Look for the Big 6 Birds when you’re in the Kruger

The Kruger National Park in South Africa is famous for many things, including both the “Big 5” game mammals of Africa as well as its “Big 6” birds. The Big 5 represents the five mammal species that were most desired as hunter’s trophies in times gone past. They now represent the 5 species of animals that visitors to Kruger National Park (or other African wildlife reserves) most want to see. The Big 6 Birds represent the 6 most desired birds that visitors to Kruger National Park want to see.

Birding in the Kruger Park
The large Kori Bustard is Africa’s heaviest flying bird and can weigh up to 20kg (45 pounds)! They are cryptically coloured and eat almost anything.

Birding in the Kruger
The mean-looking Martial Eagle is the largest African eagle and is very powerful; a true top predator. It has a unique hunting method, stooping from a height and slamming its talons into its prey at high speed.

Birding in the Kruger
It is estimated that there are only between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of the strikingly beautiful Saddle-billed Stork in the Kruger Park, plus a handful of non-breeding individuals.

Birding int he Kruger Park
The Lappet-faced Vulture is Africa’s largest vulture. This endangered bird species is a scavenger, which means it feeds mainly on carcasses it finds lying in the open.

Birding in the Kruger
The Southern Ground Hornbill is one of the most easily identifiable and most cherished bird species in the whole of Kruger. They are birds of great superstition in African culture and their booming calls are often mistaken for roaring lions!

Birding in the Kruger
The big-eyed orange-brown Pel’s Fishing Owl is the rarest of the big 6 birds and is seldom seen, mainly because of its nocturnal habits and restriction to large watercourses.

These big 6 birds should be relatively easy for visitors to find in the Kruger with the exception of the Pel’s Fishing Owl, but you never know… Browse to Nature Travel Kruger for info on all our tours and safaris in this world-famous park.

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!



Birding Day Trip in the Kruger Park

The world famous Kruger National Park is not only home to Africa’s Big Five mammals and many other species of fauna and flora; it also supports more than 500 bird species or about 60% of the total number found in the entire southern African sub-region. Simply put, Kruger is without a doubt the best birding destination in southern Africa.

Kruger Park Birding

The 19,485 km2 (7,523 sq mi) park in South Africa’s Lowveld region is a mosaic of lowland savannas and woodlands, bisected by wooded, seasonally flowing rivers, with dams and pans dotted throughout. This creates a varied and rich habitat for all sorts of avifauna, making Kruger an essential stop for southern African and worldwide birders.

We offer birding day trips to Kruger and the important surrounding birding hotspots. Our expert guide will pick you up from wherever you are staying close to or inside the park and you will embark on your trip in an open-sided safari vehicle which affords all guests great comfort and the optimal viewing angles for birds.

Apart from seeing all the “usual suspects” of Kruger, your guide will focus on finding you the best birds of the Park. This could include Woolly-necked, Saddle-billed and Marabou Stork, African Openbill, White-backed and Hooded Vulture, Martial and Tawny Eagle, Bateleur, Kori Bustard, Secretarybird, Southern Ground Hornbill, White-crowned Lapwing, Bearded Scrub Robin, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Brown-headed Parrot, Retz’s Helmetshrike and many more. If you are very lucky you could even find some specials like Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, Black Stork, Lappet-faced, White-headed and Cape Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Senegal Lapwing, Crowned Eagle, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler and others.

Learning about the trees, animals, insects and general bush and nature around you is also on the cards. And don’t be surprised if you see a few members of Africa’s famous Big Five! You will stop at picnic spots and rest camps throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and restroom breaks.

We also offer day trips a little further afield, including to the subtropical town of Nelspruit, the spectacular Blyde River Canyon, Mariepskop’s dense Afromontane forests, and picturesque Magoebaskloof.

All these day trips can also be combined as an extension before or after your existing Kruger National Park safari with us. For more information browse to Birding Day Trips or enquire directly at info@naturetravelkruger.com


Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger

Yes, you read that correctly.  We have Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger, to be more precise, very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession.
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Most birders will be familiar with this iconic, awe-inspiring bird, the Pennant-winged Nightjar, Macrodipteryx vexillarius. The bird is an intra-African breeding migrant that moves down to South Africa from Central and West Africa. Birdwatchers take the annual trip up to Punda Maria rest camp in Kruger in November as this is possibly the best place in South Africa to see the bird.

Imagine the excitement when I woke to hear the news that a male had been seen displaying with full pennants very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession, some 2km west of Albasini road(S3). The bird was spotted by Alision Drake from Nkambeni Safari Camp while on a sunset drive. I have had a look into previous records and there are records of the birds been seen around Pretoriuskop Camp and around Shabeni granite Rock. I had to make a plan to see this bird as it’s been a bird that is always such a treat to see and view.

We managed to get a drive to go out on Friday the 17th of November 2018 to see this amazing bird. I felt like a kid in a candy shop due to the excitement. Good distractions on the drive included: Bushveld Pipit, Violet-backed Starling, Cardinal Woodpecker and a female Leopard slinking through the grass with the sun setting behind her. The stuff dreams are made of in my opinion!!

We positioned ourselves on the rock where the male was seen displaying, and after a nervous wait of about 20 minutes, the call came out, “Here it is! Look!” Boy oh boy we were treated to a spectacle with the bird flying overhead, landing on the rock just in front of us and displaying on the rock. This sighting ranks as one of my top bird sighting I have had in my career. To have this elegant, awe-inspiring bird flying overhead and in front of you with its full, long pennants on show is an amazing, mind-blowing experience that will live with me for a long time. I was so blown away by the sheer size of the bird and how amazing it is I eventually stopped taking photos of the bird and just enjoyed having the bird displaying for us. We had 2 different males displaying for females.

It’s amazing to know that these birds seem to be breeding and are comfortable in Southern Kruger as the habitat in the area is suitable, and just shows how important the Kruger National Park is at protecting habitats for our Birdlife and Wildlife. I am hoping that these birds hang around and that a trip to see these birds might become regular for us in November in Southern Kruger. (Marc Cronje – Nature Travel Guide)

Finding the most powerful eagle in Africa

Any birder who comes to Africa will know of the Crowned Eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus.Birding in Kruger Park with Nature Travel BirdingThis mighty bird mainly occurs in our forests in Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia to South Africa. It is often seen soaring high above the canopy calling its characteristic kewick-kewick-kewick call.

With its powerful talons, the Crowned Eagle preys on small antelope and monkeys. Pairs have been documented hunting monkeys cooperatively.

Imagine my excitement when I spotted a juvenile Crowned Eagle along the Sabie River on a recent birding trip in the Kruger National Park with some guests. This was my first sighting in Kruger and the first sighting of the species for our guests on a Nature Travel Birding trip. My heart was pumping and it was amazing to see this normally shy species out in the open for us to admire. We all managed to get cracking views and photos of this amazing bird. It was even more special for one of my guests as he had always wanted to see a Crowned Eagle in the wild. What an exciting and rewarding sighting.

Birding in Kruger Park with Nature Travel Birding
Crowned Eagles are rare in Kruger National Park but are common in the forest plantations just outside the southern part of Kruger.  It is believed that birds looking for territory do wander into Kruger National Park on occasion. Why the birds don’t become resident in the Southern part of the park is a mystery as the habitat along the rivers is perfect and prey availability is high. One theory is the competition and pressure from the other large eagles in Kruger, like Martial, Tawny and Fish Eagles.

The species is near-threatened and it is great to see juveniles looking for territories and setting up territories to breed.

Every birder should experience the joy one gets when looking up into the African sky and seeing a raptor soaring above you. It is a mesmerising site which will stay with you for a long time.

Come and experience the Kruger National Park with us – an amazing adventure awaits! For more info about birding trips or safaris to the Kruger National Park, get in touch with us at info@naturetravelkruger.com

Written by Nature Travel Guide: Marc Cronje