Soutpansberg 20-23 October 2018

Saturday

We left home just before 8h00 taking the N1 north towards Polokwane and Louis Trichardt. Unfortunately there had been a tragic accident on the highway overnight and all social media showed that the highway was still closed. So we got off the N1 at Bela Bela and took the R101 via Modimolle to Mookgophong, where we rejoined the highway. The rest of the journey went smoothly and we arrived at Shiluvari at about 13h00.

We were shown to Room 4, which was just beyond the main buildings. Unfortunately there was no fridge in the room and we had been expecting this based on the information on the website. We had some perishables with us for our stay in Kurisa Moya (Magoebaskloof). Within 15 minutes, they had brought a small fridge in for us and everything was up and running.

We ate a light lunch. It was very windy and the weather app showed a possibility of rain, so we decided to go for a walk before the weather deteriorated too much. We wandered around the garden, pool area and along the shore of the Albasini Dam, watching birds as we went.

Our stay at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge was on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis, so we made our way to dinner early. It was quite strange: Our dinner was sweet potato soup followed by beef fillet with mash, green beans and mealies. It was delicious. But there was another couple there and they were eating a salad followed by chicken. Later on we chatted to them and mentioned that we found this strange. They apparently had eaten the same as we had on their first night! It must be quite difficult to keep up with who must eat what if the lodge gets really busy!

We skipped dessert, but waited until they brought us our packed breakfasts. There were 3 of them (they obviously included for Samson, the guide, too) and they were in a cooler box. So we just added our waters, etc. to their cooler bag rather than taking two.

Bird sightings: dark-capped bulbul, white-breasted cormorant, pied crow, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, common fiscal, Egyptian goose, little grebe, helmeted guineafowl, African wattled lapwing, blacksmith lapwing, ostrich, greater double-collared sunbird, pied wagtail

Sunday

We were up bright and early as we had to meet Samson at a garage near Levubu at 05h30. We made our way there via the road alongside the Albasini Dam Wall (which must be impassible if there are good rains and the dam overflows).

Samson left his motorbike parked at the garage and jumped into our car. Our first port of call was the Muirhead Reserve. We drove past a small dam and made our way around the other side of it to the hide. We saw some pygmy geese and other birds, but didn’t hang around for too long. We walked away from the dam along a pathway towards another dam. There we could hear flufftails calling – both buff-spotted and red-chested. We spent a fair amount of time in that area, walking up and down as the sound from the birds moved. Eventually we managed to see a very brief sighting of a buff-spotted flufftail (L). And then things got quieter, so we walked further along a road, birding as we went.

We made our way back to our vehicle, which was parked next to a picnic table near the first dam. Here we ate some breakfast, watching black saw-wings flying around us catching insects. There must have been more than 20 of them.

We then made our way to the Luvuvhu River, driving in through Springfield Farm. It is private land, but Samson has permission to take people across the farm to the river. At the river three giant kingfishers that flew backwards and forwards across the river, entertained us. We also saw three white-backed night-herons – a pair and a juvenile (Samson thought that the juvenile was probably from the last season as their current chick would not yet have grown to this size). We also spent some time looking for warblers and were eventually rewarded with a sighting of a great reed warbler (L). It was very secretive but we saw it move around in a couple of bushes along the water.

Once back in the car, we made our way to the garage for a comfort break. From there we drove into the Levubu area, making our way to a local rugby club, where we walked across the field and then into an old macadamia orchard on the other side. We made our way through the trees (Samson collecting nuts from the ground as he went) and then stopped on the other side to look for the blue-spotted wood-dove (L). One flew in and over us, slowing down to see that we were there, but then continuing on its way. We saw enough of it to make out what it was, but it would have been nice to get a clear view in our binoculars.

Our last stop was at The Geese Dam at Vuwani. Ironically Samson lives close to there but he had to go back to Levubu with us afterwards in order to retrieve his motorbike. The main reason for visiting this dam was to see Allen’s gallinule (L). In fact, Samson said that he wasn’t going to show it to us; we could find it for ourselves! He then pointed one out and we could see plenty of them running across the lily pads on all parts of the dam. We also looked unsuccessfully for the orange-breasted waxbill, but while doing so we managed to flush a snipe. We moved closer to get a better look and flushed it again, enabling us to confirm that it was a greater painted-snipe (L). We were thrilled. By this stage though it was hot and there was no shade around the dam, so we made our way back towards where we had parked the vehicle.

While we were birding on the side of the dam, we noticed two men fishing on an island towards the middle of the dam. On another island, there was a large crocodile. All we could see was its open mouth – and that was big. The rest of it was hidden in the grass. We were amazed that the fisherman showed no concern. In fact, later we saw the one fisherman wading in the water – totally unconcerned!

We dropped Samson off at the garage and made our way back to the lodge via the Albasini Dam road.

We spent the afternoon resting and then went for a walk in the garden and along the shore of the dam after 5pm.

Dinner was tomato and mozzarella pastries followed by beef lasagna and mushrooms. We again skipped dessert.

We were both asleep very early after a bad night the day before and a long day!

Bird sightings: yellow-breasted apalis, black-collared barbet, European bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, yellow bishop, dark-capped bulbul, reed cormorant, black crake, pied crow, African darter, tambourine dove, white-backed duck, white-faced duck, African fish eagle, long-crested eagle, western cattle egret, buff-spotted flufftail (L), ashy flycatcher, southern black flycatcher, Allen’s gallinule (L), Egyptian goose, pygmy goose, dark chanting goshawk, little grebe, crested guineafowl, purple heron, hadeda ibis, African jacana, giant kingfisher, pied kingfisher, yellow-throated longclaw, bronze mannikin, common moorhen, white-backed night-heron, greater painted-snipe (L), three-banded plover, black-backed puffback, black saw-wing, white-bellied sunbird, scarlet-chested sunbird, wire-tailed swallow, African swamphen, African palm swift, horus swift, olive thrush, purple-crested turaco, pied wagtail, great reed warbler (L), lesser swamp warbler, little rush warbler, African golden weaver, blue-spotted wood-dove (L), emerald-spotted wood-dove

Mammal sightings: vervet monkey

Other sightings: crocodile

Monday

We both had a really good night’s sleep and woke up early. That gave us time to lie in and read before having a leisurely breakfast. It was still very windy so the plans for a sunset boat trip on the dam weren’t looking good (just like the other two afternoons). In fact, after our trip to Marakele a month before, we were starting to equate dam plus mountains with serious wind!

We then made our way out for a drive, following up on some of the information we had downloaded from the Limpopo Birding Route site (as we discovered though, it was not always up to date).

We started by driving along the Albasini Dam road and then taking the road to Louis Trichardt rather than turning to Levubu. That allowed us to avoid the road we had come in on through Elim on Saturday. Once at Louis Trichardt we turned south on the N1 and turned onto another road towards Elim where Samson had told us that there were dams that often had Abdim’s stork. Unfortunately though the dams were dry and being worked on and there was no sign of any Abdim’s. We did see woolly-necked storks and a grey heron flying over though.

We then took the R522 towards Vivo, making our way to Spies Dam. We discovered that it is now called Capes Thorne Dam and that access was locked, as they are busy with a community project (sponsored by the Lotto). From the vehicle, though, we could not see much by way of bird life.

We drove back to the N1 and made our way down the main street of Louis Trichardt and back, before heading north on the N1 towards Wylie’s Poort and the two Hendrik Verwoerd tunnels. The drive was really beautiful with large cliffs and rock faces on both sides of the road. It was also a little trip down memory lane as we passed the Cloud’s End Hotel (we had stayed there with Peter and Val and kids about 20 years or more ago, on our way to the north of the Kruger Park).

After stopping to fill up in Louis Trichardt, we made our way back on the Thohoyandou road to Levubu (the same road we had driven in the morning). We made our way to the dam at Muirhead reserve, not going further as it was too late to look for flufftails.

We then drove to Jacana Dam. It was very pretty, but there was no bird activity at all. From there we drove back to Levubu and passed the Post Office Tree (parrots are often there in the early morning or late evening – certainly not at the time we were there!). We took the back roads to Elim, looking constantly for blue-spotted wood-doves on the telephone wires – but we had no luck.

Back at the lodge we had a late, but light lunch and then spent the afternoon relaxing.

Dinner was the Shiluvari salad and creamed chicken with pasta and vegetables (we had eventually caught up to the couple there on our first night!). We skipped dessert again and then made sure that we charged all of our electronic devices and our battery power packs (as there is no electricity at our next stop).

Bird sightings: European bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, reed cormorant, pied crow, fork-tailed drongo, white-backed duck, Wahlberg’s eagle, western cattle egret, common fiscal, Egyptian goose, pygmy goose, helmeted guineafowl, grey heron, purple heron, African jacana, brown-hooded kingfisher, black-shouldered kite, bronze mannikins, broad-billed roller, woolly-necked stork, barn swallow, purple-crested turaco

Tuesday

We again both had a good night’s sleep. The morning was spent packing, having a leisurely breakfast and then taking a final walk in the garden to take photos of the lovely African art dotted all around.

We left Shiluvari just after 9am and made our way via the Albasini Dam Road to Louis Trichardt and then turning off onto the R36 towards Tzaneen.

Bird sightings: European bee-eater, yellow bishop, pied crow, hamerkop, bronze mannikin, common waxbill Mammal sightings: vervet monkey, nyala

Magoebaskloof 23-28 October 2018

Tuesday

We opted to take the R36 to Tzaneen so that we could stop at Modjadjiskloof and see the cycad reserve. We turned off into Modjadjiskloof and followed the signs. We were the “victims of racial profiling” when we were stopped by some traffic cops on a road out past Modjadjiskloof that we had turned onto (as per the signboards). The first question we were asked is where were we going – I am sure that this is why we were actually stopped; they couldn’t work out what we were doing there! They then checked Terry’s driver’s licence and sent us on our way. We asked how far it was to the reserve and none of them seemed to know.

We drove a little further and found a really old sign turning into an old, run-down road. We hadn’t seen a proper sign in ages. We decided that given that the cops didn’t know where the reserve was, perhaps we should turn around and get back to the R36.

At Tzaneen we turned onto the R71 and made our way to The Wheelbarrow, where we thought we would get some fruit, but there wasn’t much on offer. We did buy some bananas though. We did use the bathrooms though and also saw birds at their feeder – blue waxbills, bronze mannikins and magpie mannikins.

We made our way back to Tzaneen where we filled up at the Total garage and then took a road that we have not driven before – the R528 to Haenertsburg. We probably won’t drive it again in a hurry though as it was narrow, through passes and there were endless trucks that we kept getting stuck behind!

At Haenertsburg, we went to The Red Plate for lunch. We ordered from the light meal menu – I had a creamy mushroom and blue cheese burger and Terry had a steak, caramelized onion and Camembert open sandwich. I am not certain what was “light” about them – the portions were huge! We started by sitting at the tables outside, but eventually moved indoors where they even had the remnants of a fire going!

We then followed our directions and made our way via roads J and O to the road to Kurisa Moya. When we got to reception, Paul and David (both guides) greeted us. We watched a bird party moving through and then we followed Paul to the Forest Cabins. We were in No.1 – Bird Song.

After settling in, we sat on the veranda enjoying the forest surrounding us and its sounds. We moved inside just before 5pm as it was cold enough for us to climb under a blanket! I boiled the kettle for tea and the hot water bottle! Then we made rolls for the next day, before having a light supper. We slept under a duvet and the blanket and I used the hot water bottle – it is cold in the forest!

Bird sightings: Cape batis, pied crow, tambourine dove, sombre greenbul, yellow-bellied greenbul, bronze mannikin, magpie mannikin, red-backed mannikin, Cape robin-chat, blue waxbill, Cape white-eye, emerald-spotted wood-dove, olive woodpecker

Mammal sightings: bushbuck, samango monkey, vervet monkey

Wednesday

We were awake just after 5am, lying in bed listening to the bird chorus. It made for a leisurely start, as we only had to meet Paul in the car park at 7am.

We started our day’s birding by walking to the hide to look for Barratt’s warbler as Paul had heard them around there a couple of days before. He put some seed out and started playing the call, but they were obviously either not interested or not in the area. Instead, a chorister robin came down to eat some seed and then a lemon dove wandered out of the forest and we had a really beautiful view of it (much better than our first time!). Some forest canaries joined in the feast, and, not to be outdone, so did a cute little three-striped mouse. We also saw African firefinches and a much shyer tambourine dove.

We then made our way back past our cabin and onto the trails through the forest. We had a beautiful sighting of three black-backed puffbacks. One was obviously a female and the two males were displaying for her.

As we walked, we could hear a scaly-throated honeyguide calling from the forest canopy. We stopped and spent some time looking for it and were eventually rewarded with a good sighting. But it was hard work to find it first!

We then came across a pair of black-fronted bushshrikes and we could see them both clearly, noting the difference in breast color between the male and female. It was a better sighting than the one we had in May.

A female southern double-collared sunbird was collecting moss from some old man’s beard high up in a tree. The giveaway was the movement of the plant as she tugged at the bottom.

We had a couple of good sightings of red-chested cuckoo. The first bird sat still on a branch giving us a good chance to look at it through our binoculars. The next one was catching insects, flying from one branch to the next as it fed.

As we walked along the various paths, it was interesting to note the amount of bushpig dung of various ages lying on the path. Unfortunately that was all we saw of them!

We made our way back to the cabin at about 11am and stopped for a 30-minute break. We had a quick snack and then drove to reception to pick up Paul.

We drove onto the bushveld side of the farm looking for a honeybird. It is very territorial so playing its call usually brings it closer to check what is going on. We stopped in a couple of places and had no response, then we saw two birds flying high in the sky and Paul said that it was them, but that we wouldn’t get the response we wanted because the pair were flying together. We moved to a couple more places and again had no luck. We then went close to where we saw the two flying and tried again – and there is was. The brown-backed honeybird (L) flew and sat in a tree watching us. It looked just like a flycatcher and we both wondered how often it is overlooked.

We then left the farm and drove to road O, taking the turn off to Veekraal. We stopped next to a small dam and started looking for bush black cap. There was no sign of them but then a Barratt’s warbler (L) started calling. We wondered if this would be like May when we heard but didn’t see one. We spent some time though and could see it moving around in the bushes. It moves to quickly to get binoculars onto it but we both eventually managed a clear view of it with our eyes!

We tried a few other spots for bush blackcap but to no avail. Eventually we were all hot and tired, so we made our way back to Kurisa Moya and dropped Paul off at reception and stopped to greet the dogs – one yellow lab and three black (2 of which were about 1-year old).

Back at the cabin, I changed (I seemed to react to the smell of the tick spray we had sprayed on our clothes). We then had a late lunch of tuna salad and fried potatoes, sitting on the veranda.

Just after 6pm, I again made tea and filled hot water bottles (two this time). It was cold enough for us to have a light supper and climb under the covers. Terry first checked for bush-babies but there were none around.

Bird sightings: bar-throated apalis, yellow-breasted apalis, Cape batis, dark-capped bulbul, black-fronted bushshrike, forest canary, yellow-fronted canary, familiar chat, reed cormorant, African emerald cuckoo, red-chested cuckoo, black cuckooshrike, lemon dove, tambourine dove, square-tailed drongo, African firefinch, African dusky flycatcher, African paradise flycatcher, blue-mantled crested flycatcher, little grebe, sombre greenbul, yellow-streaked greenbul, brown-backed honeybird (L), scaly-throated honeyguide, red-backed mannikin, black-backed puffback, chorister robin, white-starred robin, black saw-wing, southern double-collared sunbird, olive thrush, Knysna turaco, Cape white-eye, Barratt’s warbler (L), yellow-throated woodland warbler, blue waxbill, emerald-spotted wood-dove, olive woodpecker

Mammal sightings: bushbuck, slender mongoose, samango monkey, vervet monkey, three-striped mouse

Thursday

After our long day the previous day we had both gone to sleep at 8:30pm and had a really good night’s sleep. We woke up early but, since bed was the warmest place, we opened the curtains and then lay in bed reading and doing puzzles. While we did a chorister robin popped up on our veranda – almost as if to say, “what are you doing”!

At about 8am we walked to the hide and Terry put some seed out. We saw similar birds to the previous morning, except there were also some swee waxbills. What was amazing though is the number of lemon doves that came out of the forest. When there were 7 of them, one of them kept chasing the others away from the seed. In fact, it also managed to give the mouse a fright – it jumped about 6 inches and then moved off. Eventually, we were watching 12 lemon doves and one lonely tambourine dove!

Once back at the cabin, we cleaned up and had a light breakfast. We spent the morning sitting on the veranda listening to birds (amongst others we could hear bee-eaters calling from above and a golden-tailed woodpecker from within the forest) and enjoying the peacefulness of the forest.

We made a lunch of leftover tuna salad and potatoes and then settled down to rest and read.

Just before 4pm we went back to the hide. We saw a lemon dove briefly but nothing else. After 30 minutes of no activity we decided to take a short walk in the forest rather. We followed the Twinspot trail and cut through on a path marked for our cabin.

We then sat on the veranda again. We saw a sombre greenbul eating berries from a bush along the path to the car park. Then two yellow-streaked greenbuls drank and bathed in a basin of water set into the ground at the bottom of the steps to the cabin. A lemon dove then came out of the forest (it is amazing how you can hear them moving around in the leaf litter on the forest floor) and crossed the path. Later on one came to drink from the water basin too. As it got darker we saw a chorister robin walking on the path and drinking some water.

It was definitely warmer than the previous two nights, but by 6pm we moved inside as we were feeling a little cool. Unfortunately the cabin gets virtually no sun due to the forest canopy. Sometimes we thought it was colder inside than outside, but at night the insects definitely meant inside was better!

Bird sightings: dark-capped bulbul, lemon dove, African firefinch, sombre greenbul, yellow-streaked greenbul, red-backed mannikin, chorister robin, swee waxbill, Cape white-eye

Mammal sightings: three-striped mouse

Friday

We had a leisurely morning before packing up and making our way out of Kurisa Moya just before 10am. Once we were out of the gate of the farm, we had cellphone reception so we sent our messages and made a few calls.

We turned onto Road O and then took the Dap Naude Dam turnoff. It took us through some timber plantations and through to the dam, which we could see from various points along the road. We then turned onto Forest Drive (a 4x4 road, but when dry we think high clearance would be enough). It was a lovely drive through the forest (we had driven it with Paul in May). This time, though, we took the time to stop at Debengeni Falls.

We walked to the falls (not far) and then made our way to the picnic area and the viewing platform over the cascades and rock pools lower down.

From there we made our way to Blueberry Estates where we had lunch at Mountain Café. We both ate crispy eisbein with blueberry chutney, apple and cucumber relish and garlicky potatoes. Terry had a slice of blueberry cheesecake this time and I had a cappuccino (stealing a few bites of his cheesecake). It was delicious.

At Kuhestan Farm we were greeted by Brett and two labs – one yellow and one black. He showed us through to Cottage 3 where we unpacked and then settled in on the veranda enjoying the gardens and Woodbush Forest beyond.

Bird sightings: dark-capped bulbul, red-chested cuckoo, black cuckooshrike, sombre greenbul, greater double-collared sunbird, mountain wagtail, olive woodpecker

Mammal sighting: samango monkey

Saturday

We went and sat on the veranda at about 6am, listening to the birds. Once I had finished my coffee though we moved back indoors as it was warmer! The forest air is definitely not for sissies!

We made breakfast out of the supplies that had been left in our cottage and fridge for us – homemade bread, butter, eggs, muesli, jam and fruit.

We then walked in the beautiful gardens, stopping to chat to Brett’s wife, Shahrzad, who was working in the garden. We walked through the azalea maze and down into the avocado plantation. We then cut across to the other side of the driveway to appreciate the formal gardens and walked down almost to the road.

From there we made our way to the showroom were we purchased some cordial, jams, pickles, raspberry vinegar and some avocados. We took these back to our cottage and then spent some time enjoying the peace of our veranda.

We drove through to Haenertsburg for lunch at The Eatery. It was nice (I had chilli con carne and Terry had a pork and fennel pie) but it is definitely trying to emulate fancy restaurants in big towns rather than the good home-style-type cooking that one expects in a small town.

Afterwards we went to Exotic Ice Cream and had ice cream scoops in a bowl. Terry had caramel and I had Turkish delight. But first we watched someone else taste the wasabi and jalapeno ice creams. They begged off the garlic one and then settled on something more normal! We sat at a table outside to eat our ice cream. Mainly as the person before us had ordered Messy milkshakes for her companions and we were keen to see what they looked like. We asked permission to take photos, as no one would believe us otherwise! They even came with take-away boxes.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing back at our cottage.

Bird sightings: forest canary, greater double-collared sunbird, olive thrush

Mammal sightings: slender mongoose, samango monkey

Sunday

We were awake early but we were in no rush. However, we did jump out of bed and go outside when we heard parrots screeching. There were about 5 or 6 Cape parrots. They flew over our cottage and then settled in the top of a blue gum tree behind the cottages.

We breakfasted on eggs and homemade bread again, followed by yoghurt.

We then packed up everything and checked out. We were on the road just after 9:30am and arrived home about 4 hours later.

All in all, we had enjoyed our trip and were very thankful for our 7 lifers (5 – Soutpansberg and 2 – Magoebaskloof). Since this is our last dedicated birding trip for the year, we will probably only have the opportunity to increase our bird count in 2019 again.

Bird sightings: pied crow, Cape parrot

Total Bird List

1. Bar-throated apalis

2. Yellow-breasted apalis

3. Black-collared barbet

4. Cape batis

5. European bee-eater

6. White-fronted bee-eater

7. Yellow bishop

8. Dark-capped bulbul

9. Black-fronted bushshrike

10. Forest canary

11. Yellow-fronted canary

12. Familiar chat

13. Reed cormorant

14. White-breasted cormorant

15. Reed cormorant

16. Black crake

17. Pied crow

18. African emerald cuckoo

19. Red-chested cuckoo

20. Black cuckooshrike

21. African darter

22. Lemon dove

23. Tambourine dove

24. Fork-tailed drongo

25. Square-tailed drongo

26. White-backed duck

27. White-faced duck

28. African fish eagle

29. Long-crested eagle

30. Wahlberg’s eagle

31. Western cattle egret

32. African firefinch

33. Common fiscal

34. Buff-spotted flufftail (L)

35. African dusky flycatcher

36. African paradise flycatcher

37. Ashy flycatcher

38. Blue-mantled crested flycatcher

39. Southern black flycatcher

40. Allen’s gallinule (L)

41. Egyptian goose

42. Pygmy goose

43. Dark chanting goshawk

44. Little grebe

45. Sombre greenbul

46. Yellow-bellied greenbul

47. Yellow-streaked greenbul

48. Crested guineafowl

49. Helmeted guineafowl

50. Hamerkop

51. Grey heron

52. Purple heron

53. Brown-backed honeybird (L)

54. Scaly-throated honeyguide

55. Hadeda ibis

56. African jacana

57. Brown-hooded kingfisher

58. Giant kingfisher

59. Pied kingfisher

60. Black-shouldered kite

61. African wattled lapwing

62. Blacksmith lapwing

63. Yellow-throated longclaw

64. Bronze mannikin

65. Magpie mannikin

66. Red-backed mannikin

67. Common moorhen

68. White-backed night-heron

69. Ostrich

70. Greater painted-snipe (L)

71. Cape parrot

72. Three-banded plover

73. Black-backed puffback

74. Chorister robin

75. White-starred robin

76. Cape robin-chat

77. Broad-billed roller

78. Black saw-wing

79. Woolly-necked stork

80. Greater double-collared sunbird

81. Southern double-collared sunbird

82. White-bellied sunbird

83. Scarlet-chested sunbird

84. Barn swallow

85. Wire-tailed swallow

86. African swamphen

87. African palm swift

88. Horus swift

89. Olive thrush

90. Knysna turaco

91. Purple-crested turaco

92. Mountain wagtail

93. Pied wagtail

94. Barratt’s warbler (L)

95. Great reed warbler (L)

96. Lesser swamp warbler

97. Little rush warbler

98. Yellow-throated woodland warbler

99. Blue waxbill

100. Common waxbill

101. Swee waxbill

102. African golden weaver

103. Cape white-eye

104. Blue-spotted wood-dove (L)

105. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

106. Olive woodpecker