iMfolozi and Hluhluwe

21st to 26 August 2020.

As soon as lockdown allowed us, we booked for 5 nights in Umfolozi staying in Mpila camp. Unfortunately they do not have camping there so we had a choice of the tented camp or a chalet. Both the same cost. The friends we went with seemed to prefer the idea of the tented camps. However Sally and I were not that keen as we had been in late winter before staying in the tented camp and froze.

Our friends, Arthur and Rose Douglas capitulated. The advantage of the tented camp was that it was more like camping and you can easily hear all the night noises. The advantage of the chalets was warmth and staying out of the wind in the kitchen if it blew – and it did on several occasions while we were there.

Surprisingly one of Arthur’s cousins was staying in the tented accommodation while we were there and they froze. I think Arthur and Rose were happy with our eventual mutual choice.

As we were unloading our cars, I mentioned to Arthur that the monkeys are alert to newcomers and hang around for opportunities. Arthur acknowledged. However on my way back to the car for my second load I noticed Arthur had put down an open ammo box containing food next to the car as he was getting out more to carry. So I retrieved my second load, closed the boot just as I saw a monkey on the ground some distance away but with its beady eyes on the ammo box. The monkey saw me and took off for the box. I called out and raced to the box swinging all in my hand. The monkey arrived a split second before me and whipped off with a packet of crisps. Arthur looked on askance and Rose was not too happy!

iMfolozi was very dry. The Ubhejane Hide had no water but the Mphafa hide had a little. The temperatures during the day ranged from 25C to 32C at midday and around 9C at night. It would be very windy early morning and on another day very misty.

Here are some photos showing the dryness of the habitats.

As we had diverse interests, Arthur and Rose went their separate way from us. We got together in the evenings for a meal or braai and told our daily stories.

Some incidents:

After unpacking and some late lunch we set out for the Sontuli loop. A few white rhinos were passed along the way to the start of the loop. We had not gone very far along the loop road when we ran into a disturbed Black Rhino very close to the road. As we started to pass it, the rhino got agitated and showed its intent on coming our way. Quick photo and we escaped trouble.

A rather close and agitated Black Rhino

On the way round the Sontuli loop over the period we were there we enjoyed the birdlife and Sally compiled a healthy Atlas list of birds.

Coming round one corner of the loop we noticed a raptor flying very low at speed. We watched it until it landed and the scope verified it was a Martial Eagle.

Martial Eagle

Here are a few of those we photographed around Sontuli Loop.

Quite late in the day we arrived at the Lookout point just after the end of the Sontuli Loop. The Lookout point overlooks a bend in the Black iMfolozi river and has extensive views either way. There were several cars already there and everyone was watching two White Rhinos fighting. They clashed heads, they ran back and forth from one side of the river to the other. And all the while the loser was squealing – a sound we had not heard in the bush before.

Fighting White Rhinos

One White Rhino dominated and as it chased the other across the sandy river bed, its long pointed horn was poking the other’s backside. We later learned that it drew blood.

The next day we bypassed the Sontuli Loop and headed for the Lookout point. On the bypass we came across another agitated Black Rhino close to the road and when we checked the other side of the road there two more much further away thankfully. Again we managed a few quick photos before moving on.

At the Lookout point we scoured down the river bed to see if there was any evidence of the fighting Rhinos. There wasn’t. However we had good sightings of a number of bird species.

We continued towards the Ubhejane Hide and had not gone far from the Lookout point when we came across what looked like a mating pair of African Hoopoes.

Hoopoe and Mate.

Just as they were getting friendly, another male arrived and they had a face-off before combat began. The sequence of events that follows was repeated several times before a winner was declared.

The ground battle began.

Suddenly they were in the air about 2 metres off the ground and the battle became more intense.

At times they would fly up a further 2 metres and battle would commence again sometimes with clashing of bills.

Eventually the challenger flew off admitting defeat.

Another place where we had some minor excitement was the low lying bridge crossing a parched river on the way up to Mpila camp. On the right as we started crossing the bridge heading for the camp we noticed a large tree leaning on the bridge. It looked like the top had been sawn off. In fact it was a stump which had been washed down when the river was raging and had lodged up against the bridge.

Bridge and tree to its left from this view.

One day we noticed what looked like lumps of rock in the river bed – Buffalos lying down as it turned out on closer inspection. And on another day looking down river there was a large herd of buffalos ambling down river. Several passed close to the reeds on the left as we looked on. Suddenly those closest were startled by a huge elephant poking its head out of the reeds as they came close. On another occasion there was an Elephant crossing the river and further down a Rhino. It was only when I processed the photo that I realised it was another Black Rhino (our 5th).

Another area we enjoy in the park are the cliffs at the end of the road as you pass the Cengeni gate entrance/exit. The cliffs are a boundary to the White Imfolozi river. The lookout point overlooks the river and the cliff faces. This time the river was dry with a few pools here and there where the odd Pied Kingfisher and African Stonechat were taking their chances.

In one area in the north west of the park there were numerous White-backed Vultures including several on nests with chicks.

At one point we stopped next a Burchell’s Coucal. Photos were taken as the bird hissed at us – a new sound for me. It sounded how I would expect a snake to hiss. In another area a well ruff hair-styled Bateleur posed in the mist for a photo shoot. A Red-crested Korhaan made an appearance. So did a pair of Crested Francolins, a rather pale-looking Fiscal Flycatcher, a Pale Flycatcher, several lone elephants and odd looking ant-hill mushrooms.

On another occasion we went to the Centenary Centre and through the tunnel after the iMfolozi Park entrance. Coming down one of the side roads movement was spotted right by the car – about 6 Senegal Lapwings – much to our surprise. Then after the tunnel we climbed up the hill a ways but everything was quiet so we looked for a safe place to turn around. Just as we were about to turn round we heard a Gorgeous Bush-Shrike calling. Ever hopeful to actually see it we stopped. There it was in the tree beside us hopping from branch to branch. Then we noticed another Bush-Shrike even closer but its identity was not immediately obvious. Sally told me it was a juvenile Gorgeous Bush-Shrike – something I had not seen before and which if I were on my own I would probably never have identified.

Senegal Lapwing

One morning wandering around Mpila camp we came across some Vervet Monkeys and one of them showed us how the Monkey Apple tree got its name.

Also around the camp there were Schotia trees in bloom and the birds were in and out all day. Apalis and Crombecs, Bulbuls and Drongos to name a few. From the front verandah of our accommodation we had a view over the cliff. Each day we noticed a White-throated Robin-Chat dancing at the edge in the scrub.

We spent a lot of time in the Mphafa Hide overlooking a small pool of water below the rock face.

View from the Mphafa Hide- elephant to the right.

Baboons came and went, so did Impala, Nyala, Elephant, white Warthogs and numerous birds. The friendly Mocking Cliff-Chats came and visited us in the hide, White-throated Bee-eaters were hawking all day long showing their lovely colours. Even a Greater Honeyguide came for a drink.

On one very misty morning we set off early to visit the other side of the park – Hluhluwe.

We tried not to stop long anywhere on the way as it is a two hour drive to get to the game area by the Memorial Gate entrance/exit to Hluhluwe.

Once through the “Corridor”, we were into Hluhluwe. Here we noticed that the signage had just had a new coat of paint. Unfortunately the manager had not told the painters that the Thiyeni and Seme Hides were no longer in use. We did find the entrance to Thiyeni Hide but it was closed and in the same dilapidated state it was in many many years ago. We followed the signs for the Seme Hide but it was no longer there.

As we drove down the dip to cross the Hluhluwe river, with the mist all around, it looked like we were entering a tropical paradise.

Hluhluwe river crossing

After crossing the dry river we stopped at the picnic site overlooking the Hluhluwe river and the cliffs opposite. Always a scenic place to stop for a cup of tea and a wee.

There was a lovely chorus of bird sound – quite eerie in the mist. And the odd Green Pigeon poked their heads out of the fig trees.

At the iSivivaneni Stones monument we turned right along the dirt road to the east of the park heading to the Memorial Gate. Along the way we came upon a number of bird species which we had not seen in iMfolozi. Including Black-backed Puffback, Crested Barbet, Crowned Lapwing, Red-breasted Swallow, Little Bee-eater and Yellow-throated Longclaw.

We also checked out the road below Hilltop camp along the Nzimane dry river bed. We did not go far as the area looked so arid.

We also enjoyed the flowering Schotia trees and the busy birds in them as we drove around.

At the Maphumulo picnic site we met up with our friends Arthur and Rose for some lunch and a wander around enjoying the freedom of being out of our vehicles.

Some rather nice special birds in the picnic site.

Our bird list is available for download below. In all we identified 121 different bird species.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this post.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Sunset

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”

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

 

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