Mashatu: a birder’s delight

This the second post from my trip to Mashatu Nature Reserve in November last year. Mashatu Nature Reserve is the largest privately owned nature reserve in southern Africa and is located in the Tuli Block between the Shashe and Limpopo rivers in south eastern Botswana.

“It is in the wild places, where the edge of the earth meets the corners of the sky, the human spirit is fed.” “~ Art Wolfe

This is a dry place between May and November each year which is winter and spring. Then the summer rains arrive in late November until around March. The rains turn this dry place into the garden of Eden.

“I can kind of go into the wild places and immediately feel rested and rejuvenated.” ~Jorja Fox

The summer months bring all the avian migrants which swells the number of bird species to around 360. This post shows just a small selection of the variety of birds which can be seen. The avian sightings are excellent when on a game vehicle and there are many birds around the camps. I visit Rock Camp which is a syndicated non-commercial bush camp located close to the Ponte Drift border post on the Limpopo river.

White fronted bee-eater in the crotons next to the Majale river. This is the main river coursing through Mashatu Nature Reserve.

Crested barbet at the bird bath at Rock Camp, which we affectionately call the “marmalade bird”.

Blue waxbills fly in every half an hour of so for a quick drink at the bird bath. These little seed-eaters usually arrive in small flocks.

Male Red-billed firefinch is happy to share the bird bath with Blue waxbills, Jameson’s firefinches and Grey-headed sparrows and even ants.

A male Red-billed fire finch progressively moulting into his summer breeding plumage.

The ever striking Crimson breasted shrike. This species of shrike prefers the drier thorn bush areas, in thickets and riparian scrub which can be found along the banks of the Majale river.

“It is impossible not to be enthralled by the kaleidoscope of colours that birds offer.”~ Mike Haworth

The Southern White-crowned shrike characterised by its distinctive white crown and forehead, and black mask which extends above and below the eye to the side of its neck.

Southern White crowned Shrike. You can usually find them in small family groups.

Kurrichane thrushes are daily visitors to Rock Camp’s bird bath. These thrushes prefer dry savanna and miombo woodland areas which are found along the Limpopo river. They are often seen running on the ground and flicking through the fallen leaves near the bird bath looking for insects.

The Kurrichane thrush has a distinctive orange beak and orange eye-ring. On either side of its throat, it has black stripes extending from its beak down to its chest.

A non descript female White-breasted sunbird. Her belly is a lighter whitish-beige which is different to most other female sunbird species.

Male White breasted sunbird. The iridescence is more vivid in the shade. Both the male and female sunbirds drink at the bird bath by sucking up water with their long beak. Given their high energy needs in a hot climate they do need to supplement their nectar intake with water.

The ubiquitous Kori bustard is always walking away from you. This is one of Mashatu’s “big seven”. It is the largest flying bird in southern Africa. It is a ground-dwelling bird and an opportunistic omnivore. The Kori bustard is cryptically coloured, being mostly grey and brown, finely patterned with black and white colouring on its neck. Both male and female Kori bustards are similarly coloured but the male can be more than twice as heavy as the female.

Female Red-crested korhaan is cryptically coloured and stands motionless in the shade making it difficult to see.

“In a nature reserve, the more you look for birds the more you will see. Listening will help your seeing.” ~ Mike Haworth

The Lesser Striped swallow has a distinctive burnt-orange skullcap extending onto the cheeks like a helmet, and boldly streaked underparts. It is a partial migrant meaning it flies higher up into Africa in the winter months.

Greater honeyguide is the most distinctive members of its family. It has frosted white edgings to the shoulder feathers. The male has a pink bill, black-dark brown throat, and large white “ear muffs’; the female has a dark bill and pale throat.

An African spoonbill foraging for fish in the water next to the dam wall at the vlei in Mashatu Nature Reserve.

Also at the vlei (marsh) was a large flock of Great white pelicans. The flock must have been attracted by the “fish trap” created by the last pool of water next to the vlei’s dam wall.

A squadron of Great white pelicans flying into the remaining water at the vlei’s dam wall.

“One reason that birds matter – ought to matter – is that they are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding. They’re the most vivid and widespread representatives of the Earth as it was before we arrived.” ~ Jonathan Franzen

A Wahlberg’s eagle is a seasonal intra-African migrant. This a small Brown eagle. Its short crest at the back of the head gives its a distinct “squared-off” look. Being smaller than the larger Brown eagles such as a Tawny or Steppe eagle, this eagles hunts mainly birds but will feed on reptiles if it can find them.

This Wahlberg’s eagle did not like being watched. This species can have many different morph colourations like the Tawny eagle.

A juvenile Verreaux’s eagle-owl in the grove of Apple-leaf trees next to the rock outcrop near Rock Camp. We regularly see a pair of adult Verreaux eagle-owls in this area but it is extra special to see the new generation.

A closer view of a young Verreaux’s eagle-owl still wide awake air mid-morning. This is the largest African owl and has distinctive bright pink eyelids.


At the other end of the owl size scale is the Pearl-spotted owlet. It is around a quarter the size of the Verreaux eagle-owl. This is one of the few owls which is active during the day and night. It has an iconic call which is a loud series of shrill, short whistles that accelerate in tempo and rise in volume to a crescendo of long, loud whistles that descend in pitch and volume “peu peu peu-peu-peu peeuu peeeuu”.

The pseudo eyes in the back of the head of a Pearl-spotted owlet. The eyes are yellow but at the back of the head there are two striking false black ‘eyes’ with a white outline.

An adult Black headed oriole is a daily visitor to the Rock Camp bird bath. It can usually be heard before it is seen. It has a beautiful clear liquid melodious whistle “bo bo weeu” interspersed with low drawn out screeching sounds.

An adult Black-headed oriole with is vivid yellow body and black head with a bright red eye and pink beak.

An adult Green Wood hoopoe has a metallic dark green, with a purple back. It has a bright red bill and feet. Its tail is dark metallic blue with distinctive white chevrons. Its wings have white markings which are highly visible when it flies.

Green wood hoopoes move in family groups of around six members. They cackle like babblers and rock back and forth in regular group displays.

I have waited a long time to get a reasonable image of an African Paradise flycatcher. This flycatcher flits around in the upper branches of thickly leafed trees are usually difficult to photograph. A pair of African Paradise flycatchers are resident at Rock Camp during the summer months. Both the male and female have a blue-grey head and neck and chest and white belly. Their wings are a vivid ochre colour and they have a royal blue eye ring and beak. The female has a short tail and the male two luxurious long ribbon-like ochre coloured tail feathers.

An adult female African Paradise flycatcher.

An adult male Paradise flycatcher has similar colouring to the female but its crest is larger and it has the long ribbon-like ochre coloured tail feathers.

An adult male African Paradise flycatcher showing off his two long ribbon-like ochre tail feathers. This flycatcher is very vocal, often giving a repeated “dzee-zwee” call and a sweet melodic “willie-willie-willie-wee-wooo” song.

These trips to Mashatu are not exclusively for birding so we see many more species of birds than we photograph. We also do not specifically look for birds but these images are of birds we happen to see on our game drives. The birds seen at the camp’s bird baths come from a more dedicated view. Rocks which had in the past been used to mill maize and have been ground down to a saucer shape make ideal natural bird baths. I sit on the patio in plain sight of the birds and photograph in the period after brunch and before the afternoon tea when all our guests have gone for a midday snooze or quiet time to read. When the patio area is quiet it is quite amazing how many different species of birds fly into the bird bath for a drink or a bath to cool down.

The birds always fly into the branches near the bird bath to have a look around and ensure it is safe to approach for a drink or bath.

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.” ~Wendell Berry

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

2 thoughts on “Mashatu: a birder’s delight

  1. Mike, these photographs are outstanding – definitely a first prize for each of them from me, not only for their clarity but for the positions you have captured them in. I loved seeing them so much that I have scrolled through them three times!

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