Phinda – December 2016

I am afraid that the trip down to Jozini was anything but relaxing. The number of trucks on the road made it impossible to be anything but on high alert. It was also an extremely busy Saturday in all the towns we drove through. We stopped to fill up at Piet Retief, but had a little trouble trying to get takeaways from KFC. So, in the end we drove all the way through to Tiger Lodge without getting lunch.

Bird sightings on trip: Long-tailed Widowbird, Long-crested eagle, White Storks, Common (Steppe) buzzard, Yellow-billed kites, Red-winged starling

While we were checking in at about 3pm, I enquired about the earliest dinner was served and we were told that lunch was still being served until 4:30pm. So we went straight in. Terry ate a burger with bacon and cheese, while I had steak, egg and chips. It was a lovely meal that we ate sitting on a veranda overlooking the section of dam (a corner) on which the lodge is placed. Dessert was a Magnum ice cream, which went down really well in the heat.

We then went to our room where we settled in to relax and have an early evening. We made the mistake of sleeping with our curtains open. Sunrise is really early so we were awake and watching birds from our patio at 5am!

Bird sightings at hotel: House sparrow, Lesser striped swallow, spotted flycatcher, cape weavers

After breakfast we decided to rather get on the road and take a slightly longer route trying to get to Lake Sibiya and Musi Pans. Unfortunately, there was no turnoff to the lake, so we turned around and made our way south. Here we missed the turnoff to Sodwana and Musi Pans, as it was not signposted, so we landed up at Hluhluwe! But it meant that Terry could buy his Sunday Times and I could run to the bathroom. We did however come across a small journey of giraffes on the side of the main road (R22) as we traversed the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. We also saw a Wahlberg’s eagle as we entered the Mun-Ya-Wana reserve on which Phinda resides.

Forest Lodge

When we reached Forest Lodge we were greeted by Eunice, who got us signed in and set up with drinks. We made our way to lunch just after 1pm. Lunch was kofta (T) and chicken Caesar salad (J). We also shared some sweetcorn fritters with cream cheese and salmon. Terry managed to squeeze in some caramel ice cream, but we decided that we would not be eating more than one choice going forward!

Once in our room, we unpacked and settled in, before we made our way back to the meeting area for our first game drive.

Night Drive – Sunday, 4 Dec

Ranger: Sarah

Tracker: Chris

Other Guests on Vehicle: Mick & Jan (UK); Kerry & Oliver (Mom & son (15) – Durban)

It was very windy and hence very quiet from a game viewing perspective. We watched a herd of impala with many youngsters. They were playing and running back and forth across the road. The leaps taken by these miniature versions of their mothers were quite something to behold. We also encountered a lilac breasted roller fledgling, calling to its parents to feed it. Both mom and dad were in the immediate vicinity moving from tree to tree.

Other sightings: White rhino, Giraffe, Nyala, Red duiker, Wildebeest

Bird sightings: Spur-winged goose, Black-bellied bustard, Crowned lapwing, Fiery-necked nightjar, Speckled mousebird, Little bee-eater, Trumpeter hornbill, Yellow-throated longclaw, Rattling cisticola, Pin-tailed whydah

Dinner that night was in the boma, so Sarah joined us. We ate pumpkin soup, ostrich fillet, fish (T) and cheesecake for dessert (T)

Morning Drive – Monday, 5 Dec

We had more than wind to deal with – it was raining and very wet! We came across the Northern lion pride which is made up of 6 females – mom plus 3 sub-adults, plus 2 older sub-adults from a different mother. That lioness is currently denning with her new cubs. They were around a tree with the remains of a baby zebra kill stashed away. The one sub-adult was really enjoying gnawing on the jaw and head. Another sub-adult was lying close by. And the lioness plus two more were sleeping in the grass. The “headcount” made us realise that we were short a lion and we then saw that the last sub-adult was in the tree under which the kill was stashed. She didn’t look too comfortable.

One of the lions came in from the grass and greeted the second lion under the tree. She then climbed up the tree too, moving past the one already there and lay down on a branch (revealing her inner leopard!) The other lion decided to climb down and take over the kill, but the lion in possession was having none of this. She tried to hold it back with her paws, and even lay down on it. There was a tug of war which ended with both of them lying on their part and holding tight to prevent the other one from taking it away, but eventually the incomer staked her claim and lay down to gnaw on the legs.

We then came across a herd of buffalo of more than 100 strong. There was a black-bellied bustard in the foreground and we watched it calling (and making its champagne cork pops) while we enjoyed the buffalo activity.

Other sightings: Giraffe, Nyala, Impala, Wildebeest, Leopard tortoise

Bird sightings: Black-backed puffback, Fork-tailed drongo, Violet-backed starling, Yellow-throated longclaw, Dark-capped bulbul, Eurasian bee-eater, Speckled mousebird, Crested guineafowl, Yellow-billed kite, Wahlberg’s eagle, Egyptian goose

Breakfast was a ranger’s omelette (T) and hot salmon on rye with guacamole and soft boiled egg (J). The surprise was pancakes with cinnamon sugar.

After a nice relaxing morning, which included a sighting of a Tsonga red squirrel, we made our way to lunch on the veranda. We ate pulled beef sliders (T) and salad Nicoise with salmon (J). Terry rounded his lunch off with some coffee ice cream.

Night Drive – Monday, 5 Dec

Fortunately, the rain had stopped, so we made our way out to the marsh to look for Cheetah. We came across a female with one cub. We also had two good sightings of black rhino, followed by a white rhino and calf. As we were making our way to find a drinks spot, we came across another female cheetah with three younger cubs. There were three little heads in the grass line next to where mom was lying on an anthill.

Other sightings: Warthog, Impala

Bird sightings: Spur-winged goose, Common buttonquail, Crested guineafowl, Black-bellied bustard, Crowned lapwing, Barn swallow, Yellow-throated longclaw, African pipit, Zitting cisticola

Dinner: Cauliflower soup (J), Prawns and Chocolate tart (T)

Morning Drive – Tuesday, 6 Dec

We decided to track some leopard spoor that Chris had noticed. After following the tracks for some distance, Sarah and Chris tracked the leopard into the bush, but gave up as the kept on discovering the leopard’s tracks over theirs. Not certain who was tracking who, but if a leopard doesn’t want to be seen, you’ve got no chance.Instead we decided to go look for one of the mom cheetahs. To no avail – the cats were eluding us. We did however see lots of white rhino.

Other sightings: Zebra, Warthog, Wildebeest, Buffalo (dagga boys), Baboons, Impala

Bird sightings: Red-billed oxpecker, Red-backed shrike, Crowned hornbill, Little bee-eater, Lilac-breasted roller, Burchell’s coucal, Emerald-spotted dove, Crowned lapwing, African wattled lapwing, Black-bellied bustard, Brown snake eagle, Bateleur, Yellow-billed kite, Secretarybird, White-faced whistling duck

Breakfast: English breakfast (T) and ranger’s omelette (J). Surprise was waffles and Terry discovered Churros with chocolate sauce for the first time. Decadent was his opinion!

We again had a nice relaxing morning before we made our way to lunch. We both ate Thai vegetable spring rolls. For dessert we ate vanilla ice cream (T) and lemon sorbet (J)

Night Drive – Tuesday, 6 Dec

As the other guests on our vehicle had left and there were no new guests arriving, there were just the two of us on the vehicle. We went leopard hunting again, following up on the tracks of a territorial male that we had seen in the morning. After tracking for a long time they found a whole set of tracks of different leopards, at diferent times, walking in different directions! Eventually the territorial male’s tracks, and most recent, crossed the boundary into Mkuzi. We decided to drive along the boundary fence to see if the leopard’s tracks came back. Instead we found 4 sub-adult cheetahs – 1 male and 3 females – lying in the main road within sight of the gate. We stayed with them until they moved off into the grass and bush.

We looked for the second leopard again as it became darker, but there were no more tracks or any other signs of him. We did however come across a large spotted genet who seemed quite relaxed as we both had a good look at him through our binoculars.

Other sightings: Impala

Bird sightings: Bateleur, Common buttonquail, Spotted thick-knee, Emerald-spotted wood-dove, Diderick cuckoo, Burchell’s coucal, Red-faced mousebird, Eurasian bee-eater, Lilac-breasted roller, Trumpeter hornbill, Barn swallow, Yellow-throated longclaw, Dark-capped bulbul, African dusky flycatcher, Croaking cisticola, Cape glossy starling, Yellow-fronted canary, Red-backed shrike

Dinner was pumpkin fritters, line fish (which we both really enjoyed) and panna cotta (T)

Morning Drive – Wednesday, 7 Dec

On our way to the meeting point for the morning drive, we encountered some impala with young, some Nyala, crested guineafowl and monkeys. A good start to the day!

We had a lovely drive. It was still just the two of us so we decided to concentrate on some birding. We saw a juvenile crowned eagle and a southern-banded snake eagle (a very special sighting). We then encountered a male cheetah resting on an old termite mound. This is the same cheetah that we saw on a previous trip who made a kill using his injured brother (who has since passed on) as a decoy. We followed him as he moved on looking for shade, scent-marking as he inspected a couple of possibilities.

While we were following him we found a crash of 6 white rhinos. (I must admit that it is sad to see the stumps they have in place of horns, but if this saves them from extinction then it is the right thing to do.) One of the rhino walked up to a small tree stump and started scratching her haunch and then her nose (Terry is convinced that this is the wrong order to do it!). The tree stump looked worn, as though it had been used many times before.

Other sightings: Warthog, Giraffe, Buffalo, Kudu, Impala, Red duiker, Leopard tortoise

Bird sightings: Yellow-fronted canary, Fan-tailed widowbird, Blue waxbill, White-bellied sunbird, Spectacled weaver, Village weaver, Grey-headed bushshrike, Cape glossy starling, African dusky flycatcher, African paradise-flycatcher, Yellow-throated longclaw, Barn swallow, African hoopoe, Green woodhoopoe, Rufous-naped lark, Eurasian bee-eater, Little bee-eater, Cape turtle dove, Namaqua dove, Emerald-spotted wood-dove, Wood sandpiper, African wattled lapwing, Crowned lapwing, Three-banded plover, Common buttonquail, Yellow-billed kite, Spur-winged goose, Egyptian goose, Red-billed teal, Secretarybird, Tawny eagle, Hadeda ibis, Cattle egret, Little Grebe, White-faced whistling duck

For breakfast we ate a ranger’s omelette (T) and mushrooms plus other bits and pieces from the buffet (J).

Another relaxing morning was followed by a lunch of BBQ pork ribs and apple sorbet (T). On our way back to the room, we saw a red duiker near the chalet next to ours.

Night Drive – Wednesday, 7 Dec

There were still just the two of us on the vehicle so we decided to take a drive through the sand forest. We had not been doing that as a matter of course as they were laying pipes in the road.

We then heard that the Northern pride had been at a dam so we decided to go and look for them. We made a detour to see the dominant male lion with another female lion called “Auntie”. She is massive and due to some fertility experimentation many years ago cannot conceive. We left them and found the Northern pride lounging around the dam, not looking too energetic at all. A white rhino and her calf looked as though they were interested in coming down to drink, but she was very aware of the lions. One sub-adult showed some interest and moved off to track them. The rhino obviously decided that there were other places to drink, so they moved off.

Other sightings: Warthog, Giraffe, Buffalo, Nyala, Impala, Red duiker

Bird sightings: Cattle egret, Woolly-necked stork, Hadeda ibis, White-faced whistling duck, Spur-winged goose, Tawny eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, Brown snake eagle, Yellow-billed kite, Common buttonquail, African jacana, Three-banded plover, Emerald-spotted wood-dove, Jacobin cucckoo, Fiery-necked nightjar, Speckled mousebird, African pygmy kingfisher, Green woodhoopoe, Barn swallow, Southern black tit, Blue waxbill

Jean was feeling a bit off-color so dinner was just mushroom soup. Much to everyone’s consternation. Terry made them feel a bit better by eating a main course of duck.

Morning Drive – Thursday, 8 Dec

We started the day by joining a sighting of the female cheetah with three cubs. Some others had found the female plus one so we decided to move off and take a look at them too. While we were looking for them, we found the male cheetah resting on another termite mound. So we spent some time with him before making our way to mom and cub. Even when we got there, we first stopped to appreciate a lemon-breasted canary nest with 4 eggs in the lala palm close by. Chris had seen the mother bird fly off the nest so knew it was there. We looked but did not interfere with it in any way. We then moved in order to view the cheetahs from a spot that did not make the bird uncomfortable, but we did not see her come back.

Other sightings: White rhino, Zebra, Warthog, Wildebeest, Red duiker, Terrapin (in the road, far from any water)

Bird sightings: Yellow-breasted apalis, African paradise-flycatcher, Yellow-throated longclaw, Barn swallow, Rufous-naped lark, Common scimitarbill, African hoopoe, Lilac-breasted roller, Little bee-eater, Diderick cuckoo, Burchell’s coucal, Three-banded plover, Black-breasted snake-eagle, Yellow-billed kite, Lizard buzzard, African white-backed vulture, Egyptian goose, Spur-winged goose, Cattle egret, Rattling cisticola, Redbacked shrike

For breakfast we ate an assortment from the buffet. We then went back to our room to pack up in order to transfer across to Rock Lodge.

Rock Lodge

At Rock Lodge we were greeted by Obed, who we had definitely met before. Once in our room, we unpacked and then made our way down to lunch. Lunch was an assortment of salads, small quiches and pastrami.

We saw a Collared sunbird, an Amethyst sunbird and a Dark-backed weaver when we got to our room. Shame the weaver was sitting motionless on a branch, with its beak wide open. It was obviously not enjoying the heat. Some other birds were using our pool to cool off – Dark-capped bulbuls and Cape white-eyes.

Butlers: Sthe & Ronnie

Night Drive – Thursday, 8 Dec

Ranger: Clive

Tracker: Pat

Other Guests on Vehicle: Two honeymoon couples. One from Mexico who only did one drive with us; and one from London, Colin and Natalie.

We started the drive with a bang. One of the major differences between the north (Forest & Vlei) and the south (Rock & Mountain) is the herds of general game. So we encountered a herd of zebra with two small foals; a black rhino (who investigated the vehicle); 2 white rhino who we didn’t notice until they stood up from where they had been lying in a mud pool, only to be chased off by the black rhino who obviously hadn’t seen them yet either! There were also two African fish eagles on the ground drinking from a small water pool. Much to our delight they flew up into a tree – a very skimpy one – and started calling. The black rhino then moved off and lay down in the grass, only visible by his large horn, and we noticed that there was a yellow-billed kite on the ground too. Add to that we were surrounded by about 20 Senegal lapwings running around on the ground. All this, and we were only a few kilometres from camp!

Other sightings: Scrub hare, Hippo, Warthog, Giraffe, Nyala, Impala, Wildebeest, Leopard tortoise

Bird sightings: Cattle egret, White-faced whistling duck, Spur-winged goose, Egyptian goose, Wahlberg’s eagle (pale morph), Black-breasted snake eagle, Yellow-billed kite, Crested francolin, Water thick-knee, Barn swallow, Red-breasted swallow, Red-backed shrike, Red-billed oxpecker, Spectacled weaver, Village weaver, Marsh sandpiper

Dinner that night was on the balcony. There was a starter platter of crudités, meat, hummus, tapenade, etc. that was almost big enough for the whole vehicle! This we followed with leg of lamb. And then we were presented with a dessert platter of chocolate salami (we both agreed that this was delicious), nougat, strawberries (J), cherries (J), cheesecake (T – he first had a little taste and then a second little taste, so it was obviously good), chocolate truffles (T), a brandy snap (T) and chocolate date balls (that neither of us sampled). It was a really lovely meal.

Morning Drive – Friday, 9 Dec

We decided to go to Zuka and look for the Mountain pride. We hadn’t gone very far, when we joined a sighting of the Sutton pride instead. This pride comprises 2 females, 3 cubs (2 males and 1 female). The southern male lion was also present. They were walking down an open area and then lay down, leaving the cubs to play hunt by stalking and catching each other. The male hung back but was visible in the distance. The cubs were having a great time. We were on a corner with the Sodwana road and a number of Phinda related vehicles drove past. One cub decided this provided another good chance to play hunt by chasing the vehicles! One bakkie had a number of labourers on the back and you could see the whites of their eyes as they watched this little lion try to catch their vehicle.

We made our way out of the sighting as the lions started to move off, and came across another black rhino who we stopped to enjoy. We then moved in to enjoy a sighting of a leopard (unusual for Phinda, for us at least). The leopard was in a tree and our visual was really bad (1/5). We could just make out some spots in the binoculars. We moved around to see if we could see her better and she then decided to climb down from the tree and walk through the grass and bush. We followed her. We could see her clearly in a couple of open spots. She also crouched down as if to hunt when she saw some female kudus (ambitious for her!) but they spotted her and started barking so she moved off. She then stopped under some trees/bushes and looked rather interested in some impala that were futher off. But they were definitely too far and too wary after hearing the kudu. We left her resting in her spot and who knows, maybe the impala forgot about her and she got a chance to get a meal! This was definitely our best sighting of leopard in Phinda, easily on a par with many sightings in the Sabi Sands reserve.

Other sightings: Elephant, White rhino, Zebra, Warthog, Giraffe, Nyala, Warthog, Wildebeest, Leopard tortoise

Bird sightings: Pin-tailed whydah, Fan-tailed widowbird, Red-billed oxpecker, Cape glossy starling, Red-backed shrike, Rattling cisticola, Eurasian bee-eater, Diderick cuckoo, Namaqua dove, Common buttonquail, Bateleur, Yellow-billed kite, Egyptian goose, Spur-winged goose, Cape turtle dove

Breakfast was an assortment of sliced fruit, muesli, yoghurt and then cooked breakfast to order.

After a nice relaxing morning (J slept for 3 hours! In other words, got back from breakfast, sorted out a few things, slept and then woke up in time for lunch.) From the room, we saw some Lesser striped swallows. On the way up to lunch we saw a Red-capped robin-chat.We ate sliced ostrich and assorted salads.

Night Drive – Friday, 9 Dec

There were still just the four of us on the vehicle. We drove to Sutton, but again we barely made it there. We came across a small breeding herd of elephant and stopped to enjoy them (we hadn’t seen too many elephants up to this point – none in the north at all). We then found a cheetah female and cub lying under a bush. The cub then moved over to another bush and started chewing on a leg of a baby impala. That is all that was left! As mom moved off, the cub watched and eventually followed. So we did the same. Mom lay down in the grass, while the cub decided to stalk a herd of zebra. It was too cute – it “leopard” crawled a way, came up to check where they were, repeated this, and then took a long burst down in the grass to hide behind a fallen trunk. Even if the zebra were aware of the cub they definitely showed no interest or concern!

We then moved off to look at some buffalo that we could see in the distance. This was all Colin and Natalie needed to complete their big 5. Another vehicle radioed that the cheetah mom had taken down a baby impala. So we went back to find her standing over the kill. She lifted it up and carried it – hooves dragging on the ground, stopping for breaks every now and again. The cub was nowhere to be seen. She crossed the road and we could clearly see the drag marks from the hooves (it made us think of our last game drive in Ngala with the leopard kill!) Once a little way in from the road, the female cheetah dropped the impala and started calling, loudly. She was obviously worried about where her cub was. After several bouts of calling, we could all see a little bundle running as fast as it could through the grass in order to get to mom. She went towards it and they lay down some distance from the kill, bonding, while mom got her breath back. We left them there and made our way to drinks.

Drinks were laid out for us. Paraffin lamps and champagne glasses hanging from a tree. Champagne in an ice bucket on a table. Snacks on a tray hanging from the same tree. It was lovely. (J couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice to have the next night – her birthday). But no one but T knew it was her birthday as we did not want cake, singing and a big fuss.

Other sightings: White rhino, Warthog, Giraffe, Kudu, Nyala, Wildebeest

Bird sightings: Common buzzard

We had one of the best dinners that we have eaten at any of the lodges we have visited. It was served to us in our room. We started with pumpkin soup. This was followed by a platter of peri peri chicken, beef short rib and prawns with starches and vegetables. We started with the short rib which was lovely. The prawns were out of this world. And we forced ourselves to have a small taste of the chicken which was also divine. (It really was delicious, but we thought a few more people might be moving into our room to join us for dinner!) Dessert was Portuguese custard tarts with apple, cream and caramel. Nokuthula (the chef) can really be proud of her cooking!

Morning Drive – Saturday, 10 Dec

T had told Clive that the Eastern nicator was one of our bogey birds. So since we were driving through a terrain that favoured the bird, we were on the lookout. Clive and Pat heard them calling and then the search started. We eventually had glimpses of them flying from tree to tree, never standing still long enough for us to get our binoculars on them. Then suddenly one did and we saw it in all its glory. T then had a sense of déjà vu (and when we got back to the room and checked his website, he found that we had in fact seen them in much the same fashion the last time we visited Rock Lodge). We eventually confessed this to Clive but we were nonetheless happy to see them again.

The drive was quiet, but the vegetation and scenery was really lovely. We did watch some hippos at one of the dams we drove past.

When we got back to camp, J asked Clive if we could include some champagne in the box for drinks that evening. It was Colin and Natalie’s last night and she would tell him the second reason later.

Other sightings: White rhino, Zebra, Hippo, Warthog, Giraffe, Nyala, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Impala, Grey duiker, Leopard tortoise, Giant legless skink

Bird sightings: Golden-breasted bunting, White-bellied sunbird, Village weaver, Fork-tailed drongo, Cape glossy starling, Red-backed shrike, Dark-capped bulbul, African pipit, African hoopoe, Common scimitarbill, Trumpeter hornbill, Crowned hornbill, Speckled mousebird, Eurasian bee-eater, Little bee-eater, Eurasian roller, Purple-crested turaco, Emerald-spotted wood-dove, Cape turtle dove, Blacksmith lapwing, Black-bellied bustard, Common buttonquail, Bateleur, Yellow-billed kite, Common buzzard, Spur-winged goose, Egyptian goose, White-faced whistling duck, Hadeda ibis

Breakfast was poached egg, bacon and sausage (T) and mushrooms (J). They really do make the best mushrooms! T thinks mine are better, but from my perspective I didn’t have to make these ones!

Lunch was served (after another lovely sleep) in our room. We ate chicken fillet and assorted salads. We also watched some baboons climbing on the rocks on top of the mountain across from the lodge.

Night Drive – Saturday, 10 Dec

We had two different sightings of black rhino – one was very skittish, running away from us, while the other was relaxed and eating from small bushes in the bowl of a dry day. That is the one thing we have not commented upon – the drought. The camps are trucking in water for guests to shower, etc. every day – usually about 3 truckloads. The rivers are completely dry; as are many of the dams. It is quite sad to see large dams standing green and bone dry. The rain that they have had, has made the vegetation green but they have not had enough rain in the catchment areas yet.

When we stopped for drinks, Clive took out the champagne and J shared with everyone the fact that it was her birthday. She explained why she didn’t want to make a fuss back at camp, and Clive understood, but everyone was glad that she shared it with them and the champagne was used to wish her well.

As we continued with our drive, we saw a hippo out of the water, walking through the grass. We also saw a spotted eagle owl.

Other sightings: Scrub hare, White rhino, Zebra, Hippo, Warthog, Giraffe, Buffalo, Kudu, Nyala, Wildebeest, Impala

Bird sightings: Yellow-billed stork, Common buzzard, Black-bellied bustard, Spotted thick-knee, Crowned lapwing, Fiery-necked nightjar, Spotted eagle owl

Dinner was at the inside table as rain was threatening and we were joined by Clive. We both skipped the soup and ate BBQ ribs, potato wedges and vegetables. Dessert was nectarine, cream and crumble.

Morning Drive – Sunday, 11 Dec

This was Colin and Natalie’s last drive. And it was raining, reasonably hard. We all put on ponchos but we were cold and wet (the rain tends to come in at the neckline). We drove to Zuka and onto Mziki. We found the Mountain pride near a dam in front of Mziki blockshare. The rain eased off a little just before we found them, but before that I could see Natalie’s face – she was wondering why she wasn’t back home in bed sleeping in. The sighting of the pride really changed this as she was delighted to see more lions (I should add that this was her first safari trip). The Mountain pride is also made up of two females and 3 cubs (8 months, so smaller than the Sutton pride cubs, and 2 females, 1 male). In addition there was a “hanger-on” – a young male sub-adult from a previous litter. He and two brothers had left the pride but he seemed to have made his way back to the pride. He seemed to be well accepted by the cubs, less so by the females. We watched them for a short while and then made way for others to see them.

As we moved back towards camp we came across a giraffe with a 2/3-day old calf. It was really cute and fluffy, particularly the tips of its horns!

Other sightings: White rhino, Black rhino, Zebra, Hippo, Warthog, Kudu, Nyala, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Impala, Vervet monkeys

Bird sightings: Black-crowned tchagra, Black-backed puffback, Fork-tailed drongo, Eastern paradise-whydah, Dark-capped bulbul, Eastern nicator, White-browed scrub-robin, Lesser striped swallow, Rufous-naped lark, Common scimitarbill, Eurasian bee-eater, Senegal lapwing, Common buzzard, Yellow-billed kite, African fish eagle, Egyptian goose, Spur-winged goose, Hadeda ibis, White-faced whistling duck, Little sparrowhawk

For breakfast we ate a cheese and bacon omelette (T) and poached egg, bacon, sausage and mushrooms (J). While we were on the balcony, Terry spotted movement in a tree. When he went to investigate he found a tree frog on a branch.

Another relaxing morning (no sleep, but lots of reading) was followed by a lunch of roast beef and assorted salads. On the way back to our room we saw a spotted flycatcher.

Night Drive – Sunday, 11 Dec

We were down to just the two of us on the vehicle again. It is wonderful spoil for us to be able to concentrate on birding or seeing areas of the reserve we really enjoy. The drive was quiet except for the birds. The sky was really threatening. We saw some lion in the distance just as another vehicle, closer to them, spotted them. We stopped to put on our rain ponchos first so that we would not disturb the lions if it started raining.

We had found the Sutton pride again, although this time they were all sleepy and cuddled up together as though cold. As the rain started, you could see their ears flicking the water away. They started to move a little, but still stayed huddled together. We left them as the rain started to get heavier. The cubs were all yawning in unison!

We made our way towards Sutton and did some good birding. We even found a Verreaux’s eagle owl sitting on a branch in the rain. The skies then really opened up and we agreed to make our way back to camp to get dry and have a hot drink there. Once we were back across the mountain, the rain was a little lighter so we drove for about 30 minutes more but ultimately still made our way back to camp. We went to our room to get dry and changed, while Clive went to dry and clean his rifle. Ronnie then made us all some hot chocolate and added Amarula (just like we drink on the morning drives) and we sat chatting and sharing stories with Clive. The hot chocolate was really delicious (even Clive commented on it). We also watched a thick-tailed bushbaby in the trees to the side of the lodge.

Other sightings: Elephant, Nyala, Impala, Red duiker

Bird sightings: African green pigeon, Purple-crested turaco, Jacobin cuckoo (black morph), Yellow-bellied greenbul, Chin-spot batis, Brubru

We had an early dinner of corn chowder (J), curried chicken with vegetables and malva pudding (T). We were just finishing off as the other vehicle came home at about 8pm.

Morning Drive – Monday, 12 Dec

We decided to take a birding drive. Fortunately, the rain had eased off although the sky was still overcast. We had a beautiful sighing of a pair of broad-billed rollers, twice! We also found a pair of Woodlands kingfishers (they are at their most southern distribution here and are not a common occurrence, but Clive and Pat had seen and heard them a couple of days earlier. J had not heard them in forever, so was really keen to do so.) Not only did they call, we saw them and they displayed for us!

It rained for a short while (not too hard) and we decided to look for cheetah, but there were none to be found! It was a really nice drive though and a good way to end off – thoroughly chilled.

Other sightings: Elephant, White rhino, Warthog, Giraffe, Buffalo, Kudu, Nyala, Wildebeest, Impala

Bird sightings: Golden-breasted bunting, Red-collared widowbird, Blue waxbill, Southern grey-headed sparrow, Scarlet-chested sunbird, Fork-tailed drongo, Cape glossy starling, Brown-crowned tchagra, Tawny-flanked prinia, White-browed scrub-robin, Sombre greenbul, Dark-capped bulbul, Lesser striped swallow, Flappet lark, Crested barbet, Common scimitarbill, African hoopoe, Eurasian roller, Striped kingfisher, Brown-hooded kingfisher, Pygmy kingfisher, Burchell’s coucal, Diderick cuckoo, Jacobin cuckoo, Purple-crested turaco, Crowned lapwing, Helmeted guineafowl, Crested guineafowl, Brown snake eagle, Yellow-billed kite, Common buzzard, Wahlberg’s eagle, Tawny eagle, Egyptian goose, Hadeda ibis, Woolly-necked stork, Secretarybird, African white-backed vulture

For breakfast we ate egg, bacon and sausage (T) and from the general buffet only (J).

As we drove out of the reserve we saw an impala herd with lots of babies, a giraffe on the main road and a displaying pair of striped kingfishers on the wires on the side of the road.

We had hoped for a relaxing drive home with fewer trucks, but this was not to be. It was a very stressful drive for Terry. There were lots of trucks coming both ways. This was aggravated by the fact that there were many (+6) large abnormal load trucks which took up our side of the road as well as ½ of the other side. Oncoming traffic had to pull onto the verge to get past them so overtaking them was a major challenge, but given that they were travelling as low as 20 kilometres most of the time, a necessity. Once past Bethal and on a proper dual carriageway, Terry stopped for Jean to drive. He said that he didn’t think his nerves could withstand peak hour Johannesburg traffic too!

On the way home, we saw long-crested eagle, common buzzard and flamingos at two different dams.

All in all, we had a wonderful time and although tired from the trip, we had a relaxing break. We once again agreed that if one visits Phinda one needs to split the time between the North (Forest / Vlei) and the South (Mountain / Rock). The vegetation plus the game viewing is that different that one feels like you have visited two different game parks. Neither of us have a preference to an area.

Bird count:

Drive            1          2           3            4           5            6           7           8     Camp Total

Forest        11        12          9          15         18         37         21         21          3       76

Rock          19        15          1          30           7         20           7         40           8       92

Total                                                                                                                              118