The beautiful landscape that would one day become Pilanesberg National Park, was formed when a volcano collapsed in on itself, leaving concentric rings of mountains. Nowadays, a dam lies at the centre of the range, overlooked by a charming hide (Google Earth ref; 25 15 58.27S 27 7 5.14E). The hide on Mankwe Dam is a must-see for any visitor to Pilanesberg NP and kept me enthralled for hours this morning.
It is built to reach out into the water when the dam is full and is reached along a raised walkway, screened from the mammals, reptiles and birds that may be roosting, resting, feeding, drinking or waiting in ambush close by.
The walkway proved very productive today; Three-banded Plover, African Snipe, African Jacana, and some White-faced Ducks were seen through the screen in the water to the left as I walked up.
Pied Kingfishers hovered before plunging to catch small fish, Pied Crows circled overhead and Village Weavers teed themselves up on dead snags.
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Cape Wagtails and Common Bulbuls used the screen or nearby snags as perches to see who was coming along the walkway.
All this was seen before I even stepped into the hide. The area surrounding Mankwe Dam is 500 square kilometres of protected acacia scrub, rock strewn hillsides, grasslands and kopjes, so with such a large area to draw from, pretty much anything can turn up.
In front of the hide, the water stretches away to the distance with a few dead trees in the foreground. These trees are very popular as roosts for cormorants and egrets.
Smaller snags closer to the water’s edge proved irresistible to the scintillating Malachite Kingfishers which liked to fish from perches around the hide. They seemed oblivious to the safari-goers “oohing” and “aaahing” at them. I confess to being the chief “oooher” and became quite an accomplished “aaaher” by the end of the morning.
The Pied Kingfishers prefer to perch until they spot a ripple on the water, then fly up to hover above their target before plunging down on it.
A dead tree in the distance was proving to be a very popular perch. At first it was occupied by a Grey Heron until it was driven off by an Osprey.
The Osprey in its turn was dispossessed by an African Fish-Eagle. As the fish-eagle left, the heron returned to the perch and the cycle began again. But it would seem that the Osprey held a grudge against the heron as it tried to displace it from any perch that it settled on and continued to harass it even when it flew down to the water’s edge.
Mammals visit the dam as well as the birds. Elephants were seen in the far distance, Warthogs mud-bathed where the water had receded, hippos hauled up in a big flatulent pile along the southern shore and a small herd of Wildebeeste filed down for a drink.
Even the little car park that serves the hide was full of birds with Crested Francolin and Arrow-marked Babblers flocking around me like town pigeons, as if they were expecting to be fed.
South Africa’s Kruger National Park may get all the publicity, but I adore Pilanesberg for its intimacy, variety and accessibility. The animals listed below were all seen from the hide and went to make up a day total of 78 birds and 20 mammals, but only the one reptile on this winter’s day.
White-faced Whistling -Duck, Egyptian Goose, Crested Francolin, Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter, Hamerkop, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Osprey, African Fish-Eagle, Black Crake, Blacksmith Plover, Three-banded Plover, African Jacana, African Snipe, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Lilac-breasted Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Pied Crow, Common Bulbul, Arrow-marked Babbler, Red-backed Robin-chat, Stonechat, Cape Glossy Starling, Cape Wagtail, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Village Weaver, Common Waxbill.
African Elephant, Brindled Wildebeeste, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Warthog, Impala, Springbok.