St. Lucia

26 to 30 August 2020

After our 5 days at Mapila Camp in iMfolozi we headed to St Lucia for a further 4 nights. We stayed at Sunset Lodge at the suggestion of Sally’s son and wife who used to live there. The owners Rich and Shelly are friends of theirs – a really friendly couple.

The accommodation was excellent. It was a log cabin done very tastefully. Everything kept in “as new” condition. We had a one bed flatlet with lounge/kitchen, bathroom and a stoep.

During the time there, we visited Eastern Shores a few times, Western Shores and a walk through the Gwala Gwala trail with Ian Gordon and of course the beach for waders and seabirds.

The weather was a bit unfriendly – cool, windy and misty at times with the occasional splatter of drizzle.

Sally made contact with Ian Gordon and we met early one morning to visit the Gwala Gwala trail and then to visit Western Shores. Another cool day.

We parked at the entrance and were greeted by several friendly Crested Guineafowl. In the clearing there is probably one of the largest and tallest “Cabbage” trees that I have seen. We then entered the trail.

There was a fair bit of calling along the Gwala Gwala trail but few birds actually seen. Forest birding. September Bells were everywhere in bloom.

Western Shores was a bit quiet too as we arrived quite late in the morning. However we did have some puzzling excitement along the way. On entry we took the uMphathe loop road to the picnic site. Then went to the eMgadankawu Hide at the north end of the park followed by a climb up to the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk on the way out of the park. Slides of the eMgadankawu Hide.

Some animals and birds seen along the way.

The puzzling excitement came as we passed the picnic site. Looking back we noticed a raptor flying towards the picnic site. It appeared to have a ring tail and that excited us. We turned around and set about trying to find it which we did. It was in the reeds at the waterhole just before the picnic site.

Sadly in the end we identified it as an African Marsh Harrier after all. Still it had us pondering for a while.

We spent a morning on the beach looking for waders and seabirds. Very noticeable were the hundreds of Lesser Flamingos on the mud flats. The first day we arrived in St Lucia they were right beside the entrance to Sugarloaf camp site. While there we saw them rise into the air like a swarm of Quelea before settling back down.

Lesser Flamingos and a few Greater.

It was hard to recognize the changes to the estuary. Tall reeds intruded onto what were mud flats making it impossible to see the far end close to Maphelane.

A few other water birds were spotted in this area.

We started early to get to where the birds were. Our goal was to head to the Tern roost. So off we set down the boardwalk to the sea to walk around the reeds and hopefully find them on the mud flats. There they were at the extreme end of the mud flats – a very long walk carrying scope, camera and binoculars.

To get to the Tern roost we had to walk right to the far end of the mud flats and then negotiate our way to a spot where we would get a closer view of the birds. A tricky scenario as with each step you did not know how far you might sink. However we managed, eventually finding a firm place to stand and get the scope on the birds.

There were many terns but all were (Swift) Greater Crested Terns except for a lone Caspian Tern. A few Grey-headed Gulls were present and quite a lot of different waders including Ruddy Turnstones, White-fronted, Ringed and Three-banded Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Common Whimbrels, Little Stints.

There were a few mystery birds – too far away even with the scope to positively ID. One that looked like a Plover or Sandpiper seemed to have a white rump – see poor photos. Even some of the Stints looked unusual.

Behind the Terns and much further away were all the Flamingos which we had seen on our first day. An African Fish-Eagle flew over and they took to the air.

After about an hour or more there we decided to leave. We did not get far. Literally as we turned to go we heard this raucous “wide-a-wake” call from above. It was the Sooty Tern arriving. It sure made its arrival known and quickly took its place among the Greater Crested Terns.

On our first afternoon we went into Eastern Shores. First to look for the Rufous-bellied Heron. No luck. In fact we went three times before realizing that we had gone to the wrong place. We had gone to iMboma Pan.

But still no luck when we found the Amazibu hide overlooking the wetland where the Rufous-bellied had been seen – and was seen again several times after we left..

Just African Jacanas.

On the Vlei Loop we had several interesting sightings – a large herd of buffalos in the wetland area as well as two White Rhinos fighting for dominance. And they were serious. We were pleased to see that their horns had been removed leaving a bulbous stub. If not, then one of those Rhinos would have been badly injured. One Rhino had its head and horn beneath the other’s back left leg and raised him clear off the ground.

Fighting Rhinos

That first afternoon had another exciting sighting. Driving at the end of the Vlei Loop just before we hit the tar, suddenly popping out of the scrub came a Leopard walking straight towards us. Time maybe for a few shots before he disappeared so I turned off the engine, lent out of the window and got a quick blast. Then I realized I ought to close the window – but cannot do that with the engine off. The leopard was due to pass by my window in hands reach. But for some reason the Leopard crossed the road virtually touching our car and then disappeared into the bush.

Lucky Leopard
Lucky Lucky

We visited Mission Rocks. Stopping at the picnic site before heading to the end of the road and the beach. The picnic site had some lovely flowering Erythrina [Coral] trees.

At the end of the road at Mission Rocks we took the passageway to the rocks and looked out along the coastline.

On the way out we stopped at a convenient place to look out over the ocean where we noticed Hump-backed or Southern Right Whales passing by, blowing away and splashing their tails.

The pan at the kuMfazana Hide was dry and at Catalina Bay (Jock’s Mess) the vegetation below was fully overgrown and extremely difficult to spot any waterbirds therein. There was nothing to see out in Lake St Lucia either as it was very windy.

The Kwasheleni Lookout post is set atop the Dunes and gives a 360 degree view. Overlooks the sea, Lake St Lucia and the grasslands and dune forests below.

At Cape Vidal we wandered along the beach and saw a few birds – mainly White-fronted Plovers and Grey-headed Gulls. A Yellow-billed Kite made a close appearance – possible to see if we had anything it could snatch.

As we drove alongside Lake Bhangazi there were very few birds to see.

However on the opposite side there were Kudu.

Kudu.

That led us to the grassland area of the Bhangazi Grassland Loop. Here we encountered Collared Pratincoles virtually one every 100 metres. Strangely they were not prepared to fly off until we were right on top of them. Our journey for many kilometres was a slow one.

Driving through the park we had a number of pleasant bird sightings. There was a Juvenile Crowned Eagle seen from a distance – as were the two Secretarybirds on a nest. Red-breasted Swallows on the road side. A Brown Snake-Eagle and Vervet Monkeys as well as an obliging Yellow-bellied Greenbul.

Despite the weather we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in all the many places to bird. In total we identified 138 different bird species. Our list is downloadable, click below.

We left St Lucia with the rain. And on our way home What’s App messages kept being received saying that not only had the Rufous-bellied Heron been relocated but other special birds had turned up – Gull-billed Tern and Chestnut-banded Plovers. We considered doing a U-turn except that we were already half way home.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

2 thoughts on “St. Lucia

  1. Thanks Paul & Sally. It appears from you that Swift Tern is now Greater Crested but this name is not used in the new Sasol Bird Guide, or Roberts Bird Guide 2016. Please enlighten.

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