The July Sunday outing of BirdLife Port Natal was to the Amatigulu Nature Reserve on the north coast. 12 birders met at the turnoff from the N2 at 07h30 and were serenaded by a Rufous-naped lark as we waited. It was a short drive to the entrance of the reserve, where I was surprised to find that there was no entrance charge.
Being winter, the birds were still very quiet as we headed down the road. At the offices, the turnoff to the riverside picnic site was marked with a no entry sign, so, being good citizens, we enquired of the staff why this was. We were told that the road was in very bad condition and only high clearance vehicles could get through, but we were permitted. Fortunately, we all had suitable vehicles and inched over the rocky parts down to the picnic site.
Here we discovered two things: firstly, there are no longer ablution facilities, as they have long since been burnt down/demolished and secondly, the water level in the estuary was very high, with virtually no sand banks visible. Nevertheless, we set off along the riverside trail after a quick cup of coffee, soon seeing many Reed and White-breasted cormorants roosting, and a distant Great egret. The walk itself was fairly productive, not great numbers of birds, but lots of butterflies. Also remarkable was the large number of hirundines and swifts over the water, some Brown-throated Martins, but mostly Black saw-wings (surprisingly many) and Little swifts. We saw both Malachite and Pied kingfishers, but alas, no African finfoot this time.
Because of the high water level, the path was waterlogged in a couple of places, and in fact, at one inlet the party had to rely on the noble efforts of Oscar and others to build a temporary wooden bridge for the others to cross. Offers of some to lie down to make a human bridge were politely declined.
Along the path, we had sightings of Red-capped robin-chats, Yellow-breasted apalis, Yellow-rumped tinkerbird, Ashy flycatcher and Olive Sunbirds.
There was no sign of Black-throated wattle-eye, which is usual quite easy to find in the lagoon hibiscus groves. Eventually, the sandy path climbing up and down the dunes became too overgrown and we turned back for the picnic site, picking up African fish eagles, Red-billed teal (only one) and an early Lesser striped swallow on the way back.
After a break for coffee/late breakfast/early brunch (the menus were quite varied), we inched our way back up the road and parked by the old meeting room, and then walked through the grassland on Trail 4 towards the 4×4 trail. The bird list grew steadily, with the addition of, amongst others, Little Bee-eater, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Black-bellied Starlings, Yellow-throated Longclaws, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul (quite visible) and numerous White-eared Barbets. The open grassland yielded the inevitable Rattling and Croaking Cisticolas and African Stonechat, but no sign of the White-fronted Bee-eaters that are almost a certainty here. A Scarlet-chested Sunbird was a good sight feeding on the flowers of a coral tree, as were several Collared Sunbirds.
Time was marching on so eventually we turned and headed back to the cars. Halfway back, I heard the clear call of a Crowned eagle from a nearby tree, so stopped to look for it. As we walked further up the path, it suddenly flew out and across the valley where it was considerate enough to land in the open branches of a flatcrown, so everyone could see. After this excitement, we enjoyed our picnic lunch by the meeting room, surrounded by birds and butterflies, which had become quite numerous by this time. Mark Liptrot let me know later that his butterfly list was about 42 for the morning, mostly Pieridae (Whites) I imagine (in numbers at least, if not species).
We were also entertained by the male Crowned eagle displaying overhead for several minutes, much to everyone’s pleasure.
After lunch, as we had suitable vehicles, I suggested we drive at least part way along the 4×4 trail to see what else we could find, and this was met with enthusiasm. Although it was now after 2pm, nobody seemed keen to rush off, such a pleasant day it was. We pottered along the trail, enjoying the spectacular views over the dunes and estuary, until the track started a very steep descent. I decided to just park there and walk down, as I was not sure of the state of the road further and it is also not easy to bird in car convoy in a forest!
We took a gentle stroll down into the forest, and came across many birds, mostly quite open and easy to see. Best of all were a female Black cuckoo-shrike, Grey waxbills, Red-capped robin chats, Yellow-breasted apalis, more Yellow-rumped tinkerbirds and Ashy flycatchers. Eventually, I heard the sound I had been waiting for, and we discovered several White-fronted Bee-eaters perched on some dead trees, much to everyone’s delight.
By now, it was starting to get dim as the sun was low in the west behind the hill, so we pottered back up the hill to the cars and headed on our way at about 4 pm.
The total bird list I recorded was 71 species (list attached) but there may have been others that I missed.
All in all, it was a very pleasant day’s birding in a lovely piece of bush. Just a pity that the facilities are not maintained properly. Thanks to all who came and particularly to the bridge builders!