A Stayover at Bonamanzi Game Reserve.
You can now self-drive
Bonamanzi is a privately owned Game Reserve, 4000 hectares in extent and recognised as one of the best birding destinations in KZN offering a biodiverse mix of Sand Forests, Savanna & Wetland Areas. I got the chance for a second visit courtesy of winning the club’s Colour me Green, eThekwini 2021 atlassing challenge. Only this time I got to stay two nights and not one, and with the added bonus now of being able to self-drive all parts of the reserve and not just a few in close proximity to the lodge area as was the case a few years back on my first one-night visit.
Photo 1: Entrance gate to Bonamanzi Game Reserve
An end of summer trip
We booked our trip for the end of March (29-31) in the hope of catching up with a few migrant species before they all departed northwards, and before the onset of winter. As fate would have it, the first bird I logged – atlassing of course – was a European Roller we encountered on the bridge soon after we’d turned off the N2. We arrived at the lodge mid-afternoon with the list having grown to 12 species, and following simple check-in procedures we were soon ushered to our deluxe chalet adjacent to the small dam on the west side of the main buildings. We got unit number 1 – furthest from the buildings and closest to the bush.
Photo 2: European Roller
Photo 3: A magnificent raptor painting in the reception lobby (artist unknown)
Photo 4: The interior of our deluxe unit – very comfortable.
A great start to birding
Soon after depositing our belongings and food supplies in the room, my ears (now bionic thanks to dual cochlea implants in the last 3 years) got wind of birdsong initiated by an Orange-breasted Bushshrike outside the bedroom window. On investigating, the tree was alive with birds as we picked up one after the other – in a short space of 15 minutes we’d added 20 species from this single bird party and the list was now 32 strong.
And what an amazing mix of birds it was, which included Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, African Paradise-flycatcher, Southern Yellow White-eye, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Dark-backed Weaver, European Bee-eater, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey-tit Flycatcher, Long-billed Crombec, Black-backed Puffback, Green-backed Camaroptera, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Black Tit, and an Icterine Warbler being the outstanding highlight. I was so busy trying not to miss any birds that there was barely time to raise the camera – so no pics of these unfortunately!
We closed the room and decided to take a late afternoon stroll beyond the dam and make a circular route counter- clockwise. The birding continued to be good and we were continually adding to the list, all the while just enjoying being back in the bush again and away from city life. A pair of Yellow-bellied Greenbuls inquisitively followed us for a bit, whilst we had good views of Ashy Flycatcher, Chinspot Batis, Red-faced Mousebird, and Golden-tailed Woodpecker.
Photo 5: Ashy Flycatcher
The standard end to a day in the bush – sundowners – aaah.
Photo 6: The day is almost done – perfect setting for sundowners
As we enjoyed a few sundowners with the going down of the sun, the late afternoon birdsong gave way to a raucous cacophony of squeaks, croaks and gurgles from the direction of the dam. The culprits – mostly Argus Reed Frog and Painted Reed Frogs thanks to a few friends able to identify their calls from a sound clip posted to the club’s WhatsApp group. The challenge was to get a pic – I think a fared OK considering the challenges of night photography. Not to be outdone, the antics of a Greater Galago feeding on the tree gum of the fever tree adjacent to the dam was a pleasant encounter.
Photo 7: The last light of day
Photo 8: Painted Reed Frog serenading the night away
Photo 9 – A Greater Galago feeding on Fever tree gum ….. nom, nom, nom
Birding and bush schedules rule!
For the next day and a half, we spent our time taking early morning drives around the reserve, returning for a late full English breakfast, then some more driving, relaxing in our room on the lawns during the midday heat, and then venturing out again in the late afternoon for another drive to areas not yet explored, and then enjoying our dinner meals in the restaurant. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and it ended all too soon.
Photo 10 – Senegal Lapwing
Photo 11 – White-crested Helmetshrike (Juvenile) – one of my all-time favourite bush birds
A good list for late summer
The bird sightings continued to keep us entertained, and in the end we recorded a total of 102 species on the reserve itself. Surprisingly we only encountered one raptor, a juvenile African Fish Eagle – so much for the reception painting that promised so much more. And I got to complete two Full Protocol Atlas cards.
Photo 12 – Yellow-throated Longclaw (Juvenile) on the grassy floodplain of the Hluhluwe River which is the eastern boundary of Bonamanzi Game Reserve
Photo 13 – Lemon-breasted Canary
Grateful thanks to both the Club Committee and Bonamanzi Game Reserve for this truly splendid opportunity – we look forward to getting back again soon.
Yours in birding,
Dave Rimmer (Kingdom Birding)
From the Chair: Thank you Dave for this great trip report on your two day stay. Bonamanzi is well known as one of the great birding destinations in KZN and we thank them for their support of this challenge which aimed to improve the conservation knowledge of KZN birds.