Zululand – Part 1

Needing a break from the Ambers, Sally and I took our campervan to Zululand for 2 weeks. We spent 4 nights in St. Lucia at Sugarloaf campsite; 5 nights in Mkuze; 3 nights in Nyalazi camp (2 kms from the Umfolozi entrance); and then 2 nights in Bonamanzi.

Bonamanzi is not shown on this map, but it is just SE of Hluhluwe town.

Most of the time it was wet and overcast which was a shame, but you take what you get and make the most of it. It certainly did not help with photography.

St. Lucia. Sugarloaf Campsite

October 23rd to 27th 2022

Sugarloaf campsite.

From a birding perspective, Sugarloaf is centrally located to visit a number of interesting birding sites in the immediate area. Both Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetlands are a short drive away; then there is the estuary and beach a short walk from the campsite – as well as the Gwala Gwala trail. An hour’s drive will get you into Umfolozi.

The campground has about 100 sites and 4 ablution blocks. The grounds are a birders paradise. On many an occasion we have recorded over 90 different species in the camp alone. And it harbours specials such as Green Twinspots, Tinkerbirds, Wood Owls, Livingstone’s Turacos, Wattle-eyes, Green Malkoha, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Narina Trogan, Brown Scrub-Robins, Shikra, Little Sparrowhawk, Hornbills, Woodwards Batis among many others.

This time we had an opportunity to take pics of the Green Twinspots and a very friendly Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird as well as a Golden-tailed Woodpecker within metres from our Afrispoor Cheetah.

Apart from monkeys there are buck, Red and Grey Duiker, Mongooses in particular Banded which form part of the attraction in the site. Monkeys were seen actually playing with a young Bushbuck – each playfully chasing each other.

Monkeys come for food so don’t leave any temptations and they will soon stop bothering you.

Banded Mongoose.

On the first morning the sun was shining. We took this opportunity to walk down the beach to see the Tern roost next to the new estuary mouth.

On the way, we unexpectedly came across a couple of Eurasian Whimbrels in the dunes. Others were on the beach along with White-fronted Plovers.

Our timing was good as the tide was out. However, the numbers and variety of species was limited and of course IDing the birds was made difficult as they were on the other bank and we had no scope with us. It was still a treat as we were able to sit and watch the antics of the birds and get somewhat excited as new birds flew in.

So that was when the tide was out. One lucky afternoon the sun came out and I was able to go back down to the estuary and watch the tide coming in. Here is a video.

Tide incoming taking part of the bank I was standing on with it.

The rains came and came again most of the time there. However, we still took drives into both Eastern and Western Shores. Western Shores was very quiet and if I remember correctly it took us an hour to see our fist aminal. We came across the Martial Eagle’s nest with a chick on board. Otherwise, the rain kept all the animals and birds in shelter.

At one of the river crossings this Hamerkop remained fishing on the bridge as we crossed, and it let us stop and take a picture.

Hamerkop

On one of our trips into the Eastern Shores we came across these three Zebra having a pow-wow. The picture of the three standing in the burnt-out bush looked unreal – as if they were placed there. More like a picture you might see on the cover of a jigsaw puzzle box.

On several occasions we visited the Amazibu Hide to search for the resident family of Rufous-bellied Herons. It was third time lucky but only one appeared. And it moved to a new location, the sun and shadows moved over it and gave it a remarkably blue appearance.

Here are photos taken in mainly the Eastern Shores side of Isimangaliso Wetland Park

At the end of this series, we shall include a bird list showing what we saw and where. From Sugarloaf we headed to Mukuze.

Sally and Paul Bartho

The St. Lucia Ski Boat Club is directly opposite to the entrance to Sugarloaf. We found it a great place to have fish and chips (and a beer) at lunchtime. In the evening the mossies can be bit off-putting.

Zululand

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

1st to 5th April 2017

Following the report of a White-throated Bee-eater in Hluhluwe, Sally and I made an impulsive decision to see if we could find it.

We decided to camp in Bonamanzi as a base and were allocated a site in their new campsite. Each campsite with its own ablution. Unfortunately I incorrectly heard the price quoted to Sally, so when we arrived it was not the R220 for the site as I expected but for each of us per night. Had I known this I would have gone elsewhere – like Hakuma Matata.

Following our trip to the Cape for five weeks where the most we paid for a campsite was R240 for both of us, the prices for camping in Zululand have gone crazy. R440 per night camping in Bonamanzi which is nothing special is ridiculous. Perhaps that is why there was only one other camper there and we did not see anyone using the chalets either.

Moving on. On the way there we drove through Hluhluwe and spent an hour and a half in the area where the Bee-eater was reportedly seen. No luck. The next day was also spent in Hluhluwe searching the area for over three hours – again no luck.

Birding appeared quiet in general however we were surprised to find out that we did identify 91 different species over the day and a half. Here are some of the species photographed.

The following day we went to Isimangaliso, entering Western Shores through the north gate. The hide had water in it but was not busy, so we headed for the aerial boardwalk. At the top we could see that the water level had dramatically increased since the last time we were there.

Western Osprey flying over wetlands at Western Shores – view from the top of the aerial boardwalk

Some of the other species seen:

Red Dragonfly or Damselfly

Once through Western Shores we headed for Eastern Shores and had to wait more than half an hour to check in – such a slow process.

Eastern Shores was interesting. There was water around, so we checked out the pans but nothing much was about. Then we headed round the Vlei loop picking up birds here and there. At one section we came round the corner and the road ahead was blocked. A rather large Rock Python lay in the road.

Rock Python

The Mafazana hide was closed. It was unclear why but we suspect they are making a new entrance road to the hide.

Time for tea so we went to Catalina Bay. Fortunately the wind had died down. From on high we had good views overlooking the lake. Because the water was so high there were no waders about and very little else too. However an African Fish-Eagle made a pass looking for its next meal. From the photo it looks as though he has his eye on something rather large.

African Fish-Eagle

African Fish-Eagle with an eye on something rather large.

Then there was the Scarlet -chested Sunbird watching a White Rhino having a mud bath.

Lunch was fish and chips at the boat club overlooking the estuary. Across on the other side major reconstruction works were ongoing. The sand hillside is being removed. There were at least 5 diggers each with 3 dumper trucks – going back and forth to the beach dumping their loads.

In the estuary there were many Terns, a crowd of African Spoonbills, Saddle-billed Storks, Grey Herons, White-faced Ducks, Pink-backed Pelicans, other waterbirds and numerous waders. Unfortunately it was impossible to get close – too muddy.

African Spoonbills

We did however manage to get to the sea shore to find a couple of Common Whimbrels.

Common Whimbrel

On the way back we drove through Western Shores taking the uMphathe loop road. A Saddle-billed Stork was seen close to the road. It appeared to be looking for something. After a while it flew off with a clump of bush in its beak. We wondered where it was headed. Then we saw it land on its nest at the top of a tree on the horizon. It’s mate was there to greet him.

Saddle-billed Stork looking for nesting material

At the Kweyezalukazi Lookout point there were about 11 Lemon-breasted Canaries – exactly where we had seen them before.

Lemon-breasted Canaries

Then around the corner in an open plain we noticed a rapter at the top of a dead tree. Out came the scope but it was too difficult to identify. You decide – we thought it was either an Amur Falco or an Eurasian Hobby. Most likely the former.

And finally as we were about to leave the park – a Brown Snake-Eagle looking remarkable like a Bat Hawk because of its posture.

Brown Snake-Eagle trying to impersonate a Bat Hawk.

And then we went to camp in Mkuze. Prices way over the mark for camping. R300 per night for the site – up to 3 people. This is just another cheap trick to generate extra income as most people either come as a couple or single. They refuse to make any concessions for groups of one or two people. The ablutions are basic and there is no power from 09h00 till 17h00 and from 22h00 to 05h00. And there is now a R10 community charge on entry plus R7 per person per night in the reserve. Camping in Zululand is becoming too expensive for most potential visitors. No wonder there are so few people in the camps.

We only stayed one night.

Impala, Nyala and Baboons were plentiful with the odd Zebra and Wilderbeest but no other animals were seen during our stay.

Nsumo Pan was very full and the hides in good condition with some having new concrete walkways.

As usual the best place to spend midday was at kuMasinga hide. We did have one mystery bird there though. What do you think it may be?

Elsewhere round the park.

Having dinner at Mkuze we noticed a person’s face on one of our hanging tea towels. Could it have been Donald?

Who do you think it looks like?

And then some bird droppings on the side of the car looking like an owl in flight.

Owl in flight

Overall we identified 144 different bird species. To see what we identified and where click here.

Paul and Sally Bartho