Birding Northern South Africa 2006
The route stretched from Prince Albert in the Karoo through to Kimberley, from there via the old Western Transvaal to Kokoriba, north of Brits. From Brits we went to Thabazimbi and then north via Ellisras to Mapungubwe National Park, then eastwards to Pafuri, then to Louis Trichardt, Nylstroom and south with the N1 to Prince Albert again.
We left on 23 September 2006 and returned on 7 October 2006. We were 12 people in the group with different levels of experience in birding. We used a kombi and D/C LDV as transport and stayed in lodges or nature reserves. In total we travelled just over 5000 km. On average we woke at 5 am to start birding at 6 am.
DAY 1 : PRINCE ALBERT TO KIMBERLEY - 569 km
We left Prince Albert early. The Karoo was in a real good state and that gave us some good birding while driving, with numerous sightings of Namaqua Dove, Greybacked Finchlark, Pied Crow and White-throated Canary. Near Three Sisters we had good views of first a Booted Eagle and shortly thereafter a Black Stork which were both lifers to one of the group. In the same area when we stopped to watch the Black Stork, we heard Namaqua Warbler and Chestnut-vented Titbabbler call. North of Victoria West we had our first Blue Cranes and then hunderds of South African Cliff Swallows. Greybacked Finchlarks were also common towards Britstown. Just south of Britstown we had splendid views of Greater Kestrels at a nest on a power pylon. A stop near Strydenburg revealed Chat Flycatcher, Blackchested Prinia, Yellow Canary and Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver. Towards Hopetown we had first sightings of Whitequilled Korhaan and at a nest on a telephone pole, Sociable Weaver. Unfortunately no Pygmy Falcons. North of Hopetown we had more Whitequilled Korhaans, Redcapped Lark, Namaqua Dove and Sociable Weavers.
It was just after 16:00 when we arrived at Marrick Safari Lodge, (www.marrick-safari.com , e-mail: email@example.com / tel 053-8337004). The lodge is about 14 km southwest of Kimberley on a game ranch in typical Kalahari veld. The lodge is very comfortable with friendly and hospitable staff. The lodge consists of a guest house and a few self-catering units. We stayed in the hunters chalet which had a lapa and is situated next to the veld. The lodge is birder friendly with the owner himself being a birder and therefore highly recommended to birders.
After booking in, we received a map of the farm, a bird list; and shortly thereafter we were birding. We saw a.o. Blackshouldered Kite, Greater Kestrel, Spotted Dikkop, Doublebanded Courser breeding, Crested Barbet, Goldentailed Woodpecker, Spikeheeled Lark, Anteating Chat and a few Kalahari specials like Fawncoloured- and Rufousnaped Lark, Kalahari Robin, Crimsonbreasted Shrike, Desert Cisticola, Marico Flycatcher, Scalyfeathered- and Redheaded Finch and Blackcheeked Waxbill. Around the braaivleis fire we heard Barn Owl and Rufouscheeked Nightjar. We could also add Whitebellied Sunbird to the lodge list. We listed 57 species for the lodge until the next morning at 07:00.
DAY 2 : KIMBERLEY TO KOKORIBA GAME RESERVE - 631 km
We started early from Marrick Lodge and the first stop was at the eastern side of The Big Hole at Kimberley. The swifts were already enjoying their morning spell and we saw Alpine , Whiterumped, African Black, Little and Palm Swifts. The most wanted bird, Bradfield’s Swift, was more against the western wall of the hole, but in full sunlight which gave excellent opportunities for viewing. With another lifer in the pocket for some, we left for Kamfers Dam just north of the town.
Nobody could have missed the pinkish colour of the water and it was a magnificent view to see thousands of Lesser Flamingoes, congregating near the eastern side of the dam. We drove to the railway line from where we had excellent views. Other birds at the dam were Dabchick, Blacknecked Grebe, Common Moorhen, African Marsh & Cape Reed Warbler, Whitewinged Tern, Whitefaced Duck, Cape Teal and European Bee-eaters.
We headed via Warrenton, Christiana (where the road is bad and full of potholes), Bloemhof and Klerksdorp to Ventersdorp. Between Klerksdorp and Ventersdorp were lots of Longtailed Widows and Orangethroated Longclaws. Ventersdorp gave us our first Indian Mynah and on the way to Derby we saw Chestnutbacked Finchlark and Orange River Francolin, the latter which was a lifer for few. Passing Derby, you descend to the Bushveld, revealing Bushveld species like Crested Francolin, Arrowmarked Babbler, etc.
Just before sunset we arrived at Kokoriba Game Reserve, a lodge in the heart of the Bushveld with a few hundred caravans and many people.
DAY 3 : NORTHAM AND BOROKALALO GAME RESERVE
Kokoriba Game Reserve is situated on a game farm, 45 km north of Brits (www.kokoriba.co.za. ; tel 012-2771204). It is situated in typical Bushveld and the area hosts a lot of birds. The camp has different types of chalets, camping site, bar, licensed restaurant, shop and swimming pool. Game and night drives are available. The entrance gate is open from 07:00 till 21:00, but arranges can be made with reception if you want to leave earlier. Although it is a big camp with hunderds of people during weekends, the owner has strict control over any noise after 22:00. The camp is very neat and tidy and can be highly recommended to birders.
We have to arrange early outlet because we had an appointment with Jannie Willemse of the Amandelbult mine near Northam to watch the Yellowthroated Sandgrouse. Jannie’s contact details are firstname.lastname@example.org / cell 083 4562279. The mine is 20 km north of Northam and Jannie is doing a fabulous job in his free time. We met him at 06:30 at the gate of the mine and he took us into the game reserve surrounding the mine. The game reserve also hosts a lot of game including white rhino. On the way to the dam we saw Yellowbilled Stork, African Spoonbill, Purple- and Lilacbreasted Roller. Just within 5 minutes after arriving we heard the unique call of the Yellowthroated Sandgrouse. First, two birds arrived and it was quickly followed by a couple of others – at one stage there were 21 birds at the dam. A lifer to everyone in the group! We had splendid views of them and left at about 09:00, adding Whitethroated Robin, Shafttailed Whydah and Blue Waxbill to the list.
We continued to Borokalalo Game Reserve (www.borakalalo.co.za) for further birding. At the bridge over the Crocodile River (just before the T-junction with the Thabazimbi / Brits road) we saw Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Redfaced Cisticola and Whitebellied Sunbird. It was becoming quite hot when we entered Borakalalo and decided to take the Audi Loop along the dam. We picked up Longtailed Shrike, Crested Francolin and Redbilled Hornbill. A good variety of water birds were on and along the dam with Great Crested Grebe, Darter, Southern Pochard, Marsh, Curlew & Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff, Greyheaded Gull and African Fish Eagle in good numbers. We headed for the picnic site which has not much shade this time of the year, but added Black Sunbird, Brubru, Groundscraper Thrush and Crested Barbet to the list. From here we moved to Moretele Camp to look for the African Finfoot. It was siesta time and not many birds around, but the Finfoots flew out under the feet of the two ladies who wanted to see it most, but without them seeing it. What bad luck! They flew upstream and out of sight. The camping site on the northern side of the dam produced a.o. Chinspot Batis, Burntnecked Eremomela, and Melba Finch. We left Borakalalo with 83 species for the reserve and that mainly over midday.
Sadly we did not have much time to bird Kokoriba except for the rest camp and the road towards it. Birds common around the camp were Kurrichane Thrush, Pied Babbler, Arrowmarked Babbler, Cardinal Woodpecker, Whitebrowed Robin, Redheaded Weaver and a Pearlspotted Owl resting in a tree near the camp.
DAY 4 : KOKORIBA GAME RESERVE TO THABA NKWE, THABAZIMBI
The route took us via Vaalkop Dam which we often heard is good for birding. The water works near the dam was the first stop and we picked up Pintailed Whydah, Dabchick, Purple Gallinule, Hottentot Teal, Palm Swift and Redbilled Firefinch.
We entered the reserve and went right at the gate to the dam wall. In the thickets along the road were Chinspot Batis, Jameson’s Firefinch, Greybacked Bleating Warbler, Tinkling Cisticola and Whitethroated Robin. In the river we saw African Jacana, Malachite Kingfisher, Goliath Heron and Darter. No luck with Finfoot and Horus Swift. At the camping site we added Burchell’s Coucal, Threestreaked Tchagra, Marico Sunbird, Blackthroated Canary, Brubru and Redbilled Woodhoopoe. The waters edge had Grey & Blackheaded Heron, Great White Egret, a lonely Greater Flamingo and numerous Whitefaced Ducks.
We arrived at Thaba Nkwe Bushveld Inn ( www.thabankwe.co.za / tel 014-7722710) around lunch time. The lodge is situated at the foothills of a mountain, about 7 km from Thabazimbi on the Ellisras road. The personnel is very friendly and helpful. The chalets are all 2 beds with a communal ablution block. At our visit the lights in the evening to the ablutions were bad and because the area is rocky, dangerous for walking in the evening. That was brought under the attention of management. There are some more chalets nearby where the staff lives. The facilities are not really equipped for self-catering and most visitors do it on a DB&B basis. The restaurant is really beautiful and smartly decorated. We had dinner in the restaurant one evening and the food was tasty and very well prepared. There is a bar and swimmingpool at the restaurant. The lodge can be recommended if you will not be self-catering.
Birding around the lodge was very good with Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, breeding Arrowmarked Babbler, Yellowbellied Bulbul, Black Flycatcher, Rameron Pigeon and Pearlspotted Owl calling at night.
After settling we went to the Ben Alberts nature reserve outside town, just to learn that it had been closed to the public for about four years. That was a disappointment, because I always rated it as one of the best birding reserves. So we got our kudu steak for the evening and started the braaivleis fire.
DAY 5: MARAKELE NATIONAL PARK
We left Thaba Nkwe just after 6:00 am for Marakele, only to arrive at the gate and hear that the gate will only open at 07:30 am. What a mess! Seeing a birder sitting for an hour outside the gate during the best birding time of the day! It was disgusting and even when the staff arrived they were in no way eager to start their days work, so it takes about another half an hour to get the permits and to pay.
Well, once inside the Kwaggasvlakte section, birding was great. We got Scalyfeathered Finch, Blackheaded Oriole, White Helmet Shrike, Pied Babbler and Redbilled Oxpecker. We saw our first Wahlberg’s Eagle of the trip, sitting on a nest and shortly thereafter an African Goshawk. Apart of the birds we saw magnificient Kudu bulls, some Tsessebe and a congregation of 10 White Rhino. We paid a visit to the camping site which looks very nice and heard Yellowfronted Tinker Barbet.
We headed for the Towers section from which you have beautiful views. One vehicle got Gurney’s Sugarbird, but all of the people saw Lazy Cisticola, Buffstreaked Chat, Mocking Chat, Neddicky, Cape Rock Thrush and the soaring Cape Griffons. On the way back we picked up Black Eagle, Southern Boubou and Striped Kingfisher.
DAY 6 : THABA NKWE TO DONGOLA GAME RANCH, MESSINA VIA ELLISRAS AND ALLDAYS - 395 KM
One of the first birds of the day was a soaring Wahlberg’s Eagle. We also saw a lot of Whitecrowned Shrike along the road as well as Paradise Whydah, Redcrested Korhaan and Little Bee-eater. Where the road crosses the Mokolo River, we saw a huge number of vultures and it looked if there is some sort of vulture restaurant. We ticked off Cape Griffon, Whitebacked and Lappetfaced Vulture. The river itself produced many birds, although it's home to a few hunderd Little and Whiterumped Swifts.
Dongola Game Ranch is situated about 40 km west of Messina on the Pontdrift road (www.dongola.co.za / E-mail: email@example.com / tel 015-3331948/9). The camp is magnificent, the most luxurious camp we stayed in, but also the camp with Best Value for Money. Personnel was very friendly, helpful and efficient, there is 24 hours a day security and the chalets and camping ground is spectacular. The camp has a shop, petrol station, restaurant, bar and a few conference rooms. Walks can be undertaken on the ranch. Day trips on the ranch is available and you can even organize a night drive. This place can be very highly recommended to birders and hosts a lot of birds in the camp.
Birds seen in the camp were Meyer’s Parrot which was found near the campsite, Greyheaded Bush Shrike, Freckled Nightjar in the evening, Puffback, Yellowfronted Tinker Barbet, Marico Sunbird, Mocking Chat and Heuglin’s Robin. We hoped to see Bronzewinged and/or Threebanded Courser on the night drive, but it was very quiet with only a Kori Bustard and Spotted Eagle Owl. We ticked 70 species in and around the lodge.
DAY 7 : MAPUNGUBWE NATIONAL PARK
We left early for Mapungubwe because it was clear that the sun will be scorching. This park has a magnificient history and the scenery with the tens of Boababs is brilliant. Birdwise it was perhaps a bad time of the year, but nevertheless, we had good birds.
We started off with the expected birds like Goldenbreasted Bunting, Sabota Lark, Striped Kingfisher, etc., but at the Boardwalk added Pallid Flycatcher, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper, Whitefronted Bee-eater, Pied Wagtail, Bennett’s Woodpecker and Meyer’s Parrot. The picnic site added Gabar Goshawk, Bateleur and Black Eagle.
The Leokwe camp is beautifully settled amongst the Boababs and really blends in with its natural surroundings. However, there are only chalets and at the moment no shop, restaurant or things like that. We also visited the western part of the park which is separated from the eastern part by a few citrus farms. The birding here was better mainly due to the riverine bush and we met a large herd of elephants, resting under the huge trees. The Limpopo Forest Camp is beautiful, nestled under these trees and we had a lot of birds here like Tropical Boubou, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Redbilled Oxpecker, Meve’s Starling and Tawny Eagle. I can imagine that it will be wonderful to get away here in the morning with all the bird calls. The nearby Maloutswa Pan is great to watch game like elephants, waterbuck, kudu and warthog. Mapungubwe recorded 92 bird species.
DAY 8 : DONGOLA
We planned a visit to the Messina Nature Resrve for the day and started early, just to arrive at a locked gate. No way to get into the reserve, so we returned to town to find out what the problem is. The tourist info centre has just a security guard knowing nothing of the reserve and the centre is closed on a Saturday. After about the tenth stop at a guest house we heard that the reserve is locked over weekends because the workers can’t get pay from the government. What nonsense. Well, we visited the “Slurpieboom”, a very old Boabab with a branch looking like the trunk of an elephant. After buying the necessary provisions for the day, the group decided it was a hard 7 days of birding and with a temperature of about 36 degrees Celsius, it would be best to take a siesta at the lodge.
DAY 9 : DONGOLA RANCH TO PAFURI - 326 KM
Just leaving the lodge, we had brilliant views of a pair of African Hawk Eagles in a Boabab tree. We proceeded to Tshipise where we made a quick stop. The resort is not open to day visitors, but after a good smile to the lady in the office, she gave us 30 minutes to have a look at the resort. The resort is very neat and with all the indiginous trees, there are lots of birds. Surely a place to visit for birding, but the best is not during the winter months when it is overcrowded.
We entered Pafuri Gate at about noon and that part of the Kruger is very dry at the moment. Nevertheless, birding became better as we neared the Luvhuvhu River. Along the road we picked up several Southern Black Tits and a Doublebanded Sandgrouse. The Pafuri picnic site provided Redbilled Helmet Shrike, Wattle-eyed Flycatcher, Terrestrial Bulbul, a magnificient Crowned Eagle on the northern banks of the river, Yellow White-eye and a few others.
Frank is a very good guide and very eager to show you some birds. According to him, he will shortly move to Punda Maria from where he will undertake birding trails in Kruger Park. He is already training his successor.
Towards Crook’s Corner we had Woollynecked Stork, Giant Kingfisher, Whitecrowned Plover and a very lonely Whitefronted Plover along a pool in the river at Crook’s Corner.
We headed for our accommodation at the lovely koppie near the Pafuri Border Gate, the Teba Houses. This is still private property inside the Kruger Park belonging to the Teba Company. These houses are beautifully set with a view on Mozambique and can be contact at tel 013-7356883 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Christine is the supervisor and very helpful. There are 2 houses, one sleeping 8 people and the other 4 people. The houses are more than 100 years old, but is furnished with everything you needed. The great advantage is that is only 5 km from Pafuri, so you can be in the bush when the birds are active. This place was rated the best by the group.
DAY 10 : PAFURI
We left at gate time, 05:30 and immediately got into birding. We added Yellowspotted Nicator, Fantailed Flycatcher, Crowned Hornbill, Gorgeous Bush Shrike and a beautiful juvenile Martial Eagle to our day list. At the picnic site was Böhm’s Spinetail, Bearded Robin and Brownheaded Parrot. A trip down to Klopperfontein Dam revealed two Tawny Eagles coming in to drink and lots of Chestnutbacked Finchlarks. Jameson’s Firefinch, Redheaded Quelea and Rattling Cisticola were very common.
Just before sunset a group of Crested Guineafowls came to the water at the Teba Houses to drink before they went to their roosting site. After dusk a Bat Hawk swooped over the houses to catch bats at the lights at the border post. Teba House is on top of my list of accommodation in the Kruger Park and I shall always return to this magnificent place.
DAY 11 : PAFURI TO LUONDE LODGE, LOUIS TRICHARDT - 207 KM
The weather was cloudy with some drizzle when we left Pafuri. We went for a quick visit to the Luvhuvhu River bridge but didn’t find anything spectacular. On return we had a road block by a few elephant bulls enjoying the cool air and measuring each others strength. It took a couple of minutes before they decided to leave the road. At Klopperfontein Dam we had Common Quail in the grass next to the car. Further down the road to Punda Maria a Blackbellied Korhaan walked in the road, saw a Kori Bustard performing and some Greater Blue-eared Starlings and Sabota Larks. From Punda Maria we drove the Mahonie Loop seeing a lion pride at a buffalo kill and our first Yellowthroated Longclaw of the trip. We left Kruger Park with 154 species in just 2 days – very good.
Luonde Mountain Lodge is situated on the banks of the Albasini Dam(www.luondelodge.co.za / e-mail email@example.com / tel 015- 5564369).
The lodge itself is very comfortable and the chalets effective, although the top bedroom is more for children and not for adults. We booked a sunset cruise at the lodge in the hope to get African Finfoot and Whitebacked Night Heron, but the dam itself was disappointing. The water level was very low and no lush vegetation that these birds favour. Nevertheless the trip brought a few water birds like Greenbacked Heron, African Black Duck and Great White Egret. Others were Rameron Pigeon, darter and African Jacana. Back at the lodge a Shelley’s Francolin was calling his heart out. The lodge can be recommended as a stay-over to bird the Soutpansberg area.
DAY 12 : LUONDE LODGE TO PARADISE LODGE, NABOOMSPRUIT
The next morning was misty again, but we tried to get some of the rarities before leaving for Paradise Lodge. First we visited Muirheads Dams in search of Bluespotted Dove. On arrival a little dove flew across the dam and we had to walk around the dam, just to ID it as a Greenspotted Dove. Other birds were Pygmy Kingfisher, Tambourine Dove, Horus Swift and breeding Whitefronted Bee-eater. We missed out on the Bluespotted Dove.
We went to Entabeni Forest where we heard Southern Boubou and Gorgeous Bush Shrike and saw Black Cuckooshrike. We ascended the mountain and found Orange Thrush calling next to the road in the mist. It took a while to spot it between the leaves but at the end it was a lifer to a few of the group, including myself. Other birds which we heard in the forest were Narina Trogon, Scalythroated Honeyguide, Yellowrumped Widow, Purplecrested Lourie and Cape Batis. We could not find Blackfronted Bush Shrike.
At lunch time we left for Paradise Lodge via Pietersburg. It was getting late and there was not much time for birding since it was already dark when we arrived at Paradise Lodge.
Paradise Lodge is just about 5 km outside Naboomspruit and borders the Nyl River floodplains (www.paradiselodge.co.za / e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org / tel 014-7431972). The chalets are built in a chain but very comfortable. It has all the necessary equipment and the owners are very friendly and helpful. The only complaint about the lodge is that it is close by the noisy N1 toll road which can be bad for light sleepers. The owner planted trees on the western boundary and as they grow bigger the noise will be dampened. The lodge itself has a good variety of birds from Greyheaded Bush Shrike to Kalahari birds like Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver, Crimsonbreasted Shrike, Blackcheeked & Violeteared Waxbill, while Pearlspotted Owls are common.
DAY 13 : NYLSVLEY
We left for Nylsvley via the Boekenhout Road from the Roedtan road and although birding was slow, it picked up in the thornveld with Burchell’s Coucal, Whitehelmet Shrike, Purple Roller and all three hornbills. We had good views of a few Flappet Larks along the road and several Stone Chats at the edge of the vlei. At Vogelfontein we met up with birders of the Naboomspruit Bird Club. They are very hospitable and we had a braai together that evening at Paradise Lodge.
At this time of the year the vlei had not much water and there was a lack of the mass of waterbirds. Darters, Great White Egrets, Yellowbilled Storks and Glossy Ibises were plentiful. African Snipes were flying across the vlei and at the edges of the water waders were seen. The thornveld in the reserve was quiet with only the ordinary bushveld birds. Late afternoon we revisited Vogelfontein and saw an Olivetree Warbler in the thorn trees near the one hide. Other specials were Whitebacked Ducks in front of the one hide and at dusk some Marsh Owl in the vlei.
Nylsvley is still a magnificient birding place, whether it's dry or wet. We saw 133 species around the reserve for the day and after that we enjoyed the company of the Naboomspruit birders around the braaivleis fires.
DAY 14 : PARADISE LODGE TO ALDAM - 468 KM
Our next stop was the Aldam Resort along the Allemanskraal Dam between Winburg and Ventersburg. Not much birding was done and over Gauteng there is no chance to bird while driving because you have to look out for the thousands of cars, hijackers, etc. We exchanged the Bushveld birds for the grassveld birds.
The resort at Aldam is under new management that is busy with upgrading the resort. Facilities are good and the chalets are very comfortable. The resort (www.venueexperts.co.za / e-mail: email@example.com / tel 057-6522200) has a restaurant & shop, conference hall, swimming pool, tennis court and good caravan park. The resort can be recommended as a stayover to visit the game reserve.
After settling down we went for an afternoon drive in the adjacent Willem Pretorius Game Reserve. We were surprised by several bird parties which included Kalahari Robin, Blackchested Prinia, Ashy Tit, Violeteared Waxbill, Sabota Lark, Pied & Crested Barbet, Common Scimitarbill, Melba Finch, Neddicky and Threestreaked Tchagra.
The edge of the dam produced Little Egret, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveller, Goliath Heron, Kittlitz’s Plover and Greenshank. We had also brilliant views of White Rhino and beautiful kudu bulls.
DAY 15 : ALDAM TO PRINCE ALBERT - 728 KM
The last day is always the worst day. You will be at the end of a wonderful trip, the normal daily activities are awaiting and everyone is thinking back to what happened in the previous days. The best bird for the day was three Blue Korhaans just a few kilometers south of the Verkeerdevlei Toll Gate. Further along the road were huge flocks of South African Cliff Swallows and the Karoo specials. South of Bloemfontein the wind started blowing like mad and that continued for the rest of the day.
We were surprise off the lack of cuckoos, especially in the north, didn’t see any Golden Bishop, not many great owls although Pearlspotted Owl was common, no Marabou Storks, Secretarybirds or widowfinches. We ended the trip of more than 5000 km with a total of 369 species. Some of the group had bad luck with only 1 lifer, myself only 2, but one chap ticking off 98 lifers.
~ Japie Claassen