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.