Ilala Palm Park – revisited

Ilala Palm Park Weekend.

Thursday 15 May to Monday 19 May 2014.

Last year towards the end of April there was a weekend outing to Ilala Palm Park – the first time BLPN had visited the park. Everyone agreed it was not only a great venue but also a great base for good birding in the local reserves.

On the 15th May a number of us (4 couples) revisited Ilala Palm Park for 3 nights. The weather was cooler and the vegetation greener than last year. The accommodation was again excellent. We were the only visitors. Each campsite has its own ablutions with good hot water as well as a wash-up area.

Showing the size of a small campsite with its private ablutions and wash-up area.
Showing the size of a small campsite with its private ablutions and wash-up area.

We had 2 full days there plus the afternoon on arrival and the morning before departure. The plan – to spend the first day visiting Muzi Pan and Mkuze Game Reserve and the second day, Tembe Elephant Park. The rest of the time was spent birding in and around the campsite.

Muzi Pan – Friday:

The water is in the distance
The water is in the distance

Despite this being the wrong time for waders, we enjoyed a couple of hours early morning at Muzi Pan. As you can see from the photo the water level was far away from the road. Compare that to January last year when the water was raging under the road bridges and came right up to the road.

Muze Pan Jan 2013
Muzi Pan Jan 2013

During the short stay there we recorded 34 species seen from the roadside. There were over 100 Great White Pelicans masterfully fishing together on left side of the causeway as you head towards Mkuze.

Fishing together - quite a sight
Fishing together – quite a sight

Then there was an obliging Malachite Kingfisher beside the road openly sunning on the bank. On return home later in the day he was still there.

Malachite Kingfisher - still there 6 hours later
Malachite Kingfisher – still there 6 hours later

And probably the other interesting species were Wire-tailed Swallows, the Lapwings – both African Wattled and Senegal. Several Caspian Terns also made an appearance on our return home.

Formation Flying
Formation Flying
Senegal Lapwing - part of a group of 6
Senegal Lapwing – part of a group of 6

Mkuze – Friday:

A late start in Mkuze rarely produces a large bird list and this was no exception – especially at this time of year. In total we managed 69 species in the 6 hours we were there.

We visited Nsumo Pan picnic site for tea and saw a number of Yellow-billed Storks with a few Openbills amongst them – in the trees opposite.

There were also a few Whiskered Terns over the water in the distance and a bank of hippos lying in the sun on the opposite shore – showing their pink bellies.

Hippo downtime
Hippo downtime

A couple of us went to the kwaMalibala Hide to be entertained by a lazy White Rhino and another missing one horn as well as Giraffe having a drink. It was here that we saw the Dark Chanting Goshawk preening in a bare tree opposite.

Lunch was at the kuMasinga Hide picnic area followed by an hour in the hide before returning to Ilala Palm Park. It is always good to sit in the hide around lunchtime when the birds come in to drink. There were very blue Blue Waxbills, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Yellow-throated Petronias, Golden-breasted Buntings, Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves at the water’s edge nervously drinking. Numerous White-crested Helmetshrikes, Brubrus, Fork-tailed Drongos, Scimitarbills, Spectacled Weavers, Brown-hooded Kingfisher all flitting around in the trees around the hide. Overhead the odd Bateleur.

Several birds stood out as unusual – African Stonechat, Violet-backed Starling and Fiscal Flycatcher. More photos of some of the other birds seen.

The refurbished hides are all still in good order but the wooden walkways to the hides are in a very sorry state as well as the kwaMalibala hide itself.

Tembe Elephant Park.

Saturday was dedicated to a visit to Tembe Elephant Park. We arrived at 07h30 and set off looking for the elusive Plain-backed Sunbird on the Gowaninini Loop – a wasted effort and we somehow managed to turn round on the the sandy road and return to the entrance and proceeded to the hide at the Mahlasela Pan.

At the moment there is quite a large swamp area just beyond the Pan to its left. There were a number of species in that area – White-faced Duck and 8 ducklings, Woolly-necked Stork and little Grebe being the more interesting.

After a short uneventful stay we drove the East Swamp road to the Ponweni Hide for tea. The East Swamp road is very open and affords good views over the swamp all the way along the 10 kms. Along the way there were excellent sightings of a Little Bee-eater and Grey-rumped Swallows.

Little Bee-eater
Little Bee-eater

We returned to the hide at Mhlasela Pan via the West Swamp road – more wooded with few places to view the Swamp. A rather large bull elephant slowly ambled in front of us for a good 10 minutes before stepping off the road to let us past!

Large bull elephant keeping us warily at a distance
Large bull elephant keeping us warily at a distance

Noticeably along this stretch there were numerous sightings of White-crested Helmetshrikes.

Back at the hide the nearby trees yielded close-up sightings of Chinspot Batis, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Fiscal Flycatchers.

Yellow-breasted Apalis
Yellow-breasted Apalis
An angry looking Chinspot Batis
An angry looking Chinspot Batis

In total we saw/heard some 53 species – with perhaps the fly past of the African Marsh Harrier being the highlight of the day as the sun caught the bird showing its colour and markings extremely well.

Ilala Palm Park:

On Sunday we actively birded around the camp- taking a 2 hour walk up the road and into the bush around the camp. The rest of our records came from incidental sightings as and when we were in the camp.

The conditions were cool but sunny. A late start on Sunday – 07h00 – was decided to give the sun a chance to get some heat into and over the bush. Perhaps we should have started earlier as the birds were quite vociferous from first light. Two of us stayed on for an extra day, started earlier and noticed this the following morning.

We had a hard time trying to ID a bird which only showed its back – see if you get it right first time:

What bird is this.
What bird is this.

Although the number of species seen this time was less than last year, the quality of the sightings was excellent. In total we recorded 52 different species including Pink-throated Twinspots (camp bird calling everywhere); African Goshawk; African Yellow-White-eye; Bearded Scrub-Robin; White-throated Robin-Chat; Rudd’s Apalis; Olive Bushshrike; Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher; Fiscal Flycatcher; Grey, Olive and Collared Sunbirds as well as an unusual Klaas’s Cuckoo heard calling.

Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Eagle-Owl were heard calling at night. And a Woodward’s Batis was thought to be calling on arrival.

But perhaps the highlight was the sight of a Little Sparrowhawk on the waterbath at campsite number 2.

In all it was a great long weekend of birding and a location we think should be really productive in the summer. In my opinion 5 nights would give one the opportunity to visit many of the other interesting areas nearby – like Kosi Bay, Lake Sabaya, Babibi and possibly Ndumo (although it is almost a 2 hour drive to get there).

For those interested click on the following link for a copy of our bird list in each area we visited.

Paul & Sally Bartho; Cecil & Jenny Fenwick; Dave & Jenny Rix; Ian & Lyn Graham.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. The UI Butterfly looks like a Tree Nymph – Natal, Boisduval’s or Morant’s are the three options as I see it but who knows which?

    1. sandi du preez says:

      Looks like Natal Tree-nymph

  2. You are right they are Firefinches – we heard so many Twinspots that my brain stopped working when I labelled the pictures! Like the Dark Chanting Goshawk – it was not a Gabar.

  3. Dave Rimmer says:

    Hi Paul, are you sure about your Pink-throated Twinspot ID’s in the last batch of pictures!!??

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