Adventure in Deepest Darkest Zoolooland

I must tell you about a wonderful trip we went on recently (well, back in 2015 actually) to Deepest Darkest Zoolooland.

It was actually a rugged and challenging course in which we were required to survive under tricky conditions, with carefully thought-out obstacles and challenges put in our way by the amazing outfit called:

Ngoye with Ski_7


who led us astray boldly into the back roads of wild Zooloo territory where we watched and learned as he reached out to locals to see if they knew where they were.

Ngoye with Ski_6
Don asking perplexed local villagers for directions

This capable and entertaining master tour guide dropped us off at the beautiful Ngoye Forest for the next phase, handing us over to our next capable leader:

Ngoye with Ski_5


Fully equipped, this part of the course led us carefully through:
– Correct equipment
– Packing for an expedition
– The use of snatch ropes and tow ropes
– Handy stuff to always have in your 4X4 (axes, bowsaws, forest vines & lianas);

You had to be really young and superbly fit to survive, and we WERE and we DID! Covered in the mud and the blood and the beer, we emerged smiling from the forest, much the wiser.

Both tours were excellently victualled, lots of sweet and fortified coffee, sarmies, fruit, biscuits, biltong and more. Those who brought deckchairs thinking they would sit back and gaze serenely at the tree tops were optimists in the mist.
Someone came up with an idea as we were leaving to go on a completely different kind of trip next time with this sort of outfit:

Ngoye with Ski_4

But NAH! – we enjoyed the first two so much that we’d book with them again. Unforgettable (and NOT, as Don muttered “unforgiveable”)!!

It was amazing and a whole lot of fun with great people.

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(Slightly) more boring version:

We did go to Zoolooland on a birding trip ably guided by Don Leitch. He did get us a wee bit off-course, and he did stop to speak to some local people, for which he got some leg-pulling.

We did get blocked by fallen trees in Ngoye forest and here’s the thing: Among all the rugged pilots, 4X4 experts and farmers among us, NOT ONE had brought along a tow rope or any decent rescue equipment! It took an accountant with a pocket knife to fashion a tow rope out of a liana that eventually saved our bacon. ‘Strue.

I will stand by my story and I will protect my saucers, even if they were in their cups. Here Sheila shows the total rescue equipment we managed to rustle up; and there’s the tow rope fashioned from a forest liana that saved the day.

Five Forests

Just back from a Five Days, Five Forests birding trip to Zululand: Nkandla, Entumeni, Dlinza, Ngoye mistbelt or scarp or afromontane forests; and St Lucia coastal forest. (note: this was in 2013)

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 hadn’t planned anything but once we had 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.

COMFORT
This trip was just me and my guide. Sakhamuzi was lovely quiet company. 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 deckchairs. Mostly we simply found great spots like forest edges and parked. My guide Sakhamuzi 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, talking all the time! I said he should get deckchairs and specialise in khehlas and gogos. ‘Charge a premium, carry a hebcooler and you’ll make your fortune, young man,’ was my advice to him! Find a fruiting tree, and let the birds come to your doddery customers.

Call it Gugile Ancient Avian Gadabouts (GAGA) © & ™

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 before 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!

Barbet green
– thanks ebird.org –

The Green Barbet Stactolaema olivacea used to be called Woodward’s Barbet – our sub-species is Stactolaema olivacea woodwardi. Here’s a beautiful 1897 illustration of a pair of Woodward’s barbets, by J.G. Keulemans

Also a special in the forest is the oNgoye red squirrel, Paraxerus palliatus ornatus and I cant remember if we saw him! I’ll have to go back! Illustration by Joseph Wolf, Zoological Society of London 1864.

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WHEELS
Craig Naude’s magic silver and blue Mitsubishi Colt 4X4 V6 3000 was superb. That’s it above left in the grasslands above the forest. 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, starting at snail’s pace. Boy heaven.

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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.’

Five Forests Heron
– St Lucia estuary with a grey heron in the surf – my poor pic! –

On the way back we spotted a dwarf chameleon, which I now know was probably the endangered Setaro’s Dwarf Chameleon. No picture! Then we sat in the forest in comfort again and a Green Malkoha (old green coucal) obligingly flew into a tree and leisurely displayed his banana beak in full sunlight. No picture!

Green Malkoha
– thanks Johann vd Berg on stellenboschbirds.org – beaut pic!! –

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 at speed. Another early night after red meat and beer was enjoyed.

What a 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.

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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. Ruth’s exploits at Mbona in a low-flying kombi were a different chapter, which also did heaps to save and teach, but not propagate.

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khehlas and gogos – Old men and Old ladies

gugile – ancient, as in buggered; decrepit; you know; don’t pretend you don’t know

voëls – birds

nkuku – chicken

shisanyama – red meat on red hot coals restaurant; not teetotal joints; licenced to sell alcohol, ‘Which’ – as famous birder Ian Sinclair said with a grin – ‘I’m licenced to drink’

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My Bird List in Nkandla Forest: Lemon Dove; Dusky Flycatcher; Blue-Mantled Flycatcher; Knysna Turaco; Red-eyed Dove; Redbilled Wood-Hoopoe; Greater Double-collared Sunbird; Grey Cuckoo Shrike; Rameron Pigeon; Black-headed Oriole; Cape Batis; Black Saw-wing; HEARD: Dark-backed Weaver; Emerald Cuckoo; Chinspot Batis;

My Bird List in Entumeni Forest: Narina Trogon; Cape Batis; Olive Sunbird; Terrestrial Brownbul

My Bird list in Dlinza Forest: Woolly-necked Stork; Grey Cuckoo Shrike; Spotted Ground Thrush; Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon (peach view calling in full sunlight on dead tree) – Delegorgue’s; Puffback Shrike; Cape White-eye; Green-backed Cameroptera; Sombre Greenbul; White-eared Barbet; Paradise Flycatcher; Olive Woodpecker; Black-bellied Starling; Black&White Mannikin; Collared Sunbird; Lesser-striped Swallow; Trumpeter Hornbill; Red-fronted Tinker; Yellow-rumped Tinker; Crowned Eagle juv; Yellow-bellied Greenbul; Redcapped Robin-chat; Scaly-throated Honeyguide; Purple-crested Turaco; Square-tailed Drongo; Terrestrial Brownbul; HEARD: Yellow-breasted Apalis; GT Woodpecker; Olive Bush Shrike; Southern Boubou; Black-headed Oriole;

My Bird list St Lucia and in St Lucia coastal forest: 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;

My Bird list in Ngoye Forest: Green Barbet – LIFER for me (yes, I know, Aitch); Yellow-streaked Greenbul; Tambourine Dove; Delegorgue’s Pigeon; Crowned Hornbill; Olive Woodpecker; GT Woodpecker; Orange-breasted Bush Shrike; Mountain Wagtail; Red-eyed Dove; Hadeda Ibis; Narina Trogon; HEARD: Wood Owl; Diederik Cuckoo;

Other creatures on the trip: Samango monkey; Red Squirrel; Thick-tailed Bushbaby (heard at night); Rainbow Skink; Banded Forester Butterfly;

Seen on the roads and roadside stops: Jackal Buzzard; Pied Crow; White-naped Raven; Red-collared Widow; Fantailed Widow; Stonechat; Barn Swallow; YBK; Dusky Indigobird; Fiscal Shrike; Dark-capped Bulbul; Palm Swift; Long-crested Eagle; Black-headed Heron; Hamerkop; Pintailed Whydah; Black-chested Snake Eagle; Common Quail; Rufous-naped Lark; Croaking Cisticola; Wing-snap Cisticola; Mocking Cliff-chat; White-bellied Sunbird; Amethyst Sunbird; Brown-backed Honeybird; Black-collared Barbet; Black-crowned Tchagra; Neddicky; Yellow-throated Longclaw;

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Find Sakhamuzi here: sakhamuzimhlongo@yahoo.com

bird pics from hbw.com, wikipedia and Johann vd Berg stellenboschbirds.com – thank you

More forests in Zululand by strayalongtheway.com where I got the pics above which have their name on them – Thank you! Go and check out their fascinating site.