There is something very special about owls … an air of mystique, an ability to see beyond the surface of things, the perceived wisdom in those very big, very bright, very piercing eyes. When they lance you with a look, it’s as if they see right through you. Which is why they appear in fairytales, folklore and mythological stories.

On our recent trip from the south to the north of Kruger, we were enormously fortunate — or just good owl-spotters! — to see (or hear) a handful of these far-seeing night riders in/near three of our bush camps. So this post is dedicated to owls.

Our most exciting encounter was the duo of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls near Sirheni, sitting in the branches of a mopane tree and keeping a (pink) one-eyed vigil on the world.

Check out the guineafowl feathers splayed upward from under its talons. ALL photos by Hirsh.

Verreaux’s are Africa’s largest owl species. They can swoop on prey as large as that of a Martial Eagle, and have been known to take warthogs or secretary birds. Their call is a series of low-pitched pig-like grunts.

Scratching an itchy talon.

The most interesting fact is that, according to bird experts, they weren’t discovered or recorded by either of the two French naturalist Verreaux brothers, whose name they’ve been given!


Not seen but heard … Pearl-spotted Owlet in both Bateleur and Shimuwini camps. Its call is a single or a series of piercing far-carrying whistles.

This is the owl that is seen the most in daylight hours. It has a disconcerting ability to rotate its head through 180 degrees, giving you a bright fixed stare over one shoulder, then swivelling its head to glare at you over the other shoulder. It also has two black circles at the back of its head that look like dark eyes watching you.


Sirheni Bush Camp had its own resident Southern White-faced Owl. During the day it tends to imitate what the African Scops Owl does … draw itself up and hold itself tightly in to resemble a stick-like branch. Our camp maintenance ranger had to show us how to look for it, otherwise we’d never have found it. Its call is a single WHooo.

Also check out our Instagram page @gravelroadadventures for a photo a day of our 5,55o km adventure through four national parks.