No flack, but some very kind comments - thanks. Here's the second of this
three part trip report. This deals with the birding on first portion of our
The trip started off with Jeanne collecting Ros, Gisela and John B from
their respective homes. During casual birding on the drive to Wakkerstroom
they picked up 12 birds of which Common Kestrel (Rock Kestrel), White-browed
Sparrow-weaver, Black-throated Canary and Cape Bunting were not seen again
on the trip. They arrived at Wakkerstroom at around midday and switched to
my VW Microbus for the rest of the trip.
On the way out of Wakkerstroom we had our first real highlight of the trip.
We were watching an African Marsh Harrier quartering the wetland and a pair
of Grey Crowned Cranes standing around and showing off their elegant
plumage. The harrier dipped down into the reeds before it had been seen by
"There's another harrier higher up in the sky" someone shouted.
I put my bins on the other "harrier". "No it's not" I exclaimed excitedly.
It was a stunning view of a Rufous-chested (Red-breasted) Sparrowhawk! A
lifer for all except me and Jeanne.
In high spirits we drove on along the shores of Zaaihoek Dam to our lunch
stop at the bridge over the Slang (Snake) River. We had a picnic lunch here
but while we got our only Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Drakensberg Prinia,
Buff-streaked Chat and Southern Ant-eating Chat of the trip we dipped out on
the hoped for African Black Ducks and Ground Woodpeckers.
After lunch we continued on our way via the gravel road to Newcastle.
Shortly before Newcastle we stopped at a large farm dam (after getting the
owner's permission of course). Of the 23 birds that we found here all were
seen again at other places on the trip, but we had really crippling views of
a pair or African Harrier-Hawks (Gymnogenes) working a patch of alien
eucalypts near the farm buildings.
>From here it was a fairly fast non-birding drive down the highway to a site
near the Sundays River where I've often found Barrow's Bustards (Southern
White-bellied Korhaans). No luck this time but we got great views of a most
unexpected Melodious Lark. These little birds are of course silent at this
time of year and very difficult to find - so difficult that I had not even
put it on my list of species that we might find on the trip! My field notes
show that the following features were noted on the bird:-
fairly bold supercilliaries;
clear white marking below the front half of the eye;
fairly distinct moustachial streak;
breast streaked, but not as heavily as shown in the Sasol guide;
underparts (chest and belly) were buffy not white;
throat was clear white contrasting with the rest of the underparts;
bill fairly heavy, but not long or decurved.
When the light got too bad for any further birding we headed off to our
overnight stop at Naunton Guest House on the outskirts of Ladysmith. Apart
from the lark the only other identification challenge for the day was a
Long-billed Pipit seen on the road between Zaaihoek Dam and Newcastle. It
was identified by its lack of white outer tail feathers (retrices if you
insist), the habitat we found it in (sparsely vegetated, stony hillside) its
larger size compared to an African (Grassveld) Pipit and the fact that it
flew straight up onto the top of a tree when we stopped. The fainter breast
streaks and back markings were only used as the clincher. We also saw
African (Grassland) Pipit, Levaillant's Cisticola and Neddicky, but these
were all relatively easy to ID.
A 6:30 start (I told you winter has distinct advantages - in high summer it
would have been a 4:30 start) saw us looking for Barrow's Bustards (Southern
White-bellied Korhaans) and Melodious Larks in the grasslands west of
Ladysmith without any luck. We did see the only Blue Cranes of the trip
though and there were Yellow-throated Petronias (Sparrows) in the Acacias
in the garden at Naunton. We also heard Shelley's Francolins calling in the
distance , but were not able to track them down - there are some
disadvantages to respecting property rights I guess :(
We drove on, via Colenso, to Weenen Game Reserve where we ate our packed
breakfast. I am very fond of this small and largely overlooked KZN Wildlife
Reserve. This time it was very special as we gazed over the African bush to
the snow-capped Drakensberg mountains on the horizon. Birds that we saw
here and nowhere else on the trip included around 30 Cape Vultures, a pair
of Verreaux's (Black) Eagles being harrassed by a murder of around 50 Pied
Crows, Natal Spurfowl (Francolin), Acacia Pied Barbet, White-necked Raven,
Arrow-marked Babbler, Cape Thrush (a new split from Southern Olive Thrush),
Familiar Chat, White-throated Robinchat (Robin), Chestnut-vented
Tit-babbler, Plain-backed Pipit (identified by its darts across the ground,
erect stance and two or three bobs of its tail when stopping with the plain
back only being the clincher), Southern Boubou and Black-crowned Tchagra.
Normally it gets quite hot here and the birding drops off substantially
after 10 a.m. It was quite cold on this visit, however, so the birding was
good throughout the day. We dragged ourselves away from the Reserve around
2:30 p.m. and had another rather fast (too fast for birding at any rate)
drive through Greytown and Stanger to Eshowe where we arrived at the Dew
Drop Inn after dark.
The only new cisticola for the day was a very obliging Fan-tailed Cisticola
which sat on a fence near Ladysmith and paid us almost as much attention as
we gave it. Features we used to identify it were a combination of habitat
(very weedy old fields), darkly streaked back and crown (the non-breeding
Wing-snapping or Ayre's Cisticola has fainter streaks on the crown), a PLAIN
nape (the non-breeding Cloud Cisticola has a heavily streaked nape) and a
bright rufous rump (Wing-snapping or Ayre's Cisticola has a ginger or rusty
Another early start saw us on our way to Ongoye Forest. Although the only
"special" bird in the forest is the rather unprepossessing endemic
sub-species of the Green Barbet the forest itself (although it's being
continuously encroached upon) makes a visit worthwhile. After turning off
the tarmac the "road" through the endless fields of sugarcane deteriorated
rapidly, but at least it was dry and the VW took it all in its stride. I
had paid a visit to Hamish McLaggan the previous evening and he had told me
of some places to stop at where he had seen the barbets the day before. The
first of these was the very first small forest patch after leaving the cane
fields. We were greeted by a deathly silence - apart from the raucous calls
of Yellow-bellied Greenbuls (Bulbuls) swearing us or at each other that is.
There was also no sign of Yellow-streaked Greenbuls (Bulbuls) which I have
found here quite regularly. In the grassland patches higher up we had
magnificent views of a Striped Pipit who seemed intent on finding out more
about this large, bright blue bird that had invaded his territory. As soon
as it realised that the "bird" was in fact a rather strange motor vehicle
the bird flew up to the top of a nearby tree to continue its inspection from
a safer vantage point.
We drove to the edge of the forest and parked the VW next to the track. A
slow walk through the forest eventually gave us a head and shoulders view of
a female Eastern Bronze-naped (Delegorgue's) Pigeon - a tick, but definitely
a BVD (better view desired) and Gisela had a fleeting view of an African
Paradise-Flycatcher disappearing into the forest. We heard White-starred
(Starred) Robin, but could not coax it out from its hiding place deep in the
forest. Not a sign of any Green Barbets though. We walked back through the
forest somewhat despondently trying to console ourselves with the fact that
we had at least seen the elusive Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon which is silent
at this time of year and thus quite difficult to find.
Driving back through the open grassland patches we had two Grey-rumped
Swallows feeding with a small flock of Black Sawwings. As a last resort I
stopped at a small copse of trees next to the track before we started the
descent to the cane fields. At first all we found were Eastern Olive and
Collared Sunbirds, but, just as we were about to give up and head back to
Eshowe there was a "chop.....chop" from the densely foliated tree close to
where I was standing. There it was - a Green Barbet just a metre or two
away from us. As the man said "I love it when a plan comes together!"
On the way down through the cane fields we saw another two species that we
were not to see again on the trip - Cinnamon-breasted (Rock) Bunting and
Fan-tailed (Red-shouldered) Widow.
Back in Eshowe we saw nine new species for the trip and two of which - Black
Cuckooshrike and Red-backed Mannikin - we did not see again on the trip.
>From the little hide in Dlinza Forest we had such close-up views of Lemon
(Cinnamon) Doves that we could virtually reach out and touch them. On the
way back to the Dew Drop Inn we met Hamish. He told us that the Green
Twinspots were coming to a feeding table in a forest edge garden each
morning, but that we should be there before dawn if we were to have a chance
of seeing them. He kindly agreed to take us there the next morning and to
accompany us on a pre-breakfast walk through the forest and onto the famous
Quarter to six found us collecting Hamish at his house and driving off to
the twinspot feeding table. Fortunately we could watch the table from the
comfort and warmth of the Microbus - who would have believed that a
Wakkerstroomer like me would be cold in Zululand! We waited patiently in
the dark for something to happen. Slowly the world began to waken. A
Red-capped Robinchat (Natal Robin) started singing deep in the forest. The
Hadedas raucously greeted the dull, overcast "dawn". A Purple-crested
Turaco (Loerie) barked loudly at the clouds. Was that a movement in the
shrubbery near the table? Yes - a shape hopped onto the feeding table.
With the aid of my spotlight we had a really great view of a very handsome
male Green Twinspot!
After some twenty minutes or so the lone twinspot disappeared back into the
forest from whence he had come. In high spirits we drove to the parking lot
of the still closed boardwalk. From here we walked along a forest path
searching for any signs of movement in the dark forest. A rustling in the
gloom proved to be a Blue Duiker - not a bird, but a great mammal to see
nevertheless. While we were trying to get a glimpse of some growling
Terrestrial Brownbuls (Bulbuls) Hamish gave a soft, but urgent call - there,
through a gap in the forest canopy, were no less than five Eastern
Bronze-naped (Delegorgue's) pigeons perched up on a dead tree trying to get
a share of the weak winter sun trying to break through the night's cloud
cover. We had quite the best view I have ever had of these secretive
birds - both males and females.
Tearing ourselves away from this wonderful sight we walked on through the
forest. Suddenly Hamish stopped dead in his tracks pointing silently in the
direction of a soft rustling. There, beautifully camouflaged in the fallen
leaves, was a Spotted Ground-Thrush foraging on the forest floor. A quick
walk back through the forest gave us a fleeting chance to visit the aerial
boardwalk before heading back to the Dew Drop Inn for breakfast. Back in
the parking lot we saw two more species - Greater Double-collared Sunbird
and Common Waxbill - that we did not find again on the trip.
After breakfast we set off for Mtunzini, Richards Bay and St Lucia.
Birding-wise Mtunzini was unfortunately a dismal failure. The target birds
were Palm-nut Vulture and Black-throated Wattle-eye (Wattle-eyed
Flycatcher) in the Raffia Palms and Mangrove Kingfisher in the mangrove
swamps - all normally quite easy to find at the right time of year. There
was no sign of the first two, but I thought we had a really good shot at the
kingfisher as winter is supposedly the best time to find these birds here.
No luck however although perhaps we simply did not look hard enough.
Richards Bay was very birdy, but unfortunately our time was running out.
One of the big disadvantages to winter birding is that there are not enough
hours of daylight. Of the 18 new birds for the trip only Yellow-billed
Egret and Squacco Heron were not seen elsewhere. Our target birds were
Lesser Jacana, African Pygmy Goose and Southern Brown-throated Weaver.
There was no sign of the first two and insufficient time frustrated our
efforts to find the weaver.
We left Richards Bay rather despondently at dusk and faced the horrific
experience of trying to get on to the N2 north from the north-western exit
road from Richards Bay in peak traffic. It would seem that a flyover is
being built here. Until this is completed I would advise anyone else who
has the misfortune to try and leave Richards Bay at around 5 p.m. to take
the longer south-eastern route via Empangeni. We arrived at Kingfisher
Lodge in St Lucia well after dark and too late and tired to do any birding
The third and final part of this trip report will deal with the birding on
the last leg of our jouney.
Regards to all
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