After our successful trip to Bulgaria in the Autumn of 2004, Keren and I were keen to continue with our re-discovered love of international travel/birding. The trouble was, with the world at our feet, where should we go?
In November of last year the research phase started.
As it turned out, the decision was relatively easy. Many years ago we had had a wonderful holiday in Kenya and it was to the African continent we were, once again, drawn.
Now, Africa is a pretty big place. So which country? Again the decision was quite simple. With easy access to pelagic birding off Cape Town, my passion for seabirds could be satiated and the large number of endemic land birds in the area made the Cape a must-visit. The next decision to be made was, should we just do the Cape area in our, albeit limiting, two weeks or perhaps include an area with different birdlife and animals? As Keren isn’t as keen on the birds as me, it was only fair that we included a visit to somewhere that would give us the drama of ‘big game’. Again the decision was a doddle. It had to be the Kruger National Park (KNP), arguably the best game park on the planet – not only providing us with comfortable rest camps and plentiful wildlife, but the birding is pretty damn fine as well. The best of both worlds.
Once we had decided on our 2-centre destination (but swapped them round so that we did KNP first and our visit to the Cape co-incided with a scheduled pelagic trip), Keren set about looking into the logistics (timings, accommodation, transportation, costings etc). Looking at package and organised tours, she quickly realised just how costly our holiday could be. However, with the help of a couple of contacts we had made during the research phase, she started looking-into ‘doing it ourselves’. This involved booking all flights, accommodation and vehicle hire direct via the Internet. Admittedly it was a little scary paying-out all this money and not actually having a single, local point of contact (like a travel agent), but as it turned out, she did a wonderful job and the entire thing went without a hitch. Actually, that’s not strictly true as you will see.
Over the next twelve months we received lots of help and information from one particular chap (Doug Pearson of Jo’burg, cheers Doug!). I also ordered the SASOL field guide and started revising the birds in earnest.
One type of comment kept cropping up over and over again. It related to the wisdom of our choice to ‘do’ Cape Town as it was, reputedly, not particularly safe. However, we can be pretty stubborn and dismissed these comments as scare mongering.
Eventually the day for departing the UK arrived and we got on our first flight (having stopped overnight with relatives), which was to be with Lufthansa from Manchester to Jo’burg with a 1 hour stop-over in Frankfurt. We were confident that, given the Germans’ reputation for efficiency, that we would comfortably make our connecting flight from Jo’burg to Hoedspruit on the edge of the Kruger National Park. However, just in case, Keren had planned-in a 3 hour ‘cushion’ between the two flights.
You just know what’s coming next don’t you!
Yep, the Frankfurt-Jo’burg leg was delayed. By 3 hours. Our comfort zone was wiped out in one fell swoop due to ‘technical reasons’. You’d think that they’d come up with something original occasionally!
So, 16 hours after leaving Manchester, we landed at Jo’burg and had 20 minutes to collect our luggage, pick-up the cell phone we had hired online (you’d have thought that the paperwork would have been ready for us to sign and we could move through the terminal with some efficiency!) change to the internal flights terminal (which seemed like a 10-mile hike in the midday heat) and check in for the next flight. We made the connection with 5 minutes to spare and only then because our next flight had been delayed 10 minutes! Not the most relaxing start to a holiday. On the plus side, I managed to tick Common Mynah whilst sat on the plane taxiing to the runway!
So, after the panic of
Jo’burg, it was an absolute joy to land at Hoedspruit and walk from the plane to
building thatched hut whilst picking up Crowned Plover
and a couple of weaver sp. in the process!
The next ‘job’ was to collect the hire car we had ordered through Avis (some 8 months previously). Back home in the Isle of Man I drive a Land Rover Discovery and have become accustomed to the high driving position, so we considered that a similar-sized 4x4 would be a positive boon for viewing game whilst in KNP. Therefore we had ordered a Toyota Condor – a popular (in SA) 4x4/people-carrier hybrid. Eventually the paperwork was signed, the keys handed-over and we went outside to view what would be our second-home for the next 8 days (apart from the rest camps obviously). I walked past the nearby Ford Ikon (a Fiesta with a boot) and headed toward the compound where the hire vehicles were kept, only to be called back to see one of the Avis staff loading our luggage into the Ford. You’ve got to be kidding, right? Needless to say they weren’t and, to cut a long story (littered with expletives and frustration) short, we agreed to take the vehicle on offer and be met in the park a couple of days later with a replacement. The phrases “Hobson’s Choice” and “fat chance” sprang to mind. As it turned out, the error occurred back in Europe and not Africa.
I squeezed behind the wheel and we headed for KNP some ***Km distant. The journey, on fast roads, was uneventful and we arrived at the Phalaborwa Gate entrance to the park in good time before it closed.
So, would our Internet booking, which we made 10 months previously, be recognised? Would we be turned round and sent packing? Read on.
Everything in the gatehouse was handled with efficiency and great pleasantry and we were handed a map of the park and were wished “a safe onward journey and a great holiday experience”. Finally, something had gone according to plan. We continued our journey northward towards our first rest camp, Mopani. All the while we were seeing game – Impala, Kudu, Elephant, Warthog etc., not to mention the birdlife – Blacksmith Plover ( a particular favourite of mine) on the roadside verges, various hirundines (including my first Greater Striped Swallows), the ubiquitous Lilac-breasted Rollers, Yellow-billed Hornbills, and assorted starlings. Highlights of this 60km stretch of road through prime bushveld were my first Wahlberg’s Eagle, Sabota Larks and the fabulous 3-Banded plovers seen at very close range from Letaba Bridge. I’d decided before leaving the UK that I wasn’t going to ‘bust a gut’ on LBJs but the Sabota Larks were quite common and gave really good roadside views so I couldn’t resist!
We arrived at Mopani restcamp at 5pm (this would be our base for the next 4 nights) and set about unpacking our luggage and then going to the camp’s shop to get provisions for the next day. Keren took care of the food and I organised the drinks. Water (lots) and Castle lager (lots more).
That evening, we grabbed our torches and wandered round the camp, looking for nocturnal creatures (birds, bugs, whatever) and were rewarded by locating a francolin sp. at roost. We managed a couple of very dodgy photos without disturbing the bird from it’s slumbers and managed to identify it as a Natal Francolin. This was very exciting and a new bird for me.
Despite the long hours travelling on aeroplanes (and the associated stress) and the subsequent drive in a foreign land during the heat of the day, we were still buzzing. A couple of beers whilst sat on our patio listening to the sounds of the bush (including grunting hippos and a distant Mozambique Nightjar) sorted that out and we hit the sack at 7.30pm.
I awoke at 04:30 and quietly got dressed, grabbed my bins and camera and sneaked out of the ‘bungalow’ so as not to wake Keren. Apparently my plan failed, as she soon joined me in the outdoor kitchen area as I made a coffee and waited for ‘birdable light’.
We decided to try the much-recommended ‘rusks’ with our coffee, but these were soon consigned to the ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ folder and crumbled up and scattered in front of our patio as the start of our makeshift feeding station. Within seconds birds were appearing out of the surrounding scrub and hitting the rusks hard. We recorded Gtr Blue-eared Starling, Dark-headed Bulbul, Southern Masked, Lesser Masked and Village Weavers, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows these were then joined by Mourning and African Turtle Doves closely followed by 3 ridiculously tame Natal Francolins. The francolins somewhat devalued what we thought was a good discovery the night before but, as we soon realised, they’re very common.
By now it was 05:00 and the light was definitely birdable, so whilst Keren went for a shower, I decided to have a wander round the camp. I didn’t get 20yds. Birds were crossing my path, flitting around me, dashing overhead, singing from he depths of nearby bushes. I was surrounded and couldn’t keep up with the pace at which all these new birds were presenting themselves. No amount of ‘speed-flicking’ through the field guide was helping and I reckon I only identified about 50% of the birds I saw in that first hour. There were some easy ones of course: stunning Paradise Flycatchers, noisy Tawny-flanked Prinias with Little and White-rumped Swifts twittering overhead. Slowly but surely the new birds gave up their identities – Arrow-marked Babblers moved round the camp in noisy gangs, White-browed Scrub Robins sang from the top of Mopane shrubs whilst Groundscraper Thrushes threw leaf litter around beneath them. Scanning the bushes we recorded Chinspot Batis (one I had really wanted to see), Black-backed Puffback, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Green-backed Camaroptera, the weird, tailless, Long-billed Crombec and Mocking Cliff-chat.
Time was moving on and we decided to get out into the park proper, but not before I had spent 20 minutes tracking down what sounded like a day-singing Mozambique Nightjar. As I got nearer and nearer to the source of the sound, I started to realise that it wasn’t ‘quite right’ and had none of the fluctuations in tone and speed that we associate with a churring nightjar. Looking up, I located the bird – a Crested Barbet and another one I had particularly wanted to see. This was getting ridiculous.
Keren had spent time with the Kruger map and had planned a loose itinerary/route, so at 08:00 we left the camp and headed south on the H1-6 to what we called the Shingwedze Loop (actually called the S50) and then headed back north toward Shingwedze camp. This sandy loop road wasn’t particularly fruitful. In fact, for most of it’s dusty, uneven length it was game and bird-free. However, as we approach it’s northern section and got nearer to the river, the habitat became more verdant and we started seeing stuff again. Goliath Heron, Magpie Shrike, Red-eyed Dove, Red-billed Buffalo-weaver, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Diderick Cuckoo, Red-crested Korhaan and Golden-breasted Bunting were all new to me.
We stopped at Shingwedze Camp for a drink and a light snack then decided to retrace our steps over the section we had just covered and also called in to a nearby ‘bird hide’ which over-looked the river. Unfortunately there was no water in the river (a feature which became commonplace during our stay in KNP) and we only added a single Yellow-billed Stork who was presumably wondering where his mates were! As it turned out they were only about 3km down the road on a stretch of river that actually contained water. Here, there were also Saddle-billed Storks, White-fronted Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Common Waxbill, Square-tailed Drongo and Emerald-spotted Wood-dove. And then there were the animals – lots of Impala, Water Buck, some disturbingly close (we thought at the time) Elephants, Baboons, half-submerged Hippos, menacing-looking Crocs lying on sandbars and we also got great views of a pair of Water Mongooses. Further downstream, on another dry section, we found a pair of White-headed Vultures who were trying to eat something gross whilst avoiding the attentions of a loitering Hamerkop.
We decided to go back to Mopani camp and rest then have an early night as yesterday’s travelling was starting to catch up with us. Also we had planned a bit of a long-drive the following day. On the way back to the camp we ticked-off Hadeda, Brown-headed Parrot, Swainson’s Francolin, Green Pigeon, a pair of huge Ground Hornbills, and a ridiculously colourful Orange-breasted Bush-shrike.
At the end of our first full day in Kruger I had amassed 54 new birds without really trying! It was now that we decided not to keep a full list of birds that we saw every day but just to add new species as they came along. Hence subsequent days in this report may seem a little thin, but it’s only the law of diminishing returns kicking in. There was stunning birding to be had all the time.
Day 3 – Saturday 12th November
One thing that we learned over the twelve long months we waited for this holiday to come round, was that there is a picnic spot at a place called Pafuri (right on the north eastern border of KNP) that was really good for birding.
So as the clocked worked it’s way to 04:30, we were sat at the camp’s gates, engine running and ready for the long drive north. Another good reason for leaving at such an ungodly hour is that there was a chance of getting views of Mozambique Nightjar as they often sit on the roads during the hours of darkness. Half an hour later and we hadn’t seen anything and now the sky was lightening and we could just make out the mopane scrub at the roadside. Suddenly there were 4 small patches of white floating down the road just out of my headlights’ range then as we were getting within 10yds, they banked right across in front of us revealing them to be the wing and tail patches of a male Mozambique Nightjar. Wonderful. The event was over too quickly, but is something will long live in my memory. Nightjars are the best birds in the world.
We still had quite a long way to travel so we hit the speed limit of 50kph and continued on our way.
Most of the journey was uneventful, with just a few Elephant and Vervet monkeys on show. New birds were added to our list in the form of Crested Francolin and Rattling Cisticola (yes, I know I wasn’t supposed to be doing the LBJs, but there was nowt else that was new and their calls make identifying them pretty easy!).
We arrived at Pafuri Picnic spot at around 08:00 and set about ticking in earnest. Unfortunately there was, again, very little water in the river but we still managed (in the 2 hours we spent there) to get Tropical and Southern Boubous, the magnificent Giant Kingfisher, a ridiculously approachable Red-chested Cuckoo, stunning White-throated Robin-chat, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Brimstone Canary, Trumpeter Hornbill, Burchell’s Coucal and a real surprise in the form of 6 very noisy Black-throated Wattle-eyes which were very active and I never managed to get a clear photo. Time was passing and with the restricted time we had (you need to be back at your camp before the gates close at 18:30) we decided to take a leisurely drive west to Punda Maria camp and have a spot of lunch. It’s a good job we weren’t in too much of a hurry as we seemed to stop every 5 minutes to work through various flocks of birds at the roadside. Between Pafuri and Punda we added Meve’s Starling, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Hooded Vulture, Comb Duck, Black Crake, Black-headed Oriole, Bennet’s Woodpecker, Red-headed Weaver, Grey Cuckooshrike, and Open-billed Stork.
It was on this journey to Punda camp that we got one of the highlights of our entire South African experience. As we were tracking a Hooded Vulture in the hope that it would land and we could get photos, something else caught my eye off to the left of the road (you soon realise why the speed limit in the park is only 50kph) – a Wild Dog!! The vulture was quickly ignored as I came to an abrupt halt so that the dog was right alongside the car and level with Keren’s window. The ensuing panic as cameras were grabbed and windows wound down would have done credit to a Marx brothers film! Incredibly, the dog stayed put and was joined by 1, 2, 3, 4… in all there were 8 of them (2 of which were pups). They posed for our cameras, which were fast approaching meltdown, and then languidly ambled across the road to my side of the car and proceeded to bed down for the afternoon under a roadside bush. Unbelievable. We managed to flag down a couple of cars the passengers in which, presumably, got as much pleasure out of this extremely rare and privileged sighting as we did.
We spent a couple of hours at Punda camp, but didn’t add anything new to our lists so decided to head slowly back south to Mopani. Still high from the excitement of the wild dogs, I don’t think we were concentrating that much on the birds and we added nothing new all the way back to our base. However, we did call in at a small Picnic site known as Babalala. As we walked across to the shelter, which provides shade for hungry/thirsty visitors, I commented to Keren “that’s a bloody big statue of an Elephant to have out in the middle of nowhere”. Then it moved. And continued to move. Towards the shelter. Which was made of what looked like very flimsy sticks and with a straw roof. We both fell silent and the atmosphere suddenly became very tense and, yes, thick with fear. We weren’t going anywhere for a while. At it’s closest this huge bull Elephant was at arms length from me (albeit the other side of a wicker screen). So close I could smell him. Eventually he moved off and allowed us to relax and even take a few photos of him and the rest of the herd (which we hadn’t noticed earlier!).
That evening after a cooling shower (because of the temperatures not the excitement!) and a beer (or two) on our patio, I took a stroll round the camp and added Pin-tailed Whydah (replete with tail streamers), Marico Sunbird, Southern Black Tit and Red-winged Starling.
Day 3 ended with my list now on 83 lifers and me in love with Mopani Camp and the north of the park generally.
Day 4 – Sunday 13th November
Last night was our last night at Mopani, so it was with some sadness that we re-packed our gear and headed south for Satara camp in ‘the midlands’ of KNP. Whilst Keren was packing I took one last walk around the camp and added Jacobin Cuckoo to my list of birds that I wanted a better look at, whilst discovering that we had been staying within 200m of a colony (in a huge Baobob tree) of Red-headed Weavers and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers – the camera got a good mornings work-out I can tell you!
Just as we were about to leave the camp, one of the rangers stopped us to give us the message that “someone from Avis rent-a-car will meet you at Letaba Camp at 13:00 with a replacement vehicle”. We really hadn’t expected to hear from them again.
On our way south on the H1-6 we took a side road and headed for a hide that overlooks Englehard Dam.
With temperatures hitting 40ºC it was pleasant to be sat in a cool hide overlooking the dam. The usual herons, egrets, wildfowl and Fish Eagles were in attendance along with a herd of Elephants (at a more acceptable distance!). New birds added during a very pleasant hour were: Red-breasted Swallow, Pearl Spotted Owlet, Malachite Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Egret, Spur-winged Goose, Anhinga, Heuglin’s Robin and Wattled Starling. Unfortunately we had an appointment to keep at Letaba camp and had exit the hide into the blazing sunshine that was now pushing the temperature up to 42ºC.
We arrived early at Letaba and had a spot of lunch in the café which overlooks the river and got great views of Marabou Stork, Martial Eagle and a new bird Brown-throated Martin.
We collected our replacement vehicle (a Nissan X-trail – which still wasn’t what we had asked for but hey, they didn’t have to make the effort they had – Europe 0, Africa 1) and continued south towards Satara stopping only at one of the bridges that cross the river to tick-off Mottled Spinetail (a swift which is quite similar to Little Swift). As we got nearer to Satara and with plenty of time on our hands, I pulled the car into a small ‘side loop’ that overlooked a dried river bed and was immediately confronted by a 4-foot long Monitor Lizard sp. digging it’s way into an ants (?) nest. We enjoyed this huge reptile for a while and then carried on to Satara where Keren had booked us on an evening game drive (only authorised people can be outside the camps’ gates during the hours of darkness).
On the approach rad to the camp I added Red-faced Mousebird and Burchall’s Starling to my list. After the birding and beauty of Mopani Camp, Satara was always going to struggle. It’s cause wasn’t helped by the extensive renovation being undertaken, the buffet-style restaurant (I’m not good at queuing/mingling) or the signs saying “Do Not Feed the Birds” – so, no feeding station at this camp then! Thankfully we were only staying here for the one night before moving further south to Lower Sabie rest camp. I suppose I’m being a bit harsh really – the accommodation was fine and I’m sure the renovation work was necessary.
Anyway, enough of such minor niggles. We were about to go out into the park again only this time in an elevated, open 4x4 with an armed driver! This was one of those times where being with other people was a necessary evil. Still, my demeanour wasn’t helped by having to sit near to an American chap (christened “Hank the Yank”) who insisted on telling me about where he’d been, what he’d seen and what it cost him. Not only that he proceeded to tell me what we would see and where to see it. Strewth.
So, back to the game drive. We hadn’t been outside the camp for more than 5 minutes when the shout went up “Hyena!”. I scanned the scrub with my binoculars as far the eye could see, I could hear Keren’s camera firing away, but still I couldn’t see the bloody thing. Then I glanced at Hank. Why was he looking at the road below him? Oh! There it is! Now, let’s be honest about this, hyenas aren’t an attractive animal. That said, this one did his best for us as he lay right next to the road enjoying the last of the afternoon sunshine, no doubt before going off to rob some poor cheetah or leopard of it’s hard-earned supper! Nothing much happened now for the next hour or so and it wasn’t until the last of the daylight was making the scrub look like a ghostly grey shroud on either side of the road, that the next shout went up “Rhino!”. Now this is more like it, this was the one that we really wanted to see (according to Hank we would see plenty). There were two of them and, despite their bulk, they managed to stay remarkably well hidden in the rapidly fading light. I pushed my camera’s ISO right up 1600 and managed to get a couple of record shots. Keren and I were ecstatic. Nothing else on this game drive could top this.
I had mentioned earlier to our guide and driver that, if we got chance, I would love to photograph a nightjar. It soon became dark and the spotlamps were handed out to a few of the vehicle’s passengers. Just my luck that Hank was handed what seemed to be the most powerful one of the lot! It was a bloody portable lighthouse! He proceeded to shine the damn thing everywhere but into the scrubland and several of us became victims of his ‘friendly fire’ as we were temporarily blinded by his useless aim.
Fortunately, some of the more skilled amongst the passengers located/dazzled, Black-backed Jackal, African Wild Cat, Civet and an unidentifiable big cat. But to be honest, after the Rhinos it was all a bit well, bland. After a further hour of lighthouse waving and animal dazzling (I’m not too fond of this, you may have gathered) our driver slowed to stop and pointed out a Mozambique Nightjar sat on the road. Finally Hank found his true calling and managed to point his beam onto the bird, enabling Keren and I to get some record shots. A Spotted Dikkop closely followed the nightjar, but unfortunately, it didn’t hang around for ‘the treatment’.
After 3½ hours in an open vehicle, on these dusty roads and with the constant chatter of my fellow passengers (one in particular) I had had enough and it was with some relief, but also with great happiness at having seen our first ever White Rhinos, we arrived back at Satara camp and to the comfort of a hot meal, shower and a cold beer.
Day 5 – Monday 14th November
We had a final wander round the grounds of Satara camp before leaving for our next base, Lower Sabie. Opposite the restaurant we had great views of a Green Wood-hoopoe and Brown-headed Parrot, but couldn’t locate the, apparently ‘easy’, African Scops owl which frequented the area next to reception.
We headed south down the H1-4 and turned off onto the S100 then joined the H1-3 to Tshokwane picnic site. On these roads we added Blue Waxbill, Grey-headed Kingfisher (at a small ‘bird hide’) Cape Vulture, African Black Swift and had wonderful views of a pair of roadside Wattled Lapwings, but nothing else apart from the usual game and commoner birds.
As we crossed the Lebombo Mountains, we passed through a dramatic tropical thunderstorm and had to stop the car as it passed over. The windscreen wipers just weren’t up to the task. After 20 minutes or so the storm drifted slowly north and we continued our journey south towards Lower Sabie. At one point the veldt opened up and we were treated to a magnificent view as the sun broke through, sending it’s rays onto the steaming land, so I pulled up with the intention of taking a couple of scenic photos. As I turned back to my opened window having swapped lenses, something pale caught my attention off in the distance. I grabbed my bins and homed-in on a beautiful, if distant, Lioness. So often was the case that we would pull up to view one thing and end up concentrating on something more dramatic. We flagged a couple of cars down so they could enjoy the spectacle, but none of them seemed that interested in looking at an animal that was about 200yds from the road with a stunning, stormy sky as a backdrop. Some people! If it isn’t under their noses they’re not interested. No sense of aesthetics I reckon.
We arrived at Lower Sabie in the mid afternoon
and drove through the camp, with some excitement, to the ‘tented area’ that was
to be a final base in KNP. The ‘tent’ had stunning views of the river, with it’s
sandbars and resident crocs, Egyptian Geese, Water Dikkops,
Jacanas, White-faced Ducks and Fish Eagles, so we
settled down for the afternoon to see what would visit our immediate area.
Nothing we hadn’t seen before as it turned out, but there were some spectacular
birds nonetheless. Later that afternoon, Keren took a walk over to the camp’s
shop to get provisions for the following
took a nap. She hadn’t been gone 5 minutes when I was woken by an almighty
racket outside the bedroom door. I opened the door with some trepidation and was
confronted with the biggest, meanest-looking baboon I’ve ever seen. He was as
big as a rottweiler and twice as ugly. He was just sat on our braai (South
African BBQ) and obviously looking for food. Fortunately, we had read the
warnings and all our food and drinks had been packed away, so he just jumped off
the braai and went off into the camp in search of richer pickings. I didn’t get
any sleep after that encounter, so I just sat out on the verandah and crumbled a
rocks rusks onto the braai and set-up another temporary feeding
station and I was quickly joined by the resident weavers and bulbuls. But boy it
was hot. The temperature gauge was showing 42ºC at 15:00!
That evening, we bumped into a couple of British people we had met up at Mopani. They had been down in the area for a couple of days and regaled us with tales of lions, rhinos and, excitingly, a Cheetah with 4 cubs that they’d seen that very evening just a couple of miles down the road. I left Keren to get the exact directions ready for first light the following morning and had a look round the well-stocked shop before retiring for the evening and listening to the hippos on the river below as well as an African Scops Owl that was ‘singing’ from a tree right outside our ‘tent’. Never did se the little sod though!
Day 6 – Tuesday 15th November
With the pre-dawn light just emerging on the horizon, we were out of the camp and following the directions toward where we hoped we would connect with the Cheetah and her cubs. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation (translation?? They were Brits for God’s sake!) and Keren led us in the wrong direction. Fortunately we got Brown Snake-eagle, and Shikra before realising our mistake and heading onto the right road. Within 5 minutes of getting onto the H10 we saw a line of 4 cars crawling down the road in our direction. I pulled across and asked the driver what they had seen. “Cheetah with 4 well-grown cubs. We’ve been following them for about a mile now”. I look over my informant’s bonnet and got my first ever sighting of a ‘spotted big cat’. I managed to swing our car round and slotted us in between the lead car and the one following him. For the next hour we were treated to wonderful views of this ‘pretty’ animal, as she was backlit by the rising sun, her 4 cubs dashing around in the distant scrub. A magical experience and one that will rank amongst my fondest memories (which are rapidly increasing in number!). Once the Cheetah had disappeared into the scrub we headed south towards Crocodile Bridge via the S27 and ‘Hippo Pool’ picking up Wire-tailed Swallow, Gabar Goshawk and Cloud Cisticola in the process. Once at Crocodile Bridge camp, we refuelled and enjoyed a toasted ham and cheese sandwich from the shop whilst sat in the shade of nearby trees. It was only 13:00 and we’d already been ‘at it’ for 8½ hours!
After about an hour, we swung the car back out into the park and headed back north towards Lower Sabie. Within 10 minutes we were amongst a small group of cars that were overlooking a small pride of about 8 lions in the dense scrub right beside the road. Whilst these huge cats were giving really good views, I felt uncomfortable being part of this vehicular melee and we left after 5 minutes and continued north.
We continued past where we had seen the cheetahs that morning in the hope that the afternoon sunlight would give us better photographic light, but the animals were nowhere to be seen, so we went round the S29 loop and stopped off at N’wagovila Hill where we collected Yellow-fronted Canary, White-necked Raven, Purple-banded Sunbird (very similar to Marico) and Gt. White Pelican on the dam below the viewpoint.
In rapidly fading light we dashed back past Lower Sabie just in time to see the sun going down and from a spectacularly blood-red sky at Sunset Dam. By the time we got back to our camp, Keren had calculated that my lifer-count was now at 115!
Day 7 – Wednesday 16th November
This morning we decided to retrace our steps and go back to the Lebombo Mountains to see what we missed during the thunderstorm two days previously.
Keren led us on a circuitous route (S82/H4-2/S128/S129 etc etc) that didn’t give us anything of note (we were becoming too used to the spectacular!) and eventually to Nkumbe Viewsite. As we climbed the hill to the small car park I noticed a mini-bus heading down the hill towards us and, fearing being beaten to the car park by a bunch of noisy tourists, I gunned the engine and sped into the car park before them (still within the speed limit of course!). At least 1 minute later the minibus pulled into the car park and out got a smiling guide and 3 overjoyed Irish folk. It transpired that just as we pulled off the road, they had been treated to views (down to a few feet) of a Leopard as it sauntered across the road right in front of their mini-bus. AAAAAAGGGGHHHH! To make it worse and to rub salt in my wounds, they took great pleasure in showing me the photos on their poxy little ‘point-and-shoot’ digital cameras.
By this time (10:00) it was getting ‘silly hot’ and we gratefully took shelter under the canopy of the viewpoint and enjoyed stunning views of a pair of Scarlet-chested Sunbirds as they chased each other around the flower blossoms right in front us. All this time we were jealously scanning the kopje behind us for that Leopard. We didn’t see it.
We had a picnic lunch in the shelter and decided that, as it was now 40ºC and still only 11:00, it was getting too hot for us to see much and to headed back to camp to rest up for the afternoon before going out again when it cooled down to a more bearable temperature.
In the three hours after lunch I was in and out of the shower 7 times as the temperature continued to climb: 44, 45 and eventually 46ºC!! Remember, the tent doesn’t have air conditioning. By 15:30 we made the decision to go out in the car and at least take advantage of it’s air conditioning even if we didn’t see anything. We crossed the river and watched the car’s outside temperature drop by a couple of degrees to a balmy 44ºC. But then, as we moved away from the river it started to climb again. It peaked at 48ºC! The skies blackened, the winds picked up and we hoped we were in for a dramatic and cooling thunderstorm, but, even though we heard the rumblings in the distance it never reached us.
We continued up the road to Nkuhlu Picnic spot and found shelter from the winds under the trees overlooking the river. Here we picked up White-crowned Lapwing and Black-collared Barbet as well as the resident breeding pair of Yellow-billed Hornbills, which spent their time scavenging for titbits.
The wind was a bit annoying and decidedly warm, so we headed back towards camp. Within 5 minutes of leaving the picnic site we came across 2 cars parked on our side of the road looking intently into the roadside vegetation. I coasted up to the rear car but there was no need to ask what they were looking at. Right outside Keren’s window, not 20 feet away were a pair of lions – our first male with an impressive black and gold mane. Gorgeous. We soon forgot about the heat and booted up the cameras. After 10 minutes or so the male actually mounted the female and they mated for an impressive 20 seconds (impressive by my standards anyway!) before rolling onto their backs in post coital bliss. I have a photo of the pair of them in repose and all that’s missing is the cigarettes!!
Our last full day in KNP, so we decided to have a ‘quiet day’ and just soak up the atmosphere - after we had given Nkumbe view site another go in the hope that the Leopard made another appearance. It didn’t.
On the way up there, however, we had fabulous views of 3 White rhinos – Mum, Dad and calf. We also ticked off Black-chested Snake-eagle and African Hawk-eagle.
Having failed with the Leopard we had a brief look at Silolweni and Mantimahle Dams, but all we added was a Grey Tit-flycatcher. Nice though - and a Puff Adder.
We also encountered an area where there appeared to be a lot of Chameleons crossing the road. Bonkers.
The afternoon was spent in the grounds of Lower Sabie rest camp seeing nothing new but glad not to have to be driving in the heat of the day (a much more bearable 38ºC).
Day 9 – Friday 18th November
As we had to drive a bit of a distance to Hoedspruit Airport and catch a flight down to the Cape, we didn’t have a lot of spare time on our hands. So we packed our bags and said a sad farewell to Lower Sabie and all the sites, sounds (and smells) it had given us.
We headed south towards the Crocodile Bridge main gate, but as we had a bit of time I decided, at the last minute, to take us on the S108 loop road nearby. This was definitely worth it and we added a couple more bird species in the form of Southern White-crowned Shrike and Black-bellied Korhaan. But Kruger hadn’t finished with us yet.
Passing a small sidetrack off the S108, something large and grey caught my eye. I told Keren to have her camera ready and reversed back to the turn off. I turned onto the track and coasted down to where I had seen the grey shape disappear into the scrub. We rounded a bend and there, not 20 feet from the side of the road, was a White Rhino with the biggest bloody horn you’ve ever seen in you life! Leaving the engine ticking over, I gently coasted to level with the animal all the while Keren’s camera was in overdrive. It was a magnificent beast and completely unperturbed by our presence. It was also a real joy to have him to ourselves. I gave him a few minutes then continued down the track only to find that it was a dead-end. We had to go back past the rhino, only now he would be on Keren’s side of the car. Would she feel quite as safe this time? Again I coasted to where he was happily grazing away and pulled-up with the engine on tick-over. Gradually he worked his way closer and closer until he was no more than a horn’s length away from Keren’s door. This was too close and I managed to pull away without disturbing him.
So that was “thank you and goodbye” from Kruger National Park.
8½ days of non-stop, first class birding (despite the restriction of having to stay in your car) and more unforgettable experiences than many people get in a lifetime.
After an uneventful flight down from KNP via Jo’burg, we arrived at Cape Town airport a little nervously - having been told all manner of stories about crime rates in the city. We collected our hire car (the right one this time), locked it’s doors and headed towards Noordhoek (south of the city). The scenery as we approached the outskirts of the city was mind-blowing and we soon forgot our misgivings and started to enjoy the journey.
We arrived at our final destination and the place we would be staying for the next 6 nights – Afton Grove, a birder’s paradise. The place is owned and run by Louise and Chris Spengler who take great pains to ensure their guests get the best out of the Cape. Chris is a mine of local birding information and his little route directions and sketches to birding sites are a marvel!
Anyway more of Afton Grove and it’s genial hosts later.
We unpacked our things into our self-catering bungalow (picking up Cape White-eye in the process) and read the welcome pack that gives a wealth of information on where to go and what to see. “Where do you want to eat tonight?” Keren asked.
I looked at the little map, which contained recommendations and one name leapt out at me – “The Nags Head”. Now that’s a name I could feel comfortable with. So that’s where we ate on the first night. It has Guinness on draft, great food (literally, the best steaks I’ve ever had) and pleasant surroundings with friendly staff and locals. Alright, I admit it, we ate there every night.
Day 10 – Saturday 19th November
As our pelagic trip had been postponed for a day, and Table Mountain was looking clear on top, we decided to visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (a known birding hotspot) and then to take the cable car up to the mountain top (a known tourist hotspot!).
First though, Chris had recommended a morning visit to one of his local patches at Jonkersdam – a hilly region with the characteristic cape habitat of fynbos and protea where, he promised, we would pick up a few goodies. He was right.
In a 20 minute spell we got Cape Bunting, Malachite Sunbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Karoo Prinia, the much underrated Cape Grassbird and comically named Neddicky. This was almost as hard work as my first morning in Kruger!
We were at Kirstenbosch in time for the doors opening at 08:00 and were soon strolling these wonderful gardens ticking new birds as we went – Olive Thrush, Swee Waxbill (one of Keren’s favourite because it has a “funny name”. Women!), Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Bulbul and Rameron Pigeon all fell to Keren’s much-shortened ‘ticking pencil’!!
We were using Callan Cohen’s Essential Birding guide to help us find some of the Cape’s hotspots and one of the things it mentions is the pair of Spotted Eagle Owls that frequent the gardens. Apparently the garden staff usually knew where to look for them.
Unfortunately, despite good directions and extensive searching, we couldn’t locate them and decided we could try another day.
The weather on Table Mountain is notoriously changeable so we decided to get up there whilst the going was good.
I braved the queues and packed cable car purely because it was something that Keren really wanted to do, but I must grudgingly admit that, it was well worth the visit. The views from up there are out of this world. I also got some stunning views of Orange-breasted Sunbird and the ridiculously tame Red-winged Starlings not to mention adding Peregrine to the trip list whilst, in the sea way below us, a Southern Right Whale was surfacing intermittently.
After we had done the ‘tourist thing’ we still had plenty of daylight left to us and, even though we said “we will be taking it easy down at the Cape” we opted to pay a visit to the penguin colony at Boulders Beach. As well as the Jackass Penguins (I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to call them African Penguins), we also ticked our first Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls, Swift Tern, Cape Wagtail, Cape and White-breasted Cormorants.
Back at Afton Grove, we relaxed by the pool with a beer and to the sound of a singing male Cape Canary, before ‘going down the pub’ for our evening meal.
Day 11 – Sunday 20th November
Day 12 – Monday 21st November
As part of our ‘‘taking it easy at the Cape’’ commitment, we decided to head east this morning and visit the world famous whale-watching point at Hermanus. Obviously there were a couple of sites of birding interest that we take in on the return journey (Rooi Els in particular, which would, apparently, give us our best/easiest access to that much sought after endemic Cape Rock-jumper).
The journey east was uneventful but pleasant enough on good roads and we made good time and added Cape Weaver as a ‘fly-by’. Arriving in Hermanus we drove up and down the attractive main road where, it seemed, every other house was ‘whale-something-or-other’. We were looking for the brown road signs that would point us in the direction of the whale-watching point. Now, either our eyes had been worn out over the last 11 days or there weren’t any brown signs. Strewth, did that mean we’d have use our brains?
We drove back west (for the second time) through the town/village and took the first turning that headed towards the coast. We’d picked the right one. There was a large car park right on the cliff top and there was, already, a small group of people looking east onto the sea. Keren jumped out of the car and went over to where they were and asked if they’d seen anything. There was just one Southern Right Whale in the bay and it was at least ½mile away.
Meanwhile, I had seen a pigeon on the clifftop that aroused my interest and walked over to where I had seen it. I’m not a big lover of the columbidae family but this bird was a real beaut’. A Speckled Rock Pigeon. There were also Swift and Sandwich Terns feeding offshore and Hartlaub’s Gulls scavenging around the rubbish bins (just like Black-headed Gulls do back home). On the cliffs themselves were dozens of Dassies (Rock Hyrax) – the first we had seen having ‘dipped’ on them on Table Mountain.
Unfortunately the whale never came close enough to photograph (in fact I think the one we saw from the top of the Table Mountain gave better views!). We decided to move on and visit the nearby Harold Porter botanical gardens (which somehow got twisted into “Harry Potter’s place”), which had the potential to give me a few ticks whilst Keren enjoyed the pretty flowers (I’ll suffer for that one!).
We paid the exorbitant entrance fee (all of 75p) and almost the first bird I saw was a Black Saw-wing Swallow closely followed by a Pearl-breasted Swallow. We strolled through the gardens with the stunning mountainside backdrop enjoying the dragonflies (I suppose the flowers were pretty as well) and headed for Disa Kloof. I don’t really like forest birding – too much like hard work – and the myriad of (invisible) bird songs, calls, squeaks and screeches made for a very frustrating walk. However the forest opened up by a small dam and we started seeing birds again. What’s more some of them were new!
African Black Duck (as promised in Callan’s book), a lovely little Cape Batis, a dull Grey-backed Cisticola (thanks to Chris Spengler of Afton Grove for playing me the call on his computer the evening before) and an even duller Dusky Flycatcher . The next bird we saw came as something of a shock and no small relief (having dipped on them at Kirstenbosch) – Cape Sugarbird and it was in classic ‘on a protea pose’. A fabulous bird. So much so, I almost ignored the Cape Siskins that were feeding in the bush right alongside where I was stood. Let’s face it; Cape Siskin is a bit of a non-starter when compared to your first sugarbird!
That was pretty much it for Disa Kloof, so we decided to take a stroll as far up Leopard Kloof as we could get without having to ask for the key at reception. Almost immediately, a bird skulking right besides the path caught my attention but it just wouldn’t reveal itself in full. I thought I’d seen some orangey/brown underparts and possibly a pale eye. My heart was pounding and I was getting more and more frustrated by my failure to get a good view of the thing. Eventually, after what seemed like an age, but what probably no more than 5 minutes, the bird paused in a gap in the undergrowth and revealed itself to be, as I had suspected, a Victorin’s Warbler. I suppose, when compared to some of the other birds we had seen, it was a bit of a dullard, but I was inordinately pleased to have it on my list. There followed some stunning views of more sugarbirds, allowing for some quite pleasing photographs to be taken, whilst overhead a Rock Kestrel hovered and did it’s best to be something other than a race of Eurasian Kestrel!
We agreed that we’d earned a spot of lunch so we went to the excellent cafe in ‘Harry Potter’s Place’. After a lovely lunch at the great prices we had come to expect, we bumped into one of the guys we had met on Sunday’s pelagic trip (sorry, I didn’t catch your name). He told he had just come from Rooi Els where they had had stunning views of Cape Rockjumper and he gave us detailed directions (based on Callan Cohen’s book) as to where to look.
30 minutes later we arrived on site and, whilst Keren applied more sunblock, I walked ahead in anticipation. On ‘the gate’ at the end of the track sat a Cape Long-billed Lark and hopping around underneath it with drooped, flicking wings was a Familiar Chat. Nice start. Further down the track I heard the, now familiar, trilling call of Grey-backed Cisticola and swooping over the adjacent hillslopes were Rock Martins. Keren joined me and together we slowly walked east down the track. We got close views of a family party of Cape Siskins and singing from higher the slopes were Red-winged Starlings, but there was no sign of our endemic quarry. On the roof of a nearby house I got a singing male Cape Rock Thrush (although, I must admit, that I’d initially put it down as Sentinel Rock Thrush – thanks to Chris Spengler for correcting me) and on roadside telegraph wire a gorgeous male Yellow-rumped Widow gave great views. We traipsed up and down that track for a good hour but never once saw anything remotely resembling the rockjumpers.
In the end we decided to consign it to ‘ the one that got away’ and left the area felling a little deflated (ungrateful sods that we are!).
On the way back to Cape Town, Keren remembered that we past another good site for Cape Rockjumper – Sir Lowry’s Pass and we quickly made the decision to give it a go. We parked in the viewpoint car park (complete with scavenging baboons) and crossed the busy main road to walk up the valley. There were more Cape Rock Thrushes on the slopes to our left and a Jackal Buzzard soared overhead but then, just as I was starting to despair, there it was. On a distant outcrop, Cape Rockjumper!!! Although the views weren’t great, we got all the necessary features for it to take a place of honour on our list.
In a state of relief and euphoria we headed back to the car park where got good views of Alpine Swifts and another Rock Kestrel.
As we still had a bit time left, we decided to call in at Kirstenbosch and have another go for the Spotted Eagle-owls (we had been told by another Afton Grove guest where he had seen them the day before). Despite extensive searching we failed dismally but did manage some good sunbird and Rameron Pigeon shots.
Back at Afton Grove, Keren mentioned to Chris that we had dipped on the owls and he set about drawing one of his great little maps that showed us exactly where usually goes to see them at Tokai Forest (along with the tricky to see, Amethyst – Black- Sunbird, Black Sparrowhawk, Forest Buzzard and Lesser Honeyguide). That was tomorrow decided then.
Later that evening we took a walk around the grounds, with a torch, and managed to find one of the rarest things we would see during our holiday – the remarkable Leopard Toad. What a stonking creature.
Day 13 – Tuesday 22nd November
As a concession to our ‘relaxed approach’ to doing the cape, I arose at 05:00, left Keren to her slumbers and crossed the road opposite Afton to walk down to the local reed bed.
Here I picked up African Reed and Sedge Warblers (typically boring acro’s), Cape Crow, (where had they been until now?) more Speckled Rock Pigeons (another bird I had obviously been overlooking previously) and a family party of Cape Francolins.
After a great breakfast, we headed off to Tokai Forest, following Chris’ little map. We then found the place with no problem and spent a good half-hour wandering around the rough grassland at the edge of the forest, picking out the landmarks Chris had indicated. Eventually we located the very tree he had suggested and Keren immediately picked out a Spotted Eagle-owl at roost. Our cameras went into overdrive! After 5 minutes I went round the back of the tree to see if I could get a different angle on the bird. “What’s that clicking noise?” I said to myself and turned to my left to be faced with a ‘fluffed-up’ baby owl. I took a quick couple of shots and quietly withdrew. In the very next tree we came across a third bird, another adult, but this one was mostly hidden by foliage so, elated, we headed back to the car – keeping our eyes on the sky for the hoped-for Forest Buzzards. We didn’t see any raptors but after our privileged views of the owls we really couldn’t have cared less.
Our next stop was for Amethyst Sunbird (“probably in the flowering tree by the house with the huge sprawling bush ”) and Black Sparrowhawk (“in the vicinity of the tree with the large nest, 150m down the track”). Almost immediately I got onto the male Amethyst Sunbird as he chased other sunbirds around the flowering tree. Amazing directions again, Chris. Unfortunately we never got on to the sparrowhawks but we did get a couple of the South African mega-tick – Chaffinch!
That afternoon we decided to have a look round the Cape itself – mainly for the scenery in all honesty, but also, hopefully, to get photos of the resident African Black Oystercatchers. As we pulled into the car park at Olifantsbos, there was a Fiscal Flycatcher perched on a roadside bush and Familiar Chats in the car park itself. On the beach there were the usual collection of terns and gulls and also a large flock of Sacred and Glossy Ibises. I soon located a couple of oystercatchers and managed to get reasonable shots through the heat haze. Mission accomplished.
We headed up towards the visitor centre and got reasonable views of a pair of White-necked Ravens and cracking views of Cape Sugarbirds (there seemed to be a pair on every flowering protea bush!). We headed back to Afton, picking up Steppe Buzzard on the way.
Day 14 – Wednesday 23rd November
Our last full day. Have we really been here for two weeks???
Before coming to South Africa I had decided that a target of 175 lifers would be do-able but also challenging. Keren had worked out, the previous night that I was now on 181. That was very pleasing indeed and I kinda hoped that, on our last day I might, possibly reach 190. There was only area to visit. The West Coast National Park.
So, once again armed with Callan Cohen’s excellent book, we headed northwest from Cape Town. We didn’t follow the directions in the book, as Keren wasn’t confident of finding her way through the city. Instead we headed off up through the winelands and almost immediately started getting new birds on the roadside verges. Southern Red Bishop, Cape Sparrow, White-throated Swallow, Common Fiscal were all ticked off with ease. These were closely followed by the wonderful little Namaqua Doves, boring Pied Starlings and the very attractive Capped Wheatears. The 190 was fast approaching.
Within 10 minutes of entering the National Park I got great views of another of my target birds – Black Harrier – not a full-blown male but, probably a second year bird.
On Abraham’s pool, there were Cape Shoveler, Red-knobbed Coot, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck and at the pool’s edges African Stonechat and Yellow Canary. Good heavens, I was now on 195 lifers. Surely the 200 would be asking too much? From the visitor centre we walked out to the bird hides on the salt marsh and got intermittent views of a displaying Orange-throated Longclaw and a discretely singing Thick-billed Lark. From the first hide, I scanned the multitude of calidrids on show but, as expected, they were all familiar to me from back home. Then, at the back of the pool, an African Marsh Harrier glided past. At the next hide I again scanned through the waders and got on to a small charadrid that immediately struck me as unfamiliar. It was very pale and quite small, but not giving good views through the heathaze. After 5 minutes of struggling, the bird got flushed by the quartering harrier and proceeded to land right in front of the hide – White-fronted Plover! Lifer #199. Noooo!!! this is too much pressure!
Nothing else presented itself, so we headed back to the restaurant by the car park and took stock. What could I hope for to take me over the magical 200 barrier? There were any number of wildfowl that could possibly have done it but, as anyone knows me will testify, I’m not overly enamoured of ducks and geese. They’re OK with orange sauce!
After lunch we headed up to Geelbek hide in the hope that a rare wader or raptor would take the honours. We timed it perfectly for the tide receding and had stunning views of the beautifully elegant Marsh Sandpipers (but they weren’t ticks!) and Greenshanks. In the distance there were (yuck) Greater Flamingos and a pair of Fish Eagles. On the ‘estuary’ there was a single Greater Sandplover, Whimbrels, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Ringed Plover, but still nothing new. I caused a bit of a stir in the hide when I said outloud “Redshank calling”. Redshank is a really good bird in South Africa and many of the birders in the hide were there purely to see the one that had been frequenting the area for the last few days (?). But I had other things on my mind.
After about an hour of photographing the waders that were giving great views, I had another scan of the edge of the estuary. “What’s that orange thing that’s emerging from the reedbed in the distance?” I again asked out loud. (I hadn’t learned my lesson with the Redshank). “It’s just a Cape Shelduck” came the derisory reply. WOOHOO! 200-UP!
Dammit, it’s a bloody duck. Sod’s Law strikes again.
We spent a further hour in the hide just enjoying the general scene and feeling rather smug. Eventually we headed back to the car park where the bushes were full of squabbling Cape Weavers (the world’s ugliest weaver) but in a gum tree nearby there was the hoped-for Acacia Pied Barbet Where was he an hour go when I really needed him?
As we had been invited to a party back at Afton Grove that evening, we decided to head back south and call-in at a couple of sites we had been told about.
The first site, detailed in Callan’s book, was for Blue Crane. We pulled up where instructed and I got out of the car to scan the adjacent fields. As I did so, a bird landed on a roadside fence-post that I immediately recognised as a 1st Winter Lesser Grey Shrike (a familiar bird to me from my European travels). I mentioned it Keren so she could add it to our list and continued scanning for the cranes. Little did I know the excitement it would later generate. After 10 minutes of scanning, I located two Blue Cranes, way off in the distance (we’re talking about ½ a mile here folks!) but, as the views were so poor we left the area in search of our next target bird.
We had been told about a gypsum mine, nearby, where the owners/management were particularly proud of their resident Chestnut-banded Plovers. We arrived on site feeling a little cheeky (back home it’s not the done thing) but Keren bravely asked the first person we saw about getting permission to see the plovers. This guy was huge but, with a strong Afrikaans accent, he said “Yah, no problem. I’ll take you to see them”. Amazing! Back in Blighty we’d have been told to “clear off”! I can’t even get permission to visit my local gravel pits. Anyway, he walked us down to the edge of a huge saltpan and, to my eternal gratitude, he immediately pointed out a pair of these wonderful little charadrids.
That evening (our last), after earlier getting lost in Cape Town looking for Rondevlei wetlands, we had a great time with Chris and Louise Spengler and even got to meet the legendary Anne ‘Albatross’ Gray and Callan Cohen (who kindly signed my copy of his book). The topics of conversation were mostly birds and birders and I even managed to stir things up a bit with my, less than complimentary, comments about the much-vaunted Roberts 7. (For the record, I bought my own copy the following day!). My record of Lesser Grey Shrike also caused quite a stir as no-one could remember any previous records down at the Cape. So much so that Callan intended going up to the locality the following morning in the hope of relocating it. At the time of writing, I don’t know if he was successful.
So that was pretty much it. We’d spent 15 days in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet and seen over 320 species of birds (204 of them new to me). The people were wonderfully friendly and helpful and we never once saw any trouble or felt threatened. This was the best time of our lives and we will never forget it.
(Most of these photos are available in Hi-res versions on request)
Birds (over 180 species illustrated)
Other Wildlife (many unidentified - please help!)
Scenes Around Mopani and northern KNP
Scenes Around Satara and Letaba
Scenes around Lower Sabie
Scenes from around The Cape
Logistics (costings, who we booked with etc)