I just returned from a 2 week trip with clients to the Eastern Panorama route and Kruger Park. We started off in Beaufort West with some Karoo birding and I showed my clients Black Harrier, Greater Kestrel, Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Large-billed Lark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Tractrac Chat, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Chat Flycatcher and Larklike Bunting.
Next morning we left for Winburg where we stayed again at Bell’s Pass Guest Farm which is a very good stopover. Most notable birds along road were Jackal Buzzard, good numbers of Blue Crane between Richmond and Hanover, a group of Blue Korhaans about 15 km before Hanover and Eastern Clapper Lark. We made a stop at Gariep Dam and added inter alia Grey Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Lesser Honeyguide, Orange River White-eye, Layard’s Titbabbler and Pririt Batis.
North of Gariep we saw 2 Secretarybirds and north of Bloemfontein another Black Harrier as well as many “Short-tailed” Long-tailed Widowbirds. As I said Bell’s Pass GH is a very good stopover and we were greeted by some White-fronted Bee-eaters on the Vet River, Red-throated Wryneck close to the house, calling Crested and Black-collared Barbets and Swainson’s Spurfowl.
The next day we had quite a longish drive to Dullstroom and were early morning surprised by the view of a Grass Owl. A dam north of Kroonstad had Southern Pochard, SA Shellduck, Great Crested Grebe and Red-billed Teal. On the way to Heidelberg we spotted some Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks and in Middelburg Afr Wattled Lapwing.
We arrived just before dark at Schaefer’s Halt Lodge north of Dullstroom. Some were lucky to spotted Southern Balb Ibis flying over. The lodge is very good with all the necessary equipment and the next morning the area was alive with birds. Birding around the lodge provided Red-throated Wryneck, Cape Rock Thrush, Kurrichane Thrush, Long-crested Eagle, Spectacled Weaver, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Hamerkop and Lesser Striped Swallow.
We took a gravel road to Steenkampsberg, but were not very successful except for 5 Cape Vultures soaring overhead. We passed across a very misty Long Tom Pass and could add a Buff-streaked Chat. In Sabie we visited first Bridal Veil waterfall and on the way saw Forest Buzzard, African Firefinch, Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler and Drakensberg Prinia. A visit to Lone Creek waterfall didn’t bring any new birds but the waterfall is spectacular.
For the next 2 nights we stayed at Panorama Chalets near Graskop with a marvelous view over the Graskop Gorge. We were the next morning overwhelmed by birds in the camp including Olive Bush-shrike, Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Woodpecker, Drakensberg Prinia, Purple-crested Turaco, Dark-capped Yellow-warbler and Black-headed Oriole. The next morning we saw African Olive Pigeon, Tambourine and Lemon Dove, Black Saw-wing, Swee Waxbill and Knysna Turaco.
A drive to Pelgrimsrust and down to Bourke’s Luck produced Long-billed Pipit, African Firefinch, Drakensberg Prinia and some more common birds. Bourke’s Luck potholes hosted Mocking Cliff-chat, Ground-scraper Thrush, Afr Pied Wagtail and a soaring Afr Fish-Eagle. Returning to Graskop we had Buff-streaked Chat, Wailing Cisticola, Gurney’s Sugarbird and Greater Double-collared Sunbird.
The next day we went down to Swadini via JG Strijdom Tunnel. Michael wasn’t at the Taita spot, but the lady said that she saw it that morning. We looked around all the rocks and cliffs and then it flew in, landed on a rock and gave us good scope views.
Swadini was very quiet for such a lovely spot and except the Collared and Amethyst Sunbirds, not many birds. The place that was previously alive with birds’ sounds like a desert with not even a Fork-tailed Drongo hunting over the lawns. No signs of Afr Finfoot after the January floods that ripped away all vegetation along the river banks.
The area around the Info centre produced Golden-breasted Bunting, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Chinspot Batis and Red-headed Weaver. Back in camp we saw Ashy Flycatcher and Red-capped Robin-chat and have lovely views of one of the resident African Crowned Eagles. The next morning we walked the camp and were again surprised by the lack of birds in camp. Almost no hornbills, drongoes, starlings or shrikes and we were lucky to find an odd Black-collared Barbet, Puffback and White-bellied Sunbird. We heard a Trumpeter Hornbill calling up the mountain.
We left Swadini for Kruger via Phalaborwa gate. On the way to Hoedspruit we saw Sth White-crowned Shrike, Striped Kingfisher and Common Scimitarbill. Once inside the Kruger Park we started picking up the birds – Bateleur, Tawny & Martial Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Double-banded Sandgrouse and Magpie Shrike. We were heading for Sirheni Bush Camp north of Shingwedzi. Close to the turn off to the camp we found a couple of Temminck’s Coursers.
Although it is very dry around Sirheni, it is a beautiful camp and one not to be missed. We were greeted at the gate with a flock of Retz’ Helmet Shrike and in the river in front of the chalets was a pair of Saddle-billed Storks, Goliath Heron and Afr Fish-Eagle. Red-capped (Natal) Robin-chats were all over the camp. Lions were roaring the whole night around the camp and the next morning we got a young male just beyond the river. Proceeding with the river road south we spotted Little Bee-eater of which there was very few, heard Brown-headed Parrot but couldn’t see them, Mosque Swallow, Pearl-spotted Owl, White-throated Robin-chat, Green Pigeon and a beautiful pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Owl taking a snapping in a tree.
On the way to Babalala picnic site we had Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and closer to Babalala a Shrika and Martial Eagle. Leaving the picnic site we saw Cutthroat Finch with a flock of Red-billed Queleas.
Next day we went down south to Mopani and found Dark Chanting Goshawk and several Pearl-spotted Owls along the way to Shingwedzi. We were amazed to see that the Kanniedood Dam is almost totally dry. We found the normal birds along the dam and a lioness blocking the road. Towards Mopani we had Afr Hawk Eagle, Ground Hornbill and Red-crested Korhaan. A drive to the Mooiplaas windmill produced Bateleur, hundreds of Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks, Paradise Whydah, Kittlittz’s Plover and excellent views of a male Cheetah sitting on the signpost calling for a mate. There were also several Temminck’s Coursers feeding in the open. The river below the bird hide gave Green-backed Heron, a family group of Black Crake and Tawny-flanked Prinia.
Next day it was very cloudy with a cold front pushing in and we went to the Stapelkop Dam west of the camp. Along the way we found Brown Snake Eagle, Purple Roller, Brubru, Melba Finch and Red-billed Oxpecker. The hide at the Pioneer Dam didn’t has many water birds as the water is too high, but we saw Grey-headed Bush-shrike and Long-billed Crombec. On the way back to camp we had thrilling views of a Leopard walking along the road and we could follow it for some distance. We also had an exciting kill when a juvenile Martial Eagle swooped down from the sky and landed in the grass, just to see that it helped itself with a Natal Francolin chick.
Moving down to Orpen we saw more Ground Hornbill, Secretarybird and Yellow-billed Oxpecker. Near Ngotso Dam we found more Temminck’s Courser, an out of range Red-headed Finch, Wattled Starling and Black-chested Snake-Eagle. The road towards Satara delivered Kori Bustard and our first White Rhino.
At Satara a little Scops Owl got itself a roosting place near the shop and attracted lots of people. A juvenile African Harrier-Hawk was inspecting the trees with its legs for something to eat and at Nsemani Dam we had a couple of Wooly-necked and Saddle-billed Stork. It seems that all the Senegal Lapwings which are always near Orpen have moved to the coast as we couldn’t find any.
Orpen camp was also quite, but the next morning the birds suddenly come awake. Sunbirds were in the tree with flowers including White-bellied, Marico & Collared. Chinspot Batis and Grey Tit-Flycatcher enjoyed an early bird party. Leeupan had Fulvous and White-faced Duck, while closer to Skukuza we found Trumpeter Hornbill and Lappet-faced Vulture.
Berg-en-Dal has the best camp birding and a walk along the perimeter of the camp gave Terrestrial Brownbul, Jameson’s Firefinch, Bronze Mannikin, Red-faced Cisticola, Ashy Flycatcher, Green Woodhoopoe, Purple-crested Turaco and White-browed Robin-chat. Inside the camp we had Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey-Tit Flycatcher, White-browed Robin-chat, Brubru and a beautiful Large-spotted Genet.
We left Kruger for the long journey back home with the most worthwhile birds 2 Balb Ibisses near Vrede, a couple of Blue Korhaans a stay over at the small town of Paul Roux which is very good, a Lanner Falcon, Secretarybirds, a Double-banded Courser with a group of Blue Cranes and a last lifer for some people, Pale-winged Starlings.
We had 293 bird species from Beaufort West till back here and 33 mammal species. Interesting was the quietness of the birds especially in Kruger where even the Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Brubru hardly respond to the calls.
More exciting bird trips coming up next year.