Report by Sally and Paul Bartho
25 to 27 January 2019
As an engagement anniversary present to ourselves we went on a birding weekend at The Cavern with David and Sally Johnson.
The Cavern nestles against a forest habitat. It is located off the road to the Royal National Park, taking the first road right after passing the “Pizza Tower” and following it right to the end.
Accommodation was good with views over the grounds. Meals were sumptuous and food aplenty. The inner layout is a morass of TV rooms, lounges, dining areas, play rooms and bars scattered on three levels. Very charming.
The weather was not always in our favour, however we did manage to get in a reasonable amount of walks in and around the property and identified 88 different bird species. Click here to see our list. Note some of these birds were seen in the area but outside The Cavern property.
We left Howick on a chilly misty rainy morning expecting it to be the same on arrival. As fortune had it, we arrived in sunshine and spent an hour or so birding close to the main building. Most notably seeing several different Sunbirds feeding on the agapanthus flowers.
Lunch was a huge spread and you can be as indulgent as you like. We did try to be restrained – not easy.
After lunch we took a walk around the property on our own. The weather had changed and the clouds were becoming ominous. However we managed to get back before the rain/drizzle set in.
Later that afternoon David gave us a talk on “The Birds of the Cavern”. A very informative talk not only showing us what we might expect to see but also about their prefered habitats and behaviour.
A walk was planned for 06h30 the following morning but the rain and drizzle put a stop to that. After breakfast David gave us another exceptional talk. This time on the “Galapagos Islands”. Absolutely fascinating and had us all wanting to visit. The way the islands were formed; the effects on the islands of the two currents meeting – depending on which was dominant; the flora and fauna and how it developed. Did you know that the common Daisy flower transformed itself into a very tall tree on one of the islands!
After the talk there was a sort of respite in the rain and Sally and I took a chance to wander around the grounds set in layers down the hillside passed the pool and paddocks to the stream and ponds at the bottom.
We did come across a butterfly which was interesting because of its “glass-like” wings.
After lunch David and Sally led us on a walk beyond the entrance. Another opportunity to see what we could find of interest.
One of the highlights on this walk was the Southern Double-collared Sunbird.
In the late afternoon David gave us another interesting talk – this time on the”Sex life of Birds”. Fascinating to understand the different behaviours towards mating.
The last morning we had an early morning walk round the property with David and Sally. Before we even started a Chorister Robin-Chat came into the tree above us.
At one pond we came across a Half-collared Kingfisher and three Malachite Kingfishers including a juvenile. Also present were two pairs of Little Grebes (one pair with 5 chicks) sometimes fighting for territory. A Yellow-billed Duck with her brood kept appearing and disappearing behind a fallen tree on the opposite side. And a pair of Mountain Wagtails made a brief appearance.
Further on we saw a Brown-hooded Kingfisher and at another pond a pair of Giant Kingfishers flew past. A day for Kingfishers. Then on the way back we saw a Diderick Cuckoo being fed by a female Southern Masked Weaver.
Simply sitting in the shade of one of the trees in front of the hotel, many birds appeared.
After breakfast Sally and I went for a walk – intending to go into the forest but ending up in the grasslands close to Jackal Hill. In the end a very long walk following the track upwards from just after the school on the left as you head away from the Cavern.
At the start we had good views of Cape White-eyes, Groundscraper Thrushes and a male Cape Rock-Thrush posing on an overhead wire.
On the long walk up we saw a number of species we had not seen over the weekend. There were African Firefinch, a Common Buzzard and a male and female Malachite Sunbird.
On the way down we encountered a pair of Mountain Reedbucks on the opposite slope playfully running up and down. A nice sight to see.
We also encountered Drakensberg Prinia, Wailing and Lazy Cisticolas.
At the bottom the Cape Rock-Thrush family put on a show for us. Unfortunately the juvenile only made a fleeting appearance and I was unable to take its photo. A couple of other birds were also present.
Eventually it was time to leave and despite the very overcast weather we had a most enjoyable time.
On the way out we did come across a number of additional species – some of which I was able to photograph. Most prominent were the Amur Falcons and occasional Lesser Kestrels.
The highlight, however, were three Southern Ground-Hornbills.
We are so pleased we also took the opportunity to explore a little of the area outside The Cavern.
Paul and Sally Bartho