King’s Grant Country Retreat

12 to 14 February 2016

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Sally and I went to Ixopo to King’s Grant Country Retreat on request to prepare a bird list for them.

For over one hundred years King’s Grant was run by the resident Mariannhill Monks as the St Isidor Mission and Millworks. The estate also boasts a number of other historical sites such as the solitary Brickfield, Murchison House, the original homestead of Dick King’s daughter and a dam built by Italian prisoners of war. More on the history can be read on the following link:

King’s Grant is nestled in the valley of the St Isidore Estate and is surrounded by lush farmlands, dams, bushveld and wetlands.

King’s Grant is a BirdLife South Africa Birder-friendly establishment. Its current rates can be seen by clicking here. And members of BirdLife South Africa and its affiliated bird clubs are offered discount rates upon presentation of their membership cards. These discounts are only applicable on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and are 20% for one night, 25% for 2 nights and 30% for three nights.

Our birding over the weekend started midday Friday in glorious sunshine. The next morning we awoke to a very misty morning followed by thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening. Sunday morning was clear blue sky.

The farm fell into one pentad for our atlassing.

Pentad 3005_3005 Satellite Map
Pentad 3005_3005 Satellite Map

Most of our birding was done from our vehicle. There were several areas where we could have walked but birds were less nervous of vehicles. As this was a huge farm there were many habitats to investigate. Unfortunately we did not manage to visit the forest and cliff-face area.

In all we did manage to identify 102 bird species. Of which seven were new for the pentad: Amur Falcon; Goliath, Purple and Squacco Herons; Yellow-throated Longclaw; Red-backed Shrike and African Purple Swamphen. In all ADU has listed 202 bird species in the pentad excluding the seven new species we identified. Click here to see the potential bird list for the pentad and the birds we identified.

One of the first incidents we had on arrival occurred in a tree near reception. Birds were going crazy. On closer inspection we found out why – a large green snake.


Probably after whatever was in this almost unnoticeable nest.

Nest in Green Mamba tree.
Nest in Green Mamba tree.

Our next experience was equally exciting. A juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo being fed by a Cape Robin-Chat.

Sitting on the verandah of the cottage we watched an array of birds in the gardens below us – some actually rather close. Drakensberg Prinias, Southern Black Flycatchers, Fork-tailed Drongos and Amethyst Sunbirds in the Agapanthus below.

On a drive to Schreibers Dam and the Thornveld area we drove alongside fields of maize. On the other size was a large open wild grassland area teaming with Widowbirds – Fan-tailed, Red-collared and White-winged with their harems in tow. Southern Red Bishops and Common Waxbills were also present. Black-crowned Tchagras and Yellow-throated Longclaws were also calling. And in the distant gum trees a Black Sparrowhawk sat exposed.

The main Dam – Isidore – was very quiet. We found the most activity at Schreibers Dam. Common Moorhens; Little Grebes; Yellow-billed Ducks; Goliath, Purple and Squacco Herons; Red-billed Teals.

On another dam there were a pair of South African Shelducks.

South African Shelduck - male and female (white head)
South African Shelduck – male and female (white head)

Driving around we came across Grey Crowned Cranes on three separate occasions over the time there – probably three in all. A pair together and a single bird on Saturday and a pair together on Sunday. There were also numerous raptors seen – African Fish-Eagles; Yellow-billed Kites, Long-crested Eagles and many Steppe Buzzards.

Then on our last morning we found two more birds not previously recorded in the pentad. Ten Amur Falcons and a Red-backed Shrike.

And just a f final word. There used to be two pairs of Blue Swallows on the farm in the open grasslands above the Isidore Dam until quite recently.

It was a most enjoyable stay in a very attractive part of the Midlands.

Paul and Sally Bartho







SAPPI Weekend Away

6 to 8 February 2016

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

On Friday 5th February, Sally and I made an impromptu decision to visit SAPPI over the weekend. We decided to take our off-road caravan to Salt Rock Caravan Park and camp there for two nights. The aim being to get up early and be at SAPPI at dawn each morning – the best time, we understood, to see the Crakes.

Saturday afternoon we did a recce to see what was about but the Crakes were not obliging. However spending some time in the hide we did spot a Lesser Moorhen rummaging on the treated hyacinth (which is receding  thankfully).

From the hide we had a splendid array of waterbirds. In particular numerous White-backed Pelicans up to 17 at one stage.

There were several Yellow-billed Egrets and Great Egrets – the pictures show well the facial features helping with their ID. Note the gape does not extend behind the eye in the Yellow-billed Egret. Also interesting, was the colour of the Great Egret’s yellow bill with its black tip.

The next morning we were there before 05h00 – still dark and dawn was approaching.

Dawn approaches.
Dawn approaches.

Not long after that people started arriving.

With the melee of people watching out for the Crakes we took a walk round the other side through the picnic site.

During the course of the morning we spotted 2 separate pairs of Spotted Crakes. Surprisingly the Baillon’s Crakes were hardly seen but an African Rail made a very public display.

The Western Marsh Harrier was spotted but we dipped on that one. The Lesser Moorhen was again seen from the hide on the hyacinth. No sign of the White-winged Flufftail, Eurasian Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron nor the Corn Crakes – not that we expected to be lucky enough to find any of these birds.

Sunday lunch was spent overlooking the Tugela in Harold Johnson NR. It was good to see the river so full. Apparently the rains were further inland about two weeks ago.


Monday morning, we again arrived early at SAPPI and a few people turned up. A pair of Spotted Crakes made several appearances in the scrub but were difficult to see clearly. Baillon’s Crakes were absent. We did however see a Water Mongoose in front of the hide.

Water Mongoose
Water Mongoose

It was a pleasant way to spend the weekend.