Club Atlas Adventure #4 – the North-West sector
As part of the Birdlife eThekwini KZN initiative to colour the home base region green each year by atlassing the municipal area pentads, four of us left home at first light and headed in the direction of Inanda Dam. Rob was our designated driver in a capable and comfortable Prado that navigated the challenging roads with ease. Dave was originally meant to lead our mission, but unfortunately circumstances prevented him from joining us. He did prepare us with a detailed map which we had downloaded to our pre-installed Google Earth Apps, thus providing us with roads, tracks and route markers to visit for the best spots and varied habitats to be encountered. I was nominated to log the sightings on BirdLasser which was rather tricky at times with four pairs of eyes and ears bringing in information that needed to be captured. Mark and Cecily were our navigators, butterfly experts and bird spotters.
We had plans to cover three pentads between 6am and 12pm. The weather was glorious and as we arrived at the edge of the first pentad, the birding commenced. The route started near Cotswold Downs on the road to Inanda and wound down into the valley. It was a steep descent, but the views were sweeping and breath-taking. Much of the surrounding hillsides are covered with urban development, both formal and informal. It was clear that there was a lot of water hyacinth along the edges of the dam, but also extending further into the middle. There were no reeds and there wasn’t any space for waders on the shore.
We heard Shelley’s Francolin and Buff-spotted Flufftail to kick things off on a high note and then proceeded to add some of the more common species like Southern Fiscal, Village Weaver, Green-backed Camaroptera and Dark-capped Bulbul. It was nice to include Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck and Red-billed Quelea. Some of the migratory birds that we spotted include Yellow-billed Kites, Violet-backed Starling, Barn Swallow and Diederik’s Cuckoo. We also heard Black, Klaas’s and Red-chested Cuckoos. As we got closer to the water, it was great to see the White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, African Jacana, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Little Bee-eaters, Malachite Kingfisher, an African Fish Eagle and even an Osprey!
We followed the edge of the dam, stopping to walk along a few pathways and listen to the sounds around us. It also gave us the chance to view butterflies, dragonflies and other smaller creatures.
At a river crossing we hopped out and soon discovered a few new birds for the list; Brown-throated Martin, Water Thick-knee, Common Sandpiper, African Spoonbill and a dark morph Booted Eagle! From there we started a climb which peaked at the Umgeni Water Works building. The vantage point was lovely and we took full advantage by doing a hike around the hillside to overlook the dam. There were a variety of butterflies, a swarm of Milkweed Locusts and one or two chasers buzzing around. From here we could hear many cuckoos and we were surprised to find a Grey Sunbird, Neddicky, Lanner Falcon, Jackal Buzzard and a few White-necked Ravens interacting with the Yellow-billed Kites. After a quick bite to eat, we made our way around to get to the next pentad.
By now the day was warming up and we were discussing some of the species we were surprised not to have seen yet; birds like Crowned Lapwings, Green-winged Pytilia, Crowned Eagle and Pied Kingfisher.
The second pentad was quite different from the first. There was a large bridge that we crossed and as we stopped to get out and take it all in, I spotted an African Firefinch, Mark heard a Narina Trogon, Cecily spotted an African Darter and Rob found an African Pied Wagtail sitting in a dead tree with a Malachite Kingfisher. We drove north towards some pointers on Dave’s map and the habitats changed from riverine to thicket to grassland. Some exciting, feathered features for the various areas included Tambourine Dove, Pin-tailed Whydah, Western Cattle Egret, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Lesser Striped Swallows and a Brown-backed Honeybird (which Rob accurately identified after Pale Flycatcher just didn’t look right!) Exploring around the informal settlements was entertaining because there were goats, cows, chickens, and pedestrians to dodge. Everyone was friendly and greeted us with smiles and ‘sawubonas’.
We looped back to the big bridge and took a different road that closely followed the meandering Umgeni River. The further we drove the more uninhabited, unspoiled, and natural it became. The scenery was spectacular. Dragonflies populated the pools along the river and butterflies fluttered and stopped at puddles along the road. We logged Hamerkop, African Black Duck, Giant Kingfisher, Mocking Cliff Chat and a Three-banded Plover on its nest that sharp-eyed Mark spotted.
It was a fabulous morning with great people at a stunning birding location. A combined total of 116 avian species were recorded during the days trip, and for which two Full Protocol atlas cards were submitted covering pentads 2940_3045 (99 species) and 2935_3045 (73 species). We will have to go back soon to do the other two pentads in the area and we are confident that Dave will lead us for the next adventure at Inanda Dam!
See you at the next CMGE Atlas Adventure!
Report by Nols Turner