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Ken Borland



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

Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie 0

Posted on April 02, 2014 by Ken

The open savanna grassland between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie not only provides plenty of game on the sweetveld, pan-dotted basaltic plains, but many of the typical “bushveld” birds of Kruger National Park.

Arriving at Crocodile Bridge at mid-morning in March almost guarantees you a hot welcome and so it was that, upon my arrival from Mlawula in Swaziland, I entered one of the southernmost gates of Kruger in sweltering 35° heat.

Crocodile Bridge is acknowledged as one of the hottest, most humid places in South Africa and arriving towards mid-day meant most birds were keeping quiet trying to conserve energy.

But just two kilometres from the entrance gate there are two significant spots that provide reward.

The first is the Gezantfombi Dam (more on that later) and the second is the turnoff for the Nhlowa Road (S28), one of the best birding drives in Kruger Park, particularly in late summer when the relatively water-impervious basalt allows numerous pans to survive around the stunted Knob-thorn and Marula trees.

European Roller - front-on view

 

 

 

 

 

and side-on view

 

Turning east on to the Nhlowa Road, towards the Lebombo Mountains, both Lilacbreasted and European Rollers were quickly seen, followed by another pleasing migrant in the Lesser Grey Shrike.

Most of the typical Bushveld birds were all there, with the long grass and numerous perches proving ideal habitat for Shrikes, which included Redbacked and Longtailed as well as the Lesser Grey.

Sabota Lark, Yellowbilled and Grey Hornbill and Arrowmarked Babbler were all there too.

After travelling 17 of the 24km towards Lower Sabie, you reach the Ntandanyathi Hide, a spacious, solid wooden structure that overlooks a section of the Nhlowa River.

Three Bushveld beauties were waiting there for me in Woodland Kingfisher, Greenbacked Heron and Crested Barbet.

In temperatures around 35°, birding around water is one of the better options and Gezantfombi Dam had earlier produced European Bee-Eater, Redbilled Buffalo Weaver, Common Scimitarbill and Cardinal Woodpecker, while crossing into Kruger over the Crocodile River bridge had thrown up a Redfaced Cisticola, locally common and always good to see, as well as Southern Red Bishop and Brownhooded Kingfisher.

The thorn trees around the parking lot where you complete the formalities of getting into Kruger had some friendly Blue Waxbill, tame Southern Greyheaded Sparrows and, surprisingly, a Steelblue Widowfinch, which is an uncommon resident in the park.

Between the gate and Gezantfombi Dam, one gets a taste of the thick thorn thicket known as Gomondwane Bush that characterises the tar road between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie, and this is prime habitat for the Whitecrowned Shrike, another localised bird, which was sharing a tree with the ubiquitous Rattling Cisticola.

A pod of Hippopotamus was keeping cool in Gezantfombi Dam, while Elephant, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Giraffe, Waterbuck and Slender Mongoose were all spotted along the open grassland savanna of the S28.

Nearing the tar road, and with the temperature now up to 37°, Marabou Stork were soaring on the thermals and there was also a Brown Snake Eagle flying about. Fantailed Cisticola were chip-chip-chipping at lower levels above the grassland.

All that hot air had to lead to something and, sure enough, a huge storm hit while I was setting up camp at Lower Sabie. Trying to hammer your tent pegs into the concrete-like hard ground of the badly redesigned campsite while a deluge is falling from the heavens is not the ideal way to end your first day of birding in Kruger Park, but it could not detract from the thrill of being back in the bushveld.

Sightings list

Southern Red Bishop

Redfaced Cisticola

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Blue Waxbill

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Steelblue Widowfinch

Impala

Blue Wildebeest

Whitebacked Vulture

European Swallow

Whitecrowned Shrike

Rattling Cisticola

Burchell’s Starling

Cape Turtle Dove

European Bee-Eater

Forktailed Drongo

Hippopotamus

Blacksmith Plover

Egyptian Goose

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

Common Scimitarbill

Cardinal Woodpecker

Lilacbreasted Roller

European Roller

Redbilled Quelea

Elephant

Lesser Grey Shrike

Sabota Lark

Redbacked Shrike

Yellowbilled Hornbill

Longtailed Shrike

Arrowmarked Babbler

Plains Zebra

Greater Kudu

Giraffe

Grey Hornbill

Waterbuck

Grassveld Pipit

Woodland Kingfisher

Greenbacked Heron

Crested Barbet

Spotted Flycatcher

Glossy Starling

Marabou Stork

Slender Mongoose

Brown Snake Eagle

Fantailed Cisticola

Grey Lourie

Laughing Dove

 

 

Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve 2

Posted on February 20, 2012 by Ken

The view from the southern part of Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve, looking across to the islands and Bulkop Hill.

The best feature of Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve, 50km north-west of Brits, is the overwhelming sense of peace and natural tranquility you get sitting on the shore of the large dam.

On a steamy hot February morning, it was beautiful just to sit and soak in the clear blue skies, the odd koppie and the sounds of the waterbirds going about their business. I even used the opportunity to indulge in one of my favourite treats – dipping my cap into the cool water and then throwing it over my head … Bliss!

I judged the spot where I tiptoed into the water to be crocodile-free because moments earlier a large carp had come to that spot and briefly frolicked in the shallow water …

February 16 was a very hot day, but nevertheless it was a good birding trip.

I stopped at the little bridge across the Elands River and made a great start – a couple of Blackcrowned Night Herons roosting in the overhanging riverine trees.

It was a good spot, also throwing up African Darter, a fleeing Greenbacked Heron with its orange legs dangling conspicuously, Reed Cormorant, a fleeting glimpse of a Woodland Kingfisher, Cape Wagtail, a large flock of Greater Striped Swallows, Southern Red Bishop, Whitewinged Widow, Southern Masked Weaver and Pied Kingfisher. I also heard some rustling down below the bridge and shortly afterwards a large Nile Monitor came shuffling out with a plastic bag and some vegetable/reedy matter clamped tight in its jaws.

The people at Bushwillow kindly allowed me into their bird sanctuary and highlights there were Scalyfeathered Finch, my first European Roller of the summer (leaving it late!), Jameson’s Firefinch, an Ostrich, a nicely posing Lesser Grey Shrike and Goliath Heron.

I then took a little walk down to the dam and spotted a dashing Bluecheeked Bee-Eater, swooping around like a green bullet, as well as a Whiskered Tern that was meandering across the dam before suddenly changing direction and swooping back into the water to catch something small. A couple of dainty Black Heron were also amongst the waterbirds.

A lovely shaded little pool threw up a brilliant Malachite Kingfisher that posed all-too-briefly on a reedstem for me before vanishing in a blur of dazzling colours.

I stopped for lunch at the picnic site and spotted my second ever Great Sparrow (the first was in November at Mapungubwe), hopping about in an Acacia tree along with a Crested Barbet.

The signs warning anglers about the crocodiles are true because I spotted a two-metre reptile cruising in towards the shoreline before my attention was grabbed by a pair of fairly distant African Fish Eagle.

A very yellow Cape White-Eye also popped in to visit and, just before leaving Vaalkop, I spotted an Icterine Warbler in the thicker Acacia woodland in the southern part of the reserve.

By far the most common bird of the trip was the Spotted Flycatcher … there seemed to be one lurking under a tree ever 50 metres or so! As someone who’s birding foundation was in KZN, I’m used to Blackeyed Bulbuls dominating … in fact I didn’t see a single Toppie!

But another wonderful piece of African heaven discovered not that far from home and definite food for the soul …

Sightings list

Blackcrowned Night Heron

African Darter

Greenbacked Heron

Reed Cormorant

Woodland Kingfisher

Cape Wagtail

Greater Striped Swallow

Nile Monitor

Southern Red Bishop

Whitewinged Widow

Southern Masked Weaver

Pied Kingfisher

Laughing Dove

Little Egret

Grey Hornbill

Grey Lourie

Impala

Glossy Starling

European Bee-Eater

Scalyfeathered Finch

Redbilled Quelea

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Lilacbreasted Roller

Pied Crow

Kudu

European Swallow

Rufousnaped Lark

Cape Turtle Dove

European Roller

Fantailed Cisticola

Nyala (females)

Jameson’s Firefinch (female)

Spotted Flycatcher

Ostrich

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Lesser Grey Shrike

Grey Heron

Goliath Heron

Blacksmith Plover

Egyptian Goose

Bluecheeked Bee-Eater

Cattle Egret

Whiskered Tern (non-breeding)

Black Heron

Sabota Lark

Malachite Kingfisher

Longtailed Shrike

Vervet Monkey

Crested Barbet

Great Sparrow (male)

Common Myna (grrrrr)

Nile Crocodile

Redknobbed Coot

African Fish Eagle

Cape White-Eye

Sacred Ibis

Rattling Cisticola

Red Hartebeest

Bushbuck

Waterbuck (pregnant young cow)

Forktailed Drongo

Southern Black Tit (female)

Redbacked Shrike (male)

Icterine Warbler



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