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Ken Borland



Kruger National Park – Malelane & Berg-en-Dal 0

Posted on July 26, 2017 by Ken

African Buffalo, with Redbilled Oxpeckers, resting up in one of the puddles left by the first rains of summer

African Buffalo, with Redbilled Oxpeckers, resting up in one of the puddles left by the first rains of summer

The drought situation in Kruger National Park in 2016 reached such drastic proportions that it was one of the driest years in recorded history in some areas of the south, but blessed rains eventually fell in early December.

So when I nipped into the park for a morning’s birding on December 5, big puddles of water were still visible from the first rains of the summer. I figured the availability of this surface water would prove attractive to animals and so it proved.

The S114 is the first gravel road on the right after entering through Malelane Gate, and it runs along the Crocodile River before heading northwards towards Skukuza. Shortly before this, close to the S25 turnoff, there were large puddles of water formed next to the road in this area of mixed woodland and thorn thickets on granite, and next to them, half-a-dozen African Wild Dog were lounging around under some bushes.

I found two Buffalo lying in a mud-puddle on the side of the road as well and they were clearly not keen to leave, even though I was parked right next to them, clicking away happily on my camera.

Ahhh ... bliss. A Redbilled Oxpecker gives a Buffalo a spa treatment.

Ahhh … bliss. A Redbilled Oxpecker gives a Buffalo a spa treatment.

Sadly, the rains came too late for many animals and, also on the S114 close to the Crocodile River, a Hippopotamus carcass was lying under a tree, in which one of those rather confusing African Fish Eagle juveniles was perched.

A juvenile Fish Eagle, whose hunting skills have not been fully honed, is quite likely to eat carrion, especially in a dry spell when their preferred food is scarce, but whether or not this individual had been gnawing on some Hippo, I have no way of knowing.

A Whitebacked Vulture was nearby in a tree, another portent of death.

A Whitebacked Vulture with a hoof? in its mouth.

A Whitebacked Vulture with a hoof? in its mouth.

A Hamerkop flew over the H3 tar road as one approaches the bridge over the Crocodile River, in which there was still water, the river being classified as a perennial, with the usual array of birdlife along its course. A solitary African Openbill, a couple of Glossy Ibis, which are considered rare in Kruger Park, only erratic visitors, and Yellowbilled Stork were with all the other common waterbirds, along with Great White Egret and Water Dikkop.

The S110 road turns left from Malelane Gate and heads north-west towards the Berg-en-Dal camp, running between some of the highest hills in Kruger Park, the differences in altitude meaning a great diversity of plants, which attracts a host of birds.

Southern Whitecrowned Shrike were buzzing between the bushes and a few Monotonous Lark were calling in the valley below the slopes of Khandzalive Hill, which is the highest point in the park at 840 metres.

There were a couple of White Rhinoceros with calves, a very pleasing sight, and, close to Berg-en-Dal Dam, a Monotonous Lark was perched on some low branches and scrub and rather scratchily giving its for syrup is sweet call.

 

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Monotonous Lark

Even the reptiles were out and about, with the impressive Blacklined Plated Lizard crossing the road.

 

Sightings list

Egyptian Goose

African Openbill

Sacred Ibis

Grey Heron

Cattle Egret

Yellowbilled Stork

Glossy Ibis

Southern Whitecrowned Shrike

African Elephant

Blackeyed Bulbul

Southern Black Flycatcher

Impala

Greater Kudu

Whitewinged Widow

Glossy Starling

African Buffalo

African Buffalo

Wiretailed Swallow

Monotonous Lark

African Buffalo

Redbilled Oxpecker

Forktailed Drongo

Lilacbreasted Roller

Cape Turtle Dove

White Rhinoceros

Little Swift

Brown Snake Eagle

Laughing Dove

Plains Zebra

Sabota Lark

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Spotted Flycatcher

European Bee-Eater

Woodland Kingfisher

Blacklined Plated Lizard

Yellowfronted Canary

Arrowmarked Babbler

Blackcollared Barbet

Plumcoloured Starling

Redbilled Hornbill

Jacobin Cuckoo

Helmeted Guineafowl

African Hoopoe

African Wild Dog

Redbilled Oxpecker on African Buffalo

Redbilled Oxpecker on African Buffalo

Grey Lourie

Longtailed Shrike

Whitebacked Vulture

Giraffe

Grey Hornbill

African Fish Eagle

Hamerkop

Slender Mongoose

Great White Egret

Hadeda Ibis

Blacksmith Plover

Pied Kingfisher

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Water Dikkop

 

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

 

Chilling with the golfers & the wildlife at Leopard Creek’s 13th 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

With the Crocodile River and the Kruger National Park forming its one boundary and its excellent design, the 13th hole at Leopard Creek, outside Malelane, is surely one of the best holes in world golf.

A 505-metre par-five, an elevated tee shot has to cross a stream that splits the fairway, while avoiding a well-placed bunker on the right of the landing zone. With the fairway sloping right-to-left, and with the stream curving around to run the rest of the length of the hole down the left, any drive that goes left will land up in the water hazard.

If the first shot is successful, a big choice then awaits as to whether to take on the green, which hangs 32 metres above the Crocodile River and is protected by three bunkers and a pond, as well as thick grass behind the green.

Once on the putting surface, there is a wonderful view over the Crocodile River and into Kruger National Park, with Hippopotamus, Elephant, various antelope, Warthog and numerous different bird species almost always spotted.

Brandon Stone, who won last weekend’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a superb 22-under-par total of 266, the second-best winning score at the event, certainly rates the 13th hole very highly.

“That’s my favourite hole in the world, without even exaggerating one little bit, it really is special. The fact is it’s not just a location; the actual hole’s design itself, I think it’s a really tricky tee-shot. You’ve got to really hit a good tee-shot to hit that fairway.

“And then if you hit the fairway it’s still not an easy par-five green to get into. I mean nine times out of 10, I’ll actually lay up; I’ve even written on my book, if it’s anything more than a six-iron, it’s not even worth going at because that green is just so tricky to hit; you just can’t even see the left side.

“So I think if I can play that hole under-par for the week, I’ll be happy, because I think a lot of other guys are going to get a little bit too greedy and it’s going to come and bite them a little bit. And then if they go over the back, something else could bite them,” Stone said before going eagle-bogey-birdie-birdie on the hole.

On the final day, I watched two three-balls play the hole and the scores amongst those six golfers ranged from Keith Horne’s eagle to a couple of sevens by Bryce Easton and Pablo Larrazabal.

It’s a classic risk-and-reward hole designed by Gary Player and although 13 golfers over the four days made double-bogey or worse, at least they didn’t fall foul of the two-metre long crocodile that was lurking inside the pool next to the green!

It was also the hole when Stone finally closed the door on Charl Schwartzel in the final round, making birdie while the defending champion wasted a superb drive by finding a greenside bunker, taking two shots to get out and finishing with a bogey that left him five behind.

As captivating as the golf is, the view from the green into Kruger National Park tears you away and even the competitors linger a bit, the joy of spotting something special undoubtedly lifting spirits in a place that is often brutally hot and was 40 degrees in the final round.

The next day, while driving through Kruger, exactly opposite the 13th, perhaps 200 metres from the river, I came across a family of Wild Dog, just showing what special potential sightings are there.

 

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

Elephant

Buffalo

House Martin

Bateleur

Grey Hornbill

Hamerkop

Rattling Cisticola

European Swallow

Brownheaded Parrot

Grey Lourie

Natal Francolin

Slender Mongoose

Forktailed Drongo

Yellowbilled Oxpecker

Redbilled Oxpecker

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

Redbilled Hornbill

Warthog

Cape Turtle Dove

Impala

Greater Kudu

Plumcoloured Starling

Nyala

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

Hippopotamus

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

Steenbok

Blue Wildebeest

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Steppe Buzzard

Brown Snake Eagle

Purple Roller

Blackchested Snake Eagle

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Saddlebilled Stork

Bushbuck

Chinspot Batis

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Spotted Flycatcher

Striped Skink

Blackeyed Bulbul

Carmine Bee-Eater

Lilacbreasted Roller

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Giraffe

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

Waterbuck

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

Gymnogene

Hadeda Ibis

Threebanded Plover

Steelblue Widowfinch

Ground Hornbill

Pied Kingfisher

Greenshank

Dwarf Bittern

Giant Kingfisher

Great White Egret

Melba Finch

Leopard Tortoise

Ruff

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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