March 20, 2012

COURSE REPORT: OF BIRDS AND BEASTS - MAKULEKE, 20 MARCH 2012


MOON RISING OVER CROOKS CORNER

If excitement was the name of the game, then the basic birding course at the beginning of the month at EcoTraining’s wilderness camp in the Makuleke concession in the north of the Kruger National Park, can justly be called that! And not only for the birders, but for the big game enthusiasts as well.

Instructor Brian Kelly tells more:

Our first drive produced a superb sighting of one of the Pafuri specials, lemon-breasted canary, which was busy singing its little heart out from atop a lala palm.  Minutes later, while watching a huge flock of barn swallows gathering over the Makwadzi floodplain during our first evening's sundowners, some rustling in the palms turned out to be a herd of buffalo.  Turning our attention toward them, 40 meters away, a two minute stare down ensued before the buffalo decided to change their plan and move off.

Our first day turned out to be a foreshadowing of the week to come.  It seemed as if our special bird sightings were each accompanied by a special large mammal sighting.  After spotting grey-headed parrots at Palm Spring, a short walk to the Luvuvhu River produced a 5-star sighting of a majestic bull elephant with a pair of formidable tusks drinking from the river and then crossing in front of us.

BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER
After a night drive highlighted by our first look at a three-banded courser, we were about to sit down for dinner when we heard a lion roaring just outside of camp.  We abandoned our burgers, hopped into the Land Rover, and went out looking for it.  It was a lone lioness and she called several more times while walking past the camp, attracting the attention of several spotted hyenas. 

Continuing a feud as old as time, three hyenas came looking for her and found her, while five more circled around behind.  She held her ground until the hyenas attacked, and then she let out a ferocious snarl and swiped at one of them before running for the nearest nyala tree.  The hyenas followed in pursuit and stalked around the tree. 

Meanwhile, the troop of baboons that happened to be in the same tree got the fright of their lives and simultaneously let out a raucous series of barks while the hyenas whooped to call in reinforcements. 

The next morning, tracks showed that two male lions eventually joined the fray, probably dispersing the hyenas, allowing the lioness to come down.  

But the thrills were not over for the birders.  A 30 minute viewing of the holy grail of birding, Pel's fishing owl, perched in the open and fishing in the Luvuvhu River, was certainly the highlight of the course.

PEL'S FISHING OWL

Our two separate sightings of racket-tail rollers could have been the highlight of any ‘normal’ course.  A lovely view of the elusive gorgeous bush-shrike calling was also worthy of mention. 

All in all, it was a spectacular week of birding with the added bonus of some high quality big game viewing – Makuleke at its finest!

(Thank you Brian for the photos!)
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