Our Fortuner needed to be run in for at least 800 kms before we could tow our off-road trailer. So we decided to visit Mkuze and stay in one of their rest huts for 3 nights.
So we had 2 full days for birding/Atlassing. In that time we virtually drove all the roads around the Game Park. As usual kuMasinga was the best waterhole for birds and animals. However we did see some specials as we drove around.
The journey from Ndumo to Mkuze took a couple of hours. We arrived early and set up camp by 09h30. My sister and family had arrived the day before and were out on a drive when we arrived. When they got back we were enjoying breakfast – bacon and eggs – much to their surprise.
A chance remark to my sister resulted in Sally and I being invited to join her in the TEBA Cottage at the very mouth of Kosi Bay Estuary for four nights. We had a couple of days to prepare for our trip.
A long way to go for four nights so Sally organised for us to have three nights in Mkuze on the way back – staying in the hutted camp accommodation.
We prolonged the forecast six hour journey by taking a longcut through Phinda on the district road. Instead of turning off the N3 at Hluhluwe we went on a further 20 kms and took the Phinda off ramp to the Phinda reserve entrance and because we were passing through there was no charge.
The 30 km dirt rode through the reserve enabled us to see aminals and birds. Towards the end of the road we encountered a pair of Cheetahs lying in the shade with their legs protruding onto the road. We stopped (although strictly speaking they suggest as we were passing through not to do so in case of trouble). The Cheetahs took little notice of us and stayed put. An pleasant and unexpected start to our trip.
My sister had organised our entry permits for us so we were able to pass quickly through the gate and proceed down to the TEBA Cottage at the river mouth.
The cottage is rustic. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with shower the other with a bath), large kitchen, dining room and a deck with panoramic views across the bay. Yes hot water in the kitchen and for the bath as well as the basins in the bedrooms. No electricity, just a generator powering batteries for lights and the fridges and freezers. That said, it was a privilege to stay there. No neighbours and the bay in front of us.
Each morning, up early and into the coastal forest – following the sandy road to the cottage- listening and trying to spot the many birds present. Getting good sightings was very tricky and many of the birds we identified were by ear – Sally’s mostly.
There were Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eyes, White-starred Robins, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers, Grey and Olive Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weavers, Black-backed Puffbacks, Southern Boubou, Natal Robins, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Rudd’s Apalis, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Terrestial Brownbuls, Brown Scrub-Robins all adding their sounds to the bush.
Of course there were many butterflies too – which we have been unable to identify.
The weather was kind to us – not too hot and cool at night. Mossies were few and far between. A lot of time was spent on the beach and wading up the estuary looking for birds.
A group of waders on one of the sand strips – the tide was out – caught our attention.
Through the scope we decided that we needed to get closer to confirm our ID. A long distance photo confirmed our ID. Then I decided to wade out to get closer. As it happened a group of people got too close to the group and they flew landing on the same sand strip that I was on. I took my photos and then they flew up the coast towards Mozambique.
Here are some photos of other water birds we sighted in and around the estuary.
Fish seemed to be plentiful for the locals – perhaps their methodology was unusual.
A walk the other side of the estuary southwards along the coast with my sister, Natasha and Sally also gave us an unexpected surprise. My sister spotted shoals of fish riding in the waves and then she spotted a Loggerhead Turtle doing the same. In the end we had three more sightings of others doing the same.
Right at the bottom of the stairs leading down to the beach from the cottage there were several large trees which had collapsed into the sea due to corrosion. A the base of one of these lived an eel. Very colourful – bright yellow with dark markings – seen several times.
And in the water at the base of a tree there was a Lion Fish. On one morning it swam around in the sunlight enabling me to get a few nice photos of it.
Our bird list was not prolific and many of the bush birds were identified by sound. In the end we identified a total of 48 different species. Click here to see the list.
After four relaxing days at Kosi, Sally and I headed for three nights at Mkhuze staying in the hutted accommodation. We had two full days to explore the Reserve and visit the hides.
As an aside, if you plan to visit, be careful at night as the hutted camp is not secure. We were told that the previous week a lion was seen around the nearby cottages
We did see an elephant as it walked past the Masinga Hide without popping in to disturb the other aminals there. Other than that we encountered only the usual zebra, giraffe, nyala, impala, warthogs, gnus, baboons and monkeys.
Of course Masinga Hide is always worthwhile to see aminals and birds.
And some of the birds seen there.
The campsite is a good place to see birds and we were not let down when we went there. Here a few of the specials we saw there.
Malibali Hide – near the campsite – was full and we enjoyed the new hide. This time however it was relatively quiet but again we had a few specials to see.
Driving around the bird life was patchy in places yet we did manage to see a wide variety of different species which we had not see at any of the hides.
The second hide to the right of the picnic site at Nsumo Pan is another of our favourite hides except when the wind is blowing. Fortunately the weather was kind to us when we visited. Here are some views from the hide.
On arrival we were treated to a sight we had not expected. Looking out to the left there were pairs of Little Grebes, African Pygmy Geese and White-backed Ducks. And as we scanned the pan there were at least another 20 African Pygmy Geese and about 8 White-backed Ducks. In the past we would have been lucky to see just one pair of African Pygmy Geese.
African Jacana were on the lily pads, a Malachite Kingfisher put on a show, Whiskered Terns were seen all across the pan. And on the far side many other water birds could be seen.
On the shore line heading towards the Picnic site we spotted several Water Thick-knees and what appeared to be a three legged Black-winged Stilt – 2 red legs and one straw coloured!! All close to the African Fish-Eagle which was occupied on a meal.
The picnic site at Nsumo Pan is also one of our favourite places to visit especially for a tea and pee break. Birding is also good normally. And the day we visited was our lucky day – very special.
On the way in an African Paradise Flycatcher welcomed us.
Hippos greeted us bobbing up and down among the lily pads close to shore.
Pink-backed Pelicans and Yellow-billed Storks flew overhead.
Western Cattle Egrets were fishing from Hippo perches. And even a Grey Heron took its chances.
Even the bush around the picnic site had some interesting birds.
It was only as we were leaving that Sally heard a Sunbird calling. When we found it we both were thrilled by what we saw.
On one afternoon drive we returned quite late and driving up from the kuMahlahla hide, we encountered several Spotted Thick-knees as well as Fiery-necked Nightjars.
The Thick-knees I managed to get a few reasonable photos. But I lost out big time with the Fiery-necked Nightjar. There was one sitting on a bare branch right beside the driver’s side of the car. Quickly I put my camera onto Auto and took a shot. Flash goes off bouncing off the inside of the car. Rats. The bird is still there so I try again. This time the flash works perfectly but the bird flew off as the camera took focus. Later I checked the photo and it was a perfect shot of the branch – if only the bird had stayed.
Zululand birding is always full of pleasant surprises. The variety is plentiful. We love going to visit the many different habitats.
In all we recorded 122 birds – identified for Bird Lasser. Click here to see the list.
It was time to get away – you could say the lure of the bush was calling. This time a short trip – 4 nights in Mkuze and a couple in St. Lucia.
Rain and overcast conditions followed us and remained intermittently at both venues.
Mkuze was lush- the vegetation was green and grown up. There were no bare patches to be seen unlike the last time we visited in July 2018. The Fig Forest was flooded from rains upstream and consequently Nsumo Pan was as full as we had ever seen. Despite that only two inland hides had water (KuMasinga and Malibali) and all of the other scattered pans and wallows were dry.
Nsumo Pan was one of the first places we visited. We stopped at the first hide heading towards the Nsumo Pan Picnic site. As we approached we noticed what looked like two ducks in the shadows under the hide. However they were something entirely different and most unexpected.
With the water level so high there were no waders about at Nsumo Pan.
However there were a number of waterbirds about at Nsumo hides and at the Picnic site.
As expected, Kumasinga hide was busy. Many animals as well as birds close-by – making for reasonable photographic opportunities considering the sunless skies. A number of birds appeared with confusing ID issues which made it all the more interesting trying to get to their correct ID. One bird in particular – a Sunbird – was an interesting example of this.
What we saw immediately was a Sunbird with a distinct bib and yellow Mylar stripes either side of the bib. A quick look at the Roberts App suggested a Plain-backed Sunbird – and its plain back also seemed to confirm that.
It was feeding what we considered to be a fledgling so we considered it to be an adult bird despite its yellow gape.
However a Plain-backed Sunbird would be a rare sighting in Mkuze so it did not feel quite right. We checked the Roberts App for pictures of Sunbirds and nothing had the bib except for the Plain-backed Sunbird. The new Roberts Field Guide eventually gave us the correct ID by showing a picture of a juvenile male Marico Sunbird. It shows that sometimes initial impressions can be so wrong.
The antics of birds and animals were a pleasure to watch. Burchell’s Coucals chasing each other, Little Bee-eaters and Swallows coming in for a drink or a bath, Red-billed Oxpeckers having a communal bath spraying drops of water over each other, Giraffes drinking, a Slender Mongoose casing the joint and many birds just coming to the water’s edge for a drink. One oddity were the Red-billed Oxpeckers. There were at least 20 present all the time. They never left with the animals but hung around for their next feed. We tried to work out if the animals not only came for a drink but also for a clean up. Or was it that the Oxpeckers hung around because they knew they were on to a good thing. Perhaps both options.
But there was one bird which appeared unexpectedly.
Yes, a Dwarf Bittern up high in a tree. Wonderful sighting.
Of course there were camp birds. We were greeted by a pair of singing Striped Kingfishers. As the sun set, the Little Swifts serenaded us. However because of the weather the camp was quiet.
It was on the Loop road where we saw the most raptors and an unexpected one at that as well as bushveld species.
Our last morning was spent at Malibali hide. And surprisingly the activity was as interesting as that at the Kumasinga hide. Now that there is water all sorts of creatures appear out of the woodwork.
Over a three hour period we saw three different elephants coming in for a drink and a splashing.
The last sadly with a vicious snare wound (which the camp conservation team were aware of). The elephant had to be darted to remove the snare and to be given treatment. You can see from the photos how bad it looked. Fortunately it appears that the medicine is doing its work. It can walk normally and put weight on that leg. What was interesting was the elephant, having arrived with the would very visible, left with it fully coated in mud by the elephant to act as protection for the wound.
Here are some of the other species photographed at the waterhole.
Then there was a full breakfast to be seen.
Our bird list for Mkuze can be seen later as it has been combined with our viewings at St. Lucia.
Our next destination was St. Lucia. The main purpose at St. Lucia was to enjoy the waterbirds seen at the mouth of the estuary and to try and find one or two of the special birds seen there earlier this year – Gull-billed Tern, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Lesser Frigatebird or the vagrant Noddy on the off chance.
St. Lucia weather was even more overcast and rainy than Mkuze. We took our chances when the heavens were not crying to walk the beach and explore the estuary. We managed to get out twice. On both visits we came across a small Tern roost in the estuary. Despite the numbers it was good to see the variety there – Little and Swift in numbers with Common, Lesser-Crested and Sandwich Terns among them. Even a Caspian appeared. However amongst the Terns and Gulls there was no sign of the Gull-billed Tern.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were feeding over the sand dunes. Not a sight we expected to see.
No sign of the Noddy – not a surprise as we know how fleetingly it was seen in the first place. And the Lesser Frigatebird did not make an appearance either. Fortunately we had seen it there on a previous visit.
Black Oystercatchers were seen on the beach water’s edge in the distance. Whenever we got close they moved on. Grey Plovers and Whimbrels were also present. On one occasion we saw a distant Black Oystercatcher with another smaller wader – we assumed either a Grey Plover or Whimbrel. Because it was so distant we did not pursue it and visited the Tern roost instead. After some time we left the roost and headed back to the beach to see if by chance we would have any luck spotting the Eurasian Oystercatcher.
The beach came into view and there was the Black Oystercatcher we had seen earlier. And with it the other smaller bird. Once we had our binoculars on it we realised it was the Eurasian Oystercatcher. As close as we came so they moved away. I managed to get a photo or two but it was a nightmare photographing into the sun.
Hooray – a lifer for me.
On our last – yes, rainy afternoon – we ventured into Eastern Shores – more for something to do than sitting around the camp in the intermittent rain. As expected both animals and birds were scarce but we persevered. Eventually we got to the Lake Bhangazi turnoff having explored most of the other loops on the way.
This drive is a 17 km drive back to the main road. Initially it passes through dune forest and onto a raised road between Lake Bhangazi and a wetland. This part of the road is also well forested and narrow. Coming round a corner I said to Sally “Look ahead”. She was scouring for the bird she thought I had seen. Only it wasn’t a bird but a magnificent creature lying alongside the road.
Well worth the drive and a good way to end our trip. Our bird list for both Mkuze and St. lucia can be seen by clicking here. 135 species identified in Mkuze and 77 in St. Lucia.
Leaving Umlalazi we headed for Mkuze to camp for 4 nights. Having booked ahead we arrived at the campsite to find a very agreeable chap looking after the campsite. However the first thing he told us was that there was no water except in the Jojo tanks. The pump had broken down and so had their water tanker and the one they borrowed from Sodwana!!
Not feeling very happy about this we went to the office to get them to provide us with alternate accommodation. Everything was full and the best they could offer us was a 50% refund – I wonder if we will ever get it!!
Anyway we made the most of it and stayed in the campsite. Jojo water to washup and flush the loo. Showers in the rest hut communal ablutions.
Game viewing was hindered by the long grass from the rains they had had. We saw none of the big game in the four days we were there – just the usual GWIZ brigade – Giraffe, Wildebeest, Impala and Zebra – plus Warthog and Nyala. All the roads were in good condition and the new hides were a pleasure despite the cold and biting wind.
Birding was good for the time of year and we managed to identify 132 different species – click here to see the list. Some of the specials seen included: African Pygmy Geese, White-backed Ducks, Green Malkoha, Striped Kingfishers, African Cuckoo Hawks, Pink-throated Twinspots.
Prior to going on the BLPN Weekend Outing to Sand Forest Lodge, Sally and I decided to spend a couple of nights camping at Mkuze.
The campsite has a lovely layout with two ablution blocks. It’s main issue is lack of maintenance and site management. The other issue is that they charge for 3 people minimum, making the cost for two people prohibitive unless they are offering discounts.
Anyway we enjoyed our two night stay despite no water on the last morning.
All the hides were open but there was little water at the hides except those at Nsumo Pan and kuMasinga.
Anyone wishing to identify this tree? It’s fruit is the size of a Gooseberry and yellow/orange in colour.
KuMasinga was quiet both times we visited. However there was a pair of Egyptian Geese with 8 goslings wandering about near the water. What was interesting was to see all 8 goslings (at this stage no longer small chicks) snuggling together completely under mother goose. Not sure how she managed it.
Also seen at kuMasinga hide were:
Nsumo Pan was overcast and windy, rain threatening. Despite that we had what we thought was an unusual sighting of 6 Comb Ducks on the opposite bank from one of the hides.
Also a Whiskered Tern was seen chasing a White-winged Tern for some reason.
As we left Nsumo Pan we heard a call – Woodland Kingfisher. We scoured for the source of the call without success then just as we started to turn away from the water we heard it again and I managed a photo from a distance.
Driving around we came across a couple of juvenile raptors – an African Harrier Hawk and a Bateleur. Each was being bombed by angry birds. In the case of the Bateleur by a pair of Broad-billed Rollers.
The Crowned Eagle we saw on the previous visit made an appearance too.
Here are some of the other species photographed while traversing the Game Reserve.
Over the past several visits to Mkuze we had not seen any of the big cats. My sister visited a few weeks earlier and said she had seen a Cheetah near a camera trap near the far end of the Beacon Road. So as we passed by the camera we made an effort to see whether this cat frequented the spot. No luck. Then – having started car and driven about 200 metres there she was with 2 juveniles. Lovely sighting.
On the spur of the moment Sally and I decided we needed a break and went to Mkuze for 5 nights.
As we arrived we noticed puddles on the road – it had obviously been raining – tho the reserve needs much more.
Renovations are being done on all the hides. They look quite smart but won’t be entirely finished until the loos are built in kwaMalibala, kuMahlahla and kuMasinga hides. Each hide now has an entrance into a fenced off open area before entering the tunnel to the hide. The first is a fenced off area with a concrete walkway to the tunnel entrance to the hide. Nice to be in the first area and being able to walk round and see what may be about outside.
kuMasinga and kwaMalibala hides were closed – however the office gave us permission to enter.
kuMasinga hide is as it always was – but now the area where the Pink-throated Twinspots usually are found is part of the fenced off area – which means one can explore in the bush without fear of bumping into an elephant or rhino.
We only saw a few Red-billed Oxpeckers as we drove arount the Reserve – where had they all gone? We soon found out at kuMasinga Hide. There they all seemed to be waiting for lunch. As the different animals arrived for a drink they all appeared to descend on their backs, legs, ears, noses, underneath with as many as 20 on one animal.
kwaMalibala hide has very little water – waiting for the rains but it always seems to have different birds which frequent it – Namaqua Doves come particularly to mind.
kuMahlahla Hide had a bit of water and proved to be the best hide on this visit. A Crowned Eagle (with a very full crop) came for water and kept the rest of the birds on their toes.
An African Pygmy Kingfisher sat quietly in the tree right beside the right side of the hide for ages.
A young African Goshawk also came in for a bath and hung around for a while.
A Slender Mongoose had a playful time with a pair of Egyptian Geese – running up to the Geese and being chased back. It was hilarious to watch.
An old elephant with ragged ears, in musth, sauntered in and out for a drink disturbing the buck who were waiting to get a drink too. On his way out of the mud his back legs sank sharply and he was thrown off balance getting out somehow managing to stay upright.
Some of the other species seen at kuMahlahla Hide:
As my sister and her husband were using the trailer up in the Kruger, we stayed in one of the huts. At R240 each less 30% discount this was not much more than camping. We were in hut 4 – Mziki – and the Lesser Striped Swallows were in abundance tending their nests under the eaves.
Our days were spent driving around the reserve atlassing as we went. We actually saw a pair of White-backed Vultures on a nest and another and another perched in a different location. Some were seen flying overhead but not many.
Nsumo Pan is full and although we saw quite a lot there including an African Openbill, we were hounded by strong winds and overcast weather which made it a little unpleasant in the hides.
At the picnic site on Nsumo Pan we bumped into Themba Mthembu. He used our scope and found African Pygmy Geese in the absolute distance. How he saw them we attributed to young eyes. It is the first time I have seen them in Mkuze.
On our first afternoon drive we came across a raptor which we are unsure as to its ID. We saw it at the end of the tar to the Loop road where there is an old Wahlberg’s Eagles’ nest. The unusual part of the bird is its pale crest/crown. We believe it is a Wahlberg’s Eagle but await your comments.
On the whole we saw a number of raptors – African Fish-Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Bateleur, African Marsh Harrier, African Crowned Eagle, Martial Eagle and African Goshawk.
One of the things we noticed was that much of the big game was not to be seen. Of the Big 5 we only saw elephants – a heard of 20 on the opposite side of Nsumo Pan and a male in musth at kuMahlahla Hide. Not one Rhino perhaps because most were taken to St Lucia/Isimangaliso for safe keeping and because of the draught.
On one of the days we decided to head down to St Lucia to try our luck to see the Gull-billed and Sooty Terns as well as the Eurasian Oystercatcher. The Mkhuze gate only opened at 06h00 so we were unable to get to St Lucia before 07h45.
Perhaps that is why we lucked out except for the Sooty Tern. We spent over four hours on the beach and estuary. Unfortunately we had to get back to Mkuze before the gate closed at 18h00 so were were unable to check the birds coming in for the evening roost.
The mouth of the estuary has changed drastically. It now encompasses a huge lagoon. The hillside opposite the Ski Boat Club has gone – some 60 million tons of sand have been moved and the Umfolozi River is flowing into the lake at a pace – especially with all the rains further up-river. Here are some photos of what the estuary looks like now after the sand removal – in particular the hill opposite the ski boat club that has been removed.
And the beach beyond the boardwalk has also seen some changes – all the Casuarina trees have gone as well as the beach loo and shower building.
As usual the estuary was full of interesting birds: a pair of Saddle-billed Storks at the mouth of the Umfolozi coming into the lagoon/estuary. Goliath Herons, Pink-backed Pelicans, Yellow-billed Storks, Western Osprey, Avocets, Bar-tailed Godwits, African Spoonbills to name a few. All easily seen.
Seen in the estuary – a rather upside down dead Basking Shark.
On Friday when we left Mkuze we headed back to St Lucia to try our luck again – ever hopeful of finding the Eurasian Oystercatcher as we had received a report to tell us it had been seen that morning. We arrived in the rain – more like heavy gusty squalls. Very unpleasant to wander around in.
Time was spent at the start of the boardwalk with the scope on the estuary – close enough to the car to retreat into, as each squall arrived. In the end we drove round to the St Lucia beaches and manage to get a quick look up and down the shore line – nothing.
As the rain got harder and the winds stronger, we returned to the chalet we were booked into in the hope that the weather in the morning would be kind to us. It was.
First we search the estuary mouth and coast line. Then we walked down the beach almost to Mapelane. Back again to the estuary to check the Terns again, getting mud stuck to our shoes so that we felt a few inches taller. No Oystercatchers, Gull-billed or Sooty Terns. Mid day we gave up and headed home as the rains persisted.
That is birding. Anyway we did have a bird count of 152 species in Mkuze – click here to see our list. St Lucia birds were plentiful but we did not make a list as we were focused on finding the specials – however this is one of our favourite birding areas.
We usually stay in Sugarloaf campsite close to the boardwalk. Birding in the camp is excellent, then you have the waterbirds in the estuary, sea birds, the Gwalagwala trail, Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso are next door and if you have time and the energy then the Umfolozi/Hluhluwe NR is an hour away.
Perhaps we shall venture there again soon to try our luck.
Sally and I were invited by Jenny and Dave Rix to join them for their visit to Mkuze. They had booked into the Tented Camp but the only one available was a double. All the huts, cottages and Tented Camp sites were full most nights we were there. The Camp Site only had one occupant.
The park is exceptionally dry. Dave, who has been coming to Mkuze since the 70s, says he has never seen it so dry.
Most of the animals were in the southern reaches of the park in the Fig Forest area.
All the roads are being upgraded and some repaired so access to various parts of the park were not possible. Basically we were limited to the northern part of the park. We were unable to get to Nsumo Pan as well as the road leading down to the hunting camp and the Loop Road off it.
kuMasinga and kuMahlahla Hides were both open and had water. The new kwaMalibala hide remains closed.
The first afternoon we took a drive to kuMasinga hide. As we were on the Beacon Road we were unable to take the first dirt road to the hide – it was closed. So we continued south to the next turn off to the left – again the road ahead was closed. Eventually we got to the hide. A number of animals came for a drink as well as numerous Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves.
The next morning we went with Patrick to the Fig Forest. It was the first time in weeks that the Fig Forest was open so we were very fortunate. New swing bridges greeted us and another treat was the Lookout Tower in the Fig Forest – standing some 10 metres tall in the canopy of the surrounding trees. Apparently this has been there for 5 years.
Our initial goal was to find the Pel’s Fishing-Owl. It did not take long for Patrick to find it and although it was distant we had good views of it.
Otherwise birding in the forest was productive unlike the arid areas of the park although we did find a Burnt-necked Eremomela. Here are some of those we did manage to photograph.