Today we head out to the fabulous Mbozambo Wetland where the superbly positioned Sappi Stanger Hide is located. This hide and surrounds has proved extremely productive over the years and has become well-known as a reliable site to observe a number of skulking rallids amongst a variety of more common waterbirds. African Snipe and African Rail are regularly seen. Warblers, cisticolas and weavers are a prominent component of the avian diversity here. Red-faced and Rufous-winged Cisticola, Lesser Swamp, Little Rush and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler along with the localized Southern Brown-throated Weaver are all possibilities here. Other weaver species often found include Spectacled, Village and Thick-billed Weaver.
Anatids are usually present in good numbers with White-faced Whistling Duck, Cape, Hottentot and Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck and Cape Shoveler regularly encountered. African Marsh Harrier can be seen quartering over the wetland from time to time whilst migratory Yellow-billed Kite should already have returned to the area and there is a good chance of finding the incredible African Fish Eagle. Birding in the area is usually very rewarding and time spent in the correct habitat surrounding the wetland could also produce sought-after specials such as Black-throated Wattle-eye.
Today we will head north to the coastal town of Mtunzini on the Zululand coast. The distinctive name, which means “a place in the shade”, was given to the village by the local Zulu people. This site is famous in Southern African birding circles for its breeding population of Palm-nut Vultures. These strange vultures can usually be seen along the edges of town, where their primary food source – Raphia palms – are found in high densities, and they even feature in the town’s coat of arms! Located between the town and the ocean is Umlalazi Nature Reserve which encompasses coastal grassland and forest mosaic as well as a tidal estuary. Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Black-collared, Crested and White-eared Barbets, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Scarlet-chested, Grey, Collared, Purple-banded and Olive Sunbird and Orange-breasted Bushshrike are just some of the colourful species we will search for. The damper areas are excellent for the localized Rufous-winged Cisticola. Our main quarry along the river and estuary is the shy African Finfoot. We may also find Woolly-necked Stork, African Fish Eagle as well a few migrant shorebirds that have not made the journey north. Winter also provides the chance of finding the scarce Mangrove Kingfisher in the extensive mangrove habitat to be found here.
Shongweni Resources Reserve is one of the most productive birding spots in the greater Durban area. This 1,700 hectares include the dam and what at first appears to be simply bushveld but is actually three different types of vegetation – plateau, slope and riverine woodland. This variety of habitat provides the opportunity of finding resident birds including the Lanner Falcon, Rock Martin and African Black Swift, as well as Mocking Cliff Chats that nest on the vertical rock faces. The riverine forest and denser thickets provide birders with the chance of finding Gorgeous Bushshrike, Narina Trogon, Tambourine Dove as well as commoner species such as Cape Robin-Chat, Ashy Flycatcher, Bar-throated Apalis and various sunbirds.
Around the Shongweni Dam we will seek Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, African Black Duck, Giant and Pied Kingfisher and Brown-throated Martin. The scarce White-backed Night Heron has bred occasionally in fig trees that hang over the water. Although rare there have been records of African Finfoot, which is a much sought-after species throughout its distribution. The bird list here is over 250 species, and one can expect to see between 50 and 100 of these in a full morning’s birding. Mammals that occur include Black-backed Jackal, Rock Hyrax, Warthog, Slender Mongoose, Waterbuck and Caracal (rare) to name a few.
Oribi Gorge is situated near Port Shepstone along the Kwa-Zulu Natal south coast. The drive to this scenic nature reserve should take approximately 2 hours. This reserve is a wonderful mix of coastal forest, grassland and beautiful riverine and riparian habitat along the Umzilkulwana river gorge.
Birding in this nature reserve is often very rewarding with a number of specials occurring. Species associated with the forest habitat in the reserve include Natal Spurfowl, Knysna and Purple-crested Turaco, Narina Trogon, Lemon Dove, Red-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Brown Scrub-Robin, Lazy Cisticola, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Olive Bushshrike, Black-bellied Starling, Grey, Olive and Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Dark-backed Weaver, Swee and Grey Waxbill, Green Twinspot and Forest Canary to name a few. African Crowned Eagle is another special that we may be lucky enough to encounter soaring high above the forests on clear mornings whilst the reserve also provides chances of Forest Buzzard as well as seeing the impressively large Cape Vulture (a breeding colony is located nearby). The riverine habitat is another zone worth exploring as Mountain Wagtail, African Black Duck and the scarce Half-collared Kingfisher are all regularly encountered here.
Amongst all the above-mentioned specials we also stand a chance of finding one of South Africa’s most sought-after endemics, the Knysna Woodpecker. This forest denizen is rather shy as far as Southern African woodpeckers go but can usually be located by its unique call and Oribi Gorge is certainly one of the top spots to find this tricky species.
The impressive sandstone cliffs, the mix of grassland and forests in this nature reserve also provide the ideal habitat for a number of mammal species that we could potentially find during the course of the day. Whilst Oribi have become a worryingly rare sight in the reserve, other antelope that we are more likely to see include Bushbuck, Common Reedbuck and the tiny forest-dwelling Blue Duiker. Blue and Vervet Monkeys also occur and are often the first to alert to the presence of one of the gorge’s resident Leopards. Although these cats are found in the reserve, they are very rarely seen during the day.
Tala Private Game Reserve is a wildlife conservancy hidden in the hills of a quiet farming community near Camperdown in KwaZulu-Natal. Low-key and off the beaten track, Tala spans some 3,000 hectares, encompassing a mix of acacia thornveld, open grassland and a sensitive wetland. 380 bird species have been recorded here, and plenty of big game, including greater kudu, hippopotamus, African buffalo, giraffe, blue wildebeest and eland.
Some of the target bird species include the endemic Southern Tchagra, Fiscal Flycatcher, Red-billed Oxpecker, Shelley’s Francolin, Mocking Cliff Chat, African Marsh Harrier and Red-throated Wryneck. An array of water birds including White-backed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard and South African Shelduck occur and photographic opportunities are excellent.
Midmar Nature Reserve lies in the scenic Natal Midlands and is a great attraction to both birds and mammals. The Thurlow section of this great reserve is particularly productive and will be the focus of our efforts this morning.
Bird species associated with water will be abundant and should include White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, Goliath and Purple Heron, African Darter, the endemic South African Shelduck, both White-faced Whistling and Yellow-billed Duck, African Wattled and Blacksmith Lapwing as well as the iconic African Fish Eagle. Raptor species are prominent with a couple of pairs of the stately Jackal Buzzard that call this area home, and we should see Black-winged Kite and one or two African Marsh Harriers quartering the marshy areas. The stately Secretarybird is also often present.
Large terrestrial birds are also to be found, including a few pairs of Grey Crowned Crane, as well as Blue and rarely Wattled Crane. We stand a decent chance of finding the sought-after Denham’s Bustard. This reserve is an excellent place to find seedeaters that may include flocks of Common Waxbill, Quailfinch, Bronze Mannikin, Yellow-fronted, Brimstone and Cape Canaries as well as the uncommon Orange-breasted Waxbill.
Venturing onto the grasslands we will search for the sought-after Black-winged Lapwing, as well as some coveys of Red-winged Francolin. Cape Longclaw and African Pipits are plentiful and with some luck we could pick up the less common Plain-backed Pipit. Many mammal species can also be expected and should include the endemic Black Wildebeest, iconic Plains Zebra amongst many antelope such as the rare Oribi, Blesbok, Southern Reedbuck and Hartebeest.
Cumberland is a 560-hectare Private Nature Reserve located to the east of Pietermaritzburg. Habitats found on the reserve include pristine savanna, woodland, valley thickets and wetland. Extensive cliff faces, deep valleys, waterfalls and well wooded gorges provide unrivalled landscape photography opportunities. A large part of the reserve’s boundary is created by the Umgeni River and the Rietspruit Stream cuts through the reserve exiting into the Umgeni in the east. The Rietspruit Stream which flows through Cumberland attracts many species of dragonfly, frogs and other interesting water-loving creatures while a network of trails allows one to explore all that the reserve offers.
Birding specials on the reserve include Grey Crowned Crane, Narina Trogon, Black Stork, Peregrine and Lanner Falcon, African Finfoot, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Swee Waxbill, Green Twinspot, Bokmakierie, Knysna Turaco, and Southern Bald Ibis. Other gems include Shelley’s Francolin, Cape Longclaw, near-endemic Cape Grassbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Golden-breasted Bunting, Striped Pipit, Red-billed Oxpecker and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. Cumberland is also home to over 30 species of mammal, including Giraffe, Impala, Oribi, Plains Zebra and Greater Kudu.
The Karkloof, a range of forested hills in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, is home to a number of uncommon bird species and some birds restricted to these afro-montane forests. En route we will pass by the scenic Howick Falls. Swift species here may include African Black and Alpine, whilst a pair of Peregrine Falcon usually watch on. We leave the town of Howick and venture into the more remote midlands. The grassland habitat will be searched for Levaillant’s Cisticola, Pied Starling as well as the sought-after Black-winged Lapwing.
As we start reaching the forested areas, we should pick up on the near-endemic Drakensberg Prinia and Forest Canary on the road verges. Forest Buzzard and African Crowned Eagle can sometimes be seen soaring up high over the forest and Long-crested Eagle and Jackal Buzzard often perch on roadside trees. As we reach the forest interior, we will go in search of one of the star attractions of this area – Orange Ground Thrush. This usually very shy species is quite approachable here and should afford us some great looks. Other species that we will focus our attention on are Bush Blackcap, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Red-backed Mannikin and Swee Waxbill. A small stream nearby holds a pair of Mountain Wagtail and this open area is favoured by Accipiter species such as Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. The rare Cape Parrot is sometimes present and their loud squawks will give away their presence.
Mammal possibilities today include Southern Reedbuck, Egyptian Mongoose, Blue Monkey and the sleek Oribi.