Northern Kruger National Park – Punda Maria

About the Birding

Punda Maria is the northernmost SANParks camp in the Kruger National Park and often serves as the base for birders wanting to visit the incredible Pafuri region of the park. The camp itself is situated on a ridge amongst rolling hills and provides easy access to a number of key habitats in the north of the National Park. The camp itself is excellent for the White-throated Robin-chat, Bearded Scrub-robin, Green-winged Pytilia, Purple-crested Turaco, Terrestrial Brownbul, Violet-backed Starling, Blue Waxbill, Cut-throat Finch, Jameson’s Firefinch, Bearded Woodpecker, Greater Blue-eared Starling and the Red-headed Weaver.

Many of these species are attracted to the small bird bath just below the picnic site and in front of the chalets; a great place to spend time during the heat of the day. The trail up the ridge behind the main camp is worth visiting for the Grey-headed Bushshrike, Eastern Nicator and Bearded Scrub-robin. At night listed for the calls of the African Scops-owl, Western Barn Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Spotted Eagle-owl and the Fiery-necked Nightjar.

Further afield, the Mahoni Loop (S99) is an excellent 28km route for a full-morning of birding. The road passes through dense mixed woodland on red sandy soils, as well as through extensive tracts of Mopane Woodland. This is the best route in the park for the tricky Grey-headed (Brown-necked) Parrot, Arnot’s Chat, and the Mosque Swallow. Other notable species include the Gorgeous Bushshrike, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Arnot’s Chat, Bearded and Bennett’s Woodpeckers, Stierling’s Wren-warbler, African Golden Oriole (summer), Narina Trogon, Thick-billed Cuckoo (summer), Broad-billed Roller (summer), and the Grey-headed Kingfisher. The rare Racket-tailed Roller and Southern Hyliota have been reported but these species are best seen closer to Pafuri. The more open habitats may yield the Dusky Lark, Black-bellied and Kori Bustards, Southern Ground Hornbill and Temminck’s Courser. In summer (October-November), guided night drives may deliver the sought-after Pennant-winged Nightjar.

Key species:

Grey-headed (Brown-necked) Parrot, Arnot’s chat, Orange-winged Pytilia, Bearded Scrub-robin, Southern White-faced Owl, Pennant-winged Nightjar, White-breasted Cuckooshrike

About the Birding Site

The Kruger National Park covers 19,685 kilometres and is the 10th largest game reserve in the world. It has 3000 kilometres of road, 23 rest camps and a host of excellent picnic sites, walking trails, 4×4 routes, hides and massive dams. A remarkable new initiative involving the Kruger National Park is the creation of a fence free park that allows animals to migrate freely across national borders. In May 2002, Kruger, Coutada 16 (in Mozambique) and Gonarezhou (in Zimbabwe) formally merged into the 35 000 square kilometre Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, one of the largest game reserves in the world.

The big game viewing in Kruger rivals that of any reserve in Africa with large elephant, buffalo and lion populations being relatively easily seen. Every year over a million visitors tally up in the region of 520 bird species. Due to its great size, Kruger supports a unique combination of habitats with the added benefits of easy road access and comfortable amenities. The land to the north of the Luvuvhu River, and south of the Limpopo, was subject to a successful land claim and reverted back to the Makuleke Tribe in 1998 but remains under the wider protection of Kruger National Park as the Makuleke Concession though most of these areas are inaccessible to the general public except through a number of ecotourism operators that run lodges in these northern reaches of the park.

Birding is best in the summer months (November to March) with the arrival of summer migrants but a remarkable number of birds can be seen in the winter months (May – July). Birding is fantastic throughout the park but the northern area is host to a number of species that are on the edge of their southernmost range and do not occur elsewhere in South Africa. A birding trip to Kruger National Park should be on the agenda of any birder in South Africa.

The northern parts of the National park (including the Makuleke Concession) are blanketed in dense mixed woodland (Punda Maria) and dry rugged Baobab and Mopane country (Pafuri). On the eastern boundary, the extensive Mwambiya Sandveld that is more characteristic of the Mozambique lowland plain pushes into the reserve. However, the overall topography of the northern sector is dominated by the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers that reach their confluence at the eastern boundary before ultimately flowing into Mozambique. These rivers are flanked by dense riverine woodland and forest providing habitat for a wealth of species.

While the central and southern regions of the park are generally more rewarding for wildlife, there is little question that northern Kruger is for the birds. Northern Kruger boasts an extremely high diversity and density of bird species, including several notable species that reach their southern distributional limit here. Several ‘Birding Big Day’ teams have recorded in excess of 260 species in a 24-hour period, highlighting the incredible diversity of this region. Top among the extensive list of species to be found here are the Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-crowned Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, and White-backed Night-heron along the major rivers; Thick-billed Cuckoo, Retz’s Helmet-shrike, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Crested Guineafowl, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye, and Ayres’s Hawk-eagle in the riverine woodland and forest; and Meves’s Starling, Grey-headed Parrot, Three-banded Courser, Arnot’s Chat, and Racket-tailed Roller in the dry woodland. Several days are recommended to explore this area as many species occur in low density.

Key species:

Grey-headed (Brown-necked) Parrot, Arnot’s chat, Orange-winged Pytilia, Bearded Scrub-robin, Southern White-faced Owl, Pennant-winged Nightjar, White-breasted Cuckooshrike

Other Related Information

To reach the Punda Maria restcamp in Kruger National Park, take the N1 to Polokwane (Pietersburg). At Makhado (Louis Trichard) link up with the R524 and follow this route for ±140km. That will take you to the gate. Allow between 5 to 6 hours for the trip to the gate. Punda Maria Rest Camp is 10km away from the gate. Allow about 20 minutes for the drive to the camp, however, if you want to enjoy the game viewing possibilities give yourself more time!

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
SANPARKS offer a range of accommodation options within Punda Maria Rest Camp including 50 electrified tent or caravan sites, 7 safari tents, 22 bungalows and 2 family bungalows. The camp also features a small picnic area for day visitors, a fuel station, and a small convenience shop. For more information or to make a reservation, please visit www.sanparks.org.

The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are:

Ecotraining – Makuleke Concession
Address: EcoTraining camp, Makuleke concession, Northern Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)13 752 2532
Cell: +27 (0)71 895 8658
Fax: +27 (0)13 752 4791
Email: enquiries@ecotraining.co.za
Web: www.ecotraining.co.za

Pafuri – Return Africa
Address: Return Africa Pafuri Collection, Makuleke concession Pafuri, Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)11 646 1391
Email: reservations@returnafrica.com
Web: www.returnafrica.com

Local guide information:
A number of guided activities are available through SANPARKS and bookings are made directly at the reception in Punda Maria Restcamp or the lodges within the Makuleke Concession.

Several BirdLife South Africa Community Bird Guides operate in the northern Kruger National Park including:
Christopher Nethonzhe – +27 (0)76 302 9383 chrisneth@vodamail.co.za
Khotso Snymes – +27 (0)78 365 8102 snymesk@gmail.com
Lungile Mteyane – +27 (0)76 376 0435 mthiyanel87@gmail.com
Samson Mulaudzi – +27 (0)83 662 9960 samson@birdingsoutpansberg-venda.co.za

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Grey-headed (Brown-necked) Parrot, Arnot’s chat, Orange-winged Pytilia, Bearded Scrub-robin, Southern White-faced Owl, Pennant-winged Nightjar, White-breasted Cuckooshrike

Contact details:

SANParks – Punda Maria Rest Camp
Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6873
Fax: +27 (0)13 735 6894
Cell: +27(0)82 802 0066

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