Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Friday, 12 October 2018

SOUTH AFRICA PART 3: Kruger's Olifants & Orphen camps plus Taita Falcon

African Elephant bull

Following our stay at Satara (see here) we headed north to Olifants Camp, known for beautiful views atop cliffs across the Olifants River towards the Mozambique border. 

Olifants River
On the way and around Olifants we found many more elephants, including some fine bulls and large family groups.

Cow elephant with calf

Elephant & Impala
It's impossible to tire of seeing Giraffe, and they were quite numerous throughout Kruger.



Greater Kudu, Burchell's Zebra, Impala
Plenty of waterbirds were about the river including African Openbill, and Saddle-billed Storks mixing it with Impala. Kori Bustard was quite common in more open areas.

Saddle-billed Stork & Impala

African Openbill

Kori Bustard
This trip was primarily for mammal-spotting so birds were not a high priority. But we were happy enough to see nice birds including Lilac-breasted Roller, Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Southern White-crowned Shrike and Magpie Shrike.

Arrow-marked Babbler

Lilac-breasted Roller

Grey-headed Bush-shrike

Southern White-crowned Shrike

Magpie Shrike
Crested Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl and Natal Spurfowl were common.

Crested Francolin

Natal Spurfowl
Raptors included White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced vultures, Bateleur, Martial Eagle and Black-breasted and Brown snake-eagles.


Black-chested Snake-Eagle

Martial Eagle

White-backed Vulture

White-headed Vulture
We saw Slender Mongoose and Dwarf Mongoose roadside a few times, along with South African Ground-Squirrel.

Dwarf Mongoose

Slender Mongoose

South African Ground-Squirrel
Small ruminants included plenty of Steenbock.

 At Olifants I joined a morning walking expedition along the river with two armed park rangers. I'd been told this is a good plan for seeing Pel's Fishing-Owl, another bogey I'd dipped on several times during past visits. The rangers tracked down a fishing-owl and it was a great pleasure to watch it perched high in the foliage and as it flew to another tree. The rangers then found the shed skin of a large black mamba.

Rangers with black mamba skin.

Pel's Fishing-Owl

Pel's Fishing-Owl

We were walking along the river bank when a large male leopard appeared just 30 metres away. We were upwind and it was looking the other way so didn't notice us. It soon heard us though and melted into the scrub. Nearby were the remains of an Impala it had killed and dragged up a tree.


Leopard's Impala kill
We headed south from Olifants towards our last lodge in Kruger – an overnight stay in Orphen. We hadn't gone far when we ran into a female leopard with a cub by the road. Leopard can be easy to miss in Kruger but we saw a total of six in five encounters; Glenn and I saw just one during our last visit. However we failed to see Cheetah, which we saw last time though it is scarce in the park.

Leopard with cub (rear)
Further south we stopped at a waterhole that was productive on the way up. Large numbers of zebra and wilderbeeste were drinking and on both occasions, they were watched carefully by lions. On our return visit, a sub-adult male lion that had been watching from long grass rushed at what seemed to be lightning speed towards some zebras by the water. They were able to avoid the lion and escape amid a cloud of dust.

Burchell's Zebra & Wilderbeeste
We saw lions again as we continued eastwards. We were to see a total of 28 lions during eight encounters. 

We stopped at a picnic spot for lunch – one of the few places in the park where you are allowed to leave the vehicle, which can be frustrating. Large numbers of small birds were coming in to drink at birdbaths provided, including Blue Waxbill and Red-billed Firefinch. Earlier we had seen large numbers of Red-billed Quelea, supposedly the world's commonest bird.

Red-billed Firefinch & Blue Waxbill

Red-billed Quelea
As stopped again at the waterhole near Satara that was so productive earlier in the trip. A very large herd of Cape Buffalo were wallowing in what was left of the mud.

Cape Buffalo
We were delighted to find at Orphen that our lodge was right by the fence and overlooking a watering hole. We spent our last afternoon in the park not on a game drive but relaxing as we watched the spectacle. A group of elephants came in to drink.

Elephants at the waterhole
Then three rhino came to drink, hanging about outside the compound at close quarters for about an hour. Earlier in the day we saw another pair of rhino near the road. So we saw a total of 13 White Rhinoceros in five encounters, far more than we could have hoped for.

Rhino at the waterhole
Towards sunset a large group of Cape Buffalo came to the water and camped for the night in the surrounding scrub. Spotted Hyaenas were also about, prowling the fence line for food scraps and calling during the night.

Buffalo at the waterhole
The next morning we left the park, heading west towards Johannesburg. We stopped at Abel Erasmus Pass, a beautiful spot in the Drakensburg Range known for its nesting pair of Taita Falcon. The falcons nest above a line of curio shops and we were told to summon a local lad, Michael. 

Taita Falcon site
We found the bird perched high and distantly above the road before Michael turned up. He had a scope, however, which we didn't, so it was nice to get a better view.

Taita Falcon

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