South African Safari – June 2017

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Monday 12th June 2017

Africa bound

This was our first visit to South Africa, our only other experience of the African continent was The Gambia in 2012, but this was to be a 7-day safari so it would be different in every way. We didn’t know what to expect but our trip exceeded my wildest dreams. The seven of us travelled by a taxi to Heathrow, the cheapest option with costs shared, leaving at lunchtime in boiling heat. The only notable bird of the day was the expected Red Kite along the M4 by junction 15. We were catching the 7:05pm British Airways flight overnight to Johannesburg where hopefully Tydon Safaris would be waiting to collect us.

Tuesday 13th June 2017

The Long Trek

After an uneventful 11-hour overnight flight but with only about 3 hours dozing on the way, I never sleep for long on flights, we touched down at 7:05am in Johannesburg. We had an hour before Tydon Safaris would pick us up at 8am. True to their word our driver, Gert, was there to meet us and shepherded us quickly to a waiting minivan with other guests on board. He gave us a brief itinerary of what lay before us for the day. Basically, it would be a 6-hour drive with two main stops and then one hour after arrival at Tydon Safari Camp at Sabi Sand we would be launched into our first evening safari.

Travelling out through the outskirts of Johannesburg we saw many impromptu townships and there was a strong smell of coal burning in the air due to many power stations and industrial areas using it. It wasn’t a very pretty introduction to South Africa with the area being very urbanised, however as we cleared the suburbs the air cleared too and the scenery became much better as we moved into the countryside. Between the Airport and our first stop at Alzu Petropark at Middelburg I recorded just five species, at the Airport I saw House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) and a Grey-headed Gull and on the journey the only identifiable birds were four African Sacred Ibises flying over.

Alzu Petropark was a petrol station like no other, it had a fenced collection of South African animals including Eland, Buffalo, White Rhino, Zebra, Ostrich and bizarrely Emus. There was even a viewing window so you could watch them whilst having a pee 😊. However the native birds there included my first lifers, BLACKSMITH PLOVERS and the only CAPPED WHEATEAR of the trip. The other new SA species which I had seen before in the UK/The Gambia were EGYPTIAN GEESE, although these were certainly my first wild ones, Speckled Pigeons and Red-billed Quelea.

It was difficult to do anything else but enjoy the scenery at 70mph although an obvious WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANT on a lake at Middelburg was a lifer. We stopped next at Kumi Restaurant at Mbombela. After placing our lunch order, I escaped into the grounds where I managed two lifers, a pair of WHITE-BELLIED MOUSEBIRDS and a pair of FISCAL FLYCATCHERS. I also saw a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos and a new lizard, a smart AFRICAN STRIPED SKINK and a HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD (Harmonia axyridis), which welcomed me to Africa by nipping my arm but this was the only bite I got all week. Lunch was good with welcome cold drinks, I had some sort of battered fish with chips, very English.

The only other birds I could be sure of before our arrival at Sabi Sands was seven Cattle Egrets at White River.

On arrival at Tydon Safari Camp we were greeted by the guides and the staff who efficiently vanished our luggage to our tents and we were told to be ready to roll in an hour. We were shown to our tents, but this wasn’t really camping, we had beds, electricity, a kettle, air-con/heating and a separate bathroom and shower. We got changed and unpacked a little, a large spider in the bathroom was shooed away but it was the only critter we had in our tent all week.

We all assembled at the main camp building where we had a drink and a biscuit before being led by Drikus to the 4×4 open-topped vehicle which seated 9 guests and the guide, which we would get very used to during the next week. He gave us the mainly common-sense safari rules and we drove the short distance to Sabi Sand Game Reserve. As I don’t know where we were most of the time I’ll just list the birds and wildlife seen, lifers in Capitals.

Birds: Laughing Dove, CRESTED FRANCOLIN, LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER, CAPE TURTLE DOVE, AFRICAN PIPIT, RED-BILLED OXPECKER, SWAINSON’S SPURFOWL, CROWNED LAPWING, MAGPIE SHRIKE, GREY GO-AWAY BIRD, BURCHELL’S STARLING, THREE-BANDED PLOVER, RED-BILLED HORNBILL, YELLOW-BILLED HORNBILL, PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET (found by Bridgette, pic below), Lanner Falcon and FIERY-NECKED NIGHTJAR (pic below).

SA Pearl-spotted Owlet

SA Fiery-necked Nightjar

Mammals: WHITE RHINOCEROS (pic below), BURCHELL’S ZEBRA, SCRUB HARE, SIDE-STRIPED JACKAL, GIRAFFE, SPOTTED HYENA, IMPALA, BLUE WILDEBEEST, COMMON DUIKER, BUSHBUCK, WATERBUCK, SOUTHERN LESSER GALAGO (Bushbaby), ELEPHANT.

SA White Rhino

It was a tremendous first experience with some great wildlife, we stopped on a ridge for a pre-ordered Sundowner to watch the sun set. I toasted the day’s end with a nice white wine and some interesting nibbles including a sausage which tasted better with each slice. We had fabulous views of a WHITE RHINOCEROS at a small waterhole so close you could hear it snorting as it wallowed in the mud. Most of the mammals were seen after sunset but we would go on to have brilliant views of all of them in daylight except the SOUTHERN LESSER GALAGO (Bushbaby) this was the only one seen and it was quite fleeting. Returning to camp we were told dinner would be served in about an hour. The nightly ritual was to assemble at tables in a circle around the cooking fire where food would be prepared over the open fire, except on the one night it rained. Mostly it was meats, vegetables, salads, rice, polenta and breads followed by a dessert, it was always good and I’m a fussy eater but I had a go at most things. The steaks were particularly wonderful. Wine, beer or soft drinks was served and the owner or the guides would entertain us with tales, sometimes fairly tall, whilst we ate under a stunning starlit sky. After dinner, as we felt like we had been travelling forever, everyone turned in by 9pm, besides our morning call would be 5:45am.

Wednesday 14th June 2017

Seeing the Unicorn

I was already raring to go when Steven arrived to wake us up at 5:45am for the early morning safari. We assembled blearily around the drinks station and had a welcome coffee to kickstart the day. Then it was all aboard the truck and Sabi bound. Warm clothes were the order of the day at 6 in the morning but it soon warmed up. Today we were starting with a foot safari so Steven drove us into the park and parked up after we had stopped to briefly admire our first male KUDU and three Giraffes and saw the sun rise. We headed out on foot with Steven, armed with a rifle, in single file, nobody wanted to be last because we’ve all seen the movies. We stopped at different places where he spoke about wildlife, conservation and ecology. New birds on the walk were TAWNY EAGLE (pic below, mobbed by Fork-tailed Drongo, BEARDED WOODPECKER, Green Wood-hoopoe, RED-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVER and PURPLE ROLLER, whilst new mammals were a SLENDER MONGOOSE, half a dozen DWARF MONGOOSE (pic below) and a SMITH’S BUSH SQUIRREL. A herd of 80+ Impalas watched us suspiciously but seeing we posed no threat moved off slowly.

SA Tawny Eagle

SA Dwarf Mongoose

A call over the radio cut the walk short when Steven asked, “Anyone want to see a Leopard?”. Our swift affirmation turned a gentle stroll into a route march as we hurried back to the vehicle. A short drive later and we were enjoying stunning close views of a female LEOPARD known as White Dam. She walked past the vehicle in touching distance before leaping effortlessly up into a Morula where an Impala kill was lodged in the branches. She proceeded to strip hair off of it before beginning to feed. After watching her for a good while and taking 100’s of photos we moved off.

SA Leopard White Dam 1

New birds on the return to camp were African Palm Swift, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, BROWN-HEADED PARROT, BATELEUR and AFRICAN HAWK EAGLE. I was most pleased to get Bateleur. We stopped for a while amongst a herd of CAPE BUFFALO where I found Yellow-billed Oxpecker amongst all its Red-billed cousins. Steven radioed it out as it is quite a scarce bird at this time of year.

Arriving back at camp we were greeted by a buffet breakfast where bacon and eggs were most welcome. We then had our first down time since we arrived until the 3pm safari when we would go out again. Mostly we lazed around the small pool and watched birds visiting the bird bath but inactivity doesn’t suit me for long. After checking with the guides that it was safe to go birding within the camp I set off around the trails to see what I could find. I added GREATER BLUE-EARED STARLING (pic below), BLACK-BACKED PUFFBACK, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, Mosque Swallow, RATTLING CISTICOLA, LONG-BILLED CROMBEC, GOLDEN-BREASTED BUNTING, LONG-TAILED PARADISE WHYDAH, BLUE WAXBILL, CHINSPOT BATIS, GREEN-WINGED PYTILIA (pic below), OLIVE THRUSH, CUT-THROAT FINCH, Red-billed Firefinch and WHITE-BACKED VULTURE. I also found a lot of butterflies, African Monarch, SMALL ORANGE TIP, BROAD-BORDERED GRASS YELLOW, SPOTTED JOKER, NATAL ACRAEA, African Migrant and SPOTTED SAILER. I was back in camp for a light lunch at 1pm. Then we gathered our gear, assembled at the centre, ordered our Sundowners (very important) and saddled up again.

SA Greater Blue-eared Starling

SA Green-winged Pytilia

We drove out to Sabi Sand for the second time and started our afternoon/evening safari. New birds prior to sunset were Little Bee-eater, Black-shouldered Kite, WATTLED STARLING and African Grey Hornbill. The only new mammal during this period was three STEENBOKS and we had nice close views of Burchell’s Zebras.

SA Steenbok

SA Zebras

We stopped for our Sundowners near a herd of 35 Blue Wildebeests (pic below) and a couple of Spotted Hyenas wandered close-by with certain younger members of the party attempting to take selfies with them. A CAPE SEROTINE BAT emerged from a nearby tree and flew around our heads as we supped our drinks. Steven decided to take us to see the Leopard, White Dam, who was still in her tree with her kill (pic below).

SA Blue Wildebeest 2

SA Leopard White Dam 2

We passed a lone bull Elephant as we drove there and two juvenile Spotted Hyenas showed well at a waterhole along with a pair of Swainson’s Spurfowl.

SA Spotted Hyena

We also stopped to watch two female White Rhinos grazing close to the vehicle. More Leopard photos were taken from this beautifully obliging cat and then the radio went mad. The other two vehicles that were there also started up their engines and so began a mad dash. Steven said, “I’m going to show you something wonderful, I’m going the long way around but don’t worry it’s not going anywhere”. We were intrigued, we travelled as fast as was safe slowing only to avoid running over my first and only nocturnal BRONZE-WINGED COURSER on the track. We arrived to about six vehicles encircling a grassy area, a bit like a wagon train prior to attack by Indians. In the middle of this lit-up area was a TEMMINCK’S GROUND PANGOLIN, this is Sabi Sand’s Unicorn, Steven had seen four in 16 years! What an incredible creature and not rolled up in a ball but walking around and feeding. It was like some mythical beast created for a fantasy film. Long-tailed, covered in armour-plated scales, a pointy snout with a long anteater tongue and walking on its back legs holding its front legs off the ground like a kangaroo. The guides were taking as many photos as us and their excitement was palpable, a brilliant mammal twitch.

SA Pangolin

Steven wasn’t quite finished yet finding five FLAP-NECKED CHAMELEONS on the drive home, which shine luminous yellow under torchlight, and four suicidal Scrub Hares, one of which ran in front of the car along the road for several hundred yards.

Everyone was buzzing with excitement when we met for dinner. The final tick of the day was a large SPOTTED EAGLE OWL that was on the path behind the dining area catching insects under lamplight. A most excellent day!

Thursday 15th June 2017

Big 5 in a day

Today we were having a full day in Kruger National Park so we were having breakfast before leaving with Benji. I managed a short walk beforehand and added NATAL SPURFOWL, NEDDICKY and JAMESON’S FIREFINCH to my life list.

As we joined the R536 to turn left for Kruger three HADEDA IBISES were sat in a tree and a 100 yards on a male WARTHOG was running along inside the game fence. Arriving at Paul Kruger Gate Benji got out to sort our permit and I got out to look closer at a bird I had spotted in a tree, it was a beautiful BLACK-COLLARED BARBET. Overhead, new for the trip were three Little Swifts with three African Palm Swifts.

SA Black-collared Barbet

Entering the gate we drove a very short distance to a rocky area where three LIONS were sat in the sun, two young males and a female. Lions are one of the Big 5, this is a group of mammals which also includes Leopard, Elephant, White Rhino and Buffalo. The term Big 5 originally arose for the 5 most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot, and was then adopted by the safari companies.

SA Lions

A little farther on a pair of Warthogs had four piglets, then we saw a herd of 35+ Cape Buffaloes (No 2 of the Big 5) and an ARROW-MARKED BABBLER was a new bird.              We  also saw the first of many Elephants (No 3 of the Big 5).

SA Elephant

At a brief stop at Skukuza rest camp I added Pied Kingfisher, THICK-BILLED WEAVER and a pair of DARK-CAPPED BULBULS. A little farther on we saw four Lionesses with seven cubs and our first NILE CROCODILES resting on sand beside the Sabie River. Here we had a short wait for an African traffic jam caused by Buffaloes in the road, animals always have the right of way, there are stiff penalties for speeding, hitting an animal or going off road. Four Vervet Monkeys were in roadside trees and four tiny COMMON BUTTONQUAIL chicks rushed into the grass at the roadside, I didn’t see the adult. CAPE VULTURES and Great Egrets were added to the list and we were very lucky to find a mating pair of AFRICAN FISH EAGLES right next to the road (pic below). A little further a juvenile MARTIAL EAGLE was sat right out by the road too (pic below). 35+ Elephants were here too in trees between the road and the river.

SA African Fish Eagles

SA Martial Eagle juv

Our next stop at Sunset Dam was excellent with a great selection of wildlife. New mammals for the trip were 6 HIPPOPOTAMUS and a CHACMA BABOON. New birds were 19 YELLOW-BILLED STORKS, 6 OPENBILL STORKS, 6 WATER THICK-KNEES, AFRICAN PIED WAGTAIL, Common Waxbill and Malachite Kingfisher. Pied Kingfisher showed really well too. Also here was a large adult WATER MONITOR and a juvenile and 10+ Nile Crocodiles.

SA Hippo & Croc

SA Pied Kingfisher

We stopped at Lower Sabie rest camp for a break beside the Sabie River. Here I added CAPE GLOSSY STARLING, Black-winged Stilt and African Jacana. On the way out we watched a Chacma Baboon clear the cattle grid in one bound.

We stopped on the bridge over the river where there was a LAPPET-FACED VULTURE, a Wattled Lapwing, three Hadeda Ibises and ever present Egyptian Geese and Blacksmith Plover and more Nile Crocodiles, three SERRATED-HINGED TERRAPINS and a TIGER FISH (Hydrocynus vittatus). Nearby we had an incredibly obliging Lilac-breasted Roller (pic below) and two White Rhinos (No 4 of the Big 5).

SA Lilac-breasted Roller

A few minutes after I had asked Benji about the chance of seeing OSTRICH, a bird I really wanted to see (“Not much chance the Lions eat them all here”) a guest with us spotted three on the ridge. Although they were a long way off they were easily seen with bins, and the World’s Largest Bird was on my list.

Our next stop was Nkumbe Lookout where you could see for miles across the plains. As far as we could see only a herd of 24 Zebras were down there, a Tawny Eagle flew past at eye level and a Striped Skink was on the rocks.

The radio alerted Benji to a pair of CHEETAHS nearby so we took off in the truck pausing for 12 Helmeted Guineafowls on the road. We soon arrived at the spot but the CHEETAHS had been pushed back from the road by an over-eager visitor’s car, who was swiftly corrected in unmistakable Afrikaans. Fortunately they didn’t move far and we had excellent views of them sat in the sun until the decided to move off. We couldn’t follow them because we weren’t allowed off road here unlike at Sabi Sand.

SA Cheetahs

Our next stop was at Tshokwane picnic site for lunch of sandwiches and drinks. Vervet Monkeys lurked around the outdoor table ever watchful for an opportunity to steal food. Also two very tame Bushbuck were wandering around in the car park.

SA Bushbuck

After lunch we drove to a site where a Leopard and cub had been found but I’m not sure where, I lost track of where we were at this point. We had nice views of the Leopards, (No 5 of the Big 5), all seen in one day. We stopped at a waterhole with ten Elephants playing about in the water, three Giraffes close by and a Grey Heron was new for the trip.

SA Giraffe

On the drive back to Paul Kruger Gate we had five Hippos at Sand River and a wonderfully ugly MARABOU STORK, the only one of the trip.

SA Marabou

As the sun began to set we were treated to the incredible spectacle of at least 100,000 Red-billed Queleas going to roost. A stop on another bridge brought a surprise Black Crake and another Hadeda Ibis. When we thought we were done for the day we turned a corner to find a male Leopard walking down the road. We had very nice close views before returning to camp for dinner and bed.

SA Quelea sunset

Friday 16th June 2017

Double Kruger

Today we were doing two shorter Kruger Park safaris returning to camp for lunch. Benji was our guide for the day. After passing through the Paul Kruger Gate the first new species were a pair of mating WHITE-BACKED VULTURES in a roadside tree. Our next stop was beside the road where two male Lions known as the Charleston Brothers were resting up. One of them had a hanging tooth as a result of a kick in the face from a Giraffe, he was known as Snaggletooth. It was easy to see how Lions can hide behind a few blades of grass.

SA White-backed Vultures

SA Lion

Further on we came upon a small herd of Impala where two males were engaged in a lengthy fight trying to impress the surrounding ladies.

SA Impalas

Our next stop was a small pond (I can’t recall the name) where a Hippo was in the water with nine Serrated Hinged Terrapins on his back. In the surrounding bushes was a GABAR GOSHAWK, six RED-HEADED WEAVERS and a Blue Waxbill. At the waters edge were two Blacksmith Plovers and a Grey Heron catching frogs.

A little further on I had my first AFRICAN HOOPOE, a much deeper pink than Eurasian birds. We stopped briefly to watch a female White Rhino with a calf and then at a Hyena den where a female had two juvenile pups and two very small pups.

SA Hyenas

We arrived at Transport Dam with 30 Waterbuck, four Wildebeests, a Nile Crocodile, a large Water Monitor, three Water Thick-knees, an African Pied Wagtail and a YELLOW-THROATED LONGCLAW as we were leaving.

Our next stop was at Mathekenyane viewpoint (Sand Flea) where there were a few raptors overhead including my first two WHITE-HEADED VULTURES, two Hooded Vultures, three Lappet-faced Vultures and a Tawny Eagles. Three Dwarf Mongoose were playing in the rocks.

As we left an Elephant was by the road and a MOZAMBIQUE SPITTING COBRA shot across in front of the vehicle. As we left the park for lunch a Black Stork was at Sabi Bridge.

Before lunch I spent an hour wandering around Tydon camp birding and photographing birds at the bird bath and butterflies. Butterflies included African Monarchs, Painted Ladies, BLUE PANSY (2) and YELLOW PANSY and an as yet unidentified Skipper.

After lunch it was back to Kruger with Drikus. Just inside the gate we saw a nice male Kudu with three females and a fawn.

SA Kudu

A pair of Grey Hornbills and a Bateleur (pic below) showed nicely by the road. We passed eight Elephants before arriving at Lake Panic, which has access to a hide with a safety fence. New for the trip here was an African Darter, five White-faced Whistling Ducks and a Green-backed Heron. Other notable species was two Nile Crocodiles, two Serrated Hinged Terrapins, four Water Thick-knees, a pair of Blacksmith Plovers, an African Pied Wagtail and a Hadeda Ibis (pic below).

SA Bateleur

SA Hadeda Ibis

We continued our drive and saw a pair of White-backed Vultures on a nest, four Warthogs, six Giraffes and a couple of Elephants. We stopped at a spot where a male Leopard was resting in deep cover. Then we drove a long loop hoping for a Honey Badger but we had no luck other than a BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER that flew across the road and a small herd of eight Zebras and six Wildebeests.

Whilst heading back to the gate we came upon a Lioness, lying down in the fading light, being encircled by at least five Hyenas. Drikus wasn’t sure if the Lioness was injured but she was certainly in trouble. The Hyenas were eerily calling other members of the pack, but we couldn’t stay to see what happened as the light was failing and we had to be out of the park by 5pm.

On the way to Tydon a Barn Owl flew over the road. In the evening we found a GIANT MILLIPEDE and two EASTERN OLIVE TOADS around the camp.

SA Eastern Olive Toad

Saturday 17th June 2017

Nocturnal Success

Today we were doing two Sabi Sand safaris with Liesl. It was an excellent morning for birds, life ticks were a very close BLACK-BELLIED BUSTARD, a pair of SHELLEY’S FRANCOLINS, six SENEGAL LAPWINGS and an EMERALD-SPOTTED WOOD DOVE. We also had a fabulous close encounter with a male Leopard, known as Maxabeni (pic below).

SA Leopard Maxabeni

Other notable birds included five Little Bee-eaters (pic below) huddled together in the cool early morning light, an African Harrier-Hawk new for the holiday, an adult Martial Eagle and a Yellow-billed Oxpecker amongst the Red-billed Oxpeckers on a herd of 107+ Cape Buffalos (pic below). On the way back to camp we had a nice encounter with a small herd of Kudus (2m, 4f & a calf) and eight Warthogs (pic below).

SA Little Bee-eaters

SA Buffalo

SA Warthog

During the middle of the day break back at camp I had two WHITE-BROWED SPARROW WEAVERS and a SOUTHERN GREY-HEADED SPARROW on the bird bath. I also had great views of a colourful GREY-HEADED BUSH SHRIKE catching bugs under our tent (pic below). A female Bronze Manikin was new for the holiday, I photographed a Smith’s Bush Squirrel and just before lunch I found a small LEOPARD TORTOISE (pic below).

SA Grey-headed Bush Shrike

SA Leopard Tortoise

Mid-afternoon we headed back out to Sabi Sand almost immediately flushing two adult COMMON BUTTONQUAILS, which were new as I had only seen the chicks previously. Five CINNAMON-BREASTED BUNTINGS were a life tick. We had two juvenile Spotted Hyenas at a waterhole and a flock of 30+ Red-billed Buffalo Weavers showed well here.

As dusk fell we had three Fiery-necked Nightjars on the track and a SPOTTED THICK-KNEE. We found male, female and juvenile White Rhinos at a waterhole. Travelling off road on the way back to camp we couldn’t believe our luck when we came upon two CAPE PORCUPINES scuttling through the grass. This success was immediately followed up with a pair of the scarcer WHITE-TAILED MONGOOSE. An excellent pair of mammal sightings to end the day.

SA White-tailed Mongoose

Sunday 18th June 2017

Fathers Day

Today was our last full day and we were doing two Kruger N.P. safaris with Benji in the morning and Drikus in the afternoon. Arriving at Kruger our first sighting was a pair of Lions mating. Also here was a SOUTHERN BLACK TIT, a lifer, always nice to start Father’s Day that day.

We got a message to say a WILD DOG pack was hunting nearby and we drove there quickly and had fleeting glimpses of dogs running through the bush at speed. Then we lost them, so Benji decided to take us to a nearby Leopard sighting. It wasn’t showing very well, not much more than a head just visible above the long grass. The call came in that the WILD DOGS had returned so we drove back quickly and initially got good but distant views. Then unbelievably the whole pack of seven moved our way and eventually came out onto the road right next to the vehicle. We had the most amazing views for the the next 20 minutes before they move off again.

SA Wild Dogs

SA Wild Dog

We drove to Lake Panic and spend half an hour there to do some birding. The only new bird for the trip was two Wire-tailed Swallows, other birds included five African Jacanas (pic below), four Water Thick-knees, a Malachite Kingfisher (pic below), an African Darter (pic below), a Green-backed Heron, an African Pied Wagtail (pic below) and a juvenile Black Crake. Also there was a large Nile Crocodile wearing a tracking transmitter, four Hippos and a Vervet Monkey.

SA African Jacana

SA Malachite Kingfisher

SA African Darter

SA African Pied Wagtail

We returned to camp for lunch and I managed a good long walk around the grounds, which was excellent as I had five lifers, three GROUNDSCRAPER THRUSHES (pic below), three PALE FLYCATCHERS (pic below), three WHITE-BROWED SCRUB ROBINS (pic below), a BROWN-CROWNED TCHAGRA and a YELLOW-BELLIED EREMOMELA. I was surprised to see a flyover Hamerkop, looking Pterodactyl-like in the cloudy skies, I’d never seen one flying high up before.

SA Groundscraper Thrush

SA Pale Flycatcher

SA White-browed Scrub Robin

Early afternoon it was back to Kruger with Drikus. We stopped on the Sabie River bridge just before Paul Kruger Gate. There was a Hippo sleeping and an AFRICAN BLACK SWIFT was flying around with four African Palm Swifts. Just inside the gate we stopped and had nice views of a Brown Snake Eagle. We passed an old one-eyed Chacma Baboon and a large number of Impalas, a sleeping Lion and then stopped for a PUFF ADDER crossing the road, which was the best sighting of the afternoon, unless you were Bridgette.

Puff Adder pic, click to view, snake haters move along

Two WOOLLY-NECKED STORKS in a dead tree were lifers (pic below) just before we took a rest stop at Mathekenyane viewpoint (Sand Flea) (pic below) . We had a nice encounter with a small herd of 15+ Elephants (pic below) just before it started raining at the end of the day. We stopped once more for an adult Leopard Tortoise crossing the road.

SA Woolly-necked Storks

SA Mathekenyane

SA Elephants

Our final evening meal was indoors for the first time as the rain was still falling. After dinner we were entertained with safari tales by Jacques visiting from the bush camp and Liesl. Then it was off to pack.

Monday 19th June 2017

Out of Africa

I decided to take a final early morning walk and was rewarded with a lifer with the very first bird I saw, an AFRICAN GREEN PIGEON, very pleasing as I dipped this one in The Gambia. I also had two Brown-headed Parrots flying around, a CRESTED BARBET finally, as the others had been seeing one all week and a BLACK-HEADED ORIOLE, which I heard singing beautifully long before I saw it.

After breakfast Gert arrived to take us home via a scenic drive back to Johannesburg. Our first stop was at a souvenir shop where we left laden with enough carved animals to start a zoo and we also bought a nice large Kudu from a street seller. We weren’t hassled at all though, unlike Gambia, and we only bought what we wanted.

Next stop was Lisbon Falls, we were due to go up to the viewpoint at God’s Window first but due to poor viz we didn’t. Lisbon Falls are the highest waterfalls in Mpumalanga and are very impressive (pic below) . After taking a few photos I nipped off birding but failed to ID a few passerines, which I couldn’t even manage photos of to try and ID later. However a pair of WHITE-NECKED RAVENS were lifers.

SA Lisbon Falls

Our next rest stop was at Kumi Restaurant at Mbombela. It was a beautifully hot sunny day now and I headed for where I thought I had seen a shrike on our first visit. Immediately I found a pair of COMMON FISCALS, which were almost certainly the same birds. There was little else here though, just a pair of uncommon House Sparrows, an African Pied Wagtail and a Chacma Baboon.

Our final stop was at Milly’s restaurant on the N4 at eNtokozweni for lunch. It was next to an artificial fishing lake. A couple of CAPE WAGTAILS were around the tables outside, on the lake were three Blacksmith Plovers, three Reed (Long-tailed) Cormorants and an African Darter. There were hundreds of Common Carp swimming just below the deck. Seven smart PIED STARLINGS in the car park were my final lifer of the trip (pic below) .

SA Pied Starling

The final notable bird was a female Ostrich beside the main road, but I can’t help feeling that it was a captive one on the run given the habitat.

Gert dropped us off at the airport in good time and we had a pleasant, uneventful flight home. So ended a wonderful holiday, in fact so good we are planning to go back to Sabi Sand this winter when all of their summer birds will have arrived and there should be more greenery and flowers. I can’t wait! I’d had 92 bird lifers, plus 30 new mammals, 11 new reptiles and amphibians, and some new butterflies, bugs, fish and flowers.

We cannot recommend Tydon highly enough, you can find my review on Tripadvisor here

Mike & Bridgette King     The Gloster Birder © 2017

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