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Ken Borland



Ndumo Game Reserve 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

Ndumo Game Reserve is known as one of the best bird-spotting places in the country, but most of the twitching efforts are concentrated around the sand, fig and riverine forests.

The south-western portion of the park is under-rated Acacia woodland and my latest trip to this Zululand gem produced a sighting that will live long in the memory as one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

Gorgeous Bush Shrike generally sticks to dense cover and normally only offers a sneak-peek to the many who seek this quite dazzling, aptly-named bird.

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Gorgeous Bush Shrike in one of its typical tangled thickets

It is one of Ndumo’s characteristic birds though, even if the beautiful, ringing “kong-kong-kowit” call is heard far more often than the bird is actually seen.

I had enjoyed an excellent sighting earlier in the day along the southern boundary fence of the park when I heard one calling next to the road. I was expecting to be looking for a bird skulking, as usual, low down in the bush and it took me a while to realise that the member of the pair that was actually calling was sitting out in the open!

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Gorgeous Bush Shrike

But that sighting paled in comparison to what happened later, further down that road in the Paphukulu section as the sand forest thicket starts to open up into more open woodland.

I came across four Gorgeous Bush Shrike, calling and displaying, lifting their heads to expose their bright red throats, and I was able to follow them for a few hundred metres as they continued through the bushes on the side of the road!

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

This thorny woodland provides handy perches for birds via the boundary fence and the cattle farm outside offers different habitat to the bushveld inside the park, leading to plenty of sightings.

Steppe Buzzard is more a bird of the open habitats outside the park, but seeing as though their migration pattern follows mountains like the nearby Lebombos and this was late October, maybe the one grooming itself on a fence post was just taking a breather from its long journey.

Little Bee-Eater was also on the boundary fence and there were three Redbilled Oxpecker on a telephone pole.

Another migrant raptor, the Yellowbilled Kite, flew over and seemed to be eating something on the wing, while another skulker, the Sombre Bulbul, was kindly calling from the top of a tree for an easy tick.

A Sabota Lark was being unkindly bullied by a Rattling Cisticola (two typical bushveld species), while a group of four Plumcoloured Starlings were dashing about and the black-and-white wings of an African Hoopoe in flight caught the eye.

As the road curves northwards towards what once was the Matandeni Hide, two African Openbill were soaring overhead.

The Matendeni Hide is no more, but the NRC Picnic Spot is a pleasant stop, with Grey Sunbird chip-chip-chipping away in the trees. I was watching a Variable Skink climb one of those trees when suddenly a Redfronted Tinker Barbet alighted on it. What was strange was that the bird looked heat-stressed, with its beak wide open, and it was totally silent – unusual on a day that only reached 33°C for a bird that normally calls incessantly through even the hottest days!

Typical woodland birds like Blackbacked Puffback, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike and Common Scimitarbill were also present, while Crested Francolin and Red Duiker are often seen on the road to Ziposheni.

Another Ndumo special, the infrequent Caspian Tern, allowed for great views as it was flying close to the shore of the Nyamithi Pan.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern upperside

 

Caspian Tern underside

Caspian Tern underside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fever tree lined oasis is well worth paying closer attention to via a guided walk; on the last two occasions I have been to Ndumu, the drought meant there was no water around the hides, with all the water birds concentrated closer to the inlet near the Mjanshi road. While the egrets, flamingos and pelicans were all way to the left of the hide, where the water has retreated to, a Spurwinged Goose did present itself straight in front of the hide on the bone-dry pan!

As we crossed the Mjanshi Spruit on the guided walk, we were welcomed by a pair of Malachite Kingfisher and as the water pooled in the pan we spotted Wood Sandpiper, Saddlebilled Stork, Greenshank, Pied Avocet and a Grey Heron atop a Hippopotamus!

Smaller waders were plentiful too with Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover looking mean guarding their bit of dry land, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and a big flock of Little Stint, which looked like tiny dots on the pan. Broadbilled Rollers were in the fever trees.

Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo were present, along with Pinkbacked Pelican and Great White Pelican, which suddenly stampeded off the banks into the water, obviously mobbing a school of fish, although probably only the first ten pelicans caught anything!

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ndumo campsite is also excellent for birds and I was given a very happy welcome to camp by an Nyala female and her ‘teenage’ daughter eating the pods of a Natal Mahogany tree very close to where I was pitching my tent.

As always, Little Swifts and Lesser Striped Swallows were zooming around the buildings, calling contentedly, while a Blackeyed Bulbul called cheerfully from a tree that was not unlike the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Hadeda Ibis provided a very noisy start to the next day, while Purplebanded Sunbird was up by the offices, where so many of the sunbirds seem to hang out.

A pair of Pied Crow have commandeered the communications mast in camp and croak loudly as they fly about, even attacking a drone that the staff were trying out!

Woollynecked Stork flew over camp, as did two displaying Cuckoo Hawk, while Yellowfronted Canary foraged on the sparse lawn. A pair of Yellowbellied Bulbul were sitting in a thicket with much wing-quivering going on.

Their Terrestrial Brownbul cousins were having a whale of a time at the bird bath close to my site, while a Bearded Robin sat by and watched.

Even while cooling off in the most-welcome swimming pool, birds can be spotted – a sub-adult African Fish Eagle was soaring majestically high above and White Helmetshrike were also seen.

Outside the main office, there is a lovely Marula tree and barely two metres off the ground, in the fork between two branches, is a Spotted Eagle Owl nest with at least one young, while a Wood Owl was spotted on the lawn next to the ablutions one evening.

The central portions of Ndumo are dominated by what is known as Mahemane Bush, a near-impenetrable thicket of inhospitable spiny trees and plants that must have been a nightmare for early travellers on the route to Delagoa Bay.

But the dense tangle is a perfect home for Apalises and a Yellowbreasted and a Rudd’s Apalis were having a skirmish, and in fact the rarer Rudd’s was more prominent on this trip than its common cousin.

As one heads north towards the Usutu River one comes across the clearing where the Diphini Hide once stood, overlooking the Mtikini tributary of the Usutu, which flows into Banzi Pan. Down below in the shadows amongst the Fever Trees was a Whitethroated Robin and a Greenbacked Camaroptera was busy stripping spider web off what looked like an egg casing. The little warbler-like bird got a bit tangled in the process but made off with quite a decent ball of webbing in the end, no doubt for use in sowing together its nest.

One can then turn south-west into more sand forest, with a giraffe deep inside this unusual habitat surprisingly being the first thing I saw on the Mabayeni Road.

The third day was set aside for the trip to Red Cliffs, one of my favourite excursions in any game reserve, anywhere.

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

The main road from camp was drier than usual, with the drought not having broken yet in early summer, but there was still plenty of birding activity, with quite the overnight storm having brought some much-needed rain.

An immature Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew into a leafless tree and stayed a good while, while there were five Purplecrested Lourie in a busy group, interacting and calling.

A five-strong group of Redbilled Helmetshrike included a couple of juveniles, while a Goldenbreasted Bunting went fluttering after an insect (they don’t just eat seeds).

Green Pigeon, Bluegrey Flycatcher, Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet and a little group of Chinspot Batis were present and Blackheaded Oriole was yet another bird gathering nesting material.

Red Cliffs was a hive of activity, with a Marsh Terrapin crossing the entrance road, no doubt coming from nearby Shokwe Pan and looking for a temporary pan made by the rain.

Two Yellowspotted Nicator were really unobtrusive even though they were calling loudly, in stark contrast to some Water Dikkop that were roosting calmly by some foliage on a sandbank of the Usutu River. Until a Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew over and then all hell broke loose!

A pair of Pied Kingfisher were hovering over the river and some Yellowbilled Stork were far upstream, but a Little Sparrowhawk, closer to hand, was given away by a Forktailed Drongo dive-bombing it.

Where is Ndumo?

Detailed map of Ndumo

Sightings List

Vervet Monkey

Nyala

Crested Guineafowl

Southern Banded Snake Eagle

Forktailed Drongo

Little Swift

Lesser Striped Swallow

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Blackeyed Bulbul

Hadeda Ibis

Purplebanded Sunbird

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Impala

Crowned Hornbill

Purplecrested Lourie

Southern Black Flycatcher

Browncrowned Tchagra

Little Bee-Eater

Fantailed Flycatcher

Southern Black Tit

Cape White-Eye

Redbilled Oxpecker

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Egyptian Goose

Whitebellied Sunbird

Steppe Buzzard

Yellowbilled Kite

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Sombre Bulbul

Longbilled Crombec

Yellow Weaver

Sabota Lark

Plumcoloured Starling

Glossy Starling

African Hoopoe

Yellowbilled Hornbill

African Openbill

Grey Sunbird

Spottedbacked Weaver

Variable Skink

Redfronted Tinker Barbet

Blackbacked Puffback

Cardinal Woodpecker

European Swallow

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Common Scimitarbill

Crested Francolin

Red Duiker

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Bateleur

Striped Kingfisher

Blue Wildebeest

Plains Zebra

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pied Crow

Woollynecked Stork

Pallid Flycatcher

Rattling Cisticola

Grey Duiker

Kurrichane Thrush

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis

Whitethroated Robin

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Giraffe

European Bee-Eater

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Black Kite

Rock Monitor

Redeyed Dove

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Yellowfronted Canary

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Cuckoo Hawk

Yellowbellied Bulbul

African Fish Eagle

Paradise Flycatcher

Great White Egret

Lesser Flamingo

Spurwinged Goose

Pinkbacked Pelican

Trumpeter Hornbill

Striped Skink

Blackheaded Oriole

Chinspot Batis

Marsh Terrapin

Yellowspotted Nicator

Blacksmith Plover

Water Dikkop

Threebanded Plover

Yellowbilled Stork

Blackwinged Stilt

Blackbellied Starling

Greenbacked Heron

African Pied Wagtail

Little Sparrowhawk

Pied Kingfisher

White Helmetshrike

Cape Dwarf Gecko

Wood Owl

Green Pigeon

Bluegrey Flycatcher

Malachite Kingfisher

Wood Sandpiper

Saddlebilled Stork

Greater Honeyguide

Greenshank

Broadbilled Roller

Pied Avocet

Grey Heron

Ringed Plover

Kittlitz’s Plover

Common Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Little Stint

Hippopotamus

Nile Crocodile

Greater Flamingo

Goliath Heron

Collared Sunbird

Caspian Tern

Great White Pelican

African Spoonbill

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Little Egret

Terrestrial Bulbul

Bearded Robin

Spotted Eagle Owl

Warthog

 

Ndumo Game Reserve 2

Posted on December 31, 2012 by Ken

The Pongola River flowing serenely through the mystical forest.

There’s something mystical about the North Pongola riverine forest at Ndumo Game Reserve.

Walking through the tropical forest, dominated by magnificent Sycamore Figs and their impressive buttresses, there is an air of expectancy in the shady, cool interior that something rare is just around the corner. The only sounds are those of the birds going about their business and the occasional Hippo in the river.

Maybe it’s because of its location on the border with Mozambique, but Ndumo is one of those exotic places where I always expect the unusual.

And a guided walk through the North Pongola riverine forest almost always throws up something special.

On this occasion it produced a couple of specials.

One of the features of Ndumo is the brilliant skills of their guides. Utterly professional, charming and with such huge knowledge and pride in their special corner of the country, if you’re looking for that elusive Lifer, they’ll be your best bet to find it!

Their ability to mimic bird calls is second to none and our guide quickly called up a Redfronted Tinker Barbet. Although these little gems call for hour after hour, even through the stifling heat of the day, it’s usually from the top of leafy trees and they are very difficult to see unless you can call them down to the lower branches.

Blackbellied Starling was found on the edge of the forest, while we were slapping our legs from the hordes of mosquitos [apparently there are 66 different species of the winged terrors at Ndumo!), followed by a Yellowbilled Stork flying over to one of the pans.

Our guide then turned his attention to the rather distant sound of a Narina Trogon hooting. His determination to find this beautiful bird was impressive as we turned this way and that, backtracked a couple of times, and there he was, sitting high on a branch. I saw him for just an instant, but Stidy had a good view.

The other special was African Finfoot, a pair exploding down the river as the trail cuts close to the bank, but fortunately well above it given that Hippo are around and the biggest Nile Crocodiles I have ever seen are along that stretch of water.

One bird you are unlikely to see on the North Pongola walk though is the Gorgeous Bush Shrike, a clear rival for the dazzling beauty of the Trogon and, if anything, even harder to spot.

For that, your best bet is driving through the thick, spiky tangles of the Mahemane Bush/sand forest. Having heard several calls on the previous day, I eventually spotted one crawling through the thicket close to the road. The stunning red, black, green and yellow beauty sat a couple of times in little openings, providing one of the better sightings I’ve had of one of my favourite birds.

Ndumo also boasts some wonderful woodland, particularly on the road to camp and we picked up Striped Kingfisher early on, followed by another beauty, Plumcoloured Starling, Purplecrested Lourie, Gymnogene, Browncrowned Tchagra, Crested Guineafowl, Purplebanded Sunbird, Little Sparrowhawk, Black Cuckoo and Tambourine Dove. White Helmetshrike is also almost always along that road, going up or down the hill full of Silver Clusterleaf trees.

Nyamithi Pan was pretty full after all the recent rain, cutting down on numbers of birds, but we still picked up Goliath Heron, Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Yellow Weaver, Squacco Heron, African Spoonbill and Openbilled Stork. Wiretailed Swallows had a nest in Ezulwini Hide and were busy feeding four chicks.

The Wiretailed Swallow nest, with four chicks, in Ezulwini Hide, Nyamithi Pan

The second hide, near the low-level bridge, was much-changed from previous years, with the bank in front of the hide having washed away and it was not as productive as in the past.

A Large-Spotted Genet visited camp in the evening and the next morning we headed off to Red Cliffs, a favourite spot overlooking the Usuthu River and the borders of Mozambique and Swaziland. Along the way, we picked up Bluemantled Flycatcher and Natal and Bearded Robins in the thick sand forest, while Black Saw-Wing Swallows were flying around the Red Cliffs picnic site.

Pale Flycatcher and Bateleur were spotted on the Manzimbomvu Loop through the south-western Acacia woodland, while Green Pigeon was in the trees at the NRIC picnic site.

Grey Penduline Tit was also a welcome little visitor to our camp, while the much larger Great Eastern White Pelican also flew over.

One of the other mysterious things about Ndumo is how, on every trip, something very common seems to be missed! On the final morning, Yellowbreasted Apalis, which is normally all over camp in the hedges, finally made its appearance and Cardinal Woodpecker was another common bird which just snuck on to the list before we finally exited one of the places that is truly great for the soul.

 

Sightings list

Nyala

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Blackeyed Bulbul

Kurrichane Thrush

Striped Kingfisher

Impala

Vervet Monkey

Diederick Cuckoo

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Blackbacked Puffback

Chinspot Batis

Plumcoloured Starling

Purplecrested Lourie

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Cattle Egret

Goliath Heron

European Swallow

African Darter

Reed Cormorant

Glossy Ibis

Egyptian Goose

Trumpeter Hornbill

Grey Heron

Purple Heron

Yellow Weaver

Squacco Heron

African Jacana

Hadeda Ibis

Nile Crocodile

African Fish Eagle

Spurwinged Goose

African Spoonbill

Whitefaced Duck

Openbilled Stork

Little Egret

Pied Kingfisher

Hippopotamus

Great White Egret

Hamerkop

Wiretailed Swallow

Scrub Hare

Giraffe

Spotted Dikkop

Blue Wildebeest

Large-Spotted Genet

Lesser Striped Swallow

Gymnogene

Forktailed Drongo

Redeyed Dove

Browncrowned Tchagra

Blue Waxbill

Crested Guineafowl

Yellowfronted Canary

European Bee-Eater

Whitewinged Widow

Warthog

Bluemantled Flycatcher

Natal Robin

Banded Mongoose

Whitebellied Sunbird

Bearded Robin

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Rattling Cisticola

Southern Black Flycatcher

Redchested Cuckoo

Sombre Bulbul

Collared Sunbird

Purplebanded Sunbird

Glossy Starling

Black Saw-Wing Swallow

Spottedbacked Weaver

Bateleur

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Marsh Terrapin

Steppe Buzzard

Crested Francolin

White Helmetshrike

Little Swift

Blackcollared Barbet

Little Sparrowhawk

Striped Skink

Crowned Plover

Pale Flycatcher

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Sabota Lark

Speckled Mousebird

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Common Duiker

Green Pigeon

Nile Monitor

Red Duiker

Woollynecked Stork

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Redfronted Tinker Barbet

Blackbellied Starling

Yellowbilled Stork

Narina Trogon

Bluegrey Flycatcher

Buffalo

Sacred Ibis

Squaretailed Drongo

African Finfoot

Forest Weaver

Whitebacked Vulture

Black Kite

Grey Penduline Tit

African Hoopoe

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Great Eastern White Pelican

African Pied Wagtail

Wood Sandpiper

Dark Chanting Goshawk

Thickbilled Weaver

Longbilled Crombec

Abdim’s Stork

Malachite Kingfisher

Black Cuckoo

Slender Mongoose

Tambourine Dove

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Cardinal Woodpecker

 

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