Sirheni Game Viewing & Bird Watching In The Area
Sirheni Game Viewing – I cannot believe I have not written a Stories Of The Kruger Blog for so long. I don’t know where the time has gone, and with Covid everything just seems to have fallen out of place. Since my last write up, we have been on 3 Kruger trips, so you have lots to look forward to in the coming months. These will be detailed write ups of 2 trips that were around the Shingwedzi (Here is the link to watching wildlife in the Shingwedzi region) and Orpen areas in the Kruger. I have a lot of notes and images to fall back on, so I am sure you will enjoy reading the reports.
In the mean time I have seemingly misplaced the notes from our trip to Sirheni in April, where we spent 3 nights at this wonderful Bushveld Camp. So this report will be a little different, as I am writing from memory, and it won’t have as many intricate details as the other reports have. I hope you enjoy it any way, so let’s get started.
Sirheni Game Viewing – An Overview Of The Bush Experience
We arrived in late April, entering through the Punda Maria Gate, there were travel time restrictions so we could not leave Johannesburg until 4am, we normally travel through the night, get to the gate we want to enter at, and then take a long route to the Rest Camp destination, but due to Covid and South African restrictions it just was not possible this time. It was our annual anniversary trip, we had missed it the year before because of more travel restrictions stating that we could not leave the province of Gauteng.
Moving along from all that, it was great to be back in the Kruger National Park, the place where all my dreams come true, no matter what happens. As we entered at Punda Maria, we were greeted immediately by a herd of African Elephants, and then some Impala, and more Elephants. We saw a few common bird species like the African Grey Hornbill, Cape Turtle Dove and Lilac-breasted Roller, but the birds were scarce, I know the temperature was close to 30 degrees and we had arrived at around 12ish in the afternoon, so that could have been the reason. We drove straight to Punda Maria Rest Camp and had a lovely lunch at the restaurant there.
After Punda Maria we made our way slowly down the H1-7 towards Sirheni. We had a good sighting of a Black-winged Kite that stayed still long enough just for two photographs, which aren’t the best, but they will have to do. We came across more Elephants and a small herd of Buffalo. There were a few Impala around, but not that many. We had a nice sighting of a decent sized Leopard Tortoise, and two separate sightings of a Purple Roller, the Lilac-breasted Roller’s less colourful cousin. The rest of the drive was quiet and we finally came to the northern entrance of the S56, or the Mphongolo Loop, which we were really excited to explore, especially in the early mornings. We did not do the whole loop, and then came to the private road turn off to Sirheni Bushveld Camp, which we took. We checked in and got settled. We were greeted by lots of bird calls and after sitting for a while, a Kurrichane Thrush came for a quick visit, which made me very happy. Then we heard some rustling in the thicket in front of the Bungalow. It was a Rock Monitor Lizard. Really cool! After that, a Common Duiker was seen browsing right in the thickness of the bush.
We visited the hides in the Camp and explored a bit and then it was time for an early dinner and early night, we were shattered.
Sirheni Game Viewing – Exploring the S56 (Mphongolo Loop)
I have many favourite roads in the Kruger National Park, and the S56, which is called the Mphongolo Loop, is one of them and very high up on my list. This is a road where you can see almost anything. The birding is great and it is full of wildlife. I was very excited to get out before sunrise and start exploring this road.
The first sighting was a Scrub Hare crossing the road. The Hare then went under a bush and we were able to get a video clip of it.
Carrying on, we saw Buffalo and Impala. Then just as the light got good, we managed to photograph Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Natal Spurfowl and Double-banded Sandgrouse. What a treat! There were tons of Southern Tree Squirrel around (Smith’s Bush Squirrel) and we were alerted and stopped at one particular sighting. The Tree Squirrel was looking at the ground and alarm calling heavily. Normally they are good indications of anything that can be a predator to them or other animals. In this case we were sure there was a snake close to the base of the tree, but with the thick riverine vegetation and long grass, we were unable to see what the fuss was about and the Squirrel eventually stopped alarm calling and made it’s way back up an Acacia tree.
Besides all of this we saw many other great birds, and Nyala, Common Waterbuck, Chacma Baboon and Southern Giraffe. What a great morning drive.
It got even better close to the end of the loop. We slowly drove down a dip over a temporary stream and found a beautiful Black Stork hanging around the water. No Leopards on this loop, but it produced such a good morning of wildlife viewing!
On the way back to Sirheni Bushveld Camp later that day, we saw a small group of Dwarf Mongoose that crossed the road. They then proceeded to play a game of peek-a-boo behind a fallen tree. These small Mongoose are son entertaining and we could watch them for hours, they can be quite fast though, so sometimes hard to get a photo.
Sirheni Game Viewing – Boyela Waterhole
On our second evening, we were sitting on the verandah and one of the management staff came around, like he did every evening, to check how everything was. Very polite and considerate! He asked us if we had seen the Lions close by that afternoon. We said “No, please tell us more”. He kindly told us that there were two juvenile male Lions hanging around Boyela Waterhole. Boyela is famous for sightings or rare antelope like Roan, Eland and Tsessebe. Unfortunately the gates had closed by then, so no chance to catch a glimpse of them, if they were still there.
We were up in the dark the next day, ready and waiting for the gate opening time to tick by. We drove down the S57, which is a short cut to the main road instead of driving the whole Mphongolo Loop to get there. We arrived and there were two cars parked off. Luckily we quickly caught a glimpse of one of the young handsome male African Lions. We got some stunning photo’s and videos, and his eyes were absolutely beautiful. We never saw the second male, but this was right across from Boyela Waterhole.
Nearly 5 minutes passed, one or two other cars arrived and this guy had had enough. He slowly got up and walked into the long grass and thicket, presumably where his brother was, and just like that he was out of sight. It just goes to show if you have the right information and you are at the right place at the right time, you can witness special things. The only thing I hold against Boyela Waterhole is, at the time of writing this, I still have not seen a Roan Antelope here!
Sirheni Game Viewing – Driving Around The Shingwedzi & Mopani Areas
Whenever we are around the area, we love exploring the dirt and tar roads around Shingwedzi and Mopani, birding and searching for rare antelope. We have also had some of our most amazing Leopard sightings in both the Shingwedzi and Mopani areas in the early morning and late afternoon. In fact we have seen more Leopards up in these areas than we have in the Southern Kruger, and much better sightings too!
We saw a variety of birds and animals in these areas in a couple of days driving around. On our first full morning we went into Shingwedzi through the back way on the low level crossing. We had fantastic views of Nile Crocodile, Nile Monitor Lizard, Common Waterbuck, Blacksmith Lapwing, Hippo and Water Thick-knee.
The strangest sighting was coming out of Shingwedzi, we saw a Woodland Kingfisher. Now we had not heard any calls from these birds during the duration of our stay and my belief was that they migrate in late March up into Northern Africa. So it was quite a treat to see one just perched and minding it’s own business.
Giraffes and Elephants were seen and so were Impala and Kudu. Bird wise, we saw many common bushveld birds like Swainson’s Spurfowl, Black-backed Puffback, Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Chinspot Batis, Lilac-breasted Roller, Natal Spurfowl, Crested Francolin, Cape Turtle Dove, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Green Woodhoopoe, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Fork-tailed Drongo 3 species of Hornbills and a few others.
We also came across a herd of around 100 or so African buffalo grazing close to Mopani, just after we saw some Elephants drinking. The herd was massive and all the Buffalo were in great condition. What was even better was that there were some Yellow-billed Oxpeckers around, perching on them and examining them for ticks and other intrusive insects.
The highlight of this region was when we arrived at Mopani. I always check out the pond in front of the restaurant area because I have seen Lesser Masked Weavers there before, but never had a camera on hand that day. We then spotted, in the foliage around the pond, some movement. We investigated and saw that lying there, eating a frog was a Western Yellow-bellied Sand Snake! What excitement, it was such a great sighting and the third time we had seen a Snake at Mopani! We watched it try and swallow the frog for a while, and a few other people did too. We took many photographs that did not really come out well, but we got some great video footage. It was an amazing sighting!
Sirheni Game Viewing – Sadly Leaving The Kruger Via Phalaborwa Gate
We were up early as usual to make it out by the camp gate opening time. We were hoping to encounter that elusive Leopard as we drove the S56 (Mphongolo Loop) towards Shingwedzi. It just was not meant to be this trip. We cam across a youngish male Common Waterbuck ram, and shortly thereafter 3 Spotted Hyaena on the move and very quick to get off the road, even before we could get a video or photograph, but was still really cool to see. After a short stop at Shingwedzi it was a long drive to our sad exit at Phalaborwa Gate. We were hoping to be back soon, but so many things changed in the time after that, so I would be set to do my first Kruger solo trip in the Summer about a year and a half later, a bit too long for my liking. But hopefully the Cuckoos and other migratory birds will be active, calling and making an appearance, especially the Woodland Kingfisher, so that is something to look forward to!
Our last sighting was a treat. A Black-chested Snake Eagle perched in a dead tree in all it’s glory. We got some great photo’s. All in all I would recommend the Northern Kruger to every nature lover and Sirheni Bushveld Camp is superb, well kept, lots of bird life and animal life and a very nice camp to stay in. Until next time, we hope you enjoy the photographs!
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