Punda Maria, on the north-western edge of the Kruger National Park, is definitely worth a visit if you’re into bird watching. We’d heard many times that it was a bird lover’s paradise in summer and our long drive north certainly proved worthwhile for this very reason. According to the guide book this remote little camp that was built in the 1930’s was named Punda (meaning striped donkey or zebra) and Maria after the wife of the ranger, J J Coetzer, who founded it. I doubt whether the ranger meant any disrespect by linking his wife’s name to a striped donkey!)
It’s a pretty camp set in rows on a hillside. There’s a magnificent camping area overlooking a waterhole, which must be amazing in the dry season. The only fault that we could find with our comfortable little chalet was that the thatched roof extended right down over the verandah and we managed to bump our heads on it a lot. But as I said to Rob, if we bash our heads once or twice it’s an accident – after that it’s our stupidity. After that comment we both kept our stupidity to ourselves. There are some nice walks around the treed camp and lots of birds to be seen without even going for a drive.
We’d read that nearby Pafuri, on the border of Mozambique, was a must-see place for birds so we packed up a picnic basket and headed off slowly in that direction. The vegetation in the area is somewhat different from the rest of the Park, which is probably what attracts the variety of birds that you don’t find further south. Our first ‘lifer’ of the day was an African Crake that was wandering along the edge of the road. Too fast for our cameras unfortunately, but we did manage to get a positive identification before it disappeared into the long grass.
I might have been unfair in a previous blog when I said that animals were few and far between in this area. I’ve subsequently read blogs by folks who raved about all the game they saw in winter. I guess the rainy season isn’t the time to see many animals as they don’t frequent the waterholes like they do in the dry season. We were therefore grateful to catch a sighting of a shy little Sharpe’s Grysbok which isn’t common in the rest of the Park and was also a lifer for us.
There are loads of raptors in the area and we ticked off an African Hawk Eagle, an Osprey and numerous Bataleurs and Peregrin Falcons. The Bee-eaters and European Rollers provided lots of colour, as did the Violet-backed Starlings, Grey-headed Parrots, Red-headed Weavers and African Green Pigeons. I learnt a new trick – focus about a meter off the ground when driving slowly and you could pick up a nice photo of a Nightjar taking a nap! You have to have good eyes as they blend into the bark so well.
At Pafuri our next lifers were Lemon-breasted Canaries and Green-capped Eremomelas that were nesting right next to the Luvuvhu Bridge. Unfortunately the river was about to come down in flood, as we found to our dismay when we drove to Crooks Corner. The water was already lapping over the road when a police vehicle raced up to warn us to get away before we were trapped. That was quite disappointing because the scenery along the river is probably the best in the entire Park. Beautiful woodland picnic areas with lots of birds to be seen.
We spent three days at Punda Maria and enjoyed every minute of our time there. The Mopane Woodland and enormous Baobab trees make the scenery lovely and you never know if you’ll round a corner and come across an elephant munching on the leaves or rubbing up against a tree. I definitely want to go back there in winter even though the summer migrants will have left. It’s a place in Kruger that deserves a lot more of one’s time. I only hope that it isn’t modernized too quickly so that the visitors pour into the place. I think it would lose a lot of its charm if this happens.