Kosi Bay and the African Skimmer

16th to 20th December 2015

This was meant to be a family holiday at Kosi Bay and Umfolozi showing special areas to my sister and her husband from Montana – not a birding adventure.

Doug and Tania went up early with by RSA sister and husband and another couple. Sally and I followed 3 days later. Sally and I decided to break the journey with an overnight stop in Mkuze. We spent part of the afternoon and early the next morning driving around Mkuze.

There is now a new enclosed area from the car park to the kuMasinga Hide (the picnic area remains for the more adventurous or foolhardy). Lions have frequently been seen in the area. This green snake was seen in the fencing next to the entrance gate.

The kuMahlahla hide also has a new entrance tunnel and surprisingly there was a lot of water in front of the hide.

The kwaMalibala hide near the campsite remains incomplete. Nsumo pan was not at its fullest.

The weather was quite windy and the birds evasive.

The next morning we continued to Kosi Bay.

We were staying at the TEBA lodge right at the river mouth past the day visitors parking area. We were fortunate to stay there as it is reserved for Chamber of Mines employees.

After a windy stormy first night

we got up and noticed many terns on the sandbank some 300 metres in front of the lodge. It was still quite windy and the tide was rising. That was the 17th December.

With the scope I noticed an unusual bird amongst them and my immediate thought was African Skimmer but I felt I must be wrong so I called to Sally to run and have a look – not a clever thing to say to her just a month after a double knee replacement. Anyway she hurried over took one look and confirmed my thoughts.

The initial photos were quite ropey in those conditions with the bird so far away but it was enough for an ID. Not expecting a second chance they had to do.

As the tide rose and the day visitors arrived so the terns flew into the centre of the mouth on a distant sandbank. Later as the tide receded I took a chance and waded out to the sandbank – camera and binocs held above my head in places. Eventually on the sandbank with the terns I searched for the Skimmer – and there it was.

As I approached so I started taking shots. I managed to get up to 50 metres from the terns and the African Skimmer was still among them. Also on the sandbank were numerous waders – Sanderlings, Grey, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers and a lone Bar-tailed Godwit. The terns included Swift, Sandwich, Common, Little, Lesser Crested and Caspian – a nice variety.

The next day the weather was calm and hot and the terns did not return to the river mouth. We thought they had gone.

On a short walk in the pristine forest we managed to see and hear a number of forest birds and other critters.

As an aside my sister’s husband – Doug – from Montana went for an afternoon stroll along the beach towards Mozambique. Over an hour later he returned and mentioned in passing that he had seen a large Turtle going up the beach! We were taken aback by his casualness to such a great sighting. He had no idea how privileged he was to see such a creature in broad daylight. When we retraced his steps the Turtle had long gone. All we got was a photo of the tracks it left behind. Can anyone ID which Turtle it was from this photo?

Turtle tracks
Turtle tracks

Then on the 19th Sally and I took a short drive round to a lookout point over the fish trap area and spotted a tern roost in the far distance but could hardly ID any of the birds even through the scope.

So later that day as the tide was receding I took a long walk from the lodge round the headland to the fish trap area, trundling more than half way to the entrance of the first lake – passing through a deep fast moving trench in the process.

As I was approaching so the terns were flying overhead and out to sea. I thought I was too late. However many remained and the African Skimmer was still amongst them. I managed to get reasonably close for several more photos.

I believe they roost at the mouth on southerly windy days and in the fish trap area when it is calm. The African Skimmer was content among the terns and not being chased away.

Many different waders were about including Bar-tailed Godwit; Greater Flamingos; Grey, Common Ringed, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers; Grey-headed Gulls; Ruddy Turnstones; Greenshanks; White-breasted and Reed Cormorants; Sanderlings apart from the 6 different terns – Caspian, Lesser Crested, Swift, Sandwich, Common and Little.

Apart from the seabirds we had two special sightings of Palm-Nut Vultures. An adult circled overhead and came down right next to a friend to retrieve a morsel nearby. Later a juvenile visited the lodge landing in a tree not 10 metres from where we were sitting. 

In all we recorded 52 different species without making any real effort to walk through the pristine forest. To see the list click here.

Quite a special place.

PS Access. A permit is required which can be obtained at the Kosi Bay Lakes Reception – see details at http://www.kznwildlife.com/accommodatin-rates-in-kosi-bay.html.

The road from the gate to the Day Visitors parking area is about 3 to 4 kms. It requires a 4×4 vehicle – or you can hike down (don’t fancy the walk back!). Alternatively the Lodge right before the entry gate may be an alternative to try for transport if you don’t have a 4×4.

African Skimmer - in flight
African Skimmer – in flight

From here our family went to Umfolozi tented camp for 2 nights. We entered at the Hluhluwe gate and drove through the park to Mpila camp on a comfortably cool day.

As we approached the gate and before entering the park we spotted an elephant strolling along a road inside. Then within the first kilometre we saw a pack of 4 lions sheltering in the deep shade of a bush right beside the road. A herd of Buffalo and 2 White Rhinos amongst them were on the hillside behind. A fantastic start for our family from Montana.

African Elephant
African Elephant

And beside us we had a view of this beautiful bird and a sweet young Zebra.

Further along at a viewsite overlooking the Hluhluwe river there was a large herd of elephants with Buffalo and White Rhinos amongst them.

Elephants, Buffalo and White rhinos.
Elephants, Buffalo and White rhinos (in the water at the far end). More elephants with their young were beneath us.

The focus on the time there was on mammals. However we did get a chance to take a few photos of some birds.

And then there is this bird. We debated its ID. The first impression was that it was a Kite sized bird with white undersides to its head and a black line passing through its eye – suggesting Osprey. However we thought it was an odd bird to see in the bush. We then considered juvenile Martial Eagle – but its shape and size seemed wrong. What do you think?

The second day there was quite uncomfortable except for the air conditioning in the car. It was registering 44 degrees on the car temperature gauge!

Mfafa hide has a new entrance tunnel from the car park – otherwise quiet except for the Mocking Cliff-Chats.

The Bejane hide was also quiet – perhaps we were too early. Its entrance had also been newly refurbished.

But the most pleasant surprise was that the tar road from Hluhluwe camp right through to Mpila had been repaved! No Potholes!

In the course of the second day we came across a Hyena which popped out as we neared the camp and a pair of mating Lions near the Umfolozi gate.

On the way home we decided to pop in to St. Lucia for a short visit. It was a cool overcast morning. Stopping to chat with one of the game viewing vehicles in Umfolozi we learn that Wild Dogs, a Leopard and the mating Lions had all been spotted along the way to the gate. Unfortunately we were unable to locate any – rats.

And on to St. Lucia to see the Hippos and Crocodiles. Readily visible both at the bridge in to St. Lucia and at the mouth.

Walking along the boardwalk to the sea a snake was spotted. Black end to its tail is all I managed to photograph.

Snake under the board walk.

A few birds were photographed in the car park area next to the board walk.

And to finish a repeat of the bird that we least expected to see – An African Skimmer.

African Skimmer – in flight

Paul and Sally Bartho

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