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.
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.
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