Walking Safari Trip Report.

Posted by Bruce on Wed March 3, 2021 in Trip Reports.

During the first months of this year we ran three walking safaris ('Birding and Wildlife on Foot'), based at Mohlabetsi Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park. These were ably led by specialist walking guide Bruce Lawson, one of the 'big names' in trails guiding. The package comprised three nights at Mohlabetsi, with a combination of guided walks and game / birding drives, plus of course the top-class lodge experience that's provided by Mohlabetsi.

Here's a trip report covering the last trip, which ended at the beginning of March.

Mohlabetsi Walking Safari Trip Report; 26th February – 1st March 2021

Day 1:
We all met up at Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge in the York region of the Balule Game Reserve at 13h00 on Friday 26th Feb, and were debriefed on arrival by the reception team as to the daily program and the Covid-19 safety protocols for the duration of our stay. It was a warm sunny afternoon and after checking in and getting settled we had a scrumptious lunch out on the lawn of the lodge overlooking a large open grassland plain. At lunch a Crested Barbet in a nest above us kept our necks very supple as did a Southern Red-billed Hornbill feeding its nest in a Knob Thorn tree close by. A large bull Elephant strolled past on the floodplain having a brief look our way before passing the herd of Impala. Tawny-flanked Prinia, Long-billed Crombec and Willow Warbler also made an appearance at lunch.

The afternoon drive departed at 16h00 stocked with a drinks box and clean binoculars. We visited some of the dams close by not to see animals but more to try find some water birds. Lesser Masked Weavers and Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers were still very vocal and busy on their nests in the middle of the dams. A Striated Heron made a brief appearance before flitting off into the thick fringe vegetation.

Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls were calling close by but we could unfortunately not get to see them. Egyptian Geese with goslings made a very narrow escape from a large menacing Crocodile hell bent on making them dinner. African Fish Eagle regaled us with its magnificent call while we were having sundowners.

Our first night drive back to the lodge got us Fiery-necked Nightjar, Spotted Thick-knee and Bronze-winged Courser. Dinner was moved indoors due to rain that started as we arrived back at camp, however, this did not dampen our spirits… or our appetites!.

Day 2:
We were woken at 5am with a knock on the door and all met for coffee soon after. It was still overcast and wet out but was not raining. The dawn chorus was slow but also drawn out. We left camp on foot in the grey light of an overcast dawn and immediately started clocking up new species. Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Burchell’s Starlings were everywhere as were Grey Go-away Birds. Marico Sunbird gave us a spectacular view of itself before darting off to go find its mate.

Hippo tracks were everywhere and trails through the grass generally had Natal Spurfowls or Crested Francolins on them. We found the Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl that eluded us the day before. Two adult birds and a youngster were perched in a Marula Tree with the youngster whistling his sorrow-filled cry for food. Three-banded Plover, Wood Sandpiper and Water Thick-knee awaited us at a dam, with a very nice view of a small Malachite Kingfisher perched on the vegetation in the water.

Breakfast back at the lodge was out on the lawn again and this time we were enthralled by a number of Epauletted Fruit Bats hanging in the Knob Thorn Tree above us.  Warthogs made an appearance on the lawn while we were having breakfast. The welcome midday siesta was great and it was with rejuvenated bodies we tackled the afternoon drive adding in a short walk. We drove out to a spot close to Dead End Dam and took a short walk to the dam. A large herd of Impala was at the water when we climbed the dam wall but did not take much notice of us sitting watching them. A Black-backed Puffback male was doing his puffed-up display in the Brown Ivory tree above us, and a Pearl-spotted Owlet was calling close by.

Back at the vehicle we took a short drive to a close dam for sundowners and watched an awesome sunset with a Hippo in the water below us. Fiery-necked Nightjar, Bronze-winged Courser and Double-banded Sandgrouse were our birds on the way home. True to form as we alighted from the vehicle the heavens opened up which changed boma dinner plans to inside dinner. We fell asleep to the soft calls of the African Barred-Owlet and the distance roar of Lions.

Day 3:
Two African Barred-Owlets were hawking insects in the still dark morning light when we came out for morning coffee, and were very patient with us and our spotlight. The morning walk did not go according to plan as we got distracted by a Lion roaring very close to us and then spent the rest of the morning trying to find it. However, we did do some good birding while tracking the male Lion and added Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Red-crested Korhaan, Swainson’s Spurfowl and White-bellied Sunbird to the list.

We never did catch up to the Lion as a breeding herd of Elephants cut us off and then followed the Lion themselves. On our return to camp, we took a seat on a small dam wall and a Lesser Moorhen came out the vegetation on the far side of the dam. It stayed round for a long time giving us all magnificent views. White-faced Whistling-Duck and ducklings were also occupying the pond.

Our afternoon drive headed down to the Mohlabetsi River where we spent some time under the splendid large riverine trees on the banks of the river. Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Grey Tit-flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher were fluttering and singing above us as we watched a large male White Rhino come down to the river to drink. A Gabar Goshawk caught our attention as it landed on a dead branch close by giving us splendid views of all its ID features.

Dinner was a splendid traditional braai (barbeque), in the boma, as the weather held off for us this night.

Day 4:
The weather was perfect this morning with a clear sunrise over the Drakensburg escarpment. Hippos watched us as we walked past the dam before witnessing two African Hawk-Eagles swoop down and try take some Egyptian Geese on the water. They perched close by much to the resident Blacksmith Lapwings’ dismay. A little further on we got our first good views or Southern White-crowned Shrikes and White-crested Helmet-Shrikes. Coming around a bush we walked straight into a very large, luckily sleeping Black Rhino cow. She was so sound asleep we could hear her snoring as we retreated, getting some distance. Shortly before returning to camp we did an approach on three Elephant bulls, experiencing the thrill of being close to these big creatures on foot. Back at the lodge we had a final breakfast before packing and departing, ending off a great ‘birding and wildlife on foot’ experience at Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge. Thanks to Tony, Alma and the staff at the lodge for incredible service and hospitality (as usual!).

Our total bird list ended on 127 with many lifers for the group participants.

"It was excellent. Bruce’s knowledge was outstanding. Great learning experience. Megan was also very good to be with. Overall, highly recommend this to anyone. It was what Arda and I hoped it would be. Facilities were good also, as was the food. Just a great experience" - D. Bryne.