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Ken Borland


Archive for the ‘Birding/Wildlife’


Leopard Creek 0

Posted on July 05, 2017 by Ken

 

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

Leopard Creek has recently been rated amongst the top 100 golf courses in the world by the prestigious Golf Digest magazine and it is surely the wildest top-class golf course in the world, situated as it is alongside the Kruger National Park.

The Crocodile River forms the northern boundary between Leopard Creek and the Kruger National Park and the back nine runs along the river, offering tremendous sightings of all the animals and birds made famous by one of the largest game reserves in the world.

A channel runs off the Crocodile River and flows right in front of the clubhouse, making the verandah of this opulent building an ideal spot for bird and animal spotting. Unfortunately the clubhouse is also extremely hard to access for the rank and file visitor to Leopard Creek, but the good news is that there is a little service road that runs along this channel for a hundred metres or so, before turning up the hill to the 10th tee.

Shaded by luxuriant riverine trees, the road passes right by the water and I always make a point of taking a quiet stroll along this area. It has always seemed to me to be a perfect spot for African Finfoot – which Roberts describes as favouring “quiet, wooded streams and rivers flanked by thick riparian vegetation and overhanging trees” – the very description of my favourite part of Leopard Creek.

And so, on my eighth visit to this special place outside Malelane for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I finally got my Finfoot.

There in this shady channel I saw the bright orange legs first as the bird stood on the bank and then went into the water, gliding stealthily to the other side of the river.

A hippopotamus was contentedly passing the day between this channel and the main Crocodile River, while a Brownhooded Kingfisher called from high up in the trees and a Malachite Kingfisher hunted from low down on fallen branches close to the water.

Heuglin’s Robin, one of my favourites, also hangs around this area.

Coming back up out on to the golf course, a series of dams is in front of you between the ninth, 18th and 10th holes, with Lesser Striped Swallow flying over and African Pied Wagtail patrolling the banks.

Heading backwards through the front nine, Blackbacked Puffback is calling away and Blue Waxbill are in a sapling on the side of the ninth fairway.

The seventh hole, a par-three, shares a dam with the fifth hole, fringed by Fever Trees, and Spottedbacked, Southern Masked and Thickbilled Weavers were all nesting in the same specimen of this archetypal tree of tropical wetlands, from which gin and tonics (no doubt consumed in large quantities on the verandah of the clubhouse) originated.

Along the stream feeding this dam, a Giant Kingfisher was eating a good-sized fish, while a Greenbacked Heron was flying upstream.

Anywhere on the course, you are likely to see Whitebacked Vultures soaring overhead and Purplecrested Louries flying between patches of thicker bush. Whitefaced Duck are also often flying over.

But the 13th is the signature hole of Leopard Creek, not just because of its great design but mostly because of the dazzling vista it provides over the Crocodile River just beneath the elevated green and Kruger Park just across the way.

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

While sitting there on the final day and watching Charl Schwartzel’s challenge implode in the face of young Brandon Stone’s brilliance, I was able to admire Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black Crake, Egyptian Goose, Whitefronted Bee-Eater, African Elephant and Nile Crocodile along the river.

Away from the golf course, Leopard Creek is in an area of typical dense bushveld savanna with Forktailed Drongos, sometimes even perching on low aloes, ruling the day and Spotted Dikkops, marching around the parking lot, at night.

 

 

 

 

Where is Leopard Creek?

 

Sightings list

Forktailed Drongo

Spotted Dikkop

Impala

Bushbuck

Whitefaced Duck

Blackeyed Bulbul

Little Swift

Hippopotamus

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Finfoot

Heuglin’s Robin

Whitebacked Vulture

Lesser Striped Swallow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbacked Puffback

Blue Waxbill

Spottedbacked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Thickbilled Weaver

Giant Kingfisher

Grey Lourie

Greenbacked Heron

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Nile Monitor

Purplecrested Lourie

Great White Egret

Purple Heron

Grey Heron

Black Crake

Egyptian Goose

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

African Elephant

Nile Crocodile

Sombre Bulbul

Pintailed Whydah

 

Kosi Bay 0

Posted on April 17, 2017 by Ken

 

The view over Kosi Bay estuary with the traditional fish traps

The view over Kosi Bay estuary with the traditional fish traps

 

The KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife camping site at Kosi Bay is situated in thick coastal forest close to the edge of the kuNhlange lake, the biggest of the four that make up the estuarine wonder at the remote north-eastern border of Natal.

Each camp site is secluded away amongst the mangroves, thereby providing ideal habitat – one of their favourite trees and close to water – for the special gem that is Blackthroated Wattle-Eye.

These busy little birds, that are somewhere between a flycatcher and a batis, are uncommon and easily overlooked, but they’re easier to spot when they pass through the trees in your campsite, as they did at Kosi Bay!

Other birds seen without having to venture far from the comfort of my camping chair were Pygmy Kingfisher (a pair had taken up residence on the road to the ablutions and were seen every day), Natal Robin, which was resident at my site and put on a superb performance of all its many calls, imitating tchagras, cuckoos, nightjars and even African Fish Eagle; Olive Sunbird, Squaretailed Drongo, Terrestrial Bulbul, whose presence I was alerted to by a loud tapping noise as it thumped a caterpillar on a branch; Goldentailed Woodpecker and Blackbellied Starling. I was also surprised to see African Hoopoe in such thick forest.

Kosi Bay is also home to an isolated population of the Red Bush Squirrel and there was an endearing family at my campsite, full of cuteness and a penchant for nibbling at my soap! Samango Monkeys kept to the treetops and were far more pleasant to live next to than their Vervet cousins.

Red Bush Squirrel

Red Bush Squirrel

One of the main attractions at Kosi Bay is the marvellous snorkelling that can be done at the Sanctuary Reef inside the mouth of the estuary. Unfortunately the tide was going out when I dived, meaning there was a strong current and with snorkellers encouraged not to put their feet down on the bottom due to the presence of Stonefish, it was hard work and not able to be maintained for very long.

Kosi Bay estuary - the mouth

Kosi Bay estuary – the mouth

Fortunately there is always birding to be done and there were several Common Tern on the bank of the estuary and the impressive Whimbrel was spotted coming over the sand dune as one approaches Sanctuary Reef. Even a Caspian Tern came flying over the aquarium-like waters.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove were seen on the way down to the parking area.

Back at camp, a gentle stroll along the Samango Trail produced a pair of elegant Tambourine Dove and a pair of Brown Robin were also seen on a particularly thick, jungle-like portion of the trail, on the actual path. They are obviously not welcome in camp, presumably out-competed by the Natal Robin. Just to ram home the point, a Natal Robin pooed on the picture of a Brown Robin in the bird book I had left open in camp!

The trail also provides lovely elevated viewsites above the lake, with Purplecrested Lourie flying amongst the tall trees and Whitebreasted Cormorant flying, landing, diving and catching fish.

KuNhlange Lake itself boasted plenty of Pied Kingfisher, their lives made easier by the crystal-clear water, Yellow Weavers and African Pied Wagtail. A pair of Trumpeter Hornbill were seen in the morning flying over the 24.6km long lake and then again back across the water in the late afternoon, leading me to wonder if they were the same pair returning to the same perch?

The attractions at Kosi Bay are spread out over a large area, linked by confusing sandy tracks, and 4×4 and a local guide are essential.

The drive out to Black Rock, a promontory jutting out to sea, provided a pair of Whitefronted Plover on the landmark itself, while Gymnogene and Rufousnaped Lark were seen on the way there, along with Fantailed Widowbirds fluttering slowly about, in the grasslands that are around the Kosi Bay area.

Whitefronted Plover on Black Rock

Whitefronted Plover on Black Rock

 

map_kzn_zululand

Kosi Bay is at the north-eastern border of KwaZulu-Natal

 

 

Sightings List

Pygmy Kingfisher

Natal Robin

Olive Sunbird

Red Bush Squirrel

Blackthroated Wattle-Eye

African Hoopoe

Pied Kingfisher

Trumpeter Hornbill

Yellow Weaver

Squaretailed Drongo

Tambourine Dove

Purplecrested Lourie

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Terrestrial Bulbul

Southern Boubou

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Little Bee-Eater

Blackeyed Bulbul

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Common Tern

Fiscal Shrike

House Sparrow

Spectacled Weaver

Pied Crow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbellied Starling

Samango Monkey

Familiar Chat

Lesser Striped Swallow

Common Myna

Blackheaded Heron

Gymnogene

Hadeda Ibis

Rufousnaped Lark

Whitefronted Plover

Vervet Monkey

European Swallow

Redeyed Dove

Eastern Coastal Skink

Brown Robin

Whimbrel

Caspian Tern

Yellowbilled Kite

Fantailed Widowbird

 

Ndumo Game Reserve 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

Ndumo Game Reserve is known as one of the best bird-spotting places in the country, but most of the twitching efforts are concentrated around the sand, fig and riverine forests.

The south-western portion of the park is under-rated Acacia woodland and my latest trip to this Zululand gem produced a sighting that will live long in the memory as one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

Gorgeous Bush Shrike generally sticks to dense cover and normally only offers a sneak-peek to the many who seek this quite dazzling, aptly-named bird.

IMG_1867[1]

Gorgeous Bush Shrike in one of its typical tangled thickets

It is one of Ndumo’s characteristic birds though, even if the beautiful, ringing “kong-kong-kowit” call is heard far more often than the bird is actually seen.

I had enjoyed an excellent sighting earlier in the day along the southern boundary fence of the park when I heard one calling next to the road. I was expecting to be looking for a bird skulking, as usual, low down in the bush and it took me a while to realise that the member of the pair that was actually calling was sitting out in the open!

IMG_1857[1]

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

But that sighting paled in comparison to what happened later, further down that road in the Paphukulu section as the sand forest thicket starts to open up into more open woodland.

I came across four Gorgeous Bush Shrike, calling and displaying, lifting their heads to expose their bright red throats, and I was able to follow them for a few hundred metres as they continued through the bushes on the side of the road!

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

This thorny woodland provides handy perches for birds via the boundary fence and the cattle farm outside offers different habitat to the bushveld inside the park, leading to plenty of sightings.

Steppe Buzzard is more a bird of the open habitats outside the park, but seeing as though their migration pattern follows mountains like the nearby Lebombos and this was late October, maybe the one grooming itself on a fence post was just taking a breather from its long journey.

Little Bee-Eater was also on the boundary fence and there were three Redbilled Oxpecker on a telephone pole.

Another migrant raptor, the Yellowbilled Kite, flew over and seemed to be eating something on the wing, while another skulker, the Sombre Bulbul, was kindly calling from the top of a tree for an easy tick.

A Sabota Lark was being unkindly bullied by a Rattling Cisticola (two typical bushveld species), while a group of four Plumcoloured Starlings were dashing about and the black-and-white wings of an African Hoopoe in flight caught the eye.

As the road curves northwards towards what once was the Matandeni Hide, two African Openbill were soaring overhead.

The Matendeni Hide is no more, but the NRC Picnic Spot is a pleasant stop, with Grey Sunbird chip-chip-chipping away in the trees. I was watching a Variable Skink climb one of those trees when suddenly a Redfronted Tinker Barbet alighted on it. What was strange was that the bird looked heat-stressed, with its beak wide open, and it was totally silent – unusual on a day that only reached 33°C for a bird that normally calls incessantly through even the hottest days!

Typical woodland birds like Blackbacked Puffback, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike and Common Scimitarbill were also present, while Crested Francolin and Red Duiker are often seen on the road to Ziposheni.

Another Ndumo special, the infrequent Caspian Tern, allowed for great views as it was flying close to the shore of the Nyamithi Pan.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern upperside

 

Caspian Tern underside

Caspian Tern underside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fever tree lined oasis is well worth paying closer attention to via a guided walk; on the last two occasions I have been to Ndumu, the drought meant there was no water around the hides, with all the water birds concentrated closer to the inlet near the Mjanshi road. While the egrets, flamingos and pelicans were all way to the left of the hide, where the water has retreated to, a Spurwinged Goose did present itself straight in front of the hide on the bone-dry pan!

As we crossed the Mjanshi Spruit on the guided walk, we were welcomed by a pair of Malachite Kingfisher and as the water pooled in the pan we spotted Wood Sandpiper, Saddlebilled Stork, Greenshank, Pied Avocet and a Grey Heron atop a Hippopotamus!

Smaller waders were plentiful too with Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover looking mean guarding their bit of dry land, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and a big flock of Little Stint, which looked like tiny dots on the pan. Broadbilled Rollers were in the fever trees.

Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo were present, along with Pinkbacked Pelican and Great White Pelican, which suddenly stampeded off the banks into the water, obviously mobbing a school of fish, although probably only the first ten pelicans caught anything!

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ndumo campsite is also excellent for birds and I was given a very happy welcome to camp by an Nyala female and her ‘teenage’ daughter eating the pods of a Natal Mahogany tree very close to where I was pitching my tent.

As always, Little Swifts and Lesser Striped Swallows were zooming around the buildings, calling contentedly, while a Blackeyed Bulbul called cheerfully from a tree that was not unlike the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Hadeda Ibis provided a very noisy start to the next day, while Purplebanded Sunbird was up by the offices, where so many of the sunbirds seem to hang out.

A pair of Pied Crow have commandeered the communications mast in camp and croak loudly as they fly about, even attacking a drone that the staff were trying out!

Woollynecked Stork flew over camp, as did two displaying Cuckoo Hawk, while Yellowfronted Canary foraged on the sparse lawn. A pair of Yellowbellied Bulbul were sitting in a thicket with much wing-quivering going on.

Their Terrestrial Brownbul cousins were having a whale of a time at the bird bath close to my site, while a Bearded Robin sat by and watched.

Even while cooling off in the most-welcome swimming pool, birds can be spotted – a sub-adult African Fish Eagle was soaring majestically high above and White Helmetshrike were also seen.

Outside the main office, there is a lovely Marula tree and barely two metres off the ground, in the fork between two branches, is a Spotted Eagle Owl nest with at least one young, while a Wood Owl was spotted on the lawn next to the ablutions one evening.

The central portions of Ndumo are dominated by what is known as Mahemane Bush, a near-impenetrable thicket of inhospitable spiny trees and plants that must have been a nightmare for early travellers on the route to Delagoa Bay.

But the dense tangle is a perfect home for Apalises and a Yellowbreasted and a Rudd’s Apalis were having a skirmish, and in fact the rarer Rudd’s was more prominent on this trip than its common cousin.

As one heads north towards the Usutu River one comes across the clearing where the Diphini Hide once stood, overlooking the Mtikini tributary of the Usutu, which flows into Banzi Pan. Down below in the shadows amongst the Fever Trees was a Whitethroated Robin and a Greenbacked Camaroptera was busy stripping spider web off what looked like an egg casing. The little warbler-like bird got a bit tangled in the process but made off with quite a decent ball of webbing in the end, no doubt for use in sowing together its nest.

One can then turn south-west into more sand forest, with a giraffe deep inside this unusual habitat surprisingly being the first thing I saw on the Mabayeni Road.

The third day was set aside for the trip to Red Cliffs, one of my favourite excursions in any game reserve, anywhere.

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

The main road from camp was drier than usual, with the drought not having broken yet in early summer, but there was still plenty of birding activity, with quite the overnight storm having brought some much-needed rain.

An immature Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew into a leafless tree and stayed a good while, while there were five Purplecrested Lourie in a busy group, interacting and calling.

A five-strong group of Redbilled Helmetshrike included a couple of juveniles, while a Goldenbreasted Bunting went fluttering after an insect (they don’t just eat seeds).

Green Pigeon, Bluegrey Flycatcher, Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet and a little group of Chinspot Batis were present and Blackheaded Oriole was yet another bird gathering nesting material.

Red Cliffs was a hive of activity, with a Marsh Terrapin crossing the entrance road, no doubt coming from nearby Shokwe Pan and looking for a temporary pan made by the rain.

Two Yellowspotted Nicator were really unobtrusive even though they were calling loudly, in stark contrast to some Water Dikkop that were roosting calmly by some foliage on a sandbank of the Usutu River. Until a Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew over and then all hell broke loose!

A pair of Pied Kingfisher were hovering over the river and some Yellowbilled Stork were far upstream, but a Little Sparrowhawk, closer to hand, was given away by a Forktailed Drongo dive-bombing it.

Where is Ndumo?

Detailed map of Ndumo

Sightings List

Vervet Monkey

Nyala

Crested Guineafowl

Southern Banded Snake Eagle

Forktailed Drongo

Little Swift

Lesser Striped Swallow

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Blackeyed Bulbul

Hadeda Ibis

Purplebanded Sunbird

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Impala

Crowned Hornbill

Purplecrested Lourie

Southern Black Flycatcher

Browncrowned Tchagra

Little Bee-Eater

Fantailed Flycatcher

Southern Black Tit

Cape White-Eye

Redbilled Oxpecker

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Egyptian Goose

Whitebellied Sunbird

Steppe Buzzard

Yellowbilled Kite

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Sombre Bulbul

Longbilled Crombec

Yellow Weaver

Sabota Lark

Plumcoloured Starling

Glossy Starling

African Hoopoe

Yellowbilled Hornbill

African Openbill

Grey Sunbird

Spottedbacked Weaver

Variable Skink

Redfronted Tinker Barbet

Blackbacked Puffback

Cardinal Woodpecker

European Swallow

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Common Scimitarbill

Crested Francolin

Red Duiker

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Bateleur

Striped Kingfisher

Blue Wildebeest

Plains Zebra

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pied Crow

Woollynecked Stork

Pallid Flycatcher

Rattling Cisticola

Grey Duiker

Kurrichane Thrush

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis

Whitethroated Robin

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Giraffe

European Bee-Eater

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Black Kite

Rock Monitor

Redeyed Dove

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Yellowfronted Canary

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Cuckoo Hawk

Yellowbellied Bulbul

African Fish Eagle

Paradise Flycatcher

Great White Egret

Lesser Flamingo

Spurwinged Goose

Pinkbacked Pelican

Trumpeter Hornbill

Striped Skink

Blackheaded Oriole

Chinspot Batis

Marsh Terrapin

Yellowspotted Nicator

Blacksmith Plover

Water Dikkop

Threebanded Plover

Yellowbilled Stork

Blackwinged Stilt

Blackbellied Starling

Greenbacked Heron

African Pied Wagtail

Little Sparrowhawk

Pied Kingfisher

White Helmetshrike

Cape Dwarf Gecko

Wood Owl

Green Pigeon

Bluegrey Flycatcher

Malachite Kingfisher

Wood Sandpiper

Saddlebilled Stork

Greater Honeyguide

Greenshank

Broadbilled Roller

Pied Avocet

Grey Heron

Ringed Plover

Kittlitz’s Plover

Common Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Little Stint

Hippopotamus

Nile Crocodile

Greater Flamingo

Goliath Heron

Collared Sunbird

Caspian Tern

Great White Pelican

African Spoonbill

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Little Egret

Terrestrial Bulbul

Bearded Robin

Spotted Eagle Owl

Warthog

 

Pilanesberg National Park 0

Posted on July 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The Secretarybird is one of the great wanderers of the African grasslands, covering 20 to 30km a day as it strides purposefully across the savanna in search of terrestrial prey like insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and rodents.

There is something imperturbable about them, as if they are on an important quest and will not be distracted. Considered vulnerable, their numbers in decline, I am always happy to see them and it was a hot morning in the Pilanesberg National Park in March when I came across a pair marching across the grasslands beneath the Nkakane hill.

But on this occasion their smooth progress was to be disturbed in humorous fashion. Between myself and the Secretarybirds there were bunches of little thicket-like bushes and resting in the shade of one of them was a Steenbok … I was the only one who could foresee what would happen next.

IMG_1445

A distressed Grey Lourie tries to find some shelter during the heat of the day.

The raptors made inexorable progress towards the bush and, as they disturbed the Steenbok, both the birds and the little antelope were surprised with all three charming animals leaping away in fright!

Just before turning on to the Nkakane Link from Tshepe Drive, having entered the park through the KwaMaritane Gate, those selfsame low bushes had Pearlbreasted Swallows perched on top of them. They are one of the Hirundines that spend their time lower to the ground.

These bushes also provide vantage points for the Lesser Grey Shrikes, which thrive in the open spaces of the savanna, as well as providing some shelter from the midday sun when it is especially hot.

I guess 34°C qualifies because respite from the heat seemed to be on everyone’s mind. It was so hot that a Blue Wildebeest sheltering under a thorn tree almost on the road was very reluctant to move away from my car, while even a European Bee-Eater was being surprisingly inconspicuous lurking in the foliage of a tree.

The Hippopotami had the right idea with 13 of them in a little dam, along with two Elephant! Arrowmarked Babblers were also making a beeline, descending towards the water.

Little pools of water formed from streams running down from Magare Hill were also full of life, with Common Waxbills flying up from the water’s edge as I drove past.

The main stream coming out of Mankwe Dam obviously had fish in it because African Spoonbill and Grey Heron were in attendance.

There were no other surprises for me, although it was nice to see Wattled Plover and Wood Sandpiper amongst the Warthog at Tilodi Dam.

Sightings

Blue Wildebeest

Common Waxbill

Impala

African Elephant

Plains Zebra

Lesser Grey Shrike

Blackeyed Bulbul

Pearlbreasted Swallow

African Spoonbill

Grey Heron

Secretarybird

Steenbok

Blacksmith Plover

Hippopotamus

Yellowthroated Sparrow

European Bee-Eater

Arrowmarked Babbler

Egyptian Goose

Warthog

Wattled Plover

Wood Sandpiper

Pied Crow

Greater Striped Swallow

Grey Lourie



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