Ten keen birders arrived at the waterworks at 7 am to be greeted with a heavy mist settled over the ponds, it was 11 deg C on my car’s temperature gauge, welcome to Petermaritzburg.
It didn’t take long for the mist to start lifting and we started our walk at the top pond near the Duzigrass fields. These were covered with Blacksmith Lapwings and Egyptian Geese. The top pond had only two Little Grebes ducking and diving as Grebes do, but other than that it was quiet.
As we turned down the first path we saw some movement amoung the reeds with a few LBJs flitting about very quietly. We noticed a group of at least 10 men coming over the lawns towards us with at least 20 hunting dogs in tow, these were of every shape and size and we thought that would put a halt to our birding, they passed us by and disappeared off down the path never to be seen again. Needless to say we would not be on the lookout for any small game animals.
As we got to the second pond things started to pick up when the Warblers started to call and we spent some time trying to distinguish which was which.
The pond was full of water birds of all different varieties and on the edges of the pond we saw African Jacana, Three-banded Plovers and a Black Crake.
Sandi spotted some Kittlitz’s Plovers and then we spotted the Lesser Jacana on the far side of the pond. We did not get great views but we were sure that that is what we could see. We headed round to the other side seeing a variety of Weavers and Bishops in their drab non breeding plumage.
We spent some time trying to sort out what was what. Elena spotted an African Rail darting in and out of the reeds, it took some time but I think everyone got a glimpse, be it only a tail feather or two for some, sadly it did not show itself long enough for a photo but we could hear it calling.
We moved down the other side and saw a lovely Malachite Kingfisher and then spotted the Lesser Jacana again. I hung back taking photos of the Black-winged Stilts and some Red-billed Teal and as luck would have it the Lesser Jacana appeared right next to me and I was able to get some good photos of it.
We also got a fly past by a pair of South African Shelduck, which was most enjoyable.
The group was now ready for coffee so we headed back to the cars for some refreshment. While at tea break we still had work to do with a variety of Swifts and Swallows flying past as well as a variety of grassland birds in the nearby bushes and long grass. Three Crowned Cranes flew over, what a great sight.
After a half hour break Elena called time and we started a trek down to the river to see what else may show up.
We saw a few Cisticolas and a variety of other grassland birds. We hear the cry of a Fish Eagle and spotted a juvenile African Fish Eagle flying overhead.
Not much was seen at the river however.
On our return to the cars we went past the bottom pond and were lucky enough to see the three Crowned Cranes at the waters edge, two adults and a juvenile, a really great sighting.
It was getting close to lunchtime by now so we went back to the cars for our lunch, chatted over what we had seen and made a bird list. All in all we recorded just over 60 different species, which we felt was not bad seeing all the migrants had already left us.
Thanks to everyone who came and a special thank you to Elena for leading us.
Apologies once again but due to some technical challenges, you are receiving the vulture movements for the past three weeks in this email. To see the tracks over the past weeks click on each of the following links.
Hopefully we will be back to normal again with emails every Monday going forward for our Bearded Vultures: Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and our Cape Vulture, Bennie.
Following the report of a White-throated Bee-eater in Hluhluwe, Sally and I made an impulsive decision to see if we could find it.
We decided to camp in Bonamanzi as a base and were allocated a site in their new campsite. Each campsite with its own ablution. Unfortunately I incorrectly heard the price quoted to Sally, so when we arrived it was not the R220 for the site as I expected but for each of us per night. Had I known this I would have gone elsewhere – like Hakuma Matata.
Following our trip to the Cape for five weeks where the most we paid for a campsite was R240 for both of us, the prices for camping in Zululand have gone crazy. R440 per night camping in Bonamanzi which is nothing special is ridiculous. Perhaps that is why there was only one other camper there and we did not see anyone using the chalets either.
Moving on. On the way there we drove through Hluhluwe and spent an hour and a half in the area where the Bee-eater was reportedly seen. No luck. The next day was also spent in Hluhluwe searching the area for over three hours – again no luck.
Birding appeared quiet in general however we were surprised to find out that we did identify 91 different species over the day and a half. Here are some of the species photographed.
The following day we went to Isimangaliso, entering Western Shores through the north gate. The hide had water in it but was not busy, so we headed for the aerial boardwalk. At the top we could see that the water level had dramatically increased since the last time we were there.
Some of the other species seen:
Once through Western Shores we headed for Eastern Shores and had to wait more than half an hour to check in – such a slow process.
Eastern Shores was interesting. There was water around, so we checked out the pans but nothing much was about. Then we headed round the Vlei loop picking up birds here and there. At one section we came round the corner and the road ahead was blocked. A rather large Rock Python lay in the road.
The Mafazana hide was closed. It was unclear why but we suspect they are making a new entrance road to the hide.
Time for tea so we went to Catalina Bay. Fortunately the wind had died down. From on high we had good views overlooking the lake. Because the water was so high there were no waders about and very little else too. However an African Fish-Eagle made a pass looking for its next meal. From the photo it looks as though he has his eye on something rather large.
Then there was the Scarlet -chested Sunbird watching a White Rhino having a mud bath.
Lunch was fish and chips at the boat club overlooking the estuary. Across on the other side major reconstruction works were ongoing. The sand hillside is being removed. There were at least 5 diggers each with 3 dumper trucks – going back and forth to the beach dumping their loads.
In the estuary there were many Terns, a crowd of African Spoonbills, Saddle-billed Storks, Grey Herons, White-faced Ducks, Pink-backed Pelicans, other waterbirds and numerous waders. Unfortunately it was impossible to get close – too muddy.
We did however manage to get to the sea shore to find a couple of Common Whimbrels.
On the way back we drove through Western Shores taking the uMphathe loop road. A Saddle-billed Stork was seen close to the road. It appeared to be looking for something. After a while it flew off with a clump of bush in its beak. We wondered where it was headed. Then we saw it land on its nest at the top of a tree on the horizon. It’s mate was there to greet him.
At the Kweyezalukazi Lookout point there were about 11 Lemon-breasted Canaries – exactly where we had seen them before.
Then around the corner in an open plain we noticed a rapter at the top of a dead tree. Out came the scope but it was too difficult to identify. You decide – we thought it was either an Amur Falco or an Eurasian Hobby. Most likely the former.
And finally as we were about to leave the park – a Brown Snake-Eagle looking remarkable like a Bat Hawk because of its posture.
And then we went to camp in Mkuze. Prices way over the mark for camping. R300 per night for the site – up to 3 people. This is just another cheap trick to generate extra income as most people either come as a couple or single. They refuse to make any concessions for groups of one or two people. The ablutions are basic and there is no power from 09h00 till 17h00 and from 22h00 to 05h00. And there is now a R10 community charge on entry plus R7 per person per night in the reserve. Camping in Zululand is becoming too expensive for most potential visitors. No wonder there are so few people in the camps.
We only stayed one night.
Impala, Nyala and Baboons were plentiful with the odd Zebra and Wilderbeest but no other animals were seen during our stay.
Nsumo Pan was very full and the hides in good condition with some having new concrete walkways.
As usual the best place to spend midday was at kuMasinga hide. We did have one mystery bird there though. What do you think it may be?
Elsewhere round the park.
Having dinner at Mkuze we noticed a person’s face on one of our hanging tea towels. Could it have been Donald?
And then some bird droppings on the side of the car looking like an owl in flight.
Overall we identified 144 different bird species. To see what we identified and where click here.
For some reason it appears that my system has not emailed the Vultures on the Move files to all recipients for the past few weeks. I apologise for this and have attached the movement files for the past month for our Bearded Vultures: Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and our Cape Vulture, Bennie.
Please also find attached for your interest a paper published online this past week on post fledging dispersal. This paper is based on the movements of our tagged chicks Ikloba (tagged in 2008), Linong (2008) and Wandervogel (2010).
I arrived about a minute too late to see a Black Sparrowhawk take a Red-eyed Dove over the parking area – only John and Ismail were the ‘early birds’ who got to see the action.
We had a good turnout of members and visitors and set out on a slow walk around the gardens.
We were greeted by lots of Egyptian Geese – I was told that the shop sells food for the geese, I meant to find out exactly what this consists of but got side tracked and never did find out.
At the Lilly/fish pond were a pair of Malachite Kingfishers having an early morning meal and the photographers in the group rushed off to get some good shots.
Then there was this unidentified Warbler. Looks like a juvenile.
Plenty of Black Flycatchers around, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds called, a Lesser Honeyguide caused a little consternation before a positive ID was made!
Some of the birds seen – Black-collared Barbets, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Bronze Mannikins, Fork-tailed Drongos, a pair of Black-headed Orioles.
We found the Black Sparrowhawk perched in a tree but never found the nest.
Masses of Palm Swifts but no swallows. Speckled Mousebirds, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Kurrichane Thrush (one had a deformed bill). Amethyst, Olive and White-bellied Sunbirds, Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, one of the Cape Wagtails seemed to have a problem with its feet.
Around the pond we had Common Moorhen, Spoonbills and juveniles a few Grey Herons and a couple of Spurwing Geese but not much more.
We paid a visit to the butterfly dome and there were lots of butterflies around.
On leaving the dome we came across a small frog. The poor frog got rather agitated with us, Sandi was desperately trying to photograph the eye – it depends on the shape whether it is a tree or reed frog. Anyway the frog took one look at Jenny Rix, ‘his princess’ and jumped up her jeans, shirt and took refuge behind her ear lobe, missed the lips, Jenny then gently got rid of him in a flower bed. Well done Jenny (poor prince).
After all this excitement we went on to the tea kiosk for sustenance. We never did a bird count as it was rather a large circle around the tables but must have been in the region of 40.
I have had better birding at Durban Botanic Gardens, whether this can be put down to the number of concerts which now take place or the heat of the morning who knows.