12th December 2020
Lying in one of the southern suburbs of Durban, no more than a short fifteen minute drive from the city centre, unenclosed by fences and gates but fringed by an attractive surrounding of trees and lawns is what must be one of most unexpected and unsung of the city’s birding venues – Umbilo Ponds. Turning right from Rick Turner Road into Bartle Road, a few minutes drive down to the T junction brings one to Umbilo Park and to the pathway leading down to the ponds.
An early start was made after the six birders “hungry for birds” were briefed on the protocol. Walking down the path the group was taken aback by the sight of the island that stretches across the pond alive with birds in the trees, in the water and in the air!
Amazingly amongst our first sightings were Black- Crowned Night Heron – adults and juveniles.
The birders beaming with smiles soon had their attention drawn by the rapid flight of aerial birds, amongst them the Palm Swiftand Little Swift, which demanded close attention to their distinctive features. The trees of the little island were overcrowded with colonies of Sacred Ibis and Western Cattle Egrets.
At the water’s edge in the sedge were Little Egret whose yellow feet confirmed their ID when they took flight from one end of the pond to the other. Poised on an out-reaching branch was a Green-backed Heron and right above it on a slightly higher branch an African Darter!
A number of Reed and White-breasted Cormorant spread their wings to dry or took to the waters of the pond.
A short distance away from the island on a promontory were Blacksmith Lapwing undoubtedly guarding their nests, and not far off were four beautiful, Yellow-billed Ducks swimming casually by as they usually do, followed by coveys of Egyptian Geese. Unfazed by their presence, a pair of Pied Kingfisher dived headlong into the water in search fish.
Very near the Raffia Palm was an immature Black Sparrowhawk, the interaction within the group was a clear indication of “to disagree to agree”. Well done guys!
Common Moorhen, Thick- billed Weavers and Southern Red Bishops added to more smiles from the birders. The picturesque environment was a delight to my grandson, Ashraf who is a student Landscaper.
We then walked around the ponds admiring the beautiful indigenous trees which afforded leafy shelter to Fork-tailed Drongo, Black Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Speckled Mousebird, Bronze Mannikin, Tawny-Flanked Prinia and the Golden-tailed Woodpecker. And all this with the ever-present call of the Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoo!
To add to the pleasure of the group was the sighting of a Lanner Falcon, well-positioned on top of a pylon waiting for its preywhile a Yellow-billed Kite circled over the area.
We all scanned the undergrowth on the island in our search for birds lurking there and most especially for the Red Flamingo (sure he must mean a Scarlet Ibis) – an escapee which was sighted on Birding Big Day. The good news is that it was no longer there – hopefully returned to the safety of its protected aviary!
However, we were rewarded with three beautiful Malachite Kingfishers. Again, the participation from the group in spotting these lovely birds was amply rewarded.
We then headed towards the canal walk where sightings of the Red-faced Cisticola, Cape Wagtail and Yellow Weaver followed as a reward to our efforts.
A silhouette of a bird in the canal drew our attention, it had the jizz of a heron. I must admit we were a bit puzzled and Young Mark who was closer than the rest of us recognized it as a Black Heron.
The search for another sighting of the bird continued on our way back to the ponds. And then, from the “pond walk- way’ – more towards the Barringtonia racemosa – on the opposite side of the pond was this beautiful bird – the Black Heron with golden legs and its all-black body fishing by forming an umbrella to attract fish. This was the ultimate bird of the day.
Very close to the Black Heron the Lesser Swamp Warbler (Cape Reed Warbler) was calling and so drawing our attention to it.
As a finale to a pleasant and rewarding day’s birding, while having our much-deserved refreshments before parting, was the sighting of three Little Bee-eaters an ever-welcome sighting to end any outing.
Written by Ismail Vahed.