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Ken Borland


Archive for the ‘Birding/Wildlife’


Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve 0

Posted on August 12, 2017 by Ken

 

The Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve, in the southern Durban suburb of Yellowwood Park, is a five-star birding venue which provides a fine selection of more than 200 KwaZulu-Natal species.

Visiting on a partly cloudy, warm spring morning in October 2016, the place was alive with bird song and I knew I was in for a treat.

Because the 253 hectare reserve is mostly coastal evergreen forest and grassland, a Greyheaded Bush Shrike was not what I was expecting to see, especially since the Birds in Reserves atlasing project had it recorded on just five of 404 cards submitted through the year at Stainbank Nature Reserve.

But there the handsome Greyheaded, the largest bush shrike in Southern Africa, was, calling loudly as the morning warmed up, its trademark mournful hoot coming from a tree along a stream.

Nearby, Purplecrested Lourie, by contrast a typical bird of this area, was also calling loudly, along with Blackheaded Orioles from the tops of trees.

Searching the tops of the trees, which included many impressive Yellowwoods, proved to be fruitful in general, as well as throwing up one or two surprises. A Bronze Mannikin was all on its own on top of one tree and, deep in the forest, there was even a Kurrichane Thrush, which usually favours drier woodland, on top of a tree!

Even a dead tree was a good place for birds, with three White-eared Barbet, inevitably, on top of one. These subtropical lowlands specials are often seen perched prominently on bare branches.

There are various trails to walk along in Stainbank Nature Reserve, as well as bush tracks one can drive along, and Tambourine Dove went whizzing along one of these, while Gymnogene was also spotted soaring over the forest.

The forest is best explored on foot and a quiet stroll can lead to some lucky glimpses. I surprised a pair of Hadeda Ibis along a shady path so the hiking boots were obviously in good stealth mode!

A Southern Black Flycatcher swooped away with a caterpillar and a couple of Olive Sunbird were quite confiding as they flew out from below the leaves of the Large-Leaved Dragon Tree, a typical denizen of coastal dunes.

A Forest Weaver was moving down a tree trunk and a pair of Southern Black Tit were also quite low down in the foliage.

Sometimes just sitting quietly and waiting for the birds to come to you is also effective and a Natal Robin came to investigate while I was eating an orange.

Never mind the birds and trees, there is also a nice sprinkling of game in the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve and a young Bushbuck was close to a herd of zebra, all feeding contentedly, to sum up a decidedly refreshing, tranquil morning.

 

Where is Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve?

 

Sightings list

Vervet Monkey

Yellowbilled Kite

Tambourine Dove

Plains Zebra

Blackheaded Oriole

Yellowbellied Bulbul

Bronze Mannikin

Hadeda Ibis

Gymnogene

Purplecrested Lourie

Greyheaded Bush Shrike

Forktailed Drongo

Blackcollared Barbet

Red Duiker

Southern Black Flycatcher

Impala

Olive Sunbird

Forest Weaver

Kurrichane Thrush

Little Swift

Speckled Mousebird

Cape White-Eye

Yellow Weaver

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Southern Black Tit

White-Eared Barbet

Natal Robin

Blackheaded Heron

Bushbuck

 

Kruger National Park – Malelane & Berg-en-Dal 0

Posted on July 26, 2017 by Ken

African Buffalo, with Redbilled Oxpeckers, resting up in one of the puddles left by the first rains of summer

African Buffalo, with Redbilled Oxpeckers, resting up in one of the puddles left by the first rains of summer

The drought situation in Kruger National Park in 2016 reached such drastic proportions that it was one of the driest years in recorded history in some areas of the south, but blessed rains eventually fell in early December.

So when I nipped into the park for a morning’s birding on December 5, big puddles of water were still visible from the first rains of the summer. I figured the availability of this surface water would prove attractive to animals and so it proved.

The S114 is the first gravel road on the right after entering through Malelane Gate, and it runs along the Crocodile River before heading northwards towards Skukuza. Shortly before this, close to the S25 turnoff, there were large puddles of water formed next to the road in this area of mixed woodland and thorn thickets on granite, and next to them, half-a-dozen African Wild Dog were lounging around under some bushes.

I found two Buffalo lying in a mud-puddle on the side of the road as well and they were clearly not keen to leave, even though I was parked right next to them, clicking away happily on my camera.

Ahhh ... bliss. A Redbilled Oxpecker gives a Buffalo a spa treatment.

Ahhh … bliss. A Redbilled Oxpecker gives a Buffalo a spa treatment.

Sadly, the rains came too late for many animals and, also on the S114 close to the Crocodile River, a Hippopotamus carcass was lying under a tree, in which one of those rather confusing African Fish Eagle juveniles was perched.

A juvenile Fish Eagle, whose hunting skills have not been fully honed, is quite likely to eat carrion, especially in a dry spell when their preferred food is scarce, but whether or not this individual had been gnawing on some Hippo, I have no way of knowing.

A Whitebacked Vulture was nearby in a tree, another portent of death.

A Whitebacked Vulture with a hoof? in its mouth.

A Whitebacked Vulture with a hoof? in its mouth.

A Hamerkop flew over the H3 tar road as one approaches the bridge over the Crocodile River, in which there was still water, the river being classified as a perennial, with the usual array of birdlife along its course. A solitary African Openbill, a couple of Glossy Ibis, which are considered rare in Kruger Park, only erratic visitors, and Yellowbilled Stork were with all the other common waterbirds, along with Great White Egret and Water Dikkop.

The S110 road turns left from Malelane Gate and heads north-west towards the Berg-en-Dal camp, running between some of the highest hills in Kruger Park, the differences in altitude meaning a great diversity of plants, which attracts a host of birds.

Southern Whitecrowned Shrike were buzzing between the bushes and a few Monotonous Lark were calling in the valley below the slopes of Khandzalive Hill, which is the highest point in the park at 840 metres.

There were a couple of White Rhinoceros with calves, a very pleasing sight, and, close to Berg-en-Dal Dam, a Monotonous Lark was perched on some low branches and scrub and rather scratchily giving its for syrup is sweet call.

 

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Monotonous Lark

Even the reptiles were out and about, with the impressive Blacklined Plated Lizard crossing the road.

 

Sightings list

Egyptian Goose

African Openbill

Sacred Ibis

Grey Heron

Cattle Egret

Yellowbilled Stork

Glossy Ibis

Southern Whitecrowned Shrike

African Elephant

Blackeyed Bulbul

Southern Black Flycatcher

Impala

Greater Kudu

Whitewinged Widow

Glossy Starling

African Buffalo

African Buffalo

Wiretailed Swallow

Monotonous Lark

African Buffalo

Redbilled Oxpecker

Forktailed Drongo

Lilacbreasted Roller

Cape Turtle Dove

White Rhinoceros

Little Swift

Brown Snake Eagle

Laughing Dove

Plains Zebra

Sabota Lark

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Spotted Flycatcher

European Bee-Eater

Woodland Kingfisher

Blacklined Plated Lizard

Yellowfronted Canary

Arrowmarked Babbler

Blackcollared Barbet

Plumcoloured Starling

Redbilled Hornbill

Jacobin Cuckoo

Helmeted Guineafowl

African Hoopoe

African Wild Dog

Redbilled Oxpecker on African Buffalo

Redbilled Oxpecker on African Buffalo

Grey Lourie

Longtailed Shrike

Whitebacked Vulture

Giraffe

Grey Hornbill

African Fish Eagle

Hamerkop

Slender Mongoose

Great White Egret

Hadeda Ibis

Blacksmith Plover

Pied Kingfisher

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Water Dikkop

 

Leopard Creek 0

Posted on July 05, 2017 by Ken

 

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

Leopard Creek has recently been rated amongst the top 100 golf courses in the world by the prestigious Golf Digest magazine and it is surely the wildest top-class golf course in the world, situated as it is alongside the Kruger National Park.

The Crocodile River forms the northern boundary between Leopard Creek and the Kruger National Park and the back nine runs along the river, offering tremendous sightings of all the animals and birds made famous by one of the largest game reserves in the world.

A channel runs off the Crocodile River and flows right in front of the clubhouse, making the verandah of this opulent building an ideal spot for bird and animal spotting. Unfortunately the clubhouse is also extremely hard to access for the rank and file visitor to Leopard Creek, but the good news is that there is a little service road that runs along this channel for a hundred metres or so, before turning up the hill to the 10th tee.

Shaded by luxuriant riverine trees, the road passes right by the water and I always make a point of taking a quiet stroll along this area. It has always seemed to me to be a perfect spot for African Finfoot – which Roberts describes as favouring “quiet, wooded streams and rivers flanked by thick riparian vegetation and overhanging trees” – the very description of my favourite part of Leopard Creek.

And so, on my eighth visit to this special place outside Malelane for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I finally got my Finfoot.

There in this shady channel I saw the bright orange legs first as the bird stood on the bank and then went into the water, gliding stealthily to the other side of the river.

A hippopotamus was contentedly passing the day between this channel and the main Crocodile River, while a Brownhooded Kingfisher called from high up in the trees and a Malachite Kingfisher hunted from low down on fallen branches close to the water.

Heuglin’s Robin, one of my favourites, also hangs around this area.

Coming back up out on to the golf course, a series of dams is in front of you between the ninth, 18th and 10th holes, with Lesser Striped Swallow flying over and African Pied Wagtail patrolling the banks.

Heading backwards through the front nine, Blackbacked Puffback is calling away and Blue Waxbill are in a sapling on the side of the ninth fairway.

The seventh hole, a par-three, shares a dam with the fifth hole, fringed by Fever Trees, and Spottedbacked, Southern Masked and Thickbilled Weavers were all nesting in the same specimen of this archetypal tree of tropical wetlands, from which gin and tonics (no doubt consumed in large quantities on the verandah of the clubhouse) originated.

Along the stream feeding this dam, a Giant Kingfisher was eating a good-sized fish, while a Greenbacked Heron was flying upstream.

Anywhere on the course, you are likely to see Whitebacked Vultures soaring overhead and Purplecrested Louries flying between patches of thicker bush. Whitefaced Duck are also often flying over.

But the 13th is the signature hole of Leopard Creek, not just because of its great design but mostly because of the dazzling vista it provides over the Crocodile River just beneath the elevated green and Kruger Park just across the way.

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

While sitting there on the final day and watching Charl Schwartzel’s challenge implode in the face of young Brandon Stone’s brilliance, I was able to admire Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black Crake, Egyptian Goose, Whitefronted Bee-Eater, African Elephant and Nile Crocodile along the river.

Away from the golf course, Leopard Creek is in an area of typical dense bushveld savanna with Forktailed Drongos, sometimes even perching on low aloes, ruling the day and Spotted Dikkops, marching around the parking lot, at night.

 

 

 

 

Where is Leopard Creek?

 

Sightings list

Forktailed Drongo

Spotted Dikkop

Impala

Bushbuck

Whitefaced Duck

Blackeyed Bulbul

Little Swift

Hippopotamus

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Finfoot

Heuglin’s Robin

Whitebacked Vulture

Lesser Striped Swallow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbacked Puffback

Blue Waxbill

Spottedbacked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Thickbilled Weaver

Giant Kingfisher

Grey Lourie

Greenbacked Heron

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Nile Monitor

Purplecrested Lourie

Great White Egret

Purple Heron

Grey Heron

Black Crake

Egyptian Goose

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

African Elephant

Nile Crocodile

Sombre Bulbul

Pintailed Whydah

 

Kosi Bay 0

Posted on April 17, 2017 by Ken

 

The view over Kosi Bay estuary with the traditional fish traps

The view over Kosi Bay estuary with the traditional fish traps

 

The KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife camping site at Kosi Bay is situated in thick coastal forest close to the edge of the kuNhlange lake, the biggest of the four that make up the estuarine wonder at the remote north-eastern border of Natal.

Each camp site is secluded away amongst the mangroves, thereby providing ideal habitat – one of their favourite trees and close to water – for the special gem that is Blackthroated Wattle-Eye.

These busy little birds, that are somewhere between a flycatcher and a batis, are uncommon and easily overlooked, but they’re easier to spot when they pass through the trees in your campsite, as they did at Kosi Bay!

Other birds seen without having to venture far from the comfort of my camping chair were Pygmy Kingfisher (a pair had taken up residence on the road to the ablutions and were seen every day), Natal Robin, which was resident at my site and put on a superb performance of all its many calls, imitating tchagras, cuckoos, nightjars and even African Fish Eagle; Olive Sunbird, Squaretailed Drongo, Terrestrial Bulbul, whose presence I was alerted to by a loud tapping noise as it thumped a caterpillar on a branch; Goldentailed Woodpecker and Blackbellied Starling. I was also surprised to see African Hoopoe in such thick forest.

Kosi Bay is also home to an isolated population of the Red Bush Squirrel and there was an endearing family at my campsite, full of cuteness and a penchant for nibbling at my soap! Samango Monkeys kept to the treetops and were far more pleasant to live next to than their Vervet cousins.

Red Bush Squirrel

Red Bush Squirrel

One of the main attractions at Kosi Bay is the marvellous snorkelling that can be done at the Sanctuary Reef inside the mouth of the estuary. Unfortunately the tide was going out when I dived, meaning there was a strong current and with snorkellers encouraged not to put their feet down on the bottom due to the presence of Stonefish, it was hard work and not able to be maintained for very long.

Kosi Bay estuary - the mouth

Kosi Bay estuary – the mouth

Fortunately there is always birding to be done and there were several Common Tern on the bank of the estuary and the impressive Whimbrel was spotted coming over the sand dune as one approaches Sanctuary Reef. Even a Caspian Tern came flying over the aquarium-like waters.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove were seen on the way down to the parking area.

Back at camp, a gentle stroll along the Samango Trail produced a pair of elegant Tambourine Dove and a pair of Brown Robin were also seen on a particularly thick, jungle-like portion of the trail, on the actual path. They are obviously not welcome in camp, presumably out-competed by the Natal Robin. Just to ram home the point, a Natal Robin pooed on the picture of a Brown Robin in the bird book I had left open in camp!

The trail also provides lovely elevated viewsites above the lake, with Purplecrested Lourie flying amongst the tall trees and Whitebreasted Cormorant flying, landing, diving and catching fish.

KuNhlange Lake itself boasted plenty of Pied Kingfisher, their lives made easier by the crystal-clear water, Yellow Weavers and African Pied Wagtail. A pair of Trumpeter Hornbill were seen in the morning flying over the 24.6km long lake and then again back across the water in the late afternoon, leading me to wonder if they were the same pair returning to the same perch?

The attractions at Kosi Bay are spread out over a large area, linked by confusing sandy tracks, and 4×4 and a local guide are essential.

The drive out to Black Rock, a promontory jutting out to sea, provided a pair of Whitefronted Plover on the landmark itself, while Gymnogene and Rufousnaped Lark were seen on the way there, along with Fantailed Widowbirds fluttering slowly about, in the grasslands that are around the Kosi Bay area.

Whitefronted Plover on Black Rock

Whitefronted Plover on Black Rock

 

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Kosi Bay is at the north-eastern border of KwaZulu-Natal

 

 

Sightings List

Pygmy Kingfisher

Natal Robin

Olive Sunbird

Red Bush Squirrel

Blackthroated Wattle-Eye

African Hoopoe

Pied Kingfisher

Trumpeter Hornbill

Yellow Weaver

Squaretailed Drongo

Tambourine Dove

Purplecrested Lourie

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Terrestrial Bulbul

Southern Boubou

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Little Bee-Eater

Blackeyed Bulbul

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Common Tern

Fiscal Shrike

House Sparrow

Spectacled Weaver

Pied Crow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbellied Starling

Samango Monkey

Familiar Chat

Lesser Striped Swallow

Common Myna

Blackheaded Heron

Gymnogene

Hadeda Ibis

Rufousnaped Lark

Whitefronted Plover

Vervet Monkey

European Swallow

Redeyed Dove

Eastern Coastal Skink

Brown Robin

Whimbrel

Caspian Tern

Yellowbilled Kite

Fantailed Widowbird

 



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