Twelve hours later, that tranquility had been replaced by what felt like a raging hurricane as we tried to pack up camp after our two nights at Amatikulu Nature Reserve. Situated so close to the coast, we were bombarded by squalls that raced up from the south, bringing howling wind and heavy rain.
While the weather had been against us in terms of birding, we still enjoyed a fabulous stay and were most impressed by Amatikulu.
My first sighting arriving after the long drive from Johannesburg to the reserve, situated about 100km north of Durban and just above the mouth of the Tugela River, was of a Vervet Monkey. Fortunately, Amatikulu is one of the few places that has well-behaved monkeys and they did not trouble our camp at all!
A Wild Plum was the centrepiece of the campsite and in the morning we were greeted by a flock of Blackbellied Starlings foraging in it.
Our first morning consisted of doing the lengthy forest trail over the next hill and down to the estuary. We quickly picked up a Bluegrey Flycatcher and soon we were admiring the idyllic dune forest and that wet smell that came from the rather swampy conditions after all the recent rain. A stream also runs through the forest and we were impressed by a large stand of trees with their roots in the stream, which reminded me of banyan trees in India. (I wish I knew trees better, these had long, straight trunks and big glossy leaves if anyone can help with identification!)
Another notable forest tree was Tabernaemontana ventricosa, the Forest Toad Tree, with its beautiful five-star, helix-shaped, creamy white flowers.
An Eastern Olive Sunbird was chip-chipping away in the higher foliage but we managed to track him down, while Thickbilled Weaver’s were down on the forest floor even though the breeding season was surely underway.
Down we went through the beautiful forest until we came out on the river bank, from where we walked a few hundred metres to where the Amatikulu reached the Nyoni. Sitting down for a bite to eat, we were joined on a little sandbank by a delightful little Sanderling, as well as Whitefronted Plover and Common Sandpiper.
Towards the other end of the estuary, peeking above a sandbank, we spotted the distinctive heads and bills of a few Whimbrel. As pleased as we were to see them, we decided against wading across to their side because the river looked fairly deep and there are crocodiles about!
This did not deter a couple of locals from their handfishing in the estuary, which just adds to the sense of stepping back into a time when the Natal coast was not just holiday resorts.
Heading back to the picnic site, we picked up White-Eared Barbet and then Squaretailed Drongo, Blackbacked Puffback and Forest Weaver were waiting for us back at camp.
The afternoon, interspersed with showers, was spent doing the 4×4 trail through the hilly coastal grassland with patches of forest and Lala Palms.
It was prime habitat for Croaking Cisticola and he was our first tick on the afternoon drive, quickly followed by Yellowthroated Longclaw. A Longcrested Eagle came zooming over and Yellow Weavers were busy in one of the trees along the route.
Spectacled Weaver was also around and, although the swampy area around the Nyoni Pan looked very promising, it didn’t provide anything unusual.
Redbiller Oxpeckers were on a female group of Greater Kudu and we finally tracked down Natal Robin just before sunset.
In between squalls on the final morning, a visit to the ablutions turned up a Pygmy Kingfisher sitting briefly on a branch right by the door.
It was a great way to end a trip which pretty much blew us away in both senses of the phrase!
Eastern Olive Sunbird
Great White Egret
African Pied Wagtail