Sadly, Lauren could not get leave to join me on this trip (she is forced to take leave over Christmas when her company is closed, which is most unfair I believe) so I was accompanied by Stidy, the renown cartoonist, my long-time birding mate and the sharer of many dramatic adventures with me.
Stidy was particularly pleased that I now had a 4×4 to ferry him around in, because it allowed me to track down a lifer for him – Lemonbreasted Canary.
Next to the entrance gate at Bonamanzi is a little track heading northwards along the boundary fence, into some pristine Lala Palm Savanna, the perfect habitat for the little canary Stidy was so eager to get … particularly since he had missed the ones I saw several years earlier heading into Crook’s Corner at Pafuri in the Kruger National Park!
But, given the amount of rain that had fallen in Zululand in October and November, this track was something of a quagmire … ideal to test out the capabilities of my new 4×4!
Marico Sunbird was a nice first sighting heading down the track and some Lesser Blackwinged Plover gave us a foretaste of the more exotic treat to come.
And there they were: Half-a-dozen Lemonbreasted Canaries cavorting on the trees hanging over the boundary fence. I allowed Stidy the agony of convincing me that they weren’t just washed out juvenile Yellowfronted Canaries, but there was no denying the greyish backs and the cute little black-and-white face patches.
It was a fortunate sighting because, shortly thereafter, the track disappeared beneath a large, muddy pool. Walking through it, I quickly became mired in the mud and there was no way I was going to risk the Serval ploughing through that and getting stuck on her first real outing!
It seemed harder, more slippery going on the way back … mostly because Borland forgot to engage the 4×4 properly! Sigh … must have been all the excitement of the canaries!
It was only the next day when we discovered we weren’t meant to be on the track at all … the No Entry sign had disappeared at the start, which perhaps explained the perplexed look of the guard at the main gate as we ducked off down the road.
Bonamanzi has a couple of the best camping sites I have ever had the pleasure of staying in and fortunately we were allocated the same one as on my previous visit – beautifully tucked away in the sand forest with your own ablutions and scullery.
That makes birding highly rewarding even when sitting on your camp chair and Yellowbellied Bulbul, Crested Guineafowl and Forest Weaver were all seen close to home.
On the second morning, Redchested Cuckoo obliged us with some lovely views and a Greyheaded Bush Shrike came to visit as well, while we also picked up Bluegrey Flycatcher.
There is a fantastic dam just below the main office block, which is fenced off because of the large Nile Crocodiles that lurk ominously therein. The island in the dam was frantic with three species of weaver nesting – Thickbilled, Lesser Masked and Yellow – and they were predictably attended by Diederick Cuckoo.
We also picked up Blackcrowned Night Heron, Water Dikkop, African Jacana, Black Crake and African Spoonbill. The facilities include a wonderful wooden walkway over a portion of the dam leading to a functions area, where we took shelter from a sudden squall and picked up House Martin and Lesser Striped Swallow.
Once it cleared, we then had our lunch under the Fever Trees, next to the crocodile enclosure. One of them took a liking to me and gradually inched its way closer to the fence and me … it was close enough for me to hear the malevolent hissing of the ancient reptile.
We then went on a good long walk that took in a couple of hides and waterholes, returning back to the main camp through the sand forest, and picked up Natal Robin, Purplecrested Lourie, Woollynecked Stork, Bearded Robin, Purplebanded Sunbird, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Malachite Kingfisher.
Back at camp and after dinner, I tracked down a pair of Wood Owl calling near our camp, enjoying the sense of natural wildness as I then turned off my spotlight and stood under the tree from which they were hu-hu-hooting.
Our last morning was spent driving through the myriad of tracks through the sand forest and some determined birding rewarded us with sightings of Sombre Bulbul, Yellowbreasted Apalis, Southern Boubou, Yellowspotted Nicator, Pale Flycatcher and Greater Honeyguide, all of which had been calling and calling but had evaded being actually seen.
The Nicator was an especially good sighting as he sat on the outer edge of a thick clump of bush, chuckling away beautifully.
Bonamanzi is that kind of place … exotic, beautiful and rapidly becoming a firm favourite of mine.
The other great thing about Bonamanzi is that although there are Vervet Monkey around, they are very well-behaved ones that never bother your campsite!
Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Lesser Masked Weaver
Blackcrowned Night Heron
African Pied Wagtail
Lesser Striped Swallow
Great White Egret
Lesser Blackwinged Plover
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
African Fish Eagle
African Palm Swift
Southern Masked Weaver
Foam Nest Frog