Luvuvhu: birding mecca re-opened
Words by Mike Hawkins, Pics by Lyneve Cook and Mike Hawkins.
More than one third of the Kruger Park’s 520 plus bird species are seasonal migrants and most of these are summer visitors. So birders were thrilled that the Park managed to repair the havoc resulting from the January 2013 floods and re-open the Luvuvhu River Drive in the Pafuri area by mid-October.
The fever trees on the repaired S63 add an eerie magical dimension to the Luvuvhu River Drive.
The devastation caused by the floods is apparent – heavy tree trunks tossed randomly into the bush; piles of driftwood caught high in the surviving trees; and metres of heavy rock and mesh reinforcing tightly rolled by the racing waters into giant ‘pancakes’.
But, the birds are still there and even easier to spot in the thinned out woodlands. The forests on either side of the river – nyala trees, baobabs, fever-berries, eerie 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 often be seen.
A green-backed heron and a crocodile bask in the sun at Crook's Corner.
The Luvuvhu River Bridge and Pafuri Picnic Site are Meccas for keen birders searching for ‘specials’. The picnic area’s tall shade trees provide a welcome relief from the hot sun of the bridge and there are toilet and braai facilities.
The Luvuvhu River Drive from the picnic area to Crooks' Corner (S63) is a birder’s paradise. The road follows the watercourse through riverine woodland and there are many shady viewpoints. The tropical latitude and diverse vegetation - from arid thornveld to lush forest - attract birds not seen anywhere else in South Africa.
The Black-throated Wattle-eye has near threatened status in South Africa. Its nest is mainly built by the female and is a neat cup of fine twigs and grass fibres, held together with spider web. Bits of bark, leaves and sometimes lichen, may be added.
Birding game plan
Enter the Kruger at Pafuri gate as soon as it opens (5:30 in summer). The dense Mopane trees close to the gate offer your best chance of seeing the elusive Arnot's Chat. Also keep an eye out for the Southern Black Tit and Red-headed Weaver. Follow the HI-9 tar road to the Luvuvhu River Bridge.
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 after prey.
The Yellow-bellied Greenbul favours thick tangled undergrowth, as well as clearings in riverine forests and mopane woodlands.
On the S63 dirt road, 200 m from the bridge towards the picnic site, look out for 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 South Africa, the Meve’s Starling only occurs in the Limpopo River Valley, with a significant population in the far north of the Kruger National Park. According to Roberts VII, there are less than 300 birds in SA and just over 500 in Zimbabwe.
At the picnic site you should see many of the above specials here 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.
A White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) poses for a photograph near Crooks’ Corner. In South Africa, it is largely restricted to the north and east.
Follow the S63 eastwards along the river to Crooks Corner, keeping 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. Get out at Crooks Corner and look for Senegal Cougal and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. The bird life at the water's edge is particularly prolific, often with uncommon species such as Woolly-necked and Yellow-billed Storks, Openbills and Spoonbills.
You can also take in the short Nyala Loop (S64) to the west. Look out for Crested Guineafowl and Verraeuxs’ Eagle on the cliffs around Thulamela.