At 6.30am on Sunday 11th March 2018 a group of 20 birders gathered at the farm dam just before the entrance to Cumberland Nature Reserve. The dam yielded a few species but as the water level was high there were no waders and herons visible. An African Black Duck mooched around on the far side and looked rather odd to many of the group.
A Grey Crowned Crane did us the honour of alerting us with a call before doing a magnificent fly past down to the fields in the distance.
A Long-crested Eagle perched on a post and a diminutive Malachite Kingfisher darted among the reeds.
There were a number of Willow Warbler in the trees around the dam and we wondered if they were gathering for migration as they were so plentiful. Cape White-eyes also darted amongst the reeds.
We then proceeded into Cumberland proper which never fails to delight and always produces the goods.
Before we set off, a cuppa was needed and some birding was done in the picnic area.
A creepy spider on one of the loo doors put off several using the loo.
We planned to do the walk from the picnic site down to Horse Shoe cottage. Mike took his group via the environmental centre and down into the valley while I took the route along the cliff top and down to Horse Shoe bend. Here are some of the birds seen in Mike’s group.
The cliff tops were very rewarding with Swee Waxbill gracing the waterfall.
We had good views of several raptors, Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, and a dainty Little Sparrowhawk.
White-neckedRaven was vocal and visible. Other good sightings included Mocking Cliff Chat and Cape Rock-Thrush.
The day was extremely hot, a large percentage of my group sensibly decided to take the high road back to the picnic site. Prior to their desertion we spotted an odd looking creature swaying on a stem over the path. A close look with inverted binoculars identified it as a spider. The legs can just be made out in the picture if you look closely.
Then we spotted a bird which to date remains unidentified despite the photo – a Chat/Flycatcher?
Three intrepid birders carried on down the low road into the valley, this is a lovely meandering path where we searched in vain for the Red-billed Oxpeckers on the browsing giraffe.
Amongst the others Red-backed Shrike was seen and Black-crowned Tchagra was heard calling.
We were lucky as John Benn, the custodian of Cumberland, arrived at the Horse Shoe cottage as we were leaving and so we got a lift out of the valley. Mike and his group were not as fortunate and limped home in the heat, tired and weary.
The morning ended in the shade under the Vachellia Siberiana doing our bird list for the morning. This yielded a total of 111 species (click here to see the list) by the time we left the D408 on our way home.
(Note that the bird list was commenced from the D408 turn off and includes the dam).
Thank you to David Swanepoel and Paul Bartho for the photo contributions.
It was a not so bright and breezy start, in fact quite chilly for the small group of 15 birders who braved the cold winters morning to meet at 06h30. But by the time we had all assembled there was enough light to get us on our way 20 minutes later.
The walk started with a raptor frenzy initiated by a pair of African Goshawks flying overhead, followed thereafter by a pair of Lanner Falcons going in the opposite direction and soon after that by a Peregrine Falcon. Not to be out done, a couple of Jackal Buzzards were seen perched atop a pylon and a distant tree respectively.
The walk along the north side cliff edge yielded the sounds of Sombre Greenbul, Black-backed Puffback, Bar-throated Apalis whilst brief views were had of White-bellied Sunbird and Red-winged Starlings.
Moving away from the cliffs and up into the grasslands soon had us scrambling for bins to sift through a mixed bird party consisting of Croaking Cisticola, Broad-tailed Warbler, Tawny-flanked Prinia, and Cape Grassbird in the grasses whilst flitting among the trees were Southern Black Tit, Chinspot Batis, Cardinal Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Red-throated Wryneck, Brubru and Yellow-throated Petronia.
Circling back to the top of the ridge a covey of Red-winged Francolins was flushed giving good views of the red wings (being a key ID feature) as they flurried away from us in haste.
The Peregrine Falcon seen at the start of the walk was perched at the top of the pylon giving all great photo opportunities whilst it soaked up the warming rays from the sun.
We proceeded to walk down to the Umgeni River and saw Crested Barbet, Neddicky, African Firefinch, Streaky-headed Seedeater en route and a Little Sparrowhawk, African Pied Wagtail and a Hamerkop close to the river.
The dead trees were carefully scrutinised in search of Bearded Woodpecker seen on a previous visit to Cumberland in January 2014 – no luck this time.
The hut on the river bend was occupied so we headed to the rocks on the rivers edge for a rest before trekking back up to the top of the hill. The return leg saw the group starting to splinter with some wanting to get back to the cars for drinks, food and no doubt the loos. Others continued the search for birds and were rewarded with Golden-breasted Bunting, Southern Tchagra, Little Bee-eater, Striped Pipit, Green Wood-hoopoe and Brown-backed Honeybird.
Aside from the birds, there were plenty of butterflies, wasps and moths to be seen for which pictures are included – hopefully their identities where provided have been recorded correctly!?
The final tally for the day was seventy-seven (77) bird species included a few others I added after the braai with relatives. Click here to see the list. Unless of course the final group of die-hards saw anything after I had departed the total could well be more, including some that I’ve missed or omitted to record. Until next time….
Cumberland Private Nature Reserve is run by John and Stella Behn. They have chalets dotted around in the reserve, a large campsite and rooms at the top of the hill. All very reasonably priced. Note: if you book the campsite then only your party may share the whole campsite – irrespective of whether there are 2 of you or 20 and you are charged R60 per person. There is a female and male shower/toilet on site with good hot water. There is no power but you can rent the use of a campsite fridge.
There were 14 people on the Weekend Outing – joined by another 10 or so for the Sunday Outing.
The weather played its part in making the outing successful – from a birding point of view. Friday was hot, hot hot. So those who arrived early did not get a lot of birding done. In fact it was best sitting in the shade of the campsite and watching the birds in the surrounding bush and stream. A late afternoon swim up on the hill by the rooms was a great way to cool off.
Overnight we had rain and Saturday morning started overcast, misty and cool – which brought out the warblers – Broad-tailed Warbler in particular.
The Saturday walk started at 05h30 in the campsite, progressed through the extensive picnic area and up the hill to the alternative accommodation area. There we were treated by Stella and John to tea or coffee and home-made cheese scones.
On the circular route back to the campsite it started to drizzle. Mike and Jane (the weekend outing leaders) decided that a break was in order and that we would meet at 10h30 at the “hide” next to the dam immediately outside the entrance gate. At first the birding seemed quiet with little on the dam. Then it all started to change. African Black Duck appeared, Common Moorhen, White-throated Swallows, an African Purple Swamphen, Malachite Kingfisher to name a few.
Wandering upstream from the hide one bird in particular attracted us by its call. A Warbler. It was thought to be a Reed Warbler but we were unsure which one so we played the call to see if we could recognise it. It continued calling. Perhaps co-coincidently it stopped and remained quiet after we played the call of the Eurasian Reed Warbler. How we all would have liked to have had a positive ID on the bird. In the opinion of some the call was not as harsh or grating as the Great Reed Warbler nor as tuneful as the African Reed Warbler. Anyway we shall never know.
In the same area a Half-collared Kingfisher was spotted which seemed to be happy in the area with us about.
Further upstream, a Great Reed Warbler was spotted. Consequently many people felt that this must have been the bird which we had heard earlier, though as you might expect, there was disagreement amongst us.
Some photos of birds seen during the walk.
And some Butterflies and other creatures.
The rest of the afternoon we were left to our own devices, to recover from the previous evening braai in the campsite and to prepare for the one to come up the hill where a number of people were staying.
The rooms are in an excellent location right at the edge of the cliffs with fantastic views all round. We made good use of the facilities available to those staying in the rooms – a large kitchen and lounge plus outdoor covered patios with seating available for all. John and Stella joined us for the braai – again for some a late night!
Sunday started overcast but dry. Another 10 people or so joined us at 07h00 as part of the Sunday Outing. We split into 2 groups and both parties headed down to the Horseshoe Bend of the Umgeni River. One group checked the campsite gorge while the other went on ahead.. Two Mountain Wagtails were seen flying through the gorge.
The birding was good in both groups with Pygmy-Kingfishers seen by both groups and Little Sparrowhawk by one group. Further excitement was to follow as we approached the Umgeni River.
One group, aware that there was a Python mound checked to see if there was any activity. And there we saw a 4 metre 15 cm diametre (at least) python basking in the sun. Stella told us there were two that size there and someone had sent them photos of 7 little ones. Three of us got as close as we could to take the following photos.
Yet further down a Bearded Woodpecker was spotted and photographed. An incidental report will be sent to the Atlas Project.
On Horseshoe Bend is Horseshoe cottage where we relaxed. Some of us went to the river’s edge and saw a small crocodile.
That put paid to anyone’s intention to cool off in the river! Standing there on the edge, about 10 metres from us at the edge of the reeds, there was a sudden loud fluttering of a large bird scampering further downstream and darting back into the reeds. Those who saw the spectacle concluded that it was probably an African Finfoot – though none of us could be certain.
Some pictures of birds seen on the Sunday walk.
Then is was the long trudge back up the hill to the campsite. Lunch and preparation of the bird list for the weekend. Then for some of us packing up our camp as we all headed home.
Help required to identify the bird in the following picture taken in Cumberland Private Nature Reserve (near Pietermaritzburg) this past weekend. We thought it was a flycatcher but the rufous wings puzzle us. Very like a Common Whitethroat?
There are still 2 guest rooms available at Cumberland for the birding weekend below if there are any takers. Very reasonably priced – see contact details below.
Weekend Outing. Fri 24th to Sun 26th January. Cumberland Private Nature Reserve. Only 1.25 hrs from Durban, Cumberland is situated in the Umgeni Valley 10km from Pietermaritzburg. The mixed habitat comprises acacia thorn veldt, riverine forest, cliffs and dams. Directions: N3 to Pietermaritzburg, take the Ohrtmann Road turn-off, turn right over freeway into the Willowton area. At the second traffic light, turn right into Bishopstowe Road. Turn left at the second set of lights (yield sign) signposted Table Mountain. Continue up the hill (this is the old Wartburg Road) until another sign to Table Mountain. Turn right here. After about a kilometre turn left at the huge Cumberland Nature Reserve sign onto the signposted D408. Continue for 7 kms through farmland (eventually citrus) until you reach the entrance to Cumberland. The reserve charges R10 entry – payable at the honesty kiosk.
There is an attractive campsite as well as limited room accommodation. Book directly with John or Stella Behn 082 3371056; 082 3765600. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday 26th January. This outing will combine with the Weekend Outing to Cumberland with Mike Roseblade and Jane Morris. For directions read their outing above. The reserve charges R10 entry – payable at the honesty kiosk. Take chairs, tea/coffee, lunch. The meeting time is : 07h00 at the campsite. Please confirm all details with Mike or Jane. Mike – email@example.com or Jane – firstname.lastname@example.org