July 14th to 19th 2019
Report by Sally and Paul Bartho
After the Umlalazi weekend outing (some photos shown at the end of this report), Sally and I headed north to Bahati Game Farm. Here we camped for five nights. Bahati is very close to Bonamanzi – about half a kilometre on the opposite side to Bonamanzi heading to Hluhluwe town.
We were met there by two friends – Judy and Sue – who stayed in a self-catering Chalet.
The reserve had plenty of game though none of the “Big Five”. It is crisscrossed with tracks and had a varied habitat of open grassland predominantly, a small section of Fever Trees and the odd waterhole – one with a viewing hide and little water – still very dry up there.
The campsite itself has three sections. One for “luxury” campers with their individual ablutions and kitchen area and the other two for regular campers with shared ablutions and wash up area.
Each site has a covered concrete shed to sit under. In our camping area the showers were near us with the loos on the opposite sided from us. The showers were basic but excellent. The site is well treed and grassy.
The train track was busy at nights but we got used to the noise quite quickly.
Birding was varied and quiet but despite this we did identify 73 different bird species. A list of birds we identified in each location we visited can be seen at the end of this report.
Probably our best sighting came unexpectedly one evening as we trolled the fence line and stopped to view a dilapidated VW Beetle next to a derelict building.
It was dusk and roosting time for the birds when a flock of about 20 to 30 Lemon-breasted Canaries flew around us settling into the trees nearby.
During the time there we spent a day in both Hluhluwe and Umfolozi as well time in Bonamanzi and False Bay.
The habitat in Hluhluwe was virtually all burnt – perhaps they had had a fire completely out of control. As a result the animals were scarce – the odd Buffalo and Rhino, some Wildebeest, Nyala and Zebra mainly along with an occasional Giraffe.
We did have an interesting experience with a Samango monkey at the Hilltop picnic site. As we drank our tea and ate some nibbles, up strolls this good looking Samango monkey. Right up to our table where there was a large rubbish bin. It was not interested in us but whatever it could get its hands on inside the bin. There he foraged less than two metres from us, occasionally turning to snarl at us.
Altogether a bit of a disappointment though we did see some nice birds at the picnic sites.
On another occasion we visited False Bay. An empty reserve but for one caravan – presumably a fisherman. The windy conditions kept the birds away.
The highlight of the visit was at the entrance. On entry there is a bank of aloes on either side. They were in full flower and Sunbirds everywhere – Scarlet Chested mainly as well as Purple-banded, Grey and Olive.
An Ashy Flycatcher enjoyed basking on the stems and a Bearded Scrub-Robin made an appearance on the ground.
Bonamanzi was visited for a walkabout around the reception area. Huge crocodiles were seen.
One croc was just over the bridge where wedding ceremonies are sometimes held! This one took me by surprise. Having seen a Malachite Kingfisher close to the bridge I went over to take a photo and have a look around.
Just after I crossed the bridge I was surprised to see a three metre croc snoozing on the bank beside me. Quick retreat and then to check if it was awake or not I rolled a palm nut towards it. As the nut approached its muzzle it snapped the nut and held it in its mouth. The movement was so quick it was as if the nut had always been there.
Another day was spent in Umfolozi – much less burnt out than Hluhluwe fortunately. From Bahati I had two choices to get to Umfolozi – down the N2 to Mtubatuba and enter through the Nyalazi Gate or to drive through Hluhluwe and the corridor. Thinking that they would both take the same time I mistakenly chose the route through Hluhluwe – it was twice as long!! However my mistake was a godsend as there were protests along the road from Mtubatuba to the Nyalazi Gate.
At the start of the corridor we came across our first herd of elephant. Mothers and calves all around us but not too close. The corridor was quiet as well as the road up to Mpila camp. It was till the picnic site on the Sontuli loop that things started to get more interesting.
On a large dry water hole there were three White Rhino with loads of Red-billed Oxpeckers.
Then at the picnic site we scoured the opposite side of the bank for a male Lion which had apparently been seen there shortly before we arrived. No luck but some colourful birds entertained us as we had tea.
Continuing around the loop there are several lookout spots over the river bed. At a couple of these lookouts we saw Buffalo and numerous White-backed Vultures bathing in the small pools.
At the end of the Sontuli Loop there is a good viewing site overlooking the river and the small pools of water in it. As we looked down the river back the way we had come, there at the end was a large herd of Buffalo.
A car pulled up beside us and the occupants had heard that there were two Cheetah to be seen on the rocks below. We scoured the rocks with our binos but could only see Cheetah rocks. To be sure, I took out the scope to confirm our suspicions. Getting out the scope gave us a good chance to scan the river edges below. And to our surprise there was a male Lion lying and then walking beside the grassy bank much further downriver.
From there we went to the Bhejane Hide to have some lunch. The waterhole was empty except for a pool of mud. And in the mud lay a large Warthog with one tusk protruding through the mud. After a while and no movement I proclaimed it dead – to which everyone else in the hide agreed.
Very little game was about – a few Impala came and went. Then to our surprise the first of two herds of elephant arrived to play in the mud. It was then that we realised our mistake as the mudstuck Warthog made a rapid exit.
The herd were mud slinging themselves either to keep cool or to rid themselves of parasites – possibly both. The youngsters were having great fun until big daddy in musth arrived proclaiming the mud pool for himself.
As we left it was time to check out the plumbing. So off the girls went across the car park to the loo. I waited by the car minding to my own business. Suddenly I get a phone call from Sally asking me urgently to come and pick them up. I did as I was told. And there behind the loo was a Jojo tank overflowing and the bull elephant in musth enjoying a refreshing drink of water – too close for their comfort.
At the Mfafa hide there was water in the pool below. The friendly Mocking Cliff-Chat welcomed us as he does with most visitors to the hide. There was a small procession of Impala and Nyala to drink. Then some young Warthogs appeared beside us at the top of the waterfall but try as they may they just could not find a way down over the edge. It was not until mama came that they were finally led down around the waterfall.
As we left to head back to Bahati there were a pair of Red-billed Firefinches by the car.
For us this was more of a social occasion rather than a birding adventure. Despite that we did find some interesting birds and atlassed where we could.
In all (including the Umlalazi weekend) we identified 160 different species. Click here to see our list showing the species in each of the places we visited.
Paul and Sally Bartho
PS Some photos of our weekend in Umlalazi follow the sunset.
Here are some photos from the very successful Umlalazi weekend Outing. African Finfoot, Palm-nut Vulture and Mangrove Kingfisher were our hoped for specials and each were seen several times.