A Week in Kruger – Satara to Timbavati

Timbavati  x 3

With part of our family group otherwise engaged (Andre and Megan had returned to Joburg for a schools competition) and the remainder taking the opportunity to spend some quality time in Satara, I used the opportunity on two mornings to do some birdmapping (that’s the new terminology for “atlasing”) at my own pace ie driving at an ultra-slow pace and stopping frequently, which is the best way to birdmap / atlas effectively but can be frustrating for those not involved in the process.

Both birdmapping  drives took me to Timbavati picnic spot for a coffee and rusks break and when Andre and Megan returned it was the destination of choice once again, making it three visits in all during the week.

The Routes

There are a few options when heading to Timbavati, which lies north-west of Satara, and the choice of route will depend on how much time you wish to spend driving and whether you prefer tar or gravel roads, the latter being a lot slower but often more productive.

One option is to take the H7 tarred road west towards Orpen, then turn off northwards onto the S40 gravel road at the Nsemani dam about 7 kms from Satara and follow this road to Timbavati.

Travelling further along the H7 will take you to turn-off to the S39 gravel road, which meanders along the Timbavati River for much of the way – a longer route but well worthwhile.

The other option is to head north from Satara towards Olifants along the H1-4, then take a left at the S127 which winds through arid bushveld for about 9 kms to the picnic spot. This route means less driving on gravel but is not as productive game-wise (and birding-wise) as the first options

Whichever route you choose it makes sense to take one of the other routes back to Satara so that you cover the greatest area and increase your chances of interesting sightings along the way.

Habitat

The S39 and S40 roads take you through mixed woodland with the S39 staying close to the Timbavati river, although during the dry season the river will be dry for most of the way other than a few pools left after the long dry winter

River Scene, Timbavati Road
River Pool, Timbavati Road

The open plains are generally better for game while the mixed woodland provides good birding opportunities as well as the chance for some close encounters with game.

An extract from the Kruger Park map book shows the routes :

Satara to Timbavati routes
Satara to Timbavati routes

The Game

Game is not as abundant along the S39 and S40 as it is on the open plains east of Satara, however small groups of game are often encountered grazing or pursuing some other activity quite close to the road, affording good close-up views

On my first trip I came across two Lions at the Giravana water hole, just chilling as they are wont to do.

Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40
Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40
Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40
Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40

Regular sightings of some of my favourites kept things interesting – Giraffe, Kudu and Blue Wildebeest amongst others

Giraffe
Giraffe
Kudu
Kudu
Kudu
Kudu
Blue Wildebees
Blue wildebeest

No drive would be complete without coming across a monkey or two……

Vervet Monkey
Vervet Monkey, always so alert

Surprise of the one trip was a brief Leopard sighting, seen crossing the river and disappearing into the thick bush before I could get a camera focused on him.

The Birding / Birdmapping

Taking it slow and easy to make the most of the available birds, I built up some healthy lists as I passed through the various pentads (roughly 8 x 8 kms square) on the way to Timbavati, spending a bit more time in some of the pentads which I had identified earlier as lacking some birdmap attention in 2015.

Highlights were many :

  • Gabar Goshawk swooping across the road and “attacking” a spider’s nest and apparently feeding on the contents
Gabar Goshawk
Gabar Goshawk
  • Black- and Brown-crowned Tchagras in quick succession in the roadside bushes
  • Kori Bustard pair in the long grass
Kori Bustard, Timbavati Road
Kori Bustard, Timbavati Road
  • Flock of White-winged Widowbirds still in their winter plumage
  •  Red-billed Oxpeckers on a Zebra
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Sabota Larks perched on top of trees and singing cheerfully
  •  Black Crake patrolling a small pool
Black Crake
Black Crake
  • A handsome Tawny Eagle perched high up in a tall tree
  • Red-crested Korhaan calling in its distinctive fashion right next to the road, boldly showing its black front then turning to show just how well camouflaged it can be in the dry grass
Red-crested Korhaan - front view while calling - can hardly miss him
Red-crested Korhaan – front view while calling – can hardly miss him
Red-crested Korhaan - viewed from the back - now he is well camouflaged
Red-crested Korhaan – viewed from the back – now he is well camouflaged
  • Purple Roller
Purple Roller
Purple Roller

Closer to Timbavati a Grey-Tit Flycatcher was moving through the canopy, emitting its typical high-pitched trilling call which I had only just got to grips with on this trip, having heard it several times in Satara as well.

Grey-Tit Flycatcher
Grey-Tit Flycatcher

More proof that many birds are extremely habitat specific was the numbers of European Bee-Eaters in one spot but nowhere else to be seen.

Timbavati Picnic Spot

The two mornings that I spent birdmapping, I arrived at Timbavati when it was quite busy – full of happy groups of visitors enjoying a brunch in this special setting overlooking the river, albeit dry at this time of year.

On the morning that we visited as a family we arrived a little earlier and had the place to ourselves for a while. Andre and Geraldine  soon had the gas going and the skottel frying merrily and it wasn’t too long before we were tucking into another delicious brunch.

Timbavati picnic spot
Timbavati picnic spot, before the visitors descend on it for brunch
Timbavati brunch in preparation
Timbavati brunch in preparation
Timbavati still has the same chairs I remember from our first visits more than 40 years ago!
Timbavati still has the same chairs I remember from our first visits more than 40 years ago!

On the way to Timbavati we had taken the Olifants road then turned left onto the S127 – not much game was encountered but one lone, large elephant had us reversing a short way until he started feeding on the road verge and we grabbed the chance to get past safely. Interesting was the way he pulled out green bushes using his trunk and front leg in a sideways kicking motion to dislodge them from the hard dry ground.

Birding was slow that morning until we reached the picnic spot where several birds were vying for “loudest call” honours. Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike was a clear winner with its piercing but tuneful call from a nearby tree, but others were almost as active especially Crested Francolin and Natal Spurfowl trying to outdo each other with their equally raucous calls as they wandered around amongst the tables.

Back to Satara

On the return trip to Satara along the S127, a flock of Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks made for an unusual sighting, as did a pair of tiny, colourful Quailfinches quenching their thirst at a small pool below a bridge on the tar road.

We had briefly diverted to Piet Grobler dam not far from the picnic spot, where a lone Yellow-billed Stork and Black-winged Stilt were new additions to the trip list, taking it to 126 species.

Yellow-billed Stork, Timbavati Road
Yellow-billed Stork, Timbavati Road
Timbavati Road
Timbavati Road

Back at Satara it was time for a snooze and some relaxation to get us through the hot afternoon, with the temperature heading to the mid 30’s again.

Sources :

Krugerpark.co.za

Sanparks Guide to Kruger National Park

2 thoughts on “A Week in Kruger – Satara to Timbavati”

  1. I always look forward to your Mostly Birding posts and especially the photos and I can say that I can even “smell” the African air and bush…cant wait to visit the Kruger again…with Sheila I hope.

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