Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Kruger Park colourful birds #2

Watching Woodpigeons and Blackbirds digging in the snow out of my window now, but my head and heart are still in South Africa. Luckily those images keep the memories fresh and warm.

On February 16th we drove around Satara, to the south and to the east. We left very early, especially for big mammals. The plan worked well, and we saw some exciting stuff (more to follow), but here I will focus on the birds we saw during that day and also during my short drive out of the park to Orpen Gatecon the 17th. As always in Africa, the focus is on colourful, long-tailed birds.

Burchell's Starling is common but so pretty

Sound-recorded one as well:

Crested Barbet is super-charismatic too

Lilac-breasted Rollers are common and usually very photogenic. This time around I had less luck photographing them. Still this adult posed nicely:

 And this youngster too:

Southern Carmine Bee-eater - classic Africa

I love Hornbills, even if they don't have eyelashes. Here's a sweet pair of Red-billed Hornbills:

This Yellow-billed Hornbill was too close:

Three-banded Plover are neat waders:

Lots of raptors in Kruger Park. By far the commonest was Bateleur.

Brown Snake Eagle

My next post will be about vultures and cats - expect some action...

African White-backed vultures and a cat

On the way back to Johannesburg I bumped into some Abdim's Storks - very cool birds

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The passage to Kruger - birds #1

On February 14th we drove the long way (534 km) from Hluhluwe to Malelane, the southern gateway into Kruger Park. It was a full day of driving, quite exhausting to be honest. When we climbed up to the plateaus, in open grassy habitats it was nice to see good numbers of Amur Falcons sat on telegraph lines by the road. This amazing bird will soon start its incomprehensible migration back to NE Siberia.

At one of our random stops we bumped into Groundscraper Thrushes - our only birds of the trip.

Most of the drive was through depressing landscapes of endless eucalyptus and conifer plantations. Hours and hours of driving through this.

That night we stayed overnight just outside of Malelane. In the morning I was greeted to beautiful light and birds just outside my window, sadly perched on an ugly wire:

Woodland Kingfisher

White-fronted Bee-eater

Yellow-fronted Canary

That day (February 15th) we drove across Kruger Park, from Malelane Gate straight through to Satara Restcamp. Right at the gate, on Crocodile River, we got a cool introduction to Kruger - a croc tried to snatch a drinking Impala, and elephants were stomping around the gate. More on mammals in the next posts.

eBird didn't appreciate the 180 km long checklist, but for us it was an incredible day, driving through varied landscapes, from the rocky hills and thick bush around Malelane to open savanna closer to Satara. We saw lots of birds that day, and I photographed quite a bit too.

Southern Ground Hornbill is one of the most breathtaking birds I have ever seen. The fact that it's a bird with eyelashes elevates it to mammal level. This successful hunter caught a frog (can anyone identify it?) and a large grasshopper.

Secretarybird - our only bird of the trip

African Fish Eagle

Gabar Goshawk - what a lovely little accipiter

Gray Go-away Bird

Continuing the theme of long-tailed African birds - Magpie Shrike:

Southern Cordon Bleu

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hluhluwe birds 12-13/2/18

We spent a day and a half inside Hluhluwe - Imfolozi Game Reserve, safari-driving which isn't the best way to watch birds. So birding was rather casual, but still very enjoyable. Here are my eBird checklists of day 1 (eastern section) and day 2 (southwestern section). We didn't see anything unusual, and missed some target species (like Southern Bald Ibis), so I celebrated the common and beautiful South African birds. Always a treat. My favourite was Mocking Cliff-Chat. There's a territorial pair on Nyalazi Gate itself - stunning birds:

I like the pastel colours of the female too:

Black-backed Puffback - mobbed a Natal Green Snake

Purple-crested Turaco - crazy bird

Burchell's Coucal

African Pipit

White-faced Whistling Ducks

Fan-tailed Widow

Pin-tailed Whydah - trash bird but a real cracker

Square-tailed Drongo

Lesser Striped Swallow

Nice to encounter Palearctic migrants in fair numbers - mainly European Rollers and Red-backed Shrikes:

On our last afternoon we seeked a change of scenery, and headed over to the private nature reserve False Bay Park, an extension of St. Lucia lake that is very close to Hluhluwe. We had higher expectations of the site, but it was half-disappointing there. Still, managed to add a few trip ticks, and snap some common stuff.
White-fronted Plover

Yellow-billed Stork

Grey-headed Gull - sorry about the clipped wingtip

Water Thick-knee

Next post - Kruger Park!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hluhluwe mammals

We spent two full days in and around Hluhluwe Game Reserve. It was our first safari experience with the kids, so on their behalf we got very excited about each and every individual animal. To be honest, there aren't huge numbers of common mammals in Hluhluwe, partly because of the thick bush that covers much of the reserve. Yet this was a good introduction to safari mammaling and birding in South Africa.
As I have mentioned previously, my biggest highlight of Hluhluwe, and in fact of the whole trip, was the encounter with a pack of seven Wild Dogs on our first afternoon. This beautiful animal has eluded me on my previous visits to Africa, and I was getting desperate to see them. That was the main reason we chose Hluhluwe - possibly the best place to see them in this part of Africa. We spotted them first sitting around in the tall grass, and my heart skipped a beat. After years of searching, at last - here they were. I think my kids have never seen my so genuinely excited before. We watched them playing and lazing around in the bush for a while. Then they started walking on, and posed on the road in the warm early evening light for several minutes. I was somewhat limited from a photography point of view. On the one hand, we found them so our vehicle was in the prime front position, which I did not want to give up. However, with my 500 mm I was a bit too close and just barely managed to get full frames of the animals. Still, I guess I can't complain.

Three of the dogs had radio collars on, part of research carried out by the Hluhluwe Wild Dog Project. I must admit the collars are pretty massive, reminding me of a St. Bernards with a brandy barrel. But they seem to be doing alright with the collars on.

After a while they walked off, I think they were on the hunt for some impala nearby. It was amazing to see them transform from playful puppies on the road to killing machines. In a flash the pack split into two groups - one group ran directly towards the impala, while the others made a long detour, downwind from the impala, keeping very low and quiet. We lost them in the tall grass and bush and couldn't witness the outcome of the hunt, also because the reserve was closing down. But the thrill was very high. Breathtaking.
They are such beautiful animals. Check the variation in coat patterns and colours. I can't wait to the next encounter with them. Thank you, Wild Dogs.

Mammaling in Hluhluwe was all about quality, not quantity. More or less the first mammal we encountered in the reserve was a male Lion sleeping just by the road. He looked pretty skinny and exhausted, but maybe it was just the heat. Later on was saw another young male not far away.

We saw our first African Elephants there too, coated in the beautiful African red soil.

Hluhluwe holds an important population of White Rhinos. We saw two individuals. So sad to think of how many have lost their lives because of this damned horn.

Each rhino is like a mini ecosystem - check the insects and Red-billed Oxpeckers:

It was so hot - I felt like doing exactly the same:

Another member of the big five was Buffalo - we had a large herd and several others. Some bulls were playing around a bit.

Our first Giraffe. We found them in the few grassy bits of the reserve, e.g. by the airstrip.

How can one shoot and kill such a beautiful, delicate animal is something I fail to comprehend.

Several giraffe were drinking in a waterhole. They are very funny when they drink, but it was too close for a proper photo of that. Because of their vulnerability when they drink, they take a big sip and lift their head up very quickly, splashing lots of water:

Hluhluwe holds some Zebras - lovely animals

Scrub Hare - I can fly!

Not quite a mammal - Nile Monitor:

Next episode - birds!