An interesting but unpredictable birding spot near Mopani Camp is Shipandani. Sited at the foot of a small hill, Shipandani was the original site of the area ranger's house, which was washed away in the 2000 floods.
It has since been replaced by a bird hide which can be hired for overnight camping through Mopani Camp (see Sleep-over Hides). The hide overlooks a narrow pool on the Tsendze River and birds to be seen here include Diderick Cuckoo (in summer), Pied Kingfisher, Burchell's Coucal, and the Green-backed Heron. The White-backed Night-Heron nests nearby.
The S50 through shrub Mopane east of Mopani Camp is known for its grassland birds and raptors. The road follows the Nshawu stream past a series of pans that hold good water during summer. The first recorded sighting of a Cape Teal in Kruger was at one of these pans in 2004 when a flock of 14 were spotted.
Nshawu has acquired a good reputation for interesting waterbird sightings, including the rarely seen Common Ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Corn Crake and African Spoonbill. Pallid and Montagu's Harriers appear over the grasslands during wetter months.
Birding expert Ian Whyte says this is one of the few spots in the Park where Kittlitz's Plover is often seen. The African Quailfinch, Red-capped Lark and Rufous-winged Cisticola are seen around Nshawu.Tsendze Rustic Campsite
This is a rough-and-ready camping spot seven kilometres south of Mopani. The camp, shaded by old Leadwoods, tree Mopanes and Apple-Leafs, is designed for those who seek the more rustic side of the Kruger experience, those who want to 'touch the earth lightly'. The facility has 34 campsites, two ablution blocks - with great open-to-the-skies showers - and two camp kitchens. Camp energy is either gas or solar-powered and generators are banned, which means that noise levels are kept to an absolute minimum. Guests check in at Mopani Camp.
The Stapelkom Dam Road (S146) is a well-kept birder's secret. It heads south-west of Mopani Camp through shrub Mopane into mixed woodlands. The bush feels pristine by humans. Look out along this road for Grey Penduline-Tit nests, which are cunningly disguised with spiders' webs giving them an abandoned appearance. The Purple Roller is often seen along this road. Stapelkop is on the Shipikana Stream. Sightings here include the Collared Pratincole* and the Three-banded Plover - the only Kruger plover to have bright red eye lining.
There are freshwater mussels in this dam that are fed on by the African Openbill*. The Openbill takes its name from its intriguing beak which is designed like a nutcracker to enable it to effortlessly crack open hard mussel shells. The African Fish-Eagle is the dominant raptor here. If one hears the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker at Stapelkop - or anywhere else in the mopaneveld for that matter - it is likely to be a Bearded Woodpecker. Along with the Cardinal Woodpecker, it is the most commonly seen woodpecker in the mopaneveld - look for it in mixed woodland along the watercourses.Where to stay Around Punda Maria
Mopani Rest Camp
Boulders Bush Lodge
Tsendze Rustic Camp
Mopani Rest Camp overlooks the broad sweep of Pioneer Dam where skeletal trees protrude from the water. It is a large, face-brick camp with more woodland trees within its borders than most of the older Kruger camps. Several Baobabs grow within the camp perimeters and are periodically used by Mottled Spinetails for nesting.
Mopani is not renowned as a game-viewing area, but the birding can be rewarding for the more discerning and active enthusiast. It is a base from which to explore Stapelkop Dam, the Nshawu Pans, the Tropic of Capricorn and Mphongolo Loops.
Mopani has become an oasis in the dry mopaneveld since Pioneer Dam was built in the 1980s. The vegetation and birdlife has been radically altered by the colonisation of a permanent water source in the north. One of the consequences has been the appearance of new species such as the Collared Pratincole*, which is now a regular at Mopani and Letaba having not been recorded in Kruger before 1980.
The African Fish-Eagle is an almost guaranteed sighting from the refreshment deck which offers fine sunset views over the dam. Indeed, the lady's bar deck at Mopani is one of the top sundowner spots in Kruger. The dead trees are favourite resting spots for White-breasted and Reed Cormorants and Darters. Mosque Swallows are among the many swallows and swifts that swoop dizzily over the water. Storks, herons and kingfishers are common. The Green-backed Heron often lurks along the water's edge where there is reed cover. On the more open sandbanks, Kittlitz's Plover and the Greater Painted-snipe may be seen.
Camp residents include the Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver and the Mocking Cliff-Chat, while colourful summer visitors include the White-fronted and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters and on occasion, the Yellow Wagtail.
Mopani has all the facilities of the large Camps, including game drives and guided walks. The late afternoon and early evening drives offer sightings of the Bronze-winged Courser, Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars* on the roads, and the Verreaux's Eagle-Owl and Marsh Owl in the vicinity of riverine bush.
Shongololo Loop (S142)
The Shongololo Loop (S142) heads north-west past Frazersrus and Welgelegen Water Holes, and Ntomeni Pan. It follows the Shongololo watercourse, which in turn feeds into the Tsendze. The White-fronted Plover is often on the sandbanks at these water holes. This subcontinental nomad is more commonly seen in small flocks on the Indian Ocean coastline. The S142 is recommended for its wildness and sense of isolation rather than its animal sightings.There are a mere 25-30 breeding pairs of Saddle-billed Storks in the park, plus a handful of non-breeding individuals. However, because they are so striking in appearance and are very prominent along major water points, visitors regularly see them. But these numbers make them far rarer and more threatened than animals such as cheetah and wild dog, not to mention any of the Big Five.