Christmas in Zululand – Part 2

Mkuze and Bonamanzi


22nd to 28th December 2019

The journey from Ndumo to Mkuze took a couple of hours. We arrived early and set up camp by 09h30. My sister and family had arrived the day before and were out on a drive when we arrived. When they got back we were enjoying breakfast – bacon and eggs – much to their surprise.

Continue reading “Christmas in Zululand – Part 2”

Australia – Melbourne and Brisbane Part 2

Part 2


7th to 25th October 2019

Variegated Fairy-wren

After almost three weeks in Melbourne with family we flew to Brisbane for the second part of our trip to Australia. This was our time to do some birding and to visit good friends living in the area.

On arrival we collected a cheap hire car for our travels which we collected from the airport. Our intention was to stay at different forms of accommodation as we travelled around. We figured that it was probably as cheap as hiring a campervan and we would have the pleasure of more comfort and access to our own loo.

Hire Car

Our first two nights were spent in Brisbane at a “Backpackers” which turned out to be more students accommodation for Asian students. Cheap and friendly.

The intention of our stay there was to stock up our food and booze supplies etc. as well as to do some local birding in the many parks in and around the city. So first we drove into town and followed the GPS to a “shopping mall”, parked underground, did our shopping and went to pay for parking. Rude shock AUS $18!!

We had hardly settled in at the Backpackers when we had a call from David to say he was not happy with us staying at a “Backpackers” and offering for us to move to better accommodation. Unfortunately that would mean losing time to bird the area. As we were meant to stay there also on our last night, David said he would book us into the Pullman hotel at the airport- much appreciated.

It took us some while to re-familiarise with the Australian birds. We went inland to JC Slaughter Falls to start with – hoping to find the Powerful Owl which habituates there. No luck and sort of surprised that birding was so quiet. This was a trend in most places because of the severe drought all over Australia. It is a very hilly park with tremendous views overlooking the city.

A Pacific Baza was one of the exceptional birds we did find in the Park along with an expected Laughing Kookaburra. Pied Currawongs and a Pied Butcherbird were also photographed.

There were a number of coastal beaches and wetland reserves we visited – Wynnum, Sandgate, Godwin Beach and Toorgul.

Wynnum: In the centre was a large body of water with hundreds of Grey-tailed Tattlers and White-headed Stilts. Some of the birds seen and an odd feather which appeared to be swimming:

Sandgate and Dowse: On the way to Sandgate we passed an inland body of water – Dowse Lagoon. A line of Plumed Ducks on the bank caught our eye so although it was late we stopped.

We had some interesting birding there. Spotting a darting Little Corella and a Brahminy Kite as well as Latham’s Rail on a nest and a number of Kingfishers.

We eventually got to Sandgate too late for birding.

Another place we visited was Godwin Beach where we did some shore bird birding.

And a raptor seen there needs identification:

Boondall Wetlands was an interesting place to visit – walkways through the mangroves.

One of favourite birding spots was Oxley Creek Common.

Oxley Creek Common

We visited Oxley Creek Common several times and made a good bird list (a bird list of what we identified and where is available to view or download at the end of this report).

Another bird for ID:

What am I? Striated Pardelote

After two days in Brisbane we headed north to Peregian Springs and Noosa. Here we stayed with friends for two nights. The bushfires came close to their home a couple of weeks before we got there. Some school kids had started a fire in the local forest and it raged along the coast for several days. Fortunately our friends were not evacuated but they were prepared just in case.

Our friends, notable birders, took us out to see the surrounds and to do some birding in areas which we never would have considered. Wonderful two days.

Then there were the birds and other critters:

And What am I?

After our time in Peregian Springs we went south of Brisbane and stayed for 2 nights in a grotty home – a shock after the lovely home we stayed at in Peregian Springs. Time was spent all day exploring the local parks and going to the wetlands in the area – Berrinba and Eagleby . Back to Oxley Common – our best inland birding spot around Brisbane.

The next 3 nights we spent in a splendid annex to a home at the base of a wooded mountain in Willow Vale – 52 Pitta Place.

From there we explored the Gold Coast (naf – my opinion) and several of the nearby birding spots. Probably the best of which were close to where we were staying.

Eventually we headed to O’Reilly’s via the Joalah Section in Mount Tamborine. A small reserve but one we really enjoyed. The first bird we saw in the canopy was a Wompoo Fruit-Dove a truly colourful bird. Logrunners were everywhere rustling the undergrowth but well camouflaged. On a short walk to the bottom to explore the waterfall we heard and found a pair of Green Catbirds – another first for us. At the “waterfall” at the bottom there was a Dragon and an eel – some of the other wildlife.

The drive to O’Reilly’s was interesting up the hairpin turns through the woods of gum, into an open area before eventually getting into the real forest – some 936 metres above sea level. We were expecting it to be much higher up so it was interesting to see how the habitat changed from such a small climb.

Our time at O’Reilly’s was spent birding alone as they had no guides to spare (which would have been great for night-time birding). As it was, day time birding did not really need a guide tho’ it would have been useful to identify some of the bird calls. There were many well trailed walks through the forest – so photography was testing especially taking shots of silhouetted birds. I gave up the monopod with a gimbal head as a dead loss – it was more of a nuisance than a help. 

The weather did not help as it was often overcast, misty or rainy. Despite that we had numerous lifers – some too easy to avoid – Satin and Regent Bowerbirds, King-Parrots and Crimson Rosellas virtually all over you.

Sally King with her tame King-Parrot headdress.

We did find some great birds amongst the forest walks – Paradise Riflebird (female), Green Catbirds, Topknot and Wonga Pigeons, Brown Gerygone, Yellow and Pale-Yellow Robins, even a Latham’s Snipe with its lovely striped back. We did not pick up a great variety of birds but we really enjoyed what we did see.

Paradise Riflebird female

The bar menu was reasonable by Australian standards and the Barramundi and chips was excellent so much so that we each chose it on the two occasions we ate there. That was the meal of choice too for the resident Possum!!

The highlight though was the Albert’s Lyrebird.

Once, we had a glimpse when it ran past us on one of the trails. However the first time we saw one was on the road in front of the Lodge reception while people gathered there for their morning guided walks. They were all too engrossed with the birds at the entrance to notice! Even the guides.

But our best viewing was right outside our room as we headed to the bar for a drink and dinner. There it was shuffling the leaves first with one foot and then the other. It was there for ages and took no notice of us less than 5 metres away. Sally even took a video which is not all that bad.

This is one place we would always return to when we next visit Brisbane.

Our next destination was Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary – some 850 kms east of Brisbane. A two day drive with a stop over at St. Georges. On arrival we relaxed a while before having a look round the village and alongside the river.

It was a long lonely road except for an occasional aminal crossing the road. Vehicles few and far between.

Another three hour drive and we got to Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary. As expected the accommodation was quite basic but it had good hot water and showers. It consisted of 6 rooms, 3 on either side of a long large dining space. A basic kitchen which worked and occasional WiFi to boot.

As you can see from the photos above the landscape was dry and dusty. However the worst part of the outside were the numerous burrs on the ground. You think you are treading on what look like cotton balls. In reality they are full of burrs. Which explained why there were several large hard bristle brushes nailed down beside every floor mat entrance to the Shearer’s Quarters. When you got back from walking around you had grown almost one cm in height with all the fluff and burrs under foot. All the burrs were impossibly prickly – forever attached to your socks and inside your shoes – made for uncomfortable walking at times.

When we arrived we were greeted by the volunteers in charge of managing Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary and they went through a list of birds we thought might be available to find in the area. Half the birds were quickly scratched off.

However, of those left on the list we made good in roads and ticked off I would guess 80%. Special birds included Spotted Bowerbirds; Apostlebirds; Chestnut-crowned and Hall’s Babblers; Bluebonnets; Common Bronzewing; Black-breasted Buzzard; Crimson Chat; Major Mitchell’s (aka Pink) Cockatoo; Splendid Fairy-wrens; Black and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters; Bourke’s, Mulga and Red-winged Parrots; Australian (Mallee) Ringnecks; Rufous Songlark; Brown Treecreepers; and all the Woodswallows except Dusky. Also numerous waterbirds.

The area is relatively small and flat so you can get around the area birding in a couple of days. There were numerous habitats where different species were found – although it was hard to know the difference from one to the other unless you knew your trees and bird habits. We were lucky to be told where to look for different species.

There were a few birds photographed which we are having difficulty to identify. Any help would be appreciated. Here they are:

Fortunately it was not muddy as we would have had difficulty. As it was the car was so dusty we had to wash and blow the dust out before returning it.

As we left Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary we were fortunate to see 13 Brolga and an Australian Bustard in an open field full of bales of straw.

On our journey back to Brisbane we overnighted at a motel in Goondiwindi. A look along the river bank yielded two new birds for this trip. Little Friarbird and Pale-headed Rosella.

Sadly it was time to leave and return home. However our last night was spent in luxury at the Pullman Hotel at the airport – thanks to Sally’s sons.

For those interested click on this link to our bird list. What we identified in each location we visited and overall.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Golden Whistler

Australia – Melbourne and Brisbane Part 1

Part 1

September October 2019

When both Sally and I go to Australia we have two goals. The first is to spend time with Sally’s two sons and their families in and around Melbourne and to see how her Grandchildren are growing up. Of course while there we take the opportunity to bird too and we have covered many of the different birding locations in Victoria.

Continue reading “Australia – Melbourne and Brisbane Part 1”

A Birthday Surprise to Giant’s Castle

Bearded Vulture

27th and 28th August 2019

To celebrate my birthday, Sally took me to Giant’s Castle – somewhere I yearned to return to – especially to spend a day in the Vulture Hide. And that is exactly what she had in mind. As we passed the turnoff to the hide Sally casually mentioned that was where we were headed. Great birthday present.

Continue reading “A Birthday Surprise to Giant’s Castle”

A short visit to Tala Game Reserve

Sunday 25th August 2019

On Sunday 25th August we visited Tala Game Reserve near Camperdown with Sally’s step daughter Michele and her son Matthew. We arrived around 09h30 and spotted some White Rhinos in open grassland near the entrance. We drove towards them and on the way Matthew spottedĀ  a Black-headed Heron hunting for frogs and we also saw some Lapwings, Black-winged and Crowned next to the road.

Continue reading “A short visit to Tala Game Reserve”

Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens

Sunday 18th August 2019

Sally and I had most enjoyable birding with KZN Midlands at the Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg. The day started off very misty and took its time to clear up. Despite that the birding was good. It all started with a Black Sparrowhawk as we entered the Gardens and went on from there. Here are a few of the birds we saw.

Continue reading “Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens”

Bahati, Zululand

July 14th to 19th 2019

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

After the Umlalazi weekend outing (some photos shown at the end of this report), Sally and I headed north to Bahati Game Farm. Here we camped for five nights. Bahati is very close to Bonamanzi – about half a kilometre on the opposite side to Bonamanzi heading to Hluhluwe town.

Continue reading “Bahati, Zululand”

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.


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