Rare Bird Sighting Brings Joy On River Walk

There are few wildlife sightings in the wilderness that can be guaranteed on a day and date, “as it goes with luck and how much does Mother Nature open a window for us to see.” So says Martin Msimeki, field guide at Olifants Rest Camp.

Early in June this year, Martin and Julius Mkansi guided two husband and wife teams, Gerrie and Merle Brits and Deon and Sharon Harris on a specific mission - to find the elusive and rare Pel’s fishing owl. They found their treasure, but “by the time we were watching this rare bird an African hawk eagle wanted to spoil our fun …” says Martin.

A Rare Sight After An Extra Mile

We booked for the Lebombo 4x4 Eco-Trail almost a year ago. As the route travels from Crocodile Bridge in the south to Crook’s Corner in the north we decided to take our time travelling back through the Kruger, spending an extra six days in the park. During our planning sessions our group of two couples discussed what we wanted to see, experience and get photos of during the trip.

One of the main to-do-list items was to see and photograph Pel’s fishing owl. We were booked at Balule for the last two days of the trip and we immediately went to the office at Olifants camp to book a game drive as we were told that this was the area where we had the greatest chance of sighting the owl.

We were so disappointed to be told that we could not be accommodated on a night drive as we were staying at Balule unless we could gather a group of at least eight people and arrange for someone to drop us off at Olifants camp before the gates closed. So with this we discussed with guides Martin Msimeki and Julius Mkansi what our best options were to have this dream come true.

Their advice was that we should do the Olifants river walk. The best advice we have ever taken. These guys are good! The next day we were off with Martin and Julius in search of this rare bird and anything else that we could spot. They went to so much trouble to explain animals, their tracks and droppings, trees, plants and birds. 

What an experience to have a greater honeyguide calling loudly and “following” us for some distance and to see what lion and hyena droppings look like. We walked from tree to tree looking for the possible perch of the owl and were so happy when one of the guides spotted our target.

What a sight – a beautiful owl with gorgeous dark round eyes – looking down at us. Deon Harris, the photographer in our group, was able to get some fantastic photos of the owl perched in a tree. But sadly the owl moved off shortly after we spotted it and we decided to walk in the general direction that it flew to see if we could spot it again.

All of sudden an African hawk eagle tried to flush the owl out of the tree to kill it. We felt so guilty that we had inadvertently disturbed the owl in the first place so we decided to turn back, happy that we had seen and gotten some photos of the owl. Then, lo and behold, our guides spotted the female. And once again we had an opportunity to catch the moments on camera.

The picture of the owl in flight was definitely a Nikon moment for novice photographer Merle Brits. Deon was able to "fix" the shot that was slightly spoiled due to the excitement of the moment. As we walked back to the game-viewing vehicle we were so aware of the fact that we had an amazing morning with two fantastic guides who were more than happy to "walk the extra mile" with their clients. Money cannot pay for the privilege of walking and experiencing the Kruger up close and personal!

By Merle Brits

Hawk Eagle

The African Hawk Eagle is easily identified in flight by the underwing pattern - a dark central stripe which runs from the wing base to the ...more
Kruger National Park - South African Safari