Samango Monkeys & Other Birds – Magoebaskloof

Although we only had one day in the Woodbush Forest and we spent most of it on the Grey-headed Parrots, we still managed to see some other birds and the elegant Samango Monkey!  Kurisa Moya has a bird list.

This Olive Woodpecker was in the same tree as the Grey-headed Parrots.

IMG_3638 IMG_3644

After the Grey-headed Parrots, Narina Trogons and any Turacos were next on my wish-list so David did his best to find them.  We did hear them but never saw them.

IMG_3649 IMG_3650

I think this is a Dark-backed Weaver

IMG_3652

These Samango Monkeys were a few metres down the road from the Grey-headed Parrots.

 

IMG_3722a IMG_3726 IMG_3728

So was this pretty butterfly.

IMG_3738

Little Sparrowhawk

IMG_3742

We drove around in the forest still hoping for Trogons & Turacos but no luck.

 

 

IMG_3744 IMG_3745 IMG_3746 IMG_3747

Either an Amethyst or Malachite Sunbird

IMG_3748 IMG_3749a

Jackal Buzzard

IMG_3753 IMG_3756a

Not sure about this raptor.

IMG_3760

Duiker

IMG_3762 IMG_3764

 

The Cape Parrots Of Magoebaskloof

I have already blogged about my encounter with the Cape Parrots in King William’s Town.  This post will be about the Cape Parrots in the Woodbush Forest in Magoebaskloof.

I should mention that there is another similar species found in savannahs further north called Grey-headed Parrots (Poicephalus fuscicollis suahelicus).  They were once a subspecies of Poicephalus robustus but have now been separated out into their own species.  If you look at maps in field guides, it can be very confusing as they aren’t very detailed as to which species is near which town.  Scientific taxonomy is not my field of expertise so I’ll refer you to Dr Steve Boyes’ explanation on Safari Talk.  There are also a number of researchers and biologists in the Cape Parrot Group on Facebook who can help if anyone needs more information.

.

After a good night’s sleep at Kurisa Moya, David Letsoalo picked us up in his jeep.  There was no way our little car would be up for the bumpy roads in the Woodbush Forest so we paid extra to hire David’s jeep.

I knew it would be interesting to see the birds at a different time of year as the last time it was so foggy, we could barely see the Cape Parrots.  We were lucky this time and the weather was clear.

IMG_3597 IMG_3598

This time we didn’t have to hunt around for the parrots.  It was breeding season and David knew exactly where a Cape Parrot family could be found.  He said there were 2 chicks but we only saw one at a time so I can’t say for sure we saw them both, it could have been the same one poking his head out.  He wasn’t fledging age, he was actually a few weeks younger than the King William’s Town youngster.  We were there on 4 Nov 2014 and I was glad I had brought the trip forward.  If we had gone as planned in Sept 2015, the babies would still be in eggs, not nearly as cute as seeing youngsters!

IMG_3603 IMG_3611 IMG_3623 IMG_3628

See the little head poking out!

IMG_3632

At this point the parents flew off to get more food leaving the chicks in the nest.  They were gone around 45 minutes so we looked for other birds while waiting for them to return (will blog this part tomorrow).  When the parents returned, the chicks heard them right away and at least one poked his head out in anticipation.  One perched as a sentinel while the other went down to the baby.

IMG_3654 IMG_3657a IMG_3664a IMG_3667a IMG_3674a IMG_3680 IMG_3684 IMG_3688a

The parent feeding the chicks in the nest.

IMG_3691a IMG_3692a IMG_3693a IMG_3700a IMG_3708a IMG_3715 IMG_3716a

I only managed one flight shot.

IMG_3718aNow it was getting later and David said the parents might not be back for awhile so we left the area to look for other birds.  I’ll post those pics tomorrow.

 

Revisiting Kurisa Moya – Magoebaskloof

It’s rare that we go back to the same place twice, mostly because I just don’t have enough miles to go back to places we have already been to.  We were extremely lucky that this trip to Africa gave us the opportunity to revisit the wonderful Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge in the Magoebaskloof area!  Although I have already done a detailed review on Kurisa Moya, sometimes things change to the point where I would do another one.  I am very happy to say that nothing has changed and that nothing needed to!  The location is amazing and the wonderful birding guide David Letsoalo is still based there.  We even had the same cabin we had the last time which was awesome!

Getting there from JNB was very easy once we figured out how to get on the main highway headed north.  The only difference from last time is that the toll booths in the Jo-burg area are now electronic and you have a beeper in your rental car.  We used Avis after doing a lot of research and were happy with them.  They didn’t mark up the tolls or add a service fee.  They just billed them to my credit card a couple days after we returned the car.  As usual, I did an inspection of the car and took photos to avoid problems when we returned the car.

IMG_3583 IMG_3584The motorway is in excellent condition and we made good time to Polokwane where we stopped for a quick meal and bought food for self catering in our room.  There are a couple supermarkets in town.

 

.

The roads pass through several rural villages enroute to Kurisa Moya.

IMG_3585 IMG_3586

There are signs to point the way.  Print the detailed directions on their website to make sure you don’t get lost.

IMG_3588

The access road leading to the property itself is still a shocker, especially in a sedan car but it’s doable.  Just take it slow.

 

IMG_3590

We arrived at the farmhouse around 5pm and David was waiting for us.  He escorted us back to our cabin and kindly helped me with my backpack.

IMG_3765 IMG_3591It felt like a homecoming to be back in the same cabin!  They even still had the same guestbook I had already signed back in 2009!

IMG_3596 IMG_3592

In this photo you can see the loft above the kitchen.  No wifi, you are in the bush!

IMG_3593

In April 2009 it was cold enough we needed the stove but this time (Nov 2014) it was warm enough without requiring heating.

IMG_3594

This was a quick one-night stay so no time to BBQ.  We were really just stopping by on our way to Madagascar.

IMG_3595David gave us our wake-up time and I set my iPhone.  It was early, around 5am-ish but worth it as you will see in the next post!

My Birding Adventure in Magoebaskloof, South Africa

GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN

The Magoebaskloof region is well known amongst bird watchers in South Africa as a premier area to spot rare species like Cape Parrot, Bat Hawk, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Narina Trogon, Green Twinspot, Orange Ground Thrush, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and many more.  Kurisa Moya is a beautiful eco-lodge located right in the prime birdwatching area and you can even do some short bird walks on the property.  It’s quite an adventure to get there from Kruger National Park if you arrive after dark as there are NO lights along the mountain road once you turn off and it’s hard to see the signs.  We saw people like this lady walking along with the most amazing items carried on their heads!

IMG_1630

We got lost a couple times bouncing along the muddy back roads in a rented Ford Focus and I was afraid we would fall into a pothole and be lost forever!  It’s actually much easier if you are driving from Johannesburg via Polokwane, there is a tarred road the whole way up to the access road.

IMG_1570

We did finally arrive and David Letsoalo greeted us at the gate and showed us how to get to the Forest Lodge.  It wasn’t until the next morning that we would see just how gorgeous the area really was!  The Forest Lodge is a wooden log cabin that sits high in the canopy of the indigenous forest. From your private deck, three metres up, you are eye-to-eye with the Samango Monkeys picking the ripe fruit from nearby trees and can watch the crimson flash of Knysna Turacos (louries) soaring past. You may see bushpigs and bushbuck drinking from the stream below, or vervet monkeys peering in your bedroom window.

David picked us up early the next morning in his 4×4 truck, there was no way our Focus was going to get around the mountain roads.  Using his truck does cost extra depending on where you are going.  It had been raining the last few days, the ground was wet and there was mist everywhere.  You could barely see two metres in front of you.

IMG_1518 IMG_1581

 David knew the roads well and we headed off to the Woodbush Forest to look for the rare and endangered Cape Parrot.  He parked on the mountain ridge as a good vantage point and listened carefully.  Several birds were calling and of course David knew them all.  It took a while, but he finally identified the Cape Parrots calling way down in the valley.  We hopped back in the truck headed down the road, stopping to listen as the calls got louder (closer).  Finally, he pulled over to the trees where there was a flock of Cape Parrots.  We could hear them perfectly and see the movement in the dense foliage but the birds just refused to come out and be photographed.  We waited patiently for about half an hour, then all of a sudden, they took off down the mountain and we could see them flying off into the distance.  There was no chance to get any decent photographs as they didn’t come out from the trees.  Dejected, we got back into the truck and David took us to some other places to see other birds, including the famous bat hawks.  We saw lots of gorgeous sunbirds, kingfishers, and some bee-eaters.  I really needed a better lens as they tend to perch far from anyplace where humans are walking.
IMG_1498 IMG_1509 IMG_1514 IMG_1519
IMG_1624
David brought us back to Kurisa Moya before lunch time and we ate on the deck overlooking the rain forest.  There are maps of the walking trails on the property in the cabin so we set out to do a couple of the walks.  There is one that started right behind our cabin called “Birder’s Loop” that we did first.  It was frustrating as we could hear the birds up in the trees but they wouldn’t come down closer.  It was still pretty misty too.  Then we did another trail called Umsenge Forest Walk that led us through more forest trails and this time we saw some Samango monkeys frolicking in the trees.
IMG_1524 IMG_1527 IMG_1530 IMG_1531 IMG_1533

The walk ended at the farm house.  Since there were no other guests around and most of the staff had gone off to vote (there was an election that day), we just sat on the veranda enjoying the view and watching for any birds that happened by.  I did manage to get some better photos this time!  Still no Cape Parrots, but we did see some beautiful sunbirds.  Lisa, the manager came back and let me use her computer to check my flights and the weather the next day.  It was still going to be drizzly but since we only had one more day in Magoebaskloof, we had to go for it.

IMG_1534 IMG_1535 IMG_1536 IMG_1538 IMG_1539 IMG_1547 IMG_1551 IMG_1555 IMG_1565

CAPE PARROTS IN THE MIST

David picked us up again at 6am and we went back to the Woodbush Forest and listened again on the ridge.  It took a while but the Cape Parrots finally made themselves heard down in the valley again.  They were basically in the same area they were yesterday.  We went back to the area and saw some Samango monkeys so I sat in the car taking photos while David walked up the road a bit.  Suddenly, he came running back.  “Cape Parrots”, he said excitedly, “There in the trees!”  I followed him up the road and sure enough, there was one lonely Cape Parrot out on a limb WAAAAAAY up in a tree.  I had to really push the lens to get him!  One by one, three more Cape Parrots joined him in the tree all squawking at the top of their voices.   A few more flew in and luckily for us, some of them perched in the front of the tree so I could get some photos and videos.  Then with more shrieks to the wind, they were off.  They circled once as if to say goodbye to us, then it was off to their foraging grounds.  We waved at them to thank them for gracing us with their presence feeling immensely privileged to have seen them at all!

IMG_1592 IMG_1597 IMG_1610 IMG_1612 IMG_1615 IMG_1618

***Originally published on my Parrot Conservation website Feathered and Free.

Meet David Letsoalo, Top South African Birding Guide

When you are looking for rare bird species, especially in terrain where they can be easily camouflaged, it is essential to have a birding guide who knows the area well and is familiar with the nesting spots and sounds of the targeted species.  If you are birding in the Woodbush Forest of Magoebaskloof, you are in luck as this is the home of the amazing David Letsoalo.

IMG_1619

David Letsoalo, BirdLife South Africa-accredited Bird Guide won the Eagle Award for being the best local guide in South Africa.   David is a living legend in the birding world. He has been the focus of numerous magazine and newspaper articles including Die Beeld, Africa Birds and Birding Magazine, Limpopo Living Magazine, The Star Newspaper and Country Life Magazine.  He has also been interviewed for television slots including Kaelo, Miracle Stories on SABC 2, 50/50, Supersports and for BBC3. David is on the BirdLife SA Council, representing the Bird Guides countrywide. He also mentors the Limpopo Guides and assists in training workshops.

The best way to arrange a birding excursion with David is at Kurisa Moya, a stunningly beautiful lodge in Magoebaskloof.  He’s a really nice guy and we greatly enjoyed our birding excursion with him.  We never would have found the Cape Parrots without him!

IMG_1621

This is a video interview I did with David back in April 2009.  It’s only a home-made video so the quality isn’t the best but you do get to know more about David, his dedication to conservation, Cape Parrots and even how to pronounce “Magoebaskloof”!

Lodge Review: Kurisa Moya, Magoebaskloof, South Africa

Kurisa Moya has several types of accommodation available including a farm house and the two Forest Lodge cabins.  The farm’s varied habitats are home to about 250 species of birds, including the Narina Trogan, the Black-fronted Bush Shrike, the Green Twinspot and the Buff-spotted Flufftail. The Woodbush area is one of the top birding sites as mentioned in Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswood and Jonathan Rossouw’s book South African Birdfinder and in Hugh Chittendin’s book, Top Birding Spots in Southern Africa.   Co-owner, Ben de Boer, the co-ordinator of the Greater Limpopo Birding Routes is an avid birder and can offer birders great advice. Guided walks or outings in the area can be organized with renowned local guide, David Letsoalo, who is based at Kurisa Moya.  Of course being parrot lovers above all, we were hoping to see some of the few Cape Parrots (Poicephalus robustus robustus)  left in the world.  There are around 80 in Magoebaskloof and according to the Cape Parrot Working Group, they counted 1229 on the last census that took place the first weekend of May.  More details are on their website.    You can book both accommodation at Kurisa Moya and birding walks with David on their website.

If you are coming direct from Polokwane, you will have a good tar road all the way to the turnoff to the lodge, then you have 2.3km of a really rough road. Like the previous reviewer, we did this trip in the dark coming from Phalaborwa where the first 9km or so are also a bad road and we had a little Ford Focus.

IMG_1570 IMG_1571 IMG_1572 IMG_1575 IMG_1577

Once you actually get there, it is a wonderful eco-lodge and ideal for bird watchers. You can book tours with one of the top bird guides in South Africa-David Letsoalo and he will do everything he can to find the species you are interested in. For us, it was Cape Parrots which were very elusive on the first day (heard but not seen) but the second day, we got to see 5 of them!

We stayed in the Forest Lodge which overlooks primary rainforest and even though it rained the first day, we still saw lots of birds, we also went up to the farm house to see birds in the garden. We self catered with pre-packaged supermarket food but you can also get Lisa, the owner to cook you a meal and judging by the guestbook comments, she is a great cook! The lodge is gorgeous, very rustic and charming, well stocked wood burning fireplace. It gets pretty chilly at night so you need lots of wood! We did two of the walks on the property (Bird Watchers and Forest Walk) which were really nice.

IMG_1483 IMG_1485 IMG_1486
If you want to do a bird watching tour with David, you will need a 4WD, there is no way a little sedan car would make it in the Woodbush Forest roads. We paid extra to use his truck. Also, bring all the food you need if you are self-catering, there is no place to shop nearby and you also need to charge up your camera and cell phone batteries.  Shopping is available nearby, see my Destination Magoebaskloof post.

Kurisa Moya is a wonderful place to visit if you love nature and especially birds!  Judging by the rave reviews on Trip Advisor, I am not alone in my opinion!

Destination: Magoebaskloof, South Africa

Easily accessible from both Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, the Magoebaskloof region is a mecca for birders.

Magoebaskloof is a beautiful mountainous area in the Limpopo Province at the very North Eastern tip of the Drakensberg mountain range. Fondly called “The Land of the Silver Mist” by historians and locals alike, the mountains and valleys of the area are regularly shrouded in a soft mist. This mist belt has resulted in the lush afro-montane forests that make the area a welcome green oasis in the Limpopo bushveld.

The name means Magoeba’s Valley, but the Magoebaskloof is in fact a series of valleys named after a tribal chief who had his head chopped off by warriors serving under Boer commander Abel Erasmus in 1895.