hoo-hii-hoo, haw-Weeer-haw, hoou-Weer-hoou, houhou-Weeer and bobobobo-Weeer. LOL, side splitting stuff!
The article goes into much more detail about duet calls and responses and I didn't completely understand everything but I think I get the gist of it, which is that these blighters like singing duets, or even trios, and these duets and trios all have different meanings, it's like singing in morse code. Cool eh?
The Hadada Ibis is a fairly common African species. It's another example of a bird being named after its call. It is welcomed on golf courses and bowling greens as it probes for and eats the larvae of moths and beetles that feed on the grass roots. It is thought the bird can hear them chewing below the surface.
The Southern Masked Weaver has red eyes which avoids confusion with all other Weavers except the slightly larger Village Weaver which has a darker, more mottled back and a longer dagger-like bill.
Here are a couple of Cormorants. The White-breasted Cormorant is the subject of debate amongst ornithologists, but it is generally accepted now as a separate species from the Great Cormorant (P. Carbo) that is common in Europe and across most of the World.
No question that the Reed Cormorant is a separate species. Much smaller than the common Great Cormorant and only found in Sub Saharan Africa & Madagascar.
Next is another photo of a Black-collared Barbet. Not the first shot of this species, which we saw quite often, but this one is interesting because of the large insect prey in its bill.
These are both members of the Weaver family, the Southern Bishop above is another bird I have posted previously, but this is a rather good shot of a handsome red male on a reed in one of the ponds of the Botanical gardens. The next is one I have not posted before. The distinctive Thick-billed Weaver builds very neat, dome shaped nests on reed stems in the Garden ponds here. It is also known as the Grossbeak Weaver for obvious reasons.
The Bronze Manikin is a very small member of the Munia family that is locally abundant in areas of grassland in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a considerable pest to seed and grain farmers just like the even more abundant Red-billed Quelea. Efforts to control their numbers are generally unsuccessful.
The African Paradise Flycatcher is a very attractive bird. The female and young birds lack the very long tail of the adult males but they are still very striking in appearance with an interesting hairstyle. They are largely insectivorous and dart out from their perch to capture passing insects, just like shrikes. This rufous morph female was in a stand of large trees in the Botanical Gardens.
Our first thought when we spotted this interesting bird was "Wryneck", because of that scaly appearance, however on closer examination we could see that this clearly was not a wryneck, the field guide showed us it is a female Cut-throat Finch. The male of this species has a bright red band across the throat, hence the name.
The Cape Wagtail below is a rather mundane species and in fact I continue this South Africa blog with some common birds that are not particularly eye-catching but which are separate species. The blog would not be complete without recording all the species that I managed to photograph.
The African Hoopoe is of course a very close relative of our Eurasian Hoopoe (upapa epops) but scientists now agree that upapa africana is a separate species. I must say that those I saw here were not as handsome or as beautiful as ours in Spain. Could just be the condition of the birds we came across but they all looked a bit scrawny and less colouful to me.
I was quite surprised to see a group of Spotted Thicknees in the Botanical Gardens. Thicknees are close relatives of our Stone Curlew which you wouldn't expect to see in a public park, they are very shy indeed. Perhaps the Spotted Thicknees think we can't see them because their camouflage is so effective? However those big yellow eyes are a dead give-away.
I finish off the blog with a couple of the more interesting birds of the Gardens. The Helmeted Guineafowl is a wild bird that has virtually domesticated itself. It can be seen in suburbs of cities such as Cape Town where flocks roam the quieter streets and roost on the roofs of bungalows. They can walk more than 10 kms in a day and are strong runners. The flock can fend off cats and smaller dogs and they will eat virtually anything organic. Guineafowl sold as meat in supermarkets are usually this species.
Finally another look at the handsome Paradise Flycatcher, showing off its nice blue bill and orbital rings and the prominent white wingbars, which indicate that this one is an adult female.
Our trip to South Africa, and specifically to Kruger National Park had been amazing. The importance of protected areas such as the Park cannot be over-stated. As the human population continues to increase exponentially leaving very little room or natural habitat on this planet for other species, a few protected environments will be the only hope for the biodiversity that is otherwise being destroyed by the remorseless spread of homo-sapiens.
After a restful night in Satara Rest Camp we photographed one or two of the birds that were to be seen in and around the gardens, including this superb Bearded Woodpecker, only our second Woodpecker of the trip.
Next we checked out the area outside and around Satara, including the S100 N'wanetsi River Road which is famous for the number and variety of Game and wildlife sightings, perhaps the best in the Park.
We were not disappointed. It was still early morning when we came upon a family of Common Buttonquail. Stephen was lucky to be on the right side of the car and he photographed the female fending off an aggressive snake, fantastic shots. I did manage to capture the male leading his offspring across the road after the thwarted snake attack. he does look a bit stressed out.
This species was once common in Southern Spain where it was known as the Andalucian Hemipode. Hunting and habitat loss have rendered it almost certainly extinct here now and it is increasingly scarce in N. Africa, it might even have gone from there too but they are notoriously difficult to see, being very small and well hidden in its grassland and scrub habitat. It rarely flies and does not flush easily. Anyway we were very lucky indeed to have this wonderful sighting of a quite charming little species. It is interesting that the male incubates the eggs and rears the chicks, the female plays a hunter-gatherer role.
The Red-billed Buffalo Weaver is a fairly common and very large member of the Weaver family. We saw many of them and their colonial nest sites which consist of an enormous mass of thorny twigs. These twigs are divided into separate lodges, each with multiple egg chambers. Each chamber has a smaller nest, typically built by the female and which are composed of grass, leaves, and roots. The whole nest is usually found in a thorny tree or in a windmill near areas inhabited by humans. It is interesting to note that when humans depart from a particular area, so do the Red-billed Buffalo weavers, they prefer the proximity of human habitation.
The Brown Snake Eagle is fairly small as eagles go. It is a fierce predator of snakes though, having good protection against venomous bites including very thick-skinned legs. They will take cobras and other highly venomous species.
Here are a couple of shots of a Purple Roller with an interesting looking insect. It must be a species of grasshopper or cricket which is camouflaged to look like blades of grass. The camouflage didn't work on this occasion.
Here's another look at a female Double-banded Sandgrouse. I wish I had captured a better image of the male with its distinctive double banded head markings, but it was not to be.
The Lanner Falcon is often bred in Europe for falconry as it is easy to keep and train. It can be mistaken for the similar Saker Falcon but the Lanner has a reddish/brown back to the head. They are sometimes crossed with peregrines (perilanners) and they hunt smaller birds on the wing. They have also been observed hunting bats, whch requires considerable speed and agility.
Eventually we made our way to the largest camp in the Kruger, Skukuza. This is more of a small town than a rest camp but they had no accommodation available, so they booked us into Pretoriuskop, another restcamp nearby and the oldest in Kruger.
Before we transferred to Pretoriaskop however we enjoyed some hide watching at nearby Lake Panic. This is a superb spot overlooking a lake which is created by an earthen dam across the Sabie River. It's an idyllic place from which to watch birds for an hour or two, with the added bonus of hippos and a few crocs thrown in.
My favourint esighting from the hide was this stunning Malachite Kingfisher which perched conveniently on a dead treestump in fairly close proximity.
The Malachite Kingfisher is a river species that fishes but also eats insect prey. It was fun watching it snapping at some of the flying insects around its perch.
African Jacanas were wandering aroung the lily pads looking very smart with their pale blue face shields.
A Striated Heron flew in and stood nicely on a dead tree stump. I have photographed this species in S E Asia and in fact it is one of the most widespread of all herons, being found across west Africa to Japan and Australia, and in South America.
A few White-faced Whistling Ducks were swimming around the edges of the lake, mainly remaining under cover of the fringe vegetation, avoiding the attention of predators.
.On the opposite bank a Water Thick-knee bathed in the sunshine. Lake Panic defied its name, we found it was a very pleasant and peaceful place to spend an hour with some nice birds to add to our expanding list.
This was our last night in Kruger National park. We would head back towards Johannesburg in the morning. I took a picture of one of the Helmeted Guinea-fowl that hung around the bungalows in Pretoriuskop hoping for scraps from the guests. Then we retired for the night ready for a long drive next day.
We left after breakfast and exited the Park through Nunbi Gate. I took one last shot of an Impala with a Red-billed Oxpecker on its left ear. Then it was time to go. Kruger had been superb but all good things come to an end.
After checking into Punda Maria Rest Camp we ventured out to look at the border area and the Limpopo River, Stephen was hoping to cross the border into Mozambique or Zimbabwe but there did not seem to be any open crossing points so we abandoned that idea. We found Crooks Corner where the three countries meet, this was once a refuge for all kinds of crooks, from gun runners to ivory hunters who dodged the law by hopping into different jurisdictions while on the run.
Now Crooks Corner it is an interesting point of geography, good to visit but we could go no further, so we made our way back along the Limpopo River towards Pafuri.
We found the very pleasant Pafuri Picnic Site, located by the river and in the shade of some very large acacia and other deciduous trees.. We met Frank Mabasa who runs the site and is also known as an excellent bird guide, so we booked him for the following morning, then made our way back to Punda Maria.
Next day, after a quick cup of tea and a light breakfast we exited Punda Maria at the gate opening time of 6 am and picked Frank up half an hour later. The road to the picnic site at dawn was lovely, with various animals out enjoying the early rays of sunshine, including a family of Baboons and a very large family group of Banded Mongoose. It was fun watching the youngsters in the difuse light, playing and frolicking around under the watchful eye of the adults.
The usual verge-birds were out including this attractive Natal Spurfowl...
...and a nice green Sahel Chameleon crossed the road ahead of us with very haltering and deliberate steps. It was quite robotic.
Red-backed Shrikes and Lesser Grey Shrikes were quite numerous along the dirt roadside....
..........and a nice Lappet-faced Vulture gave us good views while perched in a dead tree.
I picked up more good shots of the very beautiful White-fronted Bee-eater at fairly close proximity.
At the Picnic Site Frank introduced us to a few of the birds in the trees here before we set off on bird safari. This Orange-breasted Bushshrike was one of the best.
....and we finally saw our first Woodpecker of the trip, a Golden-tailed Woodpecker. We had been speculating on why we had not seen any woodpeckers at all when this chap showed up. I was beginning to wonder if there actually were any woodpeckers in the Park at all until now. We set off in our car with Frank pointing out various birds along the way.
At one point Frank became quite animated. Looking into the sky at all the hirundines and swifts swirling around he had spotted a Bohm's Spinetail. Otherwise known as the Bat-like Spinetail this is quite a rare and highly unusual species of swift. It has no tail except for a couple of needle-like projections, is tiny, about half the size of a house sparrow, and is quite easily identified in flight as it flies with a fluttering, erratic manner just like a bat. I managed to get a poor shot but as usual Stephen captured a superb image with his 7D Mk.11.
We spent some time searching in vain for the Racket-tailed Roller which is often seen along the river here, but no luck unfortunately. However the Lemon-breasted Canary is a fairly rare species and we did see a flock of them.
The Red-billed Firefinch is supposed to be common but this was the only one I saw on the entire trip and fortunately did manage to catch a quick shot through some quite dense thicket. I think it had spotted me too.
The raptor below is a very pale morph Wahlberg's Eagle one of Africa's most common eagles, although they are usually dark brown. This one is almost white.
In fact we found a roosting pair of the more common dark morph Wahlberg's Eagle as we crossed a bridge over a small river. The contrast between the light and dark morphs is quite dramatic, a similar phenomena to the Booted Eagles we get in Spain.
After this we passed another local guide with a group from the nearby private safari lodge who informed us that he had spotted an Arnot's Chat. This is quite a rarity in these parts so we scanned carefully the trees alongside the road until Frank found it. It's always nice to see a new bird to add to ones life list and this was a good one.
The next one was also a lifer, the Golden-breasted Bunting gave us brief views but enough to capture a recognizable image. And here it is.
The Green-winged Pytillia is a colourful little bird that we had seen before. it's quite a common species in sub-Saharan Africa but this was my first opportunity to get a half decent photograph, for which I was thankful.
Eventually we left Frank back at Pafuri Picnic site, and knowing now that there was nowhere to stay up here on the border except the private Safari Lodge, which was very expensive. So we decided to head back Punda Maria for the night.
Next day we had a decent breakfast & considered our options. We could exit the Park and try another region such as the Drakensberg Mountains, but that was such a long journey so we decided to make our way back South within the Park to explore some of the areas we had missed on our way up here.
Although we were constantly on the lookout for more and new bird species to photograph there were always opportunities for the common species, Here's another decent shot of a lovely Purple Roller, and there were always game and animal sightings to be enjoyed. Another Zebra Crossing for example.
We picked up another Weaver, this one is a Southern Masked Weaver, distinguished from the Village Weaver by the black face extending above the bill The two species are otherwise virtually identical, both with red eyes.
Earlier I posted a male Chinspot Batis but here is a female with that lovely chestnut brown breast band, a nicer looking bird than her male counterpart.
We stopped for large flocks of Red-billed Queleas, also known as the red-billed weaver or red-billed dioch. This is the world's most abundant wild bird species, with an estimated adult breeding population of 1.5 billion pairs. They swarm in huge flocks across much of Africa.
They are considered a huge pest. Intensive farming and an increase in cereal crop production throughout Africa resulted in an explosion in their numbers; according to some estimates quelea populations have increased anywhere from 10 to 100 times since the 1970s. They are sprayed, bombed, burned, netted and persecuted in every concievable way, all to no avail. They raise three broods each year. I can't help thinking "Good on'em"
The White-browed Scrub Robin is a fairly common and unremarkable bird in sub-Saharan Africa. Well here it is for the record.
The Brubru is an attractive little member of the Bushshrike family. It likes large trees where it hunts its insect prey. It is quite a solitary and territorial bird. The Red-backed Shrike is a true Shrike of course and I post another shot of one here because it is not a bad image.
Swainson's Spurfowl or Francolin, is a member of the pheasant family. It is very common here where hunting is not permited. In unprotected areas however it is considered a delicacy and is taken for the pot.
The Spectacled Weaver is a sharp looking bird. It's the only weaver in which the female helps build the nest. It is distinguished by its very sharp pointed black bill, other weavers have thicker horn coloured bills.
The Speckled Mousebird below was a quick snapshot into a dense bush and I was not expecting to be able to identify whatever it was that was moving. However the image is not too bad of a bird that we didn't see anywhere else. It has a very long tail and an interesting hairstyle. If you look closely at this picture you will see it is reaching up with one leg to grab the berries that it feeds upon, must be quite dexterous to do that.
The male Village Indigobird below is quite interesting. It is a brood parasite and the eggs are laid only in the nests of the Red-billed Firefinch. The eggs are white and only slightly larger than the Firefinches. 2 to 4 eggs are added to those already laid by the Firefinch and the young do not kill or eject the hosts eggs or young.
Next is another Stork. This is an African Openbill, named as are all openbills for the gap between the upper & lower mandibles. This one has a nice glossy metalic plumage that shines in good light.
We took the opportunity to photograph another Namaqua Dove. It's really not like any other dove I know, it is almost like a young artists impression of a bird with a long tail and an arbitrarilly stuck-on beak.
The Elephant below seemed like a fine specimen with substantial tusks, worth a photograph.
The Tropic of Capricorn is clearly marked with this plaque alongside the road, so we took the opportunity to record it.
And at this stop I was lucky to record an action sequence of this adult Wattled Starling feeding its hungry and demanding fledgling.
The youngster's large bright-yellow open gape is like a magnet to the parent bird.....
....and the proffered tidbit is accepted greedily. This is more than just food, it is afirmation of the parent-child bond. It satisfies more than just a hungry belly.
The adult male Wattled Starling develops unfeathered yellow skin on the head, and black forehead and throat wattles, as seen below. The adult bird above is a female showing some of these characteristics but to a much lesser extent.
We continued South making good progress, stopping occasionally to capture anything of interest. This is not a great shot of a Hyena, but it's the best I could do. We did not see many of them.
The little bird below is just one of many Larks we saw. This one is a Rufous-naped Lark I think.
Eventually we made it to Satara Rest Camp with not much time to spare. The gates close at 6 pm and no-one is supposed to be outside the camps at night without authorisation. However we had made a lot of progress and were ready for another day tomorrow when we would look at an area we had not covered previously.
From Olifants Rest Camp we set off a little later than usual due to needing a lie-in. We had been travelling constantly and spending long hours seeking out wildlife and in particular opportunities to photograph birds, making the absolute most of our precious time here. It was time to catch up on some sleep.
We continued to head North. We would reach the Northern Park boundary which was the Limpopo River, across which was Zimbabwe to the North, and Mozambique to the East. It was becoming more difficult to find new species, there were plenty of birds about but mostly those we had seen before. However good photo opportunities are not to be passed up. The Yellow-billed Hornbill above was too good to miss, being in interesting light and framed by a wreath of butterfly shaped leaves.
This Martial Eagle was a fabulous sighting. Yes we had seen them before but to capture one with the remains of a big monitor lizard was superb. It took off from the first roost, clutching its meal in those huge talons, only to land in another, more open tree, giving us fabulous views and photo opportunities.
The Martial Eagle is a magnificently large raptor with a menacing appearance. It is Africa's largest eagle, considerably bigger and heavier than a golden eagle with a wingspan of up to 2.6 metres. It occasionally preys upon the adult Kori Bustard, which may well be the heaviest flying animal alive today. It's an awesome sight.
I've also captured this Magpie Shrike with a menacing expression. Large insects and small animals beware.
The Black-crowned Tchagra on the other hand looks fairly innocuous, but once you spot that hooked beak it becomes apparent that this is another member of the Shrike family, hunters of insects and small prey.
Here's another hunter, the Little Sparrowhawk is a beautiful small raptor, this one was sat in a tree outside our bungalow when I came out first thing in the morning, what a great start to the day.
Not long into our daily drive we spotted a Montagu's Harrier and I was able to get a couple of good flight shots. This is a familiar bird from Spain of course, I have photographed it before in Extremadura, but it was great to see it here where there is no threat from gamekeepers, poison bait, habitat destruction or any other form of human persecution.
Here's a species we had not photographed before. This is a Chinspot Batis. An attractive insectivorous species quite common in sub-saharan Africa. This one is a male, the female is similar but has a nice chestnut breast-band and chinspot, hence the name.
Below is a shot of a Burchell's Coucal. It was holding its wings out to warm its back in the first rays of sunshine, which made it difficult for photography. Still, at least the eye is illuminated.
This is the only Parrot I can recall seeing on this trip. The Brown-headed Parrot is a nice looking bird. The most interesting thing I can say about it is that Vladimir Putin is known to own one. Just saying!
That afternoon we reached Shingwedze Restcamp. This is in the Northern half of the park where there are fewer people and cars. It was an excellent area for Game viewing and it was near this Camp that we saw the only leopard of the trip. It ran across the road in front of the car, heading for the river. Unfortunately neither of us was quick enough to get a photo. The Wildebeest here though stood still for us to get a good look at what is a magnificent beast. Huge and powerful, you need to get close to one in the flesh to fully appreciate the size and strength of the animal. Too much for even the biggest Lions although young Wildebeest are a favourite prey for the big cats if they can pick one off away from the herd.
Elephants cross the roads regularly, they have no fear of people or vehicles, they know there is very little threat to them and poaching is not a major problem here, it is too well policed.
The following morning we opted for another pre-dawn excursion, hoping to see something different. In the event the most spectacular sight was the incredible full moon that cast a wonderful silver glow over the African veldt.
This could be a new species of nightjar for us, it looks very much like the Square-tailed Nightjar illustrations in the Field guide, so that's what I'm calling it. Interestingly this species doesn't have a square tail at all, weird.
There was also a pair of Giant (Vereaux's) Eagle Owls perched in the open so we took more photos of this handsome silvery-grey species by the light of a silvery moon, lovely.
As the sun came up we began to see the roadside, or "Verge birds" as I call them. They emerge from the grass, venturing out to pick up seeds that have fallen onto the hard surface & make easy pickings. The Harlequin Quail is one of these. Aptly named it is a really attractive little quail and a delight to see.
Another vergebird is the Crested Francolin. In truth it appears to be a very common bird and can be seen in a variety of locations, but the early morning roadside is almost a dead cert for it.
The Plum-coloured Starling is a highly sexually dimorphic species. That is to say there are strong differences between males and females as you can see in the two photos below. Hard to imagine they are the same species. It is also known as the Violet-backed Starling.
I have posted two shots of the next new species. This is the White-crested Helmetshrike. Two shots because I like it. Another of the shrike family this one is almost cute with those big yellow ringed eyes in a wooly grey head.
I post the Woolly-necked Stork here purely for the record. It's not a very good shot of not a great looking bird. I have actually seen this stork before in Vietnam and was somewhat surprised to find it here. It was considered quite uncommon there and it is in fact listed as officially "Vulnerable" to extinction, so is definitely worthy of a mention.
Here's a decent shot of a Village Weaver on the nest, well it's not on the nest exactly, it's under it. They are accessed from the bottom.
It's a Woodland Kingfisher again, but it's a nice close-up shot . This is a tree kingfisher, never eats fish because there aren't any in the trees, only bugs.
It was with great pleasure that we found a small group of Green Wood Hoopoes.The word "green" distinguishes it from the Violet Wood Hoopoe, a similar looking bird but which lacks the irridescent green back feathers. A superb looking bird I was very happy with this shot.
And this is another African Grey Hornbill, looking good at the top of a small tree.
We were close to the Limpopo River now which is why we started to see Meve's Starling. They only live around major tropical drainage systems such as the Limpopo, Sabi and Zambezi Rivers.
And we were fortunate to get more good views of another Martial Eagle, so here it is.
At the end of the day we reached Punda Maria, the most Northerly of the Park's Rest camps, situated not far the Limpopo River and the border with Zimbabwe. We checked in, had a snack then went out to explore the area up around the border.
At the end of another long and rewarding day we checked into Lower Sabie rest camp, a very popular Camp on the banks of the Sabie River. Here is a look at the main structure from the nearby bridge.
A troupe of Baboons occupied the bridge and it was fun watching the youngsters playing around under the watchful eye of their adult minders.
That evening we turned in early, having booked an early morning night drive. This involves an excursion in a special open truck with high seats for good viewing, and being provided with hand-held searchlights for picking out eye reflections in the bush.
So we set off long before sunrise the next day, and started picking up night species almost immediately. Nightjars sat on the road and were caught in the headlights. This one is a Fiery-necked Nightjar. There were others but it was extremely difficult to distinguish the different species in artificial light.
For example the one shown above looks almost identical. But note the white edge to the tail. This is characteristic of only one Nightjar species, the Swamp Nightjar. A declining species due to ploughing of grassland, but unaffected in here.
Verreaux's Eagle Owl, otherwise known as the Giant Eagle Owl is a large, rapacious and formidable raptor. It takes a wide range of animals and birds as prey up to half-grown monkey size, for example Pels Fishing Owl, Flamingos and Herons are all included as prey. We watched them taking frogs which is what they feed the young on.
At one point our way was blocked by a Pride of Lions sprawled across the road. Many of them just young cubs. None of them seemed at all bothered by the headlights and the proximity of our vehicle. We waited and watched and naturally took photographs. Even though it was artificial light the results were impressive because these magnificent wild animals were so close.
The cubs were happy to sit warming their bellies on the tarmac which had obviously retained heat rom the previous day's sunshine. They were constantly under the watchful gaze of the mother Lioness.
Another bird that likes to stand on the road at night is the Water Thick-knee. Very similar to our Stone Curlew they probably also enjoy the heat of the tarmac which has absorbed sunlight all day.
In the first rays of the dawn sun a number of birds that like the grassy roadside verges appeared. Double-banded Sandgrouse was perhaps the most interesting, particularly the male that has the banded pattern on its face that gives the species its name.
The female below is not as spectacular as the male but is easily recognised by the yellow orbital eye-ring.
After our night ride and a good breakfast we once again headed out into the Park, making our way North and looking for photo opportunities, particularly of anything new.
There were plenty of hirundines and swifts around. Little Swifts are probably the most numerous but there were others that I could not identify confidently. Palm Swifts certainly, White-rumped almost certainly and others I could hazard a guess at but I can't be sure of. I find it very difficult to get a focus on them in flight, Stephen had considerably more success than me with his EOS 7D Mk 2 which seems to have a much faster and better focusing system than my old Mk 1.
Because of the difficulty I had in capturing them in flight I took several opportunities to photograph resting Swallows. The Red-breasted Swallow below was perfect.
Lesser-striped Swallows were quite common and I was very pleased to get a decent shot of one of these interesting hirundines at rest on a vicious looking thorn tree.
Barn Swallows were still here. Soon they would be leaving for Northern climes but they were still present in numbers. These are a couple of juveniles and I marvel at the distances they must have covered in their young lives, having been born somewhere in Europe or at least in the Northern hemisphere.
I did manage a half decent shot of a Wire-tailed Swallow in flight from the bridge as it passed beneath us.
If the subject is large enough I can get a focus with my 500mm lens, but it was much faster and easier with the old 400mm f5.6. nevertheless I did manage to get a few flight shots. This one is an African Hawk Eagle
It was much easier with the White-headed Vulture below as I had a bead on it when it was perched, giving me a pretty good take-off and subsequent flight sequence.
Doves and Pigeons are not the most exciting birds, they are mostly common species well adapted to human habitation so therefore a bit uninteresting. I do like the Namaqua Dove though, it is a lot different in appearance from the usual doves being very small, say budgerigar sized. The male has a jet black throat and face on a white belly, long black tail, steely grey uppers and a delicately shaped orange bill. The primaries show chestnut brown in flight. A star amongst doves for sure.
Here's another Hornbill, an African Gray Hornbill. This bird nest in holes in trees and they block the female inside the hole with mud once the eggs are laid. They leave a small opening just big enough for the male to pass food through to the female, who only unblocks the hole once the chicks are fledged.
The male Southern Red Bishop is a very bright orange or red and it has a habit of puffing its feathers out when calling which makes it look like an animated bumble bee.
It was great to see Black-shouldered Kites, one of my favourite raptors. We see them here in Spain but it was good to get quite close to capture those fiery red eyes. Superb.
This one was a new bird for me, the Arrow-marked Babbler is a very striking species with silver-flecked black plumage and fierce two-tone eyes, yellow, rimmed with red. Nice.
Again I stress that this is a birding blog but I like to remind myself, and the reader of the sights and flavour of where we are. The landscape is sometimes spectacular and the wildlife is prolific. The Elephants below are enjoying a bathe in the Sabie River, I could see one or two getting quite frisky, doing their bit to maintain the elephant population.
At one of our frequent stops to photograph the very numerous Rollers we struck it lucky with one that had just picked up a large Saddle-backed Bush Cricket (Ephippiger). A sizable lunch for the bird but I wonder what happens to all that hard shell (Chitin) on the insect. I expect the Roller regurgitates it, I have seen many birds do this in pellets.
It was with great pleasure that we photographed this superb Hobby, nicely perched on a dead tree. Although this is a raptor we see in Europe it is not often we get such a good opportunity as this. It looks very noble in this pose, master of its surroundings.
The Saddle-billed Stork is a truly stunning bird. Statuesque and colourful. The amazing scarlet and black bill with the yellow saddle is a real eye-catcher and its overall appearance is clean-cut and graceful. Combined with its very large size, males reach 1.5 m. in height, It has to be the best looking stork of them all.
Here's another imposing bird, the Yellow-billed Stork. In the breeding season its plumage becomes pink on the upperwings and back, and the otherwise brown legs also turn bright pink. The bill turns a deeper yellow and the face deep red, so overall it is a colourful sight.
The shot below is posted to show the Stork together with some African Spoonbills as I neglected to get a decent shot of that species, being too wrapped up with the Stork.
Here's another resident of the river, a classic Nile Crocodile. Averaging 5 m. in length they are the second largest reptile on Earth, after the Saltwater Crocodile. They sometimes reach 6m or even longer.
The Buffalo is one animal that has to protect its young from crocodiles. All animals have to drink though, and need to cross rivers when to find new, fresh pastures, so they often fall prey to the big crocs.
We were very pleased to come across our first Broad-billed Roller this morning. Another very handsome member of the Roller family.
With so many impressive birds and animals around it was easy to overlook the small bird species, of which there were many. The on below for example is a Wailing Cisticola, one of nineteen species of South African Cisticolas. We probably saw a lot of them but distinguishing them in the field is very difficult. At least we know this one is correct.
Here's a shot of a juvenile Carmine Bee-eater I post it together with another shot of an adult bird just because of the colour and beauty of this species.
Yes, it's Big Bird. I think of the Ostrich as a species of game animal rather than a bird. But it is feathered and officially a member of the bird family. So here it is.
The raptor below is the endangered Tawny Eagle. Seen here with an unfortunate bird kill.
After a long and eventful day during which we had covered a lot of miles Northwards, we checked in to Olifants Rest Camp. This is about half way up the Park and is situated on a height overlooking the Olifants River swirling around below. It had been a fantastic few days and we were approaching the half-way stage of our wildlife adventure. We needed a good night's sleep, it had been a very early start and we had covered a lot of miles. But time waits for no man, it would be another early morning looking for the early birds and whatever the next day would bring.
With Elena busy looking after her grandaughter in London for a month I decided to ask son Tom for cheap flights to Johannesburg to take a look at Kruger N.P. Daughter Louise & family were staying at our house, refugees from Canadian winter, so it was a good time to give them some space while I went off birding. A well known bird guide and an old aquaintance and now friend Stephen Daly decided to come along too, so I had the advantage of his knowledge and experience during the trip. Stephen also has very good taste in music which helped on some of the long drives.
Once we had hired a car at J'burg Airport we set off for the Southern entrances to Kruger which is about a four hour drive. We spotted a number of interesting bird species along the way including lots of Amur Falcons and quite a few Long-crested Eagles which is a very imposing looking raptor. Unfortunately we could not stop to take photographs on the main road and as it happens these two raptor species were not at all common inside the Park, so I did not get any shots of them at all. As we got fairly close we spotted a B&B sign near Nelspruit & decided to stop for the night. Crocodile Nest turned out to be a very good choice. Owners Beryl & Mark were very welcoming and their beautiful gardens were rich in birds which suited us travelling birders down to the ground. The Cape White-eye below being one nice example.
Village Weavers were nest building over the nearby pond.
and there were a couple of dome-shaped Sunbird Nests with birds in residence. This one is I believe a Copper Sunbird but I am not certain.
There were many other birds to see and photograph, but I do not intend to post everything, it would take too long. I have already posted shots of at least 138 species under the drop-down menu of 778 bird species, found on the home page of this website.
Next day we entered Kruger N.P. at Malelane Gate at the very Southern end of the Park. Our intention was to work our way gradually North, staying at different Rest Camps each night. Kruger is the size of Wales so it would take all of our time available to do it justice.
We immediately started spotting animals such as Hippo, Giraffe and White Rhino. Kruger is mainly open country and the idea is to cruise around in your car spotting the wildlife and taking photographs as the opportunities arose. There are nearly 14,000 Elephants in the park which is almost free from poaching, with rangers and people on the lookout for suspicious activity everywhere.
One of my favourite animals is the feisty Warthog. Well known for being fearless when threatened they will face up to even the largest cat predators including Lion and Leopard. However they are more likely to use their surprising turn of speed to escape from aggression, they can run very fast.
Giraffe is another very familiar sight here, The park has over 8,000 and naturally they are easy to spot. One abiding memory was of a family group of Giraffes frolicking in a grassy meadow with the youngsters having tremendous fun chasing each other around.
I was quite surprised to see so many White Rhinos. We hear so much about threats of imminent extinction of this species but we saw many on our travels around the Park. Their numbers are not published due to the threat of poaching, but they seem to be well protected and doing well in here. It's a different story with Black Rhino of course which is seriously endangered. The word "White" is a misnomer, it is thought to have been derived from the Africaans word for "Wide" which describes the square upper lip, as opposed to the downcurved lip of the smaller Black Rhino.
It is usual to see Oxpeckers on Rhinos and on other animals too. We saw mostly the Red-billed Oxpecker as in the photo below.
It was once thought that theirs is a symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit but recent studies have shown that the Oxpecker is actually parasitic, it creates open wounds and drinks the blood of the animal which can sometimes be very harmful.
It was a fairly common sight here to see Bateleurs wheeling in the sky. It is a medium sized Eagle which is classified as Near Threatened due to loss of habitat, pesticides and human persecution. It is now only common in protected areas such as this.
A juvenile Bateleur like the one below was seen in Algeciras, Spain in 2012, the first and only record of the species in Europe.
Here is another young raptor. The Shikra is otherwise known as the Little banded Goshawk. Much prized by falconers in India and Pakistan because it is quite easy to train, and for its ability to take relatively large prey such as Partridge and even Peafowl. I have seen them hunting bats emerging from caves at dusk in Thailand.
Another raptor that we saw fairly often is the African Fish Eagle. This large Eagle resembles the American Bald Eagle. It is fairly common around any sizeable body of water with suitable prey in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Berg-en-Dal After cruising around the backroads of the park during the afternoon we checked into Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp for the night. This is the low season so there was no problem finding accommodation, at another time of year it is essential to book in advance but right now we were ok. Berg-en-Dal turned out to be one of the newest and best Camps we stayed in. It is the most Southerly in the Park, close to Malelane Gate where we had entered. It is next to a river and the grounds revealed a good variety of birds as follows.
Black-Collared Barbet and Crested Barbet were two species we would see fairly regularly during the trip. They are colourful and busy birds that are quite common residents of light woodland, parks and gardens.
The Purple-crested Turaco was one of the more exotic looking birds we encountered. It is a large bird, constantly active in seeking out fruit in the trees it was surprisingly difficult to photograph.
It is the National Bird of the Kingdom of Swaziland and the crimson flight feathers of this and related Turaco species are important in the ceremonial regalia of the Swazi Royal Family. When you see this bird in the wild it is easy to understand why.
I was lucky to grab a quick shot of this Lesser Honeyguide seeking out Barbets nests in holes in the trees. This bird is a brood parasite preying on Barbets. Once the Honeyguide chick hatches it viciously kills the other chicks in the nest.
We watched a Pied Kingfisher catching frogs in the river, to consume while perched on an overhanging branch.
I enjoyed capturing some images of this Grey-headed Bushshrike, a very attractive species.
Also in the trees by the river, a Marabou Stork sat contemplating the day. Looking down on the riverbank for feeding opportunities. One can see why this is also known as the Undertaker Bird.
Blacksmith Plovers wandered along the mudbanks along with Grey Heron, Goliath Heron and Egyptian Geese.
This Brown-hooded Kingfisher sat in the trees outside our chalet in the morning, making a good start to the new day.
We had great birds and some of the World's great animals to photograph, but I couldn't resist capturing some images of this superb Golden Orb-weaving Spider, every bit as impressive as a lion or elephant to me.
We set off after breakfast and cruised some of the back roads, although these are dirt roads they are fit for even a normal saloon car which is what we had. We were soon picking up plenty of different birds and animals.
Hornbills feature prominently in Kruger N.P. The one above is a Southern Red-billed Hornbill, a male in this case. They are very striking photogenic birds that I enjoyed taking pictures of.
The most common birds in the park are Rollers. We saw then everywhere. There are five species present and we photographed four of them. Unfortunately we dipped on the Racket-tailed Roller. Perhaps the most common was the European Roller and we had endless opportunities to photograph this delightful bird. In fact Stephen liked to stop at every one, which became a bit of a joke after a while, oh no - not another Roller!
The Lilac-breasted Roller is almost as prolific as its European cousin. A very handsome bird and very photogenic too. It's hard to decide which shot to post.
Vying with Roller as the most numerous bird would be the Starling, of which there were many. Really striking looking birds, most with bright yellow eyes on mottled irridescent purple, blue and green plumage.
I wish I had paid more attention to them now as there are several very similar looking starling species, all quite common in Kruger. I remember thinking oh, just another starling without looking closely to see exactly which one it was. here for example we have Greater Blue-eared Starlings above, and Cape Starling below. Only by scrutinising the photographs can I pick out the differences, eg ear coverts.
The Black-headed Oriole is a smart bird.....
The female White-bellied Sunbird however is a rather drab little brown job, unlike its colourful male counterpart. I always seem to capture female sunbirds for some reason, miss the males every time.
Drongos are not the most visually flamboyant birds either but they are remarkable in other ways. The Fork-tailed Drongo for example is known to imitate he alarm calls of other birds or animals in order to pick up their abandoned food.
They do act as sentries, raising the alarm with genuine mimicked alarm calls, but drongos also earn a quarter of their daily calories by sounding a false alarm when another animal finds food. When the meerkats and babblers flee from the non-existent predator, the drongo steals their food. Researchers have considered the possibility that these drongos possess theory of mind, not fully shown in any animal other than humans.
As we cruised around the Park I should emphasise that scenes of Elephant, Zebra, Buffalo, Wildebeest,all manner of antelope and many other animals were all around us. In fact it was easy to become blasé about all that splendour in the grass. I will however post animal shots periodically as a reminder of where we were, but we are birders and birds were our primary target. It is birds that excite and delight us and they are why we were here.
The bird below is a Yellow-billed Hornbill, probably the most common Hornbill in the Park but it could be deceptive because they are so well adapted to human habitation and frequent the rest camps, where they are easily seen.
Along with Hornbills and Rollers, Bee-eaters are one of the most common birds in the Park. There are quite a few varieties but as I recall we only encountered three, one of which is our familiar European bee-eater. The one seen below is a White-fronted Bee-eater, easily distinguished by its striking red and white throat feathers.
Here's another White-fronted Bee-eater which is very common.
Carmine Bee-eaters are another prolific species. Their colours are amazing and they are a joy to watch hawking for bees and flying insects, often around large animals or even cars to pick up the disturbed bugs.
With so much colour around I decided to post something a bit more soothing on the eyes. A typical Kruger scene in black & white.
Vultures form part of the African landscape and can frequently be seen wheeling around in the skylooking for carrion. here's a shot of the most common species, the Cape Vulture, at rest in a dead tree, which somehow seems appropriate.
I was very pleased to get just a single shot of this Cinnamon-breasted Bunting as it was the only one we saw on our trip. A nice looking bunting reminiscent of our Rock Bunting, to which it is closely related.
The Tawny Eagle is a stunning raptor that is endangered in South Africa because of human persecution and loss of habitat. The same old dreary story. It is at least safe in protected areas such as this one.
It was encouraging to see so many game birds in the Park. They are an important part of the natural food chain that supports the huge biodiversity, including the big mammals that most people come to see. It's amazing how everything thrives without the interference of one vicious and invasive species. Homo Sapiens. This one is a Swainson's Spurfowl.....
...and here's a very beautiful one, a Natal Spurfowl. On the subject of interference the Park is not managed as such, just protected from all human activity except eco-tourism. During the recent prolonged drought no attempt was made to save the animals by providing water or food. It is considered better to let nature take its course.
Our route today took us along the Crocodile River which forms the Southern boundary of the Park. One of the more interesting water birds we encountered was the Three-Banded Plover. I like it because of its very distinctive red eye-ring under a white supercilium, giving it a somewhat startled look. I am a bit confused about where the third band might be however?
This is a typical Kruger scene. Waterbuck and Impala share the shade by a waterhole.
One of the commonest raptors is the Yellow-billed Kite. Very much like our Black Kite but smaller with darker eyes and more mottled upper plumage. This species is a Spring and Summer migrant and is not present during Southern winter.
Not a good photograph but worthy of posting because it was an interesting new species for me, a Black-winged Pratincole. This bird is classified as Near Threatened having suffered disastrous drops in numbers due to arable farming in it's breeding territory, also from the spread of predatory species such as crows and magpies, which prey on the chicks. It is a winter migrant from South Russia and Eastern Europe where it breeds during Northen Summers.
Lions are usually seen lying down, they do like to rest a lot.
The large Hornbill below is a Southern Ground Hornbill. A large and impressive bird with a fiery red throat and face. They are the largest of all Hornbills and were not as common as their Yellow and Red-billed cousins.......
.... in fact they are listed globally as Vulnerable to extinction. They now only exist really in Parks and protected areas. They are one of the longest lived of all birds and they can only breed successfully every three years because it takes that long for the young to become independant of the parents and adult helpers.
Shrikes also feature prominently in Kruger. In particular the Red-backed Shrike is very common. This is a bird I had only seen once or twice before, but here it was a familiar sight every day.
As a boy I always wanted to see the Red-backed Shrike which was once a common breeding species across England and Wales. However the species has undergone a drastic decline since the mid 19th century and I never managed to find one. By 1980 they existed only in heathland in East Anglia, and in 1989 there were no confirmed records of breeding. It is hoped that climate change may induce a recovery and efforts are being made to protect them on the few occasions they do occur.
Diederik Cuckoo is an interesting bird. Any cuckoo is of interest to bird watchers and this bottle-green and white one with a striped head and red eyes is a good catch. It is a brood parasite of certain Weavers, Red Bishop and Cape Sparrow, all of which are considerably smaller than it which gives its chicks a size advantage over its rivals in the nest.
The Grey Go-away Bird is a common resident here. named after its call which sounds a bit like Go-away (Kwey) it is sometimes called the Grey Lourie but I think Go-away bird is better.
Here's another look at the Red-billed Oxpecker. This time on a Warthog.
Lower Sabie By now we were coming to the end of our second day in the Park, so we pulled into Lower Sabie Rest Camp where we found a meal and a chalet for a good night's sleep.
We were still picking up and photographing new birds even here at this late stage of the day. A walk along the riverbank in the Camp gave us views of a White-browed Robin Chat.
and a feirce-eyed Sombre Greenbul foraging in a dense hedge.
So we came to the end of our second day in Kruger National Park. We had seen a great deal and photographed many of the common birds and animals in this amazing place. We slept well, in anticipation of what the next day would bring.