The scene was not unlike rush hour traffic at a city intersection, where the traffic lights had failed during one of the countries load shedding exercises and the mood of some of the cars passengers was undoubtedly similar as they jostled and inched backwards and forwards to gain a view of the King of all Beasts - the majestic lion and his lioness as they tried to get amorous with one another. I had inadvertently got caught up in this “traffic jam” on the Gorah Loop during an afternoon drive in the Addo Elephant National Park. The lions certainly were impressive and it was fantastic to see that they had totally settled into Addo after having been re-established in the reserve a number of years ago, but it was now time to move on and do some serious birding.
1. A male lion yawns before stretching and standing up to follow the rest of the pride as they moved to a new resting spot.
Fortunately the lions had decided to show themselves in one of the open grasslands and although I could not move for the time being, I was rewarded with an array of different birds moving in and around the area. Amongst much shaking of heads in disbelief from the other vehicles towards me, I directed my camera lens and binoculars in the opposite direction of the lions and proceeded to capture some of the smaller and far more interesting grassland birds.
2. Denham's Bustards are fairly common amongst the open grasslands of Addo Elephant National Park
Firstly a Cloud Cisticola came and perched briefly on top of a small bush. The numerous African Pipits stayed out of range until one bold individual came and caught a large and fat caterpillar right next to the vehicle. Well satiated it then hopped up onto a pile of elephant dung to gain a better view of what all the other fuss was about. It was followed by an Eastern Clapper Lark and its partner, who like the pipit also used the elephant dung as a vantage point. In the distance Red-Capped Lark and Cape Longclaw fluttered about after insects, while a Denham’s Bustard strode purposefully through the veld past a stalking Black-Headed Heron and alongside a large, magnificently horned Kudu bull. This sitting patiently in wait produced a new species to me as a small group of Black-Winged Lapwing flew in together with four Crowned Lapwings. They ran around briefly in the grassland before flying off into the distance and this little session certainly showed that Addo was definitely worth far more as a destination than just watching big game.
3. Addo Elephant National Park hosts a variety of habitats from dense spekboom stands through to open grasslands.
To me one of the best places to bird watch is within the camp environs and particularly in late winter, when the aloes are in flower. The aloes which are situated between the restaurant and the road not only bring a flash of color but end up being covered in numerous Cape Weaver, Greater Double-Colored Sunbird and dazzling green Malachite Sunbirds. Cape White-Eye, Long-Billed Crombec, Neddicky, Karoo Prinia, Bar-Throated Apalis and Layards Tit-Babbler also pass through in birding parties, while Fiscal Flycatcher and Fiscal Shrike hawk the numerous bees also attracted to the flowers. Amongst the flower blooms Cape Dwarf Gecko position themselves to snatch and grab small insects as they fly past and once the aloes have started to seed, Streaky-Headed Seed-Eaters fly into feast. Across the road lies the small dam, covered in reed beds, and whose main attraction is the breeding flocks of Red Bishops. These can be easily viewed from the hide that has been built to overlook the dam.
4. An Eastern Clapper Lark perches on top of an elephant dung ball
In all instances the accommodation has been cleverly surrounded with natural vegetation to form thicket corridors along which birds and small mammals move. From our camping site we could relax and watch an endless variety of birds from the bold through to the shy. Sombre Greenbul, Black-Headed Oriole and Black-Collared Barbet shyly showed themselves, while Southern Grey-Headed Sparrow, Cape, Southern Masked and Village Weaver all boldly flew in and demanded to be fed. Terrestrial Brownbul could always be located by their noisy chattering and were often accompanied by Southern Tchagra and Cape Robin Chat. During the day a pair of Small Grey Mongoose stalked around the edges of the camp while at night and together with the background calls of Spotted Hyena and Black-Backed Jackal a pair of confiding Small-Spotted Genet showed themselves, obviously having got used to receiving scraps from braaing visitors.
5. Addo Elephant National Park holds some of the most relaxed African Elephant herds to be found anywhere in Africa.
The wheelchair friendly Discovery Trail, also situated in the camp is a great place to move quietly and observe birds and many of the same birds seen in the camping site can be seen here as well as both the Speckled and Red-Faced Mousebird as they sun their bellies from the tops of the Spekboom thickets during the early morning. A pair of White-Browed Coucal move around this trail and can either be heard through their beautiful bubbling call or be seen atop the Spekboom, while Sombre Greenbul and Dark-Capped Bulbul are very common and can be heard calling throughout the day. It was while walking this trail, that I heard a Red-Throated Wryneck calling from somewhere within the thicket.
6. Fork-Tailed Drongo's ride on the back of Burchelles Zebras from where they launch after insects disturbed by the walking zebras
The Domkrag Dam and Woodland loop are an excellent point to view not only the majority of game species, but also a variety of birds. The Domkrag Dam itself always has Little Grebe, Red-Knobbed Coot and a variety of ducks including Yellow-Billed Duck and Red-Billed and Cape Teal, while Egyptian and Spurwinged Goose and South African Shelduck seem more irregular with their visits. Three-Banded and Kitlitz Plover scurry rapidly around the edge of the dam alongside the much larger Blacksmith Lapwing. Cape Wagtail walk at the feet of the numerous Warthog and Southern Boubou and Karoo Robin are both fairly common in the elephant trails of the Spekboom thickets with Brown Hooded Kingfisher using the openings to dive down onto prey items. Southern Black Korhaan can be heard calling in the late afternoons and during the rest of the day they feed amongst the short scrubveld alongside Black Crow, Suricate and Yellow Mongoose. At midday African Elephant herds come down to the waterhole at Woodlands and well over one hundred of these great grey beasts are regularly seen splish-splashing, bathing and socializing while Ostrich that venture too close are gleefully chased by mischievous teenage elephants. Bokmakerie are less concerned about the giants of the veld and hop around at their feet grabbing at any insects that are disturbed and flocks of Cape Turtle Dove find gaps between the herds to briefly drink from the waterhole.
7. Flightless Dung-Beetles are a special and important feature of Addo Elephant National Park
Driving on the numerous other roads within the park produces sightings of massive Cape Buffalo bulls, who have realized that coalitions are far better to deal with predating lions. Occasionally small flocks of Red-Billed Oxpecker ride the buffalo, not only feeding on parasites but also acting as early warning devises to approaching danger. African Hoopoe’s are common and can either be seen probing the ground or calling from tree tops together with iridescent Cape Glossy Starlings that feed on the berries of fruiting bushes, changing their colors from blues to greens to purples as they change the angle of the sun on their brilliant feathers. In the open areas Burchells Zebra are accompanied by Fork-Tailed Drongos who ride their backs and launch aerial attacks against disturbed insects. Cattle Egret also makes the most of the larger animals that disturb insects as they move, following them closely. Raptors are generally scarce with Black Shouldered Kite, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Jackal Buzzard being the most regularly sitghted.
8. An adult Hadedah feeds its constantly begging chick
In this article I have only covered a small area of what was the original Park, but this has now expanded into one of the most diverse protected areas anywhere in the world covering fynbos and nama-karoo biomes in the Zuurberg and Darlington Dam sections while forests, magnificent dune fields and the coastal and marine biomes are covered in the Woody Cape and Algoa Bay. These sections certainly deserve future explorations and I will definitely be back.
9. A juvenile Pale Chanting Goshawk preens its wing feathers after a light rainfall.
Season and weather:
Addo Elephant National Park lies in a malaria free area with unpredictable but largely summer rainfall, where temperatures can reach within the 30 degrees. Winters are mild and temperatures seldom drop below double digits
The main and oldest section of the park comprises mainly of sub-tropical thicket with patches of open grassland where old transformed lands occur. Other sections of the recently expanded area vary between Fynbos, Nama-Karoo, Forest, Coastal Dunefields and the marine environment
10. A Speckled Mousebirds suns its belly in the early morning sun
Eastern Clapper Lark
Southern Black Korhaan
Greater Double Collared Sunbird
Recommended Viewing Points:
The Discovery Trail within the camp
The camping site
Aloe garden within the camp during the aloe flowering season
Woodlands & Domkrag Loop
11. An African Hoopoe perches on a dead tree stump.
Accommodation & Activities:
Accommodation varies between camping, comfortable self-catering accommodation and luxury guest-houses. A fully licensed restaurant is available as is a picnic area and swimming pool for residents. The shop sells curios and basic commodities.
Activities & Guides:
Eyethu Hop on guide’s are available for hire and are well trained in game viewing and bird watching
Game Viewing (self drive or guided)
Guided Horseback trails
4x4 Eco-adventure Trails
12. The camp at Addo Elephant National Park provides a suite of excellent birding opportunities that include the bird hide overlooking the small dam.
Situated 60km’s from Port Elizabeth on the N2 towards Grahamstown. Take the Motherwell/Markham R335 turnoff. Follow the R335 for 53km’sand turn off to the right. Alternatively continue on the N2 towards Cookhouse & Cradock. At Paterson turn left on the R342 towards Addo. The Parks entrance is on the left approximately 22 km’s from Paterson
Addo Elephant National Park
Tel: +27(0) 42 233 8600
Web: www.addoelephantpark.com or www.sanparks.org
Article and images supplied by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick