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Ken Borland

Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve 0

Posted on October 24, 2017 by Ken


Nestled between the rampant development of Umhlanga Rocks is a little 26 ha sanctuary of coastal bush, a refuge for birds and small mammals amidst all the hotels and holiday homes that are mushrooming along the coast north of Durban.

The Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve, with its coastal dune forest, reed beds, ponds and the Ohlange River’s lagoon and mouth, provides an ideal getaway for the public to spend a few hours reconnecting with nature, and there are plenty of interesting birds waiting to be discovered.

The Eastern Olive Sunbird is largely restricted to these coastal forests and it disappears readily into the thick foliage, it’s dark olive plumage lacking any of the metallic shininess of the other sunbirds.

But it makes up for this unobtrusive behaviour by being amongst the most vocal of all sunbirds, and, in a couple of hours spent in the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve, I managed to find four different individuals singing little “whit-peep” songs from inside the trees.

As charming as the reserve is though, one cannot help but be dismayed by the pace of development squeezing it from all sides; the difference between my January 2014 visit and my previous foray to Umhlanga in 2003 was stark.

A Purplecrested Lourie flew into a bare tree above the forest and seemed to look around anxiously, seemingly perplexed by all the development going on around the oasis of green.

Nevertheless, three species of Weaver can be found in the reserve, including nesting Yellow Weavers, and there were fleeting glimpses of Tawnyflanked Prinia, as well as a Slender Mongoose scampering away into the reedbeds, just proving the wide range of habitats these carnivores can inhabit.

Common Sandpiper and Pied Kingfisher are prominent along the lagoon, while there always seems to be a Goliath Heron around.

Thickbilled Weaver can either be found nesting in the reeds or foraging on the way back through the forest.

Sightings list

Cape Wagtail

Spottedbacked Weaver

Blackeyed Bulbul

Yellow Weaver

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Purplecrested Lourie

Eastern Olive Sunbird

Cape White-Eye

Sombre Bulbul

Southern Red Bishop

Slender Mongoose

Common Sandpiper

Pied Kingfisher

Blackheaded Heron

Goliath Heron

Hadeda Ibis

Bronze Mannikin

Thickbilled Weaver


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.


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.


Blue Wildebeest

Common Waxbill


African Elephant

Plains Zebra

Lesser Grey Shrike

Blackeyed Bulbul

Pearlbreasted Swallow

African Spoonbill

Grey Heron



Blacksmith Plover


Yellowthroated Sparrow

European Bee-Eater

Arrowmarked Babbler

Egyptian Goose


Wattled Plover

Wood Sandpiper

Pied Crow

Greater Striped Swallow

Grey Lourie

Punda Maria, Pafuri & Crooks Corner 0

Posted on May 21, 2015 by Ken

Crooks Corner - the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers

Crooks Corner – the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers

Crooks Corner, which provides an amazing diversity of birds thanks to the combination of tropical riverine forest and sandveld, is one of those mystical, frontier places where you expect anything to turn up and is the north-eastern tip of Kruger National Park, at the end of the S63 Luvuvhu River Drive.

The confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers is called Crooks Corner because it was here, where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet, that scoundrels and rogues of a century ago would hide out and merely skip across the sandbars into another country when justice came a-looking.

There’s always something interesting in the dense forest or along the rivers at Crooks Corner, but the surrounding area is also great for birds and having that sense of expectation that something unusual is lurking just around the next bend is always exciting.

Heading back from Crooks Corner, away from the rivers in the direction of the Pafuri Border Gate with Mozambique, the road goes through an area of open Lala Palm savanna and then into Mopane forest that is fringed by Fever Trees.

Some little pools had formed below these Fever Trees which I initially drove past. But a hunch – you must always follow them! – made me go back and study the inundated areas more closely.

There were some baboons foraging on the ground and there, perched on a stick rising about a metre above the ground, was the distinct shape of a tiny heron.

Closer examination revealed the scarce Dwarf Bittern – only the second one I’ve seen. (The first was at Ndumo, also on the edge of a quiet pool in a well-wooded area).

The Dwarf Bittern is famous for its nomadic lifestyle, arriving in a place after good rains have led to local flooding, having an uncanny ability to find such areas within days of them being inundated.

It’s an enigmatic, secretive bird – partly nocturnal – and a much sought-after but seldom-seen tropical visitor.

Being mid-January, there were plenty of other pools scattered around the sandveld and the sweetveld grasslands on basalt, and just before the S63 Luvuvhu River Drive, Yellowbilled and White Storks, Water Dikkop and Little Bee-Eater were congregated around the water-filled depressions.

Turning on to the S63, the hundreds of Whitebacked Vultures either in the trees or circling in the sky soon became evident. There were 66 in two adjacent dead trees alone, with a few Lappetfaced Vultures among them.

Lappetfaced Vulture on the S63

Lappetfaced Vulture on the S63

Longtailed Starlings scratching around, Whitefronted Bee-Eaters swooping off the banks of the river, the odd Whitecrowned Plover on the sandbanks and Greenbacked Heron are the other typical birds of the S63, while a juvenile African Hawk Eagle was flying above the riverine forest.

The grassland around the Lala Palm savanna boasted Whitewinged Widow and a Steelblue Widowfinch was in a Fever Tree on the fringes of the forest, where a group of stately Ground Hornbill were strolling along and a Gymnogene was quartering nearby.

The viewpoint at Crooks Corner offered up Pied Kingfisher and Greenshank, while a Giant Kingfisher was hunting in front of the Pafuri picnic site and a Great White Egret was in the Luvuvhu River. Looking over the river from the main bridge, Rock Martin (and not Brownthroated as you’d expect over water), Little Swift and Wiretailed Swallow were all zooming about, while a Tropical Boubou was on the bank.

The beautiful Melba Finch was in the Acacia thickets as I was leaving Pafuri, the road back to Punda Maria passing through undulating grasslands studded with Baobabs, where all sorts of interesting sightings have been made.

Klopperfontein is always worth visiting and there was a solitary Hippopotamus lying in the dam, while a male Knob-billed Duck and a younger bloke had some territorial skirmishes. Ruff, Redbilled Teal and African Jacana were the other waterbirds present, while European Roller, Swainson’s Francolin, European Bee-Eater, Longtailed Shrike, Pintailed Whydah and Redbacked Shrike are common in the grassland around the dam and drift.

The Amur Falcon is the most common raptor in this habitat and one was sitting quite low down doing some serious maintenance on its heavily-barred tail.

A pair of Whiteheaded Vulture flew overhead and Wahlberg’s Eagle was also patrolling around, but the most fascinating hunter in action was a European Cuckoo sitting on top of a low shrub. It somehow spotted a caterpillar at 90° from it, about five metres away, and immediately swooped on to it. From there it flew briefly into a tree to devour its favourite food before making another sortie on to some rocks and boulders to catch another caterpillar. For a normally shy bird, this was a wonderful sighting.

The H1-8 tar road goes through open savanna grassland with stunted Mopane and is good for raptors, with Steppe Buzzard and Brown Snake Eagle prominent on this occasion. A Striped Cuckoo also posed beautifully.

Heading back towards Punda Maria on the H13-1 takes one through mature Mopane forest and Purple Roller and a very confusing juvenile Blackchested Snake Eagle on top of a dead tree were seen. A small flock of Redbilled Helmetshrike flew into a Tree Mopane making their typical growling calls.

There are also patches of mixed woodland along the H13-1 and seemingly in the middle of this forest stood a gorgeous Saddlebilled Stork on an exposed branch. There must have been a spruit nearby, and the threatened member of the Avian Big Six looked mildly embarrassed by how beautiful it was with its combination of black, white, red and yellow.

Saddlebilled Stork up a tree!

Saddlebilled Stork up a tree!

Groundscraper Thrush was another bird which I did not expect to see high up on top of a dead tree, but perhaps the lack of short grass below forced it up into the heavens.

A Bennett’s Woodpecker and an African Hoopoe were together at a dead log, the Woodpecker on top and the Hoopoe at ground level.

A friendly female Bushbuck

A friendly female Bushbuck

Two lovely female bushbuck welcomed me back to camp after an idyllic day and Chinspot Batis, House Martin, Bateleur, Grey Hornbill, Blackbacked Puffback and Greybacked Camaroptera (on the Flycatcher trail behind the reception) are easily seen at Punda Maria, one of the best bird-watching camps in Kruger, an island of sandveld within the sea of Mopane. The camp also has a waterhole just outside the fence which has a marvellous hide overlooking it and Hamerkop, Marabou Stork, Bronze Mannikin and Common Waxbill (both feeding on the seeds of the rank vegetation around the water) were there, along with plenty of Buffalo, a few Elephant and some antelope.

The beautiful Gumbandebvu Hills and their magnificent sandveld woodlands surround Punda Maria and provide great birding. Driving around close to camp provided a flock of 15 Brownheaded Parrot and then numerous others of this threatened gem, indicating that many of the wonderful trees in the area were probably fruiting.

One of the big herds of Buffalo around Punda Maria was enjoying a marvellous mudbath – one individual was having such an awesome spa-day that it had all four feet in the air and was bellowing like a Lion!

The Buffalo having a wonderful spa-day in the mud!

The Buffalo having a wonderful spa-day in the mud!

Redbilled and Yellowbilled Oxpeckers were together with this herd, with the scarcer Yellowbilled tending to be on the young Buffalo and the Redbilled on the adults.

Redbilled Hornbill, Greater Kudu, Plumcoloured Starling, Nyala, Carmine Bee-Eater (using the telephone line in front of the staff quarters), and Blackheaded Oriole are also inhabitants of this beautiful area, which is most effectively explored by taking the circular Mahonie Loop (S99), one of my absolute favourite drives in Kruger.

All sorts of exotic calls ring out from the broadleafed woodland and a Whitebrowed Scrub Robin was on top of a tree, calling away, while a Jacobin Cuckoo was a bit more shy at the Witsand waterhole. Black Widowfinch, Green Pigeon, Browncrowned Tchagra, Paradise Flycatcher and Marabou Stork were also spotted.

The Dzundzwini Loop south-east of Punda Maria (S58) provides a break from the tall stands of Mopane with more marvellous mixed woodland.

A beautiful Woodland Kingfisher was sitting on a low shrub, unusually for a bird that is normally perched on trees, while another tropical intra-African migrant, the equally spectacular Broadbilled Roller, was up in the high branches as one would expect. Continuing the theme of weird birding pairs, a Crested Francolin was sitting in a bush with a whole bunch of Grey Louries!

Waterbuck and Tawny Eagle were present at the Dzundzwini Spring, marked by a big Sausage Tree at the base of the hill.

The H1-7 tar road that takes one from Punda Maria to Shingwedzi goes through a mixture of palm savanna and open Mopane shrubveld and a Blackcrowned Tchagra was singing beautifully, as only they can, while just a single Monotonous Lark was also calling away, perhaps trying to hail his mates.

The call of the Tawnyflanked Prinia was also heard all around the wetlands of the Shisha River System but a sighting was proving elusive until I finally spotted one in a Mopane tree.

Thulamila Koppie is a short drive from Punda Maria camp and again offers a mixture of woodland trees. The road to the top of the koppie – at 604m – is quite steep but it had been freshly graded on this day and Jameson’s Firefinch was amongst other finches and waxbills enjoying what had been thrown up by the maintenance team.

Sightings list



House Martin


Grey Hornbill


Rattling Cisticola

European Swallow

Brownheaded Parrot

Grey Lourie

Natal Francolin

Slender Mongoose

Forktailed Drongo

Yellowbilled Oxpecker

Redbilled Oxpecker

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

Redbilled Hornbill


Cape Turtle Dove


Greater Kudu

Plumcoloured Starling


Blackheaded Oriole

Plains Zebra

Common Rough-Scaled Plated Lizard

European Roller

Swainson’s Francolin

European Bee-Eater

Amur Falcon

Longtailed Shrike

Pintailed Whydah

Whiteheaded Vulture

Southern Masked Weaver

European Cuckoo

Redbilled Teal

Blacksmith Plover


African Fish Eagle

Knob-billed Duck

Grey Heron

Marsh Terrapin

Chacma Baboon

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Common Moorhen

African Jacana

Egyptian Goose

Redbacked Shrike

Laughing Dove


Blue Wildebeest

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Steppe Buzzard

Brown Snake Eagle

Purple Roller

Blackchested Snake Eagle

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Saddlebilled Stork


Chinspot Batis

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Spotted Flycatcher

Striped Skink

Blackeyed Bulbul

Carmine Bee-Eater

Lilacbreasted Roller

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill


White Helmetshrike

Groundscraper Thrush

Arrowmarked Babbler

African Hoopoe

Bennett’s Woodpecker

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

Tree Squirrel

Woodland Kingfisher

Broadbilled Roller

Crested Francolin

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Whitebacked Vulture

Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko

Blackbacked Puffback

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Yellowfronted Canary

Jacobin Cuckoo

Black Widowfinch

Green Pigeon

Browncrowned Tchagra

Paradise Flycatcher

Whitebellied Sunbird

Blue Waxbill

Marabou Stork

Bronze Mannikin

Common Waxbill

Vervet Monkey


Tawny Eagle

Blackcrowned Tchagra

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Monotonous Lark

Crested Barbet

Striped Cuckoo

Longbilled Crombec

Water Dikkop

Little Bee-Eater

Yellowbilled Stork

Yellowbilled Kite

White Stork

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lappetfaced Vulture

Redeyed Dove

Longtailed Starling

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Redbilled Quelea

Whitecrowned Plover

African Pied Wagtail

Common Sandpiper

African Hawk Eagle

Greenbacked Heron

Speckled Mousebird

Diederick Cuckoo

Whitewinged Widow

Nile Crocodile


Hadeda Ibis

Threebanded Plover

Steelblue Widowfinch

Ground Hornbill

Pied Kingfisher


Dwarf Bittern

Giant Kingfisher

Great White Egret

Melba Finch

Leopard Tortoise


Helmeted Guineafowl

Jameson’s Firefinch

Van Son’s Thicktoed Gecko

Burchell’s Coucal

Greybacked Camaroptera

Whitefaced Duck

Rock Martin

Little Swift

Wiretailed Swallow

Tropical Boubou


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