Sand Forest Lodge Weekend Away

Report by Cheryl Bevan

11 to 13 March 2016

Twenty birders headed out to Sand Forest Lodge near Hluhluwe for our first weekend outing of the year. Some had arrived a day earlier in pouring rain.

On Saturday we set out at 06H30 for False Bay for a 7 Km forest walk. Not all of us lasted the full 7 Km.

We heard a lot of birds but sightings were scarce as it was very dry. The trees and butterflies were amazing.

A distant Cuckoo caught our attention –  either an African or Common. We managed a photo for you to judge for yourself. Our conclusion was that it was a Common Cuckoo based on the bill being predominantly black. Unfortunately we could get no views of the underside of the tail.

Further along we came across this spoor. Half the size of a ladies size six boot. Any ideas?


There was also a rather smart Dark-backed Weaver’s nest hanging in the woods.

Dark-backed Weaver's nest.
Dark-backed Weaver’s nest.

After our walk we went to the picnic sight for tea. There was absolutely no water in the bay except in the far distance where we saw a group of flamingos.

Picnicing on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
Picnicking on the banks of the rather empty False Bay.
False Bay looks like this.
False Bay looks like this.

Saturday afternoon John and Paul were chatting when they saw a flock of European Bee-eaters feasting on flying ants right in the campsite. And then the show began. Everyone eventually gathered with their chairs and we were entertained for a good hour and a half with a variety of interesting birds.

Birdwatching in comfort
Birdwatching in comfort

There were Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, White-winged Widowbird, African Yellow White-eye, Willow Warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, African Palm, Little and White-rumped Swifts, Klaas’s Cuckoo and African Paradise Flycatcher.

Also observed were the numerous butterflies and trees full of looper-type caterpillars which crawled everywhere including on you. Large hornets carrying and burying Loopers which they had stung.

Sunday’s early morning walk through the sand forest and grasslands of Sand Forest Lodge brought us Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, African Cuckoo, Diderick’s Cuckoo, African Green Pigeon among many others. For Jane and Mike, they were attracted to the African Cuckoo by a dive-bombing Eurasian Golden Oriole. It transpired that there were two African Cuckoos in the same place – something considered unusual.

What a way to end a fabulous weekend.

Click here to read the bird list of 91 species identified.

Cheryl and John Bevan


Paul and Sally along with Dave and Jenny Rix took a late morning trip to Mkuze on Friday before the weekend started. Nsumo pan was by no means full but the bird life was very active with all sorts of waterbirds to be seen. Mike and Jane had even seen Greater Painted Snipe there earlier in the day.

St. Lucia

Paul and Sally also spent two nights at Sugarloaf campsite on the way home. Sunday night the rains came in force. The next morning we learned that Lake St. Lucia had gained 6.1 million tons of fresh water from the Umfolozi River. A godsend as they badly need it and more.

As usual the estuary mouth was full of interesting birds. Greater Flamingo; Pink-backed Pelicans; Goliath Herons; Saddle-billed Stork; hundreds of White-faced Ducks; Avocets; Grey-headed Gulls; Swift Terns; a few Little Terns and Lesser Crested Terns; numerous Curlew Sandpipers changing into breeding plumage; White-fronted Plovers; Common Ringed Plovers; Grey Herons.

Also seen was an adult Palm-Nut Vulture flying low over the dunes and also an Osprey circling above with a large fish for dinner.

A trip into Eastern Shores, Isimangaliso Wetland Park early morning after the rains  was very quiet. Birds were trying to warm up and dry off so not much activity.

Back in camp the Livingstone’s Turacos were often calling above our campsite.

Always a special place to visit at this time of the year (and any other time of course).

Paul and Sally Bartho

Mhlopeni Weekend

Report by Paul Bartho

23 to 27 September 2015

Mhlopeni Nature Reserve is located between Greytown and Muden in KZN. Mhlopeni (Place of white stones) is located in a rain shadow area of the Tugela river basin. Part of the dry valley bush veld, considered to be the most degraded veld type in KZN.  It is a Natural Heritage site.

Ancient and modern history provides a glimpse into archaeological sites, from early stone to iron age, findings, dating back to 250 000 years ago.  Holding artifacts of these eras is a truly unique experience.

The weekend outing was organised by Cheryl and John Bevan. Five people took the cottage and six of us the campsite (an additional 2 joined the campsite group later).

Once you leave the tar road the route takes you through some challenging tracks – driving over rocky outcrops, and rough ground where high clearance is preferred. Having said that there were several regular cars which made it.

The cottage is well located overlooking bush veld to the dry river bed. It is well equipped despite the lack of electricity. It can sleep 8 though the curtained partitions may be off-putting for some. One loo and shower.

The campsite was being completed as we arrived. There is a boma and one loo with shower. Here also there is no power but there was plenty of sun to keep the solar panels busy. Although there was just enough space for all of us it meant those at the far end would have had a challenge on departure – trying to get past the other campers. Fortunately we all left together.

As a Bird Sanctuary, Mhlopeni is abundant with many birds of prey, and being on the confluence of the north, south, coastal and inland species distribution limits over 230 species are recorded on their bird list.

Some of the birds photographed:

Of course other critters were seen including a gang of what I thought to be hyenas being chased by the camp dog. Butterflies need id.

Rustic walking paths provided us with vistas and sounds of the diversity of healthy dry valley bush veld.

Most mornings we followed the road and paths along the dry river bed.  with its intriguing geology.

One afternoon we visited the Mooi River which was flowing and forms part of the northern boundary of the property. This is a dead end track which several people mistakenly took on the way to the camp. It has dreadful dongas and is very narrow with steep sides to the river. Once on this track it is only possibly to turn around at the end – fortunately for those towing a trailer!

The weather was extremely hot after about 9 or 10 in the morning. By then birding was over till later in the afternoon. Most sat around a shady spot enjoying what cool breeze there was.

Much of the birding was done round the cottage and campsite. In the river bed next to the campsite there was a Schotia brachypetala in full bloom.

We took chairs and sat in the shade and watched the comings and goings of a wide variety of birds – mostly Sunbirds Amethyst (male and females) Greater Double-collared (male and females) White-bellied (male and female) but there were also Olive Bushshrike, Cape White-eyes, Green Woodhoopoes, Barbets, Weavers, Woodpeckers nearby. Birds were constantly coming and going.

One Sunbird in particular came regularly and called every time it arrived staying at the top of the tree, taking its nectar and flying off. We guess that it was possibly feeding young. The problem with this bird – if it is what we believe – it is out of range. An out of range form with photos has been submitted following our atlas card being sent in. The call of the bird was recognised as that of a Grey Sunbird and you can make your own judgement from the photos below. This was not the only place we had seen and heard the Grey Sunbird while we were there.

Altogether we compiled a bird list of 110 different species. Click here to see our list.