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2011-10-10

South Africa (ZA)   A week at Ngwenya Lodge, Southern Kruger National Park  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 04:48:12 pm

Winter Birding - Ngwenya Lodge, Mpumalanga - 13 to 19 August 2011

After a hectic first half of the year, nothing like a break in the African bush to re-charge your soul. This year, we spent a week at our timeshare in Ngwenya Lodge (http://www.ngwenya.co.za/NGW/ngw.htm), situated on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park, with our Unit overlooking the Crocodile River - bliss! Images by Mike Pope


13 AUG 2011
We had a comfortable drive from Johannesburg to Ngwenya dropping down from the chilly highveld into the more temperate loweveld in and around Komatiepoort. During the check-in formalities, I found a Spotted Flycatcher which appears to have over-wintered as these species are only now migrating through Kuwait.

Spotted Flycatcher

Foraging around the bottom of a shrub, was the normally shy Green-backed Camaroptera.

Green-backed Camaroptera

After unpacking the car and getting sorted in our Unit we relaxed over lunch and later in the afternoon had a stroll around the Lodge gardens finding a few old 'friends' like Dark-capped Bulbul

Dark-capped Bulbul

Lesser Masked Weaver, still in winter or non-breeding plumage - although I did observe some nest building action

Lesser Masked Weaver

Although I was rusty on some calls, that of the African Green Pigeon was instantly recognisable

African Green Pigeon

At the small lake near the restaurant, a White-breasted Cormorant was seen

White-breasted Cormorant

Looking out over the Crocodile River at the restaurant, a Nile Crocodile was catching the last rays of the day

Nile Crocodile

As we got to our Unit, a small flock of Red Helmet Shrikes made a brief appearance

Red Helmet Shrike

14 AUG 2011
As the weather was great, we decided to spend the first day enjoying the Lodge and relaxing on our balconey overlooking the Crocodile River and we were rewarded with a great Lion sighting soon after waking up as a small pride wandered aloing the river bank

Male Lion

Birds that were flying up and down the river included; White-breasted Cormorant

White-breasted Cormorant

The smaller Reed Cormorant

Reed Cormorant

and many Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Goose

in the thermals above the river, we had juvenile African Fish Eagle calling

African Fish Eagle

in the scrub in and around our unit, I found a foraging Speckled Mousebird

Speckled Mousebird

the smart looking Spectacled Weaver

Spectacled Weaver

and a tatty looking Cape Weaver in transition plumage

Cape Weaver

and an African Mourning Dove which is not normally found this far south in the Kruger Park

African Mourning Dove

after a lazy breakfast my son Jaden and I went for a walk around the grounds, finding a secretive Tambourine Dove

Tambourine Dove

and an Ashy Flycatcher

Ashy Flycatcher

a stunning male Collared Sunbird was quite obliging in the coolness of the morning, not quite as much when the temperatures pick up later in the day

Collared Sunbird

Collared Sunbird

at this time of year, many of the Aloe's are in flower and many species of birds were seen feeding on the flowering blooms. The yellow of the flowers rubbing off on the feathers of their heads - here a Dark-capped Bulbul enjoying the nectar from the Aloe

Dark-capped Bulbul

at the small dam near the restaurant, an African Darter was sunning itself on the dead tree

African Darter

I had found a Water Monitor late yesterday that Jaden really wanted to see. At this time of the morning it was still sunning itself on the bank of the small dam and Jaden got up close and personal

Water Monitor

Water Monitor

on the way back to our Unit, Jaden spotted a Kurrichane Thrush at the base of an acacia tree

Kurrichane Thrush

2011-09-20

South Africa (ZA)   Zaagkuildrift and Seringveld  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 01:09:10 pm

Winter Birding - Zaagkuidrift and Seringveld, Gauteng - August 2011

Whilst on our break in South Africa, I had arranged to meet up with my good friend Simon Price who I had met in Kuwait, but had since re-located back to South Africa. We spent a productive and enjoyable morning together and chose the Zaagkuildrfit to Kgomo-Kgomo route north of Pretoria - in my opinion, one of the best birding roads in Gauteng. Images by Mike Pope


We were at the start of the route, not too long after sun-up and spent some quality time at one of the small pans. There was definitely a feeling of Spring in the air, with early buds showing on trees and birds actively starting to show breeding behaviour. Walking slowly through the bush, we came across a rather obliging Southern Boubou

Southern Boubou

Southern Boubou

With a Rattling Cisticola calling nearby

Rattling Cisticola

moving slowly toward the edge of the pan, we observed African Jacana's as they foraged on the floating vegetation - easily done with those extremely long toes

African Jacana

African Jacana

African Jacana

A few duck species were seen on the dam, but only this flock of Red-billed Teals came close enough for a photograph

Red-billed Teal

Red-billed Teal

A single White-winged Tern was also observed hawking over the water

White-winged Tern

Walking back to the car, we flushed a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler

Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler

Driving westward along the dirt road with frequent stops also produced Crimson Boubou; a really striking bird in the drab winter bush with a call to match it's appearance

Crimson Boubou

a couple of Kalahari Scrub Robins

Kalahari Scrub Robin

and a pair of Marsh Owls flying back to find a roost for the day

Marsh Owl

Some Waxbills were seen foraging on the edge of the road, one of them this female Violet-eared Waxbill. Unfortunately the spectacular male didnt stay long enough for his picture

Violet-eared Waxbill

Just before the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain (still dry at this time of year), we finally managed to get onto a Magpie Shrike that didnt fly off when we stopped

Magpie Shrike

Magpie Shrike

On and around the floodplain we ticked, African Pipit

African Pipit

a striking Capped Wheatear, which normally disappear after winter

Capped Wheatear

Kitlitz Plover

Kitlitz Plover

Lilac-breasted Roller, probably one of the most photographed birds in the Kruger National Park

Lilac-breasted Roller

and an Ovambo Sparrowhawk that had stopped for a drink

Ovambo Sparrowhawk

Viewing the floodplain from the bridge produced White-throated Swallow

White-throated Swallow

As it happens in birding, time does get away from you so we drove slowly eastward back to the main road, finding a wing-tagged Cape Vulture that was being harrassed by a flock of Pied Crows

Cape Vulture

Cape Vulture

On the way back to Midrand, we decided to stop at the Seringveld, a unique broad-leave woodland habitat on the outskirts of Pretoria that holds some key species. Unfortunately, we were only able to find one of them (perhaps a little too early in the season for the others) - but Green-capped Eremomela is still a good bird, albeit a very busy bird gleening quickly through the foliage. After exhausting this patch, we reluctantly headed back and I truly appreciated the variety, calls and numbers seen this morning, in comparison to the barreness of Kuwait

Green-capped Eremomela

Green-capped Eremomela

Green-capped Eremomela

2011-09-15

South Africa (ZA)   Summer to Winter break in South Africa  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 03:34:07 pm

A few weeks of winter in South Africa - Midrand, Gauteng - August 2011

After the draining and exhaustive summer heat of Kuwait, the cold Highveld winter of Gauteng was more than a welcome relief for our summer break. Birds in this post are the more common urban birds during winter and were taken in the garden and whilst walking our Staffies with my Son, Jaden. Images by Mike Pope


Karoo Thrush are very common in the garden in early morning and late afternoon - also when we feed our dogs where they wait on the fringes for the dogs to finish eating

Karoo Thrush

Cape Robin-chat is another garden skulker that also sings from cover, but this individual was not very obliging for photographs

Cape Robin-chat

The male Cape Sparrow is quite a stiking bird, but generally overlooked as it is very common

Cape Sparrow

At this time of year (late Winter/early Spring), Southern Masked Weavers are mostly in full breeding regalia and have started nest building

Southern Masked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Walking the dogs outside of our townhouse complex provided a little more variety. Streaky-headed Seedeaters calling from the treetops

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Small flocks on winter plumaged Southern Red Bishops

Cape Sparrow

The aggressive Fiscal Shrike

Fiscal Shrike

and the very similar looking Fiscal Flycatcher, but these are normally seen in pairs and are much more delicate in build

Fiscal Flycatcher

Not quite as urbanised as the Red-eyed Dove, but the odd Cape Turtle Dove was seen foraging on the pavements

Cape Turtle Dove

Crowned Lapwings were also seen on the pavements and are generally quite oblivious to the passing cars

Crowned Lapwing

A few Cape Glossy Starlings were seen infrequently

Cape Glossy Starling

Some of the larger trees on the pavement were started to bud with the advent of Spring and many Cape White-eyes were seen foraging in these trees

Cape White-eye

Together with the dimunitive Black-throated Canaries

Black-throated Canary

Black-throated Canary

During a few late afternoons I sat on the upstairs patio and still had some enoyable birding - especially enjoying the calls, which we dont often hear in Kuwait. A male Laughing Dove calling from a rooftop

Laughing Dove

As well as the larger male Red-eyed Dove calling from a different rooftop

Red-eyed Dove

Here a Crested Barbet in the dying sunlight

Crested Barbet

An African Sacred Ibis flying to it's overnight roost

African Sacred Ibis

And not too much later, the magnificent splendour of another winter African sunset - I am a sucker for sunsets and never get tired photographing them

Southern African Sunset

2010-10-21

South Africa (ZA)   Birding without the Birder  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 02:27:33 pm

Timeshare at Ngwenya Lodge, Southern Kruger National Park, Mpumulanga, South Africa - August 2010

After I had returned to Kuwait, my wife Gill, son Jaden and father-in-law Graham spent a few days at Ngwenya Lodge. This is our timeshare located on the banks of the Crocodile River on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park. Images by Mike Pope


When I returned to Kuwait I brought all my camera kit with me, but left my Canon G9 point and shoot and Sony video for Gill to capture more African images. I was very proud, that Gill was able to firstly identify this as a Barred Owl (not easy for a non-birder) and secondly push the G9 to its zoom limits with both optical and digital zoom at their max.

Barred Owl

Finding and photographing an African Buffalo with the G9 didnt raise a sweat after the camouflaged owl

African Buffalo

Paying attention to all elements of life in the bush, Gill then photographed a Tortoise 'rushing' to cross the road. It's my job to now identify it.

Tortoise


2010-10-20

South Africa (ZA)   Safari at Kirkmans Kamp in Sabi Sands Reserve  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 03:19:11 pm

Return to Kirkmans Kamp in Sabi Sands Reserve, Mpumulanga, South Africa - July 2010

After a hectic half year at work, my family and I retreated to the African bush for 4-days of solitude and peace. It wasnt a difficult decision to return back to Kirkmans Kamp during the South African winter. One of the prime reasons for choosing Kirkmans was that they also allow children under 12, so my son Jaden was ecstatic. Images by Mike Pope


Winter in the lowveld is very pleasant with brisk evenings and early mornings, but very comfortable temperatures during the day. In between the morning and afternoon safari's, we relaxed around the pool and patio of the main house enjoying the solitude and watching birds and game passing by in the gardens and the Sand River below our bungalows - really stressful. Although no migrants are present during winter, the resident birds in the gardens and on the game drives kept us entertained. In the garden around the main lodge we had a flowering exotic tree, which attracted a variety of birds. The male Scarlet-chested Sunbird really stood out from the white flowers, but was most uncoperative for photographs

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

The female Scarlet-chested Sunbird is a little more cryptic

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

A Spotted Flycatcher, which is a migrant, must have jumped on a earlier flight to get to South Africa ahead of the others

Spotted Flycatcher

A single Crombec was seen in the maze of branches, this is a bird with character - it has to be since it is almost tailess

Crombec

Grey Loeries (Turaco) were also seen feeding on the flowers

Grey Loerie

It wasnt just this exotic tree that attracted birds, the indigenous trees in the main garden held their own with Ashy Flycatchers

Ashy Flycatcher

Black-eyed Bulbuls

Black-eyed Bulbul

Brown-hooded Kingfishers

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

A very vocal female Chinspot Batis, why should we be surprised!

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Drongo's were seen having success hunting from perches above the grassed lawn

Drongo

During the warmth of the day, we relaxed around the pool and birds came to us. A Black-collared Barbet in the tree above our loungers

Black-collared Barbet

A couple of birds took advantage to drink water from the pool; Yellow-eyed Canaries were quite bold

Yellow-eyed Canary

Greater Blue-eared Starlings are quite magnificent

Greater Blue-eared Starling

Above the pool we had some Wire-tailed Swallows that stopped to rest in the shade of the change rooms

Wire-tailed Swallow

A group of Palm Swifts appeared to be collecting nesting material on the wing

Palm Swift

A pair of Lesser-striped Swallows (intra African migrants) arrived on our last day at Kirkmans

Lesser-striped Swallow

The lodge lawns also had some birds of interest. Every afternoon a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl would come trooping across and took flight if spooked by an overhead raptor

Helmeted Guineafowl

The largest Starling species, Burchells Glossy Starling were seen bathing in the sprinkler spray and feeding on the ground

Burchells Glossy Starling

Both Yellow-billed Hornbill

Yellow-billed Hornbill

and the slightly smaller Red-billed Hornbills were seen

Red-billed Hornbill

Exploring the fringes of the bush at the edge of the property had to be done with care, as the lodge is not fenced. Here the striking Groundscraper Thrush was seen

Groundscraper Thrush

A Tawny-flanked Prinia was seen in a thicket on the ground

Tawny-flanked Prinia

together with a Neddicky

Neddicky

A Southern Tchagra flushed from where it was feeding on the ground

Tchagra

Not many raptors were seen around the lodge, but a African Hawk Eagle high on a thermal did catch my attention

African Hawk Eagle

An adult Bateleur is a sight to behold and also features on the logo for Kirkmans Kamp

Bateleur

Bateleur

Out on the morning and afternoon game drives, we encountered birds not seen around the lodge. An early morning stop on the river gave a fly by of African Harrier Hawk

African Harrier Hawk

Followed by a Hamerkop, a bird that many locals are superstitious of.

Hamerkop

As we crossed the river, we saw the large Goliath Heron hunting quietly against the reeds

Goliath Heron

Another Hamerkop was seen hunting on the causeway

Hamerkop

Also seen in the early mornings are Green Pigeons preening out in the open before they disappear into the depths of the trees to feed and roost for the day

Green Pigeon

Whilst watching a lion at a waterhole, we saw Crested Francolin feeding apparently oblivious to the lion

Crested Francolin

Also seen was a female Cardinal Woodpecker high up in a dead tree

Female Cardinal Woodpecker

On the opposite side of the waterhole, a flock of White-backed Vultures had roosted for the night

White-backed Vulture

A little later in the morning, once the thermals were rising, the Vultures departed and slowly spiralled upwards

White-backed Vulture

On the game drive, we also saw a Lizzard Buzzard fly into the tree with a small prey item clutched in its talons

Lizzard Buzzard

Yellow-billed Hornbills strike me as the equivalent of the birding clowns of the bush

Yellow-billed Hornbill

The Lilac-breasted Roller is probably the most photographed bird in the Kruger National Park and with colours like this, you can understand why

Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

On the way to our sundowner stop an Emerald-spotted Dove was heard before it was seen

Emerald-spotted Dove

During our sundowner, I saw a small group of Little Bee-eaters hawking in the fading light

Little Bee-eater

Saddle-billed Stork is one of the Big 5 of birds - the other 4 are: Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Ground Hornbill and Kori Bustard

Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed Stork

However, the majority of visitors to Sabi Sand Reserve and lodges like Kirkmans Kamp are here for the big game and sadly birds feature quite low on most agenda's. To me the mammals and birds are symbiotic and I get a kick out of everything we encounter on safari. It is almost a priviledge to be able have this kind of exclusivity to enjoy game at close range with your personal guide and ranger. Walking around the camp looking at birds, also provides opportunity to see some of the lodge animals. The shy Bushbuck feeds along the fringes of the riverine bush

Bushbuck

A male Warthog was more bold and grazed on the lodge lawns

Warthog

Vervet Monkeys were daring during lunch when they would steal food off your table if you werent vigilant enough

Vervet Monkey

Out on safari, there are many other mammals to distract whilst looking for the Big 5 and our ranger and tracker together with the guests were able to find some of the smaller antelope like, Duiker

Duiker

and Klipspringer, a specialist of rocky outcrops and extremely agile across the rocks and boulders

Klipspringer

Among the larger antelope, the Waterbuck is still one of my favourites from a photograhic perspective

Waterbuck

However, most people consider the Kudu to be the most regal

Kudu

Two Giraffe grazing in the African bush

Giraffe

We saw these Dwarf Mongoose as the sprinted across the track in front of us

Dwarf Mongoose

As the sun sets, the nocturnal mammals start appearing. This Spotted Hyaena has just seen a Leopard lying off his track and was unsure what to do next. He didnt have to wait long, as the young male Leopard chased him back from where he had come

Spotted Hyaena

The White-tailed Mongoose is always a good sighting on a night drive

White-tailed Mongoose

We almost bumped into this grazing Hippo on one of the early morning drives

Hippo

As mentioned earlier, most guests main quest at these private lodges is to get up close and personal to the Big 5, well Kirkmans Kamp didnt disappoint. We were really close to a family group of 4 White Rhino's - here a male looking a little apprehensive. It is such a shame that they are being mercilessly poached and slaughtered again in South Africa and the source/demand needs to be stopped

White Rhino

We watched this pregnant Elephant as she systematically shredded the bark off this branch by pulling and rotating it through her mouth with her trunk

Elephant

A junior Elephant did his best to 'scare' us, but realise we were much bigger than him and beat a hasty retreat

Elephant

Kirkmans Kamp is one of the places in Sabi Sands for Leopard and the rangers/trackers delivered the goods. We had superb sightings on almost all of our drives - both morning and afternoon. Here a young male sleeping in the afternoon

Leopard

Yawning after his sleep

Leopard

One of the males walking his territory

Leopard

Up in a tree looking over the bush

Leopard

A portrait in the early morning light

Leopard

While enjoying the Rhino's, we noted a pride of Lion within 10m of the Rhino's who hadnt noticed them. The Lions were quiet too, as they had cubs

Lion Cub

Lion Cub

We tracked this magnificent male Lion as it made its way to a nearby waterhole

Lion

There was a dead Waterbuck in the middle of the small pan, here the Lion trying to work out how to take advantage of this 'free' meal

Lion

After assessing the situation and the real possibility of a large Crocodile in the pan, the Lion eventually decided to try and retrieve the Waterbuck. It tentativly walked into the water and discovered that it got deeper as it got closer to the buck. Then either its movement in the water or one of the feeding Terrapins bumped into it - well, he tried to walk on water in his haste to get back to dry land

Lion

Lion

Lion

Lion

He tried this move 3 times without success and then gave up and went to mark his territory around the dead Waterbuck. As a note, we visited the pan the following morning and discovered that he did persevere and finally pulled the buck onto the bank - but didnt eat much of it, probably because it had been dead too long

Lion

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