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My Favorite Birds in the Timbavati

WRITTEN BY

Geoff Haslam

LAST UPDATED

September 15, 2021

There are over 350 species of bird in the Timbavati. All so beautiful and interesting in their own way. But I have to confess, having the good fortune to view these birds on a regular basis, there are a few that stand out for me.Given its proximity, you can also spot these birds in the Klaserie as well. Why not see how many of these birds you can spot on your safari visit?

African Skimmers

The African Skimmers are sought after birds as they are mostly found in the Okavango Delta. We have been spoiled as every year we have a pair that comes south to the Timbavati to breed. These special birds are classified as endangered. They have suffered habitat loss, exploitation and disturbance. Construction of Lake Kariba resulted in loss of important breeding sites both up and downstream of the dam wall. They prefer large river systems and lakes of the Okavango Delta with unvegetated sandbanks where they build their nests. They then skim over the water looking for small fish. This is one of the rarer birds we see in the Timbavati and each year we always cross our fingers hoping that they will return the following year.

Lappet-faced vulture

The Lappet-faced vulture is our largest and most dominant vulture. When looking up in the sky you can always tell that it’s a vulture just by the sheer size of their wings. This is a massive bird with an incredible wingspan of 2.8m which makes it the biggest vulture in South Africa. It’s not often that we get to see them. But recently we saw one close to an elephant carcass just waiting for its turn to go and feed. These guys don’t mind being a little patient as they can eat the skin, tendons and ligaments that are too tough for other vultures. They very seldom eat the meat. Just like all vultures within South Africa, this bird is currently listed as vulnerable. Again due to loss of habitat and susceptibility to being poisoned by farmers. That’s why it is so important that wildlife sanctuaries like the Timbavati, and the Greater Kruger Park exist.

Greater Painted Snipe

The Greater Painted Snipeis beautiful just like most other birds but its the breeding behaviour that makes them stand out from the rest. These are polyandrous birds. With 1 female mating with up to 4 males in one season. The males are the ones that will sit on the nest to incubate the eggs and thereafter take care of the young. You will find these birds in most waterside habitats, where there’s exposed mud among the vegetation, either alone or in pairs.

Ground Hornbills

Ground Hornbills look like some sort of prehistoric bird, but one that stills roam the earth today. But we have been lucky to have multiple sightings at all of our lodges of these magnificent birds. They are generally an uncommon resident and are listed as vulnerable in South Africa with a big concern about their falling numbers. Due to habitat loss you usually only find these vunerable birds in the larger reserves such as the Timbavati or Klaserie in the Greater Kruger. Or in protected and uninhabitated remote areas. They also get persecuted for breaking house and car windows when hammering at their own reflections in territorial aggression.

Brown-headed Parrot

The Brown-headed Parrot is always amazing to see in the wild as most people have the perception as a parrot being in a cage. Or in places like the Amazon rainforest. They are uncommon in South Africa except in the Kruger National Park. You can find these birds easily when the combretum trees start to flower as that’s one of their main sources of diets. However they can also drink nectar from other flowering trees.

White-crested Helmet Shrike

The White Crested Helmet Shrike has very beautiful eyes, with an impressive yellow eye-wattle that resembles a flower. The interesting thing about these birds is that they live in group structures, moving almost as one unit through the bush. They are what we call ‘’cooperative breeders’’. This means that, instead of just the parents looking after the hatchlings, these birds have a team helping them. This ensured that all new-born chicks will survive.

African spoonbills

Spoonbills are water birds and very interesting to observe as their bill’s shape makes me think they could come from “Alice in Wonderland”. They wade through the water with a bill that looks like an odd-looking spoon. Their bill will be wholly or partly submerged and sweeps from side to side, snapping prey. They sometimes submerge their heads to probe the mud on the river banks.

Lilac Breasted Roller

And lastly the Lilac Breasted Roller is probably one of the most beautifully-coloured birds in the bush. Its name Roller comes from their impressive aerial display which can be on show at any time of year. The male flies up high to about 20m-50m and then tips forward and dives down with its wings closed. They then roll from side to side in the latter part of the descent. All of this effort is just to get the attention for a suitable female.

The Lilac Breasted Roller is a common resident of the Timbavati and often allows for some amazing photography opportunities. As they can remain motionless for prolonged periods, often perched on dead branches. Giving our guests the time to get that PERFECT shot.

Tips for Birding in the Timbavati

  • Bring a pair of good-quality binoculars. This is vital for all game-viewing and not just birding in the Timbavati. Your guide will have a pair to lend you but you don’t want to have to wait whilst binoculars are shared around. 
  • Bring one of the well-known bird books on Birds of Southern Africa. Or download the app on your phone (though its quite pricey.)
  • To be honest, we find the bird books are easier to navigate than most apps. And that’s important when you may only have a short time to view the bird and identify it.
  • Again your Simbavati ranger will have a bird book, but it is good to have your own and not have to wait as the book is shared around the vehicle. It also allows you time to read around the subject to identify similar birds and their distinguishing features.
  • Birding in the Timbavati is generally more rewarding in the Summer months with the migratory birds coming from the northern Hemisphere. But you can see many favourite birds all year round.

As I mentioned, many of the birds in the Timbavati and Klaserie areas suffer from habitat loss. It is important to keep in mind that we are visiting these animals’ homes, so it is up to us to protect them. To ensure their survival so the next generation of bird lovers will also have the opportunity to experience these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat.

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When considering a journey into the untamed beauty of Simbavati Trails Camp, it's essential to be prepared. Here's a guide to the "need to know's" that will ensure your walking safari adventure at this immersive and unique safari camp is perfect and memorable.

1. The Length of a Walk

Guests are led by an experienced trails guide on twice daily safari walks through the alluring Big 5 wilderness of the Timbavati. On average, a walk spans between 5 to 10 kilometer, however, the pace is deliberately slow, with numerous stops to examine animal spores, delve into the world of flora and fauna, and for water breaks in the most wonderous of settings.

2. Fitness Level Required

You don't need to be an athlete to enjoy Simbavati Trails Camp, but a moderate level of fitness is beneficial. The terrain can be challenging, and walks can extend up to 10 kilometers. Remember, it's not a race; it's an opportunity to immerse yourself in the wilderness and take inn all the details.

3. Footwear Essentials

When it comes to footwear, comfort is key. Trails are not predefined, so expect to navigate through muddy patches and shallow riverbeds. Your shoes will get wet and dirty, so ankle-covering boots or gaiters are ideal. The long grass and dense bush are teeming with sticky seeds, broken branches, and sharp thorns to so make sure your shoes are tough enough.

4. Power Supply

Simbavati Trails Camp is powered by solar energy, ensuring that you can enjoy a comfortable stay in harmony with nature. Solar lights set the ambient scene in the evenings, food is prepared (mostly) on the open flame and outdoor showers are prepared for guests by filling the bucket-style showers with warm water before each use.

A backup generator is available when needed.

5. Connectivity (or Lack Thereof)

Prepare to bid farewell to Wi-Fi and phone signal during your stay. Simbavati Trails Camp is intentionally off the grid, offering a genuine digital detox experience. Should an emergency arise, rest assured that the staff can communicate with the outside world effectively.

6. Seasonal Operation

Simbavati Trails Camp follows a seasonal schedule, open from March to November. The camp closes during the hot and rainy summer months, ensuring the best possible experience for guests.

7. An unfenced Camp

Simbavati Trails Camp is unfenced, allowing wildlife, to roam freely. This creates an authentic and immersive safari experience.

8. Age Restriction

Keep in mind that Simbavati Trails Camp is an experience for adults and older teens. Only children aged 16 and above are permitted.

9. Ideal Length of Stay

While there's a minimum two-night stay requirement, we highly recommend extending your visit to at least three nights. It allows you to fully absorb the magic of the wilderness.

Top Tips for your Walking Safari

  • Keep your tent side flaps open. The netted canvas walls offer protection while letting you enjoy the breeze, views of the outside wilderness and moonlit bush at night.
  • Keep listening. Honey badgers and hyenas do visit the camp from time to time, during the night. You may hear them as well as other nocturnal creatures from the comfort of your bed.
  • Bring along a small backpack for your convenience on the walking safaris, especially for holding your water bottle.
  • Don't forget sunscreen to protect yourself from the African sun.

With this information in mind, prepare to embrace the wild, succumb to tranquility and create memories that will last a lifetime at Simbavati Trails Camp.

Discover more at www.simbavati.com/lodges/trails-camp/

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Trails Camp

What You Need to Know About Simbavati Trails Camp

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Simbavati Trails Camp is where simplicity meets luxury in the heart of the Timbavati wilderness. Expect an authentic, back-to-basics-in-luxury experience that allows you to disconnect from modern complications and immerse yourself in the untamed beauty of the bush. Differing from the typical safari lodge experience, Trails Camp focuses on guided walking safaris and provides an enchanting, off-the-grid stay. The  ambience in camp offers an "Out of Africa" feel that's both nostalgic and unforgettable.

Approximately an hour's drive from Simbavati Hilltop Lodge, the journey to camp is an adventure in itself, with a guided safari drive taking guests there. Our host Russel excitedly welcomed us to camp and our senses were captivated instantly as we surrendered to the tranquility of the setting.

The camp

The heart of the camp is a large canvas tent that houses an open-plan dining area and lounge. The pool, slightly elevated, overlooks a Mopani forest, providing a serene backdrop for relaxation. Adjacent to the pool is a sunken lounge with plush cushions beneath an umbrella, the perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon cocktail and a good book.

Tents in the wilderness

Simbavati Trails Camp features four Meru-style tents, accommodating a maximum of eight guests. Inside, you'll find two single beds pushed together under a hanging mosquito net, a vanity area with a sink and bucket for washing, and an invigorating outdoor shower. While there's no running water or electricity, the bucket-style showers are filled with warm water before each use and  there is a flushable toilet for your convenience. The strategically placed tents in the bush provide privacy and an authentic, wild feel. The canvas side walls are left open with netting, allowing refreshing air to flow through and granting you uninterrupted views of the wilderness from your bed.

Morning Walk: A bushveld awakening

Each morning, the adventure begins as your friendly guide awakens you at sunrise, and the harmonious chorus of birds greets you naturally. Hot coffee and freshly baked muffins and rusks are served at the main guest area, setting the tone for the day. Our trails guide Martin, shared exciting insights about the morning walk and was equipped for any situation. In single file, behind the guide, guests embark through the bush, searching for tell-tale spores and taking in the wonderment of being in nature. We encountered elephants on foot and revelled in the thrill. We learnt the art of tracking, spotted zebras and waterbucks and heard the distant roar of lions. Martin shared  insights into the region's diverse trees, rocks and soils, explaining how they shape the ecosystem and how the ground determines which plants flourish, attracting specific wildlife and their predators.

Morning walks are typically 2.5 hours long to avoid the midday heat.

Simbavati Trails camp - walking safari & guiding

Return to camp: A warm welcome

As we returned to camp, our smiling butler, Donald, awaited with chilled orange juice and refreshing damp cloths, providing a warm and comforting welcome. 

Shower time beckons before breakfast, which is wonderfully rejuvenating. 

Breakfast: A feast to savour

Breakfast is a feast and differs slightly each day, featuring trays of scones, cinnamon flapjacks, seeded toasts, cheeses, cold meats, and fruits, muesli and yoghurt, all served on the center server table.

Today's breakfast highlight is a bacon-stacked eggs benedict on a toasted English muffin, a renowned favourite at Simbavati Trails Camp

Daytime: Rejuvenation

After breakfast, the pool becomes the preferred spot to unwind until lunchtime. With panoramic views of the Mopani forest and the bush, it often attracts elephants, who consider it their personal watering hole. Eight towel-laden loungers overlook the pool, providing a perfect setting to bask in the sun, birdwatch and savour the view.

 A delectable lunch is then served and ours featured a South African favourite of  bunny chow made with fire-baked bread and chicken curry. Guests then choose to rest, read or play board games in the communal tent before  a sumptuous high tea is enjoyed, satisfying those sweet cravings.

Afternoon walk: Tracking Secrets

Every afternoon walk begins with a debriefing, where the guide discusses expectations and plans for the walk.

Our journey took us through dense bush, and a dry river bed, leading to a waterhole. The scenery is awe-inspiring, with ancient Jackalberry trees gracing the horizon and gold orb spider webs glistening in the sunlight.

Martin delved into the intriguing and unusual facts about the bush. From the life cycle of termite mounds to discovering an elephant's favorite sleeping spot, we learnt about dung and  the fascinating relationship between honeyguides and humans.

We spotted aardvark prints and porcupine signs before learning about the lion prides of the Greater Kruger and following their tracks. It was immersion in the wilderness at its best.

Sundowner surprise: An enchanting end to the day

As the sun set, we found ourselves walking along a dirt road, and the sky painted itself in shades of red and purple.

Martin signaled, hinting at a surprise just around the corner.

A delightful sundowner table awaited, stocked with snacks, wine, gin, cooldrinks, ice-cold beer, and Amarula.

It was the perfect way to conclude a thrilling day of adventure before driving back to camp in the dark, where we were lucky to see hyena, elephants and other creatures along the way.

With no electricity at camp, paraffin and solar lanterns illuminate the pathways. Simbavati Trails Camp is unfenced, so walking around with a torch is essential, and a guide or your butler will escort you to and from your tent.

Guests take time for a soothing shower under the stars before dinner and the tents and camp are lit up, creating a tranquil setting

Dinner: a boma feast

At dinner, tables were arranged in a half-moon shape around an open fire, reminiscent of a traditional South African boma night, where fireside tales are shared. Chef Raphael or Thompson, will tantalize your taste buds with options like succulent pork ribs, spicy chakalaka, hearty lamb stew and traditional pap, flavourful veggies, beef rump with chimichurri and more, allowing international guests to savour local cuisine, often with a twist. Dessert that night was a decadent chocolate cake, and the staff's traditional African songs filled the air.

Nighttime serenade: Nature's chorus

As we retired to our tent with full bellies and hearts, the sounds of the African bush serenaded us. Hyenas made whooping sounds in the dark around us. Scops owls called in the trees above us.  The African bush is alive at night with choruses of frogs and nocturnal creatures, ending the perfect day at Simbavati Trails Camp.

Discover more at www.simbavati.com/lodges/trails-camp/

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Trails Camp

A Day in the Life at Simbavati Trails Camp

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Set in Big 5 territory within the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Simbavati Trails Camp offers an off the grid walking safari with no electricity or WI-FI. This makes for an enchanting, back-to basics-in-luxury experience and the fire-to-table style of cooking sets the tone to the ambience in camp. 

The culinary delights that are plated at each sitting are memorable and one of the highlights of the safari. 

The heart and soul behind Trails Camp’s food is charismatic Head Chef Raphael, who is a joy to connect with around the fire or table setting in camp. His pride in his dishes is captivating and his incredible cooking skills are so impressive. 

In conversation with Head Chef Raphael, we found out more about his passion for cuisine and what makes Simbavati Trails Camp so special.

What makes cooking at Trails Camp different compared to a traditional safari lodge?

Here we encourage one of the oldest forms of cooking: from the fire, straight to the plate. It is unique and wonderfully rustic. 

Fire cooking is one of the most challenging methods because you need to regulate the temperatures by using instinct to detect the heat and keep it perfectly set to cook the dish. I took it as a personal challenge that if I could master cooking on the fire I would be able to do wonders in the industry, in any other way of cooking too. Simbavati Trails Camp has the ability to drive back time. In camp we are able to use a rustic form of presenting luxury. I love that.

What are your passions and how do you share these at Simbavati Trails Camp?

I love cooking with my heart. It is my passion. I’ve been at this special camp from the day it opened about three years ago.

I choose to be at Simbavati Trails Camp and to share my passion for food and for connecting with people, through stories around the campfire. We are connected through food and through humanity.

What are your favourite dishes to prepare at Simbavati Trails Camp and why?

I enjoy making traditional dishes. I like to fuse dishes to accommodate every guest, no matter where they are from in the world, so they will appreciate the food at a high standard. I like to add traditional and international touches to bring out flavours that everyone will love. This is how I like to put a twist on my creations

On plated evenings at Trails Camp I enjoy making Braised Pork Neck. This is one of my signature dishes. I serve braised pork medallions, baked mashed potato cakes, broccoli and baby corn with apple jus. I like to serve this on a shared board, between two people, enjoyed around the fire.

Boma nights at the camp are enjoyed around the fire together, where all guests dine side by side and get to know each other. It’s an African tradition. People from different nationalities interact and share stories, discovering that the world is one and we have so much in common.

I serve  them traditional African dishes, cooked on the open fire. Part of the boma spread is pap, a maize meal dish. It is one of my favourites. It is a dish that tells a story of humankind as it is found all over the world and throughout history. In Africa we eat with our hands. I prepare the pap so it is fluffy and served with a stew made with lamb neck, slow- cooked over the fire, so it falls off the bone. The pap can soak up the sauces and flavours of the stew.

What is it that connects you to this unique walking safari camp?

It gives true variety to my well being. It gives me the pleasure of combining two of my passions, that being cooking in an authentic fire-to plate style and also connecting with the guests. 

I love Trails Camp. Trails Camp is my home.

Simbavati Trails Camp invites guests to explore the untamed wilderness on foot, surrender to a connection with nature, enjoy incredible food and revel in a rejuvenating reset.

Discover more at www.simbavati.com/lodges/trails-camp/

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