Archive for July, 2007

At Letaba we went on our first (guided of course) Night Drive. We had tried for one at Orpen but they weren’t running one the evening we stayed at Tamboti. The night drive was not fantastic though we did see some cool animals–the Ranger leading just wasn’t very enthusiastic or particularly knowledgeable. (For those who’ve never been–dress REALLY WARM!!–it will be cold in an open vehicle when driving.)

Animals we saw included:

  • Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
  • Genet (unable to determine species)
  • Caracal (Caracal caracal)
  • Spring Hare (Pedetes capensis)
  • Scrub Hare (Lepes saxatilis)
  • African Wildcat (Felis silvestris cafra)

as well as the usual suspects: Elephant, Impala, etc.

After a good night’s sleep we headed out to the Matambeni bird hide near the Engelhard Dam. The hide is situated a bit far back from the water so it was difficult to see the wildlife.

After leaving the hide we headed back on the S62 towards the H1-6. Not far down the road we came across a big tusker. He was accompanied by another elephant and blocked the road for 15 minutes or so. A little research once we got home informed us that he was a named elephant–one of Kruger’s Emerging TuskersHlanganini. He is probably the second-largest tusker in Kruger, behind Duke. Kruger is running an Emerging Tuskers competion asking for visitor’s photographs of elephants with tusks over 1m–there are some very cool prizes.

After heading north on the H1-6 we turned off onto the S48 (The Tsendze Loop). While we had good sightings of birds and mammals we did not spot anything new except a rather lost turtle (probably a young Serrated Hinged Terrapin–Pelusios sinnuatus) in the middle of the road:

We stopped at Mopani Restcamp for lunch before heading for Shingwedzi on the H1-6. The drive to Shingwedzi was very quiet–we spotted very few animals or birds. Just outside of Mopani we did spot this little guy crossing the road. We waited until he was safely across before proceeding.

Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis)

We arrived at Shingwedzi in the late afternoon & took a short detour to the bird hide overlooking Kanniedood Dam before checking in. The S50 follows the Shingwedzi River & we were lucky enough to spot a pair of Saddle-billed Storks (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) in the river bed.


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In Tamboti camp we stayed in a very comfortable Safari Tent. While poking around with a torch that evening I managed to spot what I’m pretty sure was a Bushveld Gerbil (Tatera leucogaster) in the grass near the tent. I didn’t get a photo though.

In the morning I went for a walk around the camp site & spotted the following new birds:

  • Crested Barbet (Trachyphonus vaillantii)
  • Orange-breasted Bush-shrike (Telophorus sulfureopectus)
  • Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus)
  • African Green Pigeon (Treron calvus)
  • Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres)

Leaving Tamboti we headed along the H7, spotting African Grey Hornbill ( Tockus nasutus) along the way. We took the S12 & then the S40 and headed for Timbavati Picnic Spot.

Just past Girivana Dam on the S12 we came across a pride of lion. Again we did not have great views.

At Timbavati I spotted a male Marico Sunbird (Cinnyris mariquensis) feeding in mistletoe flowers. There were the usual mobs of starling & hornbill present–each intent on stealing as much food as possible (one hornbill flew off with an entire sausage from someone’s braai!).

From Timbavati we took the S126 to the H1-4 which we took south to Satara. We had some great sightings of lifer birds along this section of road:

  • Kori Bustard (Ardeotis Kori)
  • Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
  • Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchelli)

We also spotted our first Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) within Kruger. The Ground Hornbills were probably the most exciting bird we saw in the park. There was a party of five–four adults and a juvenile whom we were able to watch for 20 minutes or so. We had excellent views–they eventually crossed the road behind the car and I got some good photos. The birds are the subject of a study/conservation project & all sightings should be reported. Each camp in Kruger should have a book where you can write in your sighting–note the exact location, and the composition of the group of birds–males/females/adults/juveniles. You can see pictures of the differences between these here.

My pics of an adult female (See the blue facial skin patch?-Males are solid red.).

and a Juvenile–notice the pale facial skin.
The birds were intent on catching insects in the long grass and were amazingly agile with their big beaks in doing so.

I also spotted a seemingly lost Kittlitz’s Plover (Charadrius pecuarius) by the side of the H1-4. There didn’t seem to be any nearby water source, so I’m not sure what it was doing there

A Slender Mongoose (Galerella sanguinea) was also added to the mammal list:

We stopped for lunch at Satara where a Bushbaby sleeping in a tree near reception was pointed out to us. Couldn’t see much–just a furry blob so I didn’t take any photos.

I did photograph some more butterflies for the South African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA) project:


















African Monarch Butterfly (Danaus chrysippus aegyptius) on a flowering Euphorbia.

Also spotted were the following as yet unidentified Orange-tip Butterflies:

























From Satara we headed south on the H1-3 briefly before turning off onto the H6. We had good game sightings on this road: plenty of Blue Wildebeest, Zebra, Elephant, Giraffe, Baboon, Warthog, Impala, Waterbuck, & Kudu.

Blue Wildebeest (Brindled Gnu) (Connochaetes taurinus).

Male Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)–note the diagnostic white circle on its rump.

The H6 also produced Cheetah (Acinconyx jubatus) briefly. I spotted a head above the grass near a small tree about 150m or so from the road. Through binoculars I saw that it was a cheetah. The sighting did not last long as the animal lay down and was hidden by the long grass soon after. We waited for 15 minutes or so but the cheetah did not show itself again. No photos either.
There were a lot of birds also–including Secretary Bird & Kori Bustard. I spotted a Lark-like bird perched on a rock and photographed it. It turned out to be (I think!) an African Pipit (Anthus cinnamomeus)–another tick:

From the H6 we turned north onto the S41. This road produced the first sighting of what was to be three Pearl-spotted Owlets (Glaucidium perlatum) seen in Kruger–all in broad daylight.

We then turned onto the S100, picking up two more new birds:

  • African (Bluebilled) Firefinch (Lagonostica rubricata)
  • White-winged Widowbird (Euplectes albonotatus)

At the end of the S100 wit turned north onto the H1-4 and headed for Letaba. It was getting late so we didn’t delay. We did have a wonderful sighting of a young Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) by the side of the road:

The Letaba Rest Camp produced Kurrichane Thrush (Turdus libonyanus) almost immediately upon arrival.

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First with an update: The unidentified sunbird I posted about previously, seems to be an Amethyst Sunbird (Chalcomitra amethystina). At least that is the suggestion of some helpful members of the Cape BirdNet mailing list. However, there is disagreement as to whether it is a juvenile male or a female. (And some suggested either a Scarlet-chested or a White-bellied Sunbird). The most comprehensive reply (from Tertius Gows) states that it is a female Amethyst:

“Your sunbird is an adult female Amethyst (Black) Sunbird of the nominate race Chalcomitra amethystina amethystina. The illustration in Sasol is a female of the race C. a. kirkii which does not occur in SA, but only in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe etc. The dark throat-patch is absent in the female of this race.”

I’m surprised that the field guide did not mention such an obvious ID characteristic.

We entered Kruger National Park via the Phabeni gate. We had minimal waiting time & the staff were helpful. My wife was quite taken with the very cool design of the buildings. The first animal spotted upon entry to the park was (of all things) a new reptile species for me: a lovely young Nile (Water) Monitor (Varanus niloticus). It was spotted at the first river crossing just inside the park on the S1.

The S1 also produced the first 3 new birds from Kruger itself:

  • Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas)


  • Grey Go Away Bird (Corythaixoides concolor)
  • Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) which were feeding on a herd of Impala (Aepyceros melampus). Impala are the most numerous species of antelope in the park with an estimated population of c130,000 adults.

We stopped at Nyamundra Waterhole where we saw our first Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and second new reptile species, the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). The Waterhole produced two new birds:

We continued along the S1 with four more new birds being sighted:

  • Golden-breasted Bunting (Emberiza flaviventris)
  • Purple Roller (Eurystomus azureus)
  • Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)
  • Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)




















The S1 joined the H11 & we branched off & headed for the Lake Panic Bird Hide–a destination I highly recommend. The road in produced Common Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas)
The hide was very well situated & produced a number of new birds:

  • Water Thick-knee (Dikkop) (Burhinus vermiculatus)
  • Great Egret (Ardea alba)
  • Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath)
  • Green-backed Heron (Butorides striatus)
  • African Jacana (Actophilornis africana)
  • Chinspot Batis (Batis molitor) were spotted in the car-park.

The Hide also produced more Nile Crocodile & Hippopotamus:

Another Nile Monitor was spotted & lots of Turtles–probably Serrated Hinged Terrapin (Pelusios sinuatus).

The hide also produced a single Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and our first view of a Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus).

Back on the road we headed for Skukuza where we had lunch at the Day Visitor’s area and added:

  • Marabou Stork (flying a long way overhead) (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)
  • Yellow-fronted Canary (Serinus mozambicus)
  • Greater Blue-eared Starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus). The beautiful metallic starlings became the bane of my time in Kruger, I had great difficulty identifying the various species.

We also spotted our first Tree Squirrels (Paraxerus cepapi) there.

Heading north from Skukuza along the H1-2 we came across the usual traffic jam that signalled the presence of Lion (Panthera leo). The pride had made a kill close to the road and little was left but bones & some very full lions.

In the tree overhead were Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) waiting their turn.

We left the H1-2 and hit the gravel S36 to Orpen. At Lugmug Dam we saw the usual Nile Crocodile & Hippopatamus as well as an African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer). The dam produced one new bird: Arrowmarked Babbler (Turdoides jardineii) as well as excellent views of Water Thick-knee (Dikkop) by the edge of the road.

The road north to Orpen also produced:


  • Swainson’s Spurfowl (Pternistes swainsonii)




















  • Burchell’s Starling (Lamprotornis australis)

We arrived in Tamboti (after checking in at Orpen) just before the gates were due to close.

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Our journey to Kruger National Park took place over 4 days: Somerset West to Bloemfontein, Bloemfontein to Nelspruit, Nelspruit to Graskop, Graskop to Kruger National Park via the Phabeni gate. We could have done it quicker but there were things to see on the way.

Our first day’s journey to Bloemfontein saw the addition of two new bird species to my South African (and life) list: Spike-heeled Lark (Chersomanes albofasciata) which were spotted while waiting at roadworks on the N1 near Leeu-Gamka.

The second species added was Blue Korhaan (Eupedotis caerulescens) which I spotted while travelling along the N1 near Richmond in the late afternoon. It was a stop that paid off as while I was admiring the pair of korhaan I spotted a Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis)–also a first for me. To top it off, also present were Meerkat (Suricata suricatta).

The next day, still heading north on the N1, I spotted my third new bird for the trip, the very cool Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius). It wasn’t much of a view, luckily we got better views in Kruger itself.

After a night in Nelspruit we headed for the Lowveld Botanical Garden where I spent a fantastic morning birding seeing 15 new species:

  • Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna collaris)
  • Scarlet-chested Sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis)
  • White-bellied Sunbird (Cinyris talatala)
  • Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis)
  • Green-backed Camaroptera (Camaroptera brachyura)
  • Red-backed Mannekin (Lonchura nigriceps)
  • Bearded Scrub Robin (Cerotrichus quadrivirgata)
  • Red-capped Robin-chat (Cossypha natalensis)
  • White-browed Robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini)
  • Purple-crested Turaco (Musophaga porphyreolopha)
  • Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus)
  • Black-collared Barbet (Lybis torquatus)
  • Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (Pogoniulus chrysoconus)
  • Black-backed Puffback (Drysoscopus cubla)
  • Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava)



















Male Amethyst Sunbird (Chalcomira amethystina) feeding on a flowering Aloe. You can see the iridescent purple throat.

In the gardens I photographed two butterflies in order to participate in the newly launched South African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABC) project.







Unknown Butterfly












Soldier Pansy Butterfly (Junonia terea)

Both butterflies now become part of the SABCA Virtual Museum (as records #28 & #29) which will be operational soon. Anyone can participate in the project, for details see here. There are two other similar projects that you can participate in:the South African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA) and the South African National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA). I have previously submitted to SARCA: records 1967 & 1968 & I hope to submit more to both SARCA & SABCA & to begin submitting to SANSA.

From Nelspruit we headed north to Graskop where we stayed at the Panorama Rest Camp in Graskop. The Rest Camp had a fantastic view over Graskop Gorge; their lovely gardens with a number of aloes & some proteas & other shrubs in flower attracted more sunbirds: Amethyst (Chalcomitra amethystina), Greater Double-collared (Cinnyris afer), and Southern Double-collared (Cinnyris chalybeus)–pictured below.




















New birds at the Rest Camp were African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp), Chorister Robin-chat (Cossypha dichroa) and African Olive Pigeon (Columba arquatrix).

I also spotted an as-yet unidentified Sunbird (below). It looks like a female or a juvenile male–however the dark throat is a bit mysterious. According to my Birds of Southern Africa guide, only three juvenile male sunbirds are mentioned as having dark throats (and no females): Copper Sunbird (Cinnyris cuprea), Dusky Sunbird (Cinnyris fuscus), Purple-banded Sunbird (Cinnyris bifasciatus). I await further input.












After spotting Gurney’s Sugarbird (Promerops gurneyi)–pictured below (my twenty-second new bird species for the trip)–on a flowering protea the next morning, we headed for Kruger National Park.

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At last I have had the final pics from our trip to Addo Elephant park developed.













Cape Sparrow Passa melanurus














Cape weaver Ploceus capensis







Black-backed Jackal Canis mesomelas

Apart from its elephants, Addo Elephant National Park is well-known for its population of Flightless Dungbeetles. We saw hundreds of these beetles crawling on the roads. There are signs warning of their presence & visitors are warned not to drive through piles of dung–thus avoiding squashing the beetles while they are hard at work. We only saw a single beetle however with its ball of dung–very cool indeed.












Flightless Dungbeetle Circellium bacchus

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A few weeks ago I was at work at night & came across a toad by the back steps. I’m pretty sure it’s a Raucous Toad Bufo rangeri. It’s the first toad I’ve seen in South Africa–though I admit that I haven’t actively been looking. You can download its call here (2.8Mb).

Raucous Toad Bufo rangeri

As an Australian, the only toads I’m familiar with are Cane Toads Bufo marinus–the destructive feral pest of the warmer parts of Australia. In fact I used to participate in toad collections at nature reserves etc. in an attempt to keep them under control.

While on the topic of amphibians, last year I found the book bargain of a lifetime– a copy of the first (1979) edition of South African Frogs by Neville Passmore and Vincent Carruthers for R5! It even comes with the original vinyl record! (not that I have anything to play it on…)

frog-book-2.jpg frog-book-1.jpg

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