I have recently come back from a week long holiday to the Kruger Park, and in particular three nights staying at the Pafuri Border Camp in the extreme north of the park. It is called the border camp as it is literally 200m from the Mozambique Border, and a couple of km’s from the Zimbabwean border. The camp is the perfect place to explore the Pafuri area, my favourite birding destination in South Africa. The camp consists of only three units that are available to stay in. I stayed in the lavish and sprawling Mockford House, which consists of four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a huge kitchen, lounge, reading area, all with wrap around passages with large windows to see out into the bush. There is also a private verandah with braai area and a swimming pool that is shared between all three units. There is unfortunately no shop or restaurant, so you need to make sure you have all your supplies with you, before arriving. The camp is powered by solar panels, and at night a generator is used. I am still puzzled as to why they don’t use any batteries to store all the solar power they generate, as I am sure it would make the generator and its burning of fossil fuels almost redundant.
The Pafuri area holds a special place in my heart. For a start when I am in the Kruger, I always feel so privileged to be in such a vast and unspoilt wilderness, and the Pafuri area is the jewel on the crown. There are many reasons for it. When I was a kid we used to go on holiday to the Kruger Park every year, but because of the logistics of travelling from Amanzimtoti, the northern areas and in particular Pafuri were rarely visited. In addition my uncle who was more of a birder than us, who were mainly just into animals at that stage, would always rave of the northern areas of the park. Then when you become a birder you realise why Pafuri is so special to birders. It is the area between the mighty Limpopo and Luvuvuhu Rivers where many of Africa’s more tropical species find the southernmost edge of their range. Species like Brown-necked Parrot, Racket-tailed Roller, Bohm’s and Mottled Spinetails, Meve’s Starling, Mosque Swallow, Tropical Boubou, Pel’s Fishing Owl, and the list goes on and on.
It is easy to get carried away with the many special and range restricted birds in the area, but remember this is still the Kruger Park and it also offers a stunning array of wild animals. I came close to a male lion on one of the mornings just a couple hundred metres away from the bridge over the Luvuvhu River where you are allowed to get out and walk around (Yes that would be the bridge where 99.9% 100% of people have recorded their Bohm’s Spinetail lifer) I stayed with it for over half an hour while it roared like I have never heard a lion roar before. The other reason why I love Pafuri, is because of the increased presence of Baobabs in the area. The Baobab is my absolute favourite tree, and I usually can’t pass one without taking a photo of it. There is a famous Baobab for birders just past the bridge and on the way towards the Pafuri gate. It is right next to the road, and it is at this stage where if you have never seen a Mosque Swallow, then it is your time, as they nest in the tree and are always flying around nearby.
Before my trip I had two birds which I was obviously hoping to see both, but even sighting just one, would absolutely make the whole trip. These two birds were Racket-tailed Roller and Pel’s Fishing Owl. I can tell you I looked for the Pel’s until my neck was sore of looking up into trees. I looked for them at all the usual places i.e. Crookes Corner, The Pafuri Picnic Site, the bridge over the Luvuvhu and all the places in between, but alas I guess there is always next time. The roller on the other hand I had a pretty good idea of where they are usually found (half way between the bridge and the Pafuri Gate), and so as I approached the area, I was driving painstakingly slowly and looking in every tree and checking every odd call to see what it was. I began to slowly lose hope, but then I came across a couple of cars that had stopped including a tour guide. The people in the vehicles were frantically taking photos, and I thought gosh this must be a leopard. I hadn’t seen a leopard thus far so I was eager and excited to see it. I eventually stopped near the tour guide leader, and he informed me there was a Racket-tailed Roller about 50m into the thick Mopane veld. He said play the call on your phone to get familiar with it, and then listen to where it is. He then just left me there to fen for myself. My heart was beating at rapid pace, and I thought if I have just missed this I am going to smash something. Luckily the bird was very obliging and it flew to a tree right next to the road. I was so excited and my hands were shaking as I was taking photos. I met another vehicle at the site, and they too were over the moon, as they said they had been staying in the area for a week looking for it, and that this was their first sighting.
I also saw a number of other lifers on my trip including Tropical Boubou, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Green-capped Eremomela, Cut-throat Finches, Senegal Coucal, Bohm's Spinetail, and Grey-backed Camaroptera.
Until next time, Pafuri will, in my mind always be perfection.