Sunday 11 April 2021
This year’s visit was our 6th club outing to the KwaXimba conservancy and one which seems to grow in popularity with each passing year. Originally scheduled for February, the outing had to be re-scheduled to April due to Covid-19 enforced restrictions. This meant that the number of migrant species likely to be encountered would be reduced. That however did not discourage the numbers, with 20 people participating which meant having to split the group up into two – many thanks to Tyron Dall for stepping into the breach to co-lead with me and take the second group. As always it was going to be a hot day down in the valley hence the 6am start at the break of dawn.
This has been a particularly wet summer for KZN resulting in swollen rivers and overgrown riverbanks, and the Umgeni River was no exception. So much so that one section of the walk adjacent to the river which we usually take was waterlogged and unpassable, requiring us to back track to an alternative route. Although we had fewer water bird sightings than in previous years, those that put in a showing included African Black Duck, Common Sandpiper, Black Crake, Purple Heron, Giant and Malachite Kingfisher, Hamerkop, African Reed and Little Rush Warbler, and Egyptian Goose.
The draw card in my personal opinion of the river valley walk is the mix of habitats encountered. The bushveld bird species to one side of the river bed, and the river associated water and wader species on the other side. A few of the better birds seen and heard included Blue Waxbill, Chinspot Batis, African Firefinch, African Paradise Flycatcher, Red-backed Mannikin, Little Bee-eater, Bar-throated Apalis, Long-billed Crombec, Orange-breasted Bunting, Rattling Cisticola, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow (Petronia), Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bushshrike.
Unsurprisingly for mid-April, our tally for palearctic and intra-african migrant species was low and those that we did see were few in numbers. Putting in a late summer show were Barn Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow, and a Common Sandpiper – not a single cuckoo species heard or seen!! Birds in the sky also kept us busy. A particular highlight of the morning was watching a pair of Lanner Falcons taking umbrage to the presence of a large raptor perched on a tree on the side of iSiThumba mountain. The Falcons repeatedly dive-bombed the poor bird, and then gracefully re-ascended into the air to start another swoop downwards – an enthralling display it was. The initial sighting of the perched raptor had everyone guessing as to its identity due to its distance from us. Size told us it was an eagle, but we had to get quite a bit closer to eventually confirm it is a juvenile Martial Eagle. It soon tired of the provocation being handed out by the Lanner Falcons and flew off further down the valley for some peace and solitude. Other raptors and airborne sightings seen were African Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Black Saw-wing, African Palm-swift and White-necked Raven.
Birds however do not always take the limelight, and there seems to be growing interest among club members in others forms of biodiversity, none more so than an interest in lepidopterans and odonatans. As the day warmed up, the butterflies, moths, and dragonflies came out in their numbers much to the delight of Mark Liptrot who keenly passed on his vast lepi knowledge to others showing an interest in them. His final tally for the morning was 29 butterfly or moth species identified, and two unidentified moth species. The Brown dodger and Macken’s dart were the first Virtual Museum records for this locus (quarter-degree square, 2930DA), and Mark also had a good sighting of a Dancing jewel damselfly on the river bank. By 09h00 it started getting too hot so we turned around and headed back to the cultural village buildings for refreshments. Much to our surprise considering the heat and lateness in summer of the outing, we were still able to record a total of 82 bird species.
Selection of Moths, Butterflies and a Damselfly provided for the report by Mark Liptrot.
Yours in birding,