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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

KwaZulu Natal 15th August- 29th August 2003,

John Dempsey

Introduction

I have compiled this trip report from first hand experience and it is as accurate as I could possibly make it. I have avoided mentioning all of the 347 species observed concentrating mainly on those of interest albeit for one reason or another, so some common species may only be mentioned in the species list at the end of this report.

My return trip to South Africa was an eleventh hour decision; luckily alternative itineraries from last years planning were still on my computer. This meant few worries about organising a workable birding route, although in hindsight the amount of travelling between good birding areas was a little exhausting. I would prefer less driving next time around.

My arrival date was more or less to the day I arrived last year, but this time I was to concentrate my efforts around KwaZulu Natal for those specials that could not be found elsewhere. My itinerary included many of the hotspots around Northern Natal thus enabling me to try and catch up on those species that eluded me last winter.

I decided after an initial day's birding in Wakkerstroom en-route to Karkloof, to work the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, the premier Sand forests reserves of Dilinza and Ongoya St Lucia, Bonamanzi, Mkuze, Kosi Bay, Ndumu and Richmond in the Hoedspruit area in that order. All these areas needed to be visited if I was to stand any chance of success on my target birds. Whether it would be feasible? I would just have to find out!

Again I flew Air France (not by choice I might add) quite expensive at 670 due to the fact that I booked so late and all the cheaper seats had gone. Flying via Paris from Manchester to Jo'Burg the flight took 11 hours in total.

I hired a high clearance vehicle, a Toyota Condor, which was hired for the fifteen days. and cost more than the flight!! Making this an expensive trip, yet it still worked out a fraction of the price compared with the costs some of the well-known birding tour operators were charging. A high clearance vehicle is a necessity, as one needs to be able to negotiate the mountainous terrain in the rural areas and the sand dune roads of Kosi Bay. High enough to see over foliage also makes the difference between seeing the birds and missing them, especially in the reserves.

Sterling was a not faring as well against the Rand as last year. The rate of exchange was R11.72 to 1.00 compared to R16 last year.

Distance covered from start to finish over the 15 days worked out just less than 4,000 km using 240 Litres at Fuel at a cost of R962.00. Most accommodation was self-catering at the following rates these are shown in Rand. Per Person Per night

Wakkerstroom S/C guesthouse R 150.00
Karkloof DB&B Guesthouse R 330.00
Umgeni Valley NRS/C cottage R 120.00
Eshowe DB&B Guesthouse R 295.00
St. Lucia S/C Chalet R 200.00
Bonamanzi 2 Nts S/C Treehouse R 600.00
Mkuze2 Nts Safari Tent R 420.00
Kosi Bay Self-catering Loghouse R 210.00
Ndumo2 Nts S/C Hut R 320.00
Richmond 2 Nights Self-Catering R 100.00

I decided to use guides for certain areas:

John McAllister: Wakkerstroom an excellent guide and a nice guy too
Sibusiso: Ongoya Forest, Which I would never have found the entrance to. And Dlinza forest
Bheki: Bonamanzi, Had no choice as only the reserve's guided 4x4 is allowed out into the floodplain
Angel:Mkuze, Again no choice as the fig forest walk at Mkuze must be accompanied by an armed guard.
Michael: Kosi Bay again no choice as you need a boat to get to the river mouth for Palmnut Vulture, and I couldn't get one on my.

Itinerary

5th Wakkerstroom
16th Karkloof
17th Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve
18th Howick (Ongoya and Dilinza forests)
19th St Lucia
20-21st Bonamanzi
22nd-23rd Mkuze
24th 25th Kosi bay
26th 27th Ndumu
27th Richmond
28th Richmond

AUGUST 15th

None the worse after the boring 11 hour the flight I arrived on time at Jo'burg 10.00 am and picked up my hire car at the airport. Before proceeding to Wakkerstroom I freshened up at a boarding house and ticked off some common garden birds like Cape Sparrow, Olive Thrush and Lesser Masked Weavers along with Fiscal Shrike and a few noisy Woodhoopoes.

The road to Wakkerstroom held the obligatory Blackshouldered Kites and large mixed flocks of Widows mostly Longtailed and Redshouldered Widows. Fiscal Flycatcher was also ticked. As they flew from the roadside edges their red epaulets were visible and some individuals where almost into breeding plumage. An over wintering White Stork in a field with a couple of Capped Wheatears was a new SA species for me. A few Purple Widowfinches mixed in with Goldenbreasted Buntings were also new. Apparently Goldenbreasted Buntings play host to the widow finches so the widows tend to keep in the same flocks.

On arrival a quick look around one of the Dams gave some rewards. Little Swifts hunted insects on the wing while an immature Gymnogene was struggling to get a large fish onto the bank from the shallows. The usual swallows skimmed across the pan. Most were Lesser Striped Swallows with a couple of Whitethroated Swallows in amongst them. African Rail could be heard calling but I couldn't locate it. African Snipe, Purple Gallinule, and African Marsh Harrier were making the most of the now diminishing light. Accommodation was not a problem in Wakkertroom as John McAlisters place was ideally situated. John, happened to be in the middle of birthday celebration when we met. I felt apologetic for arranging such an early start to birding next morning. It's no fun when you have been celebrating the night before, but John did not seem to mind.

16th August

Out at first light and wrapped up for the cold the first signs of bird activity was in John Garden. Cape Weaver, Black Sunbird and Common Waxbill visited his feeder. Glossy Starling, Pied Starlings and a calling Bokmakerie were observed. The wind was getting up and most of the birds in the grassland were keeping low not so the numerous Orangethroated Longclaws! Red Capped Larks were also not letting the wind keep them down. A flock of Cape Canary's perched on the barbed wire fence as we went into back burned field looking for the Yellowbreasted Pipit, but to no avail. We did have a possible sighting of a none breeding plumage bird, but this was too dubious to tick. We did however manage to flush a covey of Redwinged Francolin, a new bird for me.

One of my must see birds the Blue Koraan put in an appearance too, in fact four birds showed well. A male Sentinal Rockthrush was also scoped. Then it was off to tape out Eastern Longbilled Lark, which duly obliged Greywinged Francolins were also observed. Anteating Chats occupied fences in the grasslands and a Secretary bird surprised me as we inadvertently flushed it from the field edge. Redthroated Wryneck also answered the call - another new bird for me.

I wasn't expecting a lot from Wakkerstroom as this was not the best time of year for birding the grasslands and as the wind was getting up the decision was made to head to Karkloof. Not before ticking off an early South African Cliff Swallow while following a detour John had given me in the hope of seeing White-bellied Korhaan. Which I didn't!! Wattled Starling was also ticked. Karkloof is situated in the Natal Midlands and its rolling hills are a scenic area and very productive bird wise with the added bonus of some very good mist belt birding.

A quick look at Howick Falls on the way to Karkloof gave good views of a large flock of wheeling Alpine Swifts in a stunning setting. Light was fading fast it was time to head for Thistledown guesthouse. A delightful place tucked away among a forested hillside, Thistledown guesthouse had its own charm with a welcoming log fire and great birds.

17th August

Next morning a stroll around the mature gardens was rewarding with more of the commoner birds Rock Pigeon (Now speckled Pigeon) Cape Robin, Golden-breasted Bunting, Collared and Black Sunbird, Southern Boubou, Orange-breasted Bushshrike. A colony of Spotted-backed Weavers, Kurrichane Thrush, and Dusky Flycatcher made for some interesting digi-scoping. After a very quick but well prepared and ample breakfast, it was time to head down one of the forest tracks. I set my scope up on a high vantage point, which proved to be a very good idea. A Forest Buzzard perched up on a bare tree but was too far to Digi-scope. A confusing raptor perched up not too far from the buzzard also left me without much chance. This turned out to be an Imm. Gymnogene.

The noise of Cranes drew my eyes skyward as a pair of elegant Blue Cranes flew into a field below. A quick scan located them, and to my surprise a single Wattled Crane strutted in a field adjacent to where the Blue Cranes were feeding. The field guides do this beautiful bird no favors - it is quite a stunner. I thought it too good to be true seeing two Crane species in more or less the same vicinity so when I noticed a flock of 40 Southern Crowned Cranes in another field I was dumb struck. Three cranes in one scope view was one of the highlights of the trip and one I am sure will probably never be repeated.

I quickly grabbed my equipment and headed for the car in order to digi-scope what I could. The walk back for the car and the drive down felt like an eternity. When I finally got there I was frustrated as the Blue Cranes were behind the tree line, as was the Wattled Crane! I did however manage to digi-scope the Crowned Cranes.

After what was probably too long spent Digi-scoping. I decided to leave for Leopards Bush, in the hope that the Crowned Eagles nest adjacent to the lodge was active. Not before a small flock of Southern Bald Ibis landed just behind me and began feeding among the stubble field across the road. Of course I wasted more time Digi scooping. Long crested Eagle also put in an appearance at the roadside.

On arrival at Leopards Bush I had no luck on the Crowned Eagles. It wasn't a wasted journey as I managed to Digi-scope Chorister Robin! Buffy Pipit and Plainbacked Pipit were also observed. Other birds like Greybacked Bleating Warbler, Yellowthroated Apalis and Chinspot Batis were also seen. A drive down the valley to the Midmar dam was well rewarded when I managed three more lifers. Stanley's Bustard, Ayers Cisticola and a pipit I could not identify at the time, which I have since confirmed as Shorttailed Pipit A Jackal Buzzard, perched at the entrance road to the dam and Yellowthroated Longclaw were also observed.

The short grasses around the marshy area by the dam held Cloud Cisticola and a few Blackwinged Plover were also present. African Stonechats now being considered as a different species from ours were numerous.

It was time to leave for Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. The reserve is situated just opposite the gorge with the spectacular Howick falls making a fine back drop when viewed from the trail road to my accommodation. The self-catering accommodation was nicely situated over looking the gorge. Mocking Chats and a single male Cape Rockthrush hopped about the boulders just outside my cottage

18th August

Awaking to the sound of Cape Rockthrush outside and a quick sortie around the cottage gave me White-throated Robin, Black Sunbird, a few Cape White-eyes and what may have been Green Twinspot! Two small dark waxbill sized birds alighted from the grasses around the tree shaded side of my cottage these could have been Swee waxbill (which I have seen before) Not quick enough to confirm either I had to let that one slip by me as I could not be sure.

A drive around the reserve produced Longbilled Pipit, Rufousnaped Lark and a smallish lark that turned out to be Flappet Lark. A large flock of nomadic Steelblue Widowfinch was a nice surprise and a first for me. Had I overlooked them last winter? Leg and Bill combination is the way to separate the widow finches when in none breeding plumage. These had Reddish /pinkish legs and bill and were also in the presence of Golden-breasted Buntings and a couple of Blue-billed Firefinches.

The wind began to get up and was becoming an irritant. A Malachite Kingfisher flew from a small pan into a pine tree (of all places) perching long enough for me to digi-scope, and Familiar Chats hopped from boulder to boulder.

I decided to take the trail down to the bottom of the gorge in order to escape the wind. This produced African Yellow Warbler, Bar-throated Apalis and Cape Batis, in the thick tangles of the woodland that bordered the camp. A Bush Shrike sp. possibly Gorgeous or Olive sent the small birds scattering for cover but again I was too slow to react to confirm either. Fiscal shrike and White-eyes were also present. The old adage Its not what you know its who you know came into play whilst visiting a private farm above the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. Kelvin, a friend of a friend had a good view point on the pair of Black Eagles nesting in the reserve. He has watched the pair successfully raise chicks for years now, viewing the nest site through a makeshift platform built against a tree on the precarious cliff face. This year the birds had moved their nest even closer to where it had been for so many years and were flying in and out of the cliff face close enough to touch them. It was a wonderful experience to see these magnificent Eagles so close. Had I not needed both hands free for fear of falling to my death, I could have had some wonderful flight shots. I actually dropped my precious Coolpix from my pocket as I scrambled back up to to the top. To my utter relief the camera lodged in a tree root. How lucky can you get!

A scan of the cliff face by the Howick Falls had yielded a pleasant surprise in the form of a pair of Lanner Falcons feeding four chicks. I watched in delight as the parents came back and forth to the chicks. It was time to leave the Karkloof area for Eshowe some three hours away so with reluctance I pulled myself away. The Karkloof area is must for birders planning a trip to Natal.

On arrival at the guesthouse in Eshowe my host, a fellow countryman, and a few Trumpeter Hornbills, or flying donkeys greeted me. They are sometimes referred to by this name by South African birders due to their calls. With an hour's light to spare, I walk down a forest path to the river was not very productive most birds had gone to roost apart from a few Black Saw-wings and a few Cape White-eyes.

19th August

It was again quite windy as Sbusiso, a local guide, who had been arranged through the offices of the Zululand Birding Route, met up with me. He was to be the birding guide to the Ongoya and Dilinza forests and was both pleasant and helpful. Sbusiso explained the wind would not be of any significance at Ongoya so we should start there first. He knew the area well and he seemed a knowledgeable birder. He was right about the wind factor the cold front moving through had not reached here yet and in any case the forest was more protected from the wind due to its inland location.

After an hour and a halves drive we were at the forest. Birds en-route included Black bellied Starling, African Marsh Harrier, Pied Crows, Black Crow, an assortment of weavers and widows Jackal Buzzard, and Black Sparrowhawk which Sbusiso saw flash across the road behind us. Very frustrating, but certainly not as frustrating as hearing a Gorgeous Bushshrike calling from a ravine which would not be tempted by the tape to come and show itself.

Once passed the rough track into the forest proper which I think might not be negotiabled without a high clearance vehicle, we started our search for Green Barbet ( Woodward's Barbet). This we got within just a few minutes and were surprisingly easy. Longtailed Wagtail on the forest path and Striped Pipit on the rocks around the office were also added as we picked up a permit after a small entrance fee was paid. Plain-backed Pipit was also observed. I had my first look at Black-breasted Snake Eagle flying overhead before an African Goshawk flew over our vehicle causing us to jump out to get better views as it spiraled out of sight. Near to the forest edge a splendid Golden rumped-Tinkerbarbet called over and over again and made for a good digi but instead we headed for the birds. I still regret that decision.

To my dismay the wind had now reached us and was now quite strong ruining any chance of more good birds, although where it was calm we managed Fantailed Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Grey Cuckooshrike, a couple of Yellow-throated Longclaws, Brown-headed Parrot and the first of many Yellow-billed Kites. A small detour to Mtunzini for Mangrove Kingfisher, which we didn't see, gave me Half-collared Kingfisher another first! We also found a few common species Malachite Kingfisher, White-eared Barbet, Woolynecked Stork, and Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

Dilinza forest was a real disappointment due to the gale force winds, although we did manage the very approachable Spotted Ground thrush. A look at the hide, if you can call it a hide, for Green Twinspot was unsuccessful, maybe because an African Goshawk was perched up right outside the hide. A walk on the canopy boardwalk produced little in the way of birds, which was of no surprise considering the conditions, but gave me unprecedented views of the forest canopy and surroundings. I could only wonder at what the forest would have given me on a calmer day. I thanked Sbusiso for his time and dropped him off in Eshowe before picking up my gear and heading off to St Lucia. As I neared St Lucia a low flying light grey raptor, which at first I thought was Black-breasted Snake Eagle, had my binocs to my eyes in a jiffy. This was definitely no BBSE - there were bars yes, two definite and the third faint no black breast, but a grayish wash and the wings were lightly barred appearing almost grey, but not quite. Southern Banded Snake Eagle!

20th August

I awoke from a good night sleep in a St Lucia chalet to the sound of rain which had stopped by the time I was washed, dressed and outside. This seemed to be good for the birding as the birds at Gwalagwala forest were plentiful. My first lifers here were Rudd's Apalis, Woodward's Batis, and Livingston's Lourie. Yellowbellied Bulbuls were everywhere Cape Batis was also ticked off and Natal Robin was also pretty common.

A walk to the estuary produced Common and Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Pink-backed Pelican, White-faced duck, African Spoonbill, Goliath Heron, African Fish Eagle, and Swift Tern and a few very large crocs. A drive to Cape Vidal was disappointing due to the fact that the hide at one of the trails was closed due to the introduction of Elephant. In any case the wind was still as strong as ever! Croaking Cisticola was also ticked off before I decided to head for Bonamanzi (earlier than I had planned).

I arrived at Bonamanzi about 2.00 in the afternoon. Not long through the gate birds began appearing - a Purple-crested Lourie at a drinking fountain and further along Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Southern black Tit, Blue Grey Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher Scimitarbilled Woodhoopoe and Mouse-coloured Flycatcher were on the approach road to my tree house. Yes tree house! My accommodation for the next two nights and what a good location it was too. I was hoping for a sighting of Pinkthroated Twinspot, the parks emblem bird, but it wasn't to be. I did however manage one of Bonamanzi's specials right outside my balcony. A fine male Neerguard's Sunbird! Care must be taken on identification, as they can be confused with the similar Marico sunbird. Look for the shorter bill and red not purple chest band. A flushed Kurrichane Buttonquail on the grasslands not far from the Lapanzi camp road was also unexpected.

I quickly booked a drive onto the floodplain for the following morning at the office. In the hope of finding one of my most wanted birds Pink-throated Longclaw. Only a guided 4x4 is allowed onto the floodplain so this would be my only chance. Around the pan by the main office a Black flycatcher made regular sorties from the dinning room veranda while Jacana, Threebanded Plover, Wood Sandpiper, African Pied Wagtail worked the mud, and a small flock of Red Backed Manikin, Malachite Kingfisher and various weavers including Thickbilled Weaver cavorted the reed bed. Brown-throated Weaver was also observed. On the drier areas around the pan Yellow throated Longclaw foraged ,while the trees surrounding the pan held the usual Fork-tailed Drongo, Dusky Flycatcher, White-throated Robin, Natal Robin, and Yellow-bellied Bulbul.

21st August

I met up with Bheki, the guide at the office and climbed into the 4x4 and set off for the floodplain rapped up for what was a cold morning. I knew a wooly hat would be worth bringing. On the lead up to the floodplain some Acacias en-route held a few surprises. An early arrival, a Paradise flycatcher, a party of Yellow White-eyes, and a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, perched close by. Squaretailed Drongo's hawked for insects and a striking male Forest Weaver and a Grey Sunbird (another lifer) was also ticked. A Burchell's Coucal walked ungainly like along the edge of the track before disappearing into the long grass

As we got onto the Floodplain Red-winged Pratincole gave me another new species for S.A., and Lesser Black-winged Plovers with chicks gave me yet another lifer. A Wattled Plover stood facing the now emerging sun while LBJ's came out in force. Most Pipits were Richards Pipit and Grassveld Pipits. Pale Crowned Cisticola, and Black backed Cisticola were also new birds for me and seemed numerous.

Despite nearly an hour driving back and forth in an area of grass no bigger than a football field there was no sign of Pinkthroated Longclaw! Bheki insisted the birds were here yesterday so we persevered. About to give up hope, one superb Pinkthroated Longclaw emerged from hiding!! Its pink throat seemed redder than pink, a fine specimen indeed. I had no idea these birds were such skulkers and it was hard to believe after such a comprehensive and intrusive search the bird was there at all. What a superb bird too and one of many highlights of my return to South Africa.

A few Eastern White Pelican swam in the distant water and in the mud a few Ruff,and Curlew Sandpiper were feeding. Kittlitz's Plovers ran distracting us from their chicks as we stopped for refreshments and the ubiquitous Blacksmith Plover scolded us. After a well needed warm drink we headed back not before I added two more birds to my growing life list, Lemonbreasted Canary and Grey-rumped Swallow. The drive back to camp produced another Grey Sunbird and some more Red-backed Manikins as well as Fantailed Flycatcher. A drive around the reserve after lunch provided nothing new bird, Red-faced Mousebirds, some Common waxbills but not the Grey waxbills I was looking for. All in all it was good day's birding.

Bonamanzi (a private reserve owned by the paper giant Mondi) could learn quite a bit from reserves such as Mkuze and Ndumu, which are run by the parks board. In my opinion this privately owned reserve's infrastructure fell well short of the organisation of the former mentioned with poor maps and direction signs. A wasted walk to a hide that didn't exist due to a wrongly situated sign post was one such example of my point, but if you want good birds Bonamanzi is not far behind the other two reserves. Next stop Mkuze!!

23rd August

My favorite reserve "Mkuze"! This is a superb venue for birding. Well organised, even during this severe drought they still managed to keep water pumped into at least two of the waterholes at hides. One of the hides Kumhlala was very productive and from a digi-scoping perspective was excellent, with birds coming and going for hours. A visit to the premier pan of Mkuze "Nsumo Pan" was a bit disappointing, as it was bone dry. It was pitiful to see Hippos clinging on to life in a mud bath battling not to be squeezed out in a survival of the fittest. But it was not totally birdless. A Black Stork was the first of several larger species to be seen.

A female Nyala stuck in the mud did not last the night and was partially taken by a small croc. This provided a feast for White-backed and Lappet Faced Vultures and the opportunist Marabou Stork. A Pair of Fish Eagles called from a tree behind the our hide and swooped to chase off an immature bird (probably last years young) before swooping down to feed on the many barbell that slithered in what remained of the watery mud. A common Sandpiper and a Green sandpiper were both new S.A birds.

A huge flock of Lemon breasted Canary's was a surprise and a Heuglin's Robin right outside the hide was frustratingly too close to digi-scope, but one of my favorite Robin species. Tawny Flanked Prinia and Brown throated Weaver were also present. After spending what was probably too long at Nsumo pan I headed for Kumhlala hide. There was water in the pan and baboons Nyala, Wildebeest, Zebra and Impala were all coming to drink. White Fronted Bee-eaters, Yelloweyed Canary, Quelea, Yellow Weaver, Tambourine Dove and Greenspotted Dove were all taking turns to drink. A White Rhino bull and a young female came within metres of the hide to drink, which was a great treat for those in the hide. Then a stroke of luck: a Scaly-throated Honeyguide came right in front of me just within range of my scope I had but seconds to react and was pleased with a great opportunity taken. Scalythroated Honeyguides can be difficult birds to see as they are a forest bird and not always guaranteed.

While waiting for the guide who guided the walk through the fig forest a quick visit to the bird hide over-looking the tiny man made water hole produced a Fan-tailed Flycatcher. And the surrounding grounds gave me Bearded Woodpecker, and White-bellied Sunbird. Guided walks are the only ways you can walk the fig forest. Poachers are even more a risk to visitors than the wild animals now. On entering the forest I heard Scaly-throated Honeyguide but could not see it emphasizing my point earlier. A Trumpeter Hornbill perched up in a tree and a White-backed Vulture was also observed perched up. Terrestrial Bulbul scratched around the leaf litter and Natal Robin was also present. I could also here a Klaas' Cuckoo, but could not locate it. A new bird I managed to see thanks to Angel, the guide, was the Blue-mantled Flycatcher, a blue version of a Paradise Flycatcher without the long tail. He located the call and quickly headed us in the right direction. There were in fact a pair playing hide and seek with me behind a large fig tree. Yellow-spotted Nicator, one of four individuals was also ticked off on the walk back as was Sombre Bulbul

Once outside the forest a wounded Black Rhino (my first ever sighting of Black Rhino) gave me an adrenaline rush. Angel ushered me to the car and walked ahead instructing me slowly forward until the danger had passed. A quick message on his Walkie-talkie had rangers there within minutes to track the animal, dart and repair the animal's wounds. Still no sign of Narina Trogon or Pinkthroated Twinspot around the reserve meant I was running out of time to see this bird, perhaps at Ndumu I thought!

24th August

A drive around the reserve early morning before departing for Ndumu I was blessed with a piece of luck. After what was just a complete random stop to listen for calls produced a sound I remembered from Guy Gibbon's Roberts's Cd-Rom. African Broadbill! This notoriously difficult bird calls for about 30 minutes very early in the morning and then again for around the same amount of time last afternoon. So you can imagine how fortunate I was to stop where I did. The bird flashed across the road from its calling tree and was briefly located on the other side. Not fantastic views but enough to keep me happy. Crested Guineafowl and a party of White-helmet Shrikes on the way back were also new birds. It was definitely a Rhino day as a close encounter with two white rhino's which turned out NOT to be just two large boulders at the side of the road had me even more alert to anything that moved or didn't move!!!!! . Probably the reason I managed to see the strange Pipit encountered on the airstrip, Shorttailed Pipit. After ticking off Southern Tchagra I reluctantly said goodbye to Mkuze and headed for Kosi Bay

The road to Kosi proved to be a good one and the resort area seemed quite an affluent one yet apparently there had been tourists who had their possessions stolen only weeks before so I was extra vigilant. The road held a few Lizard Buzzard and Pied Crows and not really much else, but it was a scenic and interesting drive. The drive over the Pongola dam and the fjords below were a sight to behold as the mountains and rolling hills made for a picture card setting but it was too dangerous to stop and take a picture.

Care needs to be taken should anyone wish to drive this route as cattle and goats are a constant danger as they freely walk the roads. Once at my destination the "Kosi bay Lodge" a boat was booked for a trip out into the estuary mouth for the following morning. After which a look around the camp produced Three-streaked Tchagra and Southern Boubou, Kurrichane Thrush, Cisticola Sp. A reconnaissance walk around the Trogan trail produced Yellow white-eye, Forest Weaver and a few Yellowbellied Bulbul. With no light left I called it a day.

I was awoken around 3.00am to the sound of Wood Owl just outside my Chalet. My spot light was packed away in the car so ashamedly I left the birds hooting away. Obviously the itinerary had taken its toll.

25th August

An early morning walk along the Trogon trail before the boat was to leave, paid dividends with a superb male Narina Trogon, and another Blue-mantled Flycatcher. My guide Michael was waiting and after short walk to the boat we were on our way. Michael knew I was interested more in the birding than the scenery and quickly drew my attention to a large white bird gliding over the Raffia Palms. The Palmnut Vulture was close enough to see its striking Black and white form as it disappeared into the forest. It's Black secondaries, making it one of the most handsome of Vultures. I thanked Michael for drawing my attention to the bird. As we slowed the motor down and drifted through the reed filled channels Pied Kingfishers, Reed and White breasted Cormorant, Malachite Kingfisher, Goliath Heron and the obligatory Little Egrets were ticked off, African sedge warbler were also ticked. As we rounded the numerous fish kraals and headed into open water, a small Flock of Greater Flamingo let us get within a few metres before taking flight. A beautiful sight! After a reaching the shore a walk to the beach produced nothing other than a Ruddy Turnstone, a Blacksawing and a few Forest Weavers in the trees behind the beech.

The boat trip back gave me another lifer, an African Finfoot that swam right across our bow before disappearing into the reeds. Yellow Weaver and a small flock of Bronze Manikins (new for the trip) were observed as we disembarked. After changing my wet jeans I set off for the remotest reserve of Ndumu

The drive to Ndumu was not a long one, but as we set off late there was little time on arrival to do much birding, but a look around Nyamithi Pan after a longish and somewhat nervous walk to the hide was worth it. It's not advisable to be walk to the furthest hide late afternoon as Hippos come out to graze and with the amount of cover around its possible to surprise one. A flock of Open-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, Black winged Stilt and a few Marsh Sandpipers were now in low light, time to head back!! A spot light around the camp gave me Freckled and Fierynecked nightjar

26th August.

The cold front that had produced the high winds were back to haunt me as it arrived with a vengeance to spoil my digi-scoping chances. Despite this Ndumu didn't let me down. A walk back around the camp produced Blackbellied and Glossy Starling, Green Pigeon, Grey-headed Bushshrike and Orange-breasted Bushshrike. Golden-rumped Tinker Barbet, Red fronted tinker Barbet (heard) Striped Kingfisher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Dusky and Blue Grey Flycatcher, Crowned Hornbill, and Marico Sunbird.

The drinking troughs proved fruitful too with both Greater and Lesser Honeyguides Yellow-bellied Bulbul, and Yellow-eyed Canaries and Long billed Crombec.

Another visit to Nyamithi pan produced the same birds plus Wire-tailed Swallow, Jacana, Trumpeter Hornbill, Avocet, and Yellow-billed Egret (intermediate Egret) and Great White Egret. A drive back to the camp taking in some of the other trails and hides produced Darter, Giant Kingfisher,White Helmet Shrikes, White Browed Robin, and Water Dikkop.

An arranged guided tour around the Dam by 4x4 gave me all the above species a lot closer plus, On the way to the Dam I got my first sighting of an early returning or over wintering male Klaas' Cuckoo - what a superb bird! Yellow-billed Kite and Lizard Buzzard were also repeat birds. Yellow-billed Stork, a flock of Ruff, Little Stint, Greenshank and another Paradise Flycatcher were encountered on the dam. On the last bend just where I had been walking the evening before a spooked Hippo ran for the cover of water. I was glad I wasn't on foot this time. Black Crake was also found here

27th August.

The drive to Richmond took some 6 hours and produced just one new bird for my life list, but what a bird, a Grass Owl, around the Carolina area. Once at Richmond I decided to do a quick Spotlight around the private farm and got Bronzewinged Courser, Spotted Dikkop, Freckled and Fierynecked nightjar and a Whitetailed Mongoose.

28th August

In the gardens outside my guesthouse Longtailed shrikes were very conspicuous and vocal. A female Black Cuckooshrike was being chased by a Striped Kingfisher and a party of Whitehelmet Shrike foraged in the adjacent scrub. On the lawns Groundscraper Thrush fed while Southern Yellow Hornbill swatched. A drive around the farm was very rewarding with another lifer Temmink's Courser with chicks. A pair of Kori Bustards strutted their stuff among the stubble as Sabota Lark scurried around and around a cattle kraal Whitecrowned Shrike perched close to a colony of Whitebrowed Sparrowweaver, which made for good digi-scoping, as did Redbilled Oxpecker. The farm was jumping with birds.

A drive around a "South African Air Force Base Reserve" produced new birds for the trip, and some very good digi-scoping opportunities, namely Lilac breasted Roller, Redbilled Hornbill! A Tawny Eagle and a Bateleur soared overhead, a Burchell's Starling tested my digi-scoping patience and would you belive a SECOND Finfoot at a small pan made the drive here well worth the bother. We turned around at a Martial Eagle nest that had been taken over by Whitebacked Vultures, which provided good opportunity for digiscoping. Namaqua Dove and Red-winged Starling was also ticked.

29th August

The following morning before heading home was spent around the farm at Richmond producing more excellent birding. Raptors, one of which perched outside my guesthouse. was a fine chocolate coloured Wahlberg's Eagle, allowing me some fine shots. The other raptors included Longcrested Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Blackshouldered Kite, and Lizard Buzzard. A little bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Common waxbill and Blue Waxbill my last lifer Grey Penduline Tit were a good send off.

The route back to the airport allowed me one more treat the very rare Taita Falcon. The site that I remembered from last year was still in use by these tiny little falcons and it seemed a fitting end to my trip that one bird at least was roosting up alongside its nesting site.

I wish I could have spent more time at Richmond but my time was up. 15 days had gone bye far to quick and 4,000km and 347 birds later I felt I had done my time some justice, bringing my total for winter visiting for South Africa to 492 species not bad at all. Must try spring next!

Anyone wishing to view my pictures for this trip or my trip last year can do so by viewing my gallery on www.birdforum.net under jdbirdman

 

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