South Africa, Drakensberg and Kruger NP : July 2008





6 July 2008

We took a flight in the morning and we arrived late in the evening to Johannesburg. We had booked a room at Gateway Guest House only 15 km from the airport in the small town of Benoni. It took us a lot of time to have the car and we arrived after midnight and the door of the guest-house was closed! Although the battery of our phone was very low we were able to call the owner and to sleep finally in a good bed. That was good as the temperature were under 0°C during the night! (14.5 km)

7 July 2008

After a good breakfast, we spent some time in the garden for seeing and taking pictures of our first birds: Black-collared Barbet, Fiscal Shrike... 6 species had been never seen later  during the trip: Sacred Ibis, Gray-headed Gull, Red-headed Finch, Olive Thrush, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Cape Sparrow!
We found a place to stay in the Drakensberg area thanks to
birdingpal: Casper Badenhorst. As it was already the end of the morning, we took the more direct road via Pietersburg (rename like a lot of town Polokwane), Tzaneen, Ofcolaco and actually Sekororo. We arrived in the evening and with Casper we immediatly had a look in the garden but all the birds were already asleep... We spent 4 nights in this place and we accepted with great plaisure the fact that Casper was available for guiding us the first 2 days... (480 km)

8 July 2008

This day was focused on the Blyde River Canyon National Park as far as Grasskop. Early in the morning, we did a lot of very productive stops along the road: Temminck's Courser, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, Long-billed Pipit, a big group of Pin-tailed Whydah with at least 2 Eastern Paradise-Whydah all in intermediate plumage unfortunately. When going to the Canyon we stopped to the famous Taita Falcon site without seeing any bird unfortunately. When we came back at the end of the day, we saw one bird flying very high but although we were sure it was the Taita Falcon we were not able to distinguish any colour as it was already very dark... We even had a more frustrated view of the Bald Ibis flying above the car and immediately disappearing behind a rock in less than one second! However it was globally a fantastic day with great birds and great sceneries, Blyde River Canyon and few places around are really spectacular...(772 km)

9 July 2008

Still guided by Casper, we started the day by the nest site of a Bat Hawk couple in Magoebaskloof forest. It's mainly an area of Eucalyptus trees without big interest. However, every "islands" with a little diversity of plants and trees show always a good diversity of birds! The couple of Bat Hawk was close to there nest and we were able to observe the birds a long time. Then we reach another forest better preserved where we had a lot of very specific birds: Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Knysna Lourie, Purple-crested Lourie, Yellow-fronted Tinker Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide, Gray Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Sombre Bulbul, Swee Waxbill.
In the middle of the afternoon, we went to an antimony mine near Gravelote where leave some family members of Casper. Some farmer took us for a short safari in an area where dead animals are grouped in order to be cleaned by Vultures. We saw a lot of them and plenty of Marabou Storks and White-backed Vulture and also our first Dwaft Mangoose, Impala and Kudu as these animals are not stopped by high fences. (1050 km)


In the morning we started by a walk in Casper property in direction of the small lake of the village. We had our unique observations for the trip of Black-breasted Snake-Eagle, Tambourine Dove, Rufous-naped Lark and Kittlitz's Plover.
In the afternoon we went to Lekgalameetse National Park where we saw our first Burchell Zebra and we had our only view for the trip of Samango Monkey but also 
Striped Pipit and Black Sunbird (or Amethyst Sunbird). The forest of this Park seems very interesting but we had not enough time to explore it unfortunately... (1137 km).

11 July 2008

After discussion with Casper we decided to enter in the Kruger National Park by the closest gate (Orpen Gate) but also to try again the Taita Falcon site as it was almost on our road... This time the couple was in the cliff singing a lot and well in view for our great plaisure!
We entered in the park at the end of the morning and our first kilometres were very slow as all the animals interested us: Impala, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Burchell's Zebra, Warthog, Giraffe, Kudu and of course for some birds too: Coqui Francolin, Crested and Swainson's Francolin, Brown-headed Parrot, Melba Finch (
Green-winged Pytilia), Red-billed Woodhoopoe or (Green Woodhoopoe)... When seeing our first 2 Elephants I stopped wrongly on their way and when I wanted to restart it was too late so one of the two guys was not very happy to see us here and explained it with a big movement of the head: we will be more careful the next days althoug we had some others hot experiences later...
We ate at Muzandzeni Picnic Spot near a pond when our 2 Elephants arrived few minute after us! Then we drove slowly to Skukuza Rest Camp adding on our list: Dwarf Mongoose, Blue Wildebeest, Buffalo and Common Duiker. At the end of the first day we had seen 13 mammals without any carnivore.
(1413 km)

12 July 2008

We started by a walk in this big camp which allow us seeing 2 Purple-crested Louries. The day started very well with our first Lions on the H4-1. Few hundred meters further we discovered our first Hippopotamus on the Sabie River and later our first Steenbok very close to the road.
2 things remind from this day: first the number of Elephants we saw: in total more than 100, the main groups along the Crocodile River in the afternoon. The second is an encounter between a family of Elephant and a female White Rhinoceros with her young around a pond. At the beginning the pond was occupied by an immature Elephant when the 2 Rhino arrived on it. The Elephant was unhappy but finally let the pond to the Rhinos. However, few seconds later, he came back with the whole family and after a long period of intimidation the Elephants wan the place. However, the Rhinoceros came back from one side and then from another and at one moment they almost drank together but finally the family of Elephants decided to leave except the first young one, still unhappy to let the place!
We camped at Malelane Rest Camp and sandwiches were planned but we were lucky to be invited by a very kind Afrikaner family for the diner: a very nice evening! (

13 July 2008

We left this small camp early and we found a small group of Lions with babies almost at T junction with the main road. In the morning, we were very lucky to find first a Pearl-spotted Owl and half an hour later a couple of White-faced Owl! We ate at Afsaal Picnic Spot were we saw at less than 5 meters our first Bushbuck and a pair of wonderful Orange-breasted Bushshrike (or Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike).
As we booked the Napi Wilderness Trail, we had to be to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp at 15:00. We joined a group of 8 people and 2 rangers and after few formalities; we started a 1h30 drive to Napi Camp. Nothing special on the road and after a good meal, we received the securities instruction as for the next 2 days we will walk in the bush to approach Rhinoceros and other animals...
(1646 km)

14 July 2008

After a breakfast before the sunrise and after a short drive, we started a walk of 4 hours. We got closed to Elephant, Rhinoceros and tried to approach Impala, Zebra and Common Duiker but they let a big distance with humans on foot. We also saw 5 Sable Antelopes even wilder than the other antilope! We saw the only Black Rhinoceros of the trip, really much more nervous than the White one...
We came back to the camp for a lunch and then a rest if needed. Instead of going to sleep, we looked for birds inside the camp. The camp is along the dry Byamity River with big trees and a hide facing a small pond. We saw more than 30 species in 2-3 hours and among then our first Woolly-necked Stork and a group of Red-faced Mousebirds.
At the end of the afternoon we did a drive and then a short walk. We drove back at night and we were lucky enough to see quite well a Large-spotted Genet and several Fiery-necked Nightjars on the road.

15 July 2008

The program was the same than the first day except that we started our walk from the camp in the morning. Since we woke up we heard a Giant Eagle-Owl (or Verreaux's Eagle-Owl ) and our rangers found it easily in a big tree along the river. During this walk we scared 2 Harlequin Quails, 1 Kurrichane Buttonquail and we had a good view of a Slander Mongoose not so far. We were very lucky with the White Rhinoceros as we saw 23 of them, at few meters only for some of them. At the end of the morning, the rangers walk in the direction of some Rhinos waiting that one of the 8 tired tourists to detect... We were all surprised several times to find them very late and very close to us but this animal is fortunately usually quiet. I let you imagine what could happen without ranger and with mimetic and smaller animal like Lions...
At the end of the second walk in the afterrnoon, we arrived to a pond were a big troop of Buffalos were drinking. We approached them at a few dozens meters but fortunatly they were more scare than us although we were only ten versus hundreds!
During the night drive back to the camp,
this time we saw a Serval!

16 July 2008

We came back to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp in the morning and said good bye to our group and rangers. We did some shopping and caught a Southern Masked-Weaver before leaving the camp in direction of Biyamiti using the H1-1 road. We stopped a long time at Shitlhave Dam. It's a big pond with a lot of animals everywhere: Giraffe, Kudu, Burchell Zebra, Warthog, Waterbuck, Blue Wildebeest feeding a baby, Impala with 2 males already fighting! Of course we saw interesting birds too: Water Dikkop (or Water Thick-knee), 3 species of swifts: Black Swift (or African Swift), Little Swift and Alpine Swift! Later we took time to look a small group of Giraffes coming to drink to another pond. When crossing a small river almost dry, we saw our first Green-backed Heron (or striated Heron). A little bit further, I detected a bird of prey starting to swoop down in direction of the car. The time to stop, the bird disappeared already behind some trees less than 20 meters from us and reappeared immediately without any prey: it was a fascinating view of a Martial Eagle although a little bit frustrating! Then when crossing a small dam just before Biyamiti Road, we've got a splendid Hamerkop and a Black Crake at less than 10 meters with a immature African Fish-Eagle not too far in a tree.
The road to Biyamiti Bushveld Camp is accessible only for people staying in the camp and is one of the best road of the Park to see the Leopard. Of course, nothing is never sure and although we participated to a night drive we didn't see this animal... However he had good view of Barred Owl (or African Barred Owlet), Square-tailed Nightjar and several Lesser Bushbabies...
(1736 km)

17 July 2008

We got up early as the Leopard is known to move more in the morning and in the evening than during the day. As soon as the gate was open (6:30) we were out of the camp but actually with no more success than the day before. However we saw 2 Elephants pushing each other during several minutes and we were not able to define if it was a play or a small fight!
After a breakfast we did our traditional walk in the camp 
very productive this time: White-throated Robin-Chat, Terrestrial Bulbul (or Terrestrial Brownbul), Yellow-breasted Apalis but also a lot of Bushbucks. Arriving almost at the end of our loop we met a small group of people who had seen less than 20 minutes ago a Leopard! If we had done the loop in the other side probably we would have seen it...
We left the camp with some frustration but we found soon a group of Lions when crossing the Bume River on the S25. Later we were stopped by a big troop of Buffalos crossing the Road. Fortunately there is no risk to drive among the troop as the animals known that there is no risk with cars although it's quite impressive to do it. We did a short stop at the Hippo pool which allows doing a very short walk with a Ranger to the River.
After the lunch at Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, we decided to do a loop via the S130, 137 and S28. Not a lot of animals in this side of the camp at this time of the year. The most remarkable was few White Rhinoceros and a nest of White-backed Vulture close to the road. Nevertheless our option were finally greating by 3 Cheetahs at the end of it. In the evening we saw several times a Spotted Hyana patrolling along the fence waiting for some food although it's totally forbidden for safety reason but some people don't care about this rule unfortunately... (1871 km)

18 July 2008

After our morning walk with its interresting species: Cut-throat, White-faced Duck (or White-faced Whistling-Duck), we drove to Satara trying to find again the Cheetah site without success. However we saw Giant Eagle-Owl (or Verreaux's Eagle-Owl) even better than the first time. Before the Sabie River we stopped to a small pond full of Hippopotamus. An Hamerkop was doing his nest in a tree less than 10 meters from the hide but the most interesting sight was a big female White Rhinoceros with a baby. She had a very long corn, probably more than one meter! Later we stopped and walk on the River Sabie bridge. This allows having a wonderful view on the animals and birds: African DarterAfrican Jacana, Giant Kingfisher and also Elephants...
We drove to Orpen Dam, trying not to stop too much as we had a long drive to do. Fortunately at least we had the good idea to stop when seeing a strange Antilope which was the only Common Reedbuck we saw of the trip. We had our lunch at Orpen Dam at more than 2:30 pm. At this hour, the site was very quite and very beautiful with a couple of Saddle-billed Stork in the Dam and a confident Yellow-bellied Bulbul (or Yellow-bellied Greenbul) on the parking. We finished the road to Satara stressed by the time with short view of commonest species: Kudu, Chacma Baboon, Common Duiker, Giraffe... (2017 km)

19 July 2008

We started the day with the view of the small African Scops-Owl that we would have missed if an employee didn't show it to us in a tree at less than 4 meters in the middle of the main parking! We also saw before leaving: Bennett's Woodpecker, Yellow-spotted Nicator (or Eastern Nicator). We took the East direction on the S100 road in an attempt to do a loop. However, we stopped so often due to new birds that we forgot rapidly this idea: Mosque Swallow, Gabar Goshawk and nice view of Goliath Heron and Bateleur. We met a French couple who gave us a site with Lions few kilometres from where we were. Even more interesting they gave us another site where some Lions killed a Giraffe almost on a track on the S39 in Letaba direction where we had to go. After few minutes with the first group of Lions, we came back to Satara and continued to Nsemani Dam, a site full of animals at the end of this morning. Then we drove to the North on the S40 and the S39. We ate at Timbavati Picnic Area where we had to keep an eye always on the food due to birds... and Bushbucks! They almost try to stoll the food in our hands when we were sat! Before arriving to the second Lions site we encountered 2 Saddle-billed Storks and also 2 African Hawk-Eagles in a tree.
We finally arrived in the place where at least half a dozen of cars were parked one side of the track but we were lucky to find almost immediately a good place to see and take pictures... After a little bit more than 24 hours since the kill, the Giraffe was almost completely eaten but there were still 3 Lions on it. 4 other Lions were visible sometime around and also 3 Black-backed Jackals and a lot of Hooded Vultures.
We continued later to the North, finishing this wonderful day with our first Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. At Oliphant Bridge we went out of the car few minutes to see a troop of Elephant taking a bath of dust just under us, one Lion crossing the river and 2 rare White-crowned Plovers (or White-headed Lapwing)! Our last observation was a Puffadder on the road dead certainly since few minutes only and without wound visible... (2160 km)

20 July 2008

The morning walk were very good again: White-browed Robin-Chat, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Cardinal Woodpecker, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Greater Blue-eared Starling (Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling), Red-headed Weaver. We started our discoveries of the day with the S46 to Engelhard Dam on the Letaba River. We saw new species here: Spur-winged Goose, African Pipit and we had very nice view of Sabota Lark but our best surprise was 2 powerful males of Lions facing a troop of Buffalo on the other side of the dam. The 2 Lions but also one Hippopotamus generated a lot of stress and movement into the Buffalo troop which wanted to drink!
We took a hot meal at Olifants Rest Camp where you have a terrific view on the River from the top of a cliff. We had nice view of Cape Weaver, Mocking Cliff-Chat and a strange nest of Egyptian Goose on the other side of the River. The objective of the afternoon was to come back to the Giraffe killed to see what remain here.On the H1-6 road some people told us that a group of Spotted Hyena were on the road a little bit far away. We missed them first and we were very surprised to find them on the junction with the S95 when coming back! Some adults were on the road and a female with the youngs, one all black, were hiden in a hole under the road... We let the Hyenas and went to the Lions site but after only 48 hours nothing remains of the kill: only few bones with some skills were visible now and spread everywhere! On the road back to the camp we took the time to stop near a koopies where we found our first Klipspringers: it's a small antilope which is able to go up on almost vertical slope. We settle our tent at Balule Rest Camp for the night. (2289 km)

21 July 2008

The breakfast was distracted by a Scrub Hare in the camp blocked by the fence and wanted to get out of the camp just behind us. The birds of the morning were this time: Brubru, Blue Waxbill (Blue-breasted Cordonbleu), White-browed Scrub-Robin (or Red-backed Scrub-Robin) and just on the river when leaving the camp: Lesser Striped-Swallow and Three-banded Plover. We drove North in direction of Letaba. On the S94 we found an enormous Elephant with corn of more than 2 meters! We did some shopping in Letaba and took some time to observe Speckled Mousebird and Crested Barbet eating honey in some flowers and also a Blue-gray Flycatcher (or Ashy Flycatcher).
Then we went again to Engelhard Dam but from the North side this time stopping to different hides. On one of them we found a couple of Klipspringer very familiar. Then we drove to Mopani, probably the less exciting afternoon of the trip. (2341 km)

22 July 2008

In the morning, we walked until the big baobab in the middle of the camp. A lot of small tracks arrive to the enormous tree and on one of them, a group of Red-billed Firefinch came into our direction. I stopped to move and start to take pictures and I finally ot pictures of a male at less than 2 meters! Around 10am we saw from the terrace of the restaurant a lot of vultures flying into the sky from the forest. We finished our camp tour along the fence following the big lake of the camp: Pied Kingfisher, Black-winged Stilt, Great Egret and few others...
Then we left the camp to Pioneer Hide where we saw nothing but when we wanted to come back we were blocked more than half an hour by an Elephant who came to drink! Later, we took the S143 road which provide us our first Ostrich and even more interesting one of the rarest antelope: the Tsessebe. We continued a little bit more to the North, rewarded with a very confident Kori Bustard not far from the car. We came back to Mooiplaas Dam on the S49 where a big troop of Elephants were drinking. One of them where cleary higher and bigger than all the other and a car  very close to the dam seemed very small compare to him: we didn't want at all to be at this place when this big Elephant came into their direction!
We ate late at Tsendze Picnic site where the number of Hornbill where remarkable: Gray Hornbill,
Red-billed Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill waiting for food falling on the ground or even ready to steal it if we didn't take enough care of it! After lunch, we have to wait the sunset in order to have few good observations again: Red-crested Korhaan  (or Red-crested Bustard) and Tawny Eagle. We camped for the last time in our tent at Tsendze Rustic Camp Site (2555 km)

23 July 2008

Nothing special for the morning in this small camp. We decided to drive to Shingwedzi on the S50 although the note we had said that there is usually nothing of big interest on this road. Except few Ostrich and Kudu that was the case. Moreover Grootvlei Dam was dry... We reach Kanniedood Dam and then we found again a lot of animals even 2 new species of mammals: our first Nyala and Sharpe's Grysbok and a very long Varan (Nil Varan?) on the other side of the dam.
We joined a night drive as usually this camp is a very good place for Leopard but we had no more success than the other days. However we saw several Bushbabies, a Spotted Hyena family and a very nice and close Spotted Eagle-Owl.
(2647 km)

24July 2008

The morning was used to explore the S52 loop, a well known place for Leopard usually! It's a beautiful area although very quiet during this morning. We took our lunch at Shingwedzi before driving to Punda Maria Rest Camp. Not so many animals during this afternoon too, the main point of interest was a bush fire along the road attracting dozens of Fork-tailed Drongos and Lilac-breasted Rollers coming to eat frightening insects. In the burnt area we found several Black-Shouldered Kites too: the only ones we saw inide the Park.
Punda Maria is a place accepting VISA card usually but we had the very bad luck to discover that their new system didn't work and we were out of money! As it was to late to leave the camp, we've got a credit for diner and the manager of the camp told us that a Cash Machine was available around 30 km "only" from the camp! So that was not so far and this bad event has changed into a incredible lucky one the next day...
(2803 km)

25July 2008

The idea of the day was to go to the extreme North of the Park in the area called Pafuri, one of the best place for birds in the Park. However we had to find first some cash. So, we left the camp as soon as the Gates opened for the village of Babalala. Nevertheless, before leaving the park, we saw a group of Lion well hide with 2 babies and 3 adults. Finally, we arrived too early to the Bank and we had to wait around 20 minutes... We were back at the Punda Maria Gates around 8:30 and then the Guards told us that 10 Lions killed a Buffalo on the road on the H1-7 Road to Shingwedzi. After discussion we decided to let Pafuri for the day after although we will have only a little bit more than half a day the next day.
When driving to the H1-7 road to the Lions spot, we were stunned to see a Roan Antelope crossing  the road in front of us. Then during few minutes we were able to follow this very rare antilope and to take pictures... When we arrived on the killing site several cars left the place which allow us again to have a very good place to take pictures. The Buffalo had is head almost on the road and clearly the Lions were disturbed by the regular traffic. We spent more than 1 hour here and only 2 shy Lions came to eat sometimes.
At the end of the afternoon we came back to Punda Maria Camp driving on the S58. On, this short track we saw a nice troop of Elephants, our unique Double-banded Sandgrouse of the trip and a big group of Crested Guineafowl. We ate in the camp surrounding by some African Firefinchs and a couple of Southern Boubou.
In the afternoon we tried the S99 loop. The more remarkable observations were few Nyalas, several African Hoopoes and a flock of Retz's Helmetshrikes flying above our car but fortunately one with a big insect decided to stop in view at a reasonable distance... (2992 km)

26July 2008

Before driving to Johannesburg, we had only a little bit more than half a day to discover the very well known birding place of Pafuri. We started at 6h30 as yesterday. We drove among nice scenary during 60 km. The first really interesting sight was around 10:00 am: a family of Yellow-spotted Rock Dassies taking the first warm of the day on their rock home. A little bit further we saw a Lanner Falcon eating on the Ground a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill!
The area of Pafuri close to the river is very wooded which provide different birds from the other parts of the Park. We saw: Namaqua Dove, Gray-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-billed Stork but also our first and only aduld Cape Vulture (or Cape Griffon) of the trip! The main animals were the Beautifull Nyala, Klipsringer on the S64, Hippopotamus and Buffalo.
Around 1pm we had to leave the Kruger NAtional Park from Pafuri Gate and then to do the drive to Johannesburg for our evening flight to Paris... (3709 km)