Club Atlas Adventure #3 – the Outer-West
30 May 2021
The organised monthly club atlas event was held on Sunday 30 May 2021. The group included Steve Davis, Penny de Vries, Ros Conrad, Jenny Norman, Anneli Mynhardt, Ronel Curtis on her first outing as a new member – Welcome to the Club Ronel, Noleen Turner, Mark Williams-Wynn, Ticky and Nicolette Forbes.
An early start to head out to the meeting place just on the edge of pentad 2950_3035 which lies half in and half out of the eThekwini boundary area (marked in light orange on the map below). Being winter, sunrise is a little later so we were able to get to the meeting place at first light and excitingly just before reaching the other participants Nicky, Ticky and Noleen travelling in one vehicle spotted a wary Black-backed Jackal in the road ahead of us – on the outskirts of the municipal area – a great start!
Initially we travelled the Mr489 across the pentad from roughly west to east and explored places alongside the road when we had potentially different habitat or took side roads from this ‘main’ route north or south of the road.
The terrain varied from a little formal agriculture but very quickly became open grassland, riverine forest in the valleys and interspersed with rural settlements. The road follows a high spur or ridge of land between two valleys, the large and impressive uMlazi River valley/gorge to our north and the eziMbokodweni River to our south, through an areas called Umkomazi. We had a lovely selection of birds and a few puzzles with two pipits trying to convince us they were Plain-backed and Tree Pipit but in the end both turned out to be African. The highlight early in the day was a clear calling Shelley’s Francolin adjacent to the road. A few people tried to get eyes on it but we eventually moved on along the ridge. Some of the other birds seen on the ridge or plateau area included Jackal Buzzard, Red-collared Widowbird, Rufous-naped Lark, Yellow-throated Bush-sparrow, White-necked Raven, Cape Crow, Brimstone Canary, Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbird and Fiscal Flycatcher.
After reaching the end of the pentad along the Mr489, Mark Williams-Wynn suggested we revisit a side road which had been rather good for birds as he thought it carried on down into the uMlazi River Valley so we headed back and started on down. Halfway down to the river we stopped for some tea and other refreshments setting ourselves up with a fabulous view of the grassland and bush veld falling away into the ever-steepening gorge. While there, some decided to head back up to the plateau partly out of concern for some vehicles maybe getting into difficulty and some to explore some of the other side roads and see what else could be logged. Two of the vehicles with Ticky, Noleen, Nicky and Mark continued to see if the river could be reached. This added quite a few different birds to the list with Malachite Kingfisher, Hamerkop, Rock Martin and Brown-throated Martin, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Boubou, Emerald-Spotted Wood-dove and African Palm-swift amongst the species seen in this riverine, gorge and forest habitat.
Everyone enjoyed the morning which started out with fabulous weather. The slightly windy conditions that developed later probably depressed the overall number of species recorded with a total of 60 between the listers at the end of the day. As we were travelling and birding from different vehicles our lists were slightly different with the end result that three full protocol cards could be submitted taking this 2021 ‘virgin’ pentad to GREEN. Most importantly this is the first time since 2015 – six years ago -that this pentad has been atlassed, again showing the important contribution the club can make to the SABAP2 database and EPCPDs Conservation Planning.
For those who enjoy exploring new areas as well as feeling like you are on a treasure hunt as you build the bird lists for each pentad these trips are tremendous fun and open your eyes to the different areas of KZN less often travelled. You do not have to know about atlassing but consider joining us to simply bird and assist with eyes and ears or just learn about identification. Because we do this as a group we can explore areas we may not usually visit and do this in relative safety and be on hand to assist each other.
See you at the next CMGE Atlas Adventure!
Trip report and photos by Nicolette Forbes