We returned from a birding trip to Natal during June 2011. We managed to tick off 311 species without the normal migrants. We use some of the local guides who were very helpful and knowledgeable. A short report is herewith.
Day 1 Beaufort West: A short trip in the B/West area brought Karoo Korhaan, Sabota (Bradfield's) Lark, Karoo Longbilled Lark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Chat Flycatcher and Larklike Bunting.
Day 2 Beaufort West to Winburg: Driving through the Karoo we saw several Sth Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Ant-eating Chat and Greater Kestrel. As we moved into the Free State we picked up Nth Black Korhaan, Long-tailed Widowbird with “short” tails and Pale-winged Starling.
We stayed at Bell’s Pass Guest Farm outside Winburg which is very comfortable and you can walk all over the farm. Birds here included Eastern Clapper Lark, White-fronted Bee-eater which was a great surprise, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Crested Barbet, Black-collared Barbet, Black-chested Prinia, Fairy Flycatcher and Neddicky.
Day 3 Winburg to Pongola: Continuing towards Natal, we picked up in icy weather a Black Harrier just outside Senekal, several Black-shouldered Kites, a Long-crested Eagle on a black wattle tree between Bethlehem and the Golden Gate turn off and at a marshy area beyond Kestell 26 Black-headed Herons and about 25 Sth Balb Ibises together. As we crossed the Drakensberg Mountains, a couple of Alpine Swifts were soaring overhead. Passing Louwsburg a couple of Buff-streaked Chats perched on the rocks.
We stayed at Casa Mia Guest House in Pongola. The guest house is situated in a sub-tropical garden with lovely trees and surrounded by sugar cane. The garden and surrounded vegetation host Kurrichane Thrush, Spectacled Weaver, Sth Black Flycatcher, Scops Owl, White-browed Robin-chat, Afr Firefinch, Marico Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Dark-capped Yellow-warbler, Bronze Mannikin, and Crowned Hornbill.
Day 4 Phongola Game Reserve: We paid a visit to this lovely reserve which is one of my favorites in Natal. Some of the birds we saw include Yellow-throated Petronia, Burchell’s Starling, Lilac-breasted Roller, Thick-billed Weaver, Plain-backed Pipit, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Pale Flycatcher and Wattled Lapwing. We also saw a good variety of game.
Day 5 Pongola to Ndumo River Lodge: The weather was not good and birds along the road scarce. At the stop at Pongolapoort Dam we saw Black-crowned Night Heron, Hamerkop and Red-winged Starling.
We stayed at Ndumo River Lodge as according to Ezemvelo’s office Ndumo GR was fully booked. On arrival the next day there was hardly any visitors. Ndumo River Lodge is along the Phongola River and has been upgraded since my previous visit. Inside the lodge we found Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, several Red-capped Robin-chats (Natal Robins), Scops Owl and Puffback. In the river below we had Afr Jacana, White-faced Duck, Whiskered Tern, Afr Fish-eagle and Burchell’s Coucal.
Day 6 Ndumo Game Reserve: Ndumo stays a jewel and during the day we saw a variety of birds. That included Red-billed Firefinch, Trumpeter Hornbill, Lesser Honeyguide, Dark-backed Weaver, Bearded Woodpecker, Striped Kingfisher, Grey-tit Flycatcher, Pink-throated Twinspot, Bateleur and Crested Guineafowl.
In the afternoon we went on a game drive with Bongani who is an excellent guide. We drove around Nyamithipan and had a couple of Greater Flamingoes, Pink-backed Pelicans, Whiskered & Caspian Tern, Bearded Scrub-robin and hundreds of cormorants, pelicans and Yellow-billed Storks breeding in the trees on the northern side of the pan.
Day 7 Ndumo River Lodge to Bonamanzi: We saw Lizard Buzzard and tens of Trumpeter hornbills along the road. At Muzi Pan we met Themba, the local guide, who is excellent in finding the birds. We first went to the Mkuze River to look for inter alia Pel’s Fish Owl. Along the way we ticked Purple Heron, Afr Firefinch, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Ashy Flycatcher and a pair of cheetahs along the Phinda fence.
We couldn’t find the Pel’s on the walk, but had excellent views of Square-tailed Drongo, Terrestrial Brownbul, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Rudd’s Apalis and Lemon-breasted Canary.
Back at Muzi pan we saw 3 Collared Pratincoles flying over and then discovered a Rufous-bellied Heron in the marshy area. Other birds were white-throated Swallows, Yellow Weaver, more Lemon-breasted Canary, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.
Arriving in Bonamanzi with the weather worsen, we decided to take the game drive before the weather becomes worse. We saw numbers of Black-bellied Starlings, a juvenile Gorgeous Bush Shrike, White-crested Helmet-Shrike and Dusky Flycatcher before the rain cut our drive short.
Day 8 Bonamanzi: Bonamanzi had a real revamped since our last visit. The personnel and guides are much more friendly and effective. The accommodation is superb and the meals very delicious. The only problem is that the problem with the local chief has not been solved yet and you can’t go down to the floodplains to look for the Rosy-throated Longclaw.
We birded around Bonamanzi and had good views of Yellow-breasted & Rudd’s Apalis, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, late Greater Striped Swallows, a Collared Pratincole, and lots of White-eared Barbets, Afr Green Pigeon and probably the best bird, an Afr Broadbill at the turn off to Tree house 10. It gave us splendid views from about 15 meters and didn’t pay any attention to its call.
The afternoon we went on a boat trip on the Hluhluwe River. It is not the Kavango or Chobe River, but we had a good time with threatening weather. On the way to the river we saw an Eastern Nicator and some Wattled Starlings. As we embarked the boat an Afr Finfoot gliding silently across the river to its roosting trees on the southern bank, giving excellent views. On the river we saw Little Bee-eater, a pair of Pygmy Goose, Afr Fish-eagle and Thick-billed Weaver.
Day 9 Bonamanzi to St Lucia: With a cold front approaching the area, it was not good birding conditions. We decided to take a detour through Hluhluwe Game Reserve on the way to St Lucia. Birds in Hluhluwe GR included Bearded & White-browed Scrub-robin, Little Bee-eater, Jackal Buzzard, Cardinal Woodpecker, White-backed & Cape Vulture, White-winged Widowbird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Sth Brown-throated Weaver, Rufous-naped Lark and Sth Black Tit.
Day 10 St Lucia: We stayed in St Lucia Safari Lodge which is situated along the main street. It has very good and comfortable units, but may be become very noisy during holiday periods.
We started off with birding towards the Sugarloaf Campsite and were quickly entertained by a large group of Crested Guineafowl. There were also tens of Trumpeter Hornbills, Natal Robins and Dark-backed Weavers. Along the lagoon we saw Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Caspian Tern, Woolly-necked Stork and Afr Spoonbill. The thickets along the lagoon provided purple-crested Turaco, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Livingston’s Turaco, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and a juvenile Diderick Cuckoo.
A drive towards Cape Vidal gave us Little Bee-eater, Wire-tailed Swallow, Sth Banded, Brown & Black-chested Snake Eagle and the other normal Natal birds. Cape Vidal is being upgraded and it seems that the birds depart for a while. On the beach were a couple of Grey-headed Gulls, Kittlitz’s Plovers and 2 Little Stints that decided not to take the long journey north.
Day 11 St Lucia to Richards Bay: The weather was quickly turning around with rain and I had to cancel the guide I organized for Richards Bay. We stayed at Tussen die Maroelas Guest House which has very good accommodation. We went to Thulasihleka Pan and en route we had lovely views of a female Black Cuckooshrike. Unfortunately it seems that the pan is very run down and that the adjacent industrials dumping all its polluted water into the pan. The hides seem to be use as shelters by people and are filled with rubbish. It can easily develop into a safety risk. Hopefully Birdlife and other people in Richards Bay can do something about it. There were not many birds in the “green” water with a single Squacco Heron, a few White-breasted Cormorants and Common Moorhen.
The scrubby area towards the harbour produced Bronze Mannikin, Purple-banded Sunbird, Red-faced Cisticola and Fan-trailed Widowbird.
Day 12 Richards Bay to Mtunzini: We headed early morning for Ongoye Forest and along the road we picked up Sbo, our guide. As we nearer Ongoye, we had lovely views of Striped Pipit in the road and Rufous-naped Lark. As we entered the first patch of forest we were greeted by Chorister Robin-chat and Lemon Dove. Moving further into the forest we saw Plain-backed Pipit and some saw the Olive Sunbird. Green Barbet was calling in several places in the forest but took a while to bring them closer. In the meantime we found Yellow-streaked Greenbul. Sbo eventually brought the Green Barbet very close and gave all excellent views of it.
On the way back we had Martial Eagle soaring overhead and then an Afr Crowned Eagle soaring low over us. It was now lovely sunshine and rushed for Dlinza Forest. The forest was very quiet and we couldn’t get Spotted Ground-Thrush although Sbo tried his best. Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon was heard calling but no signs of it. We had Livingstone’s Turaco, Olive Sunbird and Square-tailed Drongo. Sbo is an excellent guide who can mimic most of the birds in the forest and you are not needing a tape for the birds.
In Mtunzini we stayed at Toad Tree Cottage which is very good for a small group and with lovely birds in the garden. In the garden we ticked Natal Robin, Afr Paradise-Flycatcher (male with long tail), Olive Sunbird, White-fronted Bee-eater and Yellow Weaver.
Day 13 Mtunzini to Weenen: We were up early morning to check the Palm-nut Vultures. According the owner of the guest house Palm-nut Vultures also visit the palm trees on his farm, but we decided to go to the palms near the nature reserve. We quickly tracked down a couple of them. A visit to the nature reserve gave us excellent views of Mangrove Kingfisher (a bird I missed for long years), Black-headed Oriole, Little Swift, Collared Sunbird and Ashy Flycatcher.
We proceeded to Weenen and made a quick stop at the Sappi hide near Stanger. This hide was very disappointed and the dam is covered with water lettuce. Not many birds around except a Malachite Kingfisher, Little Rush-Warbler, Afr Jacana and Pied Wagtail.
We drove via the hills of Zululand to Owl & Elephant Lodge near the tiny town of Weenen. The lodge is situated beautifully on a hill overlooking the Bushman River valley. Unfortunately, the owners have to move due to a land claim, but hopefully someone will guard the new owners to run it properly. The facilities are excellent as well as the food at unbelievable prices.
Birds around the lodge were inter alia White-throated Robin-chat, Chinspot Batis, Sth Balb Ibis, White-fronted Bee-eater, Tambourine Dove and Green-backed Camaroptera.
Day 14 Weenen: We spent most of the day in the Weenen Nature Reserve. It wasn’t as good as in summer, but nevertheless we saw a good variety of birds. We started of with Crested Barbet, Rufous-naped Lark, Golden-breasted Bunting and Cloud Cisticola. We saw our only group of Arrow-marked Babblers of the trip and at the picnic site we were surprised by a pair of Red-throated Wryneck and a tame White-throated Robin-chat. Other birds included Cardinal Woodpecker, Brubru, Croaking Cisticola and Yellow-throated Petronia.
Day 15 Weenen to Golden Gate NP: A Gail force wind was blowing and not many birds were moving around. Towards Bergville some Cape Vultures were soaring overhead and we saw a few groups of Sth Bald Ibises. Near Sterkfontein Dam a Black Harrier crossed the road, but otherwise it was only the common species that was willing to take on the wind.
We stayed in Glen Reenen camp and the facilities are of a high standard. We explored the park but didn’t get many birds in the strong wind. In the camp was Cape Rock Thrush and Streaky-headed Seed-eater.
Day 16 Golden Gate NP to Garingboom Guest Farm: We hoped for better weather, but Golden Gate was freezing. Towards Fouriesburg we found a group of Grey-winged Francolin on the side of the road. At the church tower in Excelsior we found a couple of real Rock Doves and we started getting White-browed Sparrow-weavers again. Near Verkeerdevlei we saw some Spike-heeled and Eastern Clapper Lark.
Arriving at Garingboom Riëtte was ready to take us birding. Luckily the wind has dropped and we had a good couple of hours in the veld. Some of the first birds were Red-throated Wryneck, Kimberley Pipit, Greater Kestrel, Buffy Pipit, Desert Cisticola, Sickle-winged Chat, Blue Korhaan, Double-banded Courser and Black-chested Prinia. If you want to look at LBJ’s, you must not miss Garingboom. Riëtte knows exactly where to find them and can explain the differences between them. The facilities are excellent and the real “boerekos” a must be.
Day 17 Garingboom to Beaufort West: We left after breakfast and made a detour to Gariep Dam. Here we found Layard’s Titbabbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Osprey, Grey-headed Gull, Grey Tit, Black-throated Canary and Pale-winged Starling. Unfortunately, no Orange River White-eyes!
Beyond Colesberg we saw our first Pied Avocets of the trip and at the Seekoei River north of Hanover another Osprey. Three Sisters produced a pair of Black Eagles soaring around the “sisters”.
A full detailed report with contact details will be on my website in the near future. There is still place available on my trips to Botswana in November and December 2011.