BeKZN Day Tripping | Sappi Stanger Mbozambo Wetlands

5 February 2023

Some background

The Sappi Stanger wetlands, also known as the Mbozambo Wetland Reserve, is an important conservation area situated in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is a 300-hectare reserve that is owned and managed by Sappi, a leading producer of pulp and paper. The wetland reserve is located just outside the town of Stanger, and it is an important habitat for a wide range of bird species making it a birding hotspot in the region.. It is a popular destination for birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to explore the natural beauty of the region. If you’re a birdwatcher looking for an excellent venue to spot waterbirds, the Sappi Stanger Mbozambo Wetlands should definitely be on your list. e array of bird species,

The reserve is made up of a series of interconnected wetlands, including reedbeds, grasslands, and open water. This allows the area to support a diversity of waterbirds and terrestrial birds and is home to over 280 species, making it one of the most important birding sites in the area.

Oblique aerial view of the Sappi Stanger mill with the wetland and surrounding sugar cane fields

Some of the most commonly spotted bird species including Great White Pelicans, White-breasted Cormorants, Reed Cormorant, African Fish Eagle, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Kites, Egyptian Goose, and Red-billed Teal. In addition to the birds, the wetland reserve is also home to a variety of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Water monitor (leguaan) or Varanus niloticus is often seen and some of the mammals that can be spotted here include Bushbuck, Vervet Monkeys, and Banded Mongoose.

Water monitor, Varanus niloticus is a common site at the wetlands
Spur-winged and Egyptian Goose with Great White Pelican

So how was the walk?

A beautiful dawn to start a wonderful day.

A fantastic group of 48 birders met at 6am on the road leading to the Sappi Stanger Mill to join the walk hosted by Nicolette and Ticky Forbes.

This was a great turnout, with birders of all levels of experience coming together for a morning of birdwatching, learning bird calls, ticking species off their lists, and photographing the birds and surrounds. Once we were parked in the secure picnic area, we split into different groups, each with their guide and slightly different focus. Thanks also to Cassie Carstens, Ticky Forbes and Steve Davis for acting as leaders.

Birders meeting at the appointed place and time – Cassie Carstens

Some groups were keen to learn bird calls, while others were more interested in ticking off as many species as fast as possible. Photography enthusiasts were also well catered for, with plenty of opportunities to capture stunning shots of birds in their natural habitats.

As we explored the area, we were greeted by a very good selection of bird species (a complete list is attached). With the good rains received already during the summer, water levels in the ponds remain high making the habitat more favourable for ducks and swimming, wading and diving piscivorous species and not so favourable for the migratory waders. There was plenty to keep up occupied however with a variety of calls and bird activity. There was a variety of duck species to look at on and around the edges of the water which included Blue-billed and Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Spur-winged Goose and Little Grebe. Some of the group were lucky enough to see a few rarer, cryptic or more localised species too, such as the Purple Heron, Greater Painted-snipe and two lucky individuals caught site of the Orange-breasted Waxbill which were in the seeding grasses fringing the walkways and entry roads.

Three-banded Plover shining brightly in the morning sun

The views from the hide kept everyone amused with learning and spotting going on all at the same time. A number of species could be seen from the hide using the protected island – Great White pelican, Reed and White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter and Water Thick-knees hunkering down in-between.

The hide was cool and gave wonderful views of a variety of waterbirds
Great White Pelican

Towards the end of the morning, we all met up to have refreshments and go through the bird checklist together. It was great to hear about the different species each group had spotted, and to compare notes on the different calls we had learned. In total 90 species were seen by the group over the three or fours hours. Some of the braver souls in the group decided to follow Nicolette and Ticky southwards on the way home on a route that traversed some of the backroads between Stanger and Umhlanga.

A wonderful shot of a Dusky Flycatcher showing the characteristic spotted lines on the top of the crown.
A lifer for many of the newer birders.
Hunting Malachite Kingfisher
Everyone met up in the picnic area to have some refreshments and go through the bird lists – Cassie Carstens

Overall, it was a fantastic morning spent in the company of fellow bird enthusiasts, spotting the beautiful birdlife of the Mbozambo Wetlands and surrounds. If you’re a birdwatcher in the KwaZulu-Natal region, I highly recommend a visit to this incredible venue.

Report by Nicolette Forbes

Leave a Reply