Zululand and the Kruger – Part 5

Punda Maria and Pafuri 4 to 9 November

Paul And Sally Bartho

After leaving Tsendze we headed north to Punda Maria via Shingwedzi. Here we had our first bit of excitement – though not the sort which I find enjoyable.  We had just turned onto the road to Shingwedzi when we spotted a small herd of elephants with young well ahead of us. I stop immediately. You definitely don’t want to have to reverse quickly towing a trailer.

They keep crossing the road but one or two linger – the naughty young ones of course. After a while several cars passed us and we watched as they crawled passed the elephants. Getting a bit more courage I too amble forward slowly. As I start to go passed one of the youngsters decided that he would have a bit of fun at our expense and blew his little trumpet and came for us. My foot was ahead of him and well to the floor on the accelerator! We got through but not without an adrenalin rush.

On the way from Shingwedzi we bumped into an immature Bataleur on the road devouring his meal oblivious to us. Sad day for the Burchell’s Coucal.

Bataleur - juvenile. And the remains of a Burchell's Coucal.
Bataleur – juvenile. And the remains of a Burchell’s Coucal.

Then it was on to Punda Maria. Despite our five nights at Punda we were disappointed with the variety of species seen in the area – specifically at Pafuri. Klopperfontein Drift and the road to Pafuri was also quiet. However we enjoyed the Mahonie loop around the camp especially on the Sunset drive when we had one of those special moments.

We spent two mornings in the Pafuri area but found few of their specials. All of the following eluded us – not that we expected to see them all: both Spinetails; Dickinson’s Kestrel; Arnot’s Chat; Pel’s Fishing Owl; Senegal Lapwing; Grey-backed Cameroptera; Thick-billed Cuckoo; Racket-tailed Roller; Lemon-breasted Canary; Green-backed Eromomela. However we did hear a Tropical Boubou and a number of White-crowned Lapwings.

White-crowned Lapwing showing its spurs
White-crowned Lapwing showing its spurs

Definitely our worst sighting there occurred on our first visit at the turn-off towards the picnic site. Three Common Mynahs.

We did have a couple of better moments when we observed what appeared to be an acrobatic duel between two raptors. They eventually perched in the same tree. One was an adult African Hawk-Eagle – very black and white. The other was rufous. Checking our books we realised it was a juvenile of the same species.

The other bit of interest at Pafuri was in the campsite. We noticed two Red-chested Cuckoos flying around together. One was obviously a juvenile as its bib was only just starting to show. So what was this all about? Especially as juveniles are not looked after my their natural parents but by a host bird. One explanation was that the juvenile was a female and they were courting. Could there be another?

Our first sighting of a Red-backed Shrike occurred here. One of only 3 we saw in the park. The other two in Balule and Skukuza.

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike

Some of the other sightings we had in the Pafuri area included:

We trawled the road to Pafuri for Arnot’s Chat and Dickenson’s Kestrel without luck.

In total we saw 115 different species in the Pafuri area.

Most of our time birding in the Punda Maria area occurred on the Mahonie Loop.

On our first morning as we went clockwise around the Mahonie Loop, we had another of those unexpected unwanted moments. Being charged by an adult elephant in musth.

It appeared to be minding its own business munching away some 100 metres from the road. We crawled along and before we could pass he suddenly turned and raced towards us – with intent it seemed. Flat out we raced away. After less than a kilometre our road was totally blocked by a fallen tree. The signs of the elephant were there – his doing. There was no way I was going back. After sorting out the rather thorny vegetation and shifting some large rocks we were eventually able to get round the obstruction.

Further along we had a number of pleasant raptor sightings including African Hawk-Eagles camouflaged in the trees above us as well as a tagged Cape Vulture.

Hairstyles caught our attention on these two birds: An African Paradise-Flycatcher and a Brown Snake-Eagle:

Along with a number of other birds seen on the different days on the loop and in the camp:

In the camp, near the office, we had good views of four different Robins – Bearded Scrub-Robin, White-browed Scrub-Robin, White-browed Robin-Chat and White-throated Robin-Chat

The highlight of our whole trip was the spectacle we had on the Sunset drive around the Mahonie Loop. This is something which all birders should see at least once in their lifetime. We were taken to a donga, alighted from the vehicle and told to sit quietly in the donga. Then as dusk arrived close to 18h30 four birds appeared – a female and three calling males. They flew all around us sometimes as close as three metres above our heads. On occasion they settled on the ground. What a fantastic way to see Pennant-winged Nightjars with their long streamers. I apologise to the photographic purists for the following photos but I did not have a flash. However these photos, to me, capture the mystical magic of the Pennant-winged Nightjar.

Total sightings in and around Punda Maria was 136 different species.

And then it was the start of our journey south – first to Shingwedzi. See Part 6.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah Burns says:


  2. No we did not walk the Flycatcher Trail – to we thought about it to look for the Freckled Nightjar. I think knees and hips were the main reason for not going!

  3. de Wets Wild says:

    So jealous about your fabulous nightjar sighting!

    Did you walk the flycathcer trail in Punda Maria?

    The elephants up north are something else hey!?

Leave a Reply