Go Birding

“Could you please show us some birds” is not a phrase I hear too often when heading out with guests on safari.

With a country as diverse as South Africa, shouldn’t a day out in nature include a little more than the request to see the Big 5 or the larger mammals? 

With an abundance of protected biodiversity areas and over 900+ species to be found around the country, there are many species to seek out from amateurs to serious enthusiasts alike.

One does not always have to head out to large game reserves to enjoy this growing hobby. A simple stroll through a green area, mountain, riverine or a slow walk along the beach front could spark an interest in birding. You could even start by creating a feeding station and waterhole in your own backyard.

Besides viewing the copious amount of shapes and colours on offer, there are many interesting birding behaviours to be observed. The male Red Crested Korhaan will fly straight into the air and plummet back towards the ground only to open its wings at the last moment to potentially woo a female. The Bearded Woodpecker has a barbed tongue in order to remove larvae from holes in trees. The Green-backed Heron uses insects as lures to catch fish along shallow water edges. Lapwings will feign injured wings in order to distract predators away from its exposed ground nests.

Birding has become relatively easy with the help of technology and apps for your smartphone by helping you to quickly identify birds by shape, distribution & habitat maps and even the recordings of their calls.

I’ve collected a few photos while spending some time at a small waterhole close to home over the last two months.

Many birds can also be enjoyed en route to Big five and other larger mammal sightings.

Even moving around a campsite can allow some time for birding.

The night does not exclude birding activities. I am fortunate to have two African Barred Owlets that roost above my room at night.

With nature conservation awareness growing ever stronger, birding is no longer just a past time activity or hobby for the aged. 


​Coming in strong

Understading animal movements and behaviours can provide you with exceptionally rewarding sightings. This was the case for me this week.
I stumbled on some lionesses and cubs walking hastily down a road towards me. They were still a fair distance away from me. I anticipated their intended direction and headed back to reposition. I decided to position myself off the road, further back and parallel to their movement. As I stood waiting I saw two giraffe standing close to me. One of the lionesses increased her movement to a trot. 

I assumed that she saw the giraffe too. As she approached, a troop of baboons in the trees above saw her and started alarm calling frantically. The giraffe immediately noticed the lioness and ran for cover.

The female failed and ceased the hunt. She continued along the path in the same direction, followed by the rest of the pride.

I followed behind the pride and a little way down the road they side stepped into the bush. I drove further ahead and stopped near an opening in the thicket. Without waiting too long I saw the first female appear through the thicket. The rest followed.

These lions were on a mission and I could see that they were in no way going to stop or change their course. Ahead of me was a large cutline and alongside it was a spacious opening in the thicket. Without a doubt the lions would head for that opening and then cross the cutline to their destination.

I wasted no time and moved well ahead of the felines, anticipating their approach. This minor calculation paid off and sooner than later all the lions emerged from the block and aproached me head on. One by one they walked straight towards me and then veered off at the last moment to continue their journey. 

It was an incredible moment. The feeling felt from watching each lion stare me down before considering their movement past me is beyond words.

Tuck in

Escaping economics, even in the bush, is impossible. Supply and demand will inevitably even itself out especially when lions are involved.

Although waterholes support a great diversity of life forms and act as points where animals congregate, they also serve as easy pickings for predators. This was the case recently when I approached a little waterhole.

Lions Feeding-1

Instead of finding general game drinking water and then casually moving off, I found a lioness moving closer to the water. As I turned the corner I was greeted with an incredible sighting.

Lions Feeding-2Lions Feeding-3

Lions had killed a zebra and had tucked heavily into the carcass. There wasn’t much left by the time I arrived. There were two females and some cubs finishing off the remains of the unsuspecting animal.

Lion's shareLions Feeding-5

The cubs wasted no time and ensured that they too get their lion’s share of meat. One of the little ones took full advantage of his share (and possibly its siblings share). Its belly was so swollen that rolling over and lazing about in the sun was the only order for the day.

Lion's Feeding-6

​A lovers’ embrace

Scaly, leathery and prehistoric is one of many words that one might like to use to describe a reptile. The lowly Water Monitor is no exception to this description.
After spending an exhilarating 6 months in the Lowveld bush preparing to be a ranger, I have finally started working at Karongwe Private Game Reserve. Amongst the innumerable fun filled activities that come with being a ranger, I too enjoy some time off. This is often spent sitting, appreciating the sounds and silence, at a little waterhole close to my camp.

By now I have realised and firmly believe that patience is a virtue.

One afternoon I headed down to my oasis. After not waiting too long, I heard a soft rustle in the bushes that cover the northern waters edge. Out of the coverage a water monitor emerged. 

Not only did she reveal herself, but she also carried with her a passenger. I have not had a lot of experience with these reptiles yet and thought this behavior to be strange. The smaller lizard made a concerted effort not to dismount the larger female as she moved around.

After moving sluggishly for approximately a meter, the female ceased movement. By watching the insistent behaviour of the male, I surmised that they were about to mate. 

The male shifted his position atop his companion. In one swift motion he instinctively whipped her tail sideways with his. What ensued seemed like the makings of a lovers’ embrace. However, judging the relationship carefully it seemed as if all the effort and gusto he had put into the activity was in vein. She simply lay there, counting down the minutes until she could peacefully bask in the sun.

Soon afterwards they dismounted. He proceeded to enjoy a lengthy swim while she continued, not surprisingly, to laze around in the afternoon sun.

An easy meal

Winter is quickly approaching and life in the bush responds to the change in season.

I had some quiet time one afternoon last week. A few friends and I casually sat outside soaking up the last bit of sunshine that the season had to offer. Then one of them heard some rustling in the fallen leaves next to our sleeping quarters.

Having spent a fair amount of time in the bush by now, I’ve become more attuned to my surroundings. Leaves don’t simply rustle on a windless day so we had to go investigate the unbefitting sound.

As we approached the scene we saw the culprit. It was a Spotted Bush Snake and it quickly scaled up a little Buffalo Thorn tree. On closer inspection, it had caught a frog.


We are still getting some late season rains in the Lowveld and as a result the frogs are all over the show. I seem to have a fair amount Foam Nest Frogs around my room. The snakes are trying to stock up before winter comes in full swing.


What I love most about Spotted Bush Snakes is their placid nature. Even with its kill, this little serpentine did not seem to mind having us around. It’s biggest concern seemed to be navigating through the Buffalo Thorn. The soft skin of the frog kept getting stuck in the thorns as the snake moved higher up the tree.

Open Wide

It was truly fascinating watching a snake swallow live prey. Not using limbs to handle your meal must be challenging. Even more so when your meal is kicking back at you. This snake did what snakes do best and devoured its meal without any effort.


Nandzana Leopard

Whilst thoroughly enjoying the bush life and all the spectacular events that have taken place, there was still one animal that has evaded me each time I head off into the bush. I’ve seen a couple of tracks, heard calls outside my room and even missed sightings by mere seconds.

I recently visited Kruger National Park and entered in at the Phalaborwa gate. It had been raining the morning so I wasn’t all too sure what effect the rain would have on the morning’s sightings. My goal for the morning was to bumble along from Phalaborwa up to Mopane Rest Camp. I spent about 30 minutes driving in the park and I had not seen one animal. Even the birding was off to a slow start.

Soon after that I crossed paths with the first vehicle coming down from the opposite direction. We both stopped and had a quick chat. I asked if they had seen anything close by and their faces lit up. This immediately got me excited.

The driver whipped out her phone and showed me pic of an elegant leopard sitting on top of a road sign not too far away. She said that this leopard was so relaxed and basically just posing for photos. I thanked her for the heads up and proceeded to the waterhole where the cat was seen. I approached with caution as this was going to be my long awaited, first leopard sighting. I was not going to spook it off and miss this sighting.

I neared the area and scanned it thoroughly. Just my luck. No sign of a cat at the road sign. Nothing in the trees. Nothing underneath or behind the fallen trees. No movement at the two waterholes. No paw prints in the morning sand. Obviously this leopard was going to elude me.

Very despondent, I left the area and proceeded with my journey. I looked at the map and noticed a few more waterholes dotted along a river. I eventually arrived at the Nandzana waterhole turnoff and wondered if I should make a turn there. About 100 meters further I saw a car positioned on the bridge overlooking the riverbed. A camera was sticking out from the window. This assured me that something interesting was lurking in the riverbed. I skipped the waterhole turnoff and approached the vehicle. I kindly asked what they were viewing. “Leopard” they responded.

I couldn’t believe it. “Why does everyone get to see leopards but me” I thought. They told me it was in the dry river bed, but moved up the bank to behind a termite mound. I reversed to get a better look. I couldn’t see anything. Then I thought, “The leopard went to the waterhole”.

I reversed yet again and made my way to the waterhole along a gravel road. As I turned the last corner leading to the water, the most beautiful creature lay waiting to greet me.

Nandzana Leopard-1

In the open, at the edge of the waterhole, a leopard was relaxing in all her glory. There was only one more vehicle already enjoying the sighting. I could hardly contain my excitement. I managed to get one picture and then she got up and walked straight towards me as if to come greet me. The feline moved past our cars and paused in the road as if she was showing off for me.

Nandzana Leopard-2Nandzana Leopard-3

If there was ever a leopard that I wanted to see it was without a doubt this one. She was relatively small, very feminine and just an absolute stunner. Apparently she had been wandering around Nandzana waterhole that whole week. It was as if she was waiting just for me to arrive.

After moving off the road she made her way to a grassy patch. A few more cars had arrived at the sighting by this time. The leopard decided that her pageant was over. She got up and started moving off. Before disappearing into the thicket she stopped and looked back as if to say goodbye one last time.

Nandzana Leopard

The Separation

Breaking the news that there’s a male lion in the area often creates pandemonium in a game reserve. To me it is almost more interesting watching the people’s various reactions and responses to the sighting than the sighting itself.

I had spent a morning game drive searching for lions and eventually found a pride sleeping under a tree. I knew they would most likely still be there by the time evening game drive arrived. Sure enough, they were still sleeping, under the same tree.

Not too long after arriving at the sleepy felines, a roar of a male lion was heard about 1km further down the road close to a waterhole. We made our way in that direction and were the first vehicle to respond. We searched around the waterhole and eventually saw the cat bolt from the bushes. We followed him and found him resting under a relatively thick bush.

The sighting was called in and another vehicle responded. Knowing that the lion came from the waterhole allowed us to be patient as we knew he would most likely head back there for a drink.

In came the other vehicle. Without regard for us and our sighting (which we gladly shared), it came crashing through the bushes. As if the lion was going to bolt again. It was puzzling to see that they were satisfied with the worst sighting of this apex predator. Soon after arriving, they pulled out and disappeared. I wondered why they had come there in the first place. Not even 5 minutes later, the lion started moving. It got up, made its way past our vehicle and headed back in the direction of the waterhole.

We turned around and made our way to the opposite side of the waterhole where we were sure he would arrive shortly.

Our patience had paid off. In stumbled a very thirsty lion as the sun had started to set. Once again we were the only vehicle at the sighting. The light had started to turn a soft, golden hue and the heat of the day started to subside.


This male lion must have been without water for some time as he spent close to 10 minutes just lapping up water and staring our way. The wait was well worth it and I wouldn’t have traded off any other potential sighting for this one.


Staring into the eyes of a lion, even if it is separated by a body of water, is an incredible experience. It just boggles my mind that some would pass up such a great opportunity.