Mkuze and St. Lucia


Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

7 to 13 February 2019

It was time to get away – you could say the lure of the bush was calling. This time a short trip – 4 nights in Mkuze and a couple in St. Lucia.

Rain and overcast conditions followed us and remained intermittently at both venues.

Mkuze was lush- the vegetation was green and grown up. There were no bare patches to be seen unlike the last time we visited in July 2018. The Fig Forest was flooded from rains upstream and consequently Nsumo Pan was as full as we had ever seen. Despite that only two inland hides had water (KuMasinga and Malibali) and all of the other scattered pans and wallows were dry.

Nsumo Pan was one of the first places we visited. We stopped at the first hide heading towards the Nsumo Pan Picnic site. As we approached we noticed what looked like two ducks in the shadows under the hide. However they were something entirely different and most unexpected.

With the water level so high there were no waders about at Nsumo Pan.

However there were a number of waterbirds about at Nsumo hides and at the Picnic site.

As expected, Kumasinga hide was busy. Many animals as well as birds close-by – making for reasonable photographic opportunities considering the sunless skies. A number of birds appeared with confusing ID issues which made it all the more interesting trying to get to their correct ID. One bird in particular – a Sunbird – was an interesting example of this.

Perplexing Sunbird

What we saw immediately was a Sunbird with a distinct bib and yellow Mylar stripes either side of the bib. A quick look at the Roberts App suggested a Plain-backed Sunbird – and its plain back also seemed to confirm that.

Sunbird with a plain back

It was feeding what we considered to be a fledgling so we considered it to be an adult bird despite its yellow gape.

However a Plain-backed Sunbird would be a rare sighting in Mkuze so it did not feel quite right. We checked the Roberts App for pictures of Sunbirds and nothing had the bib except for the Plain-backed Sunbird. The new Roberts Field Guide eventually gave us the correct ID by showing a picture of a juvenile male Marico Sunbird. It shows that sometimes initial impressions can be so wrong.

The antics of birds and animals were a pleasure to watch. Burchell’s Coucals chasing each other, Little Bee-eaters and Swallows coming in for a drink or a bath, Red-billed Oxpeckers having a communal bath spraying drops of water over each other, Giraffes drinking, a Slender Mongoose casing the joint and many birds just coming to the water’s edge for a drink. One oddity were the Red-billed Oxpeckers. There were at least 20 present all the time. They never left with the animals but hung around for their next feed. We tried to work out if the animals not only came for a drink but also for a clean up. Or was it that the Oxpeckers hung around because they knew they were on to a good thing. Perhaps both options.

But there was one bird which appeared unexpectedly.

Dwarf Bittern

Yes, a Dwarf Bittern up high in a tree. Wonderful sighting.

Of course there were camp birds. We were greeted by a pair of singing Striped Kingfishers. As the sun set, the Little Swifts serenaded us. However because of the weather the camp was quiet.

It was on the Loop road where we saw the most raptors and an unexpected one at that as well as bushveld species.

Our last morning was spent at Malibali hide. And surprisingly the activity was as interesting as that at the Kumasinga hide. Now that there is water all sorts of creatures appear out of the woodwork.

Over a three hour period we saw three different elephants coming in for a drink and a splashing.

Elephant – drink’s time

The last sadly with a vicious snare wound (which the camp conservation team were aware of). The elephant had to be darted to remove the snare and to be given treatment. You can see from the photos how bad it looked. Fortunately it appears that the medicine is doing its work. It can walk normally and put weight on that leg. What was interesting was the elephant, having arrived with the would very visible, left with it fully coated in mud by the elephant to act as protection for the wound.

Snared Elephant swollen foot

Here are some of the other species photographed at the waterhole.

Then there was a full breakfast to be seen.

Western Cattle Egret enjoying a big breakfast

Our bird list for Mkuze can be seen later as it has been combined with our viewings at St. Lucia.

Our next destination was St. Lucia. The main purpose at St. Lucia was to enjoy the waterbirds seen at the mouth of the estuary and to try and find one or two of the special birds seen there earlier this year – Gull-billed Tern, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Lesser Frigatebird or the vagrant Noddy on the off chance.

St. Lucia weather was even more overcast and rainy than Mkuze. We took our chances when the heavens were not crying to walk the beach and explore the estuary. We managed to get out twice. On both visits we came across a small Tern roost in the estuary. Despite  the numbers it was good to see the variety there – Little and Swift in numbers with Common, Lesser-Crested and Sandwich Terns among them. Even a Caspian appeared. However amongst the Terns and Gulls there was no sign of the Gull-billed Tern.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were feeding over the sand dunes. Not a sight we expected to see.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

No sign of the Noddy – not a surprise as we know how fleetingly it was seen in the first place. And the Lesser Frigatebird did not make an appearance either. Fortunately we had seen it there on a previous visit.

Black Oystercatchers were seen on the beach water’s edge in the distance. Whenever we got close they moved on. Grey Plovers and Whimbrels were also present. On one occasion we saw a distant Black Oystercatcher with another smaller wader – we assumed either a Grey Plover or Whimbrel. Because it was so distant we did not pursue it and visited the Tern roost instead. After some time we left the roost and headed back to the beach to see if by chance we would have any luck spotting the Eurasian Oystercatcher.

The beach came into view and there was the Black Oystercatcher we had seen earlier. And with it the other smaller bird. Once we had our binoculars on it we realised it was the Eurasian Oystercatcher. As close as we came so they moved away. I managed to get a photo or two but it was a nightmare photographing into the sun.

Black and European Oystercatchers showing their size difference

Hooray – a lifer for me.

Sanderling

On our last – yes, rainy afternoon – we ventured into Eastern Shores – more for something to do than sitting around the camp in the intermittent rain. As expected both animals and birds were scarce but we persevered. Eventually we got to the Lake Bhangazi turnoff having explored most of the other loops on the way.

European Bee-eater

This drive is a 17 km drive back to the main road. Initially it passes through dune forest and onto a raised road between Lake Bhangazi and a wetland. This part of the road is also well forested and narrow. Coming round a corner I said to Sally “Look ahead”. She was scouring for the bird she thought I had seen. Only it wasn’t a bird but a magnificent creature lying alongside the road.

Leopard

Well worth the drive and a good way to end our trip. Our bird list for both Mkuze and St. lucia can be seen by clicking here. 135 species identified in Mkuze and 77 in St. Lucia.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho

 

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