Kosi Bay and Mkuze

9 to 16 May 2019

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

A chance remark to my sister resulted in Sally and I being invited to join her in the TEBA Cottage at the very mouth of Kosi Bay Estuary for four nights. We had a couple of days to prepare for our trip.

A long way to go for four nights so Sally organised for us to have three nights in Mkuze on the way back – staying in the hutted camp accommodation.

We prolonged the forecast six hour journey by taking a longcut through Phinda on the district road. Instead of turning off the N3 at Hluhluwe we went on a further 20 kms and took the Phinda off ramp to the Phinda reserve entrance and because we were passing through there was no charge.

The 30 km dirt rode through the reserve enabled us to see aminals and birds. Towards the end of the road we encountered a pair of Cheetahs lying in the shade with their legs protruding onto the road. We stopped (although strictly speaking they suggest as we were passing through not to do so in case of trouble). The Cheetahs took little notice of us and stayed put. An pleasant and unexpected start to our trip.

My sister had organised our entry permits for us so we were able to pass quickly through the gate and proceed down to the TEBA Cottage at the river mouth.

The cottage is rustic. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with shower the other with a bath), large kitchen, dining room and a deck with panoramic views across the bay. Yes hot water in the kitchen and for the bath as well as the basins in the bedrooms. No electricity, just a generator powering batteries for lights and the fridges and freezers. That said, it was a privilege to stay there. No neighbours and the bay in front of us.

TEBA Cottage

Each morning, up early and into the coastal forest – following the sandy road to the cottage- listening and trying to spot the many birds present. Getting good sightings was very tricky and many of the birds we identified were by ear – Sally’s mostly.

Thick Coastal Forest

There were Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eyes, White-starred Robins, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers, Grey and Olive Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weavers, Black-backed Puffbacks, Southern Boubou, Natal Robins, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Rudd’s Apalis, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Terrestial Brownbuls, Brown Scrub-Robins all adding their sounds to the bush.

Black-throated Wattle-eye
Green Malkoha (Banana Bill)

Of course there were many butterflies too – which we have been unable to identify.

The weather was kind to us – not too hot and cool at night. Mossies were few and far between. A lot of time was spent on the beach and wading up the estuary looking for birds.

A group of waders on one of the sand strips – the tide was out – caught our attention.

About 20 Waders

Through the scope we decided that we needed to get closer to confirm our ID. A long distance photo confirmed our ID. Then I decided to wade out to get closer. As it happened a group of people got too close to the group and they flew landing on the same sand strip that I was on. I took my photos and then they flew up the coast towards Mozambique.

Here are some photos of other water birds we sighted in and around the estuary.

Fish seemed to be plentiful for the locals – perhaps their methodology was unusual.

Spear Fisherman with a plentiful catch of rather small fish.

A walk the other side of the estuary southwards along the coast with my sister, Natasha and Sally also gave us an unexpected surprise. My sister spotted shoals of fish riding in the waves and then she spotted a Loggerhead Turtle doing the same. In the end we had three more sightings of others doing the same.

Right at the bottom of the stairs leading down to the beach from the cottage there were several large trees which had collapsed into the sea due to corrosion. A the base of one of these lived an eel. Very colourful – bright yellow with dark markings – seen several times.

And in the water at the base of a tree there was a Lion Fish. On one morning it swam around in the sunlight enabling me to get a few nice photos of it.

Our bird list was not prolific and many of the bush birds were identified by sound. In the end we identified a total of 48 different species. Click here to see the list.

Mkhuze

After four relaxing days at Kosi, Sally and I headed for three nights at Mkhuze staying in the hutted accommodation. We had two full days to explore the Reserve and visit the hides.

As an aside, if you plan to visit, be careful at night as the hutted camp is not secure. We were told that the previous week a lion was seen around the nearby cottages

We did see an elephant as it walked past the Masinga Hide without popping in to disturb the other aminals there. Other than that we encountered only the usual zebra, giraffe, nyala, impala, warthogs, gnus, baboons and monkeys.

Lone elephant at KuMasinga Hide

Of course Masinga Hide is always worthwhile to see aminals and birds.

Baboons enjoying the early morning sun
Could you do this?

And some of the birds seen there.

The campsite is a good place to see birds and we were not let down when we went there. Here a few of the specials we saw there.

Malibali Hide – near the campsite – was full and we enjoyed the new hide. This time however it was relatively quiet but again we had a few specials to see.

Driving around the bird life was patchy in places yet we did manage to see a wide variety of different species which we had not see at any of the hides.

African Cuckoo-Hawk

The second hide to the right of the picnic site at Nsumo Pan is another of our favourite hides except when the wind is blowing. Fortunately the weather was kind to us when we visited. Here are some views from the hide.

On arrival we were treated to a sight we had not expected. Looking out to the left there were pairs of Little Grebes, African Pygmy Geese and White-backed Ducks. And as we scanned the pan there were at least another 20 African Pygmy Geese and about 8 White-backed Ducks. In the past we would have been lucky to see just one pair of African Pygmy Geese.

African Jacana were on the lily pads, a Malachite Kingfisher put on a show, Whiskered Terns were seen all across the pan. And on the far side many other water birds could be seen.

On the shore line heading towards the Picnic site we spotted several Water Thick-knees and what appeared to be a three legged Black-winged Stilt – 2 red legs and one straw coloured!! All close to the African Fish-Eagle which was occupied on a meal.

The picnic site at Nsumo Pan is also one of our favourite places to visit especially for a tea and pee break. Birding is also good normally. And the day we visited was our lucky day – very special.

On the way in an African Paradise Flycatcher welcomed us.

African Paradise Flycatcher

Hippos greeted us bobbing up and down among the lily pads close to shore.

Pink-backed Pelicans and Yellow-billed Storks flew overhead.

Western Cattle Egrets were fishing from Hippo perches. And even a Grey Heron took its chances.

Even the bush around the picnic site had some interesting birds.

It was only as we were leaving that Sally heard a Sunbird calling. When we found it we both were thrilled by what we saw.

Neergaard’s Sunbird
Neergaard’s Sunbird

On one afternoon drive we returned quite late and driving up from the kuMahlahla hide, we encountered several Spotted Thick-knees as well as Fiery-necked Nightjars.

The Thick-knees I managed to get a few reasonable photos. But I lost out big time with the Fiery-necked Nightjar. There was one sitting on a bare branch right beside the driver’s side of the car. Quickly I put my camera onto Auto and took a shot. Flash goes off bouncing off the inside of the car. Rats. The bird is still there so I try again. This time the flash works perfectly but the bird flew off as the camera took focus. Later I checked the photo and it was a perfect shot of the branch – if only the bird had stayed.

Spotted Thick-knee

Zululand birding is always full of pleasant surprises. The variety is plentiful. We love going to visit the many different habitats.

In all we recorded 122 birds – identified for Bird Lasser. Click here to see the list.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Pink-backed Pelican – Have Wings Will Fly

Mkuze and St. Lucia

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

7 to 13 February 2019

It was time to get away – you could say the lure of the bush was calling. This time a short trip – 4 nights in Mkuze and a couple in St. Lucia.

Rain and overcast conditions followed us and remained intermittently at both venues.

Mkuze was lush- the vegetation was green and grown up. There were no bare patches to be seen unlike the last time we visited in July 2018. The Fig Forest was flooded from rains upstream and consequently Nsumo Pan was as full as we had ever seen. Despite that only two inland hides had water (KuMasinga and Malibali) and all of the other scattered pans and wallows were dry.

Nsumo Pan was one of the first places we visited. We stopped at the first hide heading towards the Nsumo Pan Picnic site. As we approached we noticed what looked like two ducks in the shadows under the hide. However they were something entirely different and most unexpected.

With the water level so high there were no waders about at Nsumo Pan.

However there were a number of waterbirds about at Nsumo hides and at the Picnic site.

As expected, Kumasinga hide was busy. Many animals as well as birds close-by – making for reasonable photographic opportunities considering the sunless skies. A number of birds appeared with confusing ID issues which made it all the more interesting trying to get to their correct ID. One bird in particular – a Sunbird – was an interesting example of this.

Perplexing Sunbird

What we saw immediately was a Sunbird with a distinct bib and yellow Mylar stripes either side of the bib. A quick look at the Roberts App suggested a Plain-backed Sunbird – and its plain back also seemed to confirm that.

Sunbird with a plain back

It was feeding what we considered to be a fledgling so we considered it to be an adult bird despite its yellow gape.

However a Plain-backed Sunbird would be a rare sighting in Mkuze so it did not feel quite right. We checked the Roberts App for pictures of Sunbirds and nothing had the bib except for the Plain-backed Sunbird. The new Roberts Field Guide eventually gave us the correct ID by showing a picture of a juvenile male Marico Sunbird. It shows that sometimes initial impressions can be so wrong.

The antics of birds and animals were a pleasure to watch. Burchell’s Coucals chasing each other, Little Bee-eaters and Swallows coming in for a drink or a bath, Red-billed Oxpeckers having a communal bath spraying drops of water over each other, Giraffes drinking, a Slender Mongoose casing the joint and many birds just coming to the water’s edge for a drink. One oddity were the Red-billed Oxpeckers. There were at least 20 present all the time. They never left with the animals but hung around for their next feed. We tried to work out if the animals not only came for a drink but also for a clean up. Or was it that the Oxpeckers hung around because they knew they were on to a good thing. Perhaps both options.

But there was one bird which appeared unexpectedly.

Dwarf Bittern

Yes, a Dwarf Bittern up high in a tree. Wonderful sighting.

Of course there were camp birds. We were greeted by a pair of singing Striped Kingfishers. As the sun set, the Little Swifts serenaded us. However because of the weather the camp was quiet.

It was on the Loop road where we saw the most raptors and an unexpected one at that as well as bushveld species.

Our last morning was spent at Malibali hide. And surprisingly the activity was as interesting as that at the Kumasinga hide. Now that there is water all sorts of creatures appear out of the woodwork.

Over a three hour period we saw three different elephants coming in for a drink and a splashing.

Elephant – drink’s time

The last sadly with a vicious snare wound (which the camp conservation team were aware of). The elephant had to be darted to remove the snare and to be given treatment. You can see from the photos how bad it looked. Fortunately it appears that the medicine is doing its work. It can walk normally and put weight on that leg. What was interesting was the elephant, having arrived with the would very visible, left with it fully coated in mud by the elephant to act as protection for the wound.

Snared Elephant swollen foot

Here are some of the other species photographed at the waterhole.

Then there was a full breakfast to be seen.

Western Cattle Egret enjoying a big breakfast

Our bird list for Mkuze can be seen later as it has been combined with our viewings at St. Lucia.

Our next destination was St. Lucia. The main purpose at St. Lucia was to enjoy the waterbirds seen at the mouth of the estuary and to try and find one or two of the special birds seen there earlier this year – Gull-billed Tern, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Lesser Frigatebird or the vagrant Noddy on the off chance.

St. Lucia weather was even more overcast and rainy than Mkuze. We took our chances when the heavens were not crying to walk the beach and explore the estuary. We managed to get out twice. On both visits we came across a small Tern roost in the estuary. Despite  the numbers it was good to see the variety there – Little and Swift in numbers with Common, Lesser-Crested and Sandwich Terns among them. Even a Caspian appeared. However amongst the Terns and Gulls there was no sign of the Gull-billed Tern.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were feeding over the sand dunes. Not a sight we expected to see.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

No sign of the Noddy – not a surprise as we know how fleetingly it was seen in the first place. And the Lesser Frigatebird did not make an appearance either. Fortunately we had seen it there on a previous visit.

Black Oystercatchers were seen on the beach water’s edge in the distance. Whenever we got close they moved on. Grey Plovers and Whimbrels were also present. On one occasion we saw a distant Black Oystercatcher with another smaller wader – we assumed either a Grey Plover or Whimbrel. Because it was so distant we did not pursue it and visited the Tern roost instead. After some time we left the roost and headed back to the beach to see if by chance we would have any luck spotting the Eurasian Oystercatcher.

The beach came into view and there was the Black Oystercatcher we had seen earlier. And with it the other smaller bird. Once we had our binoculars on it we realised it was the Eurasian Oystercatcher. As close as we came so they moved away. I managed to get a photo or two but it was a nightmare photographing into the sun.

Black and European Oystercatchers showing their size difference

Hooray – a lifer for me.

Sanderling

On our last – yes, rainy afternoon – we ventured into Eastern Shores – more for something to do than sitting around the camp in the intermittent rain. As expected both animals and birds were scarce but we persevered. Eventually we got to the Lake Bhangazi turnoff having explored most of the other loops on the way.

European Bee-eater

This drive is a 17 km drive back to the main road. Initially it passes through dune forest and onto a raised road between Lake Bhangazi and a wetland. This part of the road is also well forested and narrow. Coming round a corner I said to Sally “Look ahead”. She was scouring for the bird she thought I had seen. Only it wasn’t a bird but a magnificent creature lying alongside the road.

Leopard

Well worth the drive and a good way to end our trip. Our bird list for both Mkuze and St. lucia can be seen by clicking here. 135 species identified in Mkuze and 77 in St. Lucia.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho

 

The Cavern

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

25 to 27 January 2019

The Cavern

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.

Interesting Butterfly with a pair of see through wings.

Interesting Butterfly with a pair of see through 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.

Southern Double-collared Sunbird also in the Agapanthus

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.

Chorister Robin-Chat

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.

Water or Sky?

Cheers

Paul and Sally Bartho

Kruger Part 10 – Summary

Kruger Part 10 – Summary

11 November to 7 December 2018

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

 

African Paradise-Flycatcher with a rather long tail

Yellow-billed Kite

African Jacana off balance

The intention of this summary is to:

  • show you in one chart our birdlist for the entire Kruger and which birds we identified when based in each camp area.
  • comment on the birds we thought we might see but didn’t.
  • make comments on our time in the Park.
  • show you photos of the birds we could not identify.
  • show you photos of what we considered “Special” birds.
  • show you photos of animals we took.
  • show you photos which we considered to be of reasonable quality.

Despite the dryness of the Park we still identified a wide variety of birds in all 230 different species. Click here to see the total list of birds we identified in our stay in the Kruger also showing a summary of the birds we saw in the area of each camp.

Having said that, we were surprised not to identify any of the following:

  • Bishops*
  • Buzzards
  • Coots*
  • Falcons
  • Grebes Little*
  • Kestrels
  • Longclaws
  • Mannikins
  • Martins
  • Moorhens*
  • Pigeons Speckled
  • Saw-wings Black
  • Teals*
  • Terns*
  • Tinkerbirds
  • Weavers Village
  • White-eyes

* We attributed these particular missing birds due to the dryness of the Park.

Some Comments and Observations:

  • Our favourite camps were Lower Sabie in the South, Balule in the middle, Tsendze and Punda Maria in the north. And Malelane in the south as a gateway for both entering and leaving the Park.
  • Yellow-billed Oxpeckers have thrived in the north and now it is unusual to see a Red-billed Oxpecker on Giraffe or Buffalo.
  • Yellow-billed Oxpeckers have extended their range and it is not unusual to find them lower down at Tsendze.
  • It is about time that Punda Maria management bought a washing machine for their laundry.
  • The Deck at Lower Sabie gave us many interesting sightings not only of birds but interacting animals too.
  • The swimming pool at Shingwedzi was a real life saver.
  • Crocodile Bridge area looked like a desert – trees all knocked down, barren and dusty sadly

Unidentified Birds:

Of the birds we photographed there were two which we could not identify. Perhaps you can?? And there is one snake for ID please.

Mystery Dove with gills on its neck. Probable Nourning Collared Dove juvenile.

Special Birds:

The following photos are of birds that we considered to be special – either because they are hard to find or they are not birds we regularly see where we live or they show something about the bird..

Some Animals

Leopard cub face off

Other birds we can’t forget:

And that’s it Folks. We hope you have enjoyed the series.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Baobab Flower

Waterhole Punda Maria

Sunset over Balule

Kruger Part 9 – Lower Sabie

Kruger Part 9

Lower Sabie and Malelane

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

4 to 7 December 2018

Our journey from Satara to Lower Sabie produced some exciting sightings.

Leaving early we headed to Tshokwane for breakfast. As we neared the picnic site we encountered quite a few cars watching lions sleeping. A quick squizz and we went through.

Within minutes, another bunch of cars watching a Leopard asleep in a tree. A little more time here to try and get a photo and then we were off leaving the mêlée behind.

Leopard trying to snooze off his dinner

Not much further along we noticed an animal slowly crossing the road. Our first impression was that it could be a mongoose of some sort. But it had a humped back. A quick look with our binoculars told us to get up there quickly. We arrived just as it was entering the scrub by the road.

Pangolin

At Tshokwane there was no monkey business with our breakfast this time!! Still a paucity of birds around – a few Starlings and one African Mourning Dove. However in the river bed we heard a Red-faced Cisticola. It was so loud it was unmissable. Eventually it came close and I got a snap.

Red-faced Cisticola

From Tshokwane we decided to head down towards Skukuza instead of taking the direct route to Lower Sabie. All of the dams were dry and the journey passed quietly except for a Sable sighting. About five in the bush beside us about 30 metres away.

Sable Antelope

Once we had crossed the Sabie River we drove towards Lower Sabie with the river alongside us all the way. As expected there was much going on in the river. Elephants and Buffalo all the way along – sometimes in their hundreds. Hippo out of the water and many birds to be seen.

Even a Grysbok made an appearance – something we have found hard to spot.

Grey Duiker

Birds too were in the air and in the trees. There were dozens of Vultures and Tawny Eagles were seen in a couple of trees from the main Skukuza bridge over the Sabie River. In another tree we saw three Hooded Vultures, one of which was a youngster.

As the river “roared” down the rapids we also had a few sightings of other birds in the bushes.

Sabie River rapids

Eventually we arrived and set up camp. By the time we were through the temperature had soared up into the 40s C. So after a lunch at Mugg and Bean we took the rest of the day off to enjoy a rest and the swimming pool.

At our site we found a couple of Grey Go-away-birds anting in the dust.

Grey Go-away-birds anting

The heat was draining our energy and having had such good experiences over the past month we decided to only stay 2 nights at Lower Sabie and then head to Malelane for one night and return home directly from there. In other words we cut our stay short by three days.

The following day we took a drive along the river to Skukuza and Lake Panic hide. A stop at Sunset Dam first to watch the Hippos and Crocodiles and see what birds were around. On the round concrete tank close to the road there were Giant and Malachite Kingfishers as well as Green-backed Herons.

Then there was a Red-billed Oxpecker using a Hippo’s eye to perch on while it had a drink.

A Yellow-billed Stork was showing off its finery.

Yellow-billed Stork

And not to be outdone a Black-crowned Night-Heron was seen in the territory of the Green-backed Herons.

Immediately after Sunset Dam the lions were seen feasting on a Buffalo. Some exhausted from eating were seen taking a rest nearby.

On one of the many loops we came across a gathering of White Storks much to our surprise.

White Storks

At the Skukuza camp we had a quick look at the river – seeing very little of interest – and hurried to get out of the bedlam.

Lake Panic Hide had had some rain and there was a lot more water in it compared to when we visited a month earlier. There were even elephant cavorting and getting stuck in the mud. Trying to get out of the mud involved kneeling down to push itself out. Eventually it succeeded and actually pushed too hard resulting in it falling over onto its back.

A number of birds arrived and some were photographed. The star of the show in our minds was the Woodland Kingfisher.

At the deck of Mugg and Bean we had a sundowner and watched the activity in the river below us. There were some excessively large Crocodiles making a meal of a Hippo. And Lions on the opposite bank in full flow chasing Wildebeest without much joy – giving up and resting under the shade of the large trees.

Of course the pair of Western Barn Owls were still to be seen in the rafters. We spent some time at the reception entrance bird bath hoping to see the Olive-tree Warbler which Jane had told us about. No luck. However it was good to watch all the activity and inter-action between the different birds. Also it was a pleasure to listen to the call of the White-browed Robin Chat.