Bird Valley Estate revisited.

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

22 to 24 March 2016

Sally and I decided to revisit Bird Valley Estate – just north of Albert Falls in the midlands – to explore their extensive wetlands. We invited several friends to come and camp with us. In all we were 9 people. The campsite has good ablutions and overlooks the dam.

Views of the wetlands.

Birds flitted amongst us and at night we heard the African bush call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar and also a Barn Owl.

We planned to spend two nights in the campsite. However it is not that far from Durban and a day visit is also feasible. Most of us arrived by Tuesday lunchtime, set up camp and then went to the bird hide for the late afternoon.

Paths had been freshly cut to the hide.

Bird Hide

Birding at the hide was relatively quiet, however the close proximity of African Pygmy-Geese made up for that.

On the way back to our cars along the causeway to the hide, a falcon-like bird was seen on top of a distant dead tree. Even with the scope it was hard to make out clearly especially as the light was fading. Our observations: yellow eye ring; yellow legs; black malar stripes giving the head the look of a helmet; a white collar with a black mohican stripe from the head to the neck (white each side thereof) and we thought we saw rufous vent and legs. With this scant info we searched the books and came to the conclusion that it was most likely to be a Eurasian Hobby. But a better view was desired especially of its front.

Falcon-like bird from a great distance
Falcon-like bird from a great distance

The next morning we set out at 07h00 on the motorised pontoon with our host Richard Alcock as captain. The four hour trip took us up into the wetlands through narrow channels. Of the seven kilometres of channels we never managed to get to the end – about one kilometre short.

The bird life was great. We managed to see numerous African Pygmy Geese and White-backed Ducks – sometimes together. Even a family of four African Pygmy Geese in a tree.

At least three different pairs of Grey-crowned Cranes were observed.

Also identified – the occasional Black Duck, Malachite Kingfishers, Black Crakes, Southern Red Bishops – still in breeding plumage, Reed Cormorants, Darters, Diderick Cuckoo, African Fish-Eagles, African Marsh-Harrier, African Jacanas, Common Moorhens, Red-headed Quelea, African Snipe, African Stonechat, African Purple Swamphens, Little Grebes, Hottentot Teals, Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins, Yellow-crowned Bishop  among many others.

Otters appeared unexpectedly on several occasions.

However the highlight came as we approached the dead trees where we noticed a pair of what looked like Falcons. They appeared to be the same as we had seen the night before. This time we got much closer and had good views of the front of the bird – heavily streaked body with a rufous vent and leggings and very long wings. Our initial conclusion was upheld. Eurasian Hobby.

Later that afternoon we went for a walk along the road beside the wetlands. Some houses had already been built but there were quite a number of grassland plots at the water’s edge still for sale. See for details. Your contact Richard Alcock.

Grassland birds were seen as we birded along the road. Natal Spurfowl, Cape Wagtail, African Stonechat, Doves – Red-eyed and Cape-Turtle, Speckled Pigeon, Black-headed Orioles and Southern Boubou were calling, Neddicky, Common Fiscal, Cape and Grey-headed Sparrows, Tawny-flanked Prinias, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Yellow-fronted Canaries.

The next morning before departure we took a walk below the dam wall where paths had been cut for us. A combination of wetland, copses and grassland. A further variety of birds were seen along the walk. These included: Dusky Indigobird, White-fronted Bee-eater, Widowbirds – Fan-tailed, Red-collared and White-winged, Pin-tailed Whydah, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eye, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Black-crowned Tchagra were heard, Little and White-rumped Swifts, Brown-throated Martins, Barn, Greater and Lesser Striped and White-throated Swallows, Black Saw-wings, Cape Grassbirds calling, African Dusky Flycatcher, Willow Warblers.

To see our complete bird list for this visit – numbering 85 species then click here. If you want to see the complete recorded bird list for Bird Valley Estate then click here.

If you desire to visit this wetland paradise then you need to contact Richard Alcock – see website for details: You will need to come as a large group if you want to visit and be able to go up into the wetland area by boat.

I highly recommend bird clubs to organise day bird outings with Richard. For the uniqueness of special birds this is a rare place close enough to Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Howick.

Paul and Sally Bartho


Brettenwood Outing

Report by Mike White

20 March 2016

Members present were:

Paul and Sally Bartho,

Dave and Jenny Rix,

Sandy du Preez and Amahle,

Mark and Cecily Liptrot,

Mike Jackson,

Andy and Ann Blake,

Margi Lilienveld,

Mike and Christa White.


A cooler day dawned with no rain and Chris McDonald of Brettenwood Estate guided the BirdLife Port Natal members around the very pretty and interesting birding paths and dams through the Estate.

Sixty two different bird species were identified. Click here to see the Bird List.

Click here to see the butterfly list.

We were then taken back to the club house where we were invited to enjoy a breakfast on the deck over-looking the Woodlands Dam. A big thanks to Chris McDonald and the Brettenwood Estate for their hospitality.

Mike White

Red Phalarope near Himeville

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

5 March 2016

Sally and I took a trip to find the Red Phalarope near Himeville in the Midlands. It had been reported as being seen there for several weeks.

Our plan was to meet Trish Strachan at the site at about 08h30. We arrived in the area very early so took a dirt road shortcut to Himeville from the road to Underberg.

Meandering along the way we noticed a Denham’s Bustard ambling in a field some 200 metres from us. Out came the scope and camera.

Denham's Bustard
Denham’s Bustard

A bit further along we stopped for a pair of Cape Longclaws next to the road.

Numerous Amur Falcons were seen on the distant power lines and trees. Even with the scope it was very difficult to identify any possible Red-footed Falcons amongst them.

Amur Falcon
Amur Falcon

At a bend in the road there were Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia sp.) with a malachite Sunbird enjoying the nectar.

Further along more Falcons but no Red-footed spotted.

Then we arrived in the wetland area meeting Trish and David. The Red Phalarope was swimming up and down in a channel between South African Shelducks and Egyptian Geese. It was quite distant and was swimming up and down the channel every so often stopping and pecking at something in the water – often behind it.

We spent most of the rest of the morning driving around the area looking for Red-footed Falcons. However Falcons were few and far between. It seems they leave their roost early in the morning and head for trees and power lines to warm up before dispersing to forage.

There were many other birds of interest which we saw. Five Grey-crowned Cranes and two Blue Cranes in a field together.

Hundreds of Southern Bald Ibises in one farmer’s field and perched in trees in his dam.

Southern Bald Ibis
Southern Bald Ibis

White Storks

And a host of other birds

That afternoon Trish and Dave joined us to search for Red-footed Falcons without success. As the afternoon progressed so the sky got darker and darker. And then thunder and lightning all round us. The rain held off while we watched the thousands of Falcons coming in to roost in the tall trees in Himeville. A spectacular sight. Then the rain started – very heavy but much needed.

The next day we spent an hour early morning, again searching for the Red-footed Falcons. no luck so we will have to go again. We went past the Red Phalarope dam but the bird was absent – seems we were lucky to go when we did as I am not sure it has been seen since – however we have read that a Great Bittern was found there recently!

Paul and Sally Bartho

Sand Forest Lodge Weekend Away

Report by Cheryl Bevan

11 to 13 March 2016

Twenty birders headed out to Sand Forest Lodge near Hluhluwe for our first weekend outing of the year. Some had arrived a day earlier in pouring rain.

On Saturday we set out at 06H30 for False Bay for a 7 Km forest walk. Not all of us lasted the full 7 Km.

We heard a lot of birds but sightings were scarce as it was very dry. The trees and butterflies were amazing.

A distant Cuckoo caught our attention –  either an African or Common. We managed a photo for you to judge for yourself. Our conclusion was that it was a Common Cuckoo based on the bill being predominantly black. Unfortunately we could get no views of the underside of the tail.

Further along we came across this spoor. Half the size of a ladies size six boot. Any ideas?


There was also a rather smart Dark-backed Weaver’s nest hanging in the woods.

Dark-backed Weaver's nest.
Dark-backed Weaver’s nest.

After our walk we went to the picnic sight for tea. There was absolutely no water in the bay except in the far distance where we saw a group of flamingos.

Picnicing on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
Picnicking on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
False Bay looks like this.
False Bay looks like this.

Saturday afternoon John and Paul were chatting when they saw a flock of European Bee-eaters feasting on flying ants right in the campsite. And then the show began. Everyone eventually gathered with their chairs and we were entertained for a good hour and a half with a variety of interesting birds.

Birdwatching in comfort
Birdwatching in comfort

There were Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, White-winged Widowbird, African Yellow White-eye, Willow Warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, African Palm, Little and White-rumped Swifts, Klaas’s Cuckoo and African Paradise Flycatcher.

Also observed were the numerous butterflies and trees full of looper-type caterpillars which crawled everywhere including on you. Large hornets carrying and burying Loopers which they had stung.

Sunday’s early morning walk through the sand forest and grasslands of Sand Forest Lodge brought us Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, African Cuckoo, Diderick’s Cuckoo, African Green Pigeon among many others. For Jane and Mike, they were attracted to the African Cuckoo by a dive-bombing Eurasian Golden Oriole. It transpired that there were two African Cuckoos in the same place – something considered unusual.

What a way to end a fabulous weekend.

Click here to read the bird list of 91 species identified.

Cheryl and John Bevan


Paul and Sally along with Dave and Jenny Rix took a late morning trip to Mkuze on Friday before the weekend started. Nsumo pan was by no means full but the bird life was very active with all sorts of waterbirds to be seen. Mike and Jane had even seen Greater Painted Snipe there earlier in the day.

St. Lucia

Paul and Sally also spent two nights at Sugarloaf campsite on the way home. Sunday night the rains came in force. The next morning we learned that Lake St. Lucia had gained 6.1 million tons of fresh water from the Umfolozi River. A godsend as they badly need it and more.

As usual the estuary mouth was full of interesting birds. Greater Flamingo; Pink-backed Pelicans; Goliath Herons; Saddle-billed Stork; hundreds of White-faced Ducks; Avocets; Grey-headed Gulls; Swift Terns; a few Little Terns and Lesser Crested Terns; numerous Curlew Sandpipers changing into breeding plumage; White-fronted Plovers; Common Ringed Plovers; Grey Herons.

Also seen was an adult Palm-Nut Vulture flying low over the dunes and also an Osprey circling above with a large fish for dinner.

A trip into Eastern Shores, Isimangaliso Wetland Park early morning after the rains  was very quiet. Birds were trying to warm up and dry off so not much activity.

Back in camp the Livingstone’s Turacos were often calling above our campsite.

Always a special place to visit at this time of the year (and any other time of course).

Paul and Sally Bartho

Darvill Report

Darvill Sewerage Works, Pietermaritzburg

Sunday 28 February 2016

Paul and Sally Bartho

Twelve of us ventured to Darvill for the Sunday outing. It was an overcast day on arrival and brightened later.

Darvill was very overgrown but still worth a visit. Many of the waterbirds were absent. Despite that we still  identified 92 species. Click here to see our bird list.

On arrival we were greeted with a lot of activity on the open grass above the ponds. White Storks were everywhere along with Blacksmith Lapwings, African Sacred Ibis and Hadedah Ibis.

Pied Crows chased Steppe Buzzards and Yellow-billed Kites.

Pied Crow chasing a Steppe Buzzard
Pied Crow chasing a Steppe Buzzard

We started our walk along the top of the ponds then went down to the river. It was difficult to see into the ponds and impossible to walk between them – too overgrown. Along the way we had views of Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Common Waxbill and both Diderick’s and Klaas’s Cuckoos were calling.


At one section we had views over one of the middle ponds. Here we heard African Rail and had views of Cormorants, Yellow-billed, African Black and White-faced Ducks, Yellow-billed Egrets, Little Grebes, Three-banded Plover, Red-billed Teal and several other common waterbirds.

Red-billed Teal
Red-billed Teal

The highlight though was hearing and seeing a (European) Sedge Warbler in the reeds in front of us.

During the course of the morning we saw or heard a number of Warblers – Sedge, Willow, Little Rush-, Lesser Swamp- and an African Reed Warbler.

Paul - Hennie and Decklan Jordaan
Paul – Hennie and Decklan Jordaan

Eventually we reached the river. As we approached we had excellent views of Red-backed Shrikes – male and female along with more Fan-tailed widowbirds.

Looking up the canals we had views of a number of African Black Ducks in each canal – which we considered to be quite unusual.

Also in the canals we saw Common and Wood Sandpipers and Brown-throated Martins. Hennie patiently managed to get a reasonable shot of one of the Martins.

Further down in the river there were White-breasted Cormorant and a Grey Heron basking in the river. Alongside was a Brown-hooded Kingfisher and the calls of Terrestrial Brownbuls.

Then walking back along the road by the canals we had further excitement. Among the Red-billed Teals and other waterbirds, Decklan spotted a bird which he found difficult to identify.

Because of its unusual markings it is probably a hybrid Mallard.

Further along we noticed a rather long Spectacled Weaver’s nest and also saw a Lesser Masked-Weaver, Willow Warblers, Cape Grassbird (singing) Barn Swallows perched, White-faced Ducks.

Butterflies were spotted but perhaps the one which got Sandi excited was a Painted Lady.

Seen while doing a bit of car birdwatching.

Car Birding - Hennie and Decklan Jordaan
Car Birding – Hennie and Decklan Jordaan

Although the Grey Crowned Cranes were not present in the open grassland when we arrived, one did appear on our return from our walk. Always lovely to see.

Grey-crowned Crane
Grey-crowned Crane

Passing the rubbish tip next to the sewerage works a different Stork was spotted flying over by Hennie and Decklan. Into the rubbish tip we drove and there on top of one of the distant electricity pylons was a Marabou Stork.

Maribou Stork
Maribou Stork

Credits are shown on each photo unless taken by Paul Bartho.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho