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Species list

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List of Bird species seen

Little Grebe

A family of 2 adults and at least 2 well grown juveniles were on a small pond next to one of the tracks taken to the airstrip


2 groups of ~30 distant white-chested subspecies were seen – one from the Flight of the Sea Eagle plane, perched on a promontory on the lake, the other group on a water hole from the Land Rover

African Darter

The first bird seen was ridiculously close to the boat on the cruise along the river. It was perched on a small collection of twigs jutting out of the water not far from the bank of the river, and wasn’t too disturbed by our presence. 2 further birds were also seen – from the Flight of the Sea Eagle plane while passing over the marshes. Both were in flight

Grey Heron 

1 bird flying over the water hole near the airstrip on the initial transfer to the lodge, and 1 from the bus in Johannesburg

Goliath Heron

A single bird was picked out in the distance on the river cruise. The boat eventually passed the marshy edge where it was feeding quite closely. 2 further birds could be easily seen from the Flight of the Sea Eagle plane

Great White Egret

1 in a distant field from the river cruise

Cattle Egret

A large collection of birds was beginning a roost in the reeds alongside the river on the cruise. Many birds could also be seen from the Flight of the Sea Eagle plane

Striated Heron

1 feeding on floating vegetation on the river cruise


Single birds seen on 2 days – 1 landed on the muddy edge of a large water hole, the other flew over the Land Rover while tracking elephant

Marabou Stork

One of the last species seen in Phinda. ~12 or so birds were slowly rising on the late morning thermals just the other side of the airstrip perimeter trees

Hadada Ibis

This was a very noisy and regularly seen bird. The early morning chorus was often dominated by them. Seen every day, including up to 5 in Johannesburg, the highest number was ~20

African Spoonbill

The only bird seen was in the centre of the large water hole near to the airstrip on the transfer to the lodge on the first day

White-faced Whistling-duck 

1 on the large water hole on the first day’s transfer to the lodge

Egyptian Goose 

2 pairs were seen at separate water holes on different days, with a further pair on the lawns of the restaurant in Johannesburg

Spur-winged Goose

Another bird which tended to keep to the water holes – 2 were seen on the first transfer day to the lodge, and ~8 were seen in total at 3 water holes on the following day

Yellow-billed Duck

This was the only species to have been seen purely from the Flight of the Sea Eagle plane – a group of 3 were flying when we flew low over one of the marshes

White-backed Vulture

This is the most commonly seen vulture at the reserve. 2 groups were seen circling using the thermals – 3 on the first day while transferring to the lodge, and a larger group of 8 following the rhino tracking of the second day

White-headed Vulture 

This was quite a surprising sighting and timed beautifully. The single bird seen was soaring over the airfield just as we were about to board for our departure from Phinda. It is a very infrequent visitor to the area (a handful each year), and was easily identified once the white secondaries were spotted

Black-breasted Snake-Eagle

The first bird was briefly hunting low over the treetops while watching a herd of Wildebeest. The second was much closer – overhead and at times hovering while tracking Elephant

Brown Snake-eagle

A single bird was perched at the top of a bush when the light was starting to subside on the evening of the first game drive


A single bird flew over the Land Rover as we left the water hole following the Rhino tracking

Lizard Buzzard  

2 separate birds were flying away from the Land Rover on Friday

Crested Francolin  

Although a few individuals were heard calling in the bush (identified by Mike), only was seen well, on the evening of the first game drive

Crested Guineafowl 

The most common species seen over the whole of the Southern Africa region is Helmeted, but Phinda hosts many more Crested, which generally tend to have a more restricted range. They are also seen regularly (every day, maximum ~15) and are very approachable in their quiet feeding groups of 8-12 individuals

Purple Swamphen

1 in the reeds from the river boat cruise

African Jacana

At least 2 birds (1 adult, 1 juvenile) were on the same small water hole passed on the tracks around the reserve on 3 consecutive days

Black-winged Stilt

2 at the large water hole near to the airstrip on the first day transfer

Spotted Thick-knee

All 3 birds were seen after dark, picked up by the searchlight on the Land Rover, and all after being flushed. A pair were on the first evening game drive, and a single bird on the last evening game drive

Blacksmith Plover 

1 on the first day transfer to the lodge, and near to the restaurant in Johannesburg

Senegal (Lesser Black-winged) Lapwing 

This is another restricted range species that can be seen relatively easily at Phinda. 6 birds were amongst the more numerous Crowned Lapwings on the airstrip, but they were only seen on one occasion, just before boarding for the Flight of the Sea Eagle

Crowned Lapwing

This species is much more widespread than the Senegal (Lesser Black-winged) Lapwing, and also more common on the reserve, as well as more vocal. Up to 20 were seen on one day, most of these being on the airstrip. 4 were also around the grounds of the restaurant in Johannesburg

Wattled Lapwing  

The only individual seen was feeding on floating vegetation on the river cruise

Three-banded Plover 

Following the Rhino tracking, we took a small walk through the bush to a water hole, where drinks were served. A pair of plover appeared feeding in the mud around the water hole just as we were about to leave the area

White-fronted Plover

Up to 6 winter plumaged birds were feeding on the sand at the beach

Grey-headed Gull 

These were common at the beach, with a few birds showing the first (or last) signs of the grey head out of breeding plumage

Red-eyed Dove 

Quite common – ~6 being seen on each of the last 3 days

Green-spotted Wood-dove 

These were regularly seen, with up to 10 on any one day, but the usual view of them from the Land Rover was from the rear after they had been flushed (bearing the characteristic rufous upper tail). A few birds were seen perched for longer periods

African Green Pigeon  

A flock of 8 birds was seen flying on the evening of the first game drive

Fiery-necked Nightjar  

This species is very commonly heard after dark, particularly in the more open areas such as the grassy plains. It also has a liking for the tracks, so many were seen flying up from their resting places as we drove towards them – some were quite late in taking to the air. Other birds were also seen well while perched on bare branches. ~10 were seen on the first evening game drive, 1 on the second evening, and they were only heard on the third and last evening. Mike also pointed out the call of a Natal Nightjar, which is much less common here

Speckled Mousebird 

1 flying past the Land Rover on the last morning game drive

Malachite Kingfisher 

1 was perched on a grassy stalk in the centre of one of the small water holes

African Pygmy-Kingfisher  

An all too brief view of this tiny kingfisher was had as it flew in front of the Land Rover and landed for a second or two on the last morning game drive

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

2 separate birds were perched and seen well on trees in the open bush

Striped Kingfisher 

1 only from the Land Rover, perched in a tree on the last morning game drive

Pied Kingfisher 

2 were along the river on the cruise

Little Bee-eater 

2 separate birds seen on different days while on game drives

Lilac-breasted Roller

A single bird was perched on a telegraph wire alongside the track when we re-entered the Phinda reserve following the beach visit

Green Wood-hoopoe

Small parties of half a dozen or so birds were seen on each of the last 3 days, usually flying noisily between bushes

Trumpeter Hornbill 

A pair of these was seen in flight briefly on the first evening game drive, and a second pair was flying over the road on the return from the beach. However, a third pair was seen much closer to and for longer while picked out in nearby trees at the beginning of the last evening game drive, not far from the lodge

Red-fronted Tinkerbird 

After hearing one or two on the first morning drive, a pair was seen while stalking Rhino on foot in the bush

Black-collared Barbet 

The characteristic pu-pu-pu song repeated over and over again was tantalisingly heard regularly. The species was eventually seen – from the viewing deck at Forest Lodge. The bird even treated us to bold views when perched above us briefly. A pair was seen the next day perched together on a nearby tree, with a fourth bird in flight on the Elephant trek

Golden-tailed Woodpecker 

A single bird obligingly landed in a clearing while looking for Leopard on the last morning. They are not as easy to distinguish from Cardinal Woodpecker as I expected – the size difference is not obvious – but the contrasting dark forehead and red crown was seen well

Black Saw-wing   

2 groups of 4 birds were seen on the drive to the river cruise (the first while sitting near a pair of White Rhino), with a single bird on the last morning game drive

African Pied Wagtail 

A pair of birds were around the edges of a large water hole (seen from the Land Rover during the ride to the river cruise), and a further 4 birds were seen from the river boat

Yellow-throated Longclaw 

Single bird perched at the top of a bush on the last evening game drive

Bush(-veld) Pipit

30 or so birds flying around the airstrip on the Saturday

Common (Dark-capped) Bulbul

Very common throughout the bush on the game drives

Terrestrial Brownbul 

Only seen in the vicinity of Forest Lodge, where ~6 birds were in a mixed flock within the sand forest

Yellow-bellied Greenbul

The first of a pair next to the reception of Forest Lodge was very poorly coloured, with parts of its tail feathers missing. Its colleague was much brighter. 2 birds were seen (separately) on both of the last 2 days while on game drives

Rattling Cisticola 

4 together and calling while flying on front of us on the Rhino tracking, and a single bird calling in front of the restaurant at Forest Lodge

Croaking Cisticola 

A single singing bird was pointed out by Mike on the initial transfer from the airstrip

Zitting Cisticola 

2 separate birds seen and heard calling from the Land Rover while being driven to the river cruise

Yellow-breasted Apalis

3 were seen from the Land Rover on the morning of the Rhino tracking, two of which were together

Green-backed Camaroptera 

This species behaves very much like a Wren (Troglodytes), with tail cocked upwards and moving through dense bushes methodically and slowly. The olive green back also contrasts with the off white underparts, giving it a very smooth and fresh appearance. Both birds seen were at Forest Lodge – one in front of the restaurant, the other alongside one of the main Land Rover tracks

Pale Flycatcher 

1 from the Land Rover on the first morning game drive. They are easier to separate from African Brown Flycatcher than the books would suggest, being less compact and lacking the brown tones of the latter

African Dusky Flycatcher

1 bird in the trees over our heads while having a drinks break at the water hole following the Rhino tracking

White-throated Robin-chat 

The single bird seen was very secretive, but eventually seen well. While stopping for drinks following the Rhino tracking at the water hole, this bird was heard singing in the heart of a small dense thicket. It mimicked many other birds while hiding, but was eventually pinned down near to the ground. Obvious distinctive marks were the white stripe on the wing and supercilium, with rufous flanks

Red-capped Robin-chat

2 birds were together in a small section of the sand forest at Forest Lodge. They are a very distinctive bird, with blue-grey backs, orange face / body, and noticeable red-brown cap. They were not bothered by my presence, and were in the same small area for some time

Bearded Scrub-robin 

A single bird was joined by a second after being stationary for some time in the same spot as the Red-capped Robin-chats above, although the former had gone before the Robin-chats were seen. This is another distinctive bird of the collection of robins to be seen in the area, with very dapper looks

Red-backed (White-browed) Scrub-robin  

The most obvious distinguishing mark on this species – the streaked sides – was well seen when the bird was located during the Rhino tracking on foot

Chinspot Batis

A single male was seen on the short walk from the Rhino tracking to the water hole

African Crested (Blue-mantled) Flycatcher  

~10 of these impressive forest dwelling flycatchers were in the sand forest at Forest Lodge. 2-3 were initially seen close to our own suite, with the majority of the birds, including juveniles, passing through the same area where the Red-capped Robin-chats were camped out

Southern Black-tit 

Only 1 bird was seen on the first 3 days, in amongst a mixed bird party. However, at least 20 were seen on the last morning game drive – they seemed to be the predominant species within mixed flocks

Collared Sunbird  

First bird was a female on a bush in front of the restaurant at the Forest Lodge, a family group of 2 adults and 2 juveniles was around the sand forest later in the day, and a second family party was seen from the Land Rover on the last evening game drive

Common Fiscal

5 seen perched in the open on the transfer from the coastal airstrip to the beach, and 1 on the last morning game drive

Black-backed Puffback

Seen regularly, with 2 pairs and a single bird around Forest Lodge on the Friday, and ~5 from the Land Rover on the last morning game drive

Square-tailed Drongo 

Commonly seen in the denser forest (including around our suite in Forest Lodge) on all days, with a maximum on any one day of ~6 birds

Fork-tailed Drongo

This species tends to favour the more open areas of the bush than Square-tailed, and was seen regularly from the Land Rover on the last 3 days, with up to ~10 birds in a day

Pied Crow

1 from the transfer bus in Johannesburg

White-necked Raven

3 were seen at the opposite end of the beach airstrip while waiting for the transfer to the beach

Cape Glossy Starling

2 around the water hole following the Rhino tracking – 1 was close to in the muddy edges, the other at the top of a tree on the opposite side of the water

Red-billed Oxpecker

6 were perched on the back of one of the two White Rhino’s during the transfer to the river cruise

Forest Weaver 

A few of these birds were seen poorly and briefly – the only bird seen at all well was a single in the beach car park. They are apparently the only weaver species seen regularly in the sand forest

Yellow-fronted (Yellow-eyed) Canary 

Small groups of these were flying around the airstrip before the Flight of the Sea Eagle, but not seen well enough for positive identification. 3 birds were seen well perched on the top of a nearby bush before boarding for the flight


List of Mammal species seen


Our group had missed out on these until the last morning. We tracked a herd of ~40 animals for most of the morning, but they seemed intent on staying within a thick section of the bush. As we were leaving the area to return to the lodge for departure, large tracks of single bull crossed our own, and we came face to face with it a short way along the track

White Rhinoceros

Our first experience of these was almost face to face during the Rhino tracking by foot on the first morning. Later the same day, a mother and calf were chanced upon in the open while on the transfer to the river cruise. From the Flight of the Sea Eagle, quite a few groups of 2-3 animals could be clearly seen on the open plains


3 almost totally submerged individuals were in the river during the river cruise. While on the Flight of the Sea Eagle, over a dozen groups of between 2-20 were seen in the rivers and lakes below. Apparently, this flight can fail to see any on occasion, depending on the rains and the hippo movements


The only ones seen were a handful at the rear of a large water hole on the initial transfer to the Forest Lodge from the airstrip on the first day

Plains Zebra 

The 3 near to the track on the first transfer were probably the only ones seen away from the company if Giraffe. Small groups were seen on 3-4 occasions thereafter


These are magnificent when seen in the wild, particularly when either close up or walking. 2 were seen from the aeroplane before the initial landing at Phinda. Small groups of up to 12 were seen throughout, but the most amazing spectale was a small group running with zebra from the river cruise

Greater Kudu 

Only 2 lone individuals were seen – one from the Flight of the Sea Eagle, and the other close to on the last morning game drive


This antelope has a relatively restricted range across the continent, but is very regularly seen within the reserve. The difference in size and colouration of the male and female takes some getting used to

Blue Wildebeest

Judging by the small scattered herds as seen from the Flight of the Fish Eagle, these are quite common at Phinda. We had also seen distant scattered herds from the jeep, but most impressive was a herd of ~2 dozen animals close to in a clearing on the last morning


Another common antelope within the reserve, although not as regularly seen as Nyala. Some of the herds were of a dozen or more, mainly consisting of a male and his harem. We did see a male seeing off a young interloper close to when he was making a play for the resident females

Red Duiker 

This small deer was seen quite regularly over the reserve. Our first sighting was from the window of our suite at forest lodge as we were unpacking

Common Duiker

As its name suggests, this is the most common of the duikers seen over the continent, although only 3-4 were seen at Phinda, where the Red Duiker is more easily seen


This was our first mammal when on the ground at the airstrip, when a family group were passed within minutes of travelling in the jeep. Small family groups were seen regularly, with 2 parents and 2 young close to at Forest Lodge


The only sightings by our group were of a male with 2 females, and another pair close to, on the first evening game drive. These form the northern party, and apparently there is also a southern group of Lions within the reserve


Although fresh tracks were seen while tracking elephant on the last morning, the only individual was seen on the first evening, when we drove into the bush and eventually pinned one down within the dense trees after dark. It was on the ground, and walked slowly into the bush after a short while

Vervet Monkey  

A band of these was seen on the first evening, before the game drive, from the restaurant. They apparently come to the tables regularly to steal food. This was the best view we had of them, however, although small groups were seen across the reserve at irregular intervals

Samango Monkey  

A small group of these shy monkeys were in roadside trees on the ride from the airstrip to the beach, and were just outside the boundary of the beachside reserve

Thick-tailed Bushbaby 

One picked out by spotlight on the last evening game drive

Tree Squirrel 

Two seen – one in the sand forest of forest lodge, the second giving alarm calls (possibly to Leopard) on the last morning game drive


Paintings gallery

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Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Species list

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