Tag Archives: Punda Mania weekend

Punda Mania 2014 – The Madness Continues

Third Time Lucky?

We had participated in two of these special weekend birding events in previous years, based in Punda Maria camp, and had enjoyed the vibe of a group of keen birders and the unbeatable location of the event, taking in a large chunk of the northern part of Kruger Park. The scoring is probably not meant to be that important, but people and in particular keen birders are competitive animals and it certainly adds to the spirit of an event such as this.

So being the optimistic lot that we are and in anticipation of some special birding experiences, we once again put our names down for the event planned for November 2014.

Thursday

George Skinner and I left Pretoria early and followed the familiar route to Punda Maria. George had arranged with well-known bird guide Samson Mulaudzi to meet him near the Entabeni Forest, which we duly did around 10.45 am and we proceeded into the forest area, hoping for a few specials. Both Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguides were easily located by call and the latter was seen flying and trying its best to stay out of sight in the canopy as it did a wide circle around us.

Entabeni Forest
Entabeni Forest
Bat Hawk, Entabeni Forest
Bat Hawk, Entabeni Forest

From there we drove close to the river to a spot where Half-collared Kingfisher was quickly located, then to the spot where Bat Hawk has been nesting for more than 10 years and we soon found it perched high in the tall trees, just off the gravel road. This was a lifer for me, thanks to Samson!

Satisfied with this short birding sortie, we carried on to Punda Maria gate an hour or so away, arriving at the camp at 2.20 pm, to be greeted by the West Rand Honorary Rangers (HR’s) team of William, Monika and Norma who all feel like old friends the third time around.

Punda Maria entrance gate
Punda Maria entrance gate

The Event Starts

Punda Maria chalets
Punda Maria chalets

Check-in and finding our comfortable bungalow did not take long and by 3pm we were back in the air-conditioned restaurant for the briefing led by Monika, who explained the HR’s role and wonderful sponsorship spread over a variety of efforts in many of the National Parks.

Then it was Joe Grosel’s turn to highlight the attractions, features and different habitats of this special part of the Kruger National Park, from Giant Rats to Racket-tailed Rollers, his passion for the area clearly showing.

Once done with the briefing, it was time for the first late afternoon drive and we had hardly left the gate when we were surrounded by a bird party gathered in and around a large tree – I could barely keep up listing the species on Birdlasser, my new bird atlasing App.

White-browed Robin-Chat, Punda Maria
White-browed Robin-Chat, Punda Maria
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Punda Maria
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Punda Maria

Destination PWNJ Lek

As in previous years, a highlight of this event is the visit to the Lek where the rare Pennant-winged Nightjar does its display flight at dusk – this was our destination once again and there was a swell of anticipation as the 40 – odd (the number not the birders, although some of them are pretty odd as well) birders sipped our Strettons G & T’s and waited for the action in the gathering dusk. Well, as Joe put it, it was like the Springbok’s loss to the Irish the previous weekend – disappointing – as the PWNJ’s kept their distance with just one doing a rapid fly past, but nevertheless tickable for my atlas list.

Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria
Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria

Punda Mania 2014-4

On the way back to the camp we came across a magnificent Giant Eagle-Owl, imperious on his perch in a large tree.

Verraux's Eagle-Owl
Verraux’s Eagle-Owl
And it's not eye make-up, all natural
And it’s not eye make-up, all natural

Dinner was a bring and braai and we headed to bed with thoughts of the treasure hunt and a long day’s birding the next day.

Friday

Up (very) early after a 3.30 am alarm, to be ready for the treasure hunt drive at 4.15 am. The treasure hunt entails deciphering cryptic clues into a list of 14 bird, animal and tree species, then finding and photographing each one before returning to the camp by the cut-off time of 12.30 pm, for adjudication by Joe Grosel.

Once every one was on the safari truck, we made our way to Pafuri area, not encountering much of interest until the light allowed us to see the surrounding bush a bit clearer, starting with Black-chested Snake-Eagle and followed by good numbers of birds. A brief diversion to Kloppenheim area added some water-reliant species such as Squacco Heron, Water Thick-Knee, Common Moorhen (unusual in the Kruger), Black Crake and Three-banded Plover.

Punda Mania 2014-31

African Wild Cat
African Wild Cat
Common Scimitarbill
Common Scimitarbill
Broadbilled Roller
Broadbilled Roller
Pit stop for our team
Pit stop for our team
Giant Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher

Onwards to the Luvuvhu bridge at Pafuri for the usual feast of birding and back to the Pafuri area itself with a lengthy stop at Crook’s Corner, which provided a good boost to our growing list of bird species recorded. A feature of the day’s birding was the number of bird parties we encountered, some called up by Ranger/Driver Jobe who uses his skill at imitating the Pearl-spotted Owlet to draw the birds nearer. On a few occasions we had between 10 and 15 species in close proximity to the vehicle and had to work hard to keep up with ID-ing them all.

At the Pafuri picnic spot, Norma and her colleagues had prego rolls ready which went down a treat, while we continued to scan the area for as yet un-ticked species.

Pafuri picnic spot
Pafuri picnic spot
White-crowned Lapwing
White-crowned Lapwing
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Ground Hornbill
Ground Hornbill
Great Egret
Great Egret

By then it was late morning and we had found most of the target species, so it was time to head back to camp to be in time for the cut-off – on the way we came across our final target species – Crested Francolin, which had amazingly eluded us till then. Our only slip-up was choosing the wrong Euphorbia species to photograph.

Some of the species we had to find and photograph :

Little Swift
Little Swift
Predator footprint
Predator footprint
Reptile
Reptile
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Trumpeter Hornbill
Trumpeter Hornbill
Crested Francolin (only just)
Crested Francolin (only just)

After this intense species-hunting, it was time for a siesta until the next round of clues – this time covering targets in the camp itself, which turned into quite a challenge, but again we managed to get all of them photographed between 4 and 6 pm, almost coming short on the Passer Domesticus (House Sparrow) once again, but a last-minute rush to find a “proper” one saved the day.

Vervet Monkey, Punda Maria camp
Vervet Monkey, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Paradise Flycatcher, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Passer Domesticus, Punda Maria camp
Passer Domesticus, Punda Maria camp

A slightly dazed Pygmy Kingfisher which had flown into a restaurant window, drew some attention away from the goings on in the camp

Pygmy Kingfisher, Punda Maria camp
Pygmy Kingfisher, Punda Maria camp

All that remained was the dreaded Quiz which went a little better than previous years but once again some hasty decisions cost us valuable points, leaving us with only the atlasing session the next day to catch up to the leading teams.

Saturday

Our atlasing session turned into a marathon, starting at just after 4 am and ending at 3 pm when we eventually returned to the camp. Each team was allocated a “good” pentad and a “poor” pentad to atlas, the good one being in a lush bushveld area and including a stretch of river while the poor pentad was in a dry area dominated by Mopane bush. What we were not told was that only the “poor” pentad total would count towards the scoring and so we focused our attention and time on the “good” pentad, leaving the “poor” pentad for later in the day when birds generally take cover from the heat.

At least we enjoyed some excellent early morning birding in the windless, overcast conditions and in prime bushveld, which included the new Nyala Wilderness Trail camp on a bend of the Luvuvhu river with views over the river and the koppies beyond. This was also the cue to enjoy coffee and rusks in this beautiful location.

 

Wahlberg's Eagle
Wahlberg’s Eagle
Honey Badger
Honey Badger
Red-crested Korhaan
Red-crested Korhaan
Arnot's Chat
Arnot’s Chat

After a short drive further we alighted from the vehicle again to take a walk along a stretch of the river, which produced a few species including a highly debated Wagtail which photos showed was a Pied Wagtail despite arguments to the contrary. Then an even shorter drive to a viewpoint over the river which we knew from previous visits to Punda Maria, with wonderful views over the river below.

We continued atlasing productively until we left the pentad after about 2.5 hours of recording and headed south towards the “poor” pentad some distance away, which we entered after 12.00 pm after some heavy debate about where we were in relation to the map provided by Sanparks. Inexperience at working with co-ordinates, which are essential for atlasing, meant there was a total misconception on the part of our driver as to where the pentad boundary was and we found ourselves a full pentad (about 8 km) out of position in a north-south direction.

After much lively discussion and some input on my part (as the only regular atlasser in our team), we did eventually find the pentad boundary, but the map versus co-ordinates debate continued unabated, also due to non-existent roads being shown on the map. The area we found ourselves in was single habitat – Mopane bush with no pans or any other water, so atlasing was slow and quite laborious in the heat of the day and we were relieved when we had completed the minimum 2 hours of atlasing and could head back to the camp. On the way back a Coqui Francolin surprised us as he crossed the road in front of our vehicle.

Baboon
Baboon

Punda Mania 2014-39

Coqui Francolin
Coqui Francolin

The Final Curtain

A last visit to the lek was spectacular, with the male Pennant-winged Nightjar performing majestically, floating back and forward just above tree height and settling on a rock for a minute or two.

G and T's at the Lek
G and T’s at the Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar (Photo : George Skinner)
Pennant-winged Nightjar (Photo : George Skinner)

As usual the Honorary Rangers and Sanparks put on a fine closing out dinner and prize-giving but unfortunately our team had fallen out of the running completely.

Punda Mania 2014-28

Nevertheless a great event that added to our appreciation of this part of Kruger, although three in a row is probably enough for the time being.

Punda Mania 2013 – Sizzling Hot Birding

About Punda Mania

Billed as a Team Birding Challenge, this is a special event for birders keen to spend time in one of the top birding spots in South Africa, at a time of year when the majority of migrants are present. Under the direction of Joe Grosel and with the assistance of the SANParks Honorary Rangers (HR’s) from the West Rand Region as well as guides from SANParks, the group of some 40 people is taken through a series of challenges which focus on birding but also include other aspects of nature such as mammals, trees, insects and the odd reptile. This was the 3rd such event and the second that I have attended and “knowing the ropes” helped to make this version even more enjoyable (for me anyway) than the previous one.

Getting There

Our group of 4 (Myself, George Skinner, Pieter Rossouw and Pieter Lombaard) left Pretoria early-ish to make sure we would be in time for the start of activities at 15h00 on Thursday 14 November 2013, with enough time for a hearty brunch at our usual stop near Polokwane, after which we turned off towards Giyani and reached Punda Maria gate by 13h30. In our air-conditioned cocoon we had noticed the temperature rising as we traveled north but only felt the 37º C  heat when we got out to stretch our legs at the gate, much  like the blanket of hot air in your face when you open a hot oven door except it envelops your whole body. From there we drove slowly to Punda Maria camp, arriving just in time for the rendezvous with the rest of our team for the weekend and the vehicle to take us to the Visitor Centre for the briefing. We joined up with 2 other couples  – Brian and Joy Falconer-Smith and Elouise and Christo Kalmer – to make up our team, the Shrewd Shrikes, and were pleased to see that Jobe, our guide from last year, was again allocated to our vehicle. William Dunn, our HR representative completed the team line-up.

The birding from the gate to the camp was slow, being the hottest time of day and we were wilting along with the animals and panting bird life that was to be seen. An African Firefinch in the low bushes, Red-billed Oxpeckers on a group of Impalas and Yellow-fronted Canary in the upper branches of a tree kept us interested.

The Challenge and first Activity

At the initial briefing, Monika O’Leary, organiser of the weekend, introduced the proceedings, then Andy Branfield described what the HR’s do with the funds generated by these events and finally Joe Grosel took us through the various habitats in this northern part of Kruger and the animal and bird species that find these habitats to their liking. The Challenge details were spelt out and, as before, points would be awarded for bird species ID’d, mammal species seen (which our team only discovered at the final dinner!) plus the treasure hunts and quizzes as well as the atlasing  and team spirit.

Visitor Centre, Punda Maria
Visitor Centre, Punda Maria
Joe and Monika at the introduction
Joe and Monika at the introduction
The Challenge
The Challenge

The drive to the Visitor Centre had produced Tawny Eagle as the bird life started to liven up. During the talks the continuous calls of Monotonous Larks and Woodland Kingfishers competed with the speakers, as if beckoning us all to “come have a look”.

Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle
Monotonous Lark, Punda Maria
Monotonous Lark, Punda Maria

Then it was time for the first sunset drive with the main destination being the ‘lek’ frequented by Pennant-winged Nightjars in the early summer months – we had enjoyed them on 2 occasions during the previous Punda Mania but this is not the sort of sighting you are likely to tire of. The drive was punctuated by a few good sightings such as European Golden Oriole and Great Spotted Cuckoo, a  pair of African Hawk Eagles in a treetop and a Pale Flycatcher almost hidden amongst the bushy undergrowth and trees. The only negative was the road chosen to get to the lek, supposedly a short-cut but which can best be described as abominable as we bounced over endless rocks, taking so long that we arrived with minutes to spare for the Pennant-winged Nightjar display, which was nevertheless as magical as before. Apart from the main attraction, an African Scops-Owl and Red-chested Cuckoo made themselves heard from nearby trees. A bring-and-braai back at the camp closed out the day.

Waiting for a view of Pennant-winged Nightjar
Waiting for a view of Pennant-winged Nightjar
Pennant-winged Nightjar at the lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar at the lek
Flap-necked Chameleon, Punda Maria
Flap-necked Chameleon, Punda Maria

Friday 15 November 2013

An enthusiastic Red-chested Cuckoo was already calling when our alarm went off at 03h45 and we left the camp at 04h30 as the first light of dawn approached, heading north to Pafuri in the northernmost section of Kruger. We were soon adding birds at a steady pace, but were also working at the cryptic clues for the Treasure Hunt part of the weekend, which involves taking photos of birds, animals and trees, based on solving the clues put together by Joe. At least I now have a reason for doing those cryptic crosswords, apart from keeping the mind active. It didn’t take long to resolve the clues which boiled down to 2 mammals (Nyala, Elephant) 2 Trees (Nyala Tree, Ironwood Tree) and 11 birds (from memory they were White-fronted Bee-eater, Mosque Swallow, Red-crested Korhaan, Water Thick-Knee, Meve’s Starling, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Any Red Data species, Bateleur, Sabota Lark, Crested Francolin, Goliath Heron, but correct me if any are wrong) so from there on it was just a matter of finding the actual species to photograph.

Treasure hunt : Mosque Swallow, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Mosque Swallow, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Sabota Lark, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Sabota Lark, Punda Maria
Crested Francolin, Punda Maria
Crested Francolin, Punda Maria

The drive took us to the far north-east corner known as Crook’s Corner, where we spent some time enjoying the bird life in the Limpopo river and surrounding bush. On the way we spent quality time at Klopperfontein dams where we were able to stretch our legs and enjoy coffee, while watching the myriad Swallows, Martins and Swifts including many House Martins and a few Grey-rumped Swallows. Lark-like Buntings were moving about busily near the water and a Shaft-tailed Whydah made a brief fly-past, while Water Thick-Knees flew across low over the water. In the Pafuri area we saw our first Meve’s Starling moving amongst the low branches and higher up a Burnt-necked Eremomela worked his way through the foliage.

Klopperfontein KNP
Klopperfontein KNP
Treasure hunt : Water Thick-knee, Klopperfontein KNP
Treasure hunt : Water Thick-knee, Klopperfontein KNP

A surprise ‘sighting’ was the 4 ‘illegals’ from Mozambique that we came across near Pafuri, making their way through the Kruger on foot (one was barefoot) – they looked quite weary and despondent at being found and our guide contacted the camp to pick them up but we didn’t find out what happened to them.

'Illegals' near Pafuri
‘Illegals’ near Pafuri

The Limpopo River at Crook’s Corner had enough water to support Green-backed Heron and Pied Kingfisher as they hunted in their particular ways, while White-fronted Bee-eaters hawked insects from an overhanging dead branch. From the surrounding bush the regular calls of Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes could be heard, a Tropical Boubou made a brief appearance and Chinspot Batis, Red-billed Firefinch and Purple-crested Turaco were all welcome sightings. Overhead numbers of White-backed Vultures circled lazily and an African Cuckoo-Hawk appeared from nowhere and disappeared just as quickly

Coffe stop
Coffe stop
Crook's Corner KNP
Crook’s Corner KNP
Crook's Corner KNP
Crook’s Corner KNP
Treasure hunt : Nyala, Pafuri KNP
Treasure hunt : Nyala, Pafuri KNP
White-backed Vulture, Pafuri KNP
White-backed Vulture, Pafuri KNP

Our next stop was the Pafuri picnic spot, one of my favourite spots in Kruger, where a brunch had been set up by the busy HR’s. This was also the chance to add more species, with White-crowned Lapwing being an easy sighting in the river, Red-faced Cisticola calling from the riverine bush and an obliging Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove posing for photos meant we could tick off another on the treasure hunt list.

Back on the road we came across a lone Secretary Bird before heading back to Punda Maria – just a pity we didn’t have enough time to visit the bridge over the Luvuvhu which usually delivers a plethora of bird species, but a special sighting on the way back made up for this. Joe led us to a spot along the road, lined by tall Mopane trees, where Arnot’s Chat were known by him to breed and a brief playing of their call brought a male and female to investigate and eye us from a roadside tree, affording magical views of this sought-after bird.

Arnot's Chat (Male), Punda Maria
Arnot’s Chat (Male), Punda Maria
Arnot's Chat (Female), Punda Maria
Arnot’s Chat (Female), Punda Maria
African Buffalo, Punda Maria
African Buffalo, Punda Maria
Levaillant's Cuckoo, Punda Maria
Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Punda Maria

Then it was back to the camp to report back on our photos taken for the treasure hunt, for which we managed to get a full house. A short while later we were at it again, this time following more cryptic clues to items around the camp itself, which we completed successfully except for Passer Domesticus (House Sparrow) which we could not decipher. The Cicada was easy enough to unravel but quite difficult to find, camouflaged as it was against the bark of the Mopane trees in the camping area.

During the pursuit of the items we came across Bearded Scrub-Robin along the Flycatcher trail and spent some time at the hide overlooking a water hole just outside the camp fence, popular with everything from Elephants to Eremomelas. A Broad-billed Roller was showing off his skills as he swooped down from a nearby tree and skimmed the surface, as if showing the Bee-eaters present that he could do it just as well as them.

Burchell's Zebra, Punda Maria
Burchell’s Zebra, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Striped Skink, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Striped Skink, Punda Maria

After the report back, dinner was served followed by a short night drive, during which we added Fiery-necked Nightjar and Barred Owlet to our list.

Saturday 16 November 2013

An early start again – advisable in the extremely hot conditions. By this time we were getting accustomed to the extreme heat and the prospect of atlasing some remote areas of Kruger was something I was looking forward to – the area we were allocated to atlas turned out to be located in a little visited but beautiful part of Kruger, covering lush bushveld and riverine habitats. This, for me, was the highlight of the weekend – going down those usually forbidden roads with those no-entry signs and knowing there will be no other vehicles is part of what makes these events really special. Bird life was plentiful and the pentad list was rapidly added to in the allotted time.

The pentad list kicked off with an Eastern Nicator which made an exciting change from my usual atlasing, followed by some other specials such as Tawny Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle cruising above us, Green Pigeons in the taller trees and both Little and European Bee-Eaters hawking insects at low level.

A magnificent Baobab tree full of greenery was alive with birds, having a number of Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers and Red-headed Weavers using it as a nesting base. Even the arrival of a couple of Common Mynas could not spoil this classic scene.

Baobab with nests, Punda Maria
Baobab with nests, Punda Maria

The area atlased included stretches of the Levuvhu River and we made a few stops at convenient spots for walks along the river, watched by pods of Hippo in the cool waters and disturbing Green-backed Herons and Water Thick-Knees which took off and flew across to the opposite side as we progressed along the bank.

White-crowned Lapwing, Luvuvhu River
White-crowned Lapwing, Luvuvhu River
Hippo, Luvuvhu River
Hippo, Luvuvhu River
Acacia, Luvuvhu River
Sekelbos flowers, Luvuvhu River

One stop was at the temporary Nyalaland Trail camp, located at an ideal spot above the river while the flood-damaged permanent camp is under reconstruction. The river walks added Pale Flycatcher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher and White-crowned Lapwings amongst others, the latter calling excitedly and flying up and down the river. The bush away from the river was equally rewarding with Bennett’s Woodpecker, Striped Kingfisher and Black Cuckooshrike being some of the more notable sightings.

Allasing along the river
Allasing along the river
Levuvhu River
Levuvhu River
Gabar Goshawk, Pafuri KNP
Gabar Goshawk, Pafuri KNP
Striped Kingfisher, Punda Maria
Striped Kingfisher, Punda Maria
Grey-headed Kingfisher, Luvuvhu River
Grey-headed Kingfisher, Luvuvhu River

On the way back we heard what we thought to be Southern Hyliota calling and excitedly searched for this uncommon bird, only to find a White-browed Scrub-Robin imitating its call!

Back at the camp it was time to recharge with a nap, followed by a repeat of the late afternoon drive to the Pennant-winged Nightjar lek which was a lot more relaxed this time around.

Pennant-winged Nightjar site
Pennant-winged Nightjar site
Shrewd Shrikes
Shrewd Shrikes

Then all that remained was the dreaded Team Quiz (which again proved to be our downfall) and the final dinner and prize-giving. Oh well, there’s always the hope that the HR’s will present this event next year again, in which case the Shrewd Shrikes can have another go at improving our score.

Congrats to the West-Rand Honorary Rangers once again for presenting a really interesting and worthwhile event – long may they continue!

Thanks to Dr PeteZac Zacharias for providing the correct name for the Sekelbos (Dichrostachys cinerea) with its beautiful flowers, which I had wrong in the photo caption

Hot Birding – Punda Mania November 2012

West Rand Honorary Rangers (WRHR) in conjunction with SA National Parks have been organising birding weekends in Kruger National Park during the less popular months (read “very hot”) since the late 1990’s and we have enjoyed many wonderful moments since those days, being among the first to participate in these events. A recent addition to the WRHR repertory is the Punda Mania event during November, billed as a “hardcore” birding event. Prompted by George Skinner, we (George, myself, Koos Pauw and Pieter Rossouw) entered into the Punda Mania event from 15 to 18 November 2012. We set off from Pretoria around 8am on Thursday 15th November and reached Punda Maria gate to the Kruger Park about 1.30pm after an uneventful drive.

From there it was a short drive to Punda Maria to check in, ticking the typical Kruger Park birds as we went. Once settled into the classic accommodation alongside the entrance road, we met with the rest of the birders, the Honorary and KNP rangers and Joe Grosel, the leader for the weekend, who Koos and I had met a number of years ago during a Limpopo Bird Count event. Joe led us through the itinerary for the weekend and gave an excellent talk on the natural highlights of the area around Punda Maria and up to Pafuri. This included a description of the variety of habitats to be encountered, which are many and contribute to the famed diversity of bird species to be found in this part of Kruger.

Classic accommodation at Punda Maria
Classic accommodation at Punda Maria

As the sun headed for the horizon we were off on a very special “night(jar) drive” which took us to a patch of open ground not far from the camp, used as a “lek” during a 6 week window each November and December by the much sought after Pennant-winged Nightjars.

After sun-downers, the group stood quietly in anticipation of the Nightjars arrival, which was like clockwork during the mating season according to Joe and we had no reason to doubt him. We were not disappointed, as these special birds produced an enthralling display in front of us, swooping by like enormous butterflies with their long wing-pennants creating an eerie silhouette against the darkening skies. There was one female and 2 males, one of which settled on the gravel road in front of the group a couple of times just to add to the spectacular sighting. We headed back to camp feeling privileged to have witnessed something seen by few birders and what proved to be the highlight of the weekend before we had really started!

Pennant-winged Nightjar
Pennant-winged Nightjar
Sundowners at the lek
Sundowners at the lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar
Pennant-winged Nightjar

Friday, very early, we were given a “photographic treasure hunt” to complete during the morning’s drive, while our focus was mainly on adding to our growing bird list for the weekend. This had a great boost when we reached the bridge over the Luvuvhu River and were allowed to walk the bridge and enjoy the abundant bird life in the river and surrounding bush – renowned as a birding hot spot and it fully lived up to this reputation.

A majestic African Fish-Eagle kept watch over the river from atop a tall tree, while in the river Spectacled and Lesser-masked Weavers went about their business in the reeds and the ubiquitous Wire-tailed Swallows rested on the bridge railings – I have been visiting this spot on and off for close to 40 years and have come across these swallows perched on the bridge railings every time. They are a great subject for photography as they allow a close approach.

Wire-tailed Swallow at Luvuvhu River
Wire-tailed Swallow at Luvuvhu River

A Crowned Hornbill made an appearance in the trees adjoining the bridge, along with Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike and Dusky Flycatchers. Yellow-bellied Apalis and Grey-Tit Flycatchers added to the variety of birds on show. From there we traveled to the Pafuri picnic site, one of my favourite spots for a mid-morning brunch in the Kruger, but found it relatively quiet birding-wise, although we did add White-crowned Lapwing in the river bed and Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Retz’s Helmet-Shrike in the trees. Further along the river, Crook’s Corner was equally quiet with no sign of the Pel’s Fishing-Owl sometimes located here and very little water in the river, the only birds of note being a lone African Openbill and a Greenshank.

White-fronted Plover in the Luvuvhu River
White-crowned Lapwing in the Luvuvhu River

The very hot conditions meant that an afternoon nap in the cool chalet beat all other options. Later on some quiet garden birding in the area opposite the chalets produced a Little Sparrowhawk hunting among the trees. This was followed by the next arranged event which was a “Botanical treasure hunt” or “looking for stuff in trees” as George put it, where we had to ID and find the likes of a “snuff-box” tree, a Kudu Berry and a Leopard Orchid, which we duly did and in the process I came across a tree frog about 3m up on a bare branch which was something new for me.

After a good dinner the rangers took us on an evening drive which produced a Square-tailed Nightjar as well as an unusual mammal in the guise of a Sharpe’s Grysbok.

101_0938_edited-1
Mozambique Nightjar
Sharpe's Grysbok
Sharpe’s Grysbok

Saturday, just as early, we departed for a morning of atlasing in two pentads north of the Punda Maria camp which are normally not accessible by the general public and had only been atlased once or twice previously. The area we covered proved to be very hot and extremely dry – lists produced were not extensive but of course that is the whole point of atlasing – to record the species present or not present at any given time of the day and season. A selection of birds spotted follow below :

Hooded Vulture
Hooded Vulture
Yellow-spotted Hyrax (Dassie)
Yellow-spotted Hyrax (Dassie)
Violet-backed Starling
Violet-backed Starling
Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Broad-billed Roller
Broad-billed Roller

The trip included a stop at the Nyala Wilderness Trail base camp, which I remembered from a trail done back in 1999 – a Barred Owl calling had us searching for it and we eventually found it amongst the high branches. On the way back to Punda Maria we ticked a few more including White-throated Robin-Chat. Back at the camp it was nap-time again followed by a walk to the hide on the edge of the camping area, which overlooks a waterhole outside the fence.

The waterhole was alive with various game and birds coming  to find some relief from the hot,dry conditions – game included Elephant, Zebra, Nyala, Impala and a lone Warthog. Marabou Storks strode back and forwards like down-and-out gentlemen – still elegant in posture but rather tatty and unattractive. A Grey-headed Kingfisher made several sorties from a nearby perch to the water and back, while in the muddy shallows Violet-backed Starlings mingled with doves, canaries and bulbuls.

Zebra
Zebra
Marabou Stork
Marabou Stork
Nyala
Nyala

I watched with interest when a Bateleur arrived at the waterhole and proceeded to go through a lengthy routine of walking with some purpose into the muddy area and drinking leisurely from a small pool, taking a minute or so between sips and seeming to savour each mouthful (beakful?) After about 10 repeats of this he walked to the drier edge of the waterhole and threw open his large wings to soak up the heat, followed by a forward fall onto his belly to get sun on the back of the wings as well, or so I surmised. Perhaps he had seen the movie with the penguins sliding on their bellies on the ice and thought he would give it a try!

Bateleur spreading wings
Bateleur in "belly-flop" mode
Bateleur in “belly-flop” mode

After some time in this pose he stood up carefully, scanned the skies and then took off. This whole procedure was quite unusual behaviour, I thought – later research using my bird books at home did confirm that the wing-spreading action is well-known but I could find no mention of the “belly-flop” action.

That evening it was time for a drive to view the Pennant-winged Nightjars displaying once again, followed by the final dinner and prize-giving to close off what had proved to be a memorable weekend.

The Sunday drive back to Gauteng provided an opportunity to visit a couple of birding spots such as the Entabeni forest and Muirhead Dams where we spent some time exploring and looking for the area specials, some of which are shown below :

Pygmy Goose, Muirhead Dams
Pygmy Goose, Muirhead Dams
Giant Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher
African Golden Weaver, Entabeni forest
101_1092
Forest road

All in all a memorable weekend amongst a group of super-keen birders and another success for the West-Rand Honorary Rangers who, along with other branches who have followed their lead, are now one of the leading birding trip organisers in South Africa, contributing valuable funds to conservation – well done to them!