Flowering Aloe time in Kruger – bird magnets

Firstly, how’s the blog doing?

Time to look back at the 7 months since I started the blog in July 2013 ……

Well, I’m loving it simply because it brings some of my favourite pastimes together – birding, keeping journals of our travels, and photography. I’m also happy to report that “views” passed the 1000 mark last week and are averaging 10 per day, with people from almost 40 countries having visited the blog (some by chance, such as the one looking for a wedding venue at Gosho park in Zimbabwe). These figures are quite unimpressive compared to many blogs, but I’m encouraged that the numbers seem to be growing steadily. Anyway enough of that and on with this fortnight’s episode :

Kruger Park in the winter 

Winter is widely acknowledged as the best time for game viewing in Kruger and I wouldn’t disagree, but having made as many summer visits I find each season has its pros and cons. Summer from a birding aspect is tops, as the migrants are present and generally birds are at their most colourful, being in breeding plumage. Winter is often better for game viewing as the animals are more easily seen and are tempted to spend more time near water in the dry season.

Winter is also the time when many of the aloes are flowering, making for attractive displays and, most importantly for birders, attracting a variety of bird life. Some of the best flowering aloe displays are in the camps and at their peak are crowded with birds feeding on the nectar.

When we visited Kruger in August 2011, it seemed to be prime time for flowering aloes and we came across many beautiful flowering specimens, especially in the camps, which were often buzzing with activity as various bird species, bees and other insects made the most of the nectar bonanza. We stayed in 2 camps : Letaba in the middle of the park for 4 days and in Tamboti, which is a tented camp close to the Orpen camp and gate on the western side of Kruger, for a further 7 days. We also visited some of the other camps on our day trips, including Satara, Olifants and Skukuza and we spent time at a couple of the wonderful picnic spots where we made our customary brunch stop, cooking up a storm on the gas-fired  “skottels” (a large concave metal frying pan, based on the old plough disks that were used for this purpose in days gone by) that are hired out.

Our little “group” was made up of myself and Gerda, Andre and Geraldine (Son-in-law and daughter), their 2 daughters Megan and Maia and Andre’s parents (and our Brother and Sister-in-law of course) Tienie and Pieta Leonard. We have spent many a pleasant time with them in Kruger over the years we have known each other, Tienie being an Honorary Ranger and all of us being keen “Kruger Park-ers”

Letaba and surrounds

This is one of our favourite camps in Kruger, with its lush gardens and large old trees providing lots of shade, and the added bonus of bordering the Letaba River with views across to the distant bank and a good chance of seeing game as they make their way to and from the river. There is almost always an elephant or two (or more) in view near the river, along with buffalo and various other game.

It was mid-afternoon as we entered the park through the Phalaborwa gate and on our way to Letaba we were very lucky to come across a pack of Wild Dogs – seen very infrequently and such special animals.

Wild Dogs on patrol near Letaba
Wild Dogs on patrol near Letaba
Wild Dog heads off into the bush
Wild Dog heads off into the bush

Along the same stretch we spotted two well-camouflaged terrestrial bird species – Double-banded Sandgrouse and a Red-crested Korhaan, both close to the road and quite confiding. Both have colouring that blends in with the surrounding bush and soil, particularly in winter.

Double-banded Sandgrouse
Double-banded Sandgrouse
Red-crested Korhaan
Red-crested Korhaan

We settled into our bungalow accommodation at Letaba, while the others in our group went for the tented units a short walk from where we were. Over the next few days we followed our usual Kruger Park routine – some mornings we opted for a relaxing day in camp with an optional short game drive later on, other mornings we set out early for a game/birding drive with a brunch stop at one of the picnic spots and a lazy drive back to the camp for an afternoon siesta.

Letaba is well-suited to spending time in the camp, walking the gardens and along the river where many bird species have their own established routines :

On the lawns and amongst the leaf litter, Arrow-marked Babblers and Kurrichane Thrushes allow a close approach, hardly noticing as I fired away with my camera

Arrow-marked Babbler, Letaba
Arrow-marked Babbler, Letaba
Kurrichane Thrush, Letaba
Kurrichane Thrush, Letaba

In the trees, there was plenty of action ranging from Bearded Woodpeckers to Tree Squirrels and even a couple of charming granddaughters :

Bearded Woodpecker, Letaba
Bearded Woodpecker, Letaba
Tree Squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi) , Letaba
Tree Squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi)
Maia and Megan (Juvenile Leonardii mosselbayi)
Maia and Megan (Juvenile Leonardii mosselbayi)

Other birds around the bungalows and tents were Blue Waxbills and the ubiquitous Greater Blue-eared Starlings, found throughout the park and mostly habituated to humans.

Blue Waxbill, Letaba
Blue Waxbill, Letaba
Greater Blue-eared Starling, Letaba
Greater Blue-eared Starling, Letaba
Yellow-throated Petronia
Yellow-throated Petronia

Not to mention the bird with the funky hairstyle –

Dark-capped Bulbul, showing off its modern hairstyle
Dark-capped Bulbul, showing off its modern hairstyle

The beautiful Impala Lily is a feature of the northern camps in Kruger in the winter months –

Impala Liliy, Letaba
Impala Liliy, Letaba
Impala Liliy, Letaba
Impala Liliy, Letaba

But to get back to the main theme of this post, the array of flowering Aloes is a magnet to many bird species, more than I had imagined, as I thought they would attract only the nectar-loving species such as sunbirds and perhaps a Bulbul or two. The following photos are a selection of the birds I came across enjoying the Aloes, by no means comprehensive :

Red-winged Starling, Olifants
Red-winged Starling, Olifants
Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Olifants
Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Olifants
Red-headed Weaver, Letaba
Red-headed Weaver, Letaba
Black-headed Oriole, Letaba
Black-headed Oriole, Letaba
Black-headed Oriole, Olifants
Black-headed Oriole, Olifants
White-bellied Sunbird, Olifants
White-bellied Sunbird, Olifants
Butterfly in on the act
Butterfly in on the act as well

The area around Letaba and up to Olifants camp, where we drove on one of the days, is rich in game with Elephant and Buffalo being regular sightings. The viewpoint from Olifants camp overlooking the River is always a treat and brings home the value of preserving natural areas such as Kruger – the view of the river far below and the open bush beyond, with Elephants, Giraffes and other game making their way slowly to the river, has not changed in the more than 40 years we have been visiting the park.

African Buffalo, Letaba
African Buffalo, Letaba
Elephant at water hole
Elephant at water hole
Crocodile, Letaba River
Crocodile, Letaba River
Impala
Impala
Letaba River
Letaba River
Giraffe, Letaba
Giraffe, Letaba
Pod of Hippos on Olifants River
Pod of Hippos on Olifants River

On our drives we came across some of the more spectacular bird species – Kori Bustard, which is a ground-dwelling bird which can fly and is renowned as the largest bird in the world capable of flight, the colourful and lanky Saddle-billed Stork which is usually found in shallow rivers but which we saw in flight, a regal looking Fish Eagle and a Temminck’s Courser, not common and always exciting to see.

Kori Bustard, Letaba
Kori Bustard, Letaba
Saddle-billed Stork
Saddle-billed Stork
African Fish-Eagle, Letaba
African Fish-Eagle, Letaba
Temminck's Courser, Olifants
Temminck’s Courser, Olifants

At the end of our 4 nights in Letaba, we headed south towards Orpen and the nearby Tamboti Tented camp for the next part of our Kruger Park holiday, but that’s another story….

4 thoughts on “Flowering Aloe time in Kruger – bird magnets”

  1. Just to mention the particular species “Juvenile Leonardii Mosselbayi” are an exceptional sighting and very unique in character and appearance. They are also migrant and have been sighted on many continents over the last few years. The casual observer should therefore take note that winter season is possibly the best time of year to expect a sighting of these two young females in the South African Lowveld area.

  2. Sitting at the barber waiting my turn. Don’t mind waiting when reading your block – always enjoyable, thanks Don

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