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Ken Borland

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River Cottage 0

Posted on June 10, 2017 by Ken

Arrowmarked Babbler

River Cottage in Malelane is a beautiful establishment situated just across the Crocodile River from the southern Kruger National Park and it’s an extremely productive spot for bird and animal watching, as well as providing great value for money in terms of decent accommodation.

From their vantage point above the river, birds are constantly flying along and animals are often venturing down to the water, so many classic sightings have been made from River Cottage’s front lawn. It’s the sort of place one expects to hear the famous Fish Eagle cry at regular intervals, and the Fever Trees and other well-established riverine vegetation on their side of the river also hold plenty of birds.

Although I heard African Fish Eagle, the only one I saw was a juvenile flying around away from the water, beyond the sandbanks and scrubby vegetation of the river and towards the S110 road within the park.

But there was a proper sighting of Martial Eagle soaring over the riverine bush, as well as African Hawk Eagle on a speculative foray over the river, where the stunning Saddlebilled Stork, one of my favourite birds, was foraging in stately fashion.

At other times, there were Grey Heron waiting patiently in the Crocodile River, while Squacco, Blackcrowned Night and Greenbacked herons and African Jacana flew past and Buffalo lolled at the water’s edge. Hippopotamus and African Elephant were also spotted.

In the morning, Brownheaded Parrots would fly away from their roost in one of the Fever Trees, flying over to the fruiting trees in the park.

Just walking around the gardens of River Cottage, as was my morning routine before breakfast, provides plenty of lovely sightings.

And it’s not all just lawns and majestic trees either; there are areas of rank grass, which were seeding and produced the charming and infrequent Redbacked Mannikin.

Laughing Dove with inflated neck in territorial display

Laughing Dove with inflated neck in territorial display







Juvenile Laughing Dove

Juvenile Laughing Dove








There were lots of Kurrichane Thrush with their spotted juveniles, Laughing Dove with their young, a big group of Arrowmarked Babblers moved loudly through the trees, catching flying ants that emerged the night before after a thunderstorm, and several, very prominent Scarletchested Sunbirds.

Thickbilled Weaver were hopping around, low down, between the buildings and a pair of Whitethroated Robin were in the dark undergrowth nearby.

Thickbilled Weaver

Thickbilled Weaver

Heuglin’s Robin hopped on to the lawn and investigated around the restaurant, outside of which a loud calling turned out to be a Little Sparrowhawk on its nest – a bowl of sticks between the branches of a tall tree.

Heading back to look out over the Crocodile River again, Whitefaced Duck were flying over, Blacksmith Plover were about with their confusing immature plumages and Bronze Mannikins were having a dip in a pool of water, while a Hamerkop flew along carrying nesting material.

Where is River Cottage?

Sightings List

Redeyed Dove

Kurrichane Thrush

Kurrichane Thrush

Kurrichane Thrush

Blackeyed Bulbul

Bronze Mannikin

Grey Heron

Blacksmith Plover

Water Dikkop

Egyptian Goose


Pied Kingfisher

Hadeda Ibis

Squacco Heron


Little Egret

Lesser Striped Swallow

Cattle Egret

Wiretailed Swallow

Blackwinged Stilt

Blackcollared Barbet

Speckled Mousebird

Arrowmarked Babbler


Southern Tree Agama

Whitefaced Duck

African Buffalo

Blackbacked Puffback

Laughing Dove

Yellowfronted Canary

Yellowfronted Canary

Palm Swift

Yellowfronted Canary

Scarletchested Sunbird

Striped Skink

Great White Egret

African Elephant

Woodland Kingfisher

Spectacled Weaver

Whiterumped Swift

Little Swift

Saddlebilled Stork

Glossy Starling

African Hawk Eagle

Redbacked Mannikin

Thickbilled Weaver


Threebanded Plover

African Jacana

Helmeted Guineafowl

Whitebellied Sunbird

Redfaced Mousebird

Whitethroated Robin

Brownheaded Parrot

Reed Cormorant

Whitebacked Vulture

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Greenbacked Heron

African Pied Wagtail

African Fish Eagle

Nile Crocodile

Whitewinged Widow

Little Sparrowhawk

Natal Francolin

Blackcrowned Night Heron

Heuglin’s Robin

Martial Eagle


Bonamanzi Game Park 0

Posted on May 18, 2017 by Ken


A Nile Crocodile gives me the eye

A Nile Crocodile gives me the eye

As my birding colleagues will attest, I have a predilection for taking obscure tracks and paths in the bush – blame it on my sense of adventure coupled with acute FOMO* – but my detours have often thrown up remarkable sightings.

Any road without a clear No Entry or Private sign is fair game as far as I’m concerned and when I went off on what was an adventurous track in the central forests of Bonamanzi I was richly rewarded.

Soon I heard a loud, piercing call, so I got out of the car to investigate and there, sitting on an exposed branch, preening and calling away magnificently, was an Emerald Cuckoo.

It is a bird that I have long been searching for – the colour emerald also being one of my favourite things – and because it tends to keep to the top of the canopy, it is unobtrusive and hard to spot, except when calling. So it was my lucky day in terms of getting a long-sought-after lifer and a superb sighting of a dazzling bird.

Yellowspotted Nicator was calling further down the same little road and was kind enough to keep calling so I could also track it down on foot and the other Bonamanzi specials seen – Lemonbreasted Canary, Narina Trogon and Gorgeous Bush Shrike – were all also surprisingly obliging and easy to tick off.

The Lemonbreasted Canaries, also unobtrusive birds that were only discovered in 1960, are actually best seen on the road to Hluhluwe along the western border of Bonamanzi, where I spotted them once again on the side of the road.

Gorgeous Bush Shrike was calling loudly and comfortably sighted in the bushes on the side of the road leading out of the main camp, but Narina Trogon was amongst a host of delights that came to visit me at my campsite near the swimming pool.

The procession of lovely creatures viewed from my throne (what I call my fancy campchair) started on the first night as a pair of Thicktailed Bushbabies and a Rustyspotted Genet came to visit, followed the next day by Impala, Vervet Monkey, Emeraldspotted Wood Dove, Forest Weaver, Purplebanded Sunbird, Bearded Robin and Terrestrial Bulbul.

The day after brought a pair of Narina Trogons, then another, and altogether four pairs of this sought-after forest gem visited my camp on a single day!

The late afternoon brought a carnival of birds to the campsite thanks to a swarm of mayflies that were fluttering all over as a gentle rain fell. Southern Black Tit, Yellowbellied and Blackeyed Bulbul, Forest Weaver, Plumcoloured Starling, Yellowthroated Sparrow, Yellowbreasted and Rudd’s Apalis, the Narina Trogons and Collared Sunbird were all tucking in and then an Orangebreasted Bush Shrike took to flight and joined the feast.

Narina Trogon

Narina Trogon in the gloomy drizzle

For those who enjoy working hard for their sightings, there are plenty of skulkers at Bonamanzi, including the usual suspects – Greenbacked Camaroptera and Redchested Cuckoo.

When I eventually spotted the Bleating Warbler it was close to a Black Cuckoo and bouncing around like a cross between a wind-up toy and a jack-in-the-box!

The Piet-my-Vrou was calling insistently in camp but was equally determined not to be seen, until my patience won the day.

The main camp at Bonamanzi – Lalapanzi – is situated in sand forest around a dam and water hole, so there is plenty to see around the chalets.

Sombre Bulbuls call from the tops of the tall trees that are all around the fancy accommodation, Hadeda Ibis congregate around the big bird baths that are spread around the lawns, and walking down to the smaller pan in front of the offices is always worthwhile. On this occasion, half-a-dozen Water Dikkop were resting and hiding in the long grass, while the Fever Trees were a hive of activity, which was unsurprising because five different species of weaver were nesting there during this early summer visit.

The Yellow Weavers were the most prolific nesters, bundles of frantic activity, but there were also Thickbilled, Southern Masked, Spottedbacked and Lesser Masked Weaver nesting.



Spottedbacked Weavers fluttering in display below their nests

A Diederick Cuckoo was looking a bit sheepish as I spotted him lurking on the fringes of the weaver colony, plotting skulduggery, but a Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet was getting along well with the Ploceids as they feasted on berries together from one of the bushes around the dam.

A Malachite Kingfisher was high atop one of the Fever Trees at the second, larger dam, while a juvenile Little Bittern skulked in the papyrus reeds and had me thinking of great rarities.

The southern part of Bonamanzi has a wilderness feel to it with no accommodation, only a few tracks and hiking trails, and often throws up something interesting.

Woollynecked Stork are found in the forest and a Crowned Eagle was sitting on a telephone pole at the southern boundary. Three black Impala were on the adjoining property, as was an Ostrich. Redbilled Oxpecker were with Giraffe and Impala near the Ndulalamithi Dam.

The Crowned Eagle takes to flight

The Crowned Eagle takes to flight

There is a lovely walking trail from the main camp leading 2km to a couple of hides overlooking pans. At the Leguaan pan, a Crested Guineafowl kept collecting items of food and bringing it back to its partner to eat, while a Water Dikkop was dipping itself in the water and flapping its wings in what looked like some sort of display.

The road to Hluhluwe along the western boundary also provides good birding and, apart from the Lemonbreasted Canaries, a Tambourine Dove disappeared quickly into the very thick undergrowth of the Mzineni River, with Redbilled Firefinch and Pintailed Whydah also in the vicinity of this river which flows into the northern tip of False Bay.

Telephone lines along the road are always worth examining and even some of the Rattling Cisticolas have taken to perching on them rather than the thorn bushes below, along with other typical bushveld birds such as European Bee-Eater, European Swallow, Blackeyed Bulbul, Glossy Starling and Yellowfronted Canary.

Where is Bonamanzi?

Sightings list


An Nyala scratches his ear

An Nyala scratches his ear

Rustyspotted Genet

Thicktailed Bushbaby


Vervet Monkey

Crowned Hornbill

Blackbellied Starling

Forktailed Drongo

Blackbacked Puffback

Southern Black Tit

Yellowbellied Bulbul

Red Duiker

Natal Robin

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Emerald Cuckoo

Plains Zebra

Yellowspotted Nicator

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Sombre Bulbul

Blackwinged Stilt

Water Dikkop

Wood Sandpiper

Yellow Weaver

Nile Crocodile

Thickbilled Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Lesser Striped Swallow

European Bee-Eater

Lemonbreasted Canary

European Swallow

Blackeyed Bulbul

Glossy Starling

Yellowfronted Canary

Rattling Cisticola

Tambourine Dove

Redbilled Firefinch

Pintailed Whydah

Woollynecked Stork

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Forest Weaver

Purplebanded Sunbird

Bearded Robin

Terrestrial Bulbul

Black Cuckoo

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Hadeda Ibis

Purplecrested Lourie

Plumcoloured Starling

Acacia Rat

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Yellowbilled Kite

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Narina Trogon

Cape White-Eye

Collared Sunbird

Redchested Cuckoo

Black Crake

Spottedbacked Weaver

African Pied Wagtail

Lesser Masked Weaver

Striped Skink

Egyptian Goose

African Jacana

Diederick Cuckoo

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Sacred Ibis

Grey Heron

Wiretailed Swallow


Malachite Kingfisher

Little Bittern

Spurwinged Goose

Common Sandpiper

Rudd’s Apalis

African Fish Eagle

Dusky Flycatcher

Chinspot Batis

Blue Wildebeest

Crested Guineafowl

White-Eared Barbet

Leopard Tortoise

Paradise Flycatcher

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Red Bush Squirrel

Squaretailed Drongo

Crowned Eagle


Little Bee-Eater

Redeyed Dove

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Southern Boubou


Redbilled Oxpecker

*FOMO = Fear of missing out


Markram ready today to do himself justice for SA – Boucher 0

Posted on April 14, 2017 by Ken


Aiden Markram “would do himself justice” if he is chosen for South Africa today, according to Titans coach Mark Boucher, after the opening batsman produced a magnificent matchwinning century in the Momentum One-Day Cup final against the Warriors at the weekend.

Markram smashed a classy 161 off just 123 balls as he and opening partner Henry Davids, the tournament’s leading run-scorer, both scored centuries to lead the Titans to 425 for five, the highest total ever in the competition.

It was the 22-year-old Markram’s second century of the campaign, after his record-breaking 183 against the Lions at the Wanderers a fortnight ago, to go with two Sunfoil Series hundreds, and Boucher, a legend of international cricket with 147 Test and 295 ODI caps, knows what it takes to prosper at the highest level.

“Aiden would certainly do himself justice if he went up right now and he will only get better in that environment, playing alongside people like Faf, AB and Hashim. Is there a spot in the starting XI for him right now? I don’t know, but I would encourage the Proteas to have a proper look at him in the squad,” Boucher said after the Titans’ 236-run victory.

“He’s easy on the eye and he gives you bowling options. Role-definition is very important in cricket and we decided that he must bat through and he was able to give Henry the strike and just let him go.

“But Aiden is certainly not one-dimensional, he can also finish the game, he does not get stuck. He’s got the game to score runs up front, in the middle overs and to finish the innings. There are so many dimensions to his batting, he’s certainly a star of the future,” Boucher added.

The 37-year-old Davids produced a sparkling 114 off 98 balls, taking his tournament tally to 673 runs in just eight innings, a Titans record and the fifth-highest tally ever, although those ahead of him all played between 11 and 14 innings.

It’s little wonder then that his team-mates have begun to call the batsman Boucher said reminded him of Herschelle Gibbs, “red wine”, such has been the quality of cricket Davids is producing in his senior years.

“I’ve heard the ‘red wine’ name a few times, but I’ve started to know my game, I give myself more overs to get in now. I used to play big shots early on, but now I get the feel of the pitch first.

“It’s been an awesome season, in the past I would score flashy 60s or a quick 30 and then get out, but this year I’ve only made a couple of 30s, I’ve been converting, so that’s very pleasing,” Davids, who finished the Momentum One-Day Cup with three hundreds and three half-centuries, said.


John McFarland Column – Tries aplenty in pleasing weekend for SA franchises 0

Posted on March 07, 2017 by Ken


Judging by the number of tries scored by the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend, I’m glad I’m not a defence coach in the South African Conference!

Between them, the Lions (8), Cheetahs (4), Kings (4), Bulls (3), Stormers (3) and Sharks (2) scored 24 tries in some very interesting games of rugby over the weekend, which we have not seen from our teams in SuperRugby for a long time. Newly re-confirmed Springbok coach Allister Coetzee should be delighted.

I believe it is mainly due to the tackle law, stopping players from going high, that we are seeing a lot more offloads in the line, the ball is being kept alive a lot more. There has been a definite improvement in attacking play and I would say it is more a case of the attack improving than the defence deteriorating.

Good weather, good handling and the fact that the players are still fresh has also played a part, and it’s clear the elite players have made a real mindset change when it comes to conditioning and skills.

It was nice to see the Cheetahs put together some really good attacking play in the first half of their match against the Bulls. They were really willing to keep ball in hand and because the Bulls have such a massive pack, every team will try to up the ball-in-play figure against them. The norm is around 35 minutes, but if teams can up that to above 40 minutes then they can test if the Bulls forwards will still be fresh at the end of the game.

It’s interesting, in terms of the Cheetahs attack, that their wings are always on the inside, in the middle of the field. Ryno Benjamin and Raymond Rhule are always threatening the pillars and are not out wide, they have a complete roaming policy.

There’s a perception that the Cheetahs use the full width of the field, but they don’t really. With them, it’s more a case of them playing through you rather than around you and they rarely go into the final 15 metres of the field unless there’s a clear overlap. This also makes it easier for them to support the ball-carrier and they will be less prone to being turned over out wide.

The Cheetahs are also quite inventive.

They’re prepared to chip from their own 22, even by the scrumhalf from the kickoff, so you can see the Cheetahs think outside the box – most people chase restart kicks with their wings, but their primary chasers are their scrumhalf and centre. It means they have a better counter-attacking option with the wings at the back.

Never mind the use of Ryno Benjamin in the lineout!

They also took quick throw-ins because they wanted to keep pace on the ball for the whole game and chase that high ball-in-play figure. The Cheetahs obviously took something out of the Stormers game against the Bulls because they really tried to keep the ball alive and were willing to try and force the offload to avoid rucks.

The Bulls struggled defensively because they were caught a bit narrow a few times and their wings were in two minds whether to go with the line or shadow and push to the touchline, which caused a few problems. I also think the Bulls tried to be over-physical in the sense that they committed too many numbers to the middle rucks at times, sometimes the ball had already gone so counter-rucking was not on.

But the Bulls did score a great try, thanks to a sublime line run by Jason Jenkins off Rudy Paige, to indicate what they can do, as did the way they came back in the second half.

But the Bulls just need to start better, they need cool heads, to have Blue Ice, at the start, when the gainline battle is so important.

The Bulls have also had problems with their lineouts for the last two weeks. The lineout is actually a basic of the game and without possession you cannot get continuity and build pressure with your attack.

But we should remember that they’ve had to start with two away games, although if you have title ambitions, then you’ve got to come through those games and win. They are still quite a young side in certain areas and it will definitely take a bit of time for them to be at their best.

They also have an horrendous draw, with just one game at home in the first seven weeks of the competition. In 2005 we first of all played five away games and then we won all six at home to make the semifinals, and in 2007, when we won SuperRugby for the first time, we also lost our first two games, and in 2016 so did the Hurricanes, so it does not mean the Bulls are out of contention, but champion sides are the most resilient and they come through these sort of challenges.

The Jaguares certainly gave the Stormers a run for their money, but the Cape side are following a high risk, high reward game plan. They are always looking to push the pass and break the line, and they are scoring some lovely tries with off loads and great support.

They are riding their luck at the moment, but the intent is clearly there. They’ve had a mindset shift and now want to be an attacking team, and some days they will fail, but I am pleased to see that thinking.

The Lions have had that mindset for three years now and to score eight tries against the Waratahs, the top Australian side, was very pleasing to everybody in South Africa.

It was also pleasing to see the number of maul tries by the South African teams. Last year the Springboks lost their way a bit in not using the driving maul much, but it is a definite strength of South African rugby. The Lions scored three maul tries and the Cheetahs also scored from the lineout drive.

This was a great weekend for the South African Super franchises and fills us with hope for the Springboks.


John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

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