Sand Forest Lodge Weekend Away

Report by Cheryl Bevan

11 to 13 March 2016

Twenty birders headed out to Sand Forest Lodge near Hluhluwe for our first weekend outing of the year. Some had arrived a day earlier in pouring rain.

On Saturday we set out at 06H30 for False Bay for a 7 Km forest walk. Not all of us lasted the full 7 Km.

We heard a lot of birds but sightings were scarce as it was very dry. The trees and butterflies were amazing.

A distant Cuckoo caught our attention –  either an African or Common. We managed a photo for you to judge for yourself. Our conclusion was that it was a Common Cuckoo based on the bill being predominantly black. Unfortunately we could get no views of the underside of the tail.

Further along we came across this spoor. Half the size of a ladies size six boot. Any ideas?


There was also a rather smart Dark-backed Weaver’s nest hanging in the woods.

Dark-backed Weaver's nest.
Dark-backed Weaver’s nest.

After our walk we went to the picnic sight for tea. There was absolutely no water in the bay except in the far distance where we saw a group of flamingos.

Picnicing on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
Picnicking on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
False Bay looks like this.
False Bay looks like this.

Saturday afternoon John and Paul were chatting when they saw a flock of European Bee-eaters feasting on flying ants right in the campsite. And then the show began. Everyone eventually gathered with their chairs and we were entertained for a good hour and a half with a variety of interesting birds.

Birdwatching in comfort
Birdwatching in comfort

There were Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, White-winged Widowbird, African Yellow White-eye, Willow Warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, African Palm, Little and White-rumped Swifts, Klaas’s Cuckoo and African Paradise Flycatcher.

Also observed were the numerous butterflies and trees full of looper-type caterpillars which crawled everywhere including on you. Large hornets carrying and burying Loopers which they had stung.

Sunday’s early morning walk through the sand forest and grasslands of Sand Forest Lodge brought us Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, African Cuckoo, Diderick’s Cuckoo, African Green Pigeon among many others. For Jane and Mike, they were attracted to the African Cuckoo by a dive-bombing Eurasian Golden Oriole. It transpired that there were two African Cuckoos in the same place – something considered unusual.

What a way to end a fabulous weekend.

Click here to read the bird list of 91 species identified.

Cheryl and John Bevan


Paul and Sally along with Dave and Jenny Rix took a late morning trip to Mkuze on Friday before the weekend started. Nsumo pan was by no means full but the bird life was very active with all sorts of waterbirds to be seen. Mike and Jane had even seen Greater Painted Snipe there earlier in the day.

St. Lucia

Paul and Sally also spent two nights at Sugarloaf campsite on the way home. Sunday night the rains came in force. The next morning we learned that Lake St. Lucia had gained 6.1 million tons of fresh water from the Umfolozi River. A godsend as they badly need it and more.

As usual the estuary mouth was full of interesting birds. Greater Flamingo; Pink-backed Pelicans; Goliath Herons; Saddle-billed Stork; hundreds of White-faced Ducks; Avocets; Grey-headed Gulls; Swift Terns; a few Little Terns and Lesser Crested Terns; numerous Curlew Sandpipers changing into breeding plumage; White-fronted Plovers; Common Ringed Plovers; Grey Herons.

Also seen was an adult Palm-Nut Vulture flying low over the dunes and also an Osprey circling above with a large fish for dinner.

A trip into Eastern Shores, Isimangaliso Wetland Park early morning after the rains  was very quiet. Birds were trying to warm up and dry off so not much activity.

Back in camp the Livingstone’s Turacos were often calling above our campsite.

Always a special place to visit at this time of the year (and any other time of course).

Paul and Sally Bartho


Umbogavango, Saturday 5 March 2016

Trip report by Dave Rimmer

A small group of 15 birders assembled at the main gate to the site, and those early enough were treated to seeing a flock of 34 African Openbills fly in from the direction of the Toti area heading northwards. Fortunately, they did not travel too far and we found them later on in the morning perched on top of the trees at the top end of the reserve. Those with cameras were afforded a great photographic opportunity. (Not for me though, my kit got thoroughly washed on a pelagic trip a few weekends prior – and still waiting for insurance to come good!!!).

African Openbills

I opted to walk the route anti-clockwise to avoid looking into the sun early on. In hindsight not such a good idea as the coastal forest section was awfully quiet, and once out in the open for the return leg on the western side the sun was out – and boy did it get hot! Nevertheless, a Tambourine Dove gave us a brief fly by as did a Burchell’s Coucal, and a few Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds called from the tops of the dead trees.

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird

Other birds seen early on included Southern Red Bishop, Reed Cormorant, Black-bellied Starling, and Little Bee-eater whilst also hearing the calls of Sombre Greenbul, Black-collared Barbets and the chattering and churring of the Terrestrial Brownbuls from the undergrowth.

The first hide with views down a narrow water channel upstream provided us with sightings of African Swamphen, Black Crake, African Jacana and Egyptian Goose whilst those that could not all squeeze into the hide saw Crested Barbet,  Southern Black Tit and African Paradise Flycatcher.

Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose

And on we trundled to Barry’s corner which if anything gave a few time to rest on the benches provided, but sightings were limited, bar a Cardinal Woodpecker and Cape White-eye.

The Owl shed was peeped into but all the boxes were empty and no one home!

The second hide at the top end of the reserve proved to be a bit more productive, and particularly for the wonderful views for all to see and photograph the Openbill Storks perched atop the trees – no doubt the same group that flew over us when assembling at the gate entrance. Everyone had turns to peer from the hide from which we saw Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal and a Hamerkop.

The return leg was at a slightly more brisk pace than before – which could have been due to the heat, or the hunger pangs, or the prospect of answering a call from nature!! Despite that we did spend a fair amount of time in the mowed area around the Fever trees in search of a Willow Warbler among all the white-eyes, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows, Yellow-fronted Canaries, a pair of Violet-backed Starlings in among a number of Lesser Masked Weavers. Fortunately, a couple of males showing typical head markings and pale eye enabled us to clinch their ID. According to Sandi, the first time in 20 years that she’s recorded this species in the Umbogavango reserve.

Whilst peering upwards over the course of the morning the only two raptors on view were Common Buzzard and Yellow-billed Kite, whilst others airborne species included, Black Saw-wings, White-necked Raven, Lesser-striped Swallow. A few people managed to see Red-throated Wryneck and Lesser Honeyguide.

Coffee, sandwiches, nuts and biscuits etc. were welcomed by all – and relief for some when the toilets were finally opened.

Dark-capped Bulbul
Dark-capped Bulbul

The outing ended with a brief sojourn to the Vumbuka reserve – the heat of the day took its toll on both the birds and the birders producing no new sightings for the morning. Unless of course the final group of die-hards saw anything after I had departed. Click here to see the bird list.

Until next time,

Yours in birding,
Dave Rimmer