SAPPI Weekend Away

6 to 8 February 2016

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

On Friday 5th February, Sally and I made an impromptu decision to visit SAPPI over the weekend. We decided to take our off-road caravan to Salt Rock Caravan Park and camp there for two nights. The aim being to get up early and be at SAPPI at dawn each morning – the best time, we understood, to see the Crakes.

Saturday afternoon we did a recce to see what was about but the Crakes were not obliging. However spending some time in the hide we did spot a Lesser Moorhen rummaging on the treated hyacinth (which is receding  thankfully).

From the hide we had a splendid array of waterbirds. In particular numerous White-backed Pelicans up to 17 at one stage.

There were several Yellow-billed Egrets and Great Egrets – the pictures show well the facial features helping with their ID. Note the gape does not extend behind the eye in the Yellow-billed Egret. Also interesting, was the colour of the Great Egret’s yellow bill with its black tip.

The next morning we were there before 05h00 – still dark and dawn was approaching.

Dawn approaches.
Dawn approaches.

Not long after that people started arriving.

With the melee of people watching out for the Crakes we took a walk round the other side through the picnic site.

During the course of the morning we spotted 2 separate pairs of Spotted Crakes. Surprisingly the Baillon’s Crakes were hardly seen but an African Rail made a very public display.

The Western Marsh Harrier was spotted but we dipped on that one. The Lesser Moorhen was again seen from the hide on the hyacinth. No sign of the White-winged Flufftail, Eurasian Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron nor the Corn Crakes – not that we expected to be lucky enough to find any of these birds.

Sunday lunch was spent overlooking the Tugela in Harold Johnson NR. It was good to see the river so full. Apparently the rains were further inland about two weeks ago.


Monday morning, we again arrived early at SAPPI and a few people turned up. A pair of Spotted Crakes made several appearances in the scrub but were difficult to see clearly. Baillon’s Crakes were absent. We did however see a Water Mongoose in front of the hide.

Water Mongoose
Water Mongoose

It was a pleasant way to spend the weekend.

SAPPI, Stanger again

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Sally and I took the opportunity to visit SAPPI again on Saturday 16 January. It was the day of the Dolphin Coast AGM held in the picnic area so there were many people about.

Overnight rains had raised the level of the water moving the mud banks further into the reeds – so the Crakes were difficult to see clearly.

However we were not disappointed. The Spotted Crake was seen several times preening itself low down in the tall reeds.

The Baillon’s Crakes popped up all around and gave excellent views.

The Blake Crakes were mainly heard and rarely seen. Similarly the African Rails.

Someone saw a Greater Painted Snipe in the same area and another person spotted a pair of Corn Crakes on the drive out.

It was not a great day for photography but here are just a  few of the photos taken.

Sally and I also spent three lunchtimes at low tide outside Wilson’s Wharf looking for the Franklin’s Gull with no success.

Pink-backed Pelican - from Wilson's Wharf
Pink-backed Pelican – from Wilson’s Wharf
African Fish-Eagle - juvenile
African Fish-Eagle – juvenile at SAPPI

Paul & Sally Bartho

SAPPI beckons.

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

8th January 2016

Sally and I set out this morning at 04h45 to try and find the Spotted Crake in at SAPPI, Stanger.

The weather forecast was for heavy rain in Stanger – we were well prepared. Driving down Fields Hill – drizzle; then heavy drizzle as we went through Durban and up to the tolls. However when we got to SAPPI it was overcast but dry – and it stayed that way all morning.

On arrival we headed for the hide. Fortunately other birders had got there first and locked the gate behind them so we could not get in. Instead we headed down the road towards the picnic site. There we met Nicolette and Ticky Forbes sitting quietly waiting for the Striped Crake to re-appear. They had seen it 5 minutes before we arrived.

I returned to the car and fetched our chairs to join them. We sat for some time with no sign of the Crake. However many different birds made an appearance keeping our eyes alert.

More people arrived . We waited. Then after a while some of us trundled down the road to see if we could get a better view. Suddenly out popped a Baillon’s Crake – close by. Big excitement – a special bird. As the morning went on the Baillon’s Crake kept making an appearance. I was told that 4 were seen together yesterday.

After an hour the Spotted Crake was seen and showed itself well – a lifer for many of us.

At times both Crakes were seen together.

Spotted and Baillon’s Crakes together.

Nicolette told us that the Spotted Crake is quite wary of movement and it is best to sit quietly and wait. I think she is right because after our first view of the Crake, with people moving about for a better view, it disappeared for a long time and was only seen briefly once later on.

We then had some more excitement with a small wader which looked unusual. At first it was believed to be a Curlew Sandpiper based on its down curved bill. But questions arose because it did not appear to have an eye-brow and had an unusually plain back for a Curlew Sandpiper. It was on its own and liked to forage away from the mud into the reeds – also unusual. We waited and took numerous photos just in case. Could it possibly crown the day by being a Dunlin. No. It flew and we noticed it’s white not dark central rump – it was as we first suspected a Curlew Sandpiper.

Around us we saw Goliath Herons; Black-crowned Night-Herons; Greater Flamingos and their young amongst the many other typical species usually seen at SAPPI.

Then as we were leaving we observed 3 raptors circling high above us. One was a Yellow-billed Kite, another raptor was of similar size with a rounded tail and they were bombing a larger bird below which I think may be a Palm-Nut vulture but the photos are rather poor.

Overall a well spent morning.

Paul and Sally Bartho

SAPPI Tuesday 30 December

Yesterday a few of us decided to do a bit of birding at the SAPPI Mill and hide near Stanger. We – Roy Cowgill, Steve Davis, my wife Sally and I – made a leisurely start arriving at 09h00.

Atlassing began as we arrived in the pentad. After a slow drive off the main road to the office we ventured to the hide. We also obtained access to the picnic area to bird and have lunch and eventually departed at 15h00.

In all we observed 94 different bird species. Click here if you wish to look at our bird list. There were also sightings of butterflies, dragonflies, weevils, frogs and most exciting for me anyway an obliging Grey Mongoose – a species I had not seen before. You may have noticed from the list that we had no sightings of Fork-tailed Drongos nor Southern Black Flycatchers.

Some of the bird excitement we enjoyed included the sighting of a Marsh Warbler, several Namaqua Doves, a Booted Eagle, a female Southern Pochard and a Cape Shoveler. Here are some of the photos taken:

Paul Bartho

Bird Ringing at SAPPI

Sally and I went to SAPPI (the saw mill close to Stanger, KZN) on Sunday to watch the bird ringing efforts of Garth Aiston and James Rawdon. The variety of the birds which were ringed included Cape White-eyes; African Paradise-Flycatcher; Sunbirds – Scarlet-chested and Olive; Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and numerous other warblers; Black-throated Wattleye; Weavers – including Southern Masked-Weaver; Malachite, Pygmy and Brown-hooded Kingfishers to name a few.

It is impressive to watch the way the birds are delicately handled and the records that are kept. It is a chance to see the birds up close and personal and to be shown how each bird is correctly identified by Garth and James. Their knowledge is immense.

The lasting impression you get when you see the birds so close is how small they actually are compared to when you see them in their natural habitat (especially through binoculars).

Whilest there we visited the bird hide and wandered around the ponds. This is an excellent place to see a wide variety of waterbirds including some of the more difficult species – like Snipes, Crakes and Rails. Only African Snipes made an appearance for us.

The hide overlooks a stretch of land protruding into the pond and provides an ideal place to practice bird photography. To show you what I mean by variety of birds to be seen I have attached the following photos. Amongst them is a photo of a mystery warbler – have a go at IDing it. Click on the bird to enlarge it then add your comment below it.

Paul & Sally Bartho