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

 

Zululand Trip Report

Paul and Sally Bartho

19 to 25 October

On impulse Sally and I decided to head up to St. Lucia for 4 nights and the same at Kube Yini (between Mkuze and Phinda). Then onwards, wherever, for a further week.

As it happened we ended up staying only 3 nights at Kube Yini then coming home. Everywhere was exceptionally dry. But the deciding factor to return home was yet another side wall puncture.

At St. Lucia we camped in the Sugarloaf campsite. Water was restricted due to the drought but the campsite did not appear to be affected – other than they only opened two of their four ablution blocks.

During our time at St. Lucia we went birding in Eastern and Western Shores of Isimangaliso Wetland Park as well as around the estuary mouth and the campsite. As you can see from our bird list (click here to see it), our time in St. Lucia around the estuary and campsite was the most rewarding.

On the first morning we headed for Eastern Shores. However as we left the camp gate we checked the sand bank in front of the Boat Club and restaurant. There were quite a number of Pied Avocets among numerous waders and terns. Most striking, however, were eight Black Herons together.

In the Eastern Shores we had two interesting experiences – firstly on three occasions we came across Southern Banded Snake-Eagles. One with a full crop after devouring a green snake.

Southern Banded Snake-Eagle
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle

The second experience was at Lake Bengazi. (An aside – the causeway is still not passable due to the road collapse some years ago). Looking out across the Lake to the western side there were hundreds and hundreds of Pelicans on the shore line – mainly Great White but also Pink-backed.

Altogether in the 6 hours we were there we identified 72 different species.

The second full day at St. Lucia we headed for Western Shores – windy and overcast. Virtually all the dams were empty of water. From the boardwalk overlooking Lake St. Lucia we could see how much the drought had affected the water levels in the Lake.

One of the highlights was stopping next to a male and female African Cuckoo-Hawk on the ground not 20 metres from us.

And then at the main picnic site, we noticed a small dam with some water – probably being pumped in. At the dam there were a number of Collared Pratincoles and a Wood Sandpiper – soon to be scattered when three noisy Spur-winged Geese arrived.

The picnic site is a lovely location however it could do with some tables and benches under the trees. Here we had a good sighting of a Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Altogether only 48 different species were identified in the 5 hours we were there.

Most afternoons we spent time birding around the campsite and on the beach. Because of the wind the beach was fruitless and the banks of the estuary had few birds.

The exception to this was the sand bank in front of the boat club restaurant. Among the numerous waders and shore birds we did manage to find an unusual Plover.

The guide with a group of American tourists said it was a Lesser Sand Plover. However as the photos below show – it was in fact a Greater Sand Plover (unless of course  both were present). The greenish legs lead me to question what I photographed.

If we had read the text in the Roberts App more closely we would have known to watch its behaviour. When foraging the Lesser takes about 3 paces then pauses for about 2.5 to 3 seconds. The Greater takes about 9 to 10 paces then pauses for 5 to 8.5 seconds!

Also present on the sand bank was a Grey Plover in semi-breeding plumage.

IMG_8586

The campsite itself as usual had an abundance of different birds – some of the more notable for us were the Livingston’s Turacos, Purple-banded Sunbirds and an obliging Bearded Scrub-Robin.

But perhaps the most unexpected appearance was that of an African Wood-Owl. We were having dinner when it flew to our table knocking over a handbag on the ground beside the table. It then sat in a nearby tree and kept foraging at the base of a tree not three metres away from us.

Altogether in the camp and nearby estuary a count of 94 different species – not too shabby.

And then it was time to move on to Kube Yini where we stayed in a rather large cottage belonging to a friend of ours.  The cottages are all on the top of a number of steep hills. Everywhere was very dry and waterholes empty – except for the two where water was pumped in – both rather small.

It was a decided challenge to back the camper into the driveway!

Here we settled in to the luxury of large space. Checking the map of the area we thought that we should head for the river in the canyon below. So the first afternoon after settling in we headed down to do a short loop. In parts it was steep any very rocky – progress was slow and the birds likewise.

The next day we headed for a longer drive alongside the river. Again steep and rocky everywhere so the drive lasted probably 2 hours longer than we thought. Birds there were, close to the river but nothing that stood out.

Our best birding was around the cottage – Burnt-necked Eremomela, Bearded Scrub-Robin and African Yellow White-eye. In the evening the call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar. And on the plains below next to the clubhouse a Flappet Lark called for our attention. 61 different bird species were identified while we were there.

That evening we went to the clubhouse to watch the RSA semi-final along a number of other residents. In one conversation we mentioned that the roads are very rocky especially on the way up and down to the river. They were aghast and surprised that we had  ventured there as none of them did.

After the rugby on the way back to the cottage we heard the very unpleasant sound of a tyre giving off puffs of air on each revolution and the piping alarm of the tyre pressure monitor sounding.  Somehow we managed to get back to the cottage before it went completely flat.

The tyre took ages to change simply because we have a Fortuner and they have this ridiculous system to lower the tyre beneath the car. The problem being to insert a long bar unsighted into a slot designed for perfect alignment. Much cursing and swearing until by chance it unexpectedly went in.

The next day we only ventured to the clubhouse to watch the final on our own. The next day – home.

Enough adventure for this trip. But altogether 152 different birds identified.

Paul & Sally Bartho

Zululand and the Kruger – Part 3

Satara 26 to 30 October 

Paul & Sally Bartho

Leaving Crocodile Bridge we drove to Lower Sabie, crossed the Sabie River and headed for Satara via Tshokwane arriving early afternoon.

Stopping for tea at Tshokwane we noticed this unusually dark African Mourning Dove.

African Mourning Dove - dark form
African Mourning Dove

After setting up camp we had a message on Trevor Hardaker’s Rare Birds report that a Green Sandpiper had been seen at the Sweni bridge just south of the camp. We went to have a look and it did not take us long to find it. This would have been a lifer for me had I not seen one a month earlier at Darvil sewerage works in Pietermaritzberg.

The following day we drove along the S100 to the Sweni Bird Hide near the N’wanetsi picnic site. Along the way we came across what we thought was a pair of Red-necked Spurfowls – however on advise from Trevor Hardaker they are in fact hybrids – Red-necked and Swainson’s. As there were two together, we hope that they are both of the same sex!

The Sweni Hide was one of the highlights of our trip. We were entertained there for hours not only by the crocodiles and hippos camouflaged by the weed but also by the variety of birds which visited the hide – including a pair of what we think might be Dwarf Bitterns (possible Green-backed Heron juvenile but for the heavy black streaking on the front – unfortunately not shown well in the photos) and several Black-crowned Night Herons.

Hippos resting in peace
Hippos in repose

The following morning we set off really early to get to the Sweni Hide as we had enjoyed it so much the day before. On the way as we crossed a bridge and looked down we saw 2 elephants digging for water. There was a pool nearby but it was obviously not to their taste. What was interesting was that the hole they dug with their trunks was perfectly round and several feet deep. The elephants knew the water was there and that the sand would filter the water for them.

Elephants searching for water
Elephants searching for water

 As we reached the hide we first went to the river crossing and looked back up to the hide. What a good decision. In the closest part of the river Sally noticed an unusual bird – the first of four different sightings of this bird.

Some of the other birds and animals we managed to photograph in the area include:

Altogether we found 140 different bird species in and around Satara.

Next we moved on to Tsendze – the satellite camp to Mopani. It is situated next to the Mooiplaas picnic area. See Part 4 of this series.