Just back from a Five Days, Five Forests birding trip to Zululand:
Nkandla, Entumeni, Dlinza, Ngoye and St Lucia coastal forest.
Highlight was Ngoye, about which I’ve heard so much over the years (especially after Aitch went without me: “Have you been to Ngoye Koos? Oh, no, I remember, you haven’t. So you haven’t seen the Woodwards Barbet then? I HAVE!” Only about a hundred times, she rubbed it in!).
I hadn’t planned anything but once I’d walked in Nkandla I said to my Zululand birding guide Sakhamuzi Mhlongo “Forget the coast and the vleis and farms – we’re sticking to forests, and so the Five Forests© & ™ idea came about. I think it’s a winner! Stay in the forests so dawn finds you right there with nowhere to drive.
Nights at the B&Bs and the Birders’ Cottage we cooked up a red meat storm, washed it all down with frosties and early to bed. On walks I took my binocs, telescope, rucksack and a deckchair. Mostly we simply found great spots like forest edges and parked. My guide Sak was great and said (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) that he enjoyed sitting still. Said mostly birders want to rush from one spot to the next! I said he should get deckchairs and specialise in khehlas and gogos (old folk). Charge a premium, carry a hebcooler and you’ll make your fortune, young man, was my advice to him! Call it Gugile Ancient Avian Gadabouts (GAGA© & ™), find a fruiting tree, and let the birds come to you.
I took plenty snacks and drinks in my rucksack, so the waiting was comfy, luxurious and munchy. Next time I’ll take some poncho or sheet to break the human outline – see if that fools the voëls.
We stayed two nights in the Birders Cottage in Ngoye. Perfect for getting up at five every morning and getting straight into the forest at first light. Saw and heard lots of birds which I’d seen before but had written BVD next to them (“better view desired”). And yes, Aitch-in-the-clouds, I did the see the barbet, so laid that bogey-bird to rest!
Above Ngoye Forest
Craig Naude’s magic Mitsubishi 4X4 V6 3000 was superb. I needed first gear low ratio in places in the forest where the rutted tracks changed to slippery clay, and steep drops into stream beds meant equally steep climbs out of them. Boy heaven.
At St Lucia we got into the forest at dawn, too, then walked on to the mouth of the estuary by 6.30am and low tide. Waders and terns remain confusing to me, and the sooty tern Sakhamuzi hoped to spot had trekked back to Mozambique. Pity, as it’s one of the easier ones to ID. Oh, well, as the baby tern said to the mother tern: Can I have a baby brother? Certainly, said the mother tern to the baby tern: “One good tern deserves another”.
St Lucia estuary
On the way back we sat in the forest in comfort again and a green malkoha obligingly flew into a tree and displayed his banana beak in full sunlight. Driving back to the B&B a lemon dove (old cinnamon dove) sat on a track at the side of the road for so long we eventually drove off! First time I’ve ever done that. Usually you just glimpse them flying off.
Great break – the first real birding since before Aitch and I became child-infested. I’d forgotten what early mornings without scarecrows was like! We spent 32 days on our trip up to Malawi when the kids were 5 and 1 and only saw one bird, and that was a Zambian nkuku whose cousin was deliciously on our plates at a shisa nyama at the roadside in Livingstone.