Renee and I returned from a three week trip to northern Natal last week, well satisfied with our efforts to see some of the Natal winter birds. All in all we got 260 species on the trip, including five lifers. These were the Palm-nut Vulture, Magpie Mannikin, Pink-throated Twinspot, Osprey and Yellow-streaked Greenbul. Other significant sightings included African Broadbill, Grey Waxbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Eastern Nicator, African Finfoot and Narina Trogon. We saw no less than three of each of the last three mentioned!
Our journey went first to Knysna, then Cintsa and Port Edward, before a four night stay at Mtunzini Forest Lodge. It was here that we were rewarded with three sightings of the Palm-nut Vulture. Mtunzini is well worth a visit and offers excellent coastal forest walks and good birding. We managed to get three sightings of Finfoot. (Does this mean we saw a Finyard?) Whilst there we did the Dhlinza Forest walk at Eshowe and also visited the Ngoye Forest in an effort to see the rare Green Barbet, but a slight breeze ensured that we were unsuccessful with the latter.
From Mtunzini, we travelled north to Bonamanzi, stopping along the way to walk the Hippo trail at N’seleni Reserve, north of Empangeni. It was a beautiful walk and we were lucky to see Spotted Ground Thrush in the Fig forest along the river. At Bonamanzi, where we spent three nights, our accommodation was in an elevated wooden cabin – a so-called treehouse. This is an excellent birding venue, much enhanced by the fact that a large portion of the reserve is free of dangerous animals and one is allowed to walk freely and at any time of day.
We searched for hours for a Pink-throated Twinspot, but to no avail. I was beginning to wonder if they really exist. A visit to Hluhluwe provided an interesting diversion and, on a walking trail at Hilltop Camp, we had a very good sighting of a Narina Trogon, having previously seen one at Eshowe.
Our next stop was for a further three nights at the Mantuma Camp at Mkuze Game Reserve, where we stayed in a tent. It was fairly well appointed but a bit tired and pulling up the zippers to keep marauding baboons at bay proved to be quite an effort. The area was bone dry and, with virtually no leaf cover, it should have been easy to spot birds. A guided walk in the Fig Forest was a highlight and we were impressed with the new boardwalk constructed there. It also afforded us our first sighting of the hitherto elusive Pink-throated Twinspot. Waterholes in the area were well worth visiting as the dry conditions meant that there were always many birds around.
Our last birding stop in Natal was Ndumo, also very dry, but well worth the visit. On a walk to the main hide, we managed to see a female Gorgeous Bush-shrike and an African Broadbill, both birds that we were only seeing for the second time, so we were thrilled. A bush walk with a very competent guide produced a couple more Pink-throated Twinspots, but we failed to get a Green Twinspot. We were virtually alone in the camp and reserve so were never troubled by other tourists. The only downside, was the appalling state of the roads in the surrounding area and the endless litter that seems to characterise so much of our beautiful country.
Our journey home started with a visit to Memel in the Free State. Much vaunted as the ‘new Wakkerstroom’, it was a disappointment and we were once again shocked by the bad roads. From there we travelled to Smithfield, picking up the odd new bird along the way, and then on the the Mountain Zebra Park for two nights.
We were expecting cold weather, but when it started snowing in the camp soon after our arrival, we abandoned any thoughts of birding and settled in to our very comfortable accommodation to watch the end of the second test against England, in front of a large fire! The next morning the high roads of the park were closed because of the snow and ice, but we managed to drive through some areas with a light powder covering. It was very cold but quite beautiful. Some sunny weather soon helped to melt the snow, which had closed passes leading out of the area, so we were able to set out for Prince Albert as scheduled.
It was still very cold when we arrived after having driven through the impressive Meiring’s Poort Pass. We stopped at Bergwater Estate Winery on the way and were pleased to see that the wine industry is making great strides in the Karoo. Our route home was to have been via the Swartberg Pass, but the inclement weather meant that it was closed, so we took the fast route back to Hermanus along the N1.
It was a very successful and enjoyable trip! Enjoy the pictures.