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