Christmas in Zululand – Part 1

Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park

18th to 22nd December 2019

Sally and I have taken to celebrating Christmas in the bush. This year we went to Mkuze Game Reserve, Zululand. My sister and her family joined us as well as Sally’s son Andre.

Prior to meeting my sister in Mkuze we spent four days in Ndumo Game Reserve bordering Mozambique some 90 kms north of Mkuze.

After a six hour drive we reached Ndumo just after mid-day. Our first priority was to book a game drive on the back side of Nyamithi Pan for the following morning. That done we set up camp.

Late afternoon we visited the Vulture restaurant on the way to the Nyamithi Hide. New carcasses were being enjoyed by a number of Woolly-necked Storks and Yellow-billed Kites. It wasn’t till on our way back from the hide that we saw two Palm-nut Vultures there.

Nyamithi Pan was full – great to see but it meant there were no mud flats near the Hide. We were pleased we had booked a Game drive to the other side for the morrow. We enjoyed watching all the activity on the opposite side with a constant stream of birds coming in to roost. Pink-backed Pelicans, Cattle Egrets, Openbills, Squacco Herons etc.

One Openbill even came and visited our hide.

The next morning it was up early for the Game Drive. Bongani was our guide.

Quite a few species were recorded on our drive including Narina Trogon and African Cuckoo-Hawk.

One of the stand out memories was the number (at least 12) of immature African Fish-Eagles present. There seemed to be one in every tree with only the odd adult about.

Waders and waterbirds were aplenty.

There was even a dribbling African Spoonbill.

Other birds and creatures photoed on the game drive.

The following day we visited Tembe Elephant Park to try our luck with some of the specials seen there – in particular the Plain-backed Sunbird.

Bongani had told us that Plain-backed Sunbirds had a nest near the Tembe tower. Unfortunately no luck. We went there initially and later for lunch at the top.

The road network is extremely sandy. No fun when you come over a rise and find elephants facing you. Fortunately this time we never encountered any that were interested in chasing us – unlike the other times we have visited.

The Mahlasela Hide is never disappointing with elephants often seen there. This time it was crowded so we did not stay long to bird.

Altogether we spent six hours in Tembe. Disappointingly we only identified 50 different bird species.

However there was one dull bird we found hard to positively identify. We believe it may be an Eastern Nicator.

And so back to Ndumo for the rest of our visit before heading for Christmas in Mkuze.

Our final day was spent driving around the Reserve. Heading for Red Cliffs and also the west side of the Reserve.

The Red Cliffs picnic site overlooks the Usutu River which flows into the Pongola River. The river was in full flow – nice to see.

From here we took the 4×4 loop. It was a drive through a forested area close to the river which gets very narrow in parts. The scenery though was well worth the drive.

We also went up the rickety steps to the top of the Tower overlooking Nyamithi Pan. Only to find that there was a bees nest up there. Down rather smartly.

And some of the species seen driving around.

I did not think onions grew like this.

The fence line to the west of the Reserve follows a long, long straight road. And along this road we were fortunate to spot a Lizard Buzzard.

However the excitement did not stop here. It was on the way back following the loop that we spotted a small pond. We decided to see if there was anything special there. And were we surprised. A Hamerkop was in the middle of the pond with a Marsh Sandpiper.

But what is that other bird flitting around with them we pondered.

A closer look revealed:

Time to move on. On the 22nd we headed for Mkuze. The rest of this report on Mkuze and Bonamanzi will be in Part 2.

Paul and Sally Bartho

PS Our bird list for the Zululand getaway will be shown in Part 2. It will show what birds we identified and where they were seen.

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