BE KZN Atlas | Colour Me Green, eThekwini

Club Atlas Adventure #5 – Hazelmere Dam

Continuing with the Birdlife eThekwini initiative to colour the region green each year by atlassing the pentads bounded by the Municipality, Rob McLennan-Smith, Johnny de Beer, and Brandon Gould joined me on 19 February 2023 for a visit to the pentad that borders Hazelmere Dam (2935_3100). Rob again offered the luxury of his comfortable Prado that navigated the challenging roads with ease. Prior to the trip I had prepared a detailed map which was 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

Google Earth layout map of the pentad boundaries detailing routes and birding spots.

En route to the Hazelmere Dam Nature Reserve itself we did some roadside birding logging a few of the more common species one usually encounters first when entering a pentad, namely Village Weaver, Barn Swallow, Red-eyed Dove and the ever-present Hadeda Ibis. We stopped at the bridge crossing the Mdloti River for any possible water birds – none sadly due to the appalling state of the river. We did however record a further 14 species whilst at the bridge, seeing Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Tambourine Dove, Crested Barbet, Eastern Golden Weaver, and hearing Green-backed Camaroptera, Sombre Greenbul and Purple-crested Turaco. We also stopped for a scenic view of the dam from higher up.

Scenic view overlooking Hazelmere Dam – ( Brandon Gould)

By the time we had reached the Hazelmere Dam and Resort area, we had logged 35 species in the half hour it had taken us from our meeting point with Johnny at the King Shaka International Airport. A week on from initial reports of their presence at the dam, we were delighted to see a pair of African Pygmy Goose out in the open water. Our delight however was short-lived as a crew of kayaking fishermen rounded the corner and flushed the birds upstream. Walking along the shoreline for a while yielded plenty of good birds, and some great photographic opportunities. Here we saw African Woolly-necked Stork (split recently by IOC to separate from Asian Woolly-necked Stork as distinct species), Common Sandpiper, Glossy Ibis, African Jacana, White-faced Whistling Duck, Purple Heron, Giant Kingfisher, African Pied Wagtail, and Lesser Swamp Warbler.

Birders birding whilst fishermen fish – and flush birds (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)
African Woolly-necked Stork (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

We then drove to the east side of the dam and followed the bush track through the grasslands. Here we saw Southern Black Tit, Little Bee-eater, Violet-backed Starling, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Green Wood-hoopoe, Common Waxbill, and Chinspot Batis. Rounding the top end of the loop we encountered trees literally filled with Yellow-billed Kite – no less than a hundred of them by our estimates. We presumed it was their gathering in numbers for the communal northward intra-African migration. 

Yellow-billed Kite (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)
Yellow-billed Kites gathering for their northward migration (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

On approaching the camp site area, a small raptor-like bird flushed from out of the thickets, flew around the bend, and out of sight. Views were ever so brief and our initial thoughts being it could possibly have been a Little Sparrowhawk. We decided to proceed cautiously on foot in the hope of getting another look. Inadvertently we flushed it from its hiding spot, and off it went again. Fortunately, not too far away, and close enough to see where it had landed. We could now determine from the side-on views that it was not a raptor but one of the larger grey Cuculus species – but which one. From the size of the bird, we were able to quickly rule out either Lesser or Madagascan Cuckoo. It then moved to another branch of the same tree giving us sight of the chest area, thereby enabling us to eliminate Red-chested Cuckoo from the equation. That now left us with either African or Common Cuckoo. There was certainly plenty of yellow on the bill but was it enough…. hmmmm!. Post trip photo editing and consulting with some experts we eventually settled with Common Cuckoo. The reason being that an adult African Cuckoo tends to show a wrap-around yellow base to the mandible, with the yellow extending over the nostrils. 

– Dave Rise-

On exiting the reserve, there is a track leading off to the right down the fence line. This is currently closed off from vehicular access, to thwart the illegal sand-mining operations previously conducted along the upper reaches of the Mdloti River. We opted to stretch the legs, walk the track, and enjoy the sunshine. We were rewarded with further sightings of African Pygmy Goose – as many as eight of them all told. We also saw African Paradise-flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Olive Sunbird, Natal Spurfowl, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Yellow-billed Duck, Blue-billed teal, and glorious views of a Booted Eagle overhead. The species tally had now got to 97, and it was time to explore further afield.

Photo 8: Scanning the sand-mined upper reaches of the Mdloti River (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

Photo 9: Now where did that little Warbler get to (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

Photo 10: Male and female African Pygmy Goose (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

We headed back through Verulam and the north along the P100 Vincent Dickenson Road. We took a few side roads leading off from the main tar road, but these yielded slim pickings, apart from good views of a White-fronted Bee-eater, and few more Little Bee-eaters.

Photo 11: White-fronted Bee-eater (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

Little Bee-eater (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

On the northern boundary of the pentad there is a small dam accessible via the entrance road to the LIV Orphanage. The gate guard kindly allowed us to walk in and through to the dam, provided we did not venture anywhere near the hostel buildings. This allowed us to add a few more to the atlas card for the day with sightings of Wire-tailed Swallow, Malachite Kingfisher, African Firefinch, Red-knobbed Coot, and Red-faced Cisticola

Small dam on the pentad boundary below the LIV orphanage (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

By now 10am was approaching and the day was warming up considerably. In order to get to the western section of the pentad, we proceeded north along the P100 which goes to Ndwedwe, and turned off at the Oakford Road intersection, and proceeded south. This is rural area with small settlements, grasslands, and sugar cane plantations. The number of new species for the pentad list being seen was starting to tail off, but we soldiered on adding Cape Grassbird, Rufous-naped Lark, Yellow-throated Longclaw, and Zitting Cisticola. My map showed a track heading back down to the western side of the dam which we set off to explore. It petered out a few hundred meters away from the dam so we set off on foot down a single track. No birds to be seen – perfect habitat though for the Gorgeous Bush-shrike’s we had heard earlier in the morning from across the other side of the dam. This time of day is good for butterflies and dragonflies – of which there were plenty to keep us busy looking for and photographing.

Dusky Indigobird (Photo credit – Dave Rimmer)

We wrapped up our morning at the bridge crossing the Mdloti river with Little Swift, Dusky Indigobird, Black-headed Oriole, and Rock Martin being added to the list. We decided it was a bit late in the day to tackle a second pentad, so left the Buffelsdraai landfill site to be tackled on another day. It was a fabulous morning with great people at a stunning birding location. A total of 114 avian species were recorded on a Full Protocol atlas cards submitted for pentad 2935_3100.

See you at the next CMGE Atlas Adventure!

Trip report by Dave Rimmer

This report was published in full in the KZN Birds e-mag Issue #71

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