Sand Forest Lodge Weekend Outing

Report by Cheryl Bevan

24 to 26 November 2017

For our last weekend outing for the year we went to Sand Forest Lodge in Hluhluwe . We had a great turn out – eleven in total.

A few of us stopped at St Lucia on Thursday on our way to see if we could find the Gull-billed Tern, Sooty Tern and the Eurasian Oystercatcher who have been hanging around for a while and lucky for us we all saw the two Terns.

Sooty Tern – John Bevan

On Friday after we had all set up camp we gathered for a braai catching up and planning for Saturday.

Starting off at six in the morning in very rainy miserable weather we set off through the forest expecting to see nothing. After walking for about an hour we had only heard and seen a few birds. Narina Trogans were calling but although we got close we did not manage to get a view of them.

We perservered entering the open grassland area and it paid off.  Seeing European Bee-eater, White-eared Barbet, Neergaard’s, Purple-banded and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Narina Trogon and more……………

Some other sightings of interest. A Baobab in the garden was flowering. An unknown caterpillar and a sunbird nest which we would like identified. It was thought by some as a Neergaard’s Sunbird nest. And a spotted-tailed Ant.

Spotted Thick-knees were nesting on the grass in front of the chalets.

Spotted Thick-knees – Paul Bartho

Here are some of the birds seen at Sand Forest Lodge.

After breakfast and tea time we set off to False Bay where we had great sightings of hundreds of Greater Flamingos and White-breasted Comorants as well as Whimbrel and other waders.

Common Whimbrel – Paul Bartho

We were excited to find a smallish dark wader which had us confused for a while until we realised it was still in breeding plumage. A Curlew Sandpiper [we always hope to find something rare] but this one was still in breeding plumage.

2 Curlew Sandpipers – Paul Bartho

After Lunch and a short rest we hit Muzi Pan – an hour away.

Black Heron on the other side of the pan, Ruff, a flock of Glossy Ibis, Burchell’s Coucal, Squacco Heron and other waders- Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilts among them.

Sunday morning we birded on the property again picking up 102 birds for the weekend. This is Cheryl Bevan’s Bird List:

We all went home happy and tired.

Cheryl and John Bevan

Cumberland Outing end January

Cumberland Weekend Outing end January 2014.

Cumberland Private Nature Reserve is run by John and Stella Behn. They have chalets dotted around in the reserve, a large campsite and rooms at the top of the hill. All very reasonably priced. Note: if you book the campsite then only your party may share the whole campsite – irrespective of whether there are 2 of you or 20 and you are charged R60 per person. There is a female and male shower/toilet on site with good hot water. There is no power but you can rent the use of a campsite fridge.

There were 14 people on the Weekend Outing  – joined by another 10 or so for the Sunday Outing.

Cumberland Nature Reserve
Cumberland Nature Reserve

The weather played its part in making the outing successful – from a birding point of view. Friday was hot, hot hot. So those who arrived early did not get a lot of birding done. In fact it was best sitting in the shade of the campsite and watching the birds in the surrounding bush and stream. A late afternoon swim up on the hill by the rooms was a great way to cool off.

Overnight we had rain and Saturday morning started overcast, misty and cool – which brought out the warblers – Broad-tailed Warbler in particular.

Broad-tailed Warbler
Broad-tailed Warbler

The Saturday walk started at 05h30 in the campsite, progressed through the extensive picnic area and up the hill to the alternative accommodation area. There we were treated by Stella and John to tea or coffee and home-made cheese scones.

On the circular route back to the campsite it started to drizzle. Mike and Jane (the weekend outing leaders) decided that a break was in order and that we would meet at 10h30 at the “hide” next to the dam immediately outside the entrance gate. At first the birding seemed quiet with little on the dam. Then it all started to change. African Black Duck appeared, Common Moorhen, White-throated Swallows, an African Purple Swamphen, Malachite Kingfisher to name a few.

Wandering upstream from the hide one bird in particular attracted us by its call. A Warbler. It was thought to be a Reed Warbler but we were unsure which one so we played the call to see if we could recognise it. It continued calling. Perhaps co-coincidently it stopped and remained quiet after we played the call of the Eurasian Reed Warbler. How we all would have liked to have had a positive ID on the bird. In the opinion of some the call was not as harsh or grating as the Great Reed Warbler nor as tuneful as the African Reed Warbler. Anyway we shall never know.

In the same area a Half-collared Kingfisher was spotted which seemed to be happy in the area with us about.

Half-collared Kingfisher
Half-collared Kingfisher

Further upstream, a Great Reed Warbler was spotted. Consequently many people felt that this must have been the bird which we had heard earlier, though as you might expect, there was disagreement amongst us.

Some photos of birds seen during the walk.

And some Butterflies and other creatures.

The rest of the afternoon we were left to our own devices, to recover from the previous evening braai in the campsite and to prepare for the one to come up the hill where a number of people were staying.

The rooms are in an excellent location right at the edge of the cliffs with fantastic views all round. We made good use of the facilities available to those staying in the rooms – a large kitchen and lounge plus outdoor covered patios with seating available for all. John and Stella joined us for the braai – again for some a late night!

Sunday started overcast but dry. Another 10 people or so joined us at 07h00 as part of the Sunday Outing. We split into 2 groups and both parties headed down to the Horseshoe Bend of the Umgeni River. One group checked the campsite gorge while the other went on ahead.. Two Mountain Wagtails were seen flying through the gorge.

The birding was good in both groups with Pygmy-Kingfishers seen by both groups and Little Sparrowhawk by one group. Further excitement was to follow as we approached the Umgeni River.

African Pygmy-Kingfisher
African Pygmy-Kingfisher

One group, aware that there was a Python mound checked to see if there was any activity. And there we saw a 4 metre 15 cm diametre (at least) python basking in the sun. Stella told us there were two that size there and someone had sent them photos of 7 little ones. Three of us got as close as we could to take the following photos.

Yet further down a Bearded Woodpecker was spotted and photographed. An incidental report will be sent to the Atlas Project.

On Horseshoe Bend is Horseshoe cottage where we relaxed. Some of us went to the river’s edge and saw a small crocodile.

Young Crocodile
Young Crocodile

That put paid to anyone’s intention to cool off in the river! Standing there on the edge, about 10 metres from us at the edge of the reeds, there was a sudden loud fluttering of a large bird scampering further downstream and darting back into the reeds. Those who saw the spectacle concluded that it was probably an African Finfoot – though none of us could be certain.

Some pictures of birds seen on the Sunday walk.

Then is was the long trudge back up the hill to the campsite. Lunch and preparation of the bird list for the weekend. Then for some of us packing up our camp as we all headed home. 

Altogether 127 species were recorded.

Hella Hella Weekend Feedback

Mike Roseblade and Jane Morris organised and managed the weekend very successfully despite the threatened adverse weather. Over 120 different species were seen or heard. Some of the specials are listed later and a number of photos are attached as an album for those interested.

Twenty nine members attended the outing, arriving a various times in the afternoon during the heavy storm.

The group gathered for the briefing meeting and braai at 5:30. The braai went ahead despite the rain as the management made sure we had a covered braai and a well equipped Lapa.

Saturday morning the party was split into 2 groups exploring the upper area near reception. The drizzle dampened things to a certain extent but most persevered and continued onto the Mkomazi River bridge and were rewarded with plenty of birding activity.

The group then went to the area where the Blue Swallows are usually seen some 4 kms further up the mountain. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated and made viewing difficult. Although the Blue Swallows were not seen where they were expected, the group had excellent sightings of Yellow Bishops, Broad-tailed Warblers, Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Red-collared Widowbirds.

Despite this misadventure to seek the Blue Swallows they were seen by a number of the group on different occasions.

Afternoon birding was limited to the campsite area because of the rain.

Again the braai area was put to good use and entertainment followed.

Sunday awoke to a much brighter and sunny day. Tents had a chance to dry out! The morning was spent very successfully birding the full extent of the campsite – and it is a long well spread out shady campsite.

Specials seen or heard included: a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles; Red-winged Francolins with young; both Turacos; Buff-spotted Flufftail (heard); Red-chested, black, Jacobin, African Emerald (heard) and Diderick’s Cuckoos; Narina Trogon; Lesser Honeyguide; Olive Woodpecker (heard); Blue Swallows; Black Cuckooshrike; Broad-tailed Warbler; Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher; Mountain Wagtail; Olive, Orange and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes; Yellow Bishop.

Photos for your pleasure – to give you an idea of the habitat and some of the birds photographed – not picture perfect – sorry! Click on the first picture for a slideshow.