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A Birding Trip to Remember

At an afternoon tea with refreshments, we met the camp manager, Ross, Duncan, the expert and Serena, the intern (and trusty assistant). We met Vicky and Nico, her able assistant. Olivia, Elisa, Susan and Lucy were our chefs and kitchen staff. They did a safety brief on the camp rules and the daily routine we would be following.

Around 16h00, we left for a drive in the two vehicles, one driven by Ross and the other by Duncan, with Serena in the tracker seat in front of the Land Rover. We went to the largest Baobab in the area, where we had sundowners with a magnificent sunset view. On the way, we saw a big herd of elephants and on the way home had to stop to move a large puff adder out of the road.

lanner gorge
Beautiful view at Lanner Gorge, Makuleke © Duncan McKenzie

Birding-wise, on the drives to the camp and then for sundowners, we picked up Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures, African Hawk-Eagle plus Bronze-winged Courser and some Natal and Swainson’s Spurfowl. There were Lilac-breasted Rollers, and we also picked up a Purple Roller. We saw both White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrike on the drive, and, at the camp, plenty of Meves’s Starlings and Dark-capped Bulbuls tried to join in on our meals.

After a delicious meal (vegans included), most of us retired early for the 05h00 wake-up drum call. After coffee/tea and rusks/muffins, we headed out at 06h00, when it was light enough to see clearly, and the action started. The first bird party we met included Blue Waxbills, fire finches, Cut-throat Finches, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, starlings, Red-billed Quelea, Grey-headed Sparrow, etc.

Brown Snake Eagle at Pridelands – Photograph © Cameron Clements

There were plenty of Emerald-spotted Wood Doves in addition to the Laughing, Ring-necked Doves, Lesser Masked, and Village Weavers. En route to the forest, we got Tropical Boubou, Red-faced Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, White-fronted Bee-eater and a Black-winged Kite. In the forest, we saw Black-throated Wattle-eye, Green Wood Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, Chinspot Batis, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Cardinal Woodpecker and Yellow-breasted Apalis.

At the dam, we got our first special – Mottled Spinetail. They were among some Little, Palm and Horus Swifts, so it took time to see the spinetails. We also saw African Openbill, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Storks, egrets and even a Barn Swallow with some Brown-throated Martins at the dam.

Grey-headed Bushshrike – Photograph © Cameron Clements

Some lucky people saw a Brown Snake Eagle and Bateleur on the way home, plus Village Indigobird. We thought we had been fortunate with a Senegal Coucal, but after much deliberation, the experts decided it was Burchell’s. Back at the camp, more specials – Grey-backed Camaroptera – a lot quieter and more approachable than the Green-backed we are used to in the Midlands. We also saw the Grey-headed Kingfisher, White-browed Scrub Robin, Collared Sunbird, Black-backed Puffback, hornbills and Kurrichane Thrush. Between the birding, we managed to have a hearty brunch and walk around the camp’s perimeter, which was not fenced.

leopard on the bridge
The leopard on Pafuri Bridge – Photograph © Roger O’Neill
Double-banded Sandgrouse – Photograph © Crystelle Wilson

A chance encounter with a leopard and a bridal couple on a bridge

That afternoon, we retraced our path of the first night but went all the way to the bridge over the Luvuvhu River, where we got Böhm’s Spinetail, with a Mosque Swallow along the way. We were hoping for a Bat Hawk, but it was not to be. Instead, a beautiful bride and groom interrupted their reception at the Pafuri Lodge in search of a Pel’s Fishing Owl! While chatting to the happy couple in the dusk, a leopard arrived at one end of the bridge, intent on a crossing, but we were in its way. So we duly retreated, and hopefully, the leopard got to where it wanted to go. On the night drive home, we saw a spotted genet, more Bronze-winged Coursers, Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjars, plus a Spotted Thicknee.

We listened carefully at night back at the camp, but only a few people heard any calls of owls and animals. Early the following day, we headed for Lanner Gorge. We got Double-banded Sandgrouse, Gabar Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk and another special – Brown-necked Parrot. We also saw Brown-headed Parrots for comparison.

Crested-Barbet_Karolina
Crested Barbet at Karongwe – Photograph © Karolina Krol

We were hoping for raptors, but the weather was not cooperating, although we saw a few Verreaux’s Eagles as several pairs nesting in the gorge. Rock Martins and Red-winged starlings were also present. I have to commend Ross, Serena and Duncan – they managed to get the whole group up to the lookout, sometimes virtually carrying the few who cannot walk or climb easily. We had tea/coffee, biscuits and muffins with a magnificent view.

On the way home, Eve discovered a kindred spirit in Ross and Duncan, and we stopped to look at some rare plants, and everyone got the photos they wanted.

One’s memory gets a bit hazy, but that afternoon (or it may have been the next), we were treated to a Bennett’s Woodpecker right next to the dining room, where we all had excellent views, and I’m sure Crystelle got some good pictures. (Thanks for spotting it, Crystelle). One of our trip’s defining features was that we got close and had excellent views of most birds we were lucky to spot.

Fed and watered, we headed out that evening to Rietbok Pan. We saw many White-backed Vultures and Tawny Eagles on the way there. At the pan, there were White-crowned Lapwings, Goliath Heron, Squacco Herons and the usual gyppos, spurrings, Three-banded Plovers, White-faced Ducks, Hamerkop etc.

Bearded Woodpecker
White-crowned-Lapwing

On our last morning, we drove back through the forest and had our coffee/tea on the banks of the Limpopo River, where we took our group photo. We saw African Fish Eagles, heard the Gorgeous Bushshrike, saw Crested Barbet, mousebirds, Kori Bustard, Namaqua Dove, Black-crowned Tchagra and a few others.

As we were in two vehicles, we did not all see the same birds, but the count for the weekend was around 120, with some lifers for most of us. A few of us were very lucky once we left Pafuri to continue our journey through Kruger National Park. At the bridge over the Luvuvhu River, where we saw the leopard, we spotted the Green-capped Eremomola, which had eluded us at the camp.

I wish to convey the Midlands bird club’s thanks to EcoTraining for allowing us to visit such a wonderful place. Ross and Duncan tried hard to find us the Arnot’s Chat and Racket-tailed Roller, but no joy. We hope we can return to Makuleke at a better time of the year when the migrants are there. However, it is boiling then!

We were very well looked after with the excellent spotting and knowledge of Ross and Duncan and spoilt by the rest of the camp staff.

Birding in the Bush l EcoTraining Courses

Birds of a feather flock together. Whether you are an advanced birder or beginner, we want you to spread your wings and join us on our 7-day Birding in the Bush course in the Northern Kruger National Park.

We will teach you the A-Z of birding on daily bush walks and game drives through the rich history of the Makuleke. This course enables birding enthusiasts to identify a great variety of species of birds by sight and sound and to also learn about their biology and ecology.

Are you interested to learn more about the EcoTraining Birding in the Bush course?
Have a read here: https://www.ecotraining.co.za/programs-courses/birding-in-the-bush/

About the Author: 

Sean Glynn – Chair, KZN Midlands Bird club

About the Author:
Picture of Sean Glynn

Sean Glynn

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