Cumberland NR – Allen’s Gallinules

Mid-day today Sally and I went to Cumberland NR to see if we could find the Allen’s Gallinules which Norman Freeman had reported seeing yesterday.

On the water we saw Egyptian Geese, two pairs of Little Grebes and a juvenile, several pairs of Red-knobbed Coots, a number of Common Moorhens and a pair of Purple Swamphens but unfortunately no Allen’s Gallinules – nor were we lucky enough to even hear them.

Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen and Little Grebe
Purple Swamphens, Common Moorhen and Little Grebe

There were 13 Bald Ibis resting on the roof of the “hide” (more a launching jetty for canoes). Norman also reported seeing them there yesterday.

A couple of African Fish-Eagles flew overhead at one point along with another raptor which might have been a Black Sparrowhawk. A lovely group of 3 Little Bee-eaters were in the trees nearby along with a number of other species.

Little Bee-eaters
Little Bee-eaters

Sadly, we found a Red-chested Flufftail right beside the start of the jetty – floating in the water. We have brought it home to give to David Allen for the Durban Natural Science Museum.

Red-chested Flufftail

Paul & Sally Bartho

Hilton College NR Sunday 20 July 2014

Two degrees Centigrade at 07h00 at the Hilton College gate did not augur well for a good day’s birding. However the sky was clear and the sun would come out. At the end, the birding was much better than expected.

Four of us descended to the river in one vehicle – Penny de Vries, Cheryl King, Sally and Paul Bartho. Heater full on but with windows open. The four kilometre descent was taken slowly – birding all the way.

Probably one of the better sightings all day was the Red-throated Wryneck at the entrance to the picnic area where numerous birds held our attention before we eventually arrived there.

Red-throated Wryneck
Red-throated Wryneck

At the picnic site a cup of tea/coffee was in order. By this time the sun was warming us up and Sri Lanka were 130 something for 5. The picnic site is right by the river with a number of different species flying up and down as we supped our hot beverages.

The following photos give you an idea of the scenery, the river trail, Finfoot Hide and the picnic site:

Then we set off following the river upstream along a well-maintained trail. African Firefinch were heard then seen followed by Common Waxbills, Golden-breasted Bunting with Trumpeter Hornbills flying overhead. Of course we kept an eye on the river in hope of seeing an African Finfoot and/or African Black Duck.

Trumpeter Hornbill
Trumpeter Hornbill

Just before we reached the Finfoot Hide we were held up for about half an hour by a bird party consisting of Yellow-throated Woodland-Warblers, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis and this unidentified species which eluded all our attempts to get a great sighting. Full grey head to just below the eye, white throat, greeny-yellow stomach and green back. Anyone got any ideas? If so please let us know. The closest we came to identifying the bird was that it could be a Bar-throated Apalis without the bar or an Eremomela way out of range.

The Finfoot hide overlooks a small patch of the river but nothing special was observed there at that time.

On we clambered along the path by the river keeping our eyes out for a Bushveld Pipit which had been seen previously – no luck. More African Firefinches were seen and Lazy Cisticola heard and seen. Then we came across a pair of Swee Waxbills which, caught in the sunshine, radiantly showed off their colours.

Eventually we came to the end of the trail at Geni’s Junction – another large open area well treed. Here a number of Robins got our attention but only the Cossypha natalensis was positively identified.

The return journey was made in quick time – it was late in the morning and there was  not much to grab our attention.

We made a quick detour to visit to the hide as we passed – very fortunate timing as there were two African Black Ducks swiftly swimming up-river. And further along another three were seen flying down-river.

African Black Duck
African Black Duck

While having a bite to eat by the river at the picnic site a Burchell’s Coucal made a brief appearance.

Then on the drive back up the hill a Black-crowned Tchagra sat quietly in a tree close-by giving us excellent views. And an African Fish-Eagle gave us an overpass as we reached the top – the only raptor we had seen all morning.

By the time we reached the top we had a bird list of 60 seen and/or heard. Click here to see the bird list.

This is a great venue and worth visiting in the summer when the migrants return.

Paul Bartho




Pigeon Valley – Wed 16 July

We are sparkling here currently in Pigeon Valley NR.  People are coming to see the Buff-spotted Flufftails, which are very obliging while conditions are so dry.  While at the spot most likely to see them, I have also had great views of a confiding Narina Trogon, persistent attention from the Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher female, African Firefinches, very friendly Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, and a bird yesterday that I and another watcher did not see well enough to be sure – she think it could be a Greater Honeyguide juvenile.

We have also had a rare visit from a Grey-headed Bush-Shrike.

But perhaps the most spectacular was when 25 of us on the BirdLife Port Natal outing to Pigeon Valley started the walk and then watched as a Scaly-throated Honeyguide tried to take over a Cardinal Woodpecker nesting hole in a branch over the main path just after the map.  It was unflustered by the onlookers, as it tried persistently, at one point locking bills with the female Cardinal Woodpecker in the nest.

Later in the morning, most of the BirdLife members stood and watched the male and female Buff-spotted, as a way of ending the morning.

One of the Red Duikers has died; I had a look at the body this morning; it is a bit decayed, but potentially it was taken by a Crowned Eagle; maybe I will be able to see the right eye socket a bit later to see if there are the marks of a talon.

I am getting emails that I am often not good at responding to, asking for co-ordinates of Pigeon Valley, and whether it is safe.  There are no guarantees of course, but I am not aware of any recent problem incidents, at all.
Co-ordinates are 29° 51′ 52″ S, 30° 59′ 19″ E

Crispin Hemson
Friends of Pigeon Valley


Oribi Vulture Restaurant

Despite the new hide being burnt down earlier this month, this venue is still probably one of the best viewing sites to see Cape Vultures.

The new hide is already being rebuilt through the generosity of a local builder and when complete will be about 40 metres from the restaurant with excellent viewing over level ground.

Not only will it be possible to watch the vultures carnivoring the carcasses from the hide but it is also possible to walk to the edge of the cliff and see the nesting sites below and watching the vultures catch the thermals and gliding past within metres.

Currently there are over 30 nesting sites and in total more than 120 Cape Vultures have been counted at this site – including many juveniles thought to have come from elsewhere.

If you visit please look out for shoulder tags on the birds and report these sightings to your guide.

The site is located on the private property of a local farmer and can only be visited by booking through BirdLife Trogons –

A few photos from the area:




Finfoot Loop

On Sunday 13th July 06h45, twenty-one intrepid birders gathered together by the Umgeni River mouth at the Green Hub – the centre of the Durban Green Corridor initiative.

The Green Corridor initiative has created a guided tour for birders to explore the Umgeni River venturing into areas many people would be hesitant to visit on their own.

This tour is known as the Finfoot Loop – why? Because the African Finfoot is regularly seen – right here in the eThekwini municipality.

The first part of the morning was spent birding the river mouth whilst we waited for our guide.

Birding the river mouth pre-dawn
Birding the river mouth pre-dawn

Numerous birds were seen including Cape Cormorants, Pink-backed Pelicans, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers, Grey-headed Gulls and Swift Terns as well as many other waterbirds. Even a Black Sparrowhawk sat patiently in one of the palm trees while photos were taken.

Eventually, with all of us loaded into 8 vehicles, we set off. Joe – our guide – was in the lead car.

Joe the guideJoe took us away from the metropolitan area into the Umgeni Valley following the river towards the Inanda Dam. Every so often we stopped at appropriate places to bird.

Our first stop was at the large new Kwadebeka bridge over the river on the M25.

We had views up and down river from up on high;  after which we drove down to a place below the bridge and spent some time birding up close to the river. Here we saw a female Klaas’s Cuckoo, a lifer for some, and both Mountain and Pied Wagtails hopping amongst the rocks. Mocking Cliff-chats abounded in this particular spot as two Giant Kingfishers flew up and down the river. As we were leaving, we saw a Purple-banded Sunbird.

Some of the bridges gave us good opportunities to make sure we knew the difference between Rock Martins and Brown-throated Martins. We were a little surprised to see African Palm Swift too, in the absence of any palm trees.

In all we stopped at 7 different locations along the river to bird; sometimes parking on the road by the river and at other times driving off the road a short distance. The local people we met were all very friendly.

The scenery is also stunning with the river running through gorges, lovely rolling hills, sheer cliffs and many indigenous trees. Of course, it was very dry being winter. Litter was bad in some areas but as we progressed further inland, it became less obvious.

Crossing over a mountainous area from one stopping point to another we were treated to an aerial display of a juvenile Martial Eagle being bombed by a Lanner Falcon.

It was at the last bridge crossing below the Inanda Dam wall that the African Finfoot was eventually spotted by a small number of the group. Unfortunately it was some distance away and moving upstream quite quickly and out of sight. Despite many of us going to the area where it was seen, none of the rest of us spotted it.

The final venue was the picnic site at eNanda Adventures on the Inanda Dam  – about 4 km NE from the dam wall. We arrived about 14h00 for our picnic and braai. Tables and chairs were quickly brought out for us as well as a couple of braais.

Braai time at eNanda Adventures Picnic ground
Braai time at eNanda Adventures Picnic ground

After the braai the remaining group of five vehicles crossed the same bridge where the African Finfoot was spotted earlier. As they crossed, one of the group – Geoff- spotted the Finfoot. Mad panic ensued with all the vehicles stopping on the bridge, doors being flung open, bodies tumbling out and there in all its splendour the African Finfoot calmly swam up to and onto a close-by rock for all to view.

Madness erupts as the African Finfoot is spotted.
Madness erupts as the African Finfoot is spotted.

The day was well organised and well guided. The birding was excellent for the time of year and over 90 different species were seen.

Full Moon ending a perfect day
Full Moon ending a perfect day

Photographs submitted by: Crystelle Wilson, Penny de Vries; Rex Aspeling; Paul Bartho


Simbithi Estate, Salt Rock, KZN North Coast. Sunday, 22/6/14.


Dudley Wang…Simbithi Estate res.

Mike O’Donoghue.. Simbithi Estate res.

Mike White.  BLPN.

Sandy du Preez  [ Virginia Cameron]

Antony Humphries [with Ros & Mo]

Ros Conrad.

Cheryl & John Bevan.

Rex Aspeling

We met @ 07h00  at the Simbithi main gate and, then drove to the Heron Centre to park. The two Simbithi residents then guided us on a trail which passed along a  well covered section of riverine bush, through some open grassland to a valley with two dams on a perennial seep. The top dam had a Fulvous Duck swimming on it and the lower one had been the favourite haunt of a White-backed Duck the previous week, but which was not evident when we were there.

After the walk of about 3km, we arrived back at the Heron Centre to have a very comfortable breakfast on the veranda of the centre overlooking a large dam.

Mike White

Photos of some of the birds seen, courtesy of Rex Aspeling:

In total we saw about 70 different birds of the estate which lists nearly 200 species.

Southern Mozambique

Report by Paul Bartho

Note that you can double click on the photos to enlarge them.

If you would like me to send you a copy of our bird list – what Sally and I saw and where then click here to email me.

Sally and I recently returned from a nine day trip into Southern Mozambique. We went with Grahame Snow (our guide) of Reach Africa and three others – Pat Nurse, Joan Saggers and Andre Pienaar.

The purpose of the trip was to explore the Limpopo Floodplains; Panda forest and nearby floodplains; and the Bobiane-Unguana thickets. Our goal: to find the specials in each area as well as those birds which we do not see regularly back home.  The two main specials included the Olive-headed Weaver and the Eastern Green Tinkerbird. Because of the time of year we also had our eyes out the Mascerene Martin and Malagasy Pond-Heron. The Eurasian Bittern was another hopeful in the numerous floodplains.

The day before we departed we drove to Johannesburg and stayed overnight in a B&B (My Home in Joburg) close to Grahame’s home. Arriving early we were able to spend a couple of hours in Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens.

The early start from Johannesburg got us away before rush hour. We reached Komatiport just after midday and got through the border quite quickly – perhaps because it was mid week and out of school holidays.

All taxis were similarly loaded as we entered Mozambique.
All taxis were similarly loaded as we entered Mozambique.

Instead of travelling via Maputo to our first stopover just north of Xai Xai, Grahame took us north from Moamba towards the small village of Sabie then NE to Magude and then east to join the EN1 and on to Xai Xai. This route is rough in places and mostly gravel all the way. The route is quiet and we were able to bird as we travelled.

The railway bridge shared by vehicles travelling in either direction!
The railway bridge shared by vehicles travelling in either direction!

Zona Braza 10 kms off the main road 30 kms north of Xai Xai was our overnight stop. We arrived quite late. The accommodation was very pleasant and the food at the restaurant very tasty.

The next morning we were up for an early morning walk around the camp and down to a rather large water-lily covered pan. There were numerous water birds including many African Pygmy-Geese and Southern Pochard. Black-throated Wattle-eye and Brown Scrub-Robin also entertained us.

After breakfast we headed to Morrungulo Bay – our luxury lodge for the next three nights –  north of Inhambane close to Massinga.

Prior to arriving at the lodge we went looking for the Spinetails some 50 kms north of our turnoff for the lodge – near a village called Nhanchengue. Both the Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetails were seen circling the many large baobabs.

This detour was made to secure the first 2 specials of the trip.

The next three mornings the wake-up call was well before the sparrows so that we could arrive at the Bobiane-Unguana thickets by 06h30 – an hour’s drive away.

Some pictures of the habitat in the area:

The Eastern Green Tinkerbird our main goal. We searched 3 or 4 different locations where it had been seen before but had no luck in finding the bird – although we did hear the call once.

Grahame showed us the Eastern Green Tinkerbird’s nest recently found – see pictures. It was the unusual red seeds sticking to the bark which attracted attention to finding the nest. (Read all about this nest in the latest edition of Africa Birds and Birding.)

One morning we were greeted by the call of the East Coast Akalat. We searched in vain and despite it being very close we were unable to spot it. Grahame had heard it in the area on a number of occasions but had never seen it. The following day we tried again and eventually Sally saw it on a low branch in the thickets and I managed to see it as it flew away. None of the others were so lucky unfortunately – a lifer for both Sally and me. Everyone else except Joan had seen it elsewhere.

Several butterflies were seen (and identified by amateurs) including the following:

The habitat destruction here and in Panda Forest has been the subject of an earlier posting – “The Sadness of Mozambique’s Forests” so I will not repeat myself in this report.

Other birds photographed in the area include:

There was one other beautiful bird which a number of us had as a lifer- the Livingstone’s Flycatcher. It was incessantly on the move making it very hard to get a decent photograph.

Eventually it was time to move on. Back south to Caju Afrique “close” to Panda for our next three nights. Caju Afrique -where we stayed – is inland from Inharrime off the road to Panda. There are a number of lodges and a couple of full facility campsites – all overlooking the Inharrime River which was very broad at this point and looked like a lake, complete with small dhows and rowing boats

On route from Morrungulu we stopped at Chucuque near the ferry across to Inhambane where we were treated to the sight of a flock of Greater Flamingos in the foreground of a passing Dhow with Inhambane as the background. A couple of Pied crows in display and a lovely Scarlet-chested Sunbird entertained us.

The road to the lodge is very colourful – check these photos:

Although the lodge is basic it does have hot water, power when we want it and friendly staff. In fact everyone we met was exceptionally friendly and helpful.

Again each morning it was up early – even earlier on the first day as Panda is almost two hours driving away and we wanted to be there at first light.

We set off into the “forest” and listen out for bird parties. Very soon we hear our first and see White-breasted Cuckooshrikes, White-crested Helmetshrikes, Southern Black Tits all moving fast from one tree to the next. We try to keep up and catch glimpses of the birds as they move through the trees – but no Olive-headed Weaver.

We get sightings of a number of interesting species – Pale Batis, Southern Hyliota, Black Cuckooshrikes, Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Shikra, Striped Kingfisher, Purple-banded and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds, Red-headed Weavers and Bearded Woodpeckers. As well as witnessing two male Cardinal Woodpeckers vying for position over a female.

Further into the forest we come across many large open clearings where the trees have been logged out. And, it was on the edge of one such clearing that we find our first pair of Olive-headed Weavers – a male and female.

We look out for Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes without success but do eventually find a flock of five or six Racket-tailed Rollers.

One the way back we notice all the wetland areas we passed by in the early morning and we check out several to return to. Grahame goes waist deep in one place and flushes out Lesser Jacana.

The next morning we head for the most promising wetland area with a view to seeing an Eurasian Bittern. Wet grass and wet feet as we trample through the wetland – Grahame knee high in the water and Andre with the other end of the rope hoping to raise an Eurasian Bittern.

African Snipes everywhere, Lesser Jacana make appearances, Rosy-throated Longclaws give us aerial displays, Shelley’s Francolins call vociferously “Drink your beer, Drink your beer”. Rufous-bellied Herons appear and fly overhead – but no Bittern.

Grahame and Andre wander ever deeper into the wetland and eventually after several hours turn round and head back still dragging the rope between them. We get to the shorter grass plodding back through the wet when suddenly we hear this huge roar as Grahame yells at the top of his voice “Bittern”. Immediate unbelievable response from all of us – we watch this huge bird not more than 50 metres away and flying away from us. We watch as the bird languidly flaps into the middle of the wetland. Another lifer for all of us.

Eurasian Bittern - photographed just before it went down.
Eurasian Bittern – photographed just before it went down.

During the course of the day we lunched beside the road next to a clump of woodland – which was teeming with birds.

Birds photographed as we travelled in this area:

Then we headed south once again, through the exceptionally crowded town of Xai Xai to the Honey Pot, our overnight accommodation. We took the opportunity to visit the Limpopo floodplain after dropping off the trailer and before checking in as it was getting late. We returned there early in the morning before departing to Johannesburg.

We were treated to a number of birds we had not seen on the trip including Collared Pratincole, Allen’s Gallinule (lifer for Joan), Fulvous Duck, Goliath Heron, African Sacred and Glossy Ibis, Brown-throated Martin (we tried our best to convert some into Mascerene), Black-crowned night-Heron, Three-banded and Kittlitz’s Plovers, African Spoonbill, Wattled Starlings, Grey-rumped Swallows and Hottentot Teal.

After sunset we had an appearance of many Nightjars which we believe to have been both Square-tailed and Swamp Nightjars.

Finally it was time to head home. So after a quick squizz at the floodplain and a bit of breakfast off we set following our tracks back to Johannesburg.

Seen along the way;

Eventually we arrived well after dark.

It was a fantastic trip with good company and an excellent Guide. Hectic at times but that is birding. Would love to return to find all those specials we dipped on.

Farewell Mozambique
Farewell Mozambique

The Sadness of Mozambique’s Forests.

Mozambique’s forests are rapidly disappearing. This does not augur well for the indigenous birds which depend on these forests – the Green Tinkerbird (Unguana), the Olive-headed Weaver (Panda), the Green-headed Oriole (Mount Gorongoza).

Sally and I have just returned from a trip into Mozambique and saw the ongoing destruction of the Panda forest and the forests at Unguana – near Massinga.

In the Unguana forest:

And now Panda:

Urgent action needs to be taken if we are not to lose these forests. The relevant land custodians need to be convinced that it is in their interests to maintain the forests.

A system needs to be thought out whereby the resident population benefit by maintaining what is left of the forests. One suggestion is a community charge for anyone visiting the forests.

However that alone will not stop further deforestation. Too many people live in and around the forests and depend on it for their livelihood – wood for fires; wood for making charcoal to earn money; creatures as a food source.

Urgent action at the political level has to be found. NGOs sought and funds raised. Martin Taylor – BirdLife South Africa- is assisting with the development of AACEM, a bird orientated conservation organisation in Mozambique. Let us hope that this initiative is taken seriously by the Mozambique government and action is swiftly forthcoming. Otherwise Mozambique’s Green Tinkerbird, the Olive-headed Weaver and the Green-headed Oriole will follow the fate of the Dodo.

Paul Bartho