Day 3 (Saturday, 30th April)
We had an extra 15 minutes sleep in this morning, with a wake up call at 5:45. This was in order to catch “The Flight of the Sea Eagle”, which is small single propeller aeroplane, after being driven again in Land Rovers to the airstrip, followed by a half day at the beach. There was predictably plenty to see on the initial drive before the flight. Particularly impressive was a scattered yet reasonably sized herd of Giraffe, which insisted on taking their time in leaving the track in front of us, one towering over the jeep as we approached it. When they move, Giraffe are a supremely graceful animal. Small groups of Zebra were quite naturally in attendance. One or two new birds were also seen on this short trip, with a couple of Zitting Cisticolas in song flight and calling, and Malachite Kingfisher perched on a lone twig in the centre of the small water hole passed yesterday. The drive along the length of the airstrip was equally as good, with numerous birds flying up as we progressed. The Crowned Lapwings seen on the first day contained smaller numbers of Lesser Black-winged Plovers. Smaller birds included groups of Yellow-eyed Canaries – all that could be seen of these was the yellow rump, until we were about to board the aircraft, when 3-4 were perched on a bush alongside. Plenty of pipits also here, which apparently were Bushveld Pipits – they looked very similar to Meadow Pipits.
The Flight of the Sea Eagle is an excellent experience – certainly much better than expected, being more than just another plane journey. We flew over the whole of the Phinda Reserve and surrounds for just over ¾ of an hour. While observing the varied habitats was interesting, spotting the larger mammals from not too great a height was even better. Probably most stunning, and surprising, were quite a few small groups of Rhinos, some with calves, and also about 12-15 pods of Hippos in the river and lake. The latter are huge animals even from the air, yet apparently very few are seen on the same flight at other times. Also from the air were one or two herds of Giraffe, plenty of Impala, Nyala, and scattered groups of Wildebeest.
Just before the evening game drive, we collected on the viewing deck for cold coffee and the most delicious carrot cake. While sat here, and after a Square-tailed Drongo had appeared in the distance, another flitting bird nearby proved to be a Black-collared Barbet, with stunning red throat showing well even at that distance. While watching it, the bird decided to fly towards us, and landed in a bush in the canopy over the viewing deck. Unfortunately, in the few minutes of its presence, leaves mainly hid it from view.
The evening sortie was mainly to look for some Cheetahs which had been seen earlier, and despite the fact that we didn’t find any, we still had a good time with some of the common species already seen. This included a herd of Wildebeest, very close to us on the open plains, a male Impala with a harem coming to terms with a young pretender trying to muscle its way in, and young Nyala being breast fed by its mother. After dark, and drinks al fresco next to a small water hole, a Bush Baby was picked out using searchlights by the tracker. Few birds were seen during the drive, but the choice were a pair of Trumpeter Hornbills which landed 10-20 metres away from us in the forest, and Short-toed Eagle seen briefly while viewing the Wildebeest.