Finally got round to making a collage of some of the birds we saw up in Zululand a few years back. Aitch and I went for a breakaway luxury weekend. It was dry – very dry – and the lodge had a water feature running right under the sundeck. Every bird from miles around (as well as all the animals) had to come here to drink.
It was perfect! Aitch was not so strong, so we chose to skip the game drives and ensconced ourselves comfortably on the deck, binocs, camera and telescopes handy. Tea or beer or coffee or gin would arrive at regular intervals. Mealtimes we walked ten metres back into the dining room!
Today’s the third morning I’ve watched an urgent, furious ruckus in my front garden. A bird screaming its head off while furiously chasing another like a fighter jet in hot pursuit. So fast that I couldn’t get a good view as the target dashed in and out of the copse of trees and shrubs. I was facing into the sunrise which meant even when I got a half-decent glimpse it was of a silhouette with his beak open, screaming like a banshee. Interesting! Made me late for work!
I figured it was a black-collared barbet, and if so that would be a hole-nest parasite he’d be chasing – which would be a honeyguide. But I needed to see. Yesterday I got a good view of the pursuer: Red face and throat, stout beak. That was him alright.
Today I got a glimpse of the suspect: White outer tail feathers. Most likely a Lesser or Scaly-throated Honeyguide. I’ll try to make sure, but I don’t think he’ll be sitting still in plain view anytime soon. I wonder if it’s the male, and while the barbet is doing his over-zealous patrol, his lady friend is plopping her egg in the hole nest?!
I’m on their side – I hope they lay their egg in the barbet’s nest so a luta (the struggle) can continua!
Lunchtime high on the Momfo cliffs overlooking a great bend in the Mfolosi river. Our guides lit a fire and began to prepare our lunch. We settled down for a well-deserved break after the hike up the hill.
From our high vantage point we had already seen a buffalo in the sandy river bed, a rhino on the far bank and a lioness hiding behind the reeds on the opposite bank. As we watched she stalked across the wide river bed towards some zebra. She lay down and waited once she was on the near bank. A few more lionesses and a lion walked across the sand to our left, crouching and flanking the zebra, who panicked and dashed off straight towards the first lioness. She pounced in a cloud of dust and she and her target disappeared behind the thorn bush. We strained to see what happened. Did they get their lunch?
After a while they all walked out looking a bit disgusted with themselves. So no, probably not.
While scanning with my telescope I took a good look at the rhino and called out excitedly to the rest. Hey, come and look! It’s uBhejane, not another white rhino like the many we’ve seen. We all had a good look and confirmed the jizz and the hooked lip of the rarely-seen black rhino. What a sighting!
Scoping well left of the river up an adjacent valley I noticed baboons in two sycamore figs, the mfolosi tree that give the river and the park its name. Suddenly they started barking and swearing in fluent baboon-vloek, and a magnificent leopard appeared in view, staring up into the tree above him. I got the scope on him and called the others. He was most obliging and waited till all nine of us, including the two rangers had a good look before flicking his long tail and bounding up the tree, to increased pandemonium from the residents. We heard loud shrieks, even ruder words and then much barking and squealing. I watched for a long while to see if I could spot the leopard again. But we didn’t find out if he got his lunch either.
So as far as lunches go, we can only confirm that we definitely ate ours, and that it was the delicious traditional huge white bread sarmies with butter, tomato and raw onion with salt and black pepper, washed down with freshly-brewed Five Roses tea. Mmm mmmm!
Four of the Big Five for lunch. On foot! Actually, sitting on our bums at lunchtime. What a day! And the rhino was the real Big Five member, not the more placid white rhino. The big five idea originated in the days when they were considered the five most dangerous animals to hunt. The days when the way you “got” the big five was to kill them, not just to see them. We joked as we packed up to walk back to base camp that we now needed to see an ele on the way home to round off our lunch. Well, we did. It was almost ridiculous. But thrilling.
And that was not all . . .
The next day our walk took us on a different route. As we crossed the low Mfolosi in the blazing sun we asked our guides if we could swim. ‘Well, you can wallow,’ they said, ‘It’s not deep enough to swim.’ So wallow we did and that’s how we came to spot the Big Six, adding the rare Pink-faced Ceramic-white Freshwater Whale to our tally of wondrous things spotted in that very special place, the wonderful Mfolosi Wilderness Area.
The next day we walked upon this sleeping pride, loafing on the riverbed. They scattered when they saw us, the male on the right leading the flee-ing, tail tucked ‘tween his legs!
baboon-vloek – impolite baboon dialect used when worried
The Umfolosi Wilderness is a special place. Far too small, of course, but its what we have. I’m reading Ian Player’s account of how Magqubu Ntombela taught him about wilderness and Africa and nature. The idea of a wild place where modern man could go to escape the city and re-discover what Africa was like
My first trail was ca 1985, when I went with Dusi canoeing buddies Doug Retief, Martin & Marlene Loewenstein and Andre Hawarden. We were joined by a 19yr-old lass on her own, sent by her father, who added greatly to the scenery:
A good sport – took our gentle teasing well
We went in my kombi and some highlights I recall were:
Doug offering “bah-ronies” after lunch one day. We were lying in the shade of a tree after a delicious lunch made by our guides: Thick slices of white bread, buttered and stuffed with generous slices of tomato and onion, washed down with tea freshly brewed over a fire of Thomboti wood. Doug fished around in his rucksack and gave us each a mini Bar One (“bah-ronie”, geddit?). Best tasting chocolate I ever ate, spiced as it was with hunger and exertion.
After the 5-night trail we went for a game drive. Needing a leak after a few bitterly cold brews I left the wheel with the kombi trundling along amiably and walked to the side door of the kombi, ordering Hawarden to take over the driving. Not good at taking orders, he looked at me, waited till I was in mid-stream out of the open sliding door and leant over with his hiking stick and pressed the accelerator. The driverless kombi picked up speed and I watched it start to veer off-road, necessitating a squeezed premature end to my leak and a dive for the wheel.
Thanks a lot, Hawarden! Pleasure, he murmured mildly. Hooligan!
30yrs later Andre Hooligan Hawarden wrote:
“Hey, remember that cool walk we did in the game reserve when you had the tape recorder and we attracted the owl? Then next day we lay on the bank of the Umlofosi river and watched the vultures coming down for a lunch time drink and a snooze?
That was a wonderful experience. I’ve never forgotten it.”
We saw lots of bewilderbeast droppings and lots of bewilderbeasts – many with tiny calves, meals on wobbly hooves to the lions and cheetahs. The big male lion had helped himself to a giraffe calf, so fat pickings this summer. The lions were recently introduced to shake things up in Mkhuze, (four in Nov 2013 and four in 2014) so the edible animals are on high alert, muttering to each other ‘there goes the neighbourhood.’
We watched two cheetah stalk the wildebeasts and then charge off out of sight. Friends saw the lionesses bring down a wildebeast calf right in front of them at the waterhole. Lots of square-lipped rhino and a beautiful hunting wasp, all yellow and black rugby jersey colours. Wonderful Mkhuze birdlife as always, 106 species, with cuckoo hawk, nicator, grey-headed bush shrike, wattled lapwing and pygmy kingfisher being my highlights.
Then at last: A hook-lipped rhino! He stood obligingly while we took pictures.
We had lovely weather, including rain, wind and too hot, but mostly perfect, as all the others were short duration and actually pleasant. It’s dry again, so the waterholes were busy. Three of the lady lions launched a run on a wildebees calf at the waterhole as I watched and the other voyeurs (among whom friend Geoff Kay) told of watching them kill and eat one the day before. Geoff had it on his camera. Old Geoff just the same: ‘You saw what? I saw better. You got what telescope? Mine’s longer. You saw an elephant? Last year I was here with Jurgen and we got charged by one.’ etc. Actually we dipped on eles. Not one; and not a single turd neither. Not one. We drove 450km over the six days and the reward I offered of an ice cream to she who spotted an ele turd (not a whole ele, just a turd!) went unclaimed! Reminded me of a Free State Reed-ism: “Not a leaf stirred. Not an elephant’s turd.”
Just back from a Five Days, Five Forests birding trip to Zululand: Nkandla, Entumeni, Dlinza, Ngoye and St Lucia coastal forests.
My 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 took plenty snacks and drinks in my rucksack, so the waiting was comfy, luxurious and munchy. Next time I’ll take some poncho or dark 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 one great lifer. Yes, Aitch-in-the-clouds, I did the see the barbet, so I laid that bogey-bird to rest!
WHEELS Craig Naude’s magic Mitsubishi Colt 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.
COASTAL FOREST 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: ‘One good tern deserves another.’
On the way back we spotted a dwarf chameleon; then we sat in the forest in comfort again and a Green Malkoha (old green coucal) 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 shisanyama at the roadside in Livingstone. I exaggerate. Slightly.
Bruce Soutar wrote: Pete eye think this is a compliment – from Rooooth Garland:
Please tell Piet I LOVE his stories and want to see more . . . He makes me smile, even though he’s a drunkard and no good at flying. Does he have a blogspot I can sign up for? Xx
PS: Sakumuzi is a huge Twinstreams fan . . . Lovely man.
Ruth Garland – Sydney Australia
Ruth’s Dad was the legendary Ian Garland, whose exploits at Twinstreams in Zululand did heaps to save, propagate and teach about indigenous plants.
khehlas and gogos – Old men and Old ladies
gugile – ancient, as in buggered; decrepit; you know
nkuku – chicken
shisanyama – red meat on red hot coals restaurant; not teetotal joints
Woodwards Batis; Rudd’s Apalis; Yellow-bellied Greenbul; Green Malkoha – LIFER in South Africa for me – full sunlight saturation view; Grey Sunbird; Livingstone’s Turaco; Burchell’s Coucal; Whimbrel; Osprey; Grey Heron; Fish Eagle; Spoonbill; Yellow Weaver; Green Pigeon; Speckled Mousebird; Swift Tern; Black-winged Stilt; Avocet; YB Stork; Pink-backed Pelican; Little Tern; Three-banded Plover; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater;Lemon Dove – saturation close-up; Crested Guineafowl; Pied Wagtail; Cape Wagtail; Goliath Heron; Great White Egret; Little Egret; Thickbilled Weaver; White-breasted Cormorant; Palm Swift; Brown-throated Martin; Black or Common Swift; Chorister Robin-chat; Crowned Hornbill;