Trip report – KwaXimba Conservancy

Trip report – KwaXimba Conservancy, Umgeni Valley

(Sunday 11 October 2015)

The October Sunday outing was a new venue for BLPN birders, and one I was looking forward to sharing with many of the clubs birders. Unfortunately it was not until road signs went up in mid-September advertising the route of the Amashova cycle race that it dawned on me the cycle race and the bird outing shared the same date 18 October.

In order to get down into the Umgeni Valley one needs to cross the R103 near Inchanga. With the road being closed on race day, and not wanting to cancel the outing it was decided to bring it forward one week to 11 October. Despite notices going out on the net via KZN Birds and a few Facebook groups of the date change the turnout was low with only seven of us assembling at the iSiThumba Cultural Village.

The first birds of the day were mostly of the airborne brigade including African Palm Swifts, Lesser Striped Swallows, Yellow-billed Kite, Black Saw-wing and a pair of Lanner Falcons, accompanied with background sounds of a Crested Barbet vocalizing and a cacophony of chattering from the Village Weaver colony nesting in the trees behind the main building of the cultural centre.

Our accompanying hosts for the day were Jeffery and Shaks who assist with various tours organized through Durban Green Corridor and with support from Kloof Conservancy. Following a brief insight to some cultural facts about the area, we proceeded down to the river with Shaks as our escort for the morning.

The short walk down yielded Blue Waxbill, Rattling Cisticola and White-bellied Sunbird, and not far off came the sounds of a Southern Boubou. Hang on, could it not be an African Hoopoe? After much debate and comparing calls from the Roberts app we agreed to settle on Southern Boubou.

There is some great scenery along the Umgeni River, wild places through Eastern Bushveld Thicket where you are at one with nature, great views from various spots, interaction with the local community and just amazing natural beauty.

We meandered along the river edge picking up on various water birds including Black Crake, African Sacred Ibis, African Jacana, Yellow-billed, African Black and White-faced Ducks, a single Three-banded Plover, and a Purple Heron foraging along the far bank.

On the far bank we were treated by a pair of Malachite Kingfishers popping in and out of a hole in the river bank.

The river is fringed with Bushveld thicket which gave us good views of Chinspot Batis, Cape Glossy Starlings, African Paradise Flycatchers in abundant numbers, Little Bee-eaters, and Orange-breasted Bush-shrike.

And on the way back Sally heard and found an Olive Bushshrike. Then we saw a jaw-dropping Golden-breasted Bunting foraging on the ground.

As with all birding trips there are the inevitable birds heard but not seen, including the ever elusive Gorgeous Bush-shrike, as well as Diederik and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Black-headed Oriole, and White-browed Scrub-Robin.

Views of the imposing isiThumba Mountain – an iconic spot in the area had us wondering if we’d see any special raptors as Verreaux’s Eagles have been recorded in the area before. Our luck was out but we continued to enjoy the sounds and sights of the valley.

The final tally for the day was 73 species either seen or heard, with all records submitted to SABAP2 on one Full Protocol card and one Ad hoc card.

Our bird of the day was a pair of Long-billed Crombecs entertaining us in the thorn trees whilst enjoying our post walk beverages and nibbles from the picnic hampers.

A worthy mention must be made for the Three-banded Plover due to its sighting being the first SABAP record for pentad 2940_3040!

A full species list for the day can be viewed by clicking here. Many thanks to Sandi, Elena, Ismail, Paul and Sally for venturing out to new territory, and of course to my special birding buddy (Penny) for accompanying me and sharing my passion for birds and the outdoors.

Yours in birding,
Dave Rimmer

 

Mhlopeni Weekend

Report by Paul Bartho

23 to 27 September 2015

Mhlopeni Nature Reserve is located between Greytown and Muden in KZN. Mhlopeni (Place of white stones) is located in a rain shadow area of the Tugela river basin. Part of the dry valley bush veld, considered to be the most degraded veld type in KZN.  It is a Natural Heritage site.

Ancient and modern history provides a glimpse into archaeological sites, from early stone to iron age, findings, dating back to 250 000 years ago.  Holding artifacts of these eras is a truly unique experience.

The weekend outing was organised by Cheryl and John Bevan. Five people took the cottage and six of us the campsite (an additional 2 joined the campsite group later).

Once you leave the tar road the route takes you through some challenging tracks – driving over rocky outcrops, and rough ground where high clearance is preferred. Having said that there were several regular cars which made it.

The cottage is well located overlooking bush veld to the dry river bed. It is well equipped despite the lack of electricity. It can sleep 8 though the curtained partitions may be off-putting for some. One loo and shower.

The campsite was being completed as we arrived. There is a boma and one loo with shower. Here also there is no power but there was plenty of sun to keep the solar panels busy. Although there was just enough space for all of us it meant those at the far end would have had a challenge on departure – trying to get past the other campers. Fortunately we all left together.

As a Bird Sanctuary, Mhlopeni is abundant with many birds of prey, and being on the confluence of the north, south, coastal and inland species distribution limits over 230 species are recorded on their bird list.

Some of the birds photographed:

Of course other critters were seen including a gang of what I thought to be hyenas being chased by the camp dog. Butterflies need id.

Rustic walking paths provided us with vistas and sounds of the diversity of healthy dry valley bush veld.

Most mornings we followed the road and paths along the dry river bed.  with its intriguing geology.

One afternoon we visited the Mooi River which was flowing and forms part of the northern boundary of the property. This is a dead end track which several people mistakenly took on the way to the camp. It has dreadful dongas and is very narrow with steep sides to the river. Once on this track it is only possibly to turn around at the end – fortunately for those towing a trailer!

The weather was extremely hot after about 9 or 10 in the morning. By then birding was over till later in the afternoon. Most sat around a shady spot enjoying what cool breeze there was.

Much of the birding was done round the cottage and campsite. In the river bed next to the campsite there was a Schotia brachypetala in full bloom.

We took chairs and sat in the shade and watched the comings and goings of a wide variety of birds – mostly Sunbirds Amethyst (male and females) Greater Double-collared (male and females) White-bellied (male and female) but there were also Olive Bushshrike, Cape White-eyes, Green Woodhoopoes, Barbets, Weavers, Woodpeckers nearby. Birds were constantly coming and going.

One Sunbird in particular came regularly and called every time it arrived staying at the top of the tree, taking its nectar and flying off. We guess that it was possibly feeding young. The problem with this bird – if it is what we believe – it is out of range. An out of range form with photos has been submitted following our atlas card being sent in. The call of the bird was recognised as that of a Grey Sunbird and you can make your own judgement from the photos below. This was not the only place we had seen and heard the Grey Sunbird while we were there.

Altogether we compiled a bird list of 110 different species. Click here to see our list.

Paul

Tanglewood Farm Nature Reserve

Report by: Elena Russell

Saturday 3 October 2015

Last year it took us 3 attempts to bird Tanglewood Farm Nature Rerserve before we had decent weather. This year we had a perfect sunny day, the hillside had been burnt with wild flowers everywhere. We had an excellent turnout – must have been over 30 people: members, visitors and a few latecomers. Our bird count wasn’t too shabby either in the region of 88 – things are hotting up for summer.

We split up into 2 groups and on entering the forest the one group had wonderful views of a pair of Narina Trogon unfortunately the second group dipped but we got to see the photos!!

Natal Robins (Red-capped Robin Chats) called from hidden depths within the forest and very occasionally seen. Olive Thrush fossicked around in the fallen leaves, African Paradise-Flycatchers in abundance, not too many Black and a few Dusky Flycatchers.

A pair of Dark-backed Weavers had made their nest overhanging the forest path, much time was spent watching the pair bringing in nesting material and listening to the lovely call (the Afrikaans name is so evocative ‘bosmusikant’).

On the forest walk Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou, Klaas’s & African Emerald Cuckoos, Tambourine Doves, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Cameropteras, Sombre Greenbuls, Purple-crested and Knysna Turacos, Black-collared Barbets, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds – sunbirds: Amethyst, Olive, Collared and Greater Double-collared – plus lots of bird calls.

Walking up to the Cabin (aka the Boathouse) for morning tea, a pair of Crowned Eagles put on a magnificent display.

Afrcan Crowned Eagle
Afrcan Crowned Eagle

Earlier on we had African Goshawk, Yellow-billed Kites all day long, plus White-necked Raven, a Black Sparrowhawk and a Long-crested Eagle also put in an appearance.

Around the dams we had Grey and Black-headed Herons, Hamerkops and Hadeda Ibis everywhere. In the skies there were White-rumped, African Palm, African Black and Little Swifts, as well as Lesser-striped Swallows and Black Saw-wings.

Hamerkop
Hamerkop

After tea we walked the grassland area and down to another dam where the Yellow Weavers are nesting.

Yellow Weaver nest building
Yellow Weaver nest building

We also had Cape, Village, Spectacled and Thick-billed Weavers. The grassland yielded some good birding, Yellow-throated Longclaws, Streaky headed Seedeaters, Croaking Cisticolas, Grassbirds, Red-backed and Bronze Mannikins, Pin-tailed Whydah, Fantailed Widowbirds, Rufous-naped Larks and again lots lots more!!

Lots of butterflies and other critters:

and some really wonderful wild flowers. Just before entering the forest we came across a ground orchid Disa Woodii (looks like a glowing candle – Elsa Pooley) – birding can be such fun!!.

We returned to the cabin for a braai-brunch and the bird list – much hilarity and mirth- especially when we got all excited over a Black Stork that actually was a Woolly-necked Stork (can you believe it was going to be ‘Bird of the Day’).

Thanks to the guys who got the braai going, thanks to Sandi, John and Paul for the pics and a mega thank you to Caryl for allowing us to visit Tanglewood Farm.

Jenny lost a lens cap (if anybody picked it up) and I have a very nice bright blue camping chair in my boot – any takers? The striped pink hat has been claimed!!

Cheers

Elena

Weenen

Saturday 26 September 2015

Paul Bartho

Four of us decided to visit Weenen Game Reserve on Saturday 26 September. It was very dry but there was water at their hides. Although we drove around most of the reserve we spent the most of our time enjoying the central hide.

A pair of Cape Wagtails have a nest right above the entrance to the left part of the hide. They kept us entertained coming back and forth to feed their young – skittish at first.

Click here to see our bird list.

Here are some photos taken while there.