Nile monitor lizards often have exquisite charcoal and yellow colouring and can grow quite large – up to 1.6m in length. They are usually found near or in rivers, although they have well-developed claws and can climb trees. They use their forked tongues to sniff out food, which includes insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles (including crocodiles), eggs, birds, and carrion.
Seeing a korhaan is always a pleasure because they often seem to materialise in stretches of otherwise nondescript grassland, taking one by surprise. Most korhaans are beautiful because of their striking colours and patterns, but the Blue Korhaan is exceptionally lovely because of its exquisite blue feathers and pretty black and white striped heads. This bird is endemic to South Africa and is near-threatened, which makes it a particularly rare and special bird to look out for.
This bird, like many turacos, has a guttural, croaking call that is quite at odds with its beautiful appearance. Although secretive, Purple-crested Turacos are often tempted into the open by fruit-bearing trees and water sources. By far the most colourful southern African turaco, the rich rose-pink, gold, emerald and indigo shades of the Purple-crested Turaco’s feathers are exquisite to behold. These turacos are the national bird of the Kingdom of Swaziland, and their brilliant scarlet flight feathers are important elements in the ceremonial regalia of some Nguni groups.
Young Orange River White-eyes perch in a thorn tree waiting for their parents to return with food. These birds are endemic, like the Cape White-eyes they were once thought to be. These White-eyes tend to prefer woodland and thicket habitats in the Karoo, semi-arid grasslands, and Namibian coastal scrub. This species regularly wanders down the Cape West Coast where its range overlaps with its Cape relation.
A female greater kudu. There are two main species of kudu in Africa: greater kudu, which are found in eastern and southern Africa, and lesser kudu, which are found in the horn of Africa. Male lesser kudus males weigh 180 kilograms at the most, while male greater kudu can weigh as much as 270kg. Both species have magnificent horns, but the white stripes of the lesser kudu are more clearly defined.
The Blue Crane’s subtle blue-grey feathers and elegant curves give it a noble appearance. This bird is important in South African culture: it is the country’s national bird and, historically, its feathers were used to distinguish amaXhosa warriors. It is endemic to South Africa, but it is vulnerable to extinction due to the conversion of its favoured grassland habitats into forests and settlements. It is currently only thriving in the agricultural areas of the Western Cape.
Ray and I have been to many game lodges in South Africa, from the luxurious to the basic (where we showered under a watering can, had a long-drop loo and baked bread in a mud oven), but we can say without any hesitation that Phinda Mountain Lodge distinguished itself from any of the others.
Thank you Cable and Grain for your recommendation, your professionalism and personal touch when handling our booking - it was very reassuring having you in charge. A big consideration for us was that Phinda was in a low risk malaria area, yet completely in the wild. We found the lodge itself beautifully and sympathetically built, at one with its environment. The individual lodges couldn’t be seen from below, or indeed from within the campus, affording total privacy - essential when you have a great outdoor shower! The rooms were special, very luxurious, using natural materials - and they were serviced twice a day, including on the day of our departure. The staff were smiling and universally helpful whether serving breakfast in the open dining area, in the boma or out in the bush. We were there for three nights, each one was a different experience: dinner in the boma, lit solely by lamps, was a magical affair under the african skies, as was the following evening when dinner was set up in the bush; always wonderfully romantic, another night we dined à deux on the huge veranda with uninterrupted views of the Lebombo mountain range in the distance. Every meal we ate was imaginative and totally delicious, produced by a team of chefs who very obviously understand food, quality and taste.
The wildlife we saw was fantastic. On our very first drive we were lucky enough to see a cheetah kill, 10 metre from our vehicle. Yes, we saw ‘the big five’ but it would not have mattered if we had not. We saw so many different animals, including a rare sighting of wild dogs one night. Our rangers were hugely knowledgable, allowing us to observe game while giving us interesting data; nice to watch and learn, without rushing off to the next ‘big thing’. The vehicles were well disciplined too, having to wait to be called to observe anything - never were there more than three at any one time.
We also liked the fact that staff were sourced from the local community, as were handicrafts made by them. The ethos at Phinda is such that by giving, it deservedly receives.
Again, Rory, many thanks for organising such a memorable stay for us.
Our best regards,
Vicky and Ray
The Spotted Thick-knees’ large yellow eyes probably assist them to see better in the dark. They are predominantly nocturnal and are often seen on the road or on road verges at night, standing alert in the glare of a car’s headlights. Spotted Thick-knees are resident throughout most of southern Africa, even breeding in parks and fields in city environs. They are most vocal on cloudy and rainy days and have a recognisable high-pitched, repetitive call.
These baby Greater Double-collared Sunbirds will one day grow up to be so beautiful that they will often be described as living jewels – ones that can only be found in southern Africa. Adults are resplendent with shimmering emerald-green heads and brilliant scarlet chests. For now, these little ones remain adorable, nondescript fluffballs. Well cared for by both of their parents, they enjoy a healthy diet of nectar, insects and spiders.
One would think it would be difficult to prise a tortoise from its shell, but the Bearded Vulture has found a way. These huge birds grasp a tortoise with their talons, fly up high and then let the tortoise go so that its shell cracks as it hits the ground. Tortoises can also overheat in their shells, particularly when trapped on tarred roads by high embankments or obstacles. Tortoises are often seen crossing roads. If you stop to pick up a tortoise and move it out of danger, take care to keep your feet clear as it may urinate when frightened.
In the breeding season Yellow Weaver nests can be found suspended from branches over dams and estuaries. Their nests are distinguishable from other weaver nests because they have an entrance hole rather than a woven spout. The contrast between these weavers’ bright yellow feathers and their vivid red eyes make them one of the most distinctive and easily identifiable weavers. In southern Africa they are found in a narrow strip of woodland and savannah that runs along the region’s eastern shorelines, from the Eastern Cape to Mozambique.
An African leopard tortoise goes on its lumbering way. As with a leopard’s spots, the marking on this tortoise’s shell are totally unique. This is the most common and widely-distributed tortoise in southern Africa. It is a herbivore and emits a strange hiss when retracting into its shell, and it wheezes comically when it’s mating. Its lifespan is usually between 80 and 100 years.
There are so few markers which distinguish the Northern Black Korhaan from the Southern Black Korhaan that they were once considered to be the same bird! These gorgeous birds often hide out in long grass which makes deciphering their beautiful patterns quite difficult. However, their ranges do not overlap much: Northern Black Korhaans have a much wider grassland and Karoo range than their Southern cousins, who prefer coastal fynbos areas. In addition, Northern Black Korhaans have a less defined white stripe on their crests and their white eye patches run to the outer corner of their eyes.
A particularly splendid crab glints in the sun. This one has an extra-large pincer specially adapted to hanging onto errant human toes. Crabs play an important part in aquatic ecosystems. Some species of crab lay thousands of eggs which are an important food source for other sea creatures. They are also very good at ‘cleaning up’ the ocean because they are omnivorous. Many crabs eat ocean detritus, fungi and bacteria.
A Red-capped Robin-chat ruffles its feathers while taking a bath, looking both annoyed and adorable. Robin-chats are known for their melodious songs and tendency to mimic other birdcalls, and the Red-capped Robin-chat’s call is amongst the prettiest of all its cousins. Its only real competition in the vocal department is the Chorister Robin-chat which even mimics frogs, human whistles and dog barks.
This ground squirrel seems delighted with this snack. Ground squirrels eat bulbs, fruit, grass, insects and shrubs. Since they prefer to live mainly in arid areas or semi-arid areas, they get all their water from the food they eat. They seek hard ground to burrow into because it provides good structural support and shade. Because they forage during the day, these squirrels need to keep cool. They use their magnificent fluffy tails to shade them, and also take dust baths.