4th to 16th October 2021
Umfolozi and Hluhluwe.
4th to 8th October 2021
Zululand was calling. We always enjoy our time in Zululand and the time of year is usually good for birding especially as the migrants are returning.
Our plan: to spend four nights in each of three campsites: Nyalazi, Bonamanzi and St. Lucia (Sugarloaf).
We had heard that the Nyalazi campsite was close to the Umfolozi gate. Little did we realise it was literally only about 300 metres from the cattle grid which demarcates the entrance to the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Park and less than 3 kms to the Nyalazi entrance gate into the Umfolozi side of the Park.
We had two choices to get to Nyalazi. Travel from Mtubatuba via the R618 and face the two lengthy Stop and Go hazards on the way.
Or alternatively travel 60 km further north on the N2 to the Centenary Gate entrance to Hluhluwe and then through the Park back south to the Nyalazi Gate. The latter alternative would takes us two or more hours of extra driving – admittedly partly through the Game Reserve. We mulled over the choices and decided to go on the shorter route.
Taking the road from Mtubatuba, we prepared ourselves for the two “Stop and Go s”. A South African experience to be avoided in future. No problems till we got to the first of the Stop and Go signs. It then became apparent that the sign was meaningless for many vehicles. Taxis and other local vehicles overtook the queues and went round the Stop and Go despite it being the right of way for oncoming traffic. This happened at both Stop and Go s.
Painfully slow going but we eventually arrived at the campsite.
The camp has 8 campsites. All well laid out for privacy. Each had water and power. They had been levelled and then coarse sand applied. There was also a communal ablution – clean and with hot water. The campsite owners Nunu and … (http://www.nyalazicamp.com/) met us and were extremely friendly. We chose a site at the lowest point in the camp with a view into Umfolozi some few hundred metres distant.
After setting up camp we took a drive into Umfolozi. The first three animals we saw were Elephant, White Rhino and Buffalo – good start animalwise. Birds however were scarce due to the weather. Cold, cloudy with a threat of rain which duly arrived and stayed for most of the time we were there. Mainly as a cold drizzle.
Our days were spent enjoying both Umfolozi – partly overcast with no rain on one day and drizzly on the other. And Hluhluwe – quite rainy and muddy of the tar roads.
Photos of the habitat.
Here are some photos of the birds and animals that we saw in our campsite and in Umfolozi.
As I said earlier we had a very wet and misty day in Hluhluwe. Both animals and birds were scarce. Having said that the sightings we did have were interesting.
Why was this Buffalo lying on the road with an empty stomach?
Perhaps the answer lay nearby.
Then there were two Rhinos playing “Pick up Sticks” (Do you remember the game we played all those years ago?).
A few other photos taken in Hluhluwe.
On our last evening we had a not so cute visitor.
Altogether we identified quite a number of different bird species in both areas of the Park. See at end of report which species we sa in each area we visited. Our list for these areas was not bad considering the conditions.
On our last morning we drove through Hluhluwe to the Memorial Gate on our way to Bonamanzi.
8th to 12th October 2021
On the way to Bonamanzi we hoped to stop at the Checkers in Hluhluwe town to re-provision. We were hoping it had not been burnt down in the riots. Our hopes were granted.
Not everything went smoothly though due to a huge crowd of people inside and outside, power cuts with tellers and customers who dawdled at the checkout tills. A train of blaring political vehicles drove through the garage next to the store causing chaos there and blocking traffic in the store parking lot. Over an hour later we were on our way again.
At last we arrived at Bonamanzi reception. Through the grapevine we had heard that the Bonamanzi wilderness area was now open for individuals to drive around in their own vehicles. So at the desk I asked them to confirm. To our surprise the receptionist said it was true. To enter the areas we were told to ignore the No Entry signs. We took full advantage of this and covered about perhaps half of the roads/paths.
As you can see from the map of our tracks we covered an extensive area during the 3 full days we were there. On the east we went into the wetland area and followed the canal for about 3 kms. And the north and west tracks are in the Game area.
We had chosen a campsite with our own ablution and kitchen. The site had water and electricity. We were allocated campsite 10. The campsite consisted of only four sites – each with masses of space. On arrival there was only one other camper and we were left alone after 2 nights.
On the second day there the one of the people in the other campsite came across and told us they had seen a huge bull elephant and logged its co-ords. It was until he got back that he realised that it was very close to our campsite. In all the years we have been visiting Bonamanzi we have never seen one there despite the occasional sightings of very old droppings. In our minds it had become a myth.
In Bonamanzi there are six camping areas, A Forest Camp with six sites (own ablutions) The old main camp now split into 2 sections of 6 sites in each. One sharing ablutions and the other with individual toilet and kitchen facilities. Then there was our site with four campsites (own ablutions). The previous campsites numbered 5 and 6 are still the same but now numbered 17 and 18. Finally the Dinizulu picnic area has been converted into 6 non-powered campsites with shared ablutions.
I doubt there were more than 6 campsites occupied in total while we were there.
Of interest, there was a film crew building old African village sets in the Bonamanzi bush. Did not find out what the film was called.
Our time was spent mainly driving around the game area. The weather was also unpredictable here with most days overcast, drizzly from time to time and very windy.
The game and wetland areas were interesting to drive around and a 4×4 was necessary in some places where the roads were muddy and at other times waterlogged.
Here are photos of the lovely birds and animals we saw while there:
At the edge of one of our drives in the game area we came across a flock of Barn Swallows sitting on a fence line. We had seen the odd Barn Swallow but no where near in these numbers. They are back in a big way.
In the wetland area Sally noticed Pelicans flying away from us. They were White-backed Pelicans and above the lower ones there must have been a good 100 flying.
We had seen a bird in Mapungubwe and watched its interesting behaviour of crossing the road like a chameleon. We were so fortunate at the time to watch its behaviour and never expected to see it again – let alone so soon. But there one was before our eyes in the game area doing just that – a Common Buttonquail.
In the grounds around the reception area we found this cycad among several others all with fruit. The fruit had a plastic look to it .
Then there were our night visitors – three of them scampering around our feet as we cooked – quite brazen.
But they were not the only animals visiting our camp. As we sat inside having dinner – cold and windy outside – we heard noises in the campsite. The sound of trampling and bushes and trees being knocked about. Then it became louder and closer. A tree pushed over, then another and another. Quite obviously an unhappy elephant.
It was not to the next morning that we observed the damage. Apart from campsite trees being uprooted, the elephant had up rooted one of the water points and water was everywhere. It was not that he was thirsty as he knows the pool right next door. He was just being his grumpy self. We were later told that he does this regularly at all the campsites and would probably stay away from this site for a month before returning.
During our time there we identified 118 different bird species.
12th to 16th October
And then we went to St. Lucia to the Sugarloaf campsite for four nights.
During our time at Sugarloaf we explored both Western and Eastern Shores in Izimangalizo Wetland Park, False Bay and went for a long walk on the beach towards Maphelane.
We have stayed at Sugarloaf often. It has about 100 campsites, each with power. Sugarloaf habitat is well suited for a variety of birds. It is well treed, shady and has mostly flat sites. There are 4 ablution blocks spread throughout the camp. It was empty – maximum 6 other campsites occupied during the 4 nights we were there sadly. I remember on one visit we logged about 95 different bird species in the camp.
Here is one of the special birds we saw in the campsite a Bananabill as we call it.
Just to let you know that the St Lucia Ski-Boat Club restaurant has re-opened following its closure during the Covid-19 crisis. We enjoyed Fish and Chips there one evening.
On our first day we went to the Western Shores in the Izimangalizo Wetland Park. After all the rains you can see from the slideshow below why it is called a Wetland Park.
It was a chilly and windy day hence birdlife was quiet.
We did get a view of an African Marsh Harrier quartering a field and diving for prey.
On another very windy day we took a drive to False Bay. The water level was way higher than we had seen in the past few years. It was right up to the road heading south. The birds were few and far between but we were entertained by 4 Yellow-billed Storks feeding along the shore line – see video below.
We did visit Eastern Shores on several occasions. Fortunately on one afternoon drive the weather conditions improved and we had an hour in the hide at kuMfazana Pan. The activity had improved from the day before. Migrants were about – Common Sandpipers, Common Ringed Plovers, Greenshank, Wood Sandpipers. Little Grebes and Black-winged Stilts were present. A group of African Spoonbills flew from side to side, Collared Pratincoles were on the grass by the water’s edge opposite us. Two groups of Water Thick-knees had a barney right in front of the hide hurtling loud insults at each other before settling down together. Even a rather pregnant Bushbuck came for a drink.
At Catalina Bay the water was right below the hide. No waders nor shore birds. However there was a bat sleeping on the floor of the hide overlooking the bay.
We were able to have a pleasant walk along the beach at Cape Vidal and observed Sanderlings and White-fronted Plovers enjoying the water’s edges. And the occasional Grey-headed Gull flying around.
From Cape Vidal we headed back onto the Grassland Loop. As you drive on the raised causeway between Lake Bengazi and the eMfabeni Swamp there was water on both sides right up to the causeway. not something we have seen in a while.
It was on the Grassland Loop that we saw a variety of game, Buffalos and Kudu in particular.
A pair of male Kudu posing together. Photos taken on the road to Mission Rocks.
Back to the Grassland Loop. Our best sighting was that of a Denham’s Bustard trying to cross the road ahead of us.
We had heard that a Rufous-bellied Heron had been seen at the iMboma Pan on the Pan Loop. We had visited several times with no luck. We had also checked the Amazibu Hide and Sally had a fleeting sighting on the first visit of what she thought might have been the Rufous-bellied Heron but she was uncertain. So from the Grassland Loop we headed for the Amazibu Hide.
On the way we spotted an Egret in one of the wetland areas and stopped to check it out. First thoughts was that it was probably a Great Egret but with a closer look through the scope we could see that it was in fact an Intermediate Egret. As you can see from the photos the gape stops below the eye – not passed it.
By now the wind was up and when we got to Amazibu Hide it was blowing like crazy. A quick stop but no chance as everything had hunkered down.
The next morning we went back and checked the pans on the Pan Loop without success. At the Amazibu hide we sat down and waited to see if Sally’s bird appeared. No wind and birds about. we waited and enjoyed the time out of the car. We waited. Then Sally got excited she could just see a head appear in the grass. Was it? Yes, it was the Rufous-bellied Heron. In fact Sally thought she had seen two. (Now we know there were actually three, 2 adults and a juvenile). Special sighting as the bird made itself well visible.
The beach and the lagoon are well worth a visit as long as it is not windy. Our first few days it was far too windy and overcast so we never ventured there. However on our last full day the coast was clear – no wind and blue skies. We got up early and went.
In the past when you walked down the boardwalk to the beach the water level was low enough to create sand banks and muddy patches. You could look out over water almost all the way to Maphalane. Now there is a mass of reeds within a 100 metres of dense reeds and all the mud and sand banks have gone.
A slideshow of the the beach habitat.
We walked maybe 3 kms along the sand dunes towards Maphalane before we came across a break in the reeds. This was where the beach had been breached and where the water birds were. Looking back towards the boardwalk you can see the extent of the new reed beds.
Along the walk we had a few interesting sightings. There was a Brimstone (Bully) Canary singing its heart out. Then at the sea’s edge we spotted White-fronted Plovers, a Common Whimbrel and a Ruddy Turnstone.
A pair of African Fish-Eagles were loudly serenading each other perched on a nearby dune much to the annoyance of the birds scurrying around the shore line feeding on this and that.
Fortunately at this breached section there were no reeds. And there were plenty of birds but not so in numbers of different species. Perhaps it was a bit early for the waders to return in numbers.
Of the waders present we saw another Common Whimbrel and mainly Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints.
There were about 50 Pied Avocets all together.
It was not long before a flock of Great Crested (Swift) Terns arrived.
A Little Egret appeared and walked in front of everyone showing its brilliant yellow feet.
On closer inspection of the White-faced Whistling Ducks we noticed that seven Fulvous Ducks were amongst them. This took us by surprise. Amongst the White-faced Whistling Ducks they did not stand out very well.
And that was our 12 days in Zululand.
During that time we recorded 205 different bird species. Click on the link below to see what we saw and where.
Hope you enjoyed the Read.
Sally and Paul Bartho