Trip report - Eastern South Africa Part 3

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: Trip report - Eastern South Africa Part 3
From: "John McAllister" <>
Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2002 15:05:25 +0200
Hi yet again

Here's the final episode of our birding journey through old Zululand or the
present day KwaZulu-Natal.

19th June
Today started off on a real high.  A walk through the forest on the
Gwalagwala trail gave several species that we did not see elsewhere on the
trip.  The first of these was a very unconcerned Rudd's Apalis which ignored
us totally and went on with its leaf-gleaning mission without giving us a
second glance.  At the same spot a pair of Woodwards' Batises treated us to
wonderful views and a Scaly-throated Honeyguide gave us a full frontal from
its song-perch.  A bit further down the path a Brown Scrubrobin was coaxed
out of the undergrowth.  It perched virtually at eye-level so close to us
that we could almost touch it and gave us a wonderful rendition of its newly
composed song.  A pair of Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers were busy going
about their daily business and just when we thought it couldn't get any
better than this an overwintering male African Emerald Cuckoo flew in and
perched right out in the open where he spent what seemed like an eternity
inspecting this human party in his domain.  Reluctantly we had to tear
ourselves away from the forest to get to our breakfast date back at
Kingfisher Lodge.

After breakfast the group overruled me and opted for a visit to KZN
Wildlife's Crocodile Centre instead of a drive down the very birdy road to
Cape Vidal.  Even an inveterate birder like me had to admit though that the
things we learned about crocodiles were most interesting.

For a change we took time out to have a sit-down light lunch at the Zulu and
I restaurant before paying a quick visit to the estuary mouth.  As I had
expected there were not many shorebirds around, most having opted to return
to their northern breeding grounds during the austral winter.  We did
however get some nice looks at a mixed group of Caspian and Swift Terns.

We made a last stop at the bridge over the river for a last desperate search
for Mangrove Kingfisher.  No luck though, but we were told that a boat trip
up the river on the Vantage would almost guarantee them for us at this time
of year.  Regrettably we simply did not have the time for this.  We
nevertheless left St Lucia with a total of 16 great new species for the

The short drive to our next overnight stop at Bonamanzi Game Ranch gave us
another four trip birds, one of which - Rufous-winged (Winding or
Black-backed) Cisticola - we were not to see again on the trip.  Bonamanzi
is of course owned by Mondi Forests and I wondered briefly what they thought
of my bumper sticker - PLANTATIONS ARE NOT FORESTS.

We were hoping to go on a boat trip along the Hluhluwe River the next
morning where we hoped to find Pink-throated Longclaw (in the floodplain
before the river) and possibly Pel's Fishing Owl on the river, but this was
not to be.  It started raining softly while we were at dinner and the
Bonamanzi staff told us that the road across the floodplain to the launch
site would be impassable by morning.  We spent most of the evening drowning
our sorrows in some excellent red wine.  Later in the evening we did make a
rather half-hearted attempt to find Swamp (Natal) Nightjar near the entrance
gate but the wine had taken its toll I'm afraid and there was general
agreement that bed was a more appealing proposition!  On the way back to
Lalapanzi we did see our only Water Thick-Knee (Dikkop) of the trip though.

20th June
I was the only one up before dawn this morning looking for African Broadbill
outside Tree House Number 5 (where I had spent the night).  Someone from the
Witwatersrand Bird Club had seen them at the campsite on a club outing the
weekend before, but they certainly weren't where I was.  Perhaps I should
have camped.  At 7:30 I decided to go to Lalapanzi where the others were and
see if I could persuade someone to come for a walk with me.  As it turned
out everyone was happy to go for a walk to clear out the cobwebs before
breakfast,  The two most notable birds we saw on the walk was a Crowned
Hornbill being chased by an unidentified small grey raptor and a group of
beautiful Pink-throated Twinspots.  No Lemon-breasted Canaries though.

After breakfast we decided to hit the road and head for KZN Wildlife's
Mkhuze Game Reserve, stopping in Hluhluwe town on the way to pick up
provisions for the next two days.  Although only four were trip birds we had
seen a total of 41 species and heard another four during our short (and
somewhat alcoholic) stop at Bonamanzi.

We arrived at the entrance gates to Mkhuze shortly after 1 p.m. and were
greeted by the only Bateleur we were to see on the trip.  About a kilometre
past the turnoff to Kwamalibali hide there was a mixed group of Lappet-faced
and African White-backed Vultures feeding off Blue Wildebeest (Brindled Gnu)
and Nyala carcasses next to the road.  We thought that the carcasses were
either those of culled animals or casualties from recent game capture
operations and had maybe been placed so conveniently close to the road by
KZN Wildlife staff.  By the time we got to Mantuma Camp shortly after 4:30
p.m. we had seen 25 bird species of which Tawny Eagle, Sabota Lark ssp.
sabota (a probable future split), Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Burnt-necked
Eremomela were not seen again on the trip.  In addition Little Bee-eater,
Green Wood-Hoopoe, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Rattling Cisticola,
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Lesser Masked-Weaver were only at Mkhuze
seen over the next day and a half.

21st June
We spent the shortest day of the year birding at Mkhuze Game Reserve.  Well
some of us did.  The Microbus had a flat tyre and I had to drive in to
Mkhuze village to get the tyre repaired.  John B had developed a very
painful bout of gout so he stayed at the cottage while the rest of the party
went on a "guided" walk through the Fig Forest.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, the guide on the walk was unable to
speak English and was not particularly interested in birds.  The result was
that the pace of the walk was too fast to allow for much birding.  New birds
for the trip seen by the walkers include Lizard Buzzard, Crested Guineafowl,
Eastern (Yellow-spotted) Nicator and Bar-throated Apalis - no Narina Trogon,
Crowned Eagle or Pel's Fishing Owl - although the last named is probably a
bit of a long shot here anyway.  Perhaps KZN Wildlife should consider
sending some of their personnel on a BirdLife South Africa Training Course
in Wakkerstroom (NOTE: I have no financial interest in these courses other
than that I am a BLSA member).

Trip birds seen by John B coming to pools of water outside the cottage
included Kurrichane Thrush and Village (Spotted-backed) Weaver.  Other
interesting birds, though not trip birds, were Pink-throated Twinspot,
Purple-crested Turaco (Loerie) and Pale (Pallid or Mouse-coloured)
Flycatcher.  He also heard Brown-headed Parrots flying over.

By the time the Fig Forest walkers got back to Mantuma I was waiting for
them and we retired to the cottage for a late breakfast.  After this we
visited Kumahlala Hide where there was not really much happening.  The KZN
staff in the Mantuma office had told us that there was no water at Kubube so
we headed straight for Kumasinga Hide where there was a White Rhino and her
calf just leaving as we arrived, but not much else either.  I suppose one
day I'll get to Kumasinga and find it buzzing like everyone else seems to
find it, but I've always been disappointed in the place.

We had a picnic lunch at the parking area and proceeded to Nsumo Pan which
I've always found to be a very exciting place in a magnificent archetype
African setting.  On the way to the pan I caught a flash of iridescent
blue-green out of the corner of my eye and surprised everyone by screeching
to a halt.  They were particularly surprised that the Microbus could screech
on a quite sandy road I guess:)  Anyway there it was up in the top of an
Acacia - a lovely sunbird with an iridescent blue-green head and back, a
black belly and a RED breastband - Neergaard's! - always a target species in
Mkhuze.  A dry stream crossing gave us our one and only Tawny-flanked Prinia
for the trip.  At the pan trip birds included many African Openbills, a
solitary Yellow-billed Stork, loads of White-faced Duck, a few Kittlitz's
Plovers and small group of Curlew Sandpipers busily trying to stitch up
holes in the mud.  Once again we ran out of time and headed back to Mantuma
at a pace not conducive to good birding, nevertheless we still managed to
pick up two trip birds in the gloaming - a lone Striped Kingfisher and a
small family of Crested Francolins.

22nd June
John B, Gisela and I set off at sparrows to see what we could find on our
last morning in Mkhuze.  The day was wonderfully birdy and we notched up an
astounding 82 species by 11o'clock.  We started off by driving down the
Beacon Road, turned left onto the first Loop Road and then right down to
Nsumo Pan again.  Our first trip bird was an African (Grey) Penduline Tit
along the Beacon Road, then a small group or Red-billed Oxpeckers feeding on
some Impala and a single Marico Sunbird buzzing busily from tree to tree.  A
single Brubru spotted by a sharp-eyed Gisela turned this species from a
"heard only" to a trip bird.  Mammals were rather scarce though and we put
this down to the animals being very wary of vehicles after recent game
capture/culling operations.

Nsumo was extra special this morning and we found it extremely difficult to
tear ourselves away from the Pan to get back to the waiting Ros and Jeanne
only an hour late - not bad I thought, but I guess not everyone agreed with
me.  Ros and Jeanne would have been happier if we'd been back on time and
John B and Gisela would have been happier if we'd been another hour later.
Oh the joys of being a leader!  Anyway back at the Pan a lone Comb
(Knob-billed) Duck was the only species added to the trip list, but around
2-300 White Pelicans put on a truly spectacular show for us.  They flew in
gracefully from the vicinity of the large reed beds on the far side of the
Pan and gave us a communal fishing exhibition par excellence.   It was
wonderful watching the foremost birds stirring up and feeding off what must
have been quite a substantial shoal of fish, then being leap-frogged with a
loud beating of the air by the rearmost birds who wanted a chance at the
spoils.  We must have watched this spectacle for well over half an hour
before I dragged two spell-bound birders back to the car.   Our final bird
at Mkhuze was a very co-operative pair of Mountain (Long-tailed) Wagtails at
the stream just outside the Reserve gate.

Our next stop on our way back to Wakkerstroom was for lunch at a bridge over
the Wit (White) River near Commondale.

"An ideal place for African Black Duck" I said sagely through my ham
sandwich.  There was a sudden whirring of wings and out flew the bird from
under the bridge.  As I said earlier I love it when a plan comes together!

Off to Commondale and Lüneburg and a single overwintering White Stork
circling overhead on the thermal was our last trip bird for the day.  Back
in Wakkerstroom I dropped the others off at Wakkerstroom Farm Lodge and
headed homeward to a patiently waiting Elize.  That evening we all met up at
the Charlton Arms together with our hard done by spouses and Bev Williams,
Jeanne's business partner, for a memorable "last supper" with a couple of
warming glasses of Old Brown Sherry (I guess we're still allowed to call it
sherry for a few years yet) and copious amounts of red wine once again.

23rd June
The final morning of the trip for me.  John B's gout was still troubling him
so he had a lie in today.  I collected the others at 7:30 and we spend an
hour or two looking at the wetland birds before heading out to my beloved
grasslands.  I was forced to get everyone back for breakfast by 11 a.m.
though so, protesting loudly at the lack of respect for my most favoured
area I got the group back to the Lodge for a scrumptious breakfast prepared
by Emma.

It spite of the unseemly rush we managed to pick up a few trip birds
including Bokmakierie and Red-throated Wryneck in town, a lone Black-crowned
Night Heron, a whole bunch of African Purple Swamphens (Gallinules) - a
recent split - and Cape Weavers at the Wakkerstroom Wetland, some
White-backed Ducks, Great Crested Grebes and Yellow-crowned (Golden) Bishops
at Fickland Pan and a Blue Korhaan and Grey-winged Francolin family in the
intervening grasslands.

On the way back to Sasolburg John B picked up Southern Pochard, Jackal
Buzzard, African Olive-Pigeon (Rameron Pigeon), Mountain Wheatear (Chat) and
Yellow Canary bring our total up to 247 bird species seen (with another six
heard only), 23 mammals and 1 reptile (Nile Crocodile).  Bird-wise just 4
short of my forecast - not too bad for an a nine-day essentially
non-twitching trip in mid-winter I think.  There were some surprising misses
of course - the most notable being Purple Heron, Long-crested Eagle,
Livingstone's Turaco, Ground Woodpecker, Eastern Black-headed Oriole and
Cape Canary.

Hope you enjoyed the report.

Regards to all

John McAllister
P O Box 249
South Africa
Tel. +27 (0)17 730 0269

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