Punda 7-8th Feb

Punda 7-8th Feb

Thursday, 7th February

There is a light drizzle today as we set off to the Luvuvhu River. I am specifically after the Racket-tailed Roller, the Three-banded Courser and the Lemon-breasted Canary.

I have been told that the Roller has been seen about halfway between the Luvuvhu and the Pafuri Gate in the mopane forest. I must say that the word mopane conjures up pictures of dense three meter high seemly impenetrable forest – not my favourite at all. Large mopane trees, however, are very attractive and this mopane forest on the Pafuri road has high trees beautifully spaced out. I try my bird caller for quite a distance along the road but to no avail. Nothing stirs.

We get back to the bridge in time to meet a bakkie load of birders (twitchers) who are on a ten day bird count together with a very friendly and helpful guide.

It must be said that there are a large number of birding groups active in the Park at present – this being peak season for migratory and other birds. We search along the open grassy floodplain but no Courser. These very beautiful birds are largely nocturnal and only found in the far north of Kruger so to find one would be something special. No luck and the Canary too is lying low. So a little deflated we return to Punda – but that is Kruger. Win some, lose some.

This afternoon I go out along the gravel road (S60) that cuts across towards Luvuvhu. The ‘twitchers’ have told me that they saw an Arnot’s Chat and a Thick-billed Cuckoo here this morning but the wind is blowing quite strongly from the southeast and I again draw a blank. Back to camp and try again tomorrow.

Friday, 8th February

We are the first and only car at what passes for a gate at 5.30am. Again a cool wind is bringing up cloud from the south. The months January/February should come with maximum Kruger heat but throughout the time we have been here it has been cool and pleasant.

Punda Maria Gate

Today we are going to do the 25Km Mahonie Loop around Punda anticlockwise. Please remember that this part of the Park is primarily for birders and likely sightings of the Big 5 are restricted to buffalo and ellies. Anything beyond that is bonus.

Rubbing Stump next to a wallow

We crawl down into the well wooded valley behind Punda so attractive in the odd shafts of morning sun. The soil is typically a reddish sand.

Breakfast under a Sycamore but absolutely nothing to get excited about.

No sign of our ‘rogue’ ellie today but we keep on the alert. I wonder if he takes exception to the shape of the Quantum which is similar in roundness and colour to a young ellie. No other reports of charges have come in and I wonder how tourists and those less experienced with ellies would have coped with Wednesday’s charge. 

We complete the loop road by 9am and decide to go out along the gravel road (S60) towards Pafuri looking for the Arnot’s Chat and the Thick-billed Cuckoo. No luck again.

S60 Gravel Road to Pafuri

Readers must bear with me here because this far north of the Park in summer hosts some special birds that are not to be found elsewhere. I must therefore make the most of the opportunity but it is difficult. On my specials list are: Racket-tailed Roller, Three-banded Courser, Lemon-breasted Canary, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Arnot’s Chat,  

We have the most wonderful campsite at Punda and all day ellies and buffalo are coming in to drink. At one point something spooks a big herd of ellies and they stampede off into the bush with one tripping and struggling on the ground.

This afternoon I go out after the Arnot’s Chat again on the S60 but after discovering that the battery on my camera has run down for some reason, I return to camp early. That Punda is real bird country is shown at the petrol bowser where a friendly, elderly lady assistant asks how my birding is going. Rather taken aback I tell her that I have had a bad two days. She asks what I would like to see and hearing that it is the Arnot’s Chat she recommends that I go to the tall mopanes. As some final advice she says that I must “be patient” and waves me goodbye. That’s one for the blog.

We top up with groceries at The Park Shop which, considering how small is Punda, is remarkably well stocked. After the chaos of past years it really is gratifying that, through Tindhlovu restaurants and The Park Shop, Kruger has finally got their act together.

The lady at the petrol pump is quite right and I will persevere tomorrow and go down early to the Luvuvhu River. As always, one is filled with anticipation for the new day in Kruger.