By Mike Hawkins
Polokwane - Really good news for birders is that the Kruger National Park has beaten the odds and reopened the Luvuvhu River Drive in time for the peak summer birding season.
This route, which runs alongside the Luvuvhu River in the northern tropical zone of the park, is generally acknowledged as one of the top birding areas in South Africa.
The roads near the river were severely damaged during the January floods this year and required extensive rebuilding and repairs.
The Luvuvhu Bridge and the Pafuri picnic site at the edge of the river, were reopened earlier this year. The meandering river drive to Crooks’ Corner, with the bridge and shady picnic area, has long been a favourite destination for birding enthusiasts from all over the world.
The bridge is a Mecca for keen birders on the look-out for “specials” and many spend an hour or more there despite the summer heat.
At the bridge look for Pels Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, Green-backed Heron and, on the southern bank, Tropical Bou-bou, Eastern Nicator, Green-capped Eremomela and other woodland species. There is a good chance of spotting Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetails in the nearby baobabs. African Fish-Eagles nest downstream, while African Crowned Eagles often glide above the trees.
On the S63 dirt road, 200m from the bridge towards the picnic site, you could see Crested Guinea Fowl, Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Meves’s Starling, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Bearded and White-browed Scrub-Robin, White-throated Robin-Chat, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike and Broad-billed Roller.
Purple and Village Indigobirds (and their Firefinch hosts) may also be seen here, as well as a range of Warblers – Whitethroat, Olive-tree and Common – together with the Nightingale Thrush.
In contrast, the Pafuri picnic site is a tranquil place and the tall shade trees provide a welcome relief from the hot sun. There are toilet and braai facilities and visitors can hire a gas skottel or buy firewood.
Resident bird guide Frank Mabasa is on hand to help visitors with their birding and point out “specials”.
At the picnic site you should see many of the previous specials as well as Green-capped Eremomela, Purple-crested Turaco, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Pels Fishing Owl in the riverine trees. The river in front is good for White-crowned Lapwing, Water Thick-knee and sometimes African Finfoot.
The Luvuvhu River Drive (S63) to Crooks’ Corner is a birder’s paradise and one of the most beautiful in the entire park. The road follows the river through tropical woodland and there are many shady viewpoints overlooking the water course. The diverse vegetation, ranging from arid thornveld and baobabs to lush forest – as well as the tropical latitude – attracts birds not seen anywhere else in South Africa.
Keep an eye out for Bohms and Mottled Spinetails, Lemon-breasted Canary, African Crowned Eagle, Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Eastern Nicator, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Tambourine Dove.
The forests on either side of the river – nyala trees, fever-berries, forest fever trees and sycamore figs – also support a rich array of animal life. Nyala, kudu, impala, wildebeest, warthog and baboons browse beneath the tall trees, while elephant, buffalo and the occasional leopard can be seen. Crooks’ Corner itself has been completely rebuilt, overlooking vast areas of sand where the Luvuvhu and Limpopo meet, forming the borders of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The railed area is a bit smaller than before, but still provides ample room for visitors.
Get out at Crooks’ Corner and look for Senegal Cougal and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. - Saturday Star