Mkuze and St. Lucia

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

7 to 13 February 2019

It was time to get away – you could say the lure of the bush was calling. This time a short trip – 4 nights in Mkuze and a couple in St. Lucia.

Rain and overcast conditions followed us and remained intermittently at both venues.

Mkuze was lush- the vegetation was green and grown up. There were no bare patches to be seen unlike the last time we visited in July 2018. The Fig Forest was flooded from rains upstream and consequently Nsumo Pan was as full as we had ever seen. Despite that only two inland hides had water (KuMasinga and Malibali) and all of the other scattered pans and wallows were dry.

Nsumo Pan was one of the first places we visited. We stopped at the first hide heading towards the Nsumo Pan Picnic site. As we approached we noticed what looked like two ducks in the shadows under the hide. However they were something entirely different and most unexpected.

With the water level so high there were no waders about at Nsumo Pan.

However there were a number of waterbirds about at Nsumo hides and at the Picnic site.

As expected, Kumasinga hide was busy. Many animals as well as birds close-by – making for reasonable photographic opportunities considering the sunless skies. A number of birds appeared with confusing ID issues which made it all the more interesting trying to get to their correct ID. One bird in particular – a Sunbird – was an interesting example of this.

Perplexing Sunbird

What we saw immediately was a Sunbird with a distinct bib and yellow Mylar stripes either side of the bib. A quick look at the Roberts App suggested a Plain-backed Sunbird – and its plain back also seemed to confirm that.

Sunbird with a plain back

It was feeding what we considered to be a fledgling so we considered it to be an adult bird despite its yellow gape.

However a Plain-backed Sunbird would be a rare sighting in Mkuze so it did not feel quite right. We checked the Roberts App for pictures of Sunbirds and nothing had the bib except for the Plain-backed Sunbird. The new Roberts Field Guide eventually gave us the correct ID by showing a picture of a juvenile male Marico Sunbird. It shows that sometimes initial impressions can be so wrong.

The antics of birds and animals were a pleasure to watch. Burchell’s Coucals chasing each other, Little Bee-eaters and Swallows coming in for a drink or a bath, Red-billed Oxpeckers having a communal bath spraying drops of water over each other, Giraffes drinking, a Slender Mongoose casing the joint and many birds just coming to the water’s edge for a drink. One oddity were the Red-billed Oxpeckers. There were at least 20 present all the time. They never left with the animals but hung around for their next feed. We tried to work out if the animals not only came for a drink but also for a clean up. Or was it that the Oxpeckers hung around because they knew they were on to a good thing. Perhaps both options.

But there was one bird which appeared unexpectedly.

Dwarf Bittern

Yes, a Dwarf Bittern up high in a tree. Wonderful sighting.

Of course there were camp birds. We were greeted by a pair of singing Striped Kingfishers. As the sun set, the Little Swifts serenaded us. However because of the weather the camp was quiet.

It was on the Loop road where we saw the most raptors and an unexpected one at that as well as bushveld species.

Our last morning was spent at Malibali hide. And surprisingly the activity was as interesting as that at the Kumasinga hide. Now that there is water all sorts of creatures appear out of the woodwork.

Over a three hour period we saw three different elephants coming in for a drink and a splashing.

Elephant – drink’s time

The last sadly with a vicious snare wound (which the camp conservation team were aware of). The elephant had to be darted to remove the snare and to be given treatment. You can see from the photos how bad it looked. Fortunately it appears that the medicine is doing its work. It can walk normally and put weight on that leg. What was interesting was the elephant, having arrived with the would very visible, left with it fully coated in mud by the elephant to act as protection for the wound.

Snared Elephant swollen foot

Here are some of the other species photographed at the waterhole.

Then there was a full breakfast to be seen.

Western Cattle Egret enjoying a big breakfast

Our bird list for Mkuze can be seen later as it has been combined with our viewings at St. Lucia.

Our next destination was St. Lucia. The main purpose at St. Lucia was to enjoy the waterbirds seen at the mouth of the estuary and to try and find one or two of the special birds seen there earlier this year – Gull-billed Tern, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Lesser Frigatebird or the vagrant Noddy on the off chance.

St. Lucia weather was even more overcast and rainy than Mkuze. We took our chances when the heavens were not crying to walk the beach and explore the estuary. We managed to get out twice. On both visits we came across a small Tern roost in the estuary. Despite  the numbers it was good to see the variety there – Little and Swift in numbers with Common, Lesser-Crested and Sandwich Terns among them. Even a Caspian appeared. However amongst the Terns and Gulls there was no sign of the Gull-billed Tern.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were feeding over the sand dunes. Not a sight we expected to see.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

No sign of the Noddy – not a surprise as we know how fleetingly it was seen in the first place. And the Lesser Frigatebird did not make an appearance either. Fortunately we had seen it there on a previous visit.

Black Oystercatchers were seen on the beach water’s edge in the distance. Whenever we got close they moved on. Grey Plovers and Whimbrels were also present. On one occasion we saw a distant Black Oystercatcher with another smaller wader – we assumed either a Grey Plover or Whimbrel. Because it was so distant we did not pursue it and visited the Tern roost instead. After some time we left the roost and headed back to the beach to see if by chance we would have any luck spotting the Eurasian Oystercatcher.

The beach came into view and there was the Black Oystercatcher we had seen earlier. And with it the other smaller bird. Once we had our binoculars on it we realised it was the Eurasian Oystercatcher. As close as we came so they moved away. I managed to get a photo or two but it was a nightmare photographing into the sun.

Black and European Oystercatchers showing their size difference

Hooray – a lifer for me.

Sanderling

On our last – yes, rainy afternoon – we ventured into Eastern Shores – more for something to do than sitting around the camp in the intermittent rain. As expected both animals and birds were scarce but we persevered. Eventually we got to the Lake Bhangazi turnoff having explored most of the other loops on the way.

European Bee-eater

This drive is a 17 km drive back to the main road. Initially it passes through dune forest and onto a raised road between Lake Bhangazi and a wetland. This part of the road is also well forested and narrow. Coming round a corner I said to Sally “Look ahead”. She was scouring for the bird she thought I had seen. Only it wasn’t a bird but a magnificent creature lying alongside the road.

Leopard

Well worth the drive and a good way to end our trip. Our bird list for both Mkuze and St. lucia can be seen by clicking here. 135 species identified in Mkuze and 77 in St. Lucia.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho

 

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Lesser Frigatebird – St Lucia

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

11 to 13 October 2018

On the spur of the moment, Sally and I decided to dart over to St Lucia to try our luck at seeing the immature Lesser Frigatebird.

The day started off very pleasantly, however by the time we reached St Lucia – four and a half hours later – it was overcast and windy. The forecast was for foul weather to come.

Nevertheless we persisted in trying our luck that afternoon. Up and down the beach next to the lagoon wherever we saw Terns. At one point I sank knee deep into the quicksand- looked just like hard sand by the water’s edge. Had to lie flat down to extricate myself. Lovely black mud everywhere below thigh level. Fortunately both camera and binos got off lightly. Then to the beach to wash off in the sea. Nothing quite like walking with shoes and sox full of sand.

Legs and foots full of mud – poor shoes

Managed to do it a second time trying to cross a small stream to get onto a sandbank in the lagoon. Not so serious that time.

There were many waterbirds about, hundreds of waders – Three-banded Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers mainly. Nine Black Oystercatchers, Pink-backed Pelicans, Greater and Lesser Flamingos in abundance, African Spoonbills etc.

On checking the Swift Terns we noticed a couple of Little Terns. They are really very very little. The photo below shows how small one is compared to the Curlew Sandpiper in front of it.

Little Tern with Curlew Sandpiper in foreground

After some time we reached the end of the lagoon with no joy. Then the bird appeared at a distance over the lagoon bombing the Swift Terns, and Flamingos putting them all to flight. Many photos were taken at a distance in dim overcast conditions. Most were consequently of poor quality.

Greater Flamingos take to the air due to Lesser Frigatebird (top right)

Then as we sat watching at the end of the lagoon where the Terns had just settled about 150 metres away, along came the Frigatebird to disturb them. However it was not the Terns which it was after but a very large Pink-backed Pelican. Coming, it appeared straight in line with us and the photos I got show the comparative wing sizes of the two birds. A fortunate mini series of shots.

A very hot shower was welcome when we got back, not only to get rid of the mud and  blown sand but also to warm us up.

The next morning we were up early hopeful of a brighter day in which to see the Lesser Frigatebird – not to be. Windy and overcast it remained. After a couple of hours we gave up and went to Western Shores for the rest of the morning.

Birding there was very quiet and like all the animals pretty scarce. However we did manage a few nice sightings of which the Martial Eagle was the pick of the day.

Martial Eagle

Red-breasted Swallows were seen mainly on the roads in the rain.

Red-breasted Swallow

And then we came across an unusual sighting. It looked like a spiders had wrapped a web all round a bunch of leaves. On closer inspection there were many red ants running about on the bundle. Later we learned that these are Weaver Ants and that these bundles are commonly seen in KZN coastal forests. The webbing is in fact glue.

Here is an excerpt from Joseph Banks’ Journal  found in Wikipedia “The ants…one green as a leaf, and living upon trees, where it built a nest, in size between that of a man’s head and his fist, by bending the leaves together, and gluing them with whitish paperish substances which held them firmly together. In doing this their management was most curious: they bend down four leaves broader than a man’s hand, and place them in such a direction as they choose. This requires a much larger force than these animals seem capable of; many thousands indeed are employed in the joint work. I have seen as many as could stand by one another, holding down such a leaf, each drawing down with all his might, while others within were employed to fasten the glue. How they had bent it down I had not the opportunity of seeing, but it was held down by main strength, I easily proved by disturbing a part of them, on which the leaf bursting from the rest, returned to its natural situation, and I had an opportunity of trying with my finger the strength of these little animals must have used to get it down.”

In the afternoon we did return to look for the Lesser Frigatebird. It was present but we were unable to get any better sightings of the bird as it kept its distance and the sky was grey again.

Lesser Frigatebird

Saturday morning was not only windy and overcast but it was also squalling. Instead of going to the beach we went into Eastern Shores. Surprisingly none of the dirt roads were closed. We were happy having a 4×4 to drive on them. In places the mud was very slippery and we watched one 4×4 almost slide off the road and down the bank.

Elephants had been out the night before along one of the dirt roads and in one place had downed a large tree across the road with no chance to go round. A long careful reverse was required to find a suitable place to make a U-turn.

Despite all the adverse weather we did manage to identify 107 bird species (click here to see the list) during the time in St Lucia as well as seeing several Rhino and a large herd of Buffalo. Most of the antelope species were hunkered down and not very noticeable.

Cheers

Paul and Sally Bartho

St Lucia revisited.

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

4 to 7 November 2017.

Buffalo

On the spur of the moment Sally and I decided to revisit St Lucia – ever hopefully of finding the specials we missed 2 weeks previously. The specials being the Eurasian Oystercatcher and the Gull-billed Tern.

We stayed at Sugarloaf campsite – taking advantage of the discount available. We do enjoy this campsite as the birdlife within is amazing. It is also very handy being right beside the boardwalk to the beach. Birds are always about the campsite – we had a pair  of Brown-Scrub Robins and a Red-capped Robin-Chat entertain us this time.

Natal Robin

Arriving early we set up camp quickly and went for a stroll along the beach and also next to the estuary. It did not take us long to realise that there were no Oystercatchers about. Terns were present on the mud flats but mostly Swift Terns with the occasional Little and Caspian Terns among the Pied Avocets and Grey-headed Gulls.

Later on I went back without success. Bumped into several other birders on the search as I was heading back to the camp – suggested to them to sit and wait and perhaps get lucky – as Sally and I had done 2 weeks earlier with the Sooty Tern.

Later on Sally and I put up the scope at the start of the boardwalk – scouring the sides of the estuary. As we did so, one of the people I had chatted to earlier said he had taken my advice and waited with the Terns on the mud flats when out of nowhere the Gull-billed Tern appeared and he had a great photo of it too. Perhaps I should have taken my own advice!!! They had seen it at about 17h00.

The next morning we got up early – ever hopeful and headed for the same mud flat. On first inspection there were very few Terns there and a number more further away with someone watching with their camera handy.

Off we went and could not decide which set of Terns to check out first. So as we passed the first set we decided to check out the close ones first. It was 06h00.

Sally peruses with the scope and almost immediately spots the Gull-billed Tern – alone with about five or six Swift Terns.

Gull-billed and Swift Tern

Masses of other small waders were feeding nearby – Curlew Sandpipers, White-fronted and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Sanderlings, the occasional Ruddy Turnstone, Marsh Sandpiper, Pied Avocets etc.

We crept down to get a closer look but far enough away to make sure we did not upset the birds and send them scattering. The mud flat was between two sets of reeds – those on our left were at least 2 metres tall – I say this because later we noticed a Hippo walking our path and into the reeds where it disappeared completely. As it was there was a not so small Crocodile basking on the shore close to where we were watching the Terns. Scary thoughts, more vigilance and alertness is required. Try not to be remembered as a Dead Birder.

Crocodile

While watching, all the birds took to the air for no apparent reason except that a Grey Heron had just landed amongst them. Of course all the Terns went too. We kept our eyes on the Gull-billed Tern and it looked as though it was on its way up the coast but it turned and came back – landing from where it left. We ended up spending 45 minutes with the bird  until it flew off heading inland.

While we were there, we had kept a look out for other birders to call them over but no-one showed – shame. As we walked away about 6 Collared Pratincoles appeared on the mud flats – they must have been there all the time – shows how fixated we were.

Collared Pratincole in flight

Now for the Eurasian Oystercatcher – such a good looking bird.

However it was not till our last afternoon that we spotted any – three, but all African Black Oystercatchers – no Eurasian.

On Saturday we walked almost 14 kms up and down the beach and over 16 kms on Sunday according to my FitBit!! Hard work on soft sand and sore leg muscles later.

Monday was overcast, wet and windy so we headed into Eastern Shores instead after a cursory look at the mudflats with the scope – virtually nothing around.

Changes have been taking place in the park and at long last the the broken bridge on the road beside Lake Bhangazi has been repaired. The bird hide at Mafazana Pan has a new entrance. There was water in the iMboma Pan and numerous hippos and a pair of visiting Rhinos. as well as birds.

A new entrance to Eastern Shores is being built where the old one was and it causes chaos when more than 6 cars are waiting to get in – up to a three quarters of an hour wait. We got lucky on our third day of attempting as we were not prepared to hang around. We chose a Monday morning at 07h00.

Birds were calling it seemed all day long – including Narina Trogons, Green Malkoha and Nicator.

On the way back along the Red Dunes loop we stopped for a cuppa at the Lookout point. While enjoying our tea a Black-chested Snake-Eagle glided about us and was soon being bombed by a bird we could not identify. Initially we thought it to be a Buzzard but its tail is all wrong. What is it?

Animals were plentiful – Nyala, Zebra, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Eland, Buffalo, Reedbuck, the occasional Warthog and Duikers, few Impala and a lone Tsetsebe.

The last night the drizzle arrived and we had a wet pack up in the morning – fortunately most of the pack up was done the previous evening.

Our highlight on this visit was the Gull-billed Tern.

Gull-billed Tern

Paul and Sally Bartho

Mkuze

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

22 to 28 October 2017

On the spur of the moment Sally and I decided we needed a break and went to Mkuze  for 5 nights.

Loving Giraffes

As we arrived we noticed puddles on the road – it had obviously been raining – tho the reserve needs much more.

Renovations are being done on all the hides. They look quite smart but won’t be entirely finished until the loos are built in kwaMalibala, kuMahlahla and kuMasinga hides. Each hide now has an entrance into a fenced off open area before entering the tunnel to the hide. The first is a fenced off area with a concrete walkway to the tunnel entrance to the hide. Nice to be in the first area and being able to walk round and see what may be about outside.

kuMasinga and kwaMalibala hides were closed – however the office gave us permission to enter.

kuMasinga hide is as it always was – but now the area where the Pink-throated Twinspots usually are found is part of the fenced off area – which means one can explore in the bush without fear of bumping into an elephant or rhino.

We only saw a few Red-billed Oxpeckers as we drove arount the Reserve – where had they all gone? We soon found out at kuMasinga Hide. There they all seemed to be waiting for lunch. As the different animals arrived for a drink they all appeared to descend on their backs, legs, ears, noses, underneath with as many as 20 on one animal.

kwaMalibala hide has very little water – waiting for the rains but it always seems to have different birds which frequent it – Namaqua Doves come particularly to mind.

Namaqua Dove

kuMahlahla Hide had a bit of water and proved to be the best hide on this visit.  A Crowned Eagle (with a very full crop) came for water and kept the rest of the birds on their toes.

Crowned Eagle

An African Pygmy Kingfisher sat quietly in the tree right beside the right side of the hide for ages.

A young African Goshawk also came in for a bath and hung around for a while.

A Slender Mongoose had a playful time with a pair of Egyptian Geese – running up to the Geese and being chased back. It was hilarious to watch.

An old elephant with ragged ears, in musth, sauntered in and out for a drink disturbing the buck who were waiting to get a drink too. On his way out of the mud his back legs sank sharply and he was thrown off balance getting out somehow managing to stay upright.

Some of the other species seen at kuMahlahla Hide:

As my sister and her husband were using the trailer up in the Kruger, we stayed in one of the huts. At R240 each less 30% discount this was not much more than camping. We were in hut 4 – Mziki – and the Lesser Striped Swallows were in abundance tending their nests under the eaves.

Hut No 4 – Mziki

Our days were spent driving around the reserve atlassing as we went. We actually saw a pair of White-backed Vultures on a nest and another and another perched in a different location. Some were seen flying overhead but not many.

Nsumo Pan is full and although we saw quite a lot there including an African Openbill, we were hounded by strong winds and overcast weather which made it a little unpleasant in the hides.

At the picnic site on Nsumo Pan we bumped into Themba Mthembu. He used our scope and found African Pygmy Geese in the absolute distance. How he saw them we attributed to young eyes. It is the first time I have seen them in Mkuze.

On our first afternoon drive we came across a raptor which we are unsure as to its ID. We saw it at the end of the tar to the Loop road where there is an old Wahlberg’s Eagles’ nest. The unusual part of the bird is its pale crest/crown. We believe it is a Wahlberg’s Eagle but await your comments.

On the whole we saw a number of raptors – African Fish-Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Bateleur, African Marsh Harrier, African Crowned Eagle, Martial Eagle and African Goshawk.

Wahlberg’s Eagle

One of the things we noticed was that much of the big game was not to be seen. Of the Big 5 we only saw elephants – a heard of 20 on the opposite side of Nsumo Pan and a male in musth at kuMahlahla Hide. Not one Rhino perhaps because most were taken to St Lucia/Isimangaliso for safe keeping and because of the draught.

Herd of Elephants
Herd of Elephants

On one of the days we decided to head down to St Lucia to try our luck to see the Gull-billed and Sooty Terns as well as the Eurasian Oystercatcher. The Mkhuze gate only opened at 06h00 so we were unable to get to St Lucia before 07h45.

Perhaps that is why we lucked out except for the Sooty Tern. We spent over four hours on the beach and estuary. Unfortunately we had to get back to Mkuze before the gate closed at 18h00 so were were unable to check the birds coming in for the evening roost.

The mouth of the estuary has changed drastically. It now encompasses a huge lagoon. The hillside opposite the Ski Boat Club has gone – some 60 million tons of sand have been moved and the Umfolozi River is flowing into the lake at a pace – especially with all the rains further up-river. Here are some photos of what the estuary looks like now after the sand removal – in particular the hill opposite the ski boat club that has been removed.

From the car park looking to the entrance of the river into the estuary showing the remains of the hillock.
Looking up the estuary with the remains of the hillock on the left oposite

And the beach beyond the boardwalk has also seen some changes – all the Casuarina trees have gone as well as the beach loo and shower building.

As usual the estuary was full of interesting birds: a pair of Saddle-billed Storks at the mouth of the Umfolozi coming into the lagoon/estuary. Goliath Herons, Pink-backed Pelicans, Yellow-billed Storks, Western Osprey, Avocets, Bar-tailed Godwits, African Spoonbills to name a few. All easily seen.

Seen in the estuary – a rather upside down dead Basking Shark.

Demise of a Basking Shark in the St Lucia estuary

On Friday when we left Mkuze we headed back to St Lucia to try our luck again – ever hopeful of finding the Eurasian Oystercatcher as we had received a report to tell us it had been seen that morning. We arrived in the rain – more like heavy gusty squalls. Very unpleasant to wander around in.

Time was spent at the start of the boardwalk with the scope on the estuary – close enough to the car to retreat into, as each squall arrived. In the end we drove round to the St Lucia beaches and manage to get a quick look up and down the shore line – nothing.

As the rain got harder and the winds stronger, we returned to the chalet we were booked into in the hope that the weather in the morning would be kind to us. It was.

First we search the estuary mouth and coast line. Then we walked down the beach almost to Mapelane. Back again to the estuary to check the Terns again, getting mud stuck to our shoes so that we felt a few inches taller. No Oystercatchers, Gull-billed or Sooty Terns. Mid day we gave up and headed home as the rains persisted.

That is birding. Anyway we did have a bird count of 152 species in Mkuze  – click here to see our list. St Lucia birds were plentiful but we did not make a list as we were focused on finding the specials – however this is one of our favourite birding areas.

We usually stay in Sugarloaf campsite close to the boardwalk. Birding in the camp is excellent, then you have the waterbirds in the estuary, sea birds, the Gwalagwala trail, Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso are next door and if you have time and the energy then the Umfolozi/Hluhluwe NR is an hour away.

Perhaps we shall venture there again soon to try our luck.

Paul and Sally Bartho.

 

 

 

Zululand

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

1st to 5th April 2017

Following the report of a White-throated Bee-eater in Hluhluwe, Sally and I made an impulsive decision to see if we could find it.

We decided to camp in Bonamanzi as a base and were allocated a site in their new campsite. Each campsite with its own ablution. Unfortunately I incorrectly heard the price quoted to Sally, so when we arrived it was not the R220 for the site as I expected but for each of us per night. Had I known this I would have gone elsewhere – like Hakuma Matata.

Following our trip to the Cape for five weeks where the most we paid for a campsite was R240 for both of us, the prices for camping in Zululand have gone crazy. R440 per night camping in Bonamanzi which is nothing special is ridiculous. Perhaps that is why there was only one other camper there and we did not see anyone using the chalets either.

Moving on. On the way there we drove through Hluhluwe and spent an hour and a half in the area where the Bee-eater was reportedly seen. No luck. The next day was also spent in Hluhluwe searching the area for over three hours – again no luck.

Birding appeared quiet in general however we were surprised to find out that we did identify 91 different species over the day and a half. Here are some of the species photographed.

The following day we went to Isimangaliso, entering Western Shores through the north gate. The hide had water in it but was not busy, so we headed for the aerial boardwalk. At the top we could see that the water level had dramatically increased since the last time we were there.

Western Osprey flying over wetlands at Western Shores – view from the top of the aerial boardwalk

Some of the other species seen:

Red Dragonfly or Damselfly

Once through Western Shores we headed for Eastern Shores and had to wait more than half an hour to check in – such a slow process.

Eastern Shores was interesting. There was water around, so we checked out the pans but nothing much was about. Then we headed round the Vlei loop picking up birds here and there. At one section we came round the corner and the road ahead was blocked. A rather large Rock Python lay in the road.

Rock Python

The Mafazana hide was closed. It was unclear why but we suspect they are making a new entrance road to the hide.

Time for tea so we went to Catalina Bay. Fortunately the wind had died down. From on high we had good views overlooking the lake. Because the water was so high there were no waders about and very little else too. However an African Fish-Eagle made a pass looking for its next meal. From the photo it looks as though he has his eye on something rather large.

African Fish-Eagle
African Fish-Eagle with an eye on something rather large.

Then there was the Scarlet -chested Sunbird watching a White Rhino having a mud bath.

Lunch was fish and chips at the boat club overlooking the estuary. Across on the other side major reconstruction works were ongoing. The sand hillside is being removed. There were at least 5 diggers each with 3 dumper trucks – going back and forth to the beach dumping their loads.

In the estuary there were many Terns, a crowd of African Spoonbills, Saddle-billed Storks, Grey Herons, White-faced Ducks, Pink-backed Pelicans, other waterbirds and numerous waders. Unfortunately it was impossible to get close – too muddy.

African Spoonbills

We did however manage to get to the sea shore to find a couple of Common Whimbrels.

Common Whimbrel

On the way back we drove through Western Shores taking the uMphathe loop road. A Saddle-billed Stork was seen close to the road. It appeared to be looking for something. After a while it flew off with a clump of bush in its beak. We wondered where it was headed. Then we saw it land on its nest at the top of a tree on the horizon. It’s mate was there to greet him.

Saddle-billed Stork looking for nesting material

At the Kweyezalukazi Lookout point there were about 11 Lemon-breasted Canaries – exactly where we had seen them before.

Lemon-breasted Canaries

Then around the corner in an open plain we noticed a rapter at the top of a dead tree. Out came the scope but it was too difficult to identify. You decide – we thought it was either an Amur Falco or an Eurasian Hobby. Most likely the former.

And finally as we were about to leave the park – a Brown Snake-Eagle looking remarkable like a Bat Hawk because of its posture.

Brown Snake-Eagle trying to impersonate a Bat Hawk.

And then we went to camp in Mkuze. Prices way over the mark for camping. R300 per night for the site – up to 3 people. This is just another cheap trick to generate extra income as most people either come as a couple or single. They refuse to make any concessions for groups of one or two people. The ablutions are basic and there is no power from 09h00 till 17h00 and from 22h00 to 05h00. And there is now a R10 community charge on entry plus R7 per person per night in the reserve. Camping in Zululand is becoming too expensive for most potential visitors. No wonder there are so few people in the camps.

We only stayed one night.

Impala, Nyala and Baboons were plentiful with the odd Zebra and Wilderbeest but no other animals were seen during our stay.

Nsumo Pan was very full and the hides in good condition with some having new concrete walkways.

As usual the best place to spend midday was at kuMasinga hide. We did have one mystery bird there though. What do you think it may be?

Elsewhere round the park.

Having dinner at Mkuze we noticed a person’s face on one of our hanging tea towels. Could it have been Donald?

Who do you think it looks like?

And then some bird droppings on the side of the car looking like an owl in flight.

Owl in flight

Overall we identified 144 different bird species. To see what we identified and where click here.

Paul and Sally Bartho

 

Sand Forest Lodge Weekend Away

Report by Cheryl Bevan

11 to 13 March 2016

Twenty birders headed out to Sand Forest Lodge near Hluhluwe for our first weekend outing of the year. Some had arrived a day earlier in pouring rain.

On Saturday we set out at 06H30 for False Bay for a 7 Km forest walk. Not all of us lasted the full 7 Km.

We heard a lot of birds but sightings were scarce as it was very dry. The trees and butterflies were amazing.

A distant Cuckoo caught our attention –  either an African or Common. We managed a photo for you to judge for yourself. Our conclusion was that it was a Common Cuckoo based on the bill being predominantly black. Unfortunately we could get no views of the underside of the tail.

Further along we came across this spoor. Half the size of a ladies size six boot. Any ideas?

IMG_2070a

There was also a rather smart Dark-backed Weaver’s nest hanging in the woods.

Dark-backed Weaver's nest.
Dark-backed Weaver’s nest.

After our walk we went to the picnic sight for tea. There was absolutely no water in the bay except in the far distance where we saw a group of flamingos.

Picnicing on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
Picnicking on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
False Bay looks like this.
False Bay looks like this.

Saturday afternoon John and Paul were chatting when they saw a flock of European Bee-eaters feasting on flying ants right in the campsite. And then the show began. Everyone eventually gathered with their chairs and we were entertained for a good hour and a half with a variety of interesting birds.

Birdwatching in comfort
Birdwatching in comfort

There were Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, White-winged Widowbird, African Yellow White-eye, Willow Warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, African Palm, Little and White-rumped Swifts, Klaas’s Cuckoo and African Paradise Flycatcher.

Also observed were the numerous butterflies and trees full of looper-type caterpillars which crawled everywhere including on you. Large hornets carrying and burying Loopers which they had stung.

Sunday’s early morning walk through the sand forest and grasslands of Sand Forest Lodge brought us Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, African Cuckoo, Diderick’s Cuckoo, African Green Pigeon among many others. For Jane and Mike, they were attracted to the African Cuckoo by a dive-bombing Eurasian Golden Oriole. It transpired that there were two African Cuckoos in the same place – something considered unusual.

What a way to end a fabulous weekend.

Click here to read the bird list of 91 species identified.

Cheryl and John Bevan

Mkuze

Paul and Sally along with Dave and Jenny Rix took a late morning trip to Mkuze on Friday before the weekend started. Nsumo pan was by no means full but the bird life was very active with all sorts of waterbirds to be seen. Mike and Jane had even seen Greater Painted Snipe there earlier in the day.

St. Lucia

Paul and Sally also spent two nights at Sugarloaf campsite on the way home. Sunday night the rains came in force. The next morning we learned that Lake St. Lucia had gained 6.1 million tons of fresh water from the Umfolozi River. A godsend as they badly need it and more.

As usual the estuary mouth was full of interesting birds. Greater Flamingo; Pink-backed Pelicans; Goliath Herons; Saddle-billed Stork; hundreds of White-faced Ducks; Avocets; Grey-headed Gulls; Swift Terns; a few Little Terns and Lesser Crested Terns; numerous Curlew Sandpipers changing into breeding plumage; White-fronted Plovers; Common Ringed Plovers; Grey Herons.

Also seen was an adult Palm-Nut Vulture flying low over the dunes and also an Osprey circling above with a large fish for dinner.

A trip into Eastern Shores, Isimangaliso Wetland Park early morning after the rains  was very quiet. Birds were trying to warm up and dry off so not much activity.

Back in camp the Livingstone’s Turacos were often calling above our campsite.

Always a special place to visit at this time of the year (and any other time of course).

Paul and Sally Bartho

Zululand Trip Report

Paul and Sally Bartho

19 to 25 October

On impulse Sally and I decided to head up to St. Lucia for 4 nights and the same at Kube Yini (between Mkuze and Phinda). Then onwards, wherever, for a further week.

As it happened we ended up staying only 3 nights at Kube Yini then coming home. Everywhere was exceptionally dry. But the deciding factor to return home was yet another side wall puncture.

At St. Lucia we camped in the Sugarloaf campsite. Water was restricted due to the drought but the campsite did not appear to be affected – other than they only opened two of their four ablution blocks.

During our time at St. Lucia we went birding in Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetland Park as well as around the estuary mouth and the campsite. As you can see from our bird list (click here to see it), our time in St. Lucia around the estuary and campsite was the most rewarding.

On the first morning we headed for Eastern Shores. However as we left the camp gate we checked the sand bank in front of the Boat Club and restaurant. There were quite a number of Pied Avocets among numerous waders and terns. Most striking, however, were eight Black Herons together.

In the Eastern Shores we had two interesting experiences – firstly on three occasions we came across Southern Banded Snake-Eagles. One with a full crop after devouring a green snake.

Southern Banded Snake-Eagle
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle

The second experience was at Lake Bengazi. (An aside – the causeway is still not passable due to the road collapse some years ago). Looking out across the Lake to the western side there were hundreds and hundreds of Pelicans on the shore line – mainly Great White but also Pink-backed.

Altogether in the 6 hours we were there we identified 72 different species.

The second full day at St. Lucia we headed for Western Shores – windy and overcast. Virtually all the dams were empty of water. From the boardwalk overlooking Lake St. Lucia we could see how much the drought had affected the water levels in the Lake.

One of the highlights was stopping next to a male and female African Cuckoo-Hawk on the ground not 20 metres from us.

And then at the main picnic site, we noticed a small dam with some water – probably being pumped in. At the dam there were a number of Collared Pratincoles and a Wood Sandpiper – soon to be scattered when three noisy Spur-winged Geese arrived.

The picnic site is a lovely location however it could do with some tables and benches under the trees. Here we had a good sighting of a Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Altogether only 48 different species were identified in the 5 hours we were there.

Most afternoons we spent time birding around the campsite and on the beach. Because of the wind the beach was fruitless and the banks of the estuary had few birds.

The exception to this was the sand bank in front of the boat club restaurant. Among the numerous waders and shore birds we did manage to find an unusual Plover.

The guide with a group of American tourists said it was a Lesser Sand Plover. However as the photos below show – it was in fact a Greater Sand Plover (unless of course  both were present). The greenish legs lead me to question what I photographed.

If we had read the text in the Roberts App more closely we would have known to watch its behaviour. When foraging the Lesser takes about 3 paces then pauses for about 2.5 to 3 seconds. The Greater takes about 9 to 10 paces then pauses for 5 to 8.5 seconds!

Also present on the sand bank was a Grey Plover in semi-breeding plumage.

IMG_8586

The campsite itself as usual had an abundance of different birds – some of the more notable for us were the Livingston’s Turacos, Purple-banded Sunbirds and an obliging Bearded Scrub-Robin.

But perhaps the most unexpected appearance was that of an African Wood-Owl. We were having dinner when it flew to our table knocking over a handbag on the ground beside the table. It then sat in a nearby tree and kept foraging at the base of a tree not three metres away from us.

Altogether in the camp and nearby estuary a count of 94 different species – not too shabby.

And then it was time to move on to Kube Yini where we stayed in a rather large cottage belonging to a friend of ours.  The cottages are all on the top of a number of steep hills. Everywhere was very dry and waterholes empty – except for the two where water was pumped in – both rather small.

It was a decided challenge to back the camper into the driveway!

Here we settled in to the luxury of large space. Checking the map of the area we thought that we should head for the river in the canyon below. So the first afternoon after settling in we headed down to do a short loop. In parts it was steep any very rocky – progress was slow and the birds likewise.

The next day we headed for a longer drive alongside the river. Again steep and rocky everywhere so the drive lasted probably 2 hours longer than we thought. Birds there were, close to the river but nothing that stood out.

Our best birding was around the cottage – Burnt-necked Eremomela, Bearded Scrub-Robin and African Yellow White-eye. In the evening the call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar. And on the plains below next to the clubhouse a Flappet Lark called for our attention. 61 different bird species were identified while we were there.

That evening we went to the clubhouse to watch the RSA semi-final along a number of other residents. In one conversation we mentioned that the roads are very rocky especially on the way up and down to the river. They were aghast and surprised that we had  ventured there as none of them did.

After the rugby on the way back to the cottage we heard the very unpleasant sound of a tyre giving off puffs of air on each revolution and the piping alarm of the tyre pressure monitor sounding.  Somehow we managed to get back to the cottage before it went completely flat.

The tyre took ages to change simply because we have a Fortuner and they have this ridiculous system to lower the tyre beneath the car. The problem being to insert a long bar unsighted into a slot designed for perfect alignment. Much cursing and swearing until by chance it unexpectedly went in.

The next day we only ventured to the clubhouse to watch the final on our own. The next day – home.

Enough adventure for this trip. But altogether 152 different birds identified.

Paul & Sally Bartho

St Lucia July 2015

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Monday 20 July to Friday 24 July 2015

Sugarloaf campsite in St Lucia was not too busy. School holidays had ended. There was water rationing in St Lucia which meant that one day we had no tapped water but the rest all day. Water bottles were laid out at each of the ablutions blocks. Power cuts were from 5 to 6 pm several nights – yes only one hour.

We spent a morning in each of the two parts of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park – Eastern and Western Shores. And one morning in the Gwalagwala trail. Time was spent on the beach too, though the gulls and terns were mostly down the coast chasing the sardines. No Franklin’s Gull!

The weather was mostly kind to us and we did have rain on several nights which helped to bring out the birds the following mornings.

In all we identified 63 birds in Eastern Shores, 64 birds in Western Shores and 82 birds in and around the campsite, Gwalagwala trail and on the beach. In total 125 different bird species were identified. Click here to see the lists.

Here are some photos of the birds seen.

And a few butterflies and mystery Cisticolas for ID.