The Epic, Part 3 – Underberg to Bonamanzi

From Underberg, we took the road to Eshowe in Zululand.  We had spent 18 months there in 1976, but found he town much changed.  What was the same was the Dhlinza Forest, a well-known birding spot in the middle of the village.  We stayed at a beautiful farm , The Chase, where we occupied a comfortable cottage set in a magnificent garden.  Jono and Jane Chennels were our hosts and were extremely hospitable and went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed.  They farm mainly sugar cane, but have recently started growing proteas for export and this has proved to be very successful.

We birded in the Forest and got our first lifer of the trip, a Green Twinspot, which came to the hide, along with Tambourine Doves, Purple-crested Turacos and Red-winged Mannikins.  Our stroll along the boardwalk was rewarding and we also hiked one of the forest trails, getting Orange Ground Thrush, Chorister Robin and Narina Trogon.

On leaving Eshowe, we stopped in an the Ngoye Forest, where we met up with local guide, Abednigo Dube, who managed to find us our second lifer, the elusive Green Barbet, high in the canopy.  Out on some adjoining grassland, we saw a Red-chested Flufftail (our third lifer) along with many Crowned Eagles – at one stage there were four in the sky above us.

From there we proceeded to the Bonamanzi Reserve, an excellent birding spot, close to Hluhluwe Game Reserve.  We stayed in a tree house, which was close to their water features and bird hide, so had good sightings without having to travel too far.  One can walk anywhere in the reserve and can also go out at night, despite there being buffalo and rhino around, making it very rewarding if one is prepared to put in the time. The area abounded with Bush Shrikes and we heard them all the time.

We also visited the False Bay Reserve, home to the Eastern Nicator and many more bush shrikes, and we walked the trail at Hilltop Camp in Hluhluwe.  The latter was not too successful and did not compare with our previous visit, but we did see many Long-crested Eagles.  Sadly, we did not have time to get to St Lucia.

The Epic, Part 2 – St Francis Bay to Underberg

We left St Francis Bay a day earlier than planned in order to fit in a night at Stutterheim, a small village next to a good indigenous forest – home to the White-starred Robin, a target bird.  A delightful establishment called ‘The Shire’ had a cottage available and we spent a very comfortable night in what could only be described as absolutely enchanting surroundings.  We were on the edge of the forest, with an outside shower for warm weather.  Although small, our cottage was very well equipped and afforded us the opportunity to really spend time in the forest.

From there we went to Gonubie, with the intention of visiting two Nature Reserves, only to find that both were closed over the weekend!  We were very disappointed and could do little birding except along the river, however, it was the weekend of the Rugby World Cup Final, so we enjoyed seeing the Springboks win a wonderful tournament; in the face of great odds against them!  We did see Trumpeter Hornbills , Crowned Eagles and Osprey over the river, which was good.  Little good could be said of our accommodation, however, so Gonubie was not a great success!

Our journey to Underberg at the foot of the Sani Pass into Lesotho took us through the depressing Transkei.  Driving through the capital, Umtatha, was a nightmare, as the town is so incredibly filthy!  We were glad to reach our destination, Stoney Way Cottage, on the outskirts of Underberg.  We drove up the Sani Pass, which is being rebuilt, to the consternation of some who enjoy the challenge of the existing very rough road.  We nearly made it to the top, but I felt sorry for my car and got tired of the slow stony progress, so we never made it into Lesotho, but we did see some of the specials.


The Epic, Part 1 – Hermanus to St Francis Bay

On leaving Hermanus, we traveled along the Garden Route to Knysna, our first stop.  Travelling on the N1, one has little time to see small birds, but the larger ones are recognisable from the car and so our list started, growing rapidly as it does when everything counts.  We deviated around the lagoons at Wilderness and enjoyed the various bird hides and look-outs.  Once at Knysna, we visited the Goukamma Reserve and had good sightings of African Marsh Harriers and Black-winged Lapwings flying overhead.  There was also a Western Osprey over the village and the walks around Leisure Isle and along the lagoon edge at Belvedere, proved fruitful.

Leaving Knysna, we traveled via Nature’s Valley, always a good forest birding spot, but did not see a lot.  Our journey took us to St Francis Bay, where we were meeting up with friends for a few days of wild orchid hunting.  Regrettably, the weather turned cold and wet and we were severely hampered in our field activities, but did manage to get in some birding, between the frustrated flower searching!  Staying at our friend, Di’s house was a real pleasure and we were very comfortable and enjoyed some good times together!

An Epic Birding Trip

Renee and I left Hermanus on 25 October and returned yesterday, on 27 November, after driving over 8000 kms round South Africa on a birding adventure.  Our aim was to identify as many local birds as possible, out of a total of around 1000 South African species.  One might think this an easy task, but we were severely challenged in putting together a list of 427 species.  For us, it was a trip record, as we had never previously beaten 400, but we did take nearly 5 weeks this time and visited a variety of locations and habitats. The map below gives a rough idea of our progress and I will attempt to describe our adventure in a series of articles to follow.

BBY trip