Zululand – Lesser Noddy

Sugarloaf Campsite, St. Lucia

25th to 28th March 2023

Isimangaliso Wetland Park

On impulse, Sally and I decided to go to Cape Vidal to see the visiting Lesser Noddy. It had been present there for quite some time so we thought that we would take a chance. The speculation was that the Lesser Noddy – presumably from around The Seychelles – had been blown off course by Freddie – our unfriendly cyclone.

We headed to Sugarloaf campsite in St. Lucia for 3 nights – our Afrispoor Cheetah in tow.

We arrived late-afternoon and set up camp. Considering we had only made the decision to go at 09h00 that morning, this was not bad going as we had not even collected our Cheetah nor considered packing.

The next morning, we were up and on our way to Cape Vidal as soon as the Isimangaliso gate (Eastern Shores) opened. We arrived there at Cape Vidal about 06h20. We purposefully planned to get there early to coincide with all the reported sightings of the Lesser Noddy being reported around 06h00.

It was odd driving through the Park pre-dawn. And there was water everywhere. At one point there was water across the road with two Red-billed Teals enjoying an early morning dip.

Water, Water everywhere right up to and across the road in places.

Typical watery landscapes:

On arrival at Cape Vidal, there was only one other person present looking for the Lesser Noddy – Anton Kruger of “Firefinch” App fame. The tide was in, so no part of the reef was above water. After patiently waiting and scanning the beach, we believed that we should return later when the tide was out and the reef exposed. Anton told us that he had arrived the afternoon before and seen the Noddy but that it had flown off south soon after he had seen it. Our hopes subsided.

So off we went for a drive round the rest of the Park. We headed for the Grassland Loop to the south of Lake Bhangazi. And Lake Bhangazi was so full that it came right up to the causeway – something we had never seen before. Usually it was 50 to 100 metres distant.

Lake Bhangazi

And looking to the south (the other side of the causeway) – more water right up to your feet too.

The south side of the causeway – yes water.

The wind had a negative effect on bird and animal sightings. However, we did see several buffalo in the distance as we travelled the Grassland Loop. Here are some of the photos taken:

It turned out that we were following Anton around the Grassland Loop. At one point near the end of the Loop he pointed out a Lesser Moorhen swimming about in one of the many ponds.

We did find another later in the day on our way back to camp. It was on the Pan Loop road. We had checked the pond from the Amazibou hide and seen nothing. So we thought we would go to the hippo pond at the end of the Pan Loop. As we descended, we noticed that the water on our right was right up to the road and the road ahead was flooded. We were not going any further. As we were turning around we noticed a waterbird swimming through the reeds – another Lesser Moorhen.

Once back on the tar, we had not gone far when we came across the Martial Eagle – pictured below.

It was at the end of the Grassland Loop on our way back to Cape Vidal that we saw the imperious Martial Eagle shown above. And as we were watching, a carload of friends from Durban drew up alongside us. They told us they had seen the Lesser Noddy.

That was it. We decided it was time to get back to Cape Vidal as quick as we were allowed. As we passed Anton’s car we called out to him that the bird was there. And we set out together at pace. After a while I noticed that Anton was no longer behind us and assumed that he had slowed down for some reason. We continued.

Once at Cape Vidal, Sally and I headed for the now protruding reef.

Lesser Noddy-land.

As we approached the reef, we saw the Noddy flying over the rocks. Well at least we had seen it even if we don’t get close. But close we did get. The Lesser Noddy kept its vigil over the rocks and flew around in circles over them, sometimes landing but at times flying over us really close. Eventually it decided to pose for us and landed on the rocks less than 10 metres from us. What a lovely sighting – probably to easiest lifer sighting in our experience.

The reef over which the Lesser Noddy patrolled:

Setting the scene:

Anton appeared and we asked what had kept him. He told us that as we drove ahead of him, we disturbed a large male leopard which walked out in front of him. Stop they did for his wife and children to enjoy. If that had been us, I am sure we would have been in a serious quandary as to whether or not to stop!!

A number of Sanderlings and a White-fronted Plover were also feasting among the rocks.

That afternoon, back at St. Lucia, we took a walk along the beach to the estuary’s mouth to the sea. We went to see the Terns and the African Skimmers which had been hanging around amongst the Terns for some time. And they were there – unfortunately on the other side of the estuary.

The next day we went to the Western Shores side of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. A very cloudy, drizzly and windy day. Again, we saw little until much later in the morning on our way back to Sugarloaf campsite.

Despite the short visit and the adverse conditions, we managed to identify 92 different bird species – the list of which you can see by clicking on the download below.

As a matter of interest, the Lesser Noddy did a disappearing trick the day after we saw it. We were so fortunate.

Sally King and Paul Bartho

Cape Vidal and St. Lucia. 25th to 30th August 2013.

Cape Vidal and St. Lucia. 25th to 30th August 2013.

Sally and I went to Cape Vidal campsite for 2 nights followed by 3 at Sugarloaf campsite in St. Lucia. We endured strong wind for all 5 days. Our tent extension was defrocked one night in Cape Vidal and on the last day when we were in Umfolozi.

Despite the wind the weather was pleasantly sunny and not too hot.

The campsite in Cape Vidal was infested with Vervet and Samango monkeys. Turn your back on them at your peril as they will take any food within your arm’s reach if you are not looking – and sometimes even when you are! It is well shaded and mostly flat and sandy. Beware – it is expensive as they charge for 4 people even if there are only 2 of you. It cost the 2 of us R252 a night and that was with a 40% discount! Sugarloaf cost us R324 for the 2 of us for 3 nights (also with a 40% discount).

The Loop road past Lake Bengazi is closed as part of the road has been washed away – apparently sometime ago and there is no sign that it is being repaired.

Sugarloaf Campsite in St. Lucia is located right at the end of the road  to the boardwalk beside the estuary leading to the beach. Unfortunately it is a preferred fisherman’s campsite and so to be avoided at the weekends despite it having 100 campsites.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Eastern Shores) is one of our preferred parks close to Durban. It has a good variety of game and is known for its leopard sightings. We go for the birds and we were not disappointed this time with excellent sightings of Southern-banded, Black-chested and Brown Snake-Eagles; adult and juvenile Cuckoo Hawks; Collared Pratincoles; etc…

(If you click on an image it will enlarge and you will be able to scroll through the rest of the pictures in that gallery. To return to the text move the mouse cursor to the top left of the screen and click on the “X” when it appears).

St. Lucia also did not disappoint with a good variety of waterbirds including African Black Oystercatcher, a sea paddling Pied Avocet, Kittlitz’s, White-fronted, Three-banded and Curlew (in partial breeding plumage) Sandpipers, Ruff, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, Caspian and Swift Terns, Grey-headed Gulls.

However “la piece de la resistance” was a Sooty Tern amongst a group of other Terns, Gulls and Avocets. It was sheltering on the leeward side of the wind in the estuary.

If you visit St. Lucia do take a walk along the Gwalagwala Trail early morning. Park in the Office car park. Listen for Woodward’s Batis and Green Malkoha.

The campsite too has a good variety of birds.

We spent one day in Umfolozi and were not disappointed despite the extensive burnt areas in the park.

The Bhejane Hide is still under construction so our only alternative was the Mfafa Hide. Recently it has been the source of a number of leopard and lion sightings – however for us it was a number of interesting small birds and a rather large Rock Monitor.

Some photos taken around the Park:

Probably our best viewing area was at the bend of the Umfolozi river at the end past the Cengeni Gate. Here we saw quite a number of raptors: a Lanner Falcon on the river bed, a couple of Lanner Falcons dive bombing a Tawny Eagle with a little help from a pair of African Harrier Hawks and a Yellow-billed Kite not to be left out of the action, Bateleur, Brown Snake-Eagle. There was also a good view of a Southern Ground-Hornbill across the river.

Finally to cap the day we had the following sighting on the way back past the Cengeni Gate. It was no more than 20 metres from us but totally camouflaged. Look at the photos first without enlarging and you will see how easy it is to be missed 

Now click on the images and enjoy what we were able to see with the help of our binoculars.

Altogether we saw 88 Species in iSimangalizo (Eastern Shores); 71 species in and around the campsite in St Lucia and 61 species in Umfolozi.

Sunrise in windy Cape Vidal
Sunrise in windy Cape Vidal

Photos care of Sally and Paul Partho.