St. Lucia

26 to 30 August 2020

After our 5 days at Mapila Camp in iMfolozi we headed to St Lucia for a further 4 nights. We stayed at Sunset Lodge at the suggestion of Sally’s son and wife who used to live there. The owners Rich and Shelly are friends of theirs – a really friendly couple.

The accommodation was excellent. It was a log cabin done very tastefully. Everything kept in “as new” condition. We had a one bed flatlet with lounge/kitchen, bathroom and a stoep.

During the time there, we visited Eastern Shores a few times, Western Shores and a walk through the Gwala Gwala trail with Ian Gordon and of course the beach for waders and seabirds.

The weather was a bit unfriendly – cool, windy and misty at times with the occasional splatter of drizzle.

Sally made contact with Ian Gordon and we met early one morning to visit the Gwala Gwala trail and then to visit Western Shores. Another cool day.

We parked at the entrance and were greeted by several friendly Crested Guineafowl. In the clearing there is probably one of the largest and tallest “Cabbage” trees that I have seen. We then entered the trail.

There was a fair bit of calling along the Gwala Gwala trail but few birds actually seen. Forest birding. September Bells were everywhere in bloom.

Western Shores was a bit quiet too as we arrived quite late in the morning. However we did have some puzzling excitement along the way. On entry we took the uMphathe loop road to the picnic site. Then went to the eMgadankawu Hide at the north end of the park followed by a climb up to the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk on the way out of the park. Slides of the eMgadankawu Hide.

Some animals and birds seen along the way.

The puzzling excitement came as we passed the picnic site. Looking back we noticed a raptor flying towards the picnic site. It appeared to have a ring tail and that excited us. We turned around and set about trying to find it which we did. It was in the reeds at the waterhole just before the picnic site.

Sadly in the end we identified it as an African Marsh Harrier after all. Still it had us pondering for a while.

We spent a morning on the beach looking for waders and seabirds. Very noticeable were the hundreds of Lesser Flamingos on the mud flats. The first day we arrived in St Lucia they were right beside the entrance to Sugarloaf camp site. While there we saw them rise into the air like a swarm of Quelea before settling back down.

Lesser Flamingos and a few Greater.

It was hard to recognize the changes to the estuary. Tall reeds intruded onto what were mud flats making it impossible to see the far end close to Maphelane.

A few other water birds were spotted in this area.

We started early to get to where the birds were. Our goal was to head to the Tern roost. So off we set down the boardwalk to the sea to walk around the reeds and hopefully find them on the mud flats. There they were at the extreme end of the mud flats – a very long walk carrying scope, camera and binoculars.

To get to the Tern roost we had to walk right to the far end of the mud flats and then negotiate our way to a spot where we would get a closer view of the birds. A tricky scenario as with each step you did not know how far you might sink. However we managed, eventually finding a firm place to stand and get the scope on the birds.

There were many terns but all were (Swift) Greater Crested Terns except for a lone Caspian Tern. A few Grey-headed Gulls were present and quite a lot of different waders including Ruddy Turnstones, White-fronted, Ringed and Three-banded Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Common Whimbrels, Little Stints.

There were a few mystery birds – too far away even with the scope to positively ID. One that looked like a Plover or Sandpiper seemed to have a white rump – see poor photos. Even some of the Stints looked unusual.

Behind the Terns and much further away were all the Flamingos which we had seen on our first day. An African Fish-Eagle flew over and they took to the air.

After about an hour or more there we decided to leave. We did not get far. Literally as we turned to go we heard this raucous “wide-a-wake” call from above. It was the Sooty Tern arriving. It sure made its arrival known and quickly took its place among the Greater Crested Terns.

On our first afternoon we went into Eastern Shores. First to look for the Rufous-bellied Heron. No luck. In fact we went three times before realizing that we had gone to the wrong place. We had gone to iMboma Pan.

But still no luck when we found the Amazibu hide overlooking the wetland where the Rufous-bellied had been seen – and was seen again several times after we left..

Just African Jacanas.

On the Vlei Loop we had several interesting sightings – a large herd of buffalos in the wetland area as well as two White Rhinos fighting for dominance. And they were serious. We were pleased to see that their horns had been removed leaving a bulbous stub. If not, then one of those Rhinos would have been badly injured. One Rhino had its head and horn beneath the other’s back left leg and raised him clear off the ground.

Fighting Rhinos

That first afternoon had another exciting sighting. Driving at the end of the Vlei Loop just before we hit the tar, suddenly popping out of the scrub came a Leopard walking straight towards us. Time maybe for a few shots before he disappeared so I turned off the engine, lent out of the window and got a quick blast. Then I realized I ought to close the window – but cannot do that with the engine off. The leopard was due to pass by my window in hands reach. But for some reason the Leopard crossed the road virtually touching our car and then disappeared into the bush.

Lucky Leopard
Lucky Lucky

We visited Mission Rocks. Stopping at the picnic site before heading to the end of the road and the beach. The picnic site had some lovely flowering Erythrina [Coral] trees.

At the end of the road at Mission Rocks we took the passageway to the rocks and looked out along the coastline.

On the way out we stopped at a convenient place to look out over the ocean where we noticed Hump-backed or Southern Right Whales passing by, blowing away and splashing their tails.

The pan at the kuMfazana Hide was dry and at Catalina Bay (Jock’s Mess) the vegetation below was fully overgrown and extremely difficult to spot any waterbirds therein. There was nothing to see out in Lake St Lucia either as it was very windy.

The Kwasheleni Lookout post is set atop the Dunes and gives a 360 degree view. Overlooks the sea, Lake St Lucia and the grasslands and dune forests below.

At Cape Vidal we wandered along the beach and saw a few birds – mainly White-fronted Plovers and Grey-headed Gulls. A Yellow-billed Kite made a close appearance – possible to see if we had anything it could snatch.

As we drove alongside Lake Bhangazi there were very few birds to see.

However on the opposite side there were Kudu.

Kudu.

That led us to the grassland area of the Bhangazi Grassland Loop. Here we encountered Collared Pratincoles virtually one every 100 metres. Strangely they were not prepared to fly off until we were right on top of them. Our journey for many kilometres was a slow one.

Driving through the park we had a number of pleasant bird sightings. There was a Juvenile Crowned Eagle seen from a distance – as were the two Secretarybirds on a nest. Red-breasted Swallows on the road side. A Brown Snake-Eagle and Vervet Monkeys as well as an obliging Yellow-bellied Greenbul.

Despite the weather we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in all the many places to bird. In total we identified 138 different bird species. Our list is downloadable, click below.

We left St Lucia with the rain. And on our way home What’s App messages kept being received saying that not only had the Rufous-bellied Heron been relocated but other special birds had turned up – Gull-billed Tern and Chestnut-banded Plovers. We considered doing a U-turn except that we were already half way home.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Zululand Trip Report

Paul and Sally Bartho

19 to 25 October

On impulse Sally and I decided to head up to St. Lucia for 4 nights and the same at Kube Yini (between Mkuze and Phinda). Then onwards, wherever, for a further week.

As it happened we ended up staying only 3 nights at Kube Yini then coming home. Everywhere was exceptionally dry. But the deciding factor to return home was yet another side wall puncture.

At St. Lucia we camped in the Sugarloaf campsite. Water was restricted due to the drought but the campsite did not appear to be affected – other than they only opened two of their four ablution blocks.

During our time at St. Lucia we went birding in Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetland Park as well as around the estuary mouth and the campsite. As you can see from our bird list (click here to see it), our time in St. Lucia around the estuary and campsite was the most rewarding.

On the first morning we headed for Eastern Shores. However as we left the camp gate we checked the sand bank in front of the Boat Club and restaurant. There were quite a number of Pied Avocets among numerous waders and terns. Most striking, however, were eight Black Herons together.

In the Eastern Shores we had two interesting experiences – firstly on three occasions we came across Southern Banded Snake-Eagles. One with a full crop after devouring a green snake.

Southern Banded Snake-Eagle
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle

The second experience was at Lake Bengazi. (An aside – the causeway is still not passable due to the road collapse some years ago). Looking out across the Lake to the western side there were hundreds and hundreds of Pelicans on the shore line – mainly Great White but also Pink-backed.

Altogether in the 6 hours we were there we identified 72 different species.

The second full day at St. Lucia we headed for Western Shores – windy and overcast. Virtually all the dams were empty of water. From the boardwalk overlooking Lake St. Lucia we could see how much the drought had affected the water levels in the Lake.

One of the highlights was stopping next to a male and female African Cuckoo-Hawk on the ground not 20 metres from us.

And then at the main picnic site, we noticed a small dam with some water – probably being pumped in. At the dam there were a number of Collared Pratincoles and a Wood Sandpiper – soon to be scattered when three noisy Spur-winged Geese arrived.

The picnic site is a lovely location however it could do with some tables and benches under the trees. Here we had a good sighting of a Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Altogether only 48 different species were identified in the 5 hours we were there.

Most afternoons we spent time birding around the campsite and on the beach. Because of the wind the beach was fruitless and the banks of the estuary had few birds.

The exception to this was the sand bank in front of the boat club restaurant. Among the numerous waders and shore birds we did manage to find an unusual Plover.

The guide with a group of American tourists said it was a Lesser Sand Plover. However as the photos below show – it was in fact a Greater Sand Plover (unless of course  both were present). The greenish legs lead me to question what I photographed.

If we had read the text in the Roberts App more closely we would have known to watch its behaviour. When foraging the Lesser takes about 3 paces then pauses for about 2.5 to 3 seconds. The Greater takes about 9 to 10 paces then pauses for 5 to 8.5 seconds!

Also present on the sand bank was a Grey Plover in semi-breeding plumage.

IMG_8586

The campsite itself as usual had an abundance of different birds – some of the more notable for us were the Livingston’s Turacos, Purple-banded Sunbirds and an obliging Bearded Scrub-Robin.

But perhaps the most unexpected appearance was that of an African Wood-Owl. We were having dinner when it flew to our table knocking over a handbag on the ground beside the table. It then sat in a nearby tree and kept foraging at the base of a tree not three metres away from us.

Altogether in the camp and nearby estuary a count of 94 different species – not too shabby.

And then it was time to move on to Kube Yini where we stayed in a rather large cottage belonging to a friend of ours.  The cottages are all on the top of a number of steep hills. Everywhere was very dry and waterholes empty – except for the two where water was pumped in – both rather small.

It was a decided challenge to back the camper into the driveway!

Here we settled in to the luxury of large space. Checking the map of the area we thought that we should head for the river in the canyon below. So the first afternoon after settling in we headed down to do a short loop. In parts it was steep any very rocky – progress was slow and the birds likewise.

The next day we headed for a longer drive alongside the river. Again steep and rocky everywhere so the drive lasted probably 2 hours longer than we thought. Birds there were, close to the river but nothing that stood out.

Our best birding was around the cottage – Burnt-necked Eremomela, Bearded Scrub-Robin and African Yellow White-eye. In the evening the call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar. And on the plains below next to the clubhouse a Flappet Lark called for our attention. 61 different bird species were identified while we were there.

That evening we went to the clubhouse to watch the RSA semi-final along a number of other residents. In one conversation we mentioned that the roads are very rocky especially on the way up and down to the river. They were aghast and surprised that we had  ventured there as none of them did.

After the rugby on the way back to the cottage we heard the very unpleasant sound of a tyre giving off puffs of air on each revolution and the piping alarm of the tyre pressure monitor sounding.  Somehow we managed to get back to the cottage before it went completely flat.

The tyre took ages to change simply because we have a Fortuner and they have this ridiculous system to lower the tyre beneath the car. The problem being to insert a long bar unsighted into a slot designed for perfect alignment. Much cursing and swearing until by chance it unexpectedly went in.

The next day we only ventured to the clubhouse to watch the final on our own. The next day – home.

Enough adventure for this trip. But altogether 152 different birds identified.

Paul & Sally Bartho

St Lucia July 2015

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Monday 20 July to Friday 24 July 2015

Sugarloaf campsite in St Lucia was not too busy. School holidays had ended. There was water rationing in St Lucia which meant that one day we had no tapped water but the rest all day. Water bottles were laid out at each of the ablutions blocks. Power cuts were from 5 to 6 pm several nights – yes only one hour.

We spent a morning in each of the two parts of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park – Eastern and Western Shores. And one morning in the Gwalagwala trail. Time was spent on the beach too, though the gulls and terns were mostly down the coast chasing the sardines. No Franklin’s Gull!

The weather was mostly kind to us and we did have rain on several nights which helped to bring out the birds the following mornings.

In all we identified 63 birds in Eastern Shores, 64 birds in Western Shores and 82 birds in and around the campsite, Gwalagwala trail and on the beach. In total 125 different bird species were identified. Click here to see the lists.

Here are some photos of the birds seen.

And a few butterflies and mystery Cisticolas for ID.

Zululand and the Kruger – Part 11

St. Lucia as well as Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetland Park – 23 to 27 November 2014

Paul and Sally Bartho

After a short drive from Ndumo we reached St. Lucia and chose to stay in the large Sugarloaf campsite which was relatively empty. Eden Park is very nice and well treed but Sugarloaf is situated right next to the boardwalk which follows the estuary to the beach. Peak season and the campsites are full to bursting – not pleasant. We tend to avoid weekends at Sugarloaf due to boisterous fishermen. Eden Park – if it is open – is quieter at those times.

During our time here we visited both Eastern and Western Shores of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park as well as spending time around the estuary and on the beach. The campsite too is usually full of interesting birds – Green Twinspots, Woodward’s Batis, African Goshawk, Livingstone’s Turacos amongst  many more common bush birds.

Eastern Shores was the first place we visited. We went in early and spent till midday there. On entry we had our first and only trip sighting of an European Roller.

We took the Pan Loop to visit Amazibu Pan – it was quiet. However there were several Collared Pratincole on the opposite bank. One obligingly appear on our side for a photo.

Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole

Then we took the Vlei Loop around a large wetland area. Also very quiet but we did manage to see a southern-banded Snake-Eagle in the distance. Apologies for the quality of the photos.

Just after the Mission Rocks turn-off there is a road to the left taking you to the relatively new Mafazana Bird Hide. Again all was quiet here too. It is a 200 metre walk through the forest to the hide. The hide is massive with 3 viewing levels. Be alert to potential predators. Once, on arrival, I exited the car only to be shouted at by Sally to get back in. There was a large male leopard not 30 metres away.

On the way back we had our first sighting of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and a lone Crowned Hornbill.

In total we only identified 56 different bird species during the few hours we were in Eastern Shores.

Western Shores was a lot more productive and yielded 108 different bird species. We were there for a few hours longer.

It is very different from Eastern Shores – large expanses of open grassland, wetland areas, several open ponds, intermittent patches of forest, a very clean and open picnic site, a boardwalk up through the forest to a tree top platform overlooking Lake St. Lucia below as well as a bird hide at the northern end of the Park where the elephant prefer to hang out.

During the drive on the one way loop we came across a number of interesting species – Long-crested eagle, a juvenile fish-Eagle, numerous Black-bellied Bustards, Red-breasted Swallows, Yellow-throated Longclaws and Petronias to name a few. However the highlight for me was the Lemon-breasted Canaries. We had great views of 2 or 3 right in front of us beside the road.

Some photos of birds on this loop:

We came across what we believe to be a Booted Eagle going from one grassy area to another.

And a mystery Cisticola – possibly a Black-backed?

Mystery Cisticola
Mystery Cisticola

At the hide there was little or no water unfortunately but we did see this juvenile African Cuckoo-Hawk on the branch of a distant tree.

African Cuckoo Hawk - juvenile
African Cuckoo Hawk – juvenile

When we visit St. Lucia, Western Shores is a must visit for us.

Back at the campsite we spent some time listening to the birds and walking around the 100 campsites. The Woodward’s Batis serenaded us each morning as well as the Livingstone’s Turacos, Red-capped Robin-Chats (Natal Robin) or RCRC birds, Greenbuls; Eastern Nicator and others.

If it was not windy we went to the estuary and the beach – looking for the Sooty Tern which seems to have habituated the estuary for a number of years now as well as for the Bar-tailed Godwit which we had heard about on Trevor Hardaker’s Rare Birds Report.

On the beach we were fortunate to find a flock of 13 African Black Oystercatchers:

And further down the beach towards the river mouth we spotted numerous terns – mainly Swift Terns but also Little and Common – all distantly on the opposite bank on the river mouth. Amongst them were many waders including Sanderlings; Little Stints; Common Ringed, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers; Common Whimbrel. However the birds that stood out most were the Terek Sandpiper and the Lesser Sand Plover.

We walked the mudflats at the mouth of the estuary – watching out for both Hippos and Crocs when we remembered and weren’t too carried away by the birds. On the way to one area we came across a feeding area full of common Waxbills. They were there on previous occasions when we had visited.

Many small waders were present; Sanderlings; Little Stints; Common Ringed, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers; Curlew and Common Sandpipers. But there were a number of specials too: Pink-backed Pelican, Grey Plover, Pied Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone:

And then to cap it off we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits.

The campsite, the beach and the estuary gave us 71 different bird species.

In total we had observed 142 different bird species whilst in St. Lucia.

And then it was time to go home after 7 weeks away.

Look out for a summary follow up including:

  • a bird list of what we saw where, highlighting what we thought were specials
  • our worst sighting
  • pictures of birds for ID
  • photos of some of our specials

Hope you have enjoyed the series. It has brought back fond memories for us and the desire to venture anew.

 

Northern Zululand – A Summer Odyssey.

Northern Zululand – A Summer Odyssey.

Trip Report by Paul & Sally Bartho

29 Dec 2013 to 11 Jan 2014

Sally and I decided to spend the New Year camping away from home. Northern Zululand was our destination. Our program:

  • 3 nights in Bonamanzi
  • 4 nights in Mkuze
  • 4 nights  in Ndumo
  • 3 nights  in St. Lucia

Bonamanzi.

At Bonamanzi we stayed in Campsite 5 and joined friends who were already there. Campsite 5 is huge and can accommodate 4 camp groups easily – however there is only one toilet/shower and one wash-up area. As pensioners it cost us R90 pppn.

In Bonamanzi as you may know you are able to walk anywhere on the property except in their Game viewing area. This is great for birding. However elephants do use the area as well. One morning when driving to the office we found a huge branch across the road and elephant tracks confirming who was the culprit for this roadblock. Beware.

The first night we had a lot of rain. So the next morning we (our friends and ourselves) decided to visit Hluhluwe rather than bird in the rain around the campsite. It continued raining.

Taking the shortcut to the freeway we went through numerous muddy pools past the Hakuna Mutata accommodation until we got to the bridge. The approach to the bridge was up a short steep bank which looked muddy and badly cambered – so down I went into Low range 4×4 and up we went – well actually did not make it. About a third of the way up the Fortuner slowly drifted off the road onto the trees on the left. Fortunately I was able to reverse out of trouble without damaging the car. Now the long way round to Hluhluwe.

The rain persisted. However we decided to look for the Finfoots (Finfeet?) which our friends had seen the previous day. Taking the immediate right turn as you enter the park we drove round to where they had seen them basking next to the river crossing – no luck! About the only excitement we had were 7 White Rhino crossing the road in front of us. They were the first aminals we saw since entering! Aminals were scarce and the birding was not much better. Eventually we decided to return to Bonamanzi for lunch. Altogether we had seen 35 species of birds in the 3 hours we were in Hluhluwe.

The following day we walked around the camp area and went on a drive to explore other parts of Bonamanzi. In one section we had heard an African Broadbill on a couple of occasions (Pathway E to F). Later we went back with our friends and another couple who had arrived to see if we would have any better luck.

Sally mentioned to Irene that you needed to look on cross branches about head height in the bush. We had not gone more than 20 metres when Irene spotted a Broadbill – unbelievable. I managed to get a few poor shots which you can see in the gallery below. On the way back I popped into the bush to see if I could get a few better shots – no luck finding the Broadbill but I did surprise a Narina Trogon – see pics in Gallery.

After that we visited the office area and drove back in the dark spotting a Shikra on the road munching on its prey – unconcerned with the car’s headlights on him. Poor pictures in the gallery.

Bonamanzi yielded 89 species plus one UI (Unidentified) Raptor – have a go there is a pic in the gallery. Most of the Cuckoos were heard as well as the Green Malkoa. A Black Cuckooshrike in magnificent breeding plumage gave a great display round the campsite – yellow gape and epaulets very strident. A Red-fronted Tinkerbird and a Bearded Scrub-Robin also gave us great displays in the campsite.

Mkuze.

Surprisingly the tent was dry as we packed to leave Bonamanzi. We headed for the new gate to enter Mkuze. On the way we passed Muzi Pan. The water level was so high that it was a raging torrent beneath both bridges along the Muzi Pan dam wall. Not surprisingly there were few bird species about – we saw only 9 in the 10 minutes we stopped there. The Knob-billed Duck being the most interesting.

Mkuze Campsite. Still has water problems – the boreholes run dry regularly and the water is unfiltered so not only is it inadvisable to drink but the silt that comes with it is damaging all their taps – water leaks all the time.

Trying to book a campsite at Mkuze is often difficult because of this. Also they try to restrict the number of bookings to 10 campsites as that is all their one staff member can handle. They have over 30 potential sites. When we arrived on 31st December one man was still trying to cut the knee high grass in 50% of the sites!

On top of this the Ezemvelo Parks Board have fixed the campsite rate at R230 for 3 people – an increase from R180 last year (almost 30%) with no improvement in facilities and no way to get a rate for 2 people. Like Sodwana who charge for 4 people irrespectively, this is a total rip off.

During the 3 full days in Mkuze we never managed to find the newly released Lions perhaps because they are still happy to return to their boma where they were kept originally and also because all the rain the grass was high everywhere.

Some of our more interesting bird sightings include:

  • Black bellied Bustard
  • Lemon-breasted Canaries
  • Cuckoos vociferously calling – Black, African Emerald, Diedrik’s, Klass’s, Jacobin, Levaillant’s and Red-chested. A pair of the latter  chasing each other round the main office.
  • Namaqua Doves
  • Lesser Spotted Eagle.
  • Burn-necked Eremomelas
  • Grey Go-away-bird
  • a juvenile Greater Honeyguide around our camp being fed by Black-bellied Starlings.
  • Woodland Kingfishers
  • Common Quail obligingly walking ahead of us on the road to KwaMalibali Hide
  • Red-backed Shrikes – everywhere
  • Neergaard’s Sunbird – always a pleasure
  • Grey Penduline-Tits in the trees above our campsite
  • Red-throated Wrynecks

At the end of our visit we had identified 140 bird species – the pans were very full discouraging many water birds otherwise we would have expected many more.

Ndumo.

Ndumo is always a special place to visit and the local guides have a reputation of excellence. It is always a pleasure to take advantage of the early morning walks which at R110 pp is really good value.

Again we had 3 full days in the Reserve. On one of these days we spent the morning in Tembe Elephant Park.

Tembe was full of elephants – fortunately in the open swamp area so we could easily see them and not be chased by them as happened twice the last time we visited.

Although it felt like birding was quiet, we managed to identify 66 species in the 4 hours we were there. We were rewarded with sightings of an African Cuckoo-Hawk juvenile and an African Harrier-Hawk – the only place where  we saw each of them. The other special sighting was of a pair of Woodward’s Batis. No Plain-backed Sunbird.

The rest of our time spent in Ndumo.  We went on a morning drive and 2 early morning walks and of course explored the Reserve on our own. In all we identified 142 species including an Eurasian Hobby.

On the last morning I went on the Southern Pongola walk. There were 3 of us and our guide, Sontu. His skills are superb. On the walk we heard the Narina Trogon and an African Golden Oriole – however the highlight was spotting a Black Coucal in the wetland area.

St Lucia

Sugarloaf Campsite in St Lucia was our base for 3 nights. It is a huge camp with 100 sites ideally located right by the sea. It was only about 20% full and the fishermen were well behaved. Watch it on weekends as they can be quite raucous. The three nights was R432 for both of us – very reasonable.

We birded in 3 areas: Eastern and Western Shores and around the campsite.

Western Shores is the newly opened area of the iSimangaliso WetlandPark. It has been very well developed. The habitat is predominantly flat open grassland with outcrops of woodland and forest. There is currently a lot of freestanding water with many wetland areas. There is one hide and a boardwalk to a lookout point overlooking LakeSt Lucia. The picnic site is large, shady and well situated. We spent almost 6 hours there covering the whole road network.

As we approached the hide a herd of elephants – about 15 – saw us and calmly walked away allowing us access. Then at the hide, just as we were about to leave, Sally saw a raptor flying over the pan in front of the hide. Small head and quite barred underside. We got excited. Sally immediately pronounced what she thought it was. The bird then landed in one of the large broad-leafed trees opposite us about 100 metres away. Out came the scope and luckily the bird was not secretly hidden within. On further inspection we had a clear sighting of its head and tail and it was clear that Sally was correct. A lifer for me – a European Honey-Buzzard.

I include some pictures of the habitat and a few of the birds we were lucky enough to photograph. In all we saw 72 species in the 5.5 hours we were there.

Eastern Shores. Similar in habitat to the WesternShores but more hilly with coastal forest and the sea and shore. There are 2 bird hides and several lookout points and picnic sites as well as a number of side loops off the main road to CapeVidal. In the past we have seen both White and Black Rhino and Leopards (one right next to the car park for the large new Mafazana hide).

On the Vlei Loop we saw our first raptor – a Southern-banded Snake-Eagle. It was sitting prominently in a bare tree with the sun directly behind it. We had to work hard to get the right angle to see it clearly enough to identify it.

At the Mafazana hide Sally spotted 2 Saddle-billed Storks on top of a distant tree. We wondered if they were starting to breed early!

The other sighting worth mentioning was surprisingly that of a Lilac-breasted Roller. It was the first and only sighting of one on our whole 2 week trip – most unusual.

In all we identified 73 species in the 6 hours we were there.

St. Lucia, Sugarloaf Camp and the immediate shore.

On setting up camp the monkeys arrived. There were also a couple of Grey Duiker close by. It was hilarious to watch them interact. One approached the other and the next minute they were all chasing each other around the site. Other aminals seen in the camp included Bushbuck, Red Duiker and interestingly Reedbuck – often paying little attention to us Humans.

Right next to the camp is the boardwalk to the sea and the mouth of LakeSt Lucia. Hippos and Crocs were very evident – just waiting for one of the fishermen to get too close.

On the first afternoon after setting up our camp we headed for a walk on the beach. We were surprised by a Palmnut Vulture which flew over our heads  and landed on the inland side of the beach at the mouth of LakeSt. Lucia. We approached slowly watching it nibbling on the base of some of the spindly grass protruding from the muddy edges of the lake – managing to get with 15 metres of it. An unexpected waterbird!

Campsite birding was very good. One R-C R-C (Natal Robin or as Sally says Cossypha Natalensis) joined us for a sundowner doing good imitations of an African Emerald Cuckoo. An African Goshawk landed in the tall pine trees above us to sing his good-bye as we prepared to leave. But probably the highlight was a wonderful view of a male Green Twinspot in vivid plumage.

In all we recorded 57 species in and around the campsite including the walk along the waterfront.

Sadly we returned home to a chilly welcome in a not so sunny Hillcrest.

In total we identified 235 species on our two week odyssey.

If anyone would like a copy of our excel spreadsheet showing which birds we identified in each of the 9 different reserves we visited, then click here to contact me.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Paul & Sally Bartho