11 May 2018

We left home after the traffic (doing gym first!) and with less than 130km on the speedometer of the Fortuner. We knew that the distance we had to travel was not too long, so we took things easy, stopping at Zebetiela (before Polokwane) to fill up our vehicle – for the first time!

There was an accident at the R71 intersection so we were forced to drive through the centre of Polokwane and take an alternative route towards Tzaneen. Luckily it was reasonably well signposted and we got to the Magoebaskloof Hotel before 14h00. We checked in (room 43) and then made our way to the coffee shop for a late lunch – we were both really hungry by that stage. Terry had beer-battered hake and I had steak, egg and chips. Dessert was coffee crème brûlée for Terry and a cappuccino for me.

We then settled into our room and read for a while, moving onto the veranda when we saw some bird movement. Later on we took a short walk in the grounds, before we returned to the veranda and eventually moved inside as it got darker.

Dinner was some rolls that we had brought from home.

Birds: Chinspot batis, dark-capped bulbul, blue-mantled crested flycatcher, hadeda ibis, ostrich, speckled pigeon, white stork, Cape white-eye

12 May 2018

We were awake early and watched the sunrise, but there were no birds to be seen or heard, so we decided to have a lie-in.

After breakfast, we drove to Haenertsburg looking for a birding route. It was very badly signposted so we eventually stopped at a shop, where the owner James was very helpful. He gave me a map and told me where we should turn to get onto the Serala birding route. We drove to the gate to the Wolkberg Nature Reserve and then turned around and made our way back to Haenertsburg, stopping to bird and admire the scenery. We then drove through town looking for the cemetery (which is part of the grasslands trail through the town and noted as being a pretty walk on its own), but we could not find it. Instead, we drove to Ebenezer dam and looked around. It was real pretty, but we were surprised by the amount of housing development in the area.

We made our way back to Haenertsburg and stopped at The Red Plate for lunch. It was warm enough for us to sit at a table outside. We both ate chicken burgers with jalapeño, bacon and cheese. They were delicious but too big to finish properly. It is definitely a meal to repeat one day when we are really hungry (like the previous day, or for that matter the next one!).

We stopped at a stall for one of the local farms and bought some cheese and chorizo. We then made our way to Bramasole, our home for two nights. Gia welcomed us and introduced us to Heidi, a very energetic Visla. (It is the first time we have seen one in real life and it is amazing how similar its personality is to the Weimaraner).

We were in the Venice room, which was downstairs with French doors leading to the garden and boathouse on the side of the dam. We unpacked and rested before going out into the gardens for a walk. The owner’s father was walking Heidi, but she kept running to us and walking with us for a short while before running back to him when called. Once back to the main building, we had a short chat with him about the farm and those surrounding it. He also introduced us to Ted, a Labrador from a neighbouring farm that visits Heidi everyday to play. We walked in the forest fringe and then made our way down to the boathouse, accompanied by both dogs. They splashed around in the reeds around the dam.

We returned to the room, which was warmed by heaters (it was cold!). I had a lovely hot bath, while Terry watched some rugby. We had fruit and yoghurt for dinner and then had an early night to make up for our disrupted sleep the night before and to prepare for our early start the next day!

Mammals: Baboon, vervet monkey

Birds: Black-collared barbet, crested barbet, dark-capped bulbul, pied crow, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, long-crested eagle, common fiscal, grey go-away-bird, green-backed heron, hadeda ibis, greater kestrel, pied kingfisher, bronze manikin, speckled mousebird, white-necked raven, white-throated robin-chat, African stonechat, Cape wagtail, swee waxbill

13 May 2018

We had a really early start – up at 4h30! Although in reality we were both awake from 3h30. We got ready and pulled together everything that we needed, ate the sandwiches from our packed breakfasts and then made our way to the parking at the Magoebaskloof Hotel. Terry decided that we were now confirmed birding lunatics – it was only 5oC!

Paul, the bird guide from Kurisa Moya, arrived, introduced himself, and then climbed into the Fortuner. He directed Terry where to drive and we made our way into the Woodbush forest. There we pulled over on the side of the road and stopped, listening for the Cape parrot (L). Paul heard a chorister robin sing, and it eventually landed in the middle of the road ahead of us - our first bird of the day, although not a lifer.

We then heard the parrots screeching, but could not see them. We walked towards the dead trees that Paul expected them to land in and waited. Paul then started to get nervous that they were not coming that way, so we walked back passed the vehicle and into the forest. We eventually had a brief sighting of them in some other dead trees, but then they moved off. We made our way rapidly to our first vantage point and there they were! (We should just have been patient after all). The parrots were, in fact, the reason we were up and about so early.

We walked further down the road for a while, but Paul was disappointed by how little bird activity he could hear. So we made our way back, passed the vehicle and then into a trail into the forest. There we saw and heard a number of birds, often wandering off the trail in order to get a good sighting. We were lucky to see the following lifers: white-starred robin, yellow-streaked bulbul (we saw them a number of times during the day), olive woodpecker (it wasn’t the best sighting as the light was behind it), black-fronted bushshrike (endemic to this forest). We also heard a Barrett’s warbler and an orange ground thrush, but unfortunately we were unable to spot either one of them – they would both have been lifers.

Once back at the vehicle, we ate some more of our breakfast – hard boiled eggs and yoghurt. We climbed back into the car and drove to Woodbush drive (which is marked as a 4x4 road). Paul thought that a green twinspot had flown across the road (we saw the movement), so we stopped to look for it with no success. Another lifer that did not want to be seen…

A bit further on Paul told us to stop and climb out of the vehicle. We had come across a pair of yellow-throated woodland warblers (L). They were very pretty and the two of them kept flying around the tree and almost “play-fighting”. He showed us a forest fever tree which is really different from the fever trees we see everywhere else.

We made our way out of the forest and onto the R71 towards Tzaneen. We stopped at The Wheelbarrow (where I could take a bathroom break) and we checked for mannikins at the bird feeder. It was Mother’s Day, however, and the place was packed, so none of the birds we were looking for. We continued into Tzaneen, making our way into the suburbs (Soetdoring and Maroela streets). We parked the vehicle and moved up and down the roads as Paul heard the sound of the birds calling. He said that they really enjoy bird feeders in Tzaneen, although all the distribution maps show that they are not found in the area. We had almost given up, moving further into the suburb, when Paul heard them again, so we stopped and walked back to almost were we had started and there they were – magpie mannikins (L). We stopped in another area to look out for some dark-capped yellow warblers, but there were none to be found. Instead we saw an African golden weaver (L) as we got back into our vehicle.

We then drove to Agatha to look for bat hawks at their nesting sites. We saw some nests but no hawks. And Paul walked up and down a couple of times, after telling us to wait for him. He had told us that there was a 99.9% chance of seeing them. We teased him that we were the 0.1%! (Luckily we had seen one before in Phinda). We did see a lizard buzzard, however.

We drove back to Magoebaskloof and turned onto a road towards owl cottage and Agores cabin. This was more of a 4x4 road than the one in the morning, but still not too bad. We parked by a stand of bamboos and then walked down the road a short way, looking for the orange ground thrush (L) that had been calling. We saw it fly from one side of the road to the other, but then, to our frustration, it would disappear, hidden in the growth. Paul then got really excited and called us to stand behind him – and there it was, in all its glory. It had stopped calling, stopped flying around, and just sat there for a long time. Eventually we left it to its own devices, but what a beautiful bird.

We drove back to the R71, down towards Woodbush and onto road 0. This cut us through to another main road. Had we turned right on this we would have gone towards Kurisa Moya. Instead, we turned left towards Polokwane and pulled over at the Mamabolo grassland area. It was lovely to look at birds on the ground (rather than up in the trees) and easier on the neck too. The species we saw were also much different to those we found in the forest area. We spent some time walking around on both sides of the main road looking for the short-clawed lark (L) and had almost given up when Paul spotted one on top of a large rock. We had a good look, before walking closer, in case it flew off. Luckily it didn’t, so we were able to get an even better look at it too.

We made our way back to Magoesbaskloof Hotel and dropped Paul off at his vehicle. It was after 16h30 already. And we had garnered a total of 10 lifers!

We were ravenous. Paul had been eating while in the back seat most of the day, but we were so caught up in what we were doing that we forgot that we had brought energy bars with us. So, we made our way to Mountain café (on Blueberry Heights and recommended by Gia) and asked if they were still serving meals. They had had a hectic day serving over 140 meals for Mother’s Day, but they were happy to feed us from what they still had available on the menu. We also met Pippa, another Visla, and Max, a short-haired pointer. Pippa was definitely more relaxed than Heidi.

We shared a snack plate, with roast beef (no ribs left), chicken wings and roasties with homemade tomato sauce. We then both had Indian-style slow roasted pork neck with Bombay potatoes and cucumber/mint sambal. The chef told us there were two portions left, so we gladly accepted them. It was delicious. Afterwards, we were so full that I had a cappuccino, but Terry couldn’t face dessert even though their specialty was blueberry cheesecake. Luckily he felt that way, as the chef told us that there was not even a crumb left!

We made our way back to Bramasole, where we had a hot shower and bath, and then flopped into bed for an early night, exhausted after our long and exciting day.

Mammals: Rock hyrax, samango monkey, vervet monkey

Birds: Bar-throated apalis, Cape batis, black-collared barbet, black-fronted bushshrike (L), lizard buzzard, black-throated canary, yellow-fronted canary, familiar chat, grey cuckooshrike, red-eyed dove, square-tailed drongo, long-crested eagle, red-headed finch, African firefinch, common fiscal, blue-mantled crested flycatcher, dusky flycatcher, fiscal flycatcher, southern black flycatcher, yellow-streaked greenbul (L), helmeted guineafowl, hadeda ibis, short-clawed lark (L), bronze mannikin, magpie mannikin (L), Cape parrot (L), green-winged pytilia, white-necked raven, chorister robin, white-starred robin (L), black saw-wing, Kalahari scrub-robin, grey-headed sparrow, white-browed sparrow-weaver, Cape glossy starling, African stonechat, collared sunbird, scarlet-chested sunbird, African palm swift, kurrichane thrush, olive thrush, orange ground thrush (L), Knysna turaco, Cape wagtail, yellow-throated woodland warbler (L), blue waxbill, swee waxbill, African golden weaver (L), Cape white-eye, olive woodpecker (L)

14 May 2018

We woke up to find that it had rained through most of the night and it was still wet and overcast, so we lay in and relaxed. We got up, got ready and packed in time to go to breakfast at 9h00.

We said our goodbyes and left Bramasole at 9h45.

The pass was really misty as we drove in the direction of Phalaborwa. We stopped at The Wheelbarrow to buy some bananas and avocados. But we had to check to see if the magpie mannikins were back, but it was too wet!

Mammals: Sable

Birds: Pied crow, cattle egret, Egyptian goose, black-shouldered kite, lilac-breasted roller

We really enjoyed our time at Magoebaskloof. Previously, it was just somewhere we drove through on our way to the Kruger. It is definitely somewhere we will stay again, setting ourselves up to have a shorter drive to the park.