WINTER BIRDING THE ‘IVORY TRAIL’ AT PAFURI IN KRUGER PARK

Each and every dedicated birder has his or her birding ‘patch’ of special significance for whatever personal or emotional reason. Perhaps it was an original introduction to ‘birding’ that triggered it or an experience of particular significance that indelibly reinforced a warm and lasting association. Either way such a ‘patch’ is a special place we look forward to returning to time and again for sheer birding pleasure and the sense of eager anticipation warmly associated with renewing past birding acquaintances. One such place that has held me emotionally captive is Pafuri in the remote north eastern corner of the Kruger National Park.

Bateleur
African Hawk Eagle
White Helmet-Shrike
Retz’s Helmet-Shrike
Lilac-breasted Roller
Red-headed Weaver non-breeding

Here over 40 years ago I experienced my first ‘Peter’s Finfoot’ sighting as the African Finfoot was known locally at the time. It was an almost ethereal experience as the finfoot drifted down stream on the hardly perceptible current in search of dragonflies in the overhanging vegetation. For a moment time stood still as I soaked up the scene of this very special and much sought after sighting culminating in a visual display of day-glow orange feet, as the bird clambered clumsily up and over a partly submerged log, before disappearing around the bend. Still today I can visualize the tranquil scene with perfect clarity that etched Pafuri into my brain as one of my favorite birding sites.

Today, as the 21st century kicks into gear little has changed at Pafuri since my first visit thanks to conservation policies in place. Still the ‘lazy,grey green Limpopo river all set about with fever trees’, as so eloquently described by Rudyard Kipling, meanders through the sandbanks with relentless determination on its way to the Indian Ocean; and still the African Fish Eagle heralds the dawn at the crocodile studded convergence with the Luvuvhu river.

It is a timeless place graced by towering Nyala, Jackalberry, Natal Mahogany, Leadwood and sprawling Sycamore Fig trees that collectively make up the riverine corridor of magnificent trees that are home to a wide diversity of mammals and birds. No where else I know is the grunt of hippo as they porpoise about and the wailing of Trumpeter Hornbills more appropriate as an audio backdrop to a mornings’ birding in this unique setting with its point of convergence of the two rivers at a derelict bush camp once known as Crook’s Corner.

Here during the good old ivory poaching days and many a dubious transaction associated with illicit gold and diamond trading that elephant poachers and prospectors hiding from the law would converge in the knowledge that political immunity was but one step away across the ‘international’ border be the official authority South African, Rhodesian or Mozambican. Tales abound of an era long past best encapsulated by T.V.Bulpin in his classic review of goings on at the time along the ‘Ivory Trail’.

Today the bounders, cads, poachers and social misfits have departed the scene leaving pure serenity in their wake with only the sights and sounds of nature remaining as a timeless legacy of an Africa that has undergone so much change elsewhere on the continent.

This very special corner can be reached as a day trip out of either Punda Maria camp some 70kms to the south or Pafuri River Camp situated just west of the Park boundary. For those with an overnight inclination and holiday budget the wilderness safari camp situated on the north bank of the Luvuvhu river in the Makuleki conservancy is the way to go with a three night stay in mind.

Either way the surrounding area of mopani woodland and rocky ridges studded with ancient baobab trees that flank the heavily wooded riverine corridor collectively supports a wide variety of magnificent mammals including elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard along with an assortment of antelope including impala, greater kudu, waterbuck and the magnificent and highly localized and plentiful nyala.

Yet it is the birdlife that brings me back time and again in search of repeat sightings of resident species such as African Finfoot, White-crowned Plover, Trumpeter Hornbill, Saddle-billed Stork, Hooded, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vulture, African Fish and Verreaux’s Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Grey-headed and Brown-headed Parrot, Giant Kingfisher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Ashy Flycatcher, Tropical Boubou, Purple-crested Turaco, African Green Pigeon, Crested Guineafowl, Bohm’s and Mottled Spinetail, Mosque Swallow, Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow White-eye and for those staying overnight Bat Hawk at dusk and Bronze-winged and Three-banded Courser on a night drive through Wilderness Safaris plus the lucky chance of a Pel’s Fishing Owl on its favorite hunting perch near the Luvuvhu bridge.

A list of mid-winter sightings totalling 167 resident species along the road from Punda Maria to Pafuri itself is available for those who are interested. A mid-summer list would be significantly higher with a good spread of intra-Africa and Palearctic migrant’s present in the surrounding woodland. Need I say more to justify my passion for Pafuri!

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