Forest Lodge

Ranger: Walter; Tracker: Toks

9 January - Evening Drive

We drove out to the marshlands. There were plenty of nyala, particularly males. We also found two baby warthogs on their own, but they were really skittish. We then came across the North Pride of lions. There was a large, dark-maned male, one female and 2 sub-adult males (about 19 months old). The pride usually totals 7, but the grass was very long so the others could have been nearby. From where we watched the lions, we also saw zebra, wildebeest, about 10 white rhino and 1 black rhino - all at a distance, but we could not drive any closer because the marsh was wet. We also saw yellow-throated longclaws sitting on the top of some bushes. We then drove around the marsh and found a young male cheetah. He stepped up onto a rise and started calling. The ranger informed us that he has a sister, but that it was dangerous for him to be calling for her at this time of day - particularly with the lion pride just on the other side of the marsh! On our way back to camp we saw some chameleons and the tracker found some leopard spoor and saw a flash of eyes, but we were unable to find the animal. Once we reached camp, we had to walk within metres of a herd of impala with their young in order to get to our room. They were totally unfazed by us.

10 January - Morning Drive

We drove into the south for our morning drive. Our first sighting of the day was a giraffe. We then startled a young bull elephant. Thereafter, we joined a sighting of a breeding herd of elephant who had come down to drink. A big bull elephant of about 30 years also came to drink. The other elephants kept out of his way, giving him plenty of room. We then moved on to a lion sighting. The lions were deep in a thicket. There were 3 two/three month old cubs. We could see them playing amongst the trees and jumping on a sub-adult male. In turn, one was being "tormented" by a sub-adult female. The cub rushed off to the young male and "cried" for his help, but Mom came into view and the young female backed off.

Back in camp we saw some crested guineafowl.

10 January - Evening Drive

We drove onto Zuka and spent some time looking for lemon-breasted canaries as this is a good place to see them.. But it was not to be. We stopped for a male cheetah and saw a white rhino passing in the distance. We went looking for the rhino but could not find it anywhere - it is amazing how such big animals can just disappear! We found another white rhino near a dam shortly afterwards though. We then came across 3 young male rhinos, followed by a herd of buffalo. While we were driving back to camp in the dark, we came around a corner and happened upon a male lion from the North Pride. We followed him for a while and then he took off into the bush. We also saw a white rhino with a small calf, and a big chameleon.

11 January - Morning Drive

We went back out to the marsh using back roads. We saw a black rhino who seemed to be interested in some scents that we assumed belonged to a receptive female. We spotted a lemon-breasted canary (L) and we weren't even looking for them this time! At the marsh we saw 2 more black rhinos. Back at camp we watched a lizzard buzzard in the tree, while we ate breakfast.

11 January - Evening Drive

We went out to the marsh again, but, except for a red duiker and some nyala, there was not much to see. We did however see a black coucal (L) while driving around looking for animals. After drinks, we went looking for lions and another vehicle found the North Pride on the move. We joined them and followed them until it was too difficult to do so. We then started to make our way back to camp, or so we thought. We came across a genet and then arrived at our bush dinner.

12 January - Morning Drive

We went out to the marsh again. We saw 3 white rhino - Mom, calf and another youngster. We also came across the male cheetah, only this time he had been re-united with his sister. They were both lying in thick bush, waiting in ambush for anything that might come their way. Once on the marsh, we found the North Pride sleeping under an acacia. They were all very full and fast asleep. We came across another male cheetah in the long grass on the marsh, and behind him we saw a black rhino, sleeping. We also watched some yellow-billed kites balncing on top of a euphorbia and calling to each other.

Mountain Lodge

Ranger: Markus; Tracker: Chris

12 January - Evening Drive

We found 4 male lions - 3 sub-adult brothers and an older male - sleeping on the road. They were very close to where we were supposed to have a bush dinner that night, so the ranger had to radio it in and plans had to be changed! We went looking for the mother of the young males, who also happens to have 3 more young cubs, but we could not find her anywhere. We came across a dam where we saw a crocodile and did some birdwatching: pygmy goose, pied kingfisher and malachite kingfisher. We then started tracking some leopard spoor. The ranger and tracker left us on the vehicle and went into the bush to look. They startled the leopard who crossed a way behind us, but none of us saw it. We all looked some more, but to no avail. After drinks, we made our way back to camp only to find our road blocked by a sleeping elephant. We had no choice but to take an alternate route. We then saw a porcupine, so maybe the elephant did us a favour!

13 January - Morning Drive

We came across a pride of 6 lions, including the dominant male who snarled at us as we drove up. We encountered a bull elephant, a white rhino and another elephant in the distance. We spent some time birding and when we saw a breeding herd of elephant in the distance we decided to take a closer look. We drove around them to a dam and found yet another breeding herd at the dam. One herd of elephant was drinking, while the other herd was having a swim. They were having great fun! We sat with them until they finished swimming - a good half hour or so. We spotted an acacia pied barbet - it was the first time the ranger had seen one at Phinda. We also found some zebra with a very small calf - about 3 or 4 months old. As we walked from the vehicle up to camp, we heard the redfronted tinkerbird (L). With much help from all, we were eventually able to locate it in a tree in front of camp and we enjoyed a good sighting.

13 January - Night Drive

We started the drive looking for lions, but we did not find any. We then made our way to the river, where we boarded the boat and took a trip down the river. We saw, inter alia, long-crested eagle, malachite kingfisher, darter, a water monitor and thick-billed weavers. After the cruise, we saw an elephant and then made our way to our re-scheduled bush dinner.

14 January - Morning Drive

We had a later start as I was feeling nauseous. We had also scheduled to do a flight called the Flight of the Fish Eagle, so we made our way to the runway, encountering a breeding herd of elephant on our way. The flight was wonderful. The plane was a 4 passenger Cessna and Terry was able to take photos from the window as we flew over Phinda, Muzi Pan, Lake Sibaya, Sodwana, Lake St. Lucia and back to Phinda. We saw hippo from the plane, as well as some illegal fishermen out on Muzi Pan. It was an amazing experience, even though J still felt a little under the weather.

14 January - Evening Drive

We saw 3 young male lions on our way out from camp. We encountered some giraffe and a white rhino female with two generations of calves. As we made our way back to camp, we saw a thick-tailed bush baby. We also came across the 3 young male lions very close to camp. In fact, they were on the road up to the trackers' accommodation.

15 January - Morning Drive

We found a water monitor crossing the road. It is amazing how fast they can move. We also encountered a really large herd of impala with many young. Other sightings included: 2 separate sightings of a bull elephant, 2 separate sightings of a hinged tortoise and a baby leopard tortoise.

15 January - Evening Drive

We started the drive with the intention of doing some birding, but there were no birds to be found. We decided that they had all gone to church! We did however come across a journey of giraffe with some young. That was followed by a sighting of a white rhino. Just before dusk, we saw some collared (red-winged) pratincole (L) flying over the landing strip catching insects. Once dark, the birds seemed to be make an appearance. We saw spotted eagle owl, spotted dikkop and European nightjar (L).

16 January - Morning Drive

Phinda has a head ranger who is known for his birding expertise and Markus organised for us to go on a drive with him. Unfortunately I had had a problem with my binoculars a day or two before, but Markus lent me a spare pair that he had so we at least both had binoculars for this outing. With Darryl's knowledge of the area and his expertise regarding birds, we saw plenty of birds including the following lifers: pale flycatcher, pink-throated twinspot (although Darryl literally had to direct my head to help me find this one!), willow warbler, green-capped eremomela, southern banded snake-eagle and scaly-throated honeyguide. We were also spoilt with a sighting of a twinspot indigobird (L) which had not been recorded in the area until a month or so before this. In addition to the birds, we were spoilt with a sighting of 3 kudu females. While driving to Vlei Lodge later in the morning, we encountered some giraffe. There was a large male standing in the road, one to the left of the road and 3 on the right of the road. These last 3 were all lying down - something we have not seen often.

Vlei Lodge 

What a difference from Mountain Lodge - SERVICE in capital letters! We were met by Bongani with ice cold towels and orange juice, showed around camp and then taken to our room. We were told that we could phone anytime to organise a private lunch in our room, so we requested it then and there. We then unpacked and spent some time in our plunge pool. The pool is really great, but the birds preferred it when we weren't using it as it then became their bird bath! There were dark capped bulbuls and glossy starlings who bathed until they were absolutely soaked. If we got in the water, they would fly out to the tree close by and chirp at us as though to say "hurry up, it's our turn next"! Some male nyala came down to drink from the overflow and a pair of red-backed mannikins came in to have a drink too.

16 January - Evening Drive

We first encountered a white rhino and then came across a very pregnant black rhino who lived up to the tales of the bad-tempered black rhino! We found the North Pride of lions but they were also not very happy with us and the vehicle. Surprisingly we managed to see a leopard - it wasn't a great sighting, but it was our first actual sighting of a leopard at Phinda. It was dark and the leopard was buried deep inside a thicket, but with binoculars you could just make out the face between all the branches. We also saw a thick-tailed bushbaby on our way back to camp. Once in camp, there were wildebeest as we crossed to our room.

17 January - Morning Drive

We decided to do a birding drive through the sand forest. We saw, inter alia, narina trogon, tambourine dove and an immature greater honeyguide (L). We heard the Eastern nicator calling and even tried to call it in, but it did not want to be seen. We also saw a bark spider and watched it climb back onto a tree and camouflage itself. We even took note of all the wonderful flowers in bloom - sand forest gardenia, scotia, wild hibiscus and many lichen and fungi. Once we left the sand forest, we came across two cheetah, a red duiker and a banded mongoose. On our way back to camp we came across a pair of crowned hornbill calling and eating fruit from a tree. They then took off and started mobbing a lone lizzard buzzard.

We were the only people in camp so we had lunch in our room again. We ate prawns sitting out on our entrance verandah. While we were waiting for dessert some arrow-marked babblers flew in and we were then blessed with a wonderful sighting of Rudd's apalis (L).

17 January - Evening Drive

We drove over the mountain and into Zuka where we found elephant and buffalo. On the way out of Zuka, we found a spotted eagle owl. As we got closer to camp, we also spotted a wood owl.

We had dinner on our verandah as we were still the only people in camp. But our dinner for two turned into dinner for three when we were joined by a genet. Behaving badly, we fed her some food, although she did not like vegetables - much to Terry's delight. He said that he would have to adopt her if she had a sweet tooth and, believe it or not, she came back for dessert. (We didn't feel so bad when the ranger told us the next day that she gets scraps from the kitchen).

18 January - Morning Drive

As we were still the only people in camp, the ranger took us out of Phinda to do some more birding. We went to the lower Mkuze bridge where we saw trumpeter hornbills, Whyte's barbet, lizzard buzzard, woodlands kingfisher and broadbilled roller. We went to Muzi Pans where we saw various waterbirds, including pink-backed pelican and yellow-billed stork. We also saw some hippo. Our last port of call was Mkuze reserve where we saw an African Goshawk (L). After this we made our way back to camp, much later than usual.

18 January - Evening Drive

We drove to the marsh and encountered a white rhino and calf en route. Once we reached the marsh, there were plenty of white rhino to be seen. We also saw a female black rhino. As we were driving around the marsh, we flushed an African Crake (L). Shortly after this we came across the North Pride. On our way back to camp we found a sunbird in its nest. You could see her peeking out the hole of what looked like a hanging sleeping bag. We also saw a pair of whitetailed mongoose foraging in the bush. Our last sighting of the day was a genet.

19 January - Morning Drive

We took a long drive into the sand forest and we found both red duiker and suni. We then drove onto Schottens, a new and beautiful piece of land. We kept hearing and looking for the grey sunbird but we could not find a single one although we could hear many! We made our way to the south and as we hit the floodplains we stopped and saw a grey sunbird (L). We then drove to Harrogate, expecting to find elephant but there weren't any. We turned back and as we descended to go back to camp via Zuka the female lion and her cubs were found. On our way to see them we found some giraffe. We then visited with the lions before heading back to camp. As we walked into camp we found a mother nyala with a really small calf who peeked at us curiously from behind Mom! There was also a red duiker just outside our room.

While we had our last breakfast at Phinda before making our way home, the manager from Mountain Lodge came to talk to us about the poor service we had complained about during our stay there on the customer rating form they always ask us to complete. We were very impressed that they took it this seriously.