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Hazyview and Kruger Park
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Hazyview and Kruger Park
Thursday, 21 June 2007 20:04
Written by Neil Gray

21 June 2007. Got back last Friday from a weekend in Hazyview followed by four nights at Mopani Camp in the Kruger Park, with a trip list of 189, not too shabby for mid-winter.

The Hazyview weekend turned up a few unexpected "goodies", with Grey Cuckooshrike, Mountain Wagtail, Black Saw-wing, Red-backed Mannikin, Lesser Honeyguide and an amazing number of Ashy Flycatcher prominent among these. I saw more Saw-wings here over the Sabie River at one time than I have seen in all previous sightings of this one put together. Just two walks of only 500m along the riverside track at the resort chalked up 41 species! The pair of Mountain Wagtail was seen at the resort on rocks in the middle of the Sabie River just 2 hours after I had seen another pair on rocks in the Blyde River on the Vaalhoek road out of Pilgrim's Rest! A combination of Hazyview and God's Window turned up seven different sunbird species within 2 hours - Collared, Amethyst, Marico, Greater Double-collared, Southern Double-collared, White-bellied and Malachite.

The highlight was the sighting just a few minutes after dawn on the Saturday morning of a medium-sized raptor that swooped through the trees in front of my chalet and disappeared into the forest on the far bank of the river, leaving me with a feeling that this was "something special". I did not get a good look at it, noting that it had been uniformly dark seeing it from above, had a longish tail and put me in mind of a large falcon, and hoped I would see it again. Well, the following morning at about the same time, there was a repeat performance, with the bird gliding past below me through the trees. It did not seem to flap its wings at all. This time I confirmed the uniform dark (black or brown I could'nt tell) colour of the upper parts and noted very sharply tapering wings. At about 4:30pm on the Sunday afternoon (sunset 5:10pm) as I was on the river path, the same(?) bird swooped across the Sabie River from out of the large trees on the resort side and shot up into the thick canopy of the 10-15m high creeper-festooned trees of the indigenous forest on the other bank. Within a few minutes a call began emanating from that part of the canopy, a rather high-pitched single note about 2 per second for perhaps 5 seconds, then repeating after 10-20 second intervals. This would be interrupted every now and then by a raucous squawking for 5-10 seconds. I got the impression that there might have been a pair with call and answer some 10-15m apart. I waited until it was too gloomy to see anything more but it did not re-appear. On returning to my chalet I searched my books for likely candidates and played their calls from the Roberts Multimedia CD. I was really surprised to see that the call almost certainly belongs to a Bat Hawk! I've since had confirmation that there is a Bat Hawk seen on regular basis at that spot.

As for the Kruger leg of the trip I was surprised to see both Grey-backed Sparrowlark and Larklike Bunting south of Balule, as I was certain that this was out of range for these species. The latter birds were on their own in a group of +/-10. The following day I picked up more Larklike Bunting just north of Letaba, again in a small group. The day after that I watched a mixed group drinking at the Malopenyana waterhole about 15km north of Letaba. The group comprised +/- 200 Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, +/- 100 Red-billed Quelea, +/- 50 Larklike Bunting, about 20 Red-headed Finch (also a rarity for the Kruger), half a dozen African Quailfinch and a few Yellow-fronted Canary. The birds perched on all available low bush space around the waterhole and came down to drink 20-30 at a time. Later that same day I came across yet more Larklike Bunting (+/- 50) in company with well over 100 Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark. It seems that due to the dry conditions there has been a Larklike Bunting irruption into the Lowveld. It also struck me as unusual to see such large flocks of Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, perhaps also a response to very dry conditions.

Senegal Lapwing made my list for my fourth succesive Kruger trip - definitely seems a lot more abundant recently (or maybe I'm just more observant!), while another bird that seemed unusually widespread was Brown-headed Parrot, seen and/or heard at numerous spots from Pretoriuskop (during the Hazyview weekend) all the way up to Crooke's Corner.

For those that might not have been to Stapelkop Dam, a 20km drive due west of Mopani Camp, fit it into your itinerary next time you are in that part of the Park. During the summer months you have a good chance of seeing Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole there. One certain tick at any time of year for those that might require this lifer is the Mosque Swallow. There is a resident group that roosts on one of the big dead trees in the middle of the dam, right next to a tree in which a Fish Eagle was building a nest. Drive straight there from Mopani as the camp gates open and you might catch them still roosting in the tree, but as soon as the first sun's rays strike the surface of the dam the swallows begin darting above the water catching insects. I was fortunate on this trip to also get a good view of the nomadic Greater Painted Snipe - a female.

Don't ignore the short Mopani in-camp trail starting below the lookout at the cafeteria. In a matter of 45 minutes I chalked up Yellow-breasted Apalis, Chinspot Batis, Long-billed Crombec, Green-backed Camaroptera, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Shikra, Common Waxbill, Blue Waxbill, Red-billed and African Firefinch, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Yellow-billed Oxpecker (on a pair of buffalo just outside the fence), Red-faced Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia and numerous waterbirds, including my first ever Kruger Park Squacco Heron (also I am told not a common bird in the Park).

Neil Gray

Last Updated ( Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:01 )