Cumberland Comeback

Having booked Krantzview Cottage at Cumberland, as an Anniversary treat for Mike back in April, we eventually after much shuffling of dates managed to fix a date for the 8 – 10 September 2020.  So early on a Tuesday morning we set off in great anticipation of our first trip to the bush since lockdown began in March.   Seeing as we were concerned about the cold weather, we changed our booking to Horseshoe Cottage where we had access to an inside fireplace and bathroom. 

Arriving early was a good idea, it was a lovely warm spring morning and the birding started as soon as we hit the dirt road and started slowly winding our way down into the valley where Cumberland nestles.  Euplectes species gave the brain a good workout as they were still in their nondescript winter plumages.  Pin-tailed Whydah, Southern Red Bishop, Fantailed and White-winged Widowbirds are all present.  A Jackal Buzzard floats along the ridge above the Rietvlei as it winds its way down to a farm dams on the left.  

We stopped along the roadside with a view of the first farm dam, this always a great idea as this is a fairly reliable place to get Pygmy Goose and White-backed Duck.  You do need a scope though to find the birds from the road and as this is private property one can’t venture down to the dam without the owners’ permission.  We were able to pick out Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot and Egyptian Geese with White-backed Duck and Pygmy Goose skulking among the water lilies. A brilliant green bird, glinting in the morning sun had us baffled for a while.  Then it turned and revealed a Spurwing Goose showing just how light can affect colour. 

Once through the gate of Cumberland Nature Reserve we are assaulted by the sweet smell of orange blossom that fills the air from the flower laden orchard.   First stop is the dam where we have our breakfast while  White-throated Swallows look to find a nesting site on the jetty, White-faced ducks whistle to one another 

and we are entertained by a family of Common Moorhen.  Mum, dad and 2 tiny little fluffballs for chicks.  The little ones are fed and then mum and dad head out to the open water, the fluffballs balk at first but then bravely set off after the parents cheeping excitedly all the way until they reach the safety of the reeds on the opposite bank.  

It would seem Cumberland has ordered some extraordinary displays for us.  As we drive up to the office to advise of our arrival an adult and juvenile Palmnut Vulture fly out of the valley and do a couple of lazy circles overhead before tumbling about in the sky and heading off over the hills.

 Candice is as always welcoming and gives us the gen on where some of the specials have been seen recently.  We wind our way down into the valley and to the bend on the uMngeni River to Horseshoe Cottage, which is to be our refuge for 2 nights and three days.   

Purple-banded Sunbird is calling and sits out in the open for us to admire his glossy plumage 

and he continues to be a regular visitor after that along with White-bellied sunbird and Amethyst Sunbirds that feed on the flowers that grow alongside the cottage. 

We do the walk along the uMngeni one morning 

and wander across the grassland with its profusion of aloes and rocky outcrops on another and these are productive with the most interesting bird being a Bush Blackcap that appeared.  

But Horseshoe Cottage is ideal for the “lazy” birder as you can sit on the verandah and there is a passing parade of birds all day and we, being lazy, spend a great deal of time here.

We breakfast with a White browed scrub one morning…

…have lunch with an Orange-breasted Bushshrike,..

… and sundowners with a pair of Striped Pipit.

and during our evening braai while sitting around a crackling fire we are serenaded by Wood Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl and Fiery-necked Nightjar.

The Yellow-billed Kites are nesting close-by and were very busy nesting and ensuring they would have progeny while African Hoopoe investigated the nesting box on the tall tree in front of the cottage repeatedly.  

The African Fish Eagles calls echo up and down the river in the early morning while the very brightly attired Cape White-eyes were busy gleaning in the Acacia tree.

A walk along the road through the picnic site on our last morning produced Green Wood-hoopoe and Common Scimitarbillwhile a hooting Buff-spotted Flufftail remained elusive.

A really nice touch was some human interaction in the form of Cheryl and John Bevan who were in the campsite and after months of social isolation it was good to be able to have a social distancing chat with friends.  

A total of 111 birds were seen and heard.   

Report and Photos by Jane Morris

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