Five days in Zululand.

 21 – 25th February 2020

While packing the tent and camping equipment into Charka (our trusty Landrover) on the eve of our sojourn to Zululand, the sky is grey and gloomy while the occasional shower pelts down, I wonder if we are completely crazy!  We are heading to Sand Forest Lodge in the morning for four nights, where we will be joined by five BLPN members, following which Mike and I head off to Kosi Bay for a further 5 nights.

The following morning as we set out it is still grey and overcast but at least it is not raining.  We leave home at 8am head up the N2.  There are few birds in evidence until we get to Tongaat and then they start to appear one by one.  Black-headed Heron patrols the verges while Dark-capped Bulbul darts about in the tangles and scrub along the road edge.  Red-eyed Dove line up on the telephone wires while Yellow-billed Kite swoop and soar and Long-crested Eagle are seen occupying various perches on the way.  Barn Swallow fly across the grasslands and Little Swift are seen over the causeways while Pied Crow lumbers his way about in the fields.  As we enter the Mtunzini Toll Plaza it starts to rain, we contemplate having to putting up the tent in the rain!  Just as we go past Richards Bay the sun comes out and patches of blue sky appear.  Zululand has had some good rains and Lake Eteza is looking amazing with patches of waterlilies and a good quantity of water.  The Umfolozi has what could be described as just more than a trickle of water flowing in it which is great to see. Pied Crow numbers are abundant in this area, I was pleased to note there were no House Crows in evidence.  Turning onto the R22 we pass through Hluhluwe and head to Sand Forest Lodge, there is a lot of water on the ground with Egyptian Geese paddling about while zebra and impala gambol about in the veld and a stately giraffe looks on with distain. A common Buzzard sits on the fence and watches the antics.  

We arrive at Sand Forest Lodge just after 11am.  We set up camp under the watchful gaze of a Red Squirrel while the strangest looking bug, later identified by Nicky and Ticky as a bush cockroach, forages in the leaf litter.

Mike and I are the only campers, Ismail is in one of the wooden cabins while the rest of the crew, Margaret and John Cooke, Penny de Fries and Merle McKenzie, are all in the chalets. When we go to say hi to everyone we are alerted to the presence of Broad-billed Roller by its harsh grating call, Emerald-spotted Dove and White-eared Barbet are always present around the central garden at the lodge as well.  The late afternoon is spent sitting watching the forest edge in the campsite before having the traditional braai.  Wood owl and fiery necked nightjar lulls us to sleep.

Saturday morning sees us quietly creeping along the forest trail in an attempt to find the African Broadbill that Godfrey frequently hears calling.  No such luck but we do enjoy a good walk along the forest trail and across the grassland.  Black Sparrowhawk dashes overhead, Red-chested Cuckoo is still calling and a Lesser Honeyguide flies from tree to tree displaying its white tail feathers.  The call of Rattling Cisticola alerts us to its presence and Spotted and Pale Flycatcher hawk from perches under the canopy.  A little family of Grey Waxbill busily feed on the abundance of grass seeds.  On the return to the chalets we find a Trema orientalis in fruit, it is full of Yellow White-eyes and some very interesting caterpillars which provide a feast for Crowned Hornbill. 

In the afternoon we head down to False Bay Park.  A roaring gale greets us, and we are nearly blown away at Lister Point.  This does not bode well for birding and so we find a sheltered spot on the southern shore in the camping area where we can sit.  

The water level in the lake is high and birds are few and far between.  Great Egret feeds in the shallows, Common Sandpiper feeds on the available sandbanks while White Breasted and Reed Cormorant are seen flying past, a Caspian Tern entertains us along with a lone Pink Backed Pelican that does a fly past while we are having a sundowner before heading home for the evening. 

Caspian Tern: Jane Morris

Sunday sees us back at False Bay Park, the weather is not on our side and soon after we have started our walk on the Mpophomeni trail it starts to drizzle, gradually it becomes a little more than drizzle.  

Trail start: Jane Morris

Half of the party opt to go home to the comfort of their chalet while the others opt to continue.  It rains intermittently and the birds are not perturbed.  We see Neergard’s, Purple banded and Scarlet Chested Sunbirds, Rudd’s Apalis calls and then shows itself, Scaly-throated Honeyguide calls from a distance, Green Malkoha gives his tink-tink call and after some searching, we locate the bird.  Green twinspot is heard but not seen.  Some interesting insects are seen though.

After the walk we headed up to the office area to do some birding which was quite fruitful with Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Black-crowned Tchagra showing themselves.  

The wind then started to howl again and we all head home to seek shelter. The evening braai was hosted by Margaret and John on the patio of their chalet where the shelter from the wind and rain was much appreciated.

Monday the group started to disperse with Penny, Merle and Ismail all heading back home and Margaret and John, Mike and I heading into Hluhluwe for the day.  Mike and I headed to the Maphumulo Picnic site where one can walk about and bird.  On the road to the picnic site a Martial Eagle glides down and alights on its nest while a Brown Snake-eagle sits and surveys the grassland.  In the picnic site we are entertained by a very obliging White-throated Robin-chat that displays in front of us for at least 10 minutes.  

Terrestrial Brownbul scratches around accompanied by a Southern Boubou.  The heavy tapping of a Bearded Woodpecker has a scanning the trees before locating it.

African Firefinch, Blue Waxbill and Grey-headed Sparrow strut about on the lawn along with African Pied and Cape Wagtails.  Sitting under a fruiting fig tree munching on our breakfast we were accompanied by African Green-Pigeon, Southern Black Tit, Red-faced and Speckled Mousebird and Purple-crested Turaco while over head a White-backed Vulture soared and White-rumped swift dashed though the air.  

The call of Diederik Cuckoo, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Natal Spurfowl serenaded us as we have a cup of coffee, while a juvenile Black-headed Oriole plays in the treetops. 

The last bird we see is a Jacobin Cuckoo that sits out for a minute before disappearing in the top of the tree.  Following this feast of birding we headed slowly out of the park and into Hluhluwe to stock up on groceries as we head off to Kosi Bay in the morning.  

Tuesday morning dawns bright and clear and we pack up and head to Muzi Pan with Margaret and John.  

We stay on the causeway and set up the scope.  Waders are scarce, and we don’t see any, Herons and Egret are represented by Goliath and Black-headed Heron and Western Cattle Egret while on the fringes of the pan Spur-winged Goose, African Swamphen and African Jacana lurk.  With the scope Mike is able to pick up a Lesser Jacana which is a great sighting.  No amount of scanning finds us an African Pygmy Goose. Whiskered Tern dive and swoop over the pan elegantly.  A Klaas’s Cuckoo gives us a stunning display close to a busy Yellow Weaver colony.  On the grassy plain a lonely Yellow-throated Longclaw calls.

We stay and bird for about an hour and a half before heading off, Margret and John to Mkuze and Mike and I to Kosi Bay.   97 species seen at Sand Forest and False Bay Park (combined list), 83 seen at Hluhluwe and 30 at Muzi Pan.  Lists can be downloaded below.

Jane Morris.

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