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

 

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.

St Lucia and Mkhuze – May 2015 – Part Two

Eastern and Western Shores, Isimangaliso Wetland Park

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Eastern Shores.

Sunrise
Sunrise

On entering the Park very early on a chilly morning, we were greeted by the sun rising on our right. Not to be outdone the moon was setting on our left.

The sunrise had a glowing golden affect on some of the early birds we saw and photographed.

The park is in drought – none of the pans has any water  – not in the Pan Loop, Vlei Loop nor at the Bird Hides. As a result the birding and views of animals was fairly disappointing. The water level of Lake St. Lucia appeared to be similar to the level when we visited last November.

Some of the specials we identified included: Fiscal Flycatcher, Brown Scrub-Robin, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Livingstone’s Turaco, Rudd’s Apalis, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Saddle-billed Stork, Goliath Heron and Olive Bushshrike.

Western Shores.

Again we entered Western Shores as the gate opened and stayed for the full morning – driving all the roads in the park.

Like the Eastern Shores there was no water in any of the pans so waterbirds were only seen at the Lookout point over Lake St. Lucia. And those that we saw were limited to a few residents.

Driving along the Loop Road we came across Lemon-breasted Canaries at the Lookout point. This was close to where we had seen them on our previous visit. And further along at the edge of one of the thickets we saw four or five Tambourine Doves eating together on the ground.

We did flush a Buttonquail along the road which we suspect was a Common Buttonquail based on its size and pale appearance as it flew away from us – but we cannot be certain.

A number of Fiscal Flycatchers were seen and we also identified a few other specials: Livingstone’s Turaco, Striped Kingfishers, Black-chested Snake-Eagles were seen flying overhead and Orange-breasted and Gorgeous Bushshrikes were heard.

On the eastern loop to the Lake St. Lucia boardwalk and viewing platform we circled an almost dry pan. In it were three Saddle-billed Storks – one a juvenile. Also present were Pied Crows and a juvenile African Fish-Eagle in its deceptive plumage. And in the trees close-by was a good looking Martial Eagle.

At the Platform at the top of the boardwalk a pair of Rudd’s Apalises were calling and showing themselves. Always very nice to see well.

Again like Eastern Shores birding in the park was uninspiring.

Our next day’s birding was at Umfolozi. See Part Three of this series.

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.