BLPN WEEKEND GETAWAY

ESHOWE & SURROUNDS

Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk and an area we think was Dreadnought Farm !

25th and 26th May 2019

Report by Nicolette Forbes

A group of around seventeen people responded that they would be joining us for the birding weekend getaway planned for Eshowe and surrounds and received an email with the logistics and arrangements.  The plan was to meet late afternoon at the accommodation in Eshowe and chat about the next day’s birding around the fire that evening. 

Thirteen of the group indicated they would arrive Saturday with the butterflying- birders and birding-butterflyers also committing to join us for the walk day on Sunday.  Being keen to get started Ticky and myself left Durban early on Saturday morning and found ourselves on the road with the like-minded duos of Jane and Mike Roseblade and Sally and Paul Bartho from Howick. Without any prior planning we found ourselves converging on our Eshowe accommodation within minutes of each other during the late morning on Saturday – eager beavers we all were !

Having settled into our accommodation establishments, the Dlinza Forest Accommodation chalets run by Bev and Allan McKirdy who had kindly offered the BLPN group discount, and the Eshowe Guest House which was right opposite the chalets on the entrance road to the forest, we decided to wander along the Dlinza Forest entrance road and see what was around before heading back to meet and greet the rest of the party who would arrive much later in the afternoon.  We were all amazed that despite it being midday and quite hot, there was a lot of bird activity particularly on the edges of the forest and at the picnic sites and we very quickly logged 28 species including Trumpeter and Crowned hornbill feeding through the treetops, Southern Black Tit, Square-Tailed Drongo, White-Eared Barbet and a group of Cape Batis putting on a great show.  The bird list could probably have been longer but we were all distracted by the amazing numbers of butterflies moving around the edges of the clearing and at the entrance to the hide so a bit of time was spent photographing and trying to identify this moving feast.  

Jane, Ticky and I then decided to check the nearby iHlazi Dam which is very close to town and situated on the upper reaches of the uMlalazi River while Sally and Paul decided to venture onto the boardwalk.  The Blue Duiker was spotted from the Boardwalk (photo Paul Bartho). Our hope was to add some waterbirds to the already developing weekend trip list.  Although, the dam had surprisingly low numbers of birds, some of the fringing areas had good emergent vegetation and in the lower reaches were large areas covered by a wonderful crop of flowering water lilies Nymphaea spp.  The waterbirds were not plentiful, although the water habitat and the bushveld surrounds of the dam did add some nice species to the list with a pair of  African Black Duck, Wire-tailed swallow, Purple-banded sunbird, African Stonechat and Brown-throated Martin.

We returned to our accommodation and found two more of our party had settled into their accommodation, Sean Glynn and his sister Gail who also joined us all the way from Howick.  They were admiring the garden birds so we decided to join them and eventually all the early arrivals were gathered in the garden outside our chalets in the late afternoon sun to chat and enjoy the many squadrons of Trumpeter Hornbills that seemed to be a never ending parade over our heads as they headed off to their evening roosts.  The rest of the expected mob started to arrive with Wilma van der Walt and Wendy van Elden, followed closely by Mick Jackson, and then much later Marian Langrand, and finally Leigh-Ann and Charles Barford who had been spending a few nights at the Hluhulwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and came via a rather adventurous route through to Eshowe.  After a chat about the next day’s schedule and a festive braai everyone settled into their beds in anticipation of the early start in the morning. 

Everyones awake !

We met at the gates to the forest on Sunday at 06h30 and began our walk slowly towards the office and entrance to the aerial boardwalk.  The early hour and morning light were enjoyed by all and the hide at the entrance started our Sunday viewing off with a bang.  Although still frustratingly dark for the photographers with big lenses we were treated to cracking views of Lemon Dove, Green Twinspot, Redbacked Mannikins and Tambourine Dove.  Some of these were lifers for a few of the party and we were particularly delighted that Gail got the Green Twinspots which she had expressed a wish to see as we started out from the chalets.  Ticky and I were delighted that the hide and already produced some of the promised specials but were filled with trepidation about what to do about the rest.  

Waiting for the Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon – heard but no sightings unfortunately

After everyone had had their fill of the hide sightings we continued on to the boardwalk where we tried to get a view of Eastern Bronze Naped pigeons without success despite hearing their calls at intervals through the morning.  A climb up the tower produced views of Grey Cuckooshrike and Scaly-throated Honeyguide for some of the participants.  A couple of participants remained on the tower while most of the group walked one of the forest trails in the hopes of finding one of the other specials at Dlinza, Spotted Ground-thrush.  This was a successful venture and we ended up with two birds very close to the path and seen by the whole group.  Well done to Paul for getting a photo. The tower people also managed to connect with the thrushes by walking the same path about a half hour later.

By this time the butterfly-birders, Jenny Norman, Steve Woodhall, Sandy du Preez and Zach Simpson had arrived at Dlinza.  Steve had hung some butterfly traps which we would check later.  After waiting a little while on the boardwalk, without success, for the Eastern Bronze-naped pigeon to show itself and complete Sean’s wishlist, the birding group decided it was time to explore a new area and try to find the Dreadnought Farm site and see what was there.  The butterfly group said that they would follow on and join us once they had checked the Dlinza activity.

At this point things moved into the realm of uncertainty.  I had been provided with directions as well as permission to visit the farm by the landowner so the group headed off in a five car convoy down the Nkandla Road towards Entumeni Forest.  And that’s where it got interesting…four u-turns because signs mentioned in the directions were not in place (for instance some can only be seen once you turn around and head back towards Dlinza) and a chance meeting with another farmer got us onto the right road … or did it ?  

After following the directions to turn off the main road at the Entumeni Forest sign (which was not there) and then turn right at the Farmwatch sign (not there) and pass the farm name sign (not there) we crossed a river and decided to call it quits by turning up the road alongside the river crossing at which we had stopped.  It was now quite hot but all was not lost as we discovered a beautiful river with two accessible crossings each with dragon and damselflies to entertain us – its anything with wings you see – and surrounding riverine vegetation and valley sides with amazing birds for the time of the day.  

We walked along the farm road alongside the river and added Black Cuckooshrike and Narina Trogon to the list.  We eventually decided to picnic in the shade by the one river crossing. With no Vodacom signal in that area I suddenly realised that the butterfly group would be trying to find us by following the same directions but given how difficult the directions were to follow they would have no hope of finding us.  I underestimated Steve’s radar because as we were all sitting chatting and picnicking suddenly this car pulls up and to our amazement there they were. I still have no idea how thdey found us – it led one birder to ask if they had a tracking device on my phone. Quite a few of the birders decided to leave as it was getting late but the butterflies were still humming along the same river road so Steve, Zach and I walked it again to the next river crossing and were rewarded with many different species and to our excitement a beautiful specimen of Natal Bar that allowed us great close-up views and photos.  There were also scores of Blue Pansy, Pied Piper, Boisduval’s tree nymphs and many others.  Sandy du Preez walked the road above the river getting a great view of Lemon Dove while Jenny logged  birds, butterflies, dragon flies at the river crossing.

By this time it was around 15h30 and Steve needed to go and check his butterfly traps. We all drove back to Dlinza and I watched in fascination as Steve removed some of the larger and more interesting specimens.  The traps were very full of tree-nymphs but there were also Green-veined Charaxes, Bushveld Charaxes and to everyone’s excitement the much rarer Scarce Forest Charaxes.  A Narina Trogon decided to sit out in some late afternoon sun on the edge of the picnic site as we were packing up and then it was time to leave and we all headed for Durban after agreeing it had been well worth the trip.

Thank you to all of you that joined us.  Our birdlist total was 53 species slightly lower than expected, but on looking at this when I got back and once I had submitted the data to the SABAP2 programme I noticed that it was very much in line with the average count for the Dlinza pentad and not a bad total for a winter count in predominantly forest habitats.  All in all though, the cracking views of some of the more cryptic and rare forest species, the good weather, company, exploring a new site and habitats visited made for a wonderful weekend trip.  We will definitely be going back to explore that new area starting with the birds in the early morning and then move on to all the other winged creatures. We hope that more members will join us for that birding adventure!

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