Boston Outing

Report by Crystelle Wilson

Sunday 24 January 2016

The garden at Gramarye farm at Boston in the KZN Midlands benefitted from recent good rains and provided a flurry of feathered activity before we set off for the river.

Pin-tailed Whydah lorded it over the bird table, keeping sparrows and Village Weavers at bay.

Pin-tailed Whydah
Pin-tailed Whydah

Speckled Mousebird, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cape Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape White-eye were among the resident birds at their regular hangouts.

The Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Southern Red Bishops, Levaillant’s Cisticolas and African Stonechat were noisily busy in the vegetation along the path.

Levaillant's Cisticola
Levaillant’s Cisticola

Then the call went out to check out a Red-collared Widow perched on tall grass. Instead of a red collar, it had a yellow collar, a rare occurrence.

Dave Rimmer explained: “This colour anomaly is called Xanthochromism which presents as red pigment being replaced with yellow pigment. It is exactly the same genetic mutation that gives rise to the yellow forms of the Crimson-breasted Shrike or the Black-collared Barbet.”

The Little Rush and African Reed Warblers were very busy and gave good displays.

From the height of the platform we had excellent views over the grasslands. Noticing Cape Weavers, Fan-tailed Widowbirds, and a Yellow-crowned Bishop.

Decklan Jordaan built on his reputation as an owl spotter by pointing out a Spotted Eagle-Owl very well hidden behind branches in a willow tree along the river and then spotted a Barn Owl just further along.

A number of other birds were spotted on the walk through the grasslands.

There were much by way of plants and other creatures to intrigue people.

On the way back the resident pair of Grey Crowned Cranes was seen, but sadly with only one chick. On Friday evening I photographed the family with three chicks. On Monday morning I could confirm that there was only one chick remaining with the parents.

Once again we finished off the morning with a walk in the forest at Boschberg Cottages. On the way there were about three White Storks in one of the pastures.

White Stork - Decklan Jordaan.
White Stork – Decklan Jordaan.

Bush Blackcap was one of the highlights, while Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Sombre Greenbul and Terrestrial Brownbul also put in appearances as well as White-starred Robin-Chat and Purple-crested and Knysna Turacos.

My SABAP2 atlas list for pentad 2935_3000 had close to 80 species for the day.

Crystelle Wilson

Photos care of: Crystelle Wilson, Hennie and Decklan Jordaan, and the unacknowledged above by Paul Bartho

Bird Valley Estate

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

18 January 2016

Sally and I were invited to visit Bird Valley Estate to assess its birding potential.

Wetland paradise.

Bird Valley Estate is at Satellite Dam just north of Albert Falls in the Midlands, KZN. Satellite Dam is about 1.5 kms in length and on average about 250 metres wide. Most of this is wetlands. There is no habitation on the catchment area .

Bird Valley Estate is nestled in a SAPPI forest. It is a small residential area with 30 large plots around the water’s edge – some with water- skiing rights. So far only 10 plots have been developed.

The estate is surrounded by pine forest. The habitat on the estate includes predominantly grasslands and wetlands. The wetlands are no ordinary wetlands – they are huge. The channel through the wetlands is 7 kilometers from one end to the other.

There are about 8 level grassy campsites with decent ablutions. Cost per night – R60 per person. Unfortunately no cabins or cottages (though that type of accommodation can be found 7 kms away).

Arriving at 06h30, we were met by our host Richard Alcock. We were taken for a ride to the dam wall where we could see into the grasslands below. Then to the bird hide overlooking the extensive wetland area.

And finally on a flat-bottomed boat along the waterways through the wetland area. Most of our time was spent on the water going through the channel so most of our birding was focused on water birds.

In all we identified 60 different species while there. To see our list click here. Many of the birds were in breeding pairs. The Bird Valley Estate’s Bird List is now 115 different bird species (Click here to see their list) and ADU records 219 bird species in the pentad 2920_3025. The ADU bird list can be seen by clicking here.

Some of the specials we saw included: At least 3 pairs of African Pygmy-Geese; White-backed Ducks; African Rail; African Black Ducks; African Marsh-Harrier; numerous Red-backed Mannikins; African Purple Swamphen; Little Bittern and 3 Grey Crowned Cranes.

The mystery bird – any ideas?

This is a special place to visit and I am sure if we spent more time there we would have come away with an impressive bird list.

As this land is privately owned permission is required before any visit is made. Birders interested in visiting are asked to contact Richard Alcock: 082 903 5187. See their website:

 Paul and Sally Bartho

View from the bird hide showing the extent of the wetland area - to the base of the hills in the distance.
View from the bird hide showing the extent of the wetland area – to the base of the hills in the distance.

SAPPI, Stanger again

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Sally and I took the opportunity to visit SAPPI again on Saturday 16 January. It was the day of the Dolphin Coast AGM held in the picnic area so there were many people about.

Overnight rains had raised the level of the water moving the mud banks further into the reeds – so the Crakes were difficult to see clearly.

However we were not disappointed. The Spotted Crake was seen several times preening itself low down in the tall reeds.

The Baillon’s Crakes popped up all around and gave excellent views.

The Blake Crakes were mainly heard and rarely seen. Similarly the African Rails.

Someone saw a Greater Painted Snipe in the same area and another person spotted a pair of Corn Crakes on the drive out.

It was not a great day for photography but here are just a  few of the photos taken.

Sally and I also spent three lunchtimes at low tide outside Wilson’s Wharf looking for the Franklin’s Gull with no success.

Pink-backed Pelican - from Wilson's Wharf
Pink-backed Pelican – from Wilson’s Wharf
African Fish-Eagle - juvenile
African Fish-Eagle – juvenile at SAPPI

Paul & Sally Bartho

SAPPI beckons.

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

8th January 2016

Sally and I set out this morning at 04h45 to try and find the Spotted Crake in at SAPPI, Stanger.

The weather forecast was for heavy rain in Stanger – we were well prepared. Driving down Fields Hill – drizzle; then heavy drizzle as we went through Durban and up to the tolls. However when we got to SAPPI it was overcast but dry – and it stayed that way all morning.

On arrival we headed for the hide. Fortunately other birders had got there first and locked the gate behind them so we could not get in. Instead we headed down the road towards the picnic site. There we met Nicolette and Ticky Forbes sitting quietly waiting for the Striped Crake to re-appear. They had seen it 5 minutes before we arrived.

I returned to the car and fetched our chairs to join them. We sat for some time with no sign of the Crake. However many different birds made an appearance keeping our eyes alert.

More people arrived . We waited. Then after a while some of us trundled down the road to see if we could get a better view. Suddenly out popped a Baillon’s Crake – close by. Big excitement – a special bird. As the morning went on the Baillon’s Crake kept making an appearance. I was told that 4 were seen together yesterday.

After an hour the Spotted Crake was seen and showed itself well – a lifer for many of us.

At times both Crakes were seen together.

Spotted and Baillon’s Crakes together.

Nicolette told us that the Spotted Crake is quite wary of movement and it is best to sit quietly and wait. I think she is right because after our first view of the Crake, with people moving about for a better view, it disappeared for a long time and was only seen briefly once later on.

We then had some more excitement with a small wader which looked unusual. At first it was believed to be a Curlew Sandpiper based on its down curved bill. But questions arose because it did not appear to have an eye-brow and had an unusually plain back for a Curlew Sandpiper. It was on its own and liked to forage away from the mud into the reeds – also unusual. We waited and took numerous photos just in case. Could it possibly crown the day by being a Dunlin. No. It flew and we noticed it’s white not dark central rump – it was as we first suspected a Curlew Sandpiper.

Around us we saw Goliath Herons; Black-crowned Night-Herons; Greater Flamingos and their young amongst the many other typical species usually seen at SAPPI.

Then as we were leaving we observed 3 raptors circling high above us. One was a Yellow-billed Kite, another raptor was of similar size with a rounded tail and they were bombing a larger bird below which I think may be a Palm-Nut vulture but the photos are rather poor.

Overall a well spent morning.

Paul and Sally Bartho

A brief visit to Tala Private Game Reserve

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

4th January 2016

Tala Game Reserve is located in Eston between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

Directions: Follow the N3 from Durban and exit at Camperdown – exit 57. Turn left at the end of the off-ramp and continue to the T-junction. Turn left and continue for about 20 kms to the entrance of the reserve on the left.

There is an entrance fee of R80 per vehicle and R70 per person. However I have negotiated with the General Manager – Mike – for BirdLife Port Natal members to enter at a cost of R80 per vehicle. The driver must produce their BLPN Membership card. Any passenger who is not a BLPN member will pay R70. Note: no cash will be taken – only cards.

Recently seen on the Reserve: a pair of Blue Cranes and juvenile. Both of the other Cranes – Grey Crowned and Wattled – have also been seen there recently.

Our visit was primarily to show my American relatives the animals in the Reserve. However we did manage to do some birding.

Even before we entered there were many Ostriches to be seen on the hillsides and round the dam.

Our first surprise occurred just after the entrance – on the left by the water’s edge. An African Openbill.

Also in close proximity were numerous Black-winged Lapwings in the shade.

At the water’s edge we observed many Egyptian Geese with several South African Shelduck and Cape Shovelers among them. There were also Red-knobbed Coots; Little Egret; Greenshank and a Wood Sandpiper.

Looking across the water to the hide there were many other waterbirds: Grey and Black-headed Herons; Cattle Egrets; African Spoonbills; Reed and White-breasted Cormorants; more South African Shelduck and lots more Egyptian Geese.

Flying overhead at the hide was an African Marsh Harrier while a family of White-throated Swallows shared unperturbed our enjoyment in the hide.

Driving around we came across a small pond with 4 White Rhinos enjoying a rest in the mud and behind them on the far bank was a solitary Southern Bald Ibis.

Southern Bald Ibis
Southern Bald Ibis

Then in the picnic site sharing a few crumbs were Village Weavers; a lone Red-billed Quelea with a yellow bill; a Southern Red Bishop and a Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.

And on the way out a lone juvenile Barn Swallow with interesting flight feather colouring.

In all we identified 55 different species. Click here to view our list.

This is an excellent place to photograph waterbirds. Good for a photographic outing.

Paul and Sally Bartho


Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

28th to 30th December 2015

This was intended as a family gathering but the location is spectacular and the birding was good so I thought to share the experience with readers of this blog.

Injisuthi is located in the Drakensberg Giant’s Castle Reserve (E29.07.140; S29.26.441). Directions: Follow the N3 from Durban. Take exit 179 to Loskop. After 20 kms turn left at the brown sign for Injisuthi. The camp is a further 30 kms along this quite variable road. The main issue is potholes and it can be narrow in places – mostly tar.

The scenery gets more spectacular as you approach the camp.

There are 16 four bed (2 bedroomed) cottages; one 8 bed cottage in grassy and shady grounds. There is also a large grassy campsite with 3 two bed Safari tents.

For prices and booking visit:

The camp has numerous walks some quite daunting. The habitat is typical of the Drakensberg: riverine, pools, wetlands, rocky slopes, grassland, forests and mountains.

Rock Pools
Rock Pools

Power is only available in the cottages at certain times: 08h00 to 10h00 and 18h00 to 22h00. There is no power in the campsites.

The campsites are grassy; slightly slopey with some shade here and there. Costs R90 per person per night – no discounts which I find surprising. There are 2 ablution blocks – which I would imagine to be inadequate when the camp is full.

An extensive camp site before the well treed cottage area.
An extensive camp site before the well treed cottage area.

Whilst my brother-in-law and my two sisters went for long walks, Sally and I stayed round the camp enjoying the birding. We did take a testing walk to the Yellowwood Forest.

We found a Dusky Flycatcher’s nest with 3 babies.

Red-chested and Black Cuckoos were calling all the time – with an occasional Klaas’s and Diderick’s joining in.

Outside one of the cottages was a Red-chested Cuckoo juvenile squeaking for its Cape Wagtail foster parent to feed it. I was lucky to see it catch a caterpillar perhaps for the first time feeding itself.

Under the eves of another cottage there was a Rock Martin’s nest – we saw a parent fly out.

Rock Martin nest
Rock Martin nest

The walk to the Yellowwood Forest was worth it despite the steepness and rocky nature of the path. It did, however, put pressure on Sally’s knees following her double knee replacement 6 weeks earlier. The forest is not too extensive but between us we spotted White-starred Robin, a pair of Bush Blackcaps, Cape Rock-Thrushes and a family of Cape Batises.

The grassland beside the camp gave us good sightings of Southern Red Bishops; Lazy, Levaillant’s and Wailing Cisticolas; African Firefinch; an adult Black Flycatcher feeding its young; Cape Grassbirds nesting; Neddicky; African Stonechat; Red-collared Widowbirds; Malachite Sunbirds; Swee Waxbill; Spectacled Weavers nesting in the trees beside the grassland area and a Dark-capped Yellow Warbler.

At a bridge we saw up to 4 African Olive Pigeons.

In all we identified 53 different species. Click here to see the list.

This is possibly a good venue for a weekend away – only 2.5 to 3 hours from Durban.

Paul and Sally Bartho

In case you missed it – Click here to read the report on the African Skimmer at Kosi Bay.