BeKZN Atlas | Umkomaas (Pentad 3010_3045)

24 June 2023

A morning that started with being immersed in the sights and sounds of nature, ended with a naked swim in the sea. Well, that’s the joys of birding – you never quite know what will happen! Due to the meticulous planning of the walk leader, the group of birders gathered at not one, but two garages. Who knew that there were two Fresh Stops in Umkomaas? But after some frantic last-minute logistics, we were ready to start a day of birding and more importantly, atlasing the pentad that covers the Umkomaas area.

We restricted ourselves to only one pentad for the day, which ensured that we covered most corners and habitats in the pentad. We started the morning at the beautiful eMpisini Nature Reserve. We started in the turning circle that the trucks frequent just outside the reserve, and slowly made our way through the reserve. The turning area stop had already helped us to kick start the bird list for the group, with species such as Sombre Greenbul, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-breasted Cormorant, Cape White-eye, and even a Black Sparrowhawk calling from deep in the forest.

We then took a slow drive along the wetland area where we added Brown Scrub-robin calling in the distance, as well as species such as Thick-billed Weaver, and Red-backed Mannikin. The picnic area was sadly a shadow of its former ‘glory’, but at least the grass was cut and the birding was good. We managed to see a far-off, but fantastic sighting of a juvenile Crowned Eagle. We also had a fly-over by an unexpected visitor for the day, a Palm-nut Vulture. The picnic area also added species such as Cardinal Woodpecker, Crowned Eagle, White-eared Barbet, and Terrestrial Brownbul to the list for the day. 

Enjoying birding from the picnic spot Adam Cruickshank 

We decided to head deeper into the reserve, and after navigating a muddy area in two 4×4’s we came to the area that is famous for its Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Mountain Wagtail sightings – we were not disappointed and managed to get both for the morning. Despite walking deeper into the forest along the river, sadly we didn’t manage to see the Half-collared Kingfishers that frequent the river. As we headed out of the reserve, we were glad to have already recorded 45 species for the morning.

Our next stop was a river lookout point near a quarry a kilometer or so from the Sappi Saiccor factory. This is a great spot for Mocking Cliff Chat, which sadly didn’t show on the morning. We did manage to see 12 species at the stop however, including Little Bee-eater, Reed Cormorant, Goliath Heron, Giant Kingfisher, and a flock of Red-billed Firefinch feeding on the train tracks along with Pin-tailed Whydah

Brown-hooded Kingfisher – Mark Williams-Wynn 

We then headed to the grasslands that surrounded the Sappi Skills Centre. We explored the grasslands and during the time spent in the area, managed to see 33 species. The list included species such as Grey Waxbill, African Hoopoe, Speckled Mousebird, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Burchell’s Coucal, Black-headed Oriole, and Yellow-throated Longclaw. Taking the time to observe the martins soaring over the dry grass, we managed to see both Brown-throated Martin and Rock Martin. One of the joys of birding in a group is that it allows those in the group to learn together. We were able to sift through and discuss some of the LBJ’s that were showing. In the process we recorded Neddicky, Croaking Cisticola, and Rattling Cisticola.

African Hoopoe – Mark Williams-Wynn

The next stop was a short dust road that makes its way along the Umkomaas River, eventually ending at a venue called Riverview Lodge. This habitat along the river has been changed by the floods, and is worth spending some time to explore it. We finally connected with Mocking Cliff Chats, and we were able to see Cape Robin-chat, Yellow-fronted Canary, and Pied Kingfisher, and hear the screech of Golden-tailed Woodpecker. We saw and heard 21 species on the short stretch of road.

We then drove across the steel bridge, heading south to the Magabeni Water Treatment Works. This is a good spot for waders in summer, so being the middle of winter, we expected that it would be a little bit quieter. We only managed to record 7 species at the ponds, with some highlights including Black Crake, Three-banded Plover, and Hamerkop.

We concluded the day at Umkomaas Beach, looking over the oceans and hoping for some pelagic birds in the distance. We didn’t get to see any albatross, but we did get to see Cape Gannets in the distance, along with Little Swift and Greater Crested Tern. Before we saw the last bird for the day, a Pied Crow, we were treated (well, that’s probably not the right word) to a lady, about 100 meters away, that decided to shed her clothes and frolic in the waves. You never know what you will see on a birding outing!

A great morning was enjoyed by the group – great birds, fantastic company, and some good snacks to end our time together. At the end of our time together we managed to record 96 species in the pentad for the morning.

[Chair’s Note | A great effort for our Colour Me Green ethekwini Challenge – well done to the participating club members and Adam for leading the group]

Written by Adam Cruickshank   

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