African Skimmers in Kruger National Park

Imagine the joy and excitement while guiding a trip in Kruger, and arriving at Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie and seeing an African Skimmer sitting on the bank- truly amazing! For a second I thought I was imagining things or was on the Okavango River.

Let’s go back a little… While guiding a Kruger wildlife and birding safari within the world famous Kruger National Park, we left Skukuza early one morning to head down to Lower Sabie for Breakfast. This road ranks as one of the best roads in southern Kruger for wildlife and birding. We had enjoyed some good game viewing with us having sights of African Buffalo, African Elephants, Impala, Chacma Baboons, Greater Kudu, Waterbuck, Spotted Hyaena, White Rhino and a gorgeous Leopard sleeping in a tree soon after leaving camp. A fantastic morning in any guide’s book!

The birding was also pretty good with us enjoying sightings of Martial Eagle, Orange-breasted and Gorgeous Bushshrike, Saddle-billed Stork, Goliath Heron, Tawny Eagle, Chinspot Batis, Purple-crested Turaco, Crowned Hornbill and African Goshawk being some of the highlights of the morning. As we approached Sunset Dam just outside Lower Sabie, with most of us thinking about breakfast and a bathroom stop our biggest surprise of the morning came in the form of the African Skimmer. There the magnificent bird sat, with its black and white plumage and bright orange bill among the Nile Crocodiles, herons, lapwings and egrets along the bank. I could not believe my eyes!

African Skimmer (1).JPG

The Africa Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris is regarded as regionally extinct species within South Africa, with most of the population now regarded as regular only on the Zambezi, Chobe and Okavango Rivers. One can imagine my excitement of seeing this bird in southern Kruger far away from its natural distribution; I am used to seeing these birds on our Birding trips along the Okavango and Zambezi Rivers, but not this far south in Kruger. What a find and sighting we all got to enjoy.

Within South Africa the species last bred in St Lucia on the KZN Coast up to and including 1943 and at the Mkuze River Mouth prior to 1938.  The regional breeding population numbered nine pairs in 1942, this former breeding site at St Lucia and the surrounding habitat has been irreversibly transformed and there have been no reports of African Skimmers breeding in South Africa since 1943. They are breeding intra-African migrants to southern Africa, arriving April to May and departing November to February. They breed from July to December on sandbanks devoid of vegetation and surrounded by deep water used for skimming.

A pair of African Skimmers had been hanging around in Northern Kruger for a few months with the most recent reports and excitement coming from a pair very close to Letaba Camp in Kruger.  I was lucky enough to go and see these birds on a walk with John Adamson the head guide at Letaba, and when I was watching the pair noted that the one seemed to be digging and it looked like she was nesting, I had mentioned this to John while watching them. Well on the 5TH of July 2017 John contacted me and let me know that the birds are actually sitting on eggs. This was such amazing news as this is the first confirmed record of breeding African Skimmers in South Africa since 1943; what thrilling news, even more so as it’s the first breeding record for Kruger too. This was such thrilling news and its great news for the conservation of African Skimmers and just shows how important the Kruger Park and its rivers are, and the rivers need to be protected. There has been one chick that had hatched but sadly was found dead, but the birds seem to have laid another clutch, the birds are currently sitting on eggs.

This record is a massive record for South Africa and Kruger and the fact that the birds are breeding in Kruger is such exciting news, with the hope the birds will continue to breed near Letaba Camp for many years to come and for many birders to enjoy.  It’s been so amazing to see these birds start to make a comeback in South Africa and we can only hope that we might find these birds breeding again in South Africa.

We offer a variety of different wildlife and birding tours in the world famous Kruger National Park and across southern Africa and the rest of Africa.

As one can see from this blog, the beauty of spending time on a safari in Africa is that anything can happen and one can bump into a spectacular sighting at any time; the beauty of being in the African bush on safari. The spectacular sunrises and sunsets that greet us daily also make the African safari so special.

Africa is calling. Answer now!



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