Before I was a game ranger, my impressions of Londolozi were that of a destination renowned for high-profile game viewing. It was only after beginning my guiding career here, that I have discovered it to be a hidden birding treasure as well. Nestled right in the heart of the Lowveld, Londolozi is home to many birds, many of which are quite daunting for guests to begin to understand. As a result I have put together this basic guide of the more noteworthy birds, which you will be able to whether you are on game drive, in camp or at any one of the lodges surrounding Londolozi in the Sabi Sands. Enjoy…
The Sand River, which flows past the decks of camp, is a source of a number of rarities including the secretive African Finfoot, Whitebacked Night-heron, Blackcrowned Night-heron, Purple Heron, African Black Duck, Half Collared and Malachite Kingfishers and African Crake.
The adjoining riverine forests have produced Black and Grey Cuckooshrike, African Pygmy Kingfisher as well as the exceptionally rare Thick-billed and Emerald Cuckoo.
Birds of prey are plentiful on the property and the following eagles are regularly seen: Martial, African Hawk, Tawny, African Fish, Wahlberg’s and Steppe (after Rains).
Montagu’s Harrier is frequently seen flying low over the open Red Grass (Themeda triandra) plains in summer and African Harrier-Hawk (previously known as the Gymnogene) feeds in the holes of the dead trees throughout the reserve.
Accipiters are plentiful, including Gabar, African and Dark Chanting Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Lizard Buzzard and the Shikra.
Spotted Eagle Owls are seen regularly on night drive, while the little known African Grass-Owl calls and is sometimes seen in the grasslands in the south west of the property. The Verraux’s Eagle Owl, the second largest owl in the world, is heard calling at dusk and dawn and is regularly spotted flying from tree to tree along the dry riverbeds. African Barred, Pearl-spotted and African Scops Owlet are heard almost every night, however the latter is seldom seen due to its remarkable camouflage.
On the Marula strewn crests, Diederick’s, Klaas’s, Great Spotted, Jacobin, Levaillant’s and African Cuckoo’s can be seen feeding on the caterpillars that thrive on the Marula leaves. Although the beautiful Blackheaded Oriole is the most prolific of the Orioles, the scarcer Eurasian and African Golden Orioles are occasionally seen in summer. In this area, we find a number of new world, insectivorous, Kingfishers such as Brownhooded, Greyheaded and Woodlands Kingfishers.
Some other big ticks that the passionate birder could expect from a visit to Londolozi include the Dwarf Bittern, which has become a common summer resident, the Croaking and Redfaced Cisticolas, the Senegal Lapwing (a very common summer resident), the Coqui and Shelley’s Francolin, the Greater and Lesser Honeyguide, the Harlequin Quail, the Small Buttonquail, the Redbreasted and Mosque Swallows and the endangered Southern Ground Hornbill.
The elusive Black Coucal was regularly seen last summer in the brackish drainage line towards the south of the Reserve, and sporadic sightings of African Quail Finch, Green Sandpiper, Narina Trogan and Cuckoo Finch are noteworthy.
The spectacular birds of the area provide fantastic photographic subjects and give every photographer an additional challenge to capturing more than the big cats. Some of the most splendid birds to be photographed at Londolozi include the Lilac-Breasted and European Rollers, Purplecrested Turaco, Saddlebilled Stork, Bateleur, African Green Pigeon, Green-winged Pytillia, Blue Waxbill, Goldenbreasted Bunting, Violet backed Starling and the iridescent Glossy Starling.
And finally, what photographic portfolio would be complete without a photograph of at least one of the spectacular bee-eaters, the Little, White-fronted or Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters?
I hope that this guide provides an insight and introduction, for some, to a fantastic aspect of the safari experience at Londolozi and the Sabi Sands as well. Looking for birds whilst exploring the property and tracking larger game is extremely fun and has always opened up my eyes to a whole new aspect of the natural world. If you think I have left out any important birds, please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
Written and Photographed by: Graeme Marais