Four Days in Kamberg

Paul and Sally Bartho

1 to 5 November 2015

On the spur of the moment Sally and I went to stay in a cottage at Glengarry in the Kamberg area – taking advantage of “stay three nights and get the fourth free” which was available at the time.

The weather certainly was very changeable. We had a taste of all four seasons in our time there.  On arrival the temperature was over 30 degrees Centigrade with a warm breeze. The next two days were windy and cold (between 10 C and 16 C) and snow appeared on the higher mountains and frost on the ground in front of the cottages. Then the next two days were a pleasant 20 C.

The location is quite central for the birding we wanted to do. Up the road to Highmoor, close-by to Kamberg in the Maloti Drakensberg Park and a short drive to the Crane Sanctuary on the way to Giant’s Castle. We did get another treat – but more about that later.

Glengarry cottages overlook several wetland areas, the river with the mountains as a backdrop – hard to beat as a view to wake up with every morning. There are also several areas for camping.

In the gloom of late afternoon we had our first treat – an Alpine Swift flying over the wetland in front of the cottage.

The first full day there we headed up to Highmoor – a slow drive to see what we could find. The snow could be clearly seen on the higher mountains in the distance.

On a couple of occasions we actually ventured out of the car despite the cold and biting wind. On one of these occasions we thought we heard the call of the Drakensberg Rockjumper.

At another stop we got out bravely to see Malachite Sunbirds among non-blooming Leonotis. And further up the valley we found Buff-streaked Chats and a Ground Woodpecker and Cape Rock-Thrush.

And in Highmoor on our last day we walked to the first dam and saw and heard Blue Cranes flying in the distance. There were several Jackal Buzzards overhead otherwise the birding was quite quiet. There was a mystery raptor but the photos below are pretty poor.

Our second full day we headed for Kamberg Nature Reserve. Again the weather was bitterly cold but the sky clear and snow on the mountains.

A pair of Grey-crowned Cranes made an appearance on the way to the Kamberg Nature Reserve.

Grey-crowned Crane
Grey-crowned Crane

In the Park there were a number of Bokmakierie which did their best to avoid my camera – their success not mine! Long-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds were seen in the grassland as well as Yellow Bishops and Cape Longclaws. On one of the slopes on a nearby rock a Buff-streaked Chat made an appearance. Overhead we had a sighting of a Cape Vulture.

However the excitement for us was seen right in front of the camp amongst the daisies and also next to the closed trout hatchery – in each case a pair of Red-winged Francolins.

We did encounter a mystery bird which at first was thought to be a Cape Canary but the pictures in different lights baffled us. Click on them to enlarge.

After a morning in Kamberg we toddled along to pay a visit to the Crane Sanctuary – passing the Glengarry turnoff and heading towards Giant’s Castle. Along the way a view of the Giant.

Head and body of the sleeping Giant.
Head and body of the sleeping Giant.

On the side road to the Sanctuary there were horses and many foals ambling beside the road unattended and not fenced in. The visit to the sanctuary was brief walking round and observing each of the three Crane species and a poor flightless Lanner Falcon.

On the way out we had sightings of obliging Long-tailed Widowbirds, again Yellow Bishops and a Black-shouldered Kite on the power line easily overlooked by the numerous  bird deterrents hanging on the line.

Then as we approached the main road there was an African Marsh-Harrier quartering the fields and a pair of Southern Bald Ibis.

Beside the nearby dam there were a pair of South African Shelduck among the accompanying Hadedas and Geese.

The grounds of Glengarry provided us with the best birding. On each walk we were befriended by two Labs and an Australian Sheep dog. And despite their presence the birds were not shy in showing themselves.

In the wetlands we heard the call of an African Rail, an African Reed-Warbler and what Sally thinks was a Red-chested Flufftail – although I thought it sounded more like the Striped. Sally is more likely to be correct. Would have been great to have seen either – lifers for me.

Around the wetland area beside the river there were several sightings of Dark-capped Yellow Warblers, the calls of Lesser Swamp Warblers and a Cape Grassbird, the sighting of a calling Little Rush-Warbler, Forest Canaries. And in the river an African Black Duck. Also present was a Red-throated Wryneck – heard but not seen. And an Olive Woodpecker pecking avidly into the side of a dead branch.

Bokmakieries called all round our cottage but were impossible to find. And around the gardens there was much bird life.

There were a pair of Cape Sparrows nesting in the top of our chimney – so there were no evening fires for us.

Cape Sparrows nesting in our chimney
Cape Sparrows nesting in our chimney

And from our balcony we regularly watched a pair of African Hoopoes taking turns flying from their nest behind, all the way down to the wetlands and back again – we assume with food for their young.

African Hoopoe
African Hoopoe

Another perplexing sighting was that of a Cardinal Woodpecker on the roof of the cottage next door. Its head from a back view showed black with a  red crown – the front had a brown frons which is not visible in the photo. It was not until we reviewed our field guides that we realised that this is the natural head colouration of a juvenile Cardinal.

Probably the most unexpected sighting was the appearance of an Osprey flying over the wetlands.

And finally another mystery raptor which we think is an Black Sparrowhawk due to its long tail rather than a Jackal Buzzard because of the rufous appearance in the tail.

And now for the treat I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We were talking to Gareth (one of the sons of the owner who manage Glengarry) about birds in the area and he mentioned that he would contact a local pig farmer to see if he could take us to visit and see what they were doing. So at 08h30 on the Wednesday we headed to the farm. We left the car in one of the fields and walked several hundred metres uphill to a fenced off area to keep out the Jackals.

Note that this farm is private and can only be visited with special permission – best done through Gareth.

In the fenced off area there were a number of dead pigs (dead from natural causes). And nearby there were three groups of many Cape Vultures. Gareth told us that up to 350 Cape Vultures have been seen there at one time and that there were also six pairs of Lammergeiers in the area. We dipped on the Lammergeiers.

Quite a sight seeing all the vultures waiting while Yellow-billed Kites and White-backed Ravens took turns on the carcasses.

Numerous Cape Vultures were flying overhead and then from a valley below we saw a massive flock of black birds take to the sky – all White-necked Ravens. Quite a sight.

The treat did have its downside. The fields were being sprayed with the waste from the pigs – very very smelly. You got used to it while watching the birds but it was ever present. The worst was yet to come. On returning to Glengarry we noticed that the smell prevailed. We realised it was not only on the soles of our shoes but in everything we were wearing! And in the car! Fortunately the stench goes away with time, a lot of scrubbing and several clothes washes. Still it was worth the experience of seeing so many Cape Vultures together.

In the short time we were there with all the weather thrown at us we did manage to identify 106 different species in the area. Click here to see the list of birds we identified in the whole area.

A place well worth the visit.

Paul & 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