Kruger has a list of over 500 species, some of which are not to be found elsewhere in South Africa.
Hornbills, Starlings, Vultures, Rollers, Bee-eaters and Shrikes typify the ubiquitous avi-fauna and birders can look forward to pursuing the Big 6 (Saddle-billed Stork, Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Pel’s Fishing-Owl and Ground Hornbill).
The far north of the park (Pafuri and Punda Maria regions) is regarded as one of the birding Mecca’s of the country (with many regional rarities to be found), yet birding throughout the entire park is excellent.
Eagles are common: Bateleur, Martial, Black-chested Snake, Brown Snake, African Hawk, African Fish and Tawny are all regularly seen, and in summer: Wahlberg’s, Steppe, Lesser Spotted.
The Park’s numerous water points make for excellent birding, while the rest camps and picnic sites are exceptionally rewarding for birders.
The parks’ 5 bushveld camps all offer superb birding opportunity. Camps in general attract a boon of birds. They are all well foliaged and usually next to water-courses. The advantage of the bushveld camps is that there are less other visitors to scare things off. All of these camps have hides or viewing platforms that further enhance birding. Some of the specials associated with each camp are:
Birding in camp and access to Silvervis and Rooibosrandt Dams may produce Greater Painted Snipe, White-backed Duck, Common Redshank and Osprey.
Great for Woodland birds – good place to see African Barred Owlet and Retz’s (Red-billed) Helmet-shrike.
Great for waterbirds – White-backed Night-Heron, Greater Painted Snipe, Pel’s Fishing Owl
Excellent Birding in camp and proximity to Pafuri make this an ideal destination for birders. Dwarf Bittern, Arnot’s Chat and many others.
Excellent woodland birds. Several stork species may be seen. Narina Trogon recorded in 2001.
Letaba Camp has a rich bird population and is particularly good for viewing owls. Pearl-spotted and African Barred Owlet and African Scops-Owl are all resident in camp and should be heard come nightfall, while Verreaux’s (Giant) Eagle Owl is regularly recorded along the river itself. Scan all large Riverine trees carefully. Green-capped Eremomela should be looked for in the camp and like most camps in the central and northern parts of the park Mourning Dove is particularly prominent. The camp’s Red-headed Weavers are unusually bold (they nest adjacent the petrol station and in front of the restaurant. The riverbed usually hosts a wide range of herons, storks and waders. Look carefully for Greater Painted Snipe.The Matambeni Bird Hide on the northern bank of Engelhard Dam is a good place to watch water birds. On the south bank of the dam, near the dam wall Collared (Redwinged) Pratincoles appear annually and can sometimes be seen from the rest camp.
The Masorini Ruins close to the Phalaborwa Gate is a good venue to view Yellow-throated Petronia (Sparrow), Mocking Cliff-Chat and Red-headed Weaver. The nearby Sable Dam has a hide and is a good spot to view waders.
The camp overlooks the Pioneer Dam where a plethora of water birds are to be seen. Storks, egrets, kingfishers and African Fish Eagles are ever present while Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole, African Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt and White-winged Tern are some of the more uncommon species to watch for. Mosque and Wire-tailed Swallow breed in camp (the former should be looked for at the camp’s huge Baobab Tree). Mocking Cliff-Chats should be looked for from the ladies bar.Also worth visiting are the Shipandani and Pioneer Dam Hides, that allow visitors to get very close to the water’s edge and a perspective from the other side of the dam.
At the nearby Nshawu Pans look for Kittlitz’s Plover, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark (Finchlark) and Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole.
Two birds to look out for on the Olifants River are White-fronted Plover and White-crowned Lapwing (Plover), both of which can be seen in the riverbed. The bridges on the main tarred road and at Balule are the places to look for these species. Search the riparian trees on the Olifants River near Balule for the Pel’s Fishing-Owl. It is occasionally seen on night drives from the low level bridge here, while it has also been seen infrequently from the high level bridge on the main tar road. This low level bridge adjacent Balule is an extremely productive venue. During the day one will get close encounters with several stork, heron and kingfisher species while the lure of the Fishing Owl by night is a big incentive. It is usually seen on the same sand-bank adjacent the same river pool. Only a few metres away, a White-backed night heron is sometimes seen. Then, at dusk in November 2002 a Black Egret (very rare in the park) was watched from only 5m away as it employed its definitive umbrella-wing fishing technique.Camp bird-life in Olifants, like all camps is busy. Red-winged Starlings are particularly prominent. Trumpeter Hornbills and Acacia Pied Barbet are regularly seen in camp, and when the many aloe plants in camp are in flower, they act as a magnet for sunbirds. Rufous-bellied Heron has been recorded on the Olifants River a little downstream of the camp. Unconfirmed reports of Woodward’s Batis offer an exciting possibility.
Orpen (by Errol Pietersen)
Orpen and the surrounding area is a good region for general bushveld birds and 5 of the “big 6” are regularly seen and breed in the area, with only the Pel’s Fishing Owl being absent.The plains immediately east of Orpen Camp are one of the more reliable places to see the nomadic Senegal (Lesser Black-winged) Plover (Search at the turn off to Tamboti and Marula Camps). Montagu’s Harrier has also been recorded on a few occasions in this grassland area.
White-faced and Comb (Knob-billed) Ducks, Little Grebe (Dabchick) and Lesser Moorhen breed in the flooded vegetation at Rabelais Pan. 1999 saw the first Kruger breeding record of Painted Snipe here.
African Rail and African Crake are regularly recorded in dense, marshy areas, particularly on the dirt roads around Talamati. These species early in the morning or late afternoon or on overcast, rainy days when they are foraging on the edge of the road. Fairfield Waterhole near Talamati is a regular haunt. Also just outside Talamati Camp Saddle-billed Stork breed. Of the other storks, Wooly-necked, Open-billed (African Openbill), White and Black may be seen, the latter two being locally common when food is abundant. Marabou Stork is regularly seen at the waterhole outside Orpen Camp.
The Orpen area hosts a wealth of raptors, especially in the summer months. Tawny (breeding outside of the camp), African Fish (at Rabelais Pan), Wahlbergs, Lesser Spotted, Steppe, African Hawk and Brown Snake Eagles, Bateleur, Black-shouldered Kite, Gabar and Dark Chanting Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk and Amur and Red-footed Falcons (Eastern and Western Redfooted Kestrels) are all regularly seen. Less frequently seen are African Goshawk, Martial and Black-chested (breasted) Snake Eagles and African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene). Five vulture species may be seen in the area, although the Cape Griffin is least often observed despite a breeding colony near the Strydom Tunnel at Manoutsa.
Night drives, and dawn and dusk produce Pearl-spotted and African Barred Owlets, Scops, Verreaux’s (Giant) Eagle, Spotted Eagle and Barn Owl, as well as Fiery-necked, Square-tailed (Mozambique), Freckled and European Nightjars. Less common are Marsh and Grass Owl and Rufous-cheeked and Pennant-winged Nightjar.
Rarities to come out of the area include Plain-backed (Blue-throated) Sunbird at Orpen Camp, Long-crested Eagle on the Timbavati River, Olive Bush Shrike at Tamboti Camp and in the incredible wet season of 1999-2000 plenty of Black Coucal. In 2001 a Narina Trogon (not previously recorded in the area) flew into the window of one of Talamati’s cottages and killed itself.
The drives along the banks of the Levuvhu River via the Nyalaland Drive (S64) or the picnic site/Crook’s Corner loop (S63), take visitors through some of the most potentially productive birding territory in South Africa. One can simply spend several hours in the Pafuri Picnic Site itself, with Trumpeter Hornbill, Purple-crested Turaco (Lourie), Black-throated Wattle-eye (Wattle-eyed Flycatcher), Tropical Boubou, Meve’s (Long-tailed Starling), Narina Trogon, Thick-billed Cuckoo (summer only), Gorgeous, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and several different species of robin, sunbird and firefinch all potentially swelling one’s list. Other rarities for the Park recorded at the picnic site include Lemon (Cinnamon) Dove, Brown Scrub Robin and African Wood Owl.Another rewarding place to spend time is the tar road’s bridge over the Levuvhu River. Horus Swift is regularly seen here alongside the commoner Little and White-rumped Swifts. White-crowned Lapwing (Plover) and Finfoot are also regularly recorded from the bridge’s vantage-point. The reeds and undergrowth may hold Red-faced and Black-backed Cisticola. It is also a good place to watch for Birds of Prey including the magnificent Crowned Eagle. For the lucky ones the chance of locating a roosting Pel’s Fishing Owl makes scanning all large riverine trees worthwhile.
Above the baobabs along the Nyala Drive is an excellent place to search for both Böhm’s and Mottled Spinetails, while the drive is also good for recording Crested Guineafowl and Meve’s (Long-tailed) Starling. A journey to Crook’s Corner should produce White-fronted Bee-eater and Broad-billed Roller (summer) while Lemon-breasted Canary is frequently recorded in the Hyphaene palms not far from the lookout point. Scaly-throated Honeyguide has also been recorded near this spot.
Satara, like other camps, has a plethora of resident birds. Particularly prominent are Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Burchell’s Starling and Mourning Dove. At night Verreaux’s (Giant) Eagle, Barn, Scops Owls (which roost in the trees outside reception) and Pearl-spotted Owlet can be seen and heard in camp, along with Square-tailed (Mozambique) Nightjar. The open plains to the north of the camp are perhaps the best place in the park to record Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier.The N’wanedzi Picnic Site (24 km from Satara) is worth visiting. Violeteared Waxbill, Yellowbellied Greenbul (Bulbul), Mocking Cliff-Chat are regulars here, while Shaft-tailed Whydah has been seen nearby. Golden Pipit has been seen on the S100. There is also a viewing platform that provides an elevated view down on the N’wanedzi River. About 2 km from N’wanedzi on the S37 Road the Sweni Bird Hide is well worth stopping at. In winter, when water levels are low, and rocks, mud-banks and reeds are exposed, the site is exceptionally active bird-wise, with many passerines coming to drink and joining the ubiquitous Hamerkop, Green-backed Heron and Great (Great White) and Little Egrets. In summer, after heavy rain, the high water levels reduce the bird-life. However it is an excellent venue to see Blue-cheeked Bee-eater that is regularly in attendance here.
Shingwedzi has abundant bird-life and, aside from the ubiquitous squabble of hornbills, starlings, weavers and Mourning Doves, the camp is a good place to see Bennett’s Woodpecker, Natal Robin, European Hobby (hawking prey at dusk in summer), Grey Penduline Tit, Dusky and Village Indigobird (Black and Steelblue Widowfinch) and African Scops-Owl (at night). Verreaux’s (Giant) Eagle Owl is also regularly seen in the large riverine trees on the road approaching the camp. One should keep a careful lookout for Bathawk. Although not easy to see, they are around and the lucky birder could see them catching bats and swifts at dusk. In summer Eurasian Hobby do the same thing. The highwater bridge is a good potential vantage point, while they can also be seen along Kanniedood Dam. There was great excitement in 1995 when Collared Palm Thrush was recorded in the camp. It has subsequently been recorded every year and quite possibly breeds.
Downstream from the rest camp Kanniedood Dam hosts many interesting species. Storks (Open-billed, Yellow-billed, Saddle-billed and Wooly-necked) are prominent. The hide is a good spot to see Black Crake and African Jacana at close quarters. White-winged Tern has also been recorded on the dam. In summer a bit of luck may offer birders the chance to compare the rare Dwarf Bittern with the common Green-backed Heron.
Yellow-billed Oxpecker is being recorded more regularly in the Shingwedzi area since their recolonisation of the Park. Check buffalo in particular for this species. Broad-billed Roller, Mosque Swallow and Dusky Lark (summer) are other species that should be searched for in the Shingwedzi area.
Although Skukuza is a large and busy camp, the camp hosts an excellent avi-fauna. Scanning the Sabie River from in front of the restaurant can produce Finfoot and Half-collared Kingfisher. In summer this venue is a hub of activity with a massive nesting colony of Lesser Masked and Village (Spotted-backed) Weavers. Green Pigeons are abundant in the Riverine fig trees. In taking a walk along the river’s bank there is a strong chance of encountering Red-faced Cisticola and Spectacled Weaver and, in early the morning, Little Sparrowhawk. The river walk and a stroll around the rest of the camp could yield Collared Sunbird, Red-backed and Bronze Mannikin, Purple-crested Turaco (Lourie) and three bush shrikes (Orange-breasted, Grey-headed and Gorgeous) may well be heard or even seen. White-browed (Heuglin’s) Robin-chat is another species constantly heard but more difficult to see. Up to seven species of flycatcher may also be found (Paradise, Black, Dusky, Spotted, Grey Tit- (Fantailed), Ashy (Bluegrey) and Pale (Pallid)). Watching the sky above the river at dusk may reveal Bat-hawk or Eurasian Hobby. When night falls a spot-light lights up a fig tree outside the restaurant. Woodland Kingfishers use this ‘extended daylight’ to hunt insects attracted to the glow.
The nearby bird hide at Lake Panic is a good spot to go to observe kingfishers, herons and Wire-tailed Swallows at close quarters. Black-winged Stilts are often in attendance.