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Cuckoos in Kruger

All topics and discussions with reference to birds in all SANParks
Budaja
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Cuckoos in Kruger

Unread post by Budaja » Tue Jun 06, 2017 9:56 am

Hi everyone

Of all the wonderful birds on offer in KNP, the cuckoos are of particular interest to me. They are truly fascinating birds.

Which camps and parts of the park offer the best chance of seeing these birds quite frequently? I would mainly be in the South/ South East/ South West so camps like Berg en Dal, Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie, Croc Bridge, Biyamiti and Skukuza spring to mind.

The cuckoos in particular that we'd be hoping to get good visuals of would be African Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Great Spotted, Levaillant and Thick Billed. The other species are quite common here in KZN where we stay and we get good opportunity each year to go out and look for them.

As for timing of year, I've always found the cuckoos to show best as soon as they arrive. So late October through November, and then consistent sightings right through to roughly mid January. December is very good but it varies from specie to specie. I'd be keen to hear some opinions on the best months to view them in KNP too!

Thanks everyone, looking forward to the responses :)

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wildtuinman
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Re: Cuckoos in Kruger

Unread post by wildtuinman » Tue Jun 06, 2017 11:10 am

Hi Budaja, what a lovely question.

I will give my opinion on this as best as possible.

In general Kruger is a fantastic place to see cuckoos. Not all camps are equally good for finding cuckoos, but camps like Biyamithi and Berg 'n Dal are particularly rewarding. The Biyamithi weir late November, early December, especially attracts many cuckoo species, probably due to the specific trees and the larvae occupying it as well as the hosts species of the various cuckoos. For this specific area, you could throw in scarce things like Madagascar and Lesser(-type) Cuckoo as well if you are really lucky!

Not all the cuckoo species are found easily over the same specific period. I have personally found that Levaillant's, Jacobin and Greater Spotted are more easily found later in the season than other species.

It is also later in the season (Jan-March) when you will find it easier to distinguish better between African and Common Cuckoos. Much has been written about the coloration of the bill around the nostril to separate the two, but I find it utter rubbish. The plumage is a far better feature to go on. African would arrive in Kruger with a fresh plumage whereas Common would be worn and vice versa later in the season when they depart again. Most of the Common Cuckoos, which is actually uncommon and a very scarce visitor to South Africa, are first year individuals and they will show quite a bit of rusty/brown coloration in their plumage which is totally absent from African Cuckoo. More on that here:

It is always great to focus your search for cuckoos around each of their host species and it is also great to know the cuckoo calls. Thick-billed Cuckoo can be very vocal and your chances of finding it escalates when you find Retz' Helmet-Shrike.

Levaillant's Cuckoo - Berg 'n Dal, Skukuza.
African Cuckoo - Biyamithi, Punda Maria but can be found throughout the Park.
Common Cuckoo (very scarce) - Biyamithi, Shingwedzi, Babalala.
Great Spotted Cuckoo - Biyamithi in particular, but common throughout the Park.
Thick-billed Cuckoo - Berg 'n Dal, Skukuza, Biyamithi, Punda Maria, Pafuri.

I hope this helps you find your target birds.
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Budaja
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Re: Cuckoos in Kruger

Unread post by Budaja » Tue Jun 06, 2017 1:53 pm

Thanks for detailed response! This is very helpful info.

I typed up a nice, long reply but must have accidentally deleted it without posting :shock:

The African Cuckoo is my main target. I've glimpsed him on 3 occasions in Mkuze, but never had a really good visual. Thick billed (and Retz) would both be lifers for me, so also highly sought after.

Do you find that you get your best sightings within the camp grounds themselves at Biyamiti/ Berg en Dal, or do you find you have better sightings out on the roads? I'm fairly familiar with the Biyamiti area and where some of the good spots are. At Berg en Dal however, where are the better places to look?

Seems we may be in KNP between Christmas and New Year. Cuckoos should be abundant and active so hopefully we won't have too much difficulty finding them. They should all still be calling at that time (although African may be stopping fairly soon thereafter) which should help us find them.

Every year the cuckoos fascinate me more and more. Some years certain species are more abundant than others. Sometimes they arrive earlier, or later. All round, really remarkable creatures.

Thanks for the tips!

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wildtuinman
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Re: Cuckoos in Kruger

Unread post by wildtuinman » Tue Jun 06, 2017 2:18 pm

Biyamithi weir and the private road to and from Biyamithi camp is where you should focus your energy on.
It is not unusual to encounter 5 or 6 different Cuckoo species at the weir at a single time.

I took this photo of the Great Spotted Cuckoo and its relative unknown host - Crested Barbet on the private road.

There are good spots outside Kruger, but rather contact me personally for more info.

Image

As for Berg 'n Dal , the camp itself is splendid.

I took this photo in the camp:

Image

More Levaillant's Cuckoo photos and spots in Kruger together with time stamps can be found here: http://www.laine-dirk.co.za/photos/381/381.html

Immature African Cuckoo near Punda.

Image

Common Cuckoo near Shingwedzi.

http://www.laine-dirk.co.za/photos/374/374.html

Thick-billed Cuckoo in flight and calling.

Image
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Budaja
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Re: Cuckoos in Kruger

Unread post by Budaja » Tue Jun 06, 2017 3:43 pm

Thank you again for sharing this info and these great pics!

In Zululand we are indeed spoiled with some excellent birding. Birds such as Narina Trogon, Pink Throated Twinspot, Green Malkoha etc. are relatively common back home, yet one thing we do miss out on are some of the wonderful cuckoo species that visit each summer.

Emerald, Diederick, Klaas, Black, Red chested (and in some areas Jacobin) are our regulars which we encounter quite a lot but all the others are far more scarce. KNP is definitely the spot for these chaps! Having this info will prove very valuable on our next visit.

Thanks again for sharing! :D


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