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Old Wednesday 23rd November 2011, 00:25   #1
njlarsen
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Southern Africa 2011

Dear all, I will try to do something that is new for me: copy text into this thread a little by little, instead of making a word document available containing the whole trip at once. So here is a general intro + the first day. This also leaves me a little more time to hopefully complete the rest of the writing in a timely fashion.

Niels

Southern Africa August 2011
In August 2011, we spent two and a half weeks in Southern Africa (we were a small group of three, all interested in mammals but me the only true birdwatcher). The majority of the time was spent in Inyanga Safari Lodge, located in Grietjie Natural area just south of Phalaborwa, South Africa; three nights were spent in Hotel Kingdom, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. There were several private reasons we chose to spend that much time in just one location instead of traveling around; this report is aimed at helping those who may have similar reasons to not move too much.

Inyanga Safari Lodge is a small place with a maximum of 14 guests at any one time. It is located in a private nature reserve (Grietjie Nature Reserve) adjacent to the Kruger national park, separated by the Olifant river but not separated by a fence; the fence is on the other side of the reserve, to make sure that the animals of the combined area (often called Greater Kruger) does not spread to areas they are not welcome. The lodge itself consists of a small piece of land surrounded by a fence (no, we did not want the lions to stand waiting outside our door, outside the fence is better, even though warthogs were more likely to become a problem). The lodge contains an outdoor dining area, a deck with view of a pond that is just outside the fence, and the living areas (plus a swimming pool which looked nice, but the weather was way too cold). When we visited, there was another group the first week, but the second week we were on our own.

Our package included all air travel, lodging, all meals while in Inyanga, and meals morning + evening at Kingdom Hotel, and a number of excursions, game drives, etc. We added a couple of outings, including one day where we rented a car and drove ourselves. Which extras are added of course depends on what you want to pay for. Everything was arranged through Inyanga Safari which can be contacted through the web, using either http://www.inyanga-safari.com/ (in English) or http://www.inyanga.dk/ (in Danish).
We saw 28 species of mammals and about 190 species of birds, of which about 165 were new to me – I had never been to Africa south of the Sahara.

Field guide was Sinclair et al. Birds of Southern Africa, while for mammals we had both Stuart and Stuart Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa and The Kingdon pocket guide to African Mammals. Soon after getting to South Africa, we purchased the Kruger NP Map and Id booklet (Tinker). We also had a copy of a bird site guide (Cohen et al. Southern African Birdfinder), but got only a little information from it; we would have had more use of it if traveling more independently. Reports and advice from other people traveling the same area collected through www.Birdforum.net and the South African Birding Trail provided the rest of the information we used.

August 4. We had left Copenhagen (Denmark) the previous afternoon, and via Frankfurt and an overnight flight, we arrived in Johannesburg airport around 7 am. The first new species was visible already while taxiing in; it was Helmeted Guineafowl, which I have seen elsewhere before, but always where they would have been escaped from captivity; it was nice to get tickable ones (and I was unaware of just how many of these would be seen on the rest of the trip). After getting the suitcases and checking in on the last leg of the flight, a few more birds were seen through the airport windows, among which a grey-headed gull was the most important one (not seen again on the trip); four African Sacred Ibis were not bad either.

After a couple of hours and some brunch, we flew on in the tiny plane serving Phalaborwa with arrival just on time (around 1pm). The Airport held the first of many Laughing Doves and a Black-collared Barbet, was built with very nice art and architecture, and our welcoming committee was waiting for us: Christian who managed the lodge and Johan who was our guide and professional hunter.

Just outside the town, a kettle of Marabou Stork was in the sky was showing the way to a site where I believe a local butchery deposited waste, with Hooded Vultures, Cattle Egret and one Sacred Ibis around. We had a short stop there, but the next stop was inside Grietjie Nature area when a lone Elephant was standing very close to the road. We all went berserk with the cameras, our first wild mammal in ZA and our first wild Elephant anywhere! A Waterbuck and some Impala were seen shortly after, both very common animals around there.

Shortly after, we arrived at Inyanga, the lodge that was our home for the next 13 nights. We settled in, walked around for a bit watching such novelties for us as Blue Waxbill and Orange-breasted Bunting; we soon discovered that Red-billed and Yellow-billed Hornbills were among the birds most often seen, so they will be ignored from here on (after recent splits, both would have the prefix Southern). We were then asked if we wanted to join the other inhabitants of the lodge at the nearby river (Olifant River) for a little more viewing. The obvious answer was yes, so we saw Warthog, Hippos, Nile Crocodiles, Burchell’s Coucal, White-fronted Bee-eater, Vervet Monkey, and what I later decided was Reed Cormorant, and in addition enjoyed a glass of bobbling wine with the sunset. Driving back to the lodge netted Giraffe, Bushbuck, Rock Hyrax (only one for the trip), more Waterbuck, and 2 African Buffalo. We got the first taste of the good food we would get used to and retired for an early bed: there was a bit of sleep to catch up on from the overnight travel.

Photos included below (some photos in this thread are copyright my wife, Lene):
The tiny airport at Phalaborwa as seen from the tarmac
The little rondawell in Inyanga lodge containing 2 rooms of which we occupied one
Olifants river at Grietjie Natural area, a couple of km from Inyanga lodge

Photo in my birdforum gallery:
Our first elephant
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Old Wednesday 23rd November 2011, 13:12   #2
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Sounds like a top trip coming up - Looking forward to reading more!

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Old Wednesday 23rd November 2011, 14:26   #3
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Good start, looking forward to more.
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Old Thursday 24th November 2011, 00:12   #4
njlarsen
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Thank you both, I will try not to disappoint

Niels

August 5. Early bed, but also early rise. The plan was to hit the Orpen entrance to Kruger National Park by the opening time of 6 am, which necessitated a two hour drive first. Sleeping a little in the bus helped some, but we were tired by the end of the day! Both groups in the lodge were included: the rest of the people in the bus were primarily interested in mammals, but they did show a lot of patience with me and my birding.

First observations were done between the Orpen entrance and Satara rest camp, and netted Zebra and Black-backed Jackals as new mammals in addition to giraffe, elephant, and several antilopes. Frankolins, Cape Glossy Starlings, Tawny Eagle, Grey Luirie (Go-away-bird), Hamerkop, and Lilac-breasted Rollers were new birds. Special mention goes to a little lake along the road, where a far distant Lion could be seen, there were more than 100 Buffalo and some Babboons, African Fish Eagle, another Coucal, and soon after a White-backed Vulture. Inside the Satara rest camp, the African Scops Owl was sitting very visible in a tree, so I too got some pictures of this individual which has been described as the most photographed owl in Africa. Several other birds were new to me (such as Burchell’s Glossy Starling), and Kudu and Tree Squirrel (Smith’s Bush Squirrel) were new mammals.

From 9:30, we were on the road again, continuing northwards. Bateleur came early and often, with between 5 and 10 seen that morning. Blue Wildebeast showed well as did Ostrich, while we only had a semi-distant Kori Bustard. Several other observations were repeats from the morning, but about 200 Buffalo in one flock deserves mention. Red-billed Oxpecker and Magpie-Shrike were a couple of interesting birds. Around 11:30 we hit the bridge over Olifant river, with the first Wire-tailed Swallow and African Pied Wagtails, at least 37 elephants, about 16 hippos, and some crocs.

Olifant Camp from noon to around 1:30 (with time to eat our boxed lunch included) produced Red-winged Starling, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Red-headed Weaver, Crested Barbet, and Brown-headed Kingfisher. From there, we headed to the Letaba Camp, with large numbers of hippos, a young Martial Eagle (confirmed by photos) and Red-crested Korhaan along the way. Inside Letaba, the guide wanted to show us the Elephant Museum; I chose instead to pursue some birding by foot: Golden-tailed Woodpecker was the only observation of the trip, I got my first photos of Natal Francolin and Black-headed Oriole, and Vervet Monkey, elephant, giraffe, and Bushbuck (young one) were seen in the half hour available.

Going from there to Sable Dam, we stopped at a small river for the first Three-banded Plover (we also had Blacksmith and Crowned Plovers/Lapwings during the day). At the dam, things were quiet, but I had Yellow-fronted Canary and Yellow-throated Petronia drinking and an adult Bateleur standing on water’s edge – several of the others in the buss enjoyed the views through my telescope.

On return to Inyanga around 6 we all agreed it had been a very good if long day!

A few photos in the BF gallery:
Male Impala (should really have been in yesterdays post)
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Lion Close up
Young Zebra
African Scops Owl
Kori Bustard
Arrow-marked Babbler
Nile Crocodile
The magnificent Ostrich

Below:
One of the more open areas in Kruger NP
Olifant River at road through Kruger
Sable Dam
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Old Friday 25th November 2011, 14:22   #5
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Excellent and detailed report! We hope to drive along this same route in January, so I read it with great interest. Beautiful photos, too! Look forward to reading more.
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Old Wednesday 30th November 2011, 01:29   #6
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Sorry this took so long

August 6. Somewhat early rise again today, so that we could have a full breakfast and be on the road by 7 am: we were going to the eastern end of the Drakensberg. Before leaving the Grietjie area we had a buffalo and soon afterwards a flock of White-backed Vulture, but beyond that the next remarkable observation was at the east end of Strijdom Tunnel where we had Mocking Cliff Chat. White-necked Raven was seen from the road, but then the difficulties started; our expected first stop (3 rondawells) was blocked by a strike. We did walk in at another lookout shortly after, and in addition to enjoying the view had Familiar Chat, one more raven, and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. The weather until now had been good with some sun, but clouds came rolling as we continued.

Driving on, we had Yellow-billed (Black) Kite and Jackal Buzzard along the road; at Berlin Waterfall some Rock Martin, and at Lisbon Waterfall more martins and Cape Wagtail. By noon, we were in the town of Graskop, with Hadada Ibis, House Sparrow and Feral Pigeon as results (in addition to the local specialty of filled pancakes and viewing of the mopani silk). We continued to Gods Window where the clouds were in every direction (including below) so virtually no visibility. Wonder View was equally bad, but luck was with me in the form of Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye (very green) and Red-winged Starling being really close.

On the way up, I had missed the Taita Falcon site, which by chance I did see a sign for when we drove down. It was about 1 km on the western side of the Strijdom tunnel. Upon stopping, we were immediately contacted by Michael, and with my scope, went to the site where he said the falcon could be seen – immediate success. While I was watching it, all of a sudden it jumped out and went chasing around – turned out it wanted to chase after the Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle that lived on the other side of the valley, and which had approached too closely, so two good species instead of one!

About 5 pm we were back at the Grietjie area where we had warthog, zebra, kudu, and impala, as well as a Red-eyed Dove with a damaged wing.

A few pictures:
Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Familiar Chat
White-necked Raven
Hadada Ibis
Cape Batis

Below:
A female Greater Double-collared Sunbird, identified mainly by looking at the male that flew off just before I was ready to shoot.
Berlin Waterfall (at least I am fairly sure that was what it was - if I am mistaken and it is Lisbon Waterfall instead, please correct me).
And a poor photo of a Jackal Buzzard
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Old Thursday 1st December 2011, 00:24   #7
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August 7. Yet another early morning, with a 6:30-8:30 game walk. This is something you only get to do in a private area, and it does take a couple of people carrying rifles before I would like to walk around in an area where the lions and elephants roam! Unfortunately, light was not great, the sky was grey and dark with clouds. The day started with hearing the Black-backed Jackal, and continued with birds such as Southern Black Tit, Double-banded Sandgrouse (poor views, luckily that was to get better later in the trip), 17 (at least) Kudu , and several each of zebras and elephants. Southern Black Flycatcher, White-browed Scrub-Robin and Chin-spot Batis were another couple of birds from the morning.

After breakfast, time was spent in the enclosure around the lodge, with additional species of White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey Hornbill, Marico Sunbird, Cinnamon Bunting, and Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove. Late afternoon added birds like Cut-throat Finch and African Palm Swift, and mammals such as Bushbuck and Impala – after dinner, a Bushpig visited the pond. During the afternoon a few periods of sun were very welcome. At different times during the day, there was time to relax a little, catch up on some emails, etc.

August 8. This day, finally time to catch up a little on sleep, with nothing outside the lodge until the afternoon. Weather stayed nice the entire day, mostly sunshine. New birds at the lodge included Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Harrier-Hawk, Black-billed Scimitarbill, and a Brown-crowned Tshagra. In mammals, Slender Mongoose was new, while I got some nice photos of the local Squirrel, a couple of butterflies, and a beautiful lizard of which I do not know the name.

In the afternoon, we drove to Tshukudu game lodge, but along the way we picked up a Purple Roller. Inside Tshukudu’s fenced area, Becky, an elephant that had been hand raised but was now living completely wild blocked the road until her family was completely past. At the buildings, we caught up with the Cheeta that had been bottled up, was now living wild (catching its own food) but still came up to the veranda to be petted, which we dutifully did (both parent had been wild, but the mother had too many cubs so pushed this one away).

The reason we visited Tshukudu was to go on a game drive in their area. That netted zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, Red-billed Oxpecker, giraffes, various francolins, Little Bee-eater, a nesting White-backed Vulture, Black Tit, Crested Barbet, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, and Duiker. (However, of their healthy population of about 13 Rhinos, we did not see any, underlining the size of the area). Towards sunset, we got to a place where their male lion was lying, seemingly not concerned with the 2-3 sightseeing vehicles that had arrived, until they finally tricked him into roaring. It was loud! Driving back towards the lodge, we used the spotlights to see Black-backed Jackal and Lesser Bushbaby. After dinner, Bushpig and African Porcupine visited some food they had thrown out; before planning this trip I did not even realize that porcupines did occur on that side of the Atlantic.

A few pictures:
An unknown lizard
Bushpig and Cape Porcupine
Cape Porcupine
Female Steenbok
Zebra pair
Red-crested Bustard
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow
Swainson's Francolin
Jameson's Firefinch
Grey-headed Bushshrike
Blue Waxbill


And included in this post (a couple of these taken by my brother in law):
-A sound recording of the Lion roar. In the background are some talking people, they sat next to me in the vehicle and was completely outdone by the Lion even though it was some distance away.
-Lene and a little cat fully enjoying itself and being petted -- as long as you did not touch its belly!
-One more photo from Inyanga Lodge, from the relaxation deck over the swimmingpool to the dining area. From the deck, there was a good view of the pond and whatever animals came to drink.

Niels
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Old Thursday 1st December 2011, 13:50   #8
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Love the Cape Porcupine/Bush Pig pic. Two South African mammals I have yet to see!
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Old Friday 2nd December 2011, 12:11   #9
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The lizard appears to be a Blue-tailed Skink.
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Old Friday 2nd December 2011, 18:02   #10
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Mike, thanks for the nice words, and Dan, thanks for the id

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Old Friday 2nd December 2011, 21:47   #11
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Hey, Niels - Unlikely I'll ever get to Africa so thanks for the report and the scenery pictures. Just how nervous was Lene petting that Cheetah for the first time? How cool that must have been! Mammal pics are great also.

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Old Saturday 3rd December 2011, 19:01   #12
njlarsen
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Thanks Steve,
Lene had really been looking forward to this so she was more excited than scared.

cheers
Niels

A couple of days more:

August 9. This morning was again intended for some relaxation and observations from inside the Inyanga Lodge Area, which we dutifully did between breakfast and about 3 pm. Again in lovely sunshine, that period netted many of the same birds as previously seen there, but Bateleur was new for the lodge as was Grey-headed Bushshrike, White-backed Vulture and Southern Red Bishop (the last one in winter plumage and id’ed from photos after coming home); it was nice seeing both Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, African Black-headed Oriole, Cinnamon Bunting, and Jameson’s Firefinch.

From 3 pm to 6:30, it was time for a game drive in Grietjie, which obviously gave a lot of the same as seen previously, but Southern White-crowned Shrike, Black-backed Puffback, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, great views of White-fronted Bee-eaters, Common Greenshank, Hooded Vulture and Yellow-billed Stork were remarkable birds, and in mammals we had several antelope species and Baboon. The tour included what we discovered was an obligatory bottle of bubbling wine by the river (smile).

August 10. This day started grey but had its good moments as well. Most of this day was spent around the lodge. During that part of the day, some of the more interesting observations were a visit by 5 warthogs, Lesser Striped Swallow, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-collared Widowbird (female), pair of Harrier Hawk, and Long-billed Crombec.

During a short drive in Grietjie in the afternoon, some of the more interesting birds were the local Ostrich (a male, the story was that the Lions had killed off the females that also used to be there), Little Bee-eater, and both S White-crowned Shrike and Magpie-Shrike. There had been stories running around of a young buffalo being killed by the male lion the previous night, but this short trip did not find the lion, and the carcass of the prey looked more like a wildebeest than a buffalo. Above the carcass were both White-backed and Hooded Vultures sitting in a tree, even though we had seen many more flying away from the site when we approached (we were not the only people that were curious).

We finished the day with a short visit in Phalaborwa where we picked up a rental car for the next 24 hours.

A visit to the same site with the lion kill later in the evening did produce the lion next to the carcass, but we were warned against flash photography to not scare the lion. We had Lesser Bushbaby and Black-backed Jackal by spotlighting on the way back.

A few pictures:
Grey Go-away-bird -- This one really should have been included under August 8.
Vervet Monkey - and this one under August 7
Mariqua Sunbird
White-fronted Bee-eater
Chinspot Batis
Old Buffalo
Hooded Vulture
Helmeted Guineafowl dust bathing
Mariqua Sunbird
Smith's Bush Squirrel
Orange-breasted Bushshrike
Lilac-breasted Roller

Attached below:
two White-backed Vulture flying
Southern Black Flycatcher
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Old Sunday 4th December 2011, 17:43   #13
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I see Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes haven't got any easier to photograph!

Bravo, keep it coming.

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Old Sunday 4th December 2011, 18:53   #14
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August 11: At dawn, we were well underway in the rental car, but due to some confusion about which roads to take around Tzaneen we were ½ hour late for our meeting at Magoebaskloof Hotel with the bird guide we had contacted. Mike was still there, and we ventured into the Woodbush forest, where we got out and strolled up some nice edge habitat at around 7. Weather was nice and sunny and mayby almost too warm for optimal bird activity, and stayed that way all day. First up was Lemon Dove and Hadeda Ibis, soon followed by Dark-capped Bulbul and Sombre Greenbul (at this point of the day only heard). We had some brief but satisfying glimpses of Barrett’s Warbler (aka African Scrub-Warbler), and longer views of Cape White-eye and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike. Our guide got a little exited when he heard, and then called in so that we could also see the Nariva Trogon. Southern Double-collared Sunbird was seen in a glimpse, but we heard it almost constantly all day. More irritating was that the Cape Parrots (aka Brown-necked Parrot) that did fly around chose a path that kept trees between us and them, but at least we heard them.

At around this time, we moved down and a little in from the steep slopes, and walked some forest roads and trails. We soon were looking at Bar-throated Apalis, a displaying male Cape Batis, Olive Pigeon (aka Rameron Pigeon), Cape Canary, and Forest Canary. We tried for a while for Green Twinspot, which was seen in very unsatisfying way and heard giving a very non-descript call and therefore not counted. We were walking towards a spot with calling Olive Thrush and Orange Ground Thrush (according to the guide, not characteristic enough for me to count them), but got sidetracked with calls of Krysna Turaco (locally, first part pronounced like “nice”). Initially, this was a no show, but after a while on a different path we had better luck, and in all saw more or less well 4 different birds (we did miss out on Purple-crested Turaco). Additional birds inside the better forest here were Square-tailed Drongo, Olive Woodpecker, and Yellow-streaked Greenbul. Sombre Greenbul finally was seen as was Ametyst Sunbird out in edge habitat.

Around 11 am, we drove down a forest road that had signs warning to have 4wd, but the guide said it had been ok for smaller vehicles last he was there, and it had been pretty dry lately. The road however was in quite bad shape, so I would definitely have preferred a vehicle with higher clearance even if 4wd was not necessary. Even so, we had some nice birds along the way, Chorister Robin seen singing, and Jackal Buzzard flying low over head some of the more memorable ones.

Hitting the asphalt road a lot lower, we continued down and through some side roads to a place with about 8 huge Blue Gum trees (related to Eucaluptus and planted into South Africa less than 100 years earlier). This was the favorite spot for Bat Hawk, where we first found a juvenile in one tree, and a little later the two adults together in another tree maybe 50 meters away: a charismatic species well worth the detour.

We continued towards Tzaneen town but along the road had a nice interruption in the form of an African Cuckoo-Hawk that was sitting for a short while on a rock. Thereafter, we looked at a spot with seed feeders, however, the feeding had happened early morning and nothing was left, so the only birds seen were Tawny-flanked Prinia, Cape Turtle Dove, and an overflying Purple Heron. Around the corner on the next road were some Bronze Manikin and a White-browed Robin-Chat. With that, it was time to get back up to the meeting place, drop of the guide, and get ourselves pointed back to Inyanga, where the car went back to the rental company.

Some photos

Chorister Robin-Chat
Square-tailed Drongo
Bat Hawk parents
Bat Hawk, juvenile
Cape Batis


And attached below:
A grasshopper
A second grasshopper
A view from Woodbush forest
A second landscape including our rental car, the guide and a little of me
A hippo sign -- one of those occasions where you hope it will only be the sign and not an actual encounter
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Old Thursday 15th December 2011, 00:39   #15
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Sorry, this has taken some days, due in part to other duties.

Niels

August 12: We had the entire day at the lodge, but had a nightdrive in Grietjie after dark. The daytime hours were the warmest we experienced while in Inyanga and obviously it became colder after dark. I used much of the day on photos but there was also time for relaxation.

During morning hours, the Slender Mongoose showed up again, but more surprising was a young Gabar Goshawk that flew by close and was seen very well. Crested Barbet was a novelty for the lodge, and the same can be said for the Grey (African) Penduline Tit that was investigating some old nests (only one for the trip even though it was there for a good long time). I initially assumed that is was in spring mood and looking at reshaping an old nest, but it turned out the old nests had been made by Southern Masked Weaver, so the Penduline Tit was probably just prospecting for insects.

The afternoon gave a few additional interesting sightings, such as Red-headed Weaver and several others of similar ilk that was later identified through photos, e.g., Red-billed Quelea. White-bellied Sunbird was cooperating with my photos, as were Black-collared Barbet, Black-headed Oriole, Warthogs, and late in the day, some beautiful Bushbuck. All the local Francolins came by during this day.

After dinner, the night drive netted a nightjar that however flew off way to early for an id, and mammals such as duiker, kudu, impala, waterbuck, steenbok, African buffalo, spotted hyena (only one for the trip), scrub hare (same), and black-backed jackal. We felt good but also quite cold by the time we returned.

Some pictures:
White-bellied Sunbird
Bushbuck and Crested Francolin
Black-collared Barbet
Slender Mongose
Grey Penduline Tit
White-bellied Sunbird
Small, large, medium


And included below a grasshopper and a butterfly. The butterfly had two large spots that could be either white or blue depending on the angle to the light.
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Old Thursday 15th December 2011, 01:06   #16
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August 13: This was another day with an early rise; we were at the Phalaborwa entry to Kruger NP at their opening bell, 6 am. While our guide took care of entrance fees, I discovered some African Green Pigeon in the trees around the gate. Shortly after, we were on the way, following main road (H9) straight east until we met H14 and turned towards Mopani. A Double-banded Sandgrouse was very photography friendly as it was walking the edge of the asphalt; Crowned Lapwings and Swainson’s Francolin were as usual around, as were Zebra, Impala, Buffalo, and Elephant. We saw a large number of Elephants that day, with the biggest flock consisting of about 40 females and young. Both young and adult Bateleur showed itself perfectly, wonderful! Some of the usual smaller birds were around, but our guide Johan showed his brilliant vision when he found a couple of Brown-headed Parrots sitting in a tree some distance from the road.

About 7:45 am, we reached the Letaba river bridge on H14, with Wire-tailed Swallow, Three-banded Plover, Little Swift, Grey Heron and some doves, in addition to the expected Hippos and crocs; one of the swallows seemingly had flown into a thorn from a cactus or whatever, it was protruding parallel to its bill but the bird looked very well anyway.

Moving on, there was a nest with a White-backed Vulture not too far from the road and a misshapen Lesser Striped Swallow flew by. Giraffes showed next as did Red-billed Oxpeckers, and a very dark raptor that from the photo got identified as Brown Snake Eagle. Around some smaller streams were one Saddle-billed and seven Yellow-billed Storks. Soon after, I spotted a little bird in a small tree next to the road, a Pearl-spotted Owlet as it was proven when the bus got back after stopping as fast as such a heavy vehicle could.

At around 9 we reached the Mooiplaas picnic spot, which was a little funny in that it was one of the few places in Kruger we saw where we could get out of the vehicle even without being fenced in. One of the first things that happened after the attendant saw me with the camera was that he pointed out an African Scops Owl sitting sound asleep on a branch in one of the trees providing shade to the area – the second one we saw on the trip! Otherwise, the usual glossy starlings, doves and hornbills were around, and we could enjoy some sandwiches to make up for the early breakfast we had had.

Driving on from the picnic spot, we had more Bateleur, and we had some more of the expected species in the Tsendze loop. We did not really see anything special at the Mopani camp but we did not linger much either. We drove on River Loop and later on S62 and saw an elephant that was sleeping, Southern Black Tit, and the biggest find was Kurrichane Thrush; Brown-hooded Kingfisher seemed common. Of mammals, we had Kudu, Zebra, Impala, Wildebeast, and Warthogs, with Oxpeckers as could be expected.

Then it was again time to get out of the bus at Matambeni bird hide which overlooks the Letaba River. Just under the windows, there were 3 Klipspringer. They did look quite nervous, but it was as if they wanted to use the proximity of the hide and people inside as safeguards against whatever they were nervous for, and they did calm down after a while. Much of the rest were quite some distance away so the scope did come in handy, with views of Hippos and waterbuck, Great Egret, Black Stilt, Hadeda Ibis, African Openbill Stork (!), Yellow-billed Stork, Grey Heron, Black Crake, African Spoonbill, African Jacana, Greenshank, Cattle Egret, and lots of Egyptian Goose. In the bushes around were White-browed Schrub-Robin and White-bellied Sunbird. All in all a great one hour stop around noon!

Between the hide and Letaba camp were Giraffe, Kudu, Grey Heron and African Fish Eagle, and a couple of Oxpeckers investigating a hole in a tree, probably for later use in nesting? We were in Letaba camp from 1-2 for more sandwiches but were lucky enough to get Dwarf Mongoose (only ones on the trip) in addition to the usual suspects and some African Palm Swift.

Driving on from the camp we set course straight west on S131. We did not see a whole lot, but a big herd of elephant, close views of Brown Snake Eagle, and the only Black-crowned Tchagra on the trip were nice. When we approached the Phalaborwa Gate, it was agreed to backtrack a little and go to the west end of Sable Dam, which was much more bird rich than the east end which we visited the other day (better location or better day?). African Pipit, Southern Ground Hornbill, and Kittlitz's Plover were all three only observations for the trip, and we had Blacksmith Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Ruff, Kudu, Zebra, Impala, and some quite close elephants. When we left and came to the first intersection, we got 2 Groundscraper Thrush that flew up to a nice branch in a bare tree. Then the direction was towards home, with House sparrow added to the day list when driving through Phalaborwa.

Some pictures:
Double-banded Sandgrouse, male
Bateleur adult
Juvenile Bateleur
Magpie Shrike
Wire-tailed Swallow with thorn
Groundscraper Thrush
African Pipit
Southern Ground Hornbill in the distance
Brown Snake Eagle
Common Dwarf Mongoose
If I just keep concentrating here ...
Crested Francolin
Cape Glossy Starling
African Fish Eagle
Red-billed Oxpeckers on tree
Sleepy giant
Kurrichane Thrush
Pearl-spotted Owlet
African Scops Owl
Saddle-billed Stork
Brown-headed Parrots

And attached below: Sunrise over Kruger
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Old Friday 16th December 2011, 01:43   #17
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Nice picture of the Fish-Eagle, Niels. Saddle-billed Stork is striking in a different way. Lots of fascinating birds. And a couple of birds whose names I could actually recognize - Great Egret and Cattle Egret.

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Old Friday 16th December 2011, 20:06   #18
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Thanks Steve,
I really enjoyed my trip down there

Niels
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Old Sunday 18th December 2011, 18:08   #19
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August 14: We had a regular morning without anything special going on, so my notes started around 8 am. Much of the day was spent around the lodge, where the weather gradually changed, from sunny periods with some clouds to totally grey sky, and going a little back and forth after that. The first birds in the notes were White Helmetshrike and Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove. We heard Pearl-spotted Owlet several times, saw Chin-spot Batis, Brown-crowned Tchagra, and Black-headed Oriole. A little later, several White-fronted Bee-eaters showed off their flying skills, but the price of the day was a Martial Eagle that was mobbed by two African Hawk-Eagles.

By 3 pm, we were on the way on a game drive in Grietjie, where we came out into some corners we had not been to before. The drive gave some good opportunities for photos of some of the species mentioned before, but light was difficult. The best observation was probably Nyala (only day of the trip we saw any), a mother and a young male that came very close, and a few adult males seen together with Baboons across the river, from a place we did only get to this one time. Around Grietjie were flock after flock of Weavers (mixed flocks in winter plumage that did not allow any species id). Probably the same two Hawk-Eagles seen earlier in the day were flying around in what looked like territorial display over a rocky hill, and by five pm by the usual spot at the river, Brown-throated Martin (also called Plain) were flying back and forth. We were back at the lodge around 6:30.

A few pictures:
If I was yellow, where would I want to hide?
White-fronted Bee-eater x3
African Elephant
Waterbuck young-female
Lilac-breasted Roller
Little Bee-eater
Mother and son (nyala)

And attached here: a Mantis

Niels
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Old Sunday 18th December 2011, 19:38   #20
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August 15: This morning started very dark and cloudy, and as a result, not warm at all. Still, a couple of nice birds for the lodge came by, including Pied Crow, Common Scimitarbill, White Helmetshrikes again, and Brubru as new, plus a lot of the species I have detailed above.

In the afternoon, we drove out to Tshukudu Game reserve where we hooked up with their late afternoon game drive from the bush-camp (last time we were at their lodge, and one difference was that this time, we did not have dinner included). This was an extra tour which we purchased to hopefully see a Rhino, which we had missed at all the other places we had been. Tshukudu is large enough that their reportedly 13 rhinos all had hidden first time we were there, and again this time, no luck. We saw spoor from both Rhino and Leopard, but no luck with seeing the actual animals. I should say that the weather had soured even more, very windy and even rainy (luckily they had put on the roof over the vehicle, even though the open sides still meant we did get a little wet). This had probably led to the animals disappearing into the most bushy areas where we could not see very far.

Having said all that, I should also say that we did see some good animals and birds. Lots of Giraffes and antelopes of different kinds, Black-backed Jackal, and when we found the Lion, there was first the male and soon after the female with three cubs. Among birds, Green Wood-Hoopoo, 2 African Spoonbill and 4x Yellow-billed Stork, and another observation of Pearl-spotted Owlet were the ones worth mentioning.

A few pictures:
Giraffe
Green Wood Hoopoe
Southern White-crowned Shrike

and a couple of attachments
Another sign where you hope not to see the animal on the road
A view of just how far up into a tree an elephant can reach (look at it a moment, behind the thin branches)
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Old Monday 19th December 2011, 20:10   #21
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August 16: The rain continued during the night and into the morning, so most of the morning was used for different “household” things. The only notes from outdoors included the local squirrel, White Helmetshrike, and Common Scimitarbill.

Luckily, things got better after lunch when the sun did let itself be seen. Some of the larger birds started flying, with a kettle of 5 Marabou Storks one high point, and overflying Bateleur and Tawny Eagle a couple of others. At ground level, we again had a visit by a Warthog, had many weavers on the ground including Red-billed Quelea and White-winged Widowbird, and the usual 3-4 Cutthroat Finch. As usual, I had my problems with the local kingfishers, I only got photos of Brown-hooded, but also saw a bird with pale wing flashes that however was not seen well enough. White-backed Vulture showed itself as did many of the usual species, but the bird of the day was Speckled Pigeon: a few came in and landed on the roof, disappeared for a while but came back and sat there another half hour – and this was the only day we saw them. Vervet Monkey passed through, and the Pearl-spotted Owlet was heard.

A few photos:
Marabou Storks
Speckled Pigeon
African Doves

Attached below (and none too great):
White-winged Widow
Tawny Eagle in flight
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Old Tuesday 20th December 2011, 23:35   #22
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August 17: The day started with a morning game drive at 5 am; it had really been scheduled for the previous morning but moved due to bad weather. The early start was aimed at possibly finding the elusive Leopard that was known to be in Grietjie, but no luck with that one (that is, I did see a distant eye-shine that could have been the one because it disappeared in a different way than any of the other animals had, but it was too distant to see anything else). We did see a few good ones: until then, Babboons had always been on the other side of the river but today was on our side, there was an African Green Pigeon, Black-crowned Tchagra, a good flock of Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, and the full complement of Antelopes, including what the guide said was both common and grey Duiker (I think I have later read that they are color morphs of the same species?).

Next up was breakfast and some relaxing time at the lodge, which as usual I mainly spent birdwatching. Best find of the day was Retz’s Helmetshrike (in addition to the usual White), but otherwise it was all the usual suspects that were around.

After lunch, we left the lodge for an outing, driving through Phalaborwa to Olifants River. First stop was about 30 minutes at Salati river bridge, with African Palm Swift, Grey-rumped Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Reed Cormorant and African Darter, Pied Kingfisher, Black Crake, Black Stilt, Striated Heron, Af. Pied Wagtail, and a few more.

Second stop was to get on board the river barge that takes you onto a dammed in area of the Olifants River. We had most of the same species as seen on the first stop but missing for example the Grey-rumped Swallow, and added African Jacana, Purple and Grey herons, hippos and crocs, Fish Eagle, Burchell’s Coucal, Af. Spoonbill, Purple Swamphen, Yellow-billed Stork, Pied Avocet, Common Sandpiper and probably Wood Sandpiper, Giant Kingfisher, Little Swift, and Water Thick-knee. By the end of that tour darkness was approaching, so back to the lodge.

A few pictures
Red-billed Buffalo Weavers
African Spoonbill
Pied Kingfisher
Water Thick-knee
Waterbuck male
Vervet Pow-wow
Prinia and Bee-eater
Black Crake

And attached below:
African Jacana
African bush savanna as seen from a small hill within the enclosure around Inyanga lodge, Grietjie.
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Old Tuesday 20th December 2011, 23:36   #23
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I have about 4 days to go, but it will probably be a couple of weeks before I will get anything more done.

Niels
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Old Thursday 12th January 2012, 01:19   #24
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Thanks for the patience, I should now be ready for the next installment

August 18: This morning found us driving from Inyanga lodge to Phalaborwa airport. Before leaving Grietjie we had the usual Warthogs and some common birds, but also one I regretted not getting a better look at: my best guess was Dark Chanting Goshawk. Along the main road were many Marabou Storks. Inside the Airport itself, we took place at a table and could enjoy views of Familiar Chat in addition to House Sparrow and Indian Mynah.

From there, we flew to Johannesburg and changed planes to go to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. After clearing immigration and getting our suitcases, we met the shuttle and were taken to Kingdom Hotel, seeing along the road just Vervet monkey and Marabou Stork.

Kingdom hotel is a circle of buildings around a pool area and some other (probably designed) wet areas with some trees and reeds in it. After getting installed in our room, I could not wait but had to get out and look for birds both inside the circle and outside the hotel, where we walked the road down in front of Victoria Falls Hotel next door. A few interesting birds were seen (incomplete list): Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul and Southern Masked Weaver were firsts, even though the id was only confirmed after coming home for a couple of these. Red-winged Starling looked out of place coming from Kruger, White-browed Robin-Chat looked just right, and there were a couple of Yellow-billed (black) Kites flying around. More surprising was the Warthogs that were scurrying around seemingly unconcerned with us and other people walking around close to them.

A few pictures:
White-browed Robin-Chat
Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Hotel garden Warthog

And attached below: several pictures mostly from inside the Kingdom Hotel (copyright Lene Larsen)
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Old Saturday 14th January 2012, 01:50   #25
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August 19: Around breakfast we saw a few birds inside the hotel, such as Pied Kingfisher, Wire-tailed Swallow, and Laughing Dove. A little later, around 9:30 we walked towards the Victoria Falls National Park using the trail that started just behind the hotel and which took us past a couple of lookouts over the river below the falls as well as places for different sorts of adventure zipping out along some wires. Meeting a couple of policemen that were on duty felt good, and the birds looked even better: nice Swallows, both Wire-tailed and Lesser Striped, Rock Martin and Little Swift, and Ashy Flycatcher.

We then came down into the park itself, turned down the offer of renting rain ponchos, and walked in. We chose to take the tour in reverse order, so we walked into the (dry) rainforest first, continued to the view of the bridge, and only then walked up to the edge of the waterfall at its furthest point from the entry point and worked our way back. From we hit the edge, the cameras were in danger from the water that rose from the bottom of the fall and then came down again on us; therefore, a few zipper bags I had brought came in very handy. Birds in this area included several of what we now considered common, but Red-billed Firefinch, Grey-backed (Green-backed) Camaroptera, Sacred Ibis, White-throated Swallow, Collared Sunbird, Green Wood Hoopoe, Schalow’s Turaco, and Ashy Flycatcher were more interesting. One funny occurrence was two Black Stork (a sight I used to see during migration in Denmark) flying over. By the end of the round (near the statue of Livingstone) we saw a flock of Vervet Monkey, of which one was stealing a bag of potato chips/crisps from the handbag of someone taking photos .

By then, lunch was overdue, so we walked along the road to Victoria Falls town and found a restaurant. A Fish Eagle was a positive encounter during that period.

As part of the package we had purchased from home, we were picked up at the hotel in the afternoon and transported to a smallish boat that made a sunset cruise with plenty of snacks and free bar. In spite of the bar, there was still time to enjoy a lot of sights, with a few interesting ones: Half-collared Kingfisher, Hamerkop, good number of Hippos, a very nice pair of Bushbok, Rufous-bellied Heron (and other similar species such as Squacco, Grey, and Striated Herons and Intermediate Egret), White-headed (crowned) Lapwing, African Skimmer, Water Thick-knee, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, and one that got away but I suspect African Rail. Yet one more time, an Elephant put in a show.

A few photos
Red-billed Firefinch
Wire-tailed Swallow
Half-collared Kingfisher
Long-tailed Cormorant
Angry Hippo
Bushbuck Pair
Rufous-bellied Heron
Lesser Striped Swallow
Ashy Flycatcher

And attached below:
some unknown flower
The river gorge below the falls
One of our first views of a section of the fall
Remember, this is the fall with low water levels ...
The old bridge over Zambesi
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Southern Africa questions njlarsen Bird Identification Q&A 4 Wednesday 5th October 2011 17:32
South Africa (May 2011) Kalahari Mike Richardson Vacational Trip Reports 8 Monday 3rd October 2011 20:13
South Africa Aug 2011 ovenbird43 South Africa 14 Friday 8th April 2011 03:39
which guide for Southern Africa? bigduggs Books, Magazines, Publications, Video & DVD 8 Wednesday 24th February 2010 13:55

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