22nd – 24th November 2019
A clear, warm and still day saw Mike, Lynette Bingham and I heading up the N3 towards Pietermaritzburg and the absolute gem that is Cumberland Nature Reserve. The traffic was heavy and there were very few birds seen on the drive up. No Long Crested Eagle sitting on the available old telephone poles, no Black-headed Heron scratching about in the grasslands which were green and lush. A solitary Common Fiscal, a pair of Hadeda and a Yellow-billed Kite appeared just before we entered Pietermaritzburg.
We arrived at Cumberland just before midday and were soon settled into our campsite. Campers were John and Cheryl Bevan, Lynn and Terry Espitalier, Lynette was accommodated in the “Tin Hut” and Marion Spence and John Hinck had the luxury of the Horseshoe cottage on the banks of the Umgeni River.
Saturday was misty in the early morning and once this had lifted morning birding was commenced with us walking from the campsite, along the road down to the picnic sites, a saunter past the environmental centre and back around to the camp.
The birding did not disappoint, and we were kept busy with great views of Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpecker, Lesser Honeyguide and a nesting Violet-backed Starling. Golden-breasted Bunting was common
Cuckoos were very vocal and we had great sightings of Dideric Cuckoo
The Rietspruit stream that runs parallel to the picnic site produced Common Waxbill, Lazy Cisticola and Tawny-flanked Prinia. Up on the ridge passed the environmental centre Black-crowned Tchagra, Black Cuckooshrike and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow entertained us. We scanned the giraffe and zebra looking for Red-billed Oxpecker to no avail.
Up along the ridge a rare species of Cyrtanthus grows, first found at Cumberland by Lynette Bingham, it caused a lot of excitement among the “flower” people.
In the afternoon we went up to the dam and wetland that is just outside the reserve. Unfortunately, there was a group paddling and playing games on the water and they were quite noisy. The resident Grey-crowned Crane had sensibly moved off for the afternoon but was seen on our way out on Sunday. Pygmy geese were seen on a further dam by John and Cheryl Bevan after we left so worth looking out for. We did manage to see a number of water birds.
After doing some exploring around the wetland we gave up on the noise and headed out to the savannah around the Krantz hut. Birding here was slow and so we went back to the campsite for a sundowner and to enjoy the sound of the birds settling down for the night. Jackal were heard during the evening, but no nightjar or owl graced us with their presence. A very social braai was enjoyed by all and the short rain shower didn’t deter us.
On Sunday we were joined by Ben von Wielligh for the Sunday morning walk along the cliff tops. This is a very productive area and Mocking Cliff Chat, Cape Rock-Thrush, Stiped Pipit gave good views along the cliff top while in the valley below African Emerald Cuckoo, Olive Woodpecker called but only offered glimpses as they flitted from tree to tree. Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill were more obliging and showed quiet well.
After a lovely morning walk, we did the bird list for the weekend and were delighted to have a count of 133 species for the period. With that number under our belt we were all happy to pack up and head home having had a great birding weekend.
Jane and Mike Roseblade