2003 South Africa

As a kid, it was Africa that filled my dreams, so it was rather ironic that I'd spent rather a lot of time in Asia and Latin  America, with some time in the USA and Europe, over 17 years, before I finally got there.  South Africa is a photographer's dream, however this was in my pre-SLR days, and the shots were taken with one of the first 'superzooms'.

28/7 - 1/8

Wakerstroom area

A tiring drive, after an over-night flight, not helped by my navigator sending me 180 degrees the wrong way!

A hilly area of wetlands and farm land.  Well know for its rare birds, many of which are very difficult to find in the southern winter!

Blue cranes were one species I did succeed in seeing.
We also saw southern crowned crane; although they were very distant.

Other sought after birds included ground woodpecker,

southern bald ibis,

maccoa duck, blue korhaan, Barrow's korhaan, black-winged plover, red-throated wryneck, sentinel rock-thrush and buff-streaked chat.

Cape-robin chat is a fairly common South African species.

There was little sign of mammals apart from some distant, and uncooperative, meercats.  A sad reminder of the problems predatory animals can face in farming areas was the very sad sight of this serval, strung up from a fence.  My favourite birds were the superb giant kingfisher and secretary bird - sadly no photos though.

On the 1st, we headed to Durban, with an unsuccessful attempt for wattled crane en-route, an eight and half hour journey, which our three year old son survived remarkably well.  We arrived at the Parade Hotel, as somebody was telling the doorman they'd just been mugged!

2/8 and 3/8


Our first night was rather disturbed by strong winds; not great when your main reason for being somewhere is for a pelagic!  Our first morning was mostly spent at Pigeon Valley, a park within Durban.  Good birding, but no photos because I was too worried about being mugged to carry a camera.  Highlights were spotted ground-thrush and African goshawk.  Then an afternoon dedicated to my son: going on fair rides etc.

After getting up at 0445, I discovered the pelagic had been cancelled, due to the weather. Ironically it had now gone calm!

I was determined to get out to sea, so we booked onto a trip on the, unoriginally named, African Queen.  No substitute for a pelagic, but very enjoyable.  The highlights were excellent views of a mother and calf humpback whales.

We did even manage to see a few birds: white-chinned petrels, yellow-nosed albatross, cape gannets and pink-backed pelican.

4/8 - 6/8

I seemed to completely fail to get any photos from this section of the trip, but we did see a fair few birds.  

Donnybrook Forest

The star of the show was the extremely rare Cape parrot - two were seen flying over - and the superb orange-ground-thrush - very close but brief views.

Underberg Area

Birds seen included Stanley's bustard.

Reedbuck and spot-necked otter provided the main mammal interest.


Sani Pass/Lesotho

An enjoyable day out with Rob Guy.  

Both the drive and Lesotho were beautiful.

The top birds for me were Drakensberg rock-jumper

and Guerney's sugarbird.  Other birds seen included southern grey tit, Drakensberg siskin and lamergier.

There was also considerable mammal interest: a few eland were seen - unfortunately very distantly - and in Lesotho, from Africa's highest pub, a few really cute Sloggett's ice rats.

An evening trip out with Guy produced wattled crane, Stanley's bustard but sadly no Cape eagle-owl.

About five years later I was told the tragic news that Rob had been murdered.  He was a really friendly and helpful man.

8/8 - 10/8


I managed to see my main 'target' species here - palm nut vulture, African finfoot, mangrove kingfisher and trumpeter hornbill - but no photos of them.  The kingfisher took many, many hours of standing round in mangroves.

Brown-hooded kingfisher was considerably more common.

as was Goliath heron.

We did see a few mammals.  A few, suspiciously tame, zebras were around the campsite.  Vervet monkey was new and exciting then.

However by far the main mammal highlight was a visit by four thick-tailed bush-babies, who raided our bin while we were drinking wine.  Sadly my built-in flash was far from up to the job!


St Lucia

After a morning's birder at Mtunzi we headed to St Lucia.  Keen to see some 'proper' African wildlife we were quickly onto a boat trip.  Where we saw plenty of Nile crocodiles

 and hippos.

11/8 and 12/8

Iphiva campsite/St Lucia area

It really felt like 'proper' Africa now with Burchall's zebras, blue wildebeest, impala and bushbuck.

Samango monkey was also seen.

A return visit added warthog to the list.

The highlights of an evening walk were Livingstone's turacos, bearded scrub robin and crested guineafowl.


St Lucia

A superb trip out on a humpback whale trip.  An estimated 14 were seen.

A few flesh-footed shearwaters were also seen.

Back on land, we saw some white-fronted plovers, water thick-knees and a yellow-billed stork.


14/8 Crocodile Bridge - Lower Sabie

It was took us nine hours do drive to Kruger, via Swaziland.  Finally properly in 'big-game" country!

Waterbuck turned out to be common.

As were kudu


and Burchell's zebra.

Another species that turned out to be common was giraffe, but we were still very excited by our first one.

The most exciting mammals were 5 white rhinos.  Sadly they were both distant and obscured by trees.

The campsite had a superb bar looking out onto saddle-billed and yellow-billed storks and many Nile crocodiles.


Lower Sabie area

We were slightly disappointed by the mammal watching on our first morning.

2 tsessebe were the highlight.

We saw our first buffalo, although briefly as well as chacma baboons.

Lilac-breasted roller won the most gorgeous bird of the day competition! 

Other birds included African grey hornbill

lots of superb bateleurs 

and brown snake eagle.

After a bit of R and R, at lunchtime, we went out again.

Sabie area

Now we really felt like we were properly in Africa!

The best came in the evening, but forgetting chronological order, the real highlight was a leopard.  We stopped at a group of cars and had a frustrating wait - it seemed like hours, but was probably only about 45 minutes - but we then got prolonged views - superb!

Nearly as smart was a spotted hyena.  I was leaning out of the car window watching it; it kept walking straight towards me, causing a fairly rapid withdrawal back into the car!  

We also saw our first elephants of the trip.

Another new mammal for us was steenbok.

Birds included arrow-marked babbler

Burchell's courser

wire-tailed swallow, saddle-billed stork and Natal francolins.  When we arrived back at the campsite we added water thick-nee.


Lower Sabie - Skukuze

The bird highlight for me was certainly the superb white-fronted bee-eater.

Yellow-billed hornbill proved to be a very common species.

Reptiles were rare on our trip, due to the time of year, so this tree agama was a nice sight.

I failed to photograph any of the good mammals of the day.  Common duiker and klipspringer were seen during the day, but the highlight was undoubtedly good views of a serval, seen on the evening drive.


Skukuza Area

Birds included crested francolin

 and the superb ground hornbill

Mammals included banded mongoose and 3 nyalas.


Skukuze/Satara area

As a kid the biggest of Africa's many lures was lion.  So it was rather frustrating that I still hadn't seen one.  At Satara we received a tip off and were soon driving back southwards.  Unfortunately we'd decided to travel from Skukuze to Satara by a side route or we would have noticed that there was a major lion 'twitch' in one of the car parks.  We arrived to see a dead buffalo surrounded by one hooded and lots of white-backed vultures, as well as lots of cars!  We then were rather frustrated by glimpses of two male lions, usually hidden by cars! Eventually some cars drove off and then I was in cat heaven!  These two amazing animals just strolled around, occasionally scaring off the vultures but seeming not bothered by all the cars - although now and again they would stare into a window.

Another good mammal sighting was 10 sable antelopes.
The bird highlight was an African finfoot, which was rather a shock when I saw it swimming across the middle of a river, as I drove past.  I frantically pulled over, clambered into the passenger seat and grabbed by scope but sadly it had disappeared.  Other birds included showy red-billed hornbills

green wood-hoopoe, golden-breasted bunting and wattled starlings.


Satara area

The bird highlight was superb views of a superb bird: 5 Kori's bustards were seen.

Although the rarest bird was actually grey-backed sparrow-lark.  I saw a flock and was rather confused by the fact that they appeared to be a long way out of range.  A search on the internet, on my return to the UK, revealed a report of 83 a couple of weeks after my sighting, at what must have been roughly the same spot,  apparently the first record for the park!  A purple roller was nearly over-looked, due to the large number of lilac-breasted rollers and black-crowned tchagra was another pleasing find.  A groundscraper thrush gave excellent views in Satara camp, itself.

It's a pity I didn't have the equipment to photograph any of the stuff seen on my night drive.  The highlight was a sighting of three adult male lions, sitting in the road, and later good views of a young male.    We also saw 3 small-spotted genets, black-backed jackal and brief  views of two lesser bush-babies.  A flap-necked chameleon was my first ever chameleon species.  My mood went down hill when I got totally lost trying to find my tent in a dark and deserted, and surprisingly large, camp with only the most pathetic torch in the world to aid me!



Brown-headed parrot and martial eagle were among the birds seen while packing up camp.

A relatively dull four and a half hour drive to Letaba, except for lots of lark-like buntings - another bird apparently out of range, but like the sparrow-finch, a nomadic species.

This hammerkop was quite showy.

Letaba Camp

2 kurrichane thrushes were seen, while we were putting up the tent as were several calling African mourning doves.

We were all feeling a little travel weary so we bought beer from the shop and sat watching the river, from the camp.  Occasionally getting distracted by bushbuck that had managed to get into the fenced camp.

The river provided pretty good birding with several white-fronted bee-eaters, Natal francolins, three-banded plovers, marabou and saddle-billed storks and collared pratincoles among the species seen.

In the evening an African scops owl was calling around the camp, sadly we never managed to see it.


Letaba Camp

Red-headed weaver 

and this very showy crested barber were seen in the camp.

On the road to Shingwedzi we saw a very impressive herd of about 400 buffalo.

At Shingwedzi Camp we were rather alarmed to see that a large gate was open, near our tent.  Impressive as the animals in the area were, we were rather keen for them to stay on the other side of the fence to us.

An evening trip to Kanniedood hide was rather unproductive.  We didn't think we were going to get there due to some rather frisky elephants blocking the road.  I was pleased to get past them, only thinking later there was only one way back!  They were still there and it was a rather alarming time.  Out little Toyota Tazz would have been no match for an angry elephant!

The highlight of the day came as were were nearly back at camp.  

The evening was spent getting rather drunk with a South African family, talking about the rugby world cup - the South African bloke correctly predicting that England would win - and watching spotted hyaenas patrolling the fence.


Shingwedzi Camp - Punda Maria and Babalala picnic site

Much of the day was spent looking for, and failing to see, cheetah.

We did see two nyala;

however our most memorable mammal encounter was when we were charged by a male elephant.  Rarely has a Toyota been so rapidly reversed!

Birds included Jameson's firefinch, red-billed hornbill, ground hornbills, and red-breasted swallows -a sign of spring.

Shingwedzi night drive

A bit of rule bending meant we could actually go out as a family, my son being below the minimum age.  We saw Sharp's gresbok, 2 large-spotted genets, scrub hare and very briefly a superb springhare as well as lesser bushbaby.  A Walhberg's eagle was a pleasant surprise.



En route we saw a flock of white helmetshrikes.

Rather popular, but we still had some good birding, including 3 white-crowned plovers, 2 Bohm's spinetails and Meve's starlings.  An African scops owl was heard calling, but again we failed to see it.  And a tawny eagle was seen nearby.

On the down side a bottle of chilli sauce lost its lid and spread itself around the car!


Punda Maria area

Much of the day was spent driving around looking for cheetahs, sadly we were not successful   Birds seen included black-chested snake-eagle, little bee-eater, orange-winged pytilla, cinnamon-breasted bunting and Jameson's firefinch.


A purple-crested turaco was seen at Punda Maria before heading to back to Shingwedzi.  Dickinson's kestrel and white-headed vulture were seen on the way.

On arrival the rest of the family decided they were preferred the idea of going swimming to more wildlife watching.  I decided to carry on looking for cheetahs.  This was a bad mistake!  I saw very little and got a puncture on a dirt track, with no other traffic.  Getting out to change the tyre - with lions and leopards around - was not wildly appealing, especially as I'm not exactly the greatest mechanic in the world.  I managed to crawl to the road, and flagged someone down for help.  Somehow my tyre was still repairable!

An evening drive did cheer me up.  First we saw a superb Verreaux's eagle owl.

As we approached the camp, we saw some people watching a pearl-spotted owl.


Shingwedzi - Letaba

The highlight of the journey was 6 female lions, although they were slightly distant.  A red-crested korhaan was also seen, as well as rock kestrel, hooded vulture and water thick-knee.

Birds seen in the Letaba area included a white-fronted bee-eater and brown-crowned tchagra.

Letaba - Setara

A leopard was seen up a tree, giving close but obscured views for ages; until it eventually gave stunning, but all too brief, views during a climb about.

Birds seen in the area included 3 Kori's bustards, secretary bird and ground hornbills.  Our evening was spent watching a good spotted hyena patrol outside the gate.


Satara - Lower Sabie

Yet more lions: 1 immature male and 2 young lion cubs.  An amazing sight, not bothered by the numerous cars watching them just by the road.  The young male presumably having been left to watch the cubs!  Later we saw three females bringing our total for the trip to 18!  

We also saw klipspringer and sable antelope.


Lower Sabie to Malelane Gate

Sadly time to go!  .30 Openbill Storks and Sabotha's lark were seen on the way out.

We then had a rather long boring drive to Dullstroom.  Sad as we were to leave a few home comforts were welcome.  Especially the nice restaurant where we had an excellent Portuguese chicken and rather a lot of booze.



A laid back day: getting the hire car cleaned and visiting a bird of prey centre.  I did manage to see 3 mountain reedbucks and mountain wheatear, but very little else.

The 30th saw us heading back to the UK: I have never been so depressed leaving a country.  A superb trip!