Zululand and the Kruger – Part 11

St. Lucia as well as Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetland Park – 23 to 27 November 2014

Paul and Sally Bartho

After a short drive from Ndumo we reached St. Lucia and chose to stay in the large Sugarloaf campsite which was relatively empty. Eden Park is very nice and well treed but Sugarloaf is situated right next to the boardwalk which follows the estuary to the beach. Peak season and the campsites are full to bursting – not pleasant. We tend to avoid weekends at Sugarloaf due to boisterous fishermen. Eden Park – if it is open – is quieter at those times.

During our time here we visited both Eastern and Western Shores of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park as well as spending time around the estuary and on the beach. The campsite too is usually full of interesting birds – Green Twinspots, Woodward’s Batis, African Goshawk, Livingstone’s Turacos amongst  many more common bush birds.

Eastern Shores was the first place we visited. We went in early and spent till midday there. On entry we had our first and only trip sighting of an European Roller.

We took the Pan Loop to visit Amazibu Pan – it was quiet. However there were several Collared Pratincole on the opposite bank. One obligingly appear on our side for a photo.

Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole

Then we took the Vlei Loop around a large wetland area. Also very quiet but we did manage to see a southern-banded Snake-Eagle in the distance. Apologies for the quality of the photos.

Just after the Mission Rocks turn-off there is a road to the left taking you to the relatively new Mafazana Bird Hide. Again all was quiet here too. It is a 200 metre walk through the forest to the hide. The hide is massive with 3 viewing levels. Be alert to potential predators. Once, on arrival, I exited the car only to be shouted at by Sally to get back in. There was a large male leopard not 30 metres away.

On the way back we had our first sighting of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and a lone Crowned Hornbill.

In total we only identified 56 different bird species during the few hours we were in Eastern Shores.

Western Shores was a lot more productive and yielded 108 different bird species. We were there for a few hours longer.

It is very different from Eastern Shores – large expanses of open grassland, wetland areas, several open ponds, intermittent patches of forest, a very clean and open picnic site, a boardwalk up through the forest to a tree top platform overlooking Lake St. Lucia below as well as a bird hide at the northern end of the Park where the elephant prefer to hang out.

During the drive on the one way loop we came across a number of interesting species – Long-crested eagle, a juvenile fish-Eagle, numerous Black-bellied Bustards, Red-breasted Swallows, Yellow-throated Longclaws and Petronias to name a few. However the highlight for me was the Lemon-breasted Canaries. We had great views of 2 or 3 right in front of us beside the road.

Some photos of birds on this loop:

We came across what we believe to be a Booted Eagle going from one grassy area to another.

And a mystery Cisticola – possibly a Black-backed?

Mystery Cisticola
Mystery Cisticola

At the hide there was little or no water unfortunately but we did see this juvenile African Cuckoo-Hawk on the branch of a distant tree.

African Cuckoo Hawk - juvenile
African Cuckoo Hawk – juvenile

When we visit St. Lucia, Western Shores is a must visit for us.

Back at the campsite we spent some time listening to the birds and walking around the 100 campsites. The Woodward’s Batis serenaded us each morning as well as the Livingstone’s Turacos, Red-capped Robin-Chats (Natal Robin) or RCRC birds, Greenbuls; Eastern Nicator and others.

If it was not windy we went to the estuary and the beach – looking for the Sooty Tern which seems to have habituated the estuary for a number of years now as well as for the Bar-tailed Godwit which we had heard about on Trevor Hardaker’s Rare Birds Report.

On the beach we were fortunate to find a flock of 13 African Black Oystercatchers:

And further down the beach towards the river mouth we spotted numerous terns – mainly Swift Terns but also Little and Common – all distantly on the opposite bank on the river mouth. Amongst them were many waders including Sanderlings; Little Stints; Common Ringed, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers; Common Whimbrel. However the birds that stood out most were the Terek Sandpiper and the Lesser Sand Plover.

We walked the mudflats at the mouth of the estuary – watching out for both Hippos and Crocs when we remembered and weren’t too carried away by the birds. On the way to one area we came across a feeding area full of common Waxbills. They were there on previous occasions when we had visited.

Many small waders were present; Sanderlings; Little Stints; Common Ringed, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers. But there were a number of specials too: Pink-backed Pelican, Grey Plover, Pied Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone:

And then to cap it off we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits.

The campsite, the beach and the estuary gave us 71 different bird species.

In total we had observed 142 different bird species whilst in St. Lucia.

And then it was time to go home after 7 weeks away.

Look out for a summary follow up including:

  • a bird list of what we saw where, highlighting what we thought were specials
  • our worst sighting
  • pictures of birds for ID
  • photos of some of our specials

Hope you have enjoyed the series. It has brought back fond memories for us and the desire to venture anew.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Helen Biram says:

    thank you for sharing your super holiday – we thoroughly enjoyed reading all eleven chapters. Helen and Ray Biram

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