BirdLife KZN Forum, Howick & the Morning After in the Karkloof area

Saturday 15 May 2021

All members of the club received the notification and agenda for the BirdLife KZN Forum meeting held at the Ambers Auditorium on Saturday 15 May.  So, if you didn’t attend, here is a bit more detail to make you wish you had been there.  The attractive possibility of being present in person and having face to face presentations, a situation where the speakers could read their audience, as opposed to the difficulty of speaking to a computer screen during Zoom and hoping that everybody was following, probably drew many of the Amber audience.  

We had a really nice turnout (considering some are still rightly nervous of the Covid-19 situation) with somewhere between 60 to 70 people who were treated to an eclectic collection of presentations on birds, conservation and habitats. The meeting was kicked off with a welcome from Colin Somersgill as Chair of Chairs and Peter Divall as Chair of Forum and the programme began with BirdLife South Africa’s Head of Finance and Operations Fanie du Plessis talking about the BLSa’s operations during the pandemic and future plans. Thereafter the subjects ranged from Blue Swallow conservation (Steve Mckean) , infectious diseases in pigeons and doves (Tammy Caine), waders in estuaries , raising barn owls starting with eggs from a collapsed nest (Mirriam Marie), Spotted Thick-knees in urban Pietermaritzburg (Kyrone Josiah), vultures in Zululand (Brent Coverdale), the Ingula grass and wetlands reserve (Peter Nelson) as well as Wattled Crane nesting and dispersal behaviour (Lara Jordan). This is not to forget a few minutes on Zulu names of KZN birds and the book (Roger Porter), a short presentation on the implications of tarring the Sani Pass road (Aldo Berruti), a report on SABAP 2 for KZN (Ian Gordon) and a fascinating analysis of timing your birdwatching to answer the question – whether one misses a lot by birding after breakfast instead of starting at sun-up or before (Eckhart Buchmann).

It would be tedious to try and summarise the full content of all presentations so I will select two – leaving out my own – that are very relevant or topical at present.  The first, by Tammie Caine of Free Me KZN, relates to the common practice of bird baths and bird feeders.  The jury is still out as to whether this is good or bad – whatever that might mean or imply.  The talk title referred to columbids, i.e. pigeons and doves and the plethora of infectious diseases that infect them but which may also occur in other species.  Just as in Covid, close contact enhances the spread of these diseases and racing pigeons are particularly vulnerable.  For many species towns represent sources of food and crowding at these food sources also contributes to disease transmission.  The suggestion was that if one is going to provide food and water to wild birds the receptacles need to be regularly washed and effectively sterilized as far as possible.

The second talk where the title was not immediately indicative of the content, but very topical, was delivered by Nicky Forbes of MER and Chair of BirdLife eThekwini KZN, on the recent developments at St Lucia.  Many members of bird clubs in the province have listened to her inspiring talk on the estuarine restoration programme, the biggest such programme in the country.  It was consequently an unpleasant shock in early January this year to find that an ad hoc local pressure group had been convened in St Lucia village and in collaboration with the iSimangaliso Authority had decided in the face of scientific evidence and Supreme Court decisions to breach the estuary.  Nicky outlined the sequence of events culminating in the present position whereby the Environmental Minister Ms. Barbara Creecy is in the process of appointing an “Expert Panel” to assess the basis and implications of the breach.  It was intriguing to watch Roger Porter, he of the Zulu names presentation at the Forum, spitting tacks in sympathy with Nicky’s disappointment at the St Lucia debacle.

The talks were ably run by Steve Davis who makes the presenters lives easier by knowing exactly what he is doing. Thank you Steve for doing this each year at the Forum.

The programme was scheduled to end earlier than usual to allow the Chairs’ meeting to be held. This is the meeting that brings together the Chairs of the different KZN clubs and liberated the ordinary members to their own devices.  One of the significant outcomes for Be KZN was that Nicky Forbes was elected KZN Chair of Chairs, taking over from outgoing Chair Colin Summersgill.

The BirdLife KZN Forum meets twice a year in Spring and Autumn so the next meeting will be held again towards the end of the year again in Howick at the Ambers. There is some discussion about a roving venue being implemented thereafter and this may simplify attendance for those who find the trip to Howick a bit far from their home base.  

Saturday Report by Ticky Forbes

Sunday 16 May 2021 – the ‘Morning After’

In the words of the song “There’s got to be a morning after…”

The takers for the Sunday birding the morning after the forum included Steve Davis and Anneli Mynhardt, Jenny Norman and Nicky Forbes and myself and we used the opportunity to explore around the area and to see what birds, butterflies and scenery were on offer. The day dawned sunny and calm and warmer than we had expected although the wind did pick up once we were en route home.

It is worthwhile mentioning that the Karkloof area does provide some special birding opportunities as Gartmore Farm a few kilometres further up the Karkloof road has two hides which specialize in producing all three of our crane species although one needs to be either very early or very late at the hides to catch these spectacular birds. A bit further up the road lies Karkloof Canopy Tours which for the less adventurous can provide Orange Thrush while this elusive species can also be sought at the Benvie Gardens further along the same road. Accommodation is available in self catering chalets at the WESSA offices just outside Howick and there is lots of other accommodation available locally as well.  The explosion of retirement villages in the area has resulted in the parallel development of shopping malls and restaurants.      

We were up early and out of the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve gates dead on 7 am and set off to explore the Karkloof area before heading back to Durban. We had a lovely morning starting with a visit to Gartmore Farm and the Karkloof Conservation Centre and spent quite a bit of time birding and photographing from both of the hides (Nicky and Annelie clicking away) which gave us a number of species for our list.

The first hide we visited was Wattled Crane Hide (Loskop) which was perfectly positioned for photographing with the morning sun and we added a number of waterbird species many Spurwinged Goose, a number of Malachite Kingfisher using the shallows and wetland surrounds of the pan, a pair of African Shelduck and a great add to our lists of a single Whitebacked Duck.

We eventually tore ourselves away and walked down the dewy grass path to the Crowned Crane Hide (Gartmore). It was starting to get quite warm and as we had been in the first hide for quite a while the light was not as direct as it would have been had we got there earlier. This pan was full of a number of Egyptian Geese and the close by reeds already browning for winter gave us good views of Lesser Swamp Warbler. Some Greater Striped Swallow were still around and were landing on the hide roof giving us close views and a pair of Threebanded Plover landed in front of the hide bringing our list to a respectable 40 species at that point.

Walking back to the cars revealed flocks of Common Waxbill using the long grass either side of the grass path and a Drakensberg Prinia. No cranes put in an appearance but we all agreed the evening would probably bring them back to roost at the pans.

After Steve and I posted our donations to the Karkloof Conservancy honesty box at the entrance near the office (please do leave something towards upkeep should you visit and make use of the hides) we had some refreshments, welcome coffee and rusks and other snacks and then headed off westwards towards the Karkloof Nature Reserve area. We decided to head up the D815 towards Spitskop which looked wonderful with the sunny clear conditions.

The surrounding area yielded flocks of Southern Red Bishop, Red-billed Quelea, Jackal Buzzard, Sacred Ibis, a small dam with a pair of African Shelduck, Little Grebe, a Yellow-billed duck with seven little ducklings and a fishing Pied Kingfisher.

Alongside a ploughed field Nicky got out to scan for cranes as Anneli was wanting to get better photographs than her last visit and was delighted to find instead a group of about nine Bald Ibis, a species we had wanted to add to the list.

Our total list at the end of the day was 55 species despite some obvious omissions like the cranes – we all considered it not a bad autumn list for the area covered and agreed it was a splendid morning.

For those interested in where we were birding the interactive map shows the three main locations with the blue pins – click on each to see the names.

Sunday Report text and photos by Nicky Forbes

One Comment Add yours

  1. Hazel Nevin says:

    Such a beautiful part of our country. Sorry you missed out on the cranes. We saw several Wattled cranes at the hide there, but in the evening. Thanks for sharing.

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