Tag Archives: Yellow-billed kite

KNP – The Drive from Satara to Punda Maria

Most people who visit Kruger National Park make a point of going to the southern part because of its accessibility and proximity to international airports and the main centres of the region.  Fortunately the landscape is favourable for seeing an abundance of animals, including the Big Five.  Whilst it is nice to be able to see all these, one pays a price and the price is overcrowding, with many vehicles vying for positions to see the animals.  If, like us, you’re used to the relative peace and quiet of the game reserves to the north of South Africa’s borders, these crowds can be a bit off-putting.  So it was with happy hearts that we left Satara as soon as the gates opened and headed north to the quieter part of the Park – our destination for the day being the camp at Punda Maria.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

It’s a long drive of 245 kms and with a speed limit of 50 kms per hour it’s a good day’s journey.  It takes a long time to cover the distance because you stop often to look at birds and animals.  Our first great sighting was a tree full of White Storks.  They looked like baubles on a Christmas tree!

White Storks

We hadn’t gone much further when we were confronted by a small herd of elephants walking down the road towards us.  There was no way of getting past them and they seemed determined not to leave the road.  They ended up pushing us back a kilometer or two as they plodded steadily towards us, unconcerned about the time we were losing.  After what seemed like an eternity they left the road and we were able to proceed.  The area north of Olifants Camp has large tracts of Mopani trees, a favourite with elephants, so we were to see many more on our trip up to Punda Maria.

Elephants on the march

Dawn in the Park is an awesome time.  We came across a Yellow-billed Kite feasting on a hare.  The Kite was undaunted by our presence and made the most of its meal while we clicked away and got some nice photos.  The Kite wasn’t eating alone – can you see the beetle that was also interested in getting a piece of the action?

Yellow-billed Kite

Spurfowls and Koorhaans are also found in great numbers along this route.  They favour the road for some reason, which makes it easy to get photos of them.

Swainsons Spurfowl

The variety of animals thins out as you head north, so unless you’re a birder, you could be disappointed.  We saw loads of Spotted Hyenas, which I will blog about separately, but apart from them and the elephants, there were hardly any other animals.   Raptors, both large and small were plentiful, the smaller one’s being Amur Falcons, which were everywhere.  Close to Shingwedzi we saw a Broadbill Roller for the first time on the trip.  This, together with colourful Red-headed Weavers (both male and female), was very exciting.  There were European Rollers everywhere – it would be nice if the Broadbills and Racket-tail Rollers were as prolific.

Broad-billed Roller

We actually arrived at Punda Maria in good time, but the heavens opened up as we were unloading our vehicle, so poor Rob was drenched.  Nothing that a good cup of coffee couldn’t sort out though.  Next blog about the lovely area between Punda Maria and Pafuri – new ground for us.

Bird of the week – Week 51: Yellow-billed kite

During July and early August a large brown bird appears in the skies over southern Africa, preferring the wetter parts of the region and avoiding only the dry Kalahari and Namib Deserts. Visiting southern Africa for the summer breeding season from its winter haunts further north, in equatorial Africa, this is the magnificent Yellow-billed kite.
A fairly large bird, about 55 cm in length and with a wingspan approaching one and a half metres, the Yellow-billed kite is an impressive specimen. Its plumage is brown overall, and, as its name implies, it has a distinctive yellow bill, which, together with its slightly forked tail, is diagnostic. The unfeathered legs and the feet are yellow and the eyes are brown. When in flight the bird is fascinating to watch as it used its tail as a very active rudder to guide its buoyant flight, suspended on long wings that are angled backwards and the yellow bill and legs quite visible. The sexes are alike in plumage, but the females are slightly larger than the males.
The Yellow-billed kite is found singly or in pairs while breeding but is otherwise quite gregarious and we have seen quite large flocks gathering at termite emergences in northern Namibia, most of the birds on the ground and some flying in tight patterns to gather the few termites that managed to take to flight. The kites are also often seen in the quieter roadways, where they feed on the unfortunate animals that fall victim to the occasional passing cars and trucks. More naturally, the kites feed on insects, small mammals and just about any animal material that they can find.
Yellow-billed kites are not noisy birds and are usually silent, uttering a “quill-err” most commonly during the breeding season.
The kites are monogamous and during the breeding season they build a bowl-shaped nest of sticks in the canopy of a suitable tree, lining it with dung, wool and any other bits of soft material that can be found. The nests are usually well concealed in the thick foliage. The female lays a clutch of two or three white eggs that are marked with brown, and that hatch after an incubation period of about 35 days.
The scientific binomial for the Yellow-billed kite is Milvus aegyptius; Milvus from the Latin for a kite and aegyptius from the Latin for “of Egypt”. Thus a kite from Egypt, which is accurate enough, although somewhat limiting for a bird that is found throughout Africa.

Namushasha to Kalizo Lodge

One of the delights of being a birder is the way events unfold when an unexpected bird puts in an appearance.  On our way from Namushasha to Kalizo Lodge, we were driving through the Caprivi, happily anticipating our visit to the Zambezi, when Rob spotted a Southern ground hornbill wandering through a field adjacent to the road.  He immediately slammed on brakes and the excitement began.  Southern ground hornbills (listed as vulnerable) are not very common outside the large game reserves and here we were seeing one at quite close quarters.

Southern ground hornbill

With camera in hand, Rob set off to get his ‘up close’ photograph.  The Ground hornbill was having none of it though and flew off with Rob following as best he could on foot.   I turned the car around and headed off in the general direction of the bird (thank heavens for an all-terrain vehicle), only to discover that there was actually a pair of the enormous birds.   We tracked them through the unfenced veld on foot, careful not to get too close and stress the birds, or panic them into flight, but wanting to get close enough for a few clear photos. About forty-five minutes later we had wonderful photos of the birds and were able to resume our journey. What a happy diversion that turned out to be!

White-browed robin chat

Kalizo Lodge is situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River about forty kilometers from Katima Mulilo, and its claim to birding fame is that it is home to breeding colonies of both Carmine bee-eaters and African skimmers.  After checking into the lodge and booking a late afternoon boat trip to visit these birds, we settled into our comfortable little bungalow with views over the river.

We were pleased to be given our own personal guide and boat for our trip by the obliging manageress of the Lodge, who perhaps realized that we were more interested in seeing the Carmine bee-eaters and African skimmers than crocodiles and hippos that are the more usual attraction.  It was great to be back on the Zambezi, being driven past a lazy croc sunning itself on a sand bank, passing local folk fishing from wooden mokoros and watching visitors from other lodges in the area trying their luck fishing for tigers and whatever else they could haul in as the sun went down.

African skimmer

We were taken to a sand bank where a half a dozen or so African skimmers were gathered.  Our helpful guide climbed out of the boat and found a nest – just a scrape in the sand – with three eggs.  We moved away quickly as we didn’t want to upset the mother bird, who settled back onto the eggs just a few minutes after we returned to the boat.  All the while the Skimmers flew around, dipping their beaks into the water as they skimmed along the surface.

The highlight of the outing was seeing thousands of Carmine bee-eaters as they returned to their nests for the night.  With the sun lighting their pink feathers, it was an awe-inspiring sight.  This will be the subject of a post on its own.

Kaliso Lodge is a fantastic spot for birds and, judging by the pictures in the delightful pub, for fishing as well.

Yellow-billed kite

The trees around the lodge abound with an endless variety of birds that are a continual source of delight. But the most amazing sights are to be found on the flood plains near the lodge that attract thousands upon thousands of birds. How the pans can sustain such numbers is a mystery to us.

Birds in their thousands

Marabou storks, Yellow-billed storks, Openbills, numerous types of ducks, egrets and herons, Pygmy geese, Ibisis, African spoonbills, Hamerkops, African fish-eagles.

Yellow-billed stork

An abandoned mokoro with no less than eight Pied kingfishers perched on it, three or four with fish in their bills.

Pied kingfishers

We instantly regretted the fact that we had planned for only one night at the lodge. We had come to see the bee-eaters and skimmers, but there is so much more to see and do, and the lodge is so wonderfully situated that it deserves a much longer stay. There is also a great looking campsite overlooking the river that is very inviting. We will be back!!