2016 South Africa

29th July

A smooth flight, via Nairobi, with Kenyan Airways. We headed towards Neilspruit, just before it we decided to try Kwanyani Lodge which was friendly and good value.

30th July - 6th August

Kruger NP

Our first visit to Kruger - in 2003 - was amazing; this, shorter one, didn’t disappoint either. A truly amazing place.

This time we stuck to the south of the park; staying at Preterioskop, Skukuze and Crocodile Bridge.

The main target of the trip was African wild dog. We’d seen them by the start of the first morning when we saw a group of 7. The same group was seen again two days later. Superb!

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The amazing thing was that in many ways this wasn’t our best sighting. Certainly when it comes to the difficulty of seeing the species. At 5.30pm, on the 4th August we saw a pangolin. A notoriously hard species to see. To say I was excited was something of an understatement!

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Many other mammals delighted us. Another contender for highlight of the trip was watching two cheetahs and then noticing that not very far away there were two male lions. They then noticed each other. The lions were really not going to tolerate and a chase commenced. To be honest, it was a bit half-hearted and the cheetahs quickly got out of the area.

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We also a male lion on a night drive

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and a lone female during the day.

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The night drive also produced large-spotted genet, grysbok, scrub hares and African civet although they weren’t so co-operative for photos.

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Returning to cats, we encountered a ‘leopard jam’ while moving between camps.

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Pygmy mongoose,

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slender and banded mongooses were both seen.

Quite a few spotted hyenas were seen including several with pups

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as well as several black-backed jackals and one side -striped jackal.

Mammal watching carried on into the night, even when not on a night drive, with greater bushbabies in Skukuze

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and lesser bushbabies at Crocodile Bridge.

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This epauletted bat sp. (either Walhberg’s or Peter’s - they can’t be identified unless in the hand) was under the eaves and the shop at Skukuze.

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Impala, blue wildebeest, steenbok, giraffes and plains zebras were common.

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A pair of reedbuck were seen.

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As were 6 roan antelopes; sadly the latter only gave distant, obscure views. A klipsringer was, typically, found on a kopi. Bushbucks seem to be a species prone to becoming rather habituated.

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Kudus were fairly common and warthogs often found their way into the camps.

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We had 21 sightings of white rhino, although this undoubtedly included the same animals being seen on different days.

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Elephants were common.

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The river and pools generally held hippos but this one, some distance from water, was obviously wounded.

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With such a strong cast of mammals, birds were not such a priority as they would have been otherwise. I find birding very frustrating from a car so most of the birding was done around the camps, which could be very productive. Just a few of my favourites are listed here.

I am a big fan of thrushes, chats and robins.

Mocking cliff-chat was seen at the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial.

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White-browded robin-chat was truly superb and a couple of showy ones were seen in camps.

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White-throated robin-chat was equally superb.

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Another favourite group are bush-shrikes. They are mostly skulking and hard to see; indeed I’d had very little success on my previous visit to the eastern part of South Africa, so I was especially please to see this grey-headed bush-shrike.

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A few white-fronted bee-eaters were seen.

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The turkey-sized ground hornbill is bird so ugly that it is almost beautiful.

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Relatively common raptors included African fish-eagle

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and tawny eagle.

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Livingston’s turaco is almost the ultimate ‘tropical-looking’ bird.

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The amazing Kori’s bustard is the world’s largest flying bird.

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Yellow-billed storks were fairly common.

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Winter is not really the best time of year for reptile watching but we did see:

Leopard tortoise

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Serrated hinged terrapin

Rainbow skink (male)

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Moreau’s tropical house gecko

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And southern tree agama

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Similarly, this was really not the best time of year for butterflies. Like everywhere else, African monarch was fairly common here and very difficult to photograph. The stunning cirus swallowtail was star of the show.

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Mkuze 7 August to 10 August

After a night in Komatipoot, a long, tedious drive through Swaziland, shopping in the grotty small town of Mkuze and a few navigation problems, we arrived at the reserve.

Our accommodation (two safari tents around a cooking area) was great, but we were glad we’d gone shopping as the reserve shop was almost empty; we just wished we’d bought more.

Sitting around the tents, at night, was one of the great pleasures of our time here. Nyala are one of my favourite antelopes, but I certainly never seen one this close before. It did briefly brush its nose against my hand. Greater bushbabies would dive into kitchen occasionally.

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After Kruger, Mkuze did seem a little bit of a come down. It shows the high expectations when you see two cheetahs at a place and it seems slow. We did see - very briefly - bushpig, white-tailed mongoose, blue duiker and large spotted genet on a totally frustrating night drive.

Birding, although hard work, was the highlight here. The main ‘star’ was seen on the last morning on a guided walk (the only way you can visit it) in the fig forest where our guide (Patrick) found a roosting Pel’s fishing owl. It seems that this is a regular area, although he hadn’t seen it for three days previously and said that it sometimes disappeared for several months. He had the most amazing eyesight of anybody I’ve ever met. I’m not sure why the reserve didn’t provide him with binoculars though or why his enthusiasm on the day trip wasn’t matched by his lack of interest or willing to stop on the frankly awful night drive.

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Second place went to the fantastic pink-throated twinspot.

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Other birds seen included:

Fiery-necked nightjar

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Eastern nicator

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Red-capped robin-chat

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Bearded scrub-robin

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Black-chested snake-eagle

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Butterflies included wandering donkey acraea,

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and layman.

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St Lucia/Cape Vidal

11 - 15th August

A deliberately laid back few days.

Syke’s money was fairly common at Cape Vidal

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Red duikers were common

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The river at St Lucia is full of hippos. This baby was seen from a boat trip.

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Other mammals seen were 3 white rhinos, bushbuck, kudu and vervet monkeys.

St Lucia proved to be the best site for herps.

Southern African  python

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water monitor and nile crocodile were seen from a boat trip.

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Guttural toad

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Painted reed frog.

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Much as I remembered from our visit in 2003, birding was very hard work but it did bring its rewards. This is a selection.

Star for me was the appropriately named gorgeous bush-shrike. Complete nightmare to see bush-shrike would be an equally appropriate name.

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This is the almost as gorgeous orange-breasted bush-shrike.

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The boat trip certainly provided me with my best ever views of giant kingfisher.

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Pied kingfisher

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Another common bird which showed extremely well from the boat was common darter.

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Kysna turaco

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Tambourine dove

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Brown-throated weaver

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Butterflies included common grass yellow

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common joker

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and solder pansy.

A huge thank you to whoever found my scope and tripod, which I left in a hide, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. I am extremely grateful! 


16 August - 18 August

We booked in advance and in retrospect three nights was excessive, indeed you could see the important mammals in a day, or possibly less, Although black wildebeest was surprisingly tricky. However it was a pleasant, and cheap, place to spend a few days.

The star of the show is Oribi.

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This is the best photo that I managed of black wildebeest because, unlike their blue cousins, they disappeared at the sight of us, even when we were in the car.

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Blesbok, another surprisingly timid antelope.

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Yellow mongoose was common.

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Our evening wildlife company here was this very tame Cape fox.

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For a variety of reasons, I would never hand-feed a carnivore, but I have no doubt it would have happily taken food from a human hand. It even laid down and had a little snooze near us.

The bird highlight was probably Barrow’s koorhan but the photos of these were awful.

Bokmakierie was considerably more cooperative.

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Other birds included:

Eastern long-billed lark

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And one of my favourite birds in the world: secretary bird.

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Then followed a long, long drive to Kimberley, where we enjoyed the pleasure of a good wifi connection. The first decent connection to the outside world since our first night.

Marrick Game Park

20th - 22nd August

A long way from anywhere else, this park has a number of recently introduced mammals including roan and sable antelopes but I certainly wouldn’t ‘count’ them and I found the daytime large mammal watching rather like being in a zoo.

It does have suricate,

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although after quickly locating them, we failed to see them again.

The owners have two adopted suricates, which are good fun

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We did see lots of Southern African ground squirrels.

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It was the lure of the night animals which brought us half way across the country and, with wild dog, was one of the reasons for my fourth visit to South Africa so it was with a certain amount of nerves and well as excitement that we waited for our night drive.

Surprisingly, the first thing of interest was a diurnal bird species: 9 swallow-tailed bee-eaters were roosting close to our cottage.

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It didn’t take long to get one of our targets with black-footed cat; we eventually saw four. Apparently, this equals the record for one night.

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The second target came shortly afterwards with four aardvarks being seen. Sadly they were a bit distant for night-time photography.


Two of South Africa’s most difficult species seen with relative ease! We also saw three porcupines, although the views were rather obscured.

Spring hares were common but I failed to get a decent photograph and I failed to get any photograph of the four bat-eared foxes that we saw.

Our second night drive was a bit of an anti-climax after the first one. We searched different areas. I was very keen to see aardwolf, only before, and we did see two, but the views were not great. We did see another aardvark and a black-footed cat but they were both distant. The highlight of the trip for me was good views of a bushveld gerbil.

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The birding, near the cottage, was quite good. Birds included eastern clapper lark,

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Karoo scrub-robin

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and ant-eating chat.

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We also had a look at the art gallery in Kimberley, which is definitely recommended.

It was then another long drive. We stopped at Warrenton, which is apparently a short-clawed otter site. We gave it about an hour seeing a variety of relatively common water-birds, but no otters.

We spent the night in Rustenberg at the not-so-grand Grand Guest House.


23/8 - 25/6

Our first big disappointment here was there were no night drives. The latest drive would have given us just an extra half-an-hour in the reserve. It was hard to justify the expense for such a short time. My big hope here was brown hyena but, as it is a largely nocturnal species, I was feeling optimistic. Sadly, my pessimism was justified.

It was, however, an enjoyable couple of days. Numbers of herbivores were very high. On the first day, we saw seven white rhinos, including this very cute baby.

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Giraffes were very common and included this amorous pair.

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Amazingly this was the first half-decent photo I’d managed to get of a male kudu.

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Blue wildebeest.

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We had less success with predators, but this lioness wandering along the road, five minutes after the gate opened, was a great start to my birthday.

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We also saw black-backed jackal.

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Many birds, such as this southern yellow-billed hornbill and the red-billed hornbill in the next picture, were ridiculously tame around the headquarters restaurant.

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A few other birds:

Roseate spoonbill

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Fawn-colored lark

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Wire-tailed swallow

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Groundscraper thrush

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A few Nile crocodiles were seen.

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