SAPPI Tuesday 30 December

Yesterday a few of us decided to do a bit of birding at the SAPPI Mill and hide near Stanger. We – Roy Cowgill, Steve Davis, my wife Sally and I – made a leisurely start arriving at 09h00.

Atlassing began as we arrived in the pentad. After a slow drive off the main road to the office we ventured to the hide. We also obtained access to the picnic area to bird and have lunch and eventually departed at 15h00.

In all we observed 94 different bird species. Click here if you wish to look at our bird list. There were also sightings of butterflies, dragonflies, weevils, frogs and most exciting for me anyway an obliging Grey Mongoose – a species I had not seen before. You may have noticed from the list that we had no sightings of Fork-tailed Drongos nor Southern Black Flycatchers.

Some of the bird excitement we enjoyed included the sighting of a Marsh Warbler, several Namaqua Doves, a Booted Eagle, a female Southern Pochard and a Cape Shoveler. Here are some of the photos taken:

Paul Bartho

Zululand and the Kruger

A Summary

Paul and Sally Bartho

The purpose of this final chapter in our saga through Zululand and the Kruger is:

  • to show a detailed Bird List of birds we saw in each place we visited – as an Excel spreadsheet. Highlighting the birds we considered special.
  • to display the possibly contentious and mystery birds we encountered and photographed – feedback always welcome.
  • to identify our worst sighting on the trip.
  • to comment on a few observations we made.
  • to post a summary of photos of birds and animals we saw on our trip.

Click here to see our bird list for each area we visited.

Next are some photos of birds which require ID. Have a go if you are interested and make your comments in the assigned place beneath each photo.

Then we have birds which are contentious. Again have a go if you are interested and make your comments in the assigned place beneath each photo.

Definitely the worst sighting of our trip occurred as we reached the turn-off from the main road to Pafuri Picnic site. Right on the corner we saw three Common Mynahs.

Highlights and Observations:

  • We never saw nor heard a Woodlands Kingfisher between 22 October and 19 November – the whole time we were in the Kruger. Our first sighting was in Ndumo.
Woodland Kingfisher - all mouth as it tries to scare off a Broad-billed Roller
Woodland Kingfisher – all mouth as it tries to scare off a Broad-billed Roller
  • We did not see an European Roller until Eastern Shores, Isimangoliso on 24 November and it was the only one we saw.
  • Red-backed Shrike had only just started appearing in the Kruger when we reached Pafuri on 5 November. Only a few more were seen on our way south.
Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
  • Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were seen as far south as Balule – mainly on Buffalo. There was a time not long ago when you needed to be in the Punda Maria region to be lucky to see one.
  • Eurasian Golden Orioles were seen in pairs on four occasions -Tsendze; Shingwedzi; Skukuza and Ndumo.
  • By far the best camp we stayed at was Tsendze. The staff are exceptional, the habitat varied and interesting, the campsite full of Owls in the many tall trees. Balule and Malelane are two other campsites that we will visit again.
  • On the S114 heading N/S to Skukuza a Cocqui Francolin was heard – try as we may we were unable to see it – Sally’s current bogie bird. However this led us to an excellent sighting of a Stierling’s Wren-Warbler nearby.
  • Being at the right place at the right time – that is how we were lucky enough to see the African Finfoot as we crossed the Sabie Bridge on the way to Skukuza.
  • Our Owl sightings started in Mkuze with a great view of a juvenivle Pel’s Fishing-Owl followed by Verreaux’s at Crocodile Bridge; Spotted Eagle Owl in Ndumo; Scops, Barred and Pearl-spotted in a number of places.
  • In Mkuze there was a Crowned Plover on its nest right beside the road – it had 2 eggs. Two days later there was nothing to be seen.
  • An amazing hairstyle of an African Paradise-Flycatcher and an Afro-styled Brown Snake-Eagle in Punda Maria.
  • Exceptionally dark colourations of Laughing and African Mourning Doves in Tshokwane Picnic site and in the Satara camp.
  • On the S100, N’wanetsi River Road, we came across what at first we believed to be a pair of Red-necked Spurfowls – we were excited. However we later found out that they were hybrids. This poses further questions: Why a pair of hybrids together? Brothers, sisters, brother and sister or a mating pair? Mating pair – more questions!
  • We had four different sightings of Greater Painted-Snipes. A sole male at the Sweni hide, Satara; a pair of males on the Tsendze loop; another pair of males on the walk below the Mopani restaurant; and two males and a female together on the S93 just north of Olifants.
  • The Green Sandpiper at the Sweni bridge on the main road south of Satara was observed by us on a number of occasions.
  • Two Red-chested Cuckoos were seen together in the Pafuri Picnic site – a male paying attention to a juvenile. Shouldn’t be offspring so it is assumed that the juvenile was a female coming of age and being swooned by an adult male.
  • Also near the Pafuri Picnic site we observed 2 squabbling Eagles – on settling in the same tree we noted that they were both African Hawk-Eagles – an adult and a rufous juvenile.
  • We had the challenge of identifying a Harrier seen in the distance at the Thongonyeni waterhole on the Tropic of Capricorn loop just north of Mopani. Luckily not a female but a juvenile – a Pallid Harrier.
  • In St. Lucia we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits along the mud flats at the mouth of the Lake St. Lucia estuary. There were also 13 African Black Oystercatchers on the beach. Many other waders and Terns were also seen.
  • In Ndumo there was a female Little Bittern dashing between the reeds right in front of the Nyamithi Hide. At the Vulture restaurant on separate occasions we noticed an adult and then a juvenile Palm-nut Vulture.
  • Interesting animal sightings include:
    • a one tusker Elephant with a very long tusk
    • a Civet in broad daylight unconcernedly foraging right next to us. It had a sore back right leg and was limping. This was the only lifer that either of us had on our trip. As we watched we did not notice an elephant approaching directly towards us from the other side until it was just metres away. Mega hasty retreat was called for – adrenalin does wonders to focus you.
    • a male Leopard coming for a drink at Lake Panic Hide, Skukuza.
    • Dwarf Mongooses around our campsite at Malelane.
    • Hippos resting in peace at Sweni Hide
    • Numerous very large herds of Buffalo. One herd was over a kilometre long and it appeared to be over 20 animals across most of the way – must have been thousands of animals.
    • A rather interesting Waterbuck – rather suave and foppish!

Some of the other animals photographed:

  • There is one photo which does not appear real – it looks as if a tree has uprooted itself and is coming straight for us.
  • However the “piece-de-la-resistance” is definitely the two magical mystical photos of the Pennant-winged Nightjars we saw while at Punda Maria.

And finally an album of some of the other bird photos follows:


Again I hope you have enjoyed the read and the photos.

Paul & Sally.


Zululand and the Kruger – Part 11

St. Lucia as well as Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetland Park – 23 to 27 November 2014

Paul and Sally Bartho

After a short drive from Ndumo we reached St. Lucia and chose to stay in the large Sugarloaf campsite which was relatively empty. Eden Park is very nice and well treed but Sugarloaf is situated right next to the boardwalk which follows the estuary to the beach. Peak season and the campsites are full to bursting – not pleasant. We tend to avoid weekends at Sugarloaf due to boisterous fishermen. Eden Park – if it is open – is quieter at those times.

During our time here we visited both Eastern and Western Shores of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park as well as spending time around the estuary and on the beach. The campsite too is usually full of interesting birds – Green Twinspots, Woodward’s Batis, African Goshawk, Livingstone’s Turacos amongst  many more common bush birds.

Eastern Shores was the first place we visited. We went in early and spent till midday there. On entry we had our first and only trip sighting of an European Roller.

We took the Pan Loop to visit Amazibu Pan – it was quiet. However there were several Collared Pratincole on the opposite bank. One obligingly appear on our side for a photo.

Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole

Then we took the Vlei Loop around a large wetland area. Also very quiet but we did manage to see a southern-banded Snake-Eagle in the distance. Apologies for the quality of the photos.

Just after the Mission Rocks turn-off there is a road to the left taking you to the relatively new Mafazana Bird Hide. Again all was quiet here too. It is a 200 metre walk through the forest to the hide. The hide is massive with 3 viewing levels. Be alert to potential predators. Once, on arrival, I exited the car only to be shouted at by Sally to get back in. There was a large male leopard not 30 metres away.

On the way back we had our first sighting of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and a lone Crowned Hornbill.

In total we only identified 56 different bird species during the few hours we were in Eastern Shores.

Western Shores was a lot more productive and yielded 108 different bird species. We were there for a few hours longer.

It is very different from Eastern Shores – large expanses of open grassland, wetland areas, several open ponds, intermittent patches of forest, a very clean and open picnic site, a boardwalk up through the forest to a tree top platform overlooking Lake St. Lucia below as well as a bird hide at the northern end of the Park where the elephant prefer to hang out.

During the drive on the one way loop we came across a number of interesting species – Long-crested eagle, a juvenile fish-Eagle, numerous Black-bellied Bustards, Red-breasted Swallows, Yellow-throated Longclaws and Petronias to name a few. However the highlight for me was the Lemon-breasted Canaries. We had great views of 2 or 3 right in front of us beside the road.

Some photos of birds on this loop:

We came across what we believe to be a Booted Eagle going from one grassy area to another.

And a mystery Cisticola – possibly a Black-backed?

Mystery Cisticola
Mystery Cisticola

At the hide there was little or no water unfortunately but we did see this juvenile African Cuckoo-Hawk on the branch of a distant tree.

African Cuckoo Hawk - juvenile
African Cuckoo Hawk – juvenile

When we visit St. Lucia, Western Shores is a must visit for us.

Back at the campsite we spent some time listening to the birds and walking around the 100 campsites. The Woodward’s Batis serenaded us each morning as well as the Livingstone’s Turacos, Red-capped Robin-Chats (Natal Robin) or RCRC birds, Greenbuls; Eastern Nicator and others.

If it was not windy we went to the estuary and the beach – looking for the Sooty Tern which seems to have habituated the estuary for a number of years now as well as for the Bar-tailed Godwit which we had heard about on Trevor Hardaker’s Rare Birds Report.

On the beach we were fortunate to find a flock of 13 African Black Oystercatchers:

And further down the beach towards the river mouth we spotted numerous terns – mainly Swift Terns but also Little and Common – all distantly on the opposite bank on the river mouth. Amongst them were many waders including Sanderlings; Little Stints; Common Ringed, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers; Common Whimbrel. However the birds that stood out most were the Terek Sandpiper and the Lesser Sand Plover.

We walked the mudflats at the mouth of the estuary – watching out for both Hippos and Crocs when we remembered and weren’t too carried away by the birds. On the way to one area we came across a feeding area full of common Waxbills. They were there on previous occasions when we had visited.

Many small waders were present; Sanderlings; Little Stints; Common Ringed, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers. But there were a number of specials too: Pink-backed Pelican, Grey Plover, Pied Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone:

And then to cap it off we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits.