Up already? The owls and nightjars are still calling! Though I can also hear the first early-risers in the dawn chorus. Since we’re both awake, why don’t we go for a birding walk through the camp? I’ll leave a note to tell the other folks that we’ve gone birding.

Read along:

Good morning! You’re up early – it’s still dark! Yeah, me too. There’s nothing quite as exciting as the first morning at a new birding site is there? It’s still way too early to see any birds. But we can hear some stuff. African Scops Owl – that prurp every few seconds. And a Spotted Hyena in the background. Some distant fruit bats. Oh, Fiery-necked Nightjar, nice! To me it sounds like it says “No, call, is prettier!”. And I think that’s a Lesser Bushbaby chattering over there. It sounds concerned about something. Hey! Something just flew into this tree right in front of us. No, I don’t know, I just saw a black shape. Wait, it’s calling…African Barred Owlet! Lekker!

The sun is just starting to peek over the horizon. You know, since we’re both up already, why don’t we go for a short birding walk before the rest of the people wake up? The camp is still nice and quiet, and I’m sure there will be loads of birds to see. Let me just scribble a note for the other folks…

Gone birding. Meet at restaurant at… I dunno, 07:30? …at 07:30.

Great. Let’s go!

Mmm, it smells great out here in the bush doesn’t it? The air is still nice and cool – I’m sure it’s going to be a scorcher later today. And the dawn chorus is in full swing. Let’s stop for a moment and listen. Ah! Crested Francolin! That’s a duet between the male and the female. Francolins and spurfowl are the alarm clocks of the bush – often the very first birds you hear every day. And the last ones you hear at sunset! And hear that singing? Yes, that’s right. Kurrichane Thrush. There he is! Halfway along that thick branch there. Yes, it’s against the light unfortunately. But you can still see those thick black malar stripes. Sunrise is stunning hey? Oh, there’s another early riser singing: a White-browed Scrub Robin.

Oh yes! I hear him! What an awesome sound! When I hear the first Woodland Kingfisher it feels like summer has officially arrived. And actually, I can hear another summer visitor. But much further, in that direction? Hear it? I’m, so, siiiicck. I’m, so, siiiicck. Black Cuckoo. That’s a male advertising to females. Once she is fertilised she will dump her egg in the nest of her host; around here, probably a Southern Boubou.

There are some things bouncing around in that flowerbed there, under those shrubs. Recognise those? Yes! Arrow-marked Babbler. I love these guys – always squabbling and chattering. Just like a human family. I like their Afrikaans name, katlagter – cat laugher. They can sound a bit like Green Woodhoopoes actually. I always think that babblers laugh, but woodhoopoes giggle.

There’s something smaller on the ground behind them. Oh! Blue Waxbills. Yes, there they are. What cuties! Oh, and there are some Yellow-fronted Canaries alongside them too. Yes, you can hear their calls. And I can hear something else…hear that pwit, pwit, pwit? That’s the call of a Green-winged Pytilia. I can’t see him though. He must be in that thicker, overgrown shrub behind the other seed-eaters. Oh, up they go. Birds in flocks are always extra nervous. Now the canary is singing from that high twig there. See him? At about 11:00 in the tree. 

You know what the best thing about birds is? Ha, yeah that too. But what I was talking about is that they are everywhere! When people come here to Kruger National Park they usually focus on spotting animals when they’re driving around. But you don’t even have to go out of camp to see fantastic birds! And of course the big advantage is that you can walk around in the camp. It can be quite frustrating to try and bird from a car, especially if you can hear something exciting calling in the distance!

The other cool thing is that the birds in camp are often kinda used to people, so you can get really good views and photos. Just look at that Scarlet-chested Sunbird posing on that aloe. What a beauty! What? Oh yes, I can see that smaller sunbird. Mmm, it’s a female, so they’re pretty tough to ID. But I think that’s a White-bellied Sunbird. Yes, there’s a male too! They’re loving the nectar from these aloes. Haha, yes. But I guess you wouldn’t be able to still too if you only drank sugar-water all day!

Oh listen! Brown-headed Parrots! Come, let’s go closer! Can you see them? Uhm, there! There are two clambering around those pods there. Just left of that gap in the canopy. Got them? And there’s something flying around in the sky behind them. No, no I can see that raptor in the distance – looks like a White-backed Vulture. But this was a swallow or swift of some sort. Uhm, there. Just about to reach that pinkish orange cloud. You can hear him! Lesser Striped Swallow. Their song always reminds me of a toy robot or something. And something else flying towards us. See that? Flapping and then those smooth glides? Ah! Red-billed Oxpeckers! When you’re walking in the bush, it’s a good idea to keep that call in mind! It will warn you that there are animals nearby.

What do you think? Should we head over to the swimming pool area? It looked like there were some nice thickets around there. Okay? Okay. Here we go. This looks like a great spot for leaf-gleaners. Mmm? Leaf-gleaners? That just means small, insect-eating birds that search leaves and twigs for prey. Often you can find several species alongside each other. It looks like there’s some action in those Sickle-bushes over there. Aha! Long-billed Crombec. That small guy that looks like he’s lost his tail. Climbing along the main stem of that shrub. See him? Oh, and do you hear that buzzy call? That’s Yellow-breasted Apalis. What a gorgeous little creature! Oh, hear that? Who-wit? Who-wit? That’s the call of a Willow Warbler. And there’s his song. He’s flitting about way up there among the leaves. Can you see him? Just watch for movement. Isn’t it amazing that these little birds migrate all the way to Europe and Asia every year? Crazy! And that’s Southern Black Tit calling! Here he comes! Ha, look! He’s hanging upside down there. Funny birds.

I reckon we make our way along this gulley. It looks like there’s a little footpath below the trees. See? With all the sign boards pointing out the medicinal plants? The trees are taller, so we might bump into some new stuff. Yip. Listen there. Coming from that tall Jackalberry. Spookvoël! Grey-headed Bushshrike. I can’t see him up in the canopy though. Watch out, there’s a big Bushbuck ram over there. He’s spotted us – that’s his alarm call! We’ll give him some space, just in case…

Something just flashed between the treetops there. Black bird. No, I don’t think it was a drongo. No, not a flycatcher either. The way it was flying looked more like a…Yes! A Black Cuckooshrike! Hear that super-high trilling sound? It sounds a bit like a bug or something. Mmm, I’m getting a little peckish. I grabbed some apples on the way out of the chalet. Do you want one? You’re welcome. 

Mmm! That drumming sound? Bearded Woodpecker! It must be coming from those tall dead trees on the other side of the stream. Yes, there’s its other call! Excuse me? Where did you hear it? Okay. Oh yes; vic-tor, vic-tor, vic-tor. That’s a Greater Honeyguide. Nice one! This is some really nice woodland: knob-thorns, marulas, apple-leaf trees…there’s a big sausage tree…yes with those massive hanging fruits…and this one with the shiny leaves is a buffalo thorn. Oh hey! Klaas’s Cuckoo! Uh-huh. That’s him yes. It looks like there’s a huge sycamore fig up ahead. Let me see if I can spot some figs…yes, it’s fruiting! That’s going to be quite a show. Let’s go!

Wow! What a spectacular tree. This yellow bark is amazing. And it’s full of birds! I can see a whole bunch of Purple-crested Turacos bounding around up there. And I’m sure there will be African Green Pigeons here – they can’t resist ripe figs. Yes, that’s their call there. Weird sound! And there’s another cool sound: the duet of a pair of Black-collared Barbets. It’s so perfectly timed that it sounds like one bird calling! There! And that call? Chi-vu-vu. Do you know that one? Yes, that’s it! Red-faced Mousebird. And what’s that doing that weird wing-waving thing on that dead branch? Can you see it from that angle? It’s a bit obscured from here. Oh, okay! That must be it, yes. Yes, I can hear it. Violet-backed Starling. What a bizarre sound!

Tell you what, let’s rest on that bench over there. We’ve got a great view of the river from there. Wow, it’s a beautiful scene. Especially with those Impala drinking. Oh, there are some Water Thick-knees, just to the left of them. Just at the edge of that sandy patch. Oh, they’re calling! And can you hear those excited, chattering whistles? That’s Red-faced Cisticola. I reckon he’s in that reedbed somewhere. And that clip-clip-clip-clip… That’s Tawny-flanked Prinia. Mm-hmm, that’s them with the long tails up like that, in that little shrub by the water’s edge. And there’s Three-banded Plover calling. Oh, yes, I see two of them. Running along that muddy pool there. Sorry, where? Oh, yes on that bent reed. Some Little Bee-eaters hawking dragonflies. Very cool. Should we start ambling towards the restaurant? Breakfast is calling my name.

Oh yay! I was hoping we would bump into these guys. White-browed Robin-Chats. Used to be called Heuglin’s Robin when I was a kid. Many people say that they are the best singers in all of Africa. Incredible! That was a really good morning. We’ve ticked, like, 35 species, and before breakfast nogal! And the day is just starting. We’ve still got a game drive to do, we have to visit the hide, and we’ve got that night drive booked tonight. This is going to be an epic birding day!

Birds featured:

African Scops Owl | Skopsuil (p. 207) | 00:30

Fiery-necked Nightjar | Afrikaanse Naguil (p. 210) | 00:47

African Barred Owlet | Gebande Uil (p. 206) | 01:18

Crested Francolin | Bospatrys (p. 136) | 02:34

Kurrichane Thrush | Rooibeklyster (p. 284) | 02:55

White-browed Scrub Robin | Gestreepte Wipstert (p. 291) | 03:17

Woodland Kingfisher | Bosveldvisvanger (p. 234) | 03:28

Black Cuckoo | Swartkoekoek (p. 227) | 03:49

Arrow-marked Babbler | Pylvlekkatlagter (p. 281) | 04:20

Blue Waxbill | Gewone Blousysie (p. 454) | 04:40

Yellow-fronted Canary | Geeloogkanarie (p. 473) | 04:50

Green-winged Pytilia | Gewone Melba (p. 457) | 04:58

Scarlet-chested Sunbird | Rooiborssuikerbekkie (p. 415) | 06:02

White-bellied Sunbird | Witpenssuikerbekkie (p. 421) | 06:21

Brown-headed Parrot | Bruinkoppapegaai (p. 251) | 06:38

Lesser Striped Swallow | Kleinstreepswael (p. 268) | 07:13

Red-billed Oxpecker | Rooibekrenostervoël (p. 334) | 07:30

Long-billed Crombec | Bosveldstompstert (p. 410) | 08:12

Yellow-breasted Apalis | Geelborskleinjantjie (p. 407) | 08:36

Willow Warbler | Hofsanger (p. 385) | 08:53

Southern Black Tit | Gewone Swartmees (p. 374) | 09:19

Grey-headed Bushshrike | Spookvoël (p. 358) | 09:47

Black Cuckooshrike | Swartkatakoeroe (p. 364) | 10:22

Bearded Woodpecker | Baardspeg (p. 339) | 10:51

Greater Honeyguide | Grootheuningwyser (p. 346) | 11:15

Klaas’s Cuckoo | Meitjie (p. 231) | 11:36

Purple-crested Turaco | Bloukuifloerie (p. 220) | 12:10

African Green Pigeon | Papegaaiduif (p. 216) | 12:25

Black-collared Barbet | Rooikophoutkapper (p. 343) | 12:46

Red-faced Mousebird | Rooiwangmuisvoël (p. 332) | 13:11

Violet-backed Starling | Witborsspreeu (p. 273) | 13:33

Water Thick-knee | Waterdikkop (p. 140) | 13:57

Red-faced Cisticola | Rooiwangtinktinkie (p. 396) | 14:15

Tawny-flanked Prinia | Bruinsylangstertjie (p. 402) | 14:31

Three-banded Plover | Driebandstrandkiewiet (p. 100) | 14:49

Little Bee-eater | Kleinbyvreter (p. 240) | 15:02

White-browed Robin-Chat | Heuglinjanfrederik (p. 293) | 15:17