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BIRDING TRIP REPORT:

South Africa (north east & south west)

April 2012

By Stephen Burch

Introduction
With a business trip to Durban, South Africa in April 2012, this was a great opportunity I could not resist for some birding and photography afterwards! Making a full week available after the business part of this trip, I decided to spend about half my time in the coastal areas north east of Durban which are semi-tropical and promised to be rich in birds. However, as I had previously been to Kenya, I was aware that there could be considerable overlap with species seen there. Hence for the second half of my stay I opted to fly to Cape Town, with the main aim of getting on a pelagic out of Simon's Town to see albatrosses and other sea birds. Also this part of SA is very different in climate and habitat from that around Durban, with very little overlap in the avifauna.

This was a self organised trip - I was not part of any tour group. As I was on my own, I could make reasonably early starts most days and then have almost 100% birding/photography thereafter until dusk each day!

In the event, as well as the indifferent weather (see below), April is of course autumn in South Africa, so that most birds were not singing strongly. Both of these factors I feel limited the number of species, especially the smaller birds, that I managed to find (and identify - a non trivial task - more of which below). Also only briefly at one site (Dlinsa) did I have the benefit of a local guide. Even this showed that to maximise species counts, local guides would be a definite advantage, but that wasn't the main aim of this trip.

General
Flights
For the business part of this trip, I flew BA from Heathrow to Johannesburg on the overnight flight and then on to Durban. My experience on arrival at Johannesburg was not the best - with a 45min queue for immigration (some others, arriving later in the day, had much worse experiences with waits up to 2-3 hours!). I then collected my luggage and found my way to the domestic terminal quite easily (the lifts are on the far side to your left when you emerge from the international terminal arrivals into the general concourse). After the NE leg of my trip, I then took the BA/Comair evening flight from Durban to Cape Town. My homeward flight was then the relatively easy but lengthy direct overnight BA flight from Cape Town to Heathrow.

All these flights were OK and on time.

Car Hire
I had pre-booked cars for collection at both Durban and Cape Town airport with Holiday Autos, who have an arrangement with Europcar in South Africa. Arriving at Durban airport I was told my reservation had been cancelled (clearly an error on their part), but fortunately they were able to reinstate it although there was a delay of 30mins while they prepared the car. The Cape Town reservation was fine. Although I re-fuelled both cars close to the airports on my return, I was surprised to find I was later charged on my credit card small amounts for fuel at both places (only about £3 in each case).

Accommodation
I had pre-booked all my accommodation in advance via the Internet, generally selecting lower priced hotels or bed and breakfast places. All were fine - for further information see the end of this report.

Maps
Good large scale maps of SA seem somewhat problematic. The general maps of the whole of SA are on a tiny scale, so I purchased in advance the 1:200,000 MapStudio Pocket Map of Kwazulu-Natal. This was pretty useless. However the MapStudio 1:325,000 map of the Cape Town area was somewhat better although covered a much larger area than I needed. For the first time on a foreign trip, I also had the benefit of a SatNav which I can highly recommend - this mostly worked very well - it helped that many of my overnight stops provided lat, long coordinates for just this purpose.

Birding information
For bird ID, I acquired the 4th edition of the Sasol Birds of South Africa which seems to be the best for the region. The South African Birdfinder (also by Sasol) is the bible for site information, and was quite good.

I'd also like to thank Peter Barker for the invaluable information and tips he provided me with in advance based on his own experiences in both areas. This was a great help in deciding where to go, and how long to spend in each place. Generally I think my schedule was about right, but it did involve moving on quite often - with 5 different places in 9 nights.

Weather
Generally the weather was considerably poorer than expected, both in the Durban vicinity and around Cape Town. Only a few days were warm and sunny and there was a fair amount of rain and cold conditions (exceptionally so according to the locals in the Durban area). Strong winds were also a problem, especially during my last weekend, in Cape Town.

Photos
All the pics shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D with EF400mm/f4 DO lens and x1.4TC, generally on a new monopod. All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 9 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.

I now describe the main sites and areas I visited, in approximate chronological order.

St Lucia
St Lucia is a small tourist town about 2 and a half hours drive north of the new Durban airport, along the N2 which starts as a dual carriageway and then progressively deteriorates the further north you go. There are a number of worthwhile sites in around the town which I explored over about one and a half days:

Gwalagwala Trail
This path is quite easy to find on the right of the road that leads from the town to the estuary mouth/boardwalk, just past the large KZN wildlife offices on the left. I walked this trail twice, the first being just after dawn on my first morning and the second slightly later the next morning. It is difficult to work out exactly where this trail is supposed to go, as there are various forks and branches. At one point it emerges from the shrub/wooded area to a more open area adjacent to the estuary.

Bird activity was higher on the first visit, which was in better weather, and without a guide I found bird identification difficult. I struck upon the tactic of taking record shots of every bird I could, and then working out later on my netbook what they were - usually in the evening after dark! This strategy saved time in the field, but inevitably I missed several species that I didn't manage to get photos of.

This trail goes through some densely vegetated areas with low visibility, but the more open areas were more productive. The best bird was a Purple-crested Turaco I managed to photograph out in the open (they are usually invisible but very vocal - calling loudly from the middle of dense trees!). There were also both Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills. Overhead was an impressive African Goshawk. Other notables included the delightful Red-capped Capped Robin Chat, Barratts Warbler (a bit like a Cetti's), Crested Guineafowl and White-eared Barbet. There were plenty of other more obscure passerines as well, such as Green-backed Camaroptera. The open area near the estuary has several species including Collared Sunbirds and produced a distant view of an African Darter. Unfortunately I didn't see or hear any sign of Woodwards Batis, nor the even more impressive Livingstone's Turaco.

I also tried briefly the nearby boardwalk that runs through to the beach one morning but this wasn't as productive.

Purple-crested Turaco
The splendid Purple-crested Turaco (click to enlarge) White-eared Barbet
Trumpeter Hornbill
Crowned Hornbill Trumpeter Hornbill (click to enlarge)

St Lucia Estuary
By far the best way to see the estuary is by a 2hr boat trip. By great good fortune I was booked by the lodge I was staying in on a boat 'safari' operated by
Heritage Tours and Safaris. Unlike most of the other trips, this was on a nice small boat with only a few other passengers. This allowed a much closer approach and better photo opportunities than would have been the case on the far larger boats, which were packed with passengers. Also this trip was favoured by good, mostly sunny weather.

The estuary wasn't exactly teeming with birds, but we did find a good selection. Many of the larger birds were clearly used to the boats and weren't bothered by them - allowing a very close approach (almost too close!) in many cases. The photo opportunities for the Fish Eagles were superb, with several birds flying very close to the boat at times. In addition to the birds shown below, other notables included Spur-winged Goose, the uncommon Lesser Jacana, and Malachite Kingfisher as well as various herons and egrets.

African Fish Eagle (click on both to enlarge)
Pied Kingfisher Giant Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher (click to enlarge) Giant Kingfisher (click to enlarge)
Pied Kingfisher Hippo (what most of the tourists want to see, along with some small crocs)

St Lucia Beach road
A road leads from St Lucia to the estuary mouth where there is a convenient car park with 'attendants' who clearly expect some return for watching your vehicle. The road that runs parallel with the coast leading up to the car park produced my first sighting of the most impressive Blue-cheeked Bee Eater - a palearctic species I had been hoping to see for many years. Also a Brimstone Canary - a bit like a large brightly coloured Yellowhammer! In a second visit, the car park had a splendid collection of these Bee Eaters hawking for insects from the surrounding trees. On the beach was a White-fronted Plover and a few Caspian Terns.

Blue Cheeked Bee Eater
Blue cheeked Bee Eaters (click left to enlarge)
Another Blue cheeked Bee Eater White-fronted Plover

Cape Vidal road
The road north from St Lucia to Cape Vidal is through a nature/game reserve with controlled entry - asking for a map at the entry gate is worthwhile. The terrain on this pleasant road is quite open, and driving slowly on the side tracks is recommended, many of which go close to pools. There were some mammals here, with Water Buck, Zebra, Water Buffalo and Kudu (I think). The pools also produced a good variety of water birds including African Spoonbill, Jacana, Glossy Ibis, and Cattle Egret but nothing exceptional. At one point there was a hide overlooking a larger area of water, but viewing was hindered by looking straight into the setting sun. Here there were more hippos, Hammerkop, Malachite Kingfisher etc. For smaller birds, I didn't do so well along this road, but there was an obliging African Pipit on a track, as well as African Stonechat etc.

Cape Vidal itself was a big disappointment. The place was full of campers and I neither saw nor heard any of the specialities mentioned in the book. Probably dawn in spring is the time to be here, not late afternoon in autumn! [This would involve staying overnight in one of the campsites, as the access road from St Lucia doesn't open early]. In one spot I found a mixed species flock but had a very frustrating time trying to get adequate views to identify them. Photography was for once hopeless as all the birds were far too skulking.

African Pipit
African Pipit (click to enlarge) Malachite Kingfisher

Hluhluwe Park
Hluhluwe is a 'big five' game park inland from St Lucia. I approached by the southern entrance gate at Nyalazi gate which is not the recommended approach and did involve a reasonable drive along the R618 which isn't a particularly good road. At the entrance I saw a White backed Vulture which was a promising start and then drove north along the metalled road towards Hilltop camp where I was spending one night.

In Hluhluwe you are free to drive around on the unmetalled side tracks as well as the the main tarmac roads, but you are only supposed to get out of your car at designated picnic sites. Dangerous predators, and other big game for that matter, were not plentiful although I did (almost) bump into several White Rhino and one small group of Giraffe. However I saw no elephants, nor predators such as lions (which were apparently very difficult to find). The high vegetation in the northern section of this park hampers game viewing as animals simply vanish if more than a few metres from the road. From the game perspective, this park did not compare well with the Kenyan game parks, especially the Masai Mara, that I had visited in 1986, but of course this was not the main reason for my brief visit here.

Driving slowly around the unmetalled tracks seemed the best birding tactic for this place, for which the map available at the entrance gate was essential. Over one afternoon and the following morning I picked up a fair variety of species in this way, including a close fly past from this magnificent Bateleur. Smaller birds included a localised Orange Ground Thrush, Blue Waxbill, Grey Go -away bird, Green Wood Hoopoe, Red-billed Quelea, Striped Kingfisher and Crested Barbet.

Bateleur
Bateleur (click to enlarge) Crested Barbet
One of three White Rhino blocking the track! Giraffe on the main road

Hilltop camp
Staying at Hilltop camp, which is situated in a magnificent location, I was hoping for some good birds in the grounds - especially from the trail. However in this I was sadly disappointed - walking this trail just after dawn on a cold, windy dull morning was not productive, and I don't think I saw or heard a single bird! The more open grounds had several invisible Turacos (presumed Purple Crested) calling loudly and a few Trumpeter Hornbills, but little else in the cool conditions that morning. So I departed shortly after breakfast and found the tracks in the park better, as described above. I left the park in the early afternoon by the recommended northern gate which did allow me to get back onto the N2 more quickly than the southern route. There was a Black-shouldered Kite by the roadside outside the park.

Mtunzini and Umlalazi
The coastal town of Mtunzini is about 130km north of Durban and within easy reach of the airport. I stayed here for two nights, the first of which was badly affected by cold, wet conditions. Although the rain had cleared by the morning, the cool, damp conditions were not conducive to bird activity.

Despite this, before breakfast on my first day, I tried the two locations for Palm Nut Vulture in Mtunzini described in the Birdfinder book. These were not productive. The Wilderness drive spot seemed to have no view at all of palms nor anything else for that matter, and the views of the coastal forest from the other location in the town were impossibly distant (if I had the right place).

Raphia Palm Monument
The Raphia Palm Monument is the site in SA for Palm Nut Vultures. To reach this area, you need to go into the middle of the town, and follow the sign to the KZN wildlife or similar (not very obvious) which is a right turn off the main road through the town. The Monument itself is reached along a narrow track to the right, just before the controlled reserve entrance.

The Birdfinder book stated that the Palm Nut Vultures can be seen from the monument, so taking this literally, I drove to the monument, parked and walked in. This turned out to be a group of palm trees with a path through the middle with zero visibility. This clearly wasn't right! Retracing my route, it seemed that the approach track was more promising. This was between the road to the reserve and the monument, with reasonable visibility over open ground to trees on both sides. However in the cool damp mid morning conditions activity was low, and there was no sign of vultures or much else for that matter. It was only when I returned around midday, when it had brightened up a bit, that I got a view of one in flight and then perched on top of a tree (as advertised), on the inland side of the track. This track also had a Fiscal Flycatcher.

Woolly necked Stork
Woolly necked Stork (click to enlarge) Palm Nut Vulture near the Raphia Palm Monument

Umlalazi
Umlalazi is a small reserve, with a controlled entrance (get a map at the visitor centre). I spent one damp cool morning here, and picked up quite a few birds drinking an bathing in the roadside puddles formed from the overnight rain! These included Red-capped Robin Chat again, Bronze Manakin and Black-collared Barbet. Hawking over the reeds were African Palm Swifts, and skulking in the bushes was a Southern Brown-throated Weaver. The main campsite had very approachable Woolly necked Storks (which were also hanging round the entrance gate area) and a Brown hooded Kingfisher. Also plenty of calling but invisible Purple crested Turacos. The mangrove trail along the lagoon was a waste of time (and doesn't join up in the middle), but on the far bank was a Goliath Heron. I didn't try the road that runs parallel with the shore - perhaps I should have.

Red-capped Robin Chat on the road in Umlalazi Brown hooded Kingfisher

Dlinsa/Eshowe
The Dlinsa forest is about a 40min drive from Umlalazi and I visited it twice. The first was in the afternoon in largely cool dull conditions when it was very disappointing, but the second visit arriving at around 9am the next morning in brighter warmer weather was much better. For those with a SatNav, the co-ordinates are S 28° 53.515' E 31° 27.085' - it is through the town of Eshowe from the main approach road (R66).

The aerial boardwalk was however something of a disappointment and not quite what I was expecting. It may be aerial, but it is only about 1m off the ground - nowhere near the canopy, and the so called viewpoint gives very restricted views over a bit of distant canopy. Nothing like the tower at Cristallino Lodge in Brazil! Perhaps it was because it was autumn, but I'm not sure I saw of heard a single bird on the boardwalk on both visits!

However the network of paths through the forest were better for birds, though on my own they were very confusing and easy to get lost - not a good idea. It would be much better if they had a map of the reserve showing the paths clearly. On my second visit I briefly had the services of bird guide, who almost immediately put me onto one of the specialities of the area - a Spotted Ground Thrush. Unfortunately photography was difficult due to dark forest conditions. I needed ISO 6400 to get an exposure time of 1/30 sec - almost stupid to try with only a monopod for support. Also the bird, though reasonably tame, soon scuttled off, and I never got a completely clear shot of it. Other birds seen from the paths included Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Forest Weaver and Bronze Manakin.

Spotted Ground Thrush

The best spot by far was the Bishop's Seat picnic area - reached via one of the paths (you really need a guide to show you where it is). It is somewhat more open than the rest of the forest and hence has better visibility. I spent some time here, and was rewarded with views of Grey Cuckoo Shrike, Cape Batis, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Olive Woodpecker and Emerald Cuckoo high up in the canopy. At one point a Purple crested Turaco flew across the clearing, and while watching it in the trees I suddenly noticed a red patch. Sure enough this was a stonking NARINA TROGON - an ace bird, and one I didn't expect to see on my own. However to my great regret the camera was some metres away and of course by the time I had retrieved it this memorable bird had gone. A couple who appeared at one point also had a Crowned Eagle land in a tree, but all I saw of it was an un-tickable glimpse as it flew off.

Tawny flanked Prinia Emerald Cuckoo

After my second morning visit to Dlinsa I then packed up my gear into 'flight mode' and headed off to the airport for the early evening flight to Cape Town for the second phase of my trip.

East of Cape Town area
For my first two nights in the Cape Town area I stayed in Gordon's Bay and visited a number of sites within easy reach of there, as described below.

Sir Lowry's Pass
This site was my first priority as it is a site for the superb Cape Rockjumper. This site was close to Gordon's Bay so I visited it first thing on day one of my stay in the area. Fortunately the sun was shining and the wind wasn't too strong (unlike later in my stay in this area). Parking in the car park by the busy N2 you then need to take your life in your hands and get across both lanes of the busy N2 on a bend - but it wasn't actually too difficult! However beware Baboons jumping into your car at this site!

Following the directions in the Birdfinder book I made my way along the track that runs parallel to the ridge on the left. Notable birds included Rock Kestrel, Peregrine, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Grassbird and the extraordinary Cape Sugarbird with its amazingly long tail. But Cape Rockjumper was my main priority here, and amazingly a pair appeared just where the Birdfinder book said they should be - by the signal cannon that is reached by turning left on a path that goes over a pass, and then following a tiny track helpfully marked 'signal cannon'. I first spotted the male on a distant rock, and was then surprised to have it fly almost right to my feet where it joined a female. To my great regret it was then 'only' the female that showed well for close up photos.

Cape Grassbird Cape Sugarbird
Cape Grassbird (click to enlarge) Cape Sugarbird (click to enlarge)
Cape Rock Thrush A magnificent but distant male Cape Rockjumper
Rock Jumper
The less impressive female Rock Jumper (click left to enlarge)

N2 east to Caledon
Another of my targets in this area was Blue Crane, and my information suggested these could be seen from the N2 before reaching Caledon. This was indeed the case, and I had fleeting glimpses of a few small groups of these birds when travelling at speed on this road which is most unsuitable for relaxing birding. So I turned north on the R406 before Caledon and sure enough I soon spotted some more but distant Blue Cranes. Other notable species on this much quieter road were Pied Starling, Cape Crow and Cape Sparrow.

Kleinmond
Kleinmond is on the coast, just east of Betty's Bay. I followed the signs to the whale viewing point/beach. Here were some Hartlaub's Gull and also some Hadeda Ibis just by the road in splendid light. Offshore were my first Cape Gannets and Cape Cormorants. Rather more notable was an African Harrier Hawk over the village as I was leaving.

Hadeda Ibis
Hadeda Ibis (click to enlarge) Hartlaub's Gull

African Harrier Hawk over Kleinmond

Stony Point, Betty's Bay
The Stony Point African Penguin colony is well signed off the coastal road. There is a controlled entry (small entrance charge) to the boardwalk that runs through the colony. This was actually a nicer and less touristy place than the better known colony at Boulder's beach near Simon's Town that I visited a couple of days later (see below). When I arrived at Stony Point in the late afternoon the sun was still shining, but it soon clouded over and there was torrential rain (sign of the bad weather to come) after I left.

In addition very close views of plenty of cute African Penguins, this site also had African Sacred Ibis, Little Egret, Kelp Gull, Swift Tern, various Cormorants and Black Oystercatcher. Cape Gannets were also offshore. As I was leaving, I came across Cape Bulbul and a nice group of Cape Spurfowl.

African Penguin
African Penguin (click to enlarge) Cape Spurfowl

Harold Porter Botanical Gardens
These botanical gardens are well signed in Betty's Bay and close to the other sites mentioned here. My visit here was on a public holiday and the place quickly became crowded with noisy people causing most birds to depart! Just after I arrived it was however quieter and there were several Familiar Chats hopping around rather like Black Redstarts. The path up to the small lake produced plenty of Cape White-eyes and also some Swee Waxbills, but little else.

Familiar Chat

Rooi Els
This site is again well described in the Birdfinder book. The approach track, just after turning off the main road, was good for Cape Bunting and Cape Sugarbird. I walked along the track which runs below a rocky ridge hoping for more Cape Rockjumpers but was disappointed. However the photogenic Orange breasted Sunbirds were showing well in the sun, and I also found a skulking Karoo Prinia.

Orange breasted Sunbird
Cape%20Sugarbird
Orange breasted Sunbird (click to enlarge) Cape Sugarbird

South of Cape Town area
Having spent a profitable couple of days to the east of Cape Town I then moved to the south, staying in Boulders Beach to be conveniently placed for the booking I had with Cape Town Pelagics for the Saturday or Sunday.

Strandfontein Sewage Works
These sewage works are said to be in a somewhat unsafe area, but I didn't feel threatened at all. The coastal R310 road does go past some shanty towns but it seemed OK staying in the car and keeping moving. At the site itself, there was a guy on the entrance recording vehicles going in which provided some reassurance as well, although there wasn't much of a barrier and no fee was payable.

Following the directions in the Birdfinder book (which mentions no hazards at this site), I proceeded to bird lakes B, C and D. However there was a firm barrier at the plant buildings further on and I wasn't sure if entry was permitted beyond it. As I didn't have much time on both of my visits here I didn't investigate further. However the readily accessible lakes had quite a few water birds around including Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler and Black-necked Grebe. Overhead were various swifts and hirundines - I managed to identify African Black Swift and Little Swift. Also several of "our" Swallows which seemed surprising as it was well into April. On my second visit, just before returning to the airport, I had an African Marsh Harrier and this Purple Gallinule (or Swamphen). Passerines included Cape Canary and Common Waxbill.

Altogether a very easy to site to bird and photograph from the car.

Blacksmith Plover
Blacksmith Plover (click to enlarge) Purple Gallinule (Swamphen)

Boulders Penguin Colony
Boulders is the famous African Penguin colony, as featured on many nature programmes etc. The access to the small beach, very close to the Boulders Beach Lodge where I was staying, involves paying an entry fee. However there were then no Penguins on view, so I quickly exited this section and made my a reasonable distance along a tarmac path to the main boardwalk. The bushes by this path had masses of Cape White Eyes and a presumed Cape Batis seen briefly, but was much disturbed in the late afternoon. The boardwalk of course had plenty of Penguins and people. I think I preferred the quieter Stony Point reserve.

The Penguins were also nesting in the grounds of the Boulders Beach Lodge, very close to my room! They made the presence known by calling well into the evening and again in the early morning, so a bit of a mixed blessing!

African Penguins at Boulders

Cape Point NR
I spent the better part of a day at the Cape Point NR in initially very dull and windy conditions, but as so often this trip it brightened up a bit later on. I started at the main car park for Cape Point itself and walked down the track towards the sea, as suggested by the BirdFinder book. Here was an obliging Southern double collared Sunbird and a Cape Grassbird. A Cape Robin-chat then appeared briefly, but I couldn't find any Cape Siskins. The standard tourist funicular up to Cape Point was a definite mistake though.



Southern double collared Sunbird (click to enlarge) Cape Grassbird

The must less visited Cape of Good Hope was more pleasant and had the added bonus of Ostrich (including one male) and some roosting Swift Terns just offshore. The best site was however the road to Olifantsbos, as mentioned in the book. Along this road I got a record shot of Jackal Buzzard and White-necked Raven in the same field of view - two lifers on one photo can't be bad!

The beach at the end of the Olifantsbos road had several wary waders - Black Oystercatcher, Three-banded Plover, Kittlitz's Plover and White-fronted Plover. Also plenty of African Sacred Ibis and the less than spectacular Plain-backed Pipit. There were several of the unusual looking Bontebok antelopes around as well, but I didn't see any other mammals.

Kittlitz's Plover Bontebok
Kittlitz's Plover Bontebok
Three-banded Plover
Plain-backed Pipit
Three-banded Plover
Plain-backed Pipit

Cape Town (non) Pelagics
Some six months before my visit I booked onto a pelagic with this
company. This was supposed to leave around dawn and not return until mid afternoon and give once in a lifetime views of albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels. It was something I was really looking forward to, and I had arranged this part of my trip around it. However sadly it was not to be. Just a week or two before the trip I was told they might have to cancel due to lack of support. As it turned out this was not the issue that caused the cancellation - it was the weather! That weekend it was poor with strong winds, some rain and overcast skies - clearly not suitable for a tiny boat that goes many miles offshore. So I had an extra day to investigate the sites in the area, never expecting to get something that softened the blow of the cancellation....

Kommetjie
With the pelagic having been cancelled on both its possible days, on my last day in SA, I wasn't sure where to go. In the event I decided to try Kommetjie for the Bank and Crowned Cormorants that had so far eluded me (I was getting short of ideas!).

Shortly after I arrived at the beach area I bumped into an English birder from London, quite by chance, who had a scope. He quickly put me onto my missing cormorants and then started talking about petrels offshore that were very distant but present in large numbers. Without a 'scope I couldn't possibly identify them, but he reckoned they were White-chinned Petrels. After that we went our separate ways, but I thought I would try the promontory with the lighthouse which might give closer views of the Petrels. It did indeed and I then noticed that the other birder (never got his name!) was behind me with his scope scanning around. He suddenly announced he was onto an ALBATROSS! This was my first ever Albatross of any species, and very distant and difficult to make out in binoculars. The birder then set about working out the ID, concluding it was a SHY ALBATROSS. These do come quite close inshore apparently, but I wasn't in a position to confirm or otherwise the ID - the photo below doesn't really help either! Later on he picked up a few more, including even more distant ones that defied any attempts at ID.

So this was some considerable compensation for the missed pelagic but, as the ultimate record shot below shows, the views were hardly satisfying. In fact this has left me still keen to get close up views. Fortunately I was to have another opportunity for these later in 2012 - for more info click here!

African Sacred Ibis Swift Tern
African Sacred Ibis (click to enlarge) Swift Tern
Shy Albatross with two White chinned Petrels White chinned Petrel
Shy Albatross with two White chinned Petrels (ultimate record shot) White chinned Petrel

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Unlike Kommetjie, I had a disappointing visit to these famous botanical gardens in poor very windy, dull conditions. This site is reputed to have plenty of approachable and hence photogenic sunbirds, but not when I was there! The upper reaches are quite a steep trek up from the entrance and were being blasted by almost gale force winds with the result that any birds present were keeping a low profile. The more sheltered lower parts of the grounds were a bit better, but only had species I had seen before such as Southern Double Collared Sunbird, Helmeted Guineafowl and Cape Spurfowl. None of the few pics I got here are worth showing.

Accommodation Details

Place Comment
Seasands Lodge and Conference Centre, St Lucia This was an oldish rambling place, with my upstairs room some distance from the main building. The room had a balcony with a nice view over forest and bats in the roof that streamed out at dusk! They did however make a bit of a noise all through the night. Breakfasts were good and the first night they served an excellent barbeque. The second night there was no dinner, so I went to the Ocean Basket on the main road through St Lucia, which was good. The room was fine but not terribly secure (no problems though) and the limited grounds were pleasant but not as birdy as I had hoped. Apparently a hippo wandered onto the lawn by the main building on the second evening of my stay, but I was out!
Hilltop Camp, Hluhluwe The main building was set on top of a hill with a magnificent view over the surroundings. Dinner and breakfast were both good. The rooms were separate and spread out all over the camp. They didn't lock from the outside which was a bit strange, and meant having to keep all my optics either in the car or on me all the time. As mentioned in the trip report, the birding in the grounds was disappointing probably due to the season and poor weather.
One on Hely, Mtunzini This modern guest house had very welcoming and friendly staff. My large upstairs room had a huge balcony with distant views of the sea and closer views of the trees in the garden. Returning one late afternoon I had a nice flock of Green Pigeons in a tree at the back. Breakfast good, but make sure you take careful note of the recommendations for somewhere to eat in the evening to avoid ending up in the wrong place (as I did on my first night which was also very wet and cold).
Berg en Zee, Gordons Bay Another good guest house with friendly staff. My huge upstairs room had a balcony with lovely views of the bay. Good breakfast. Only slight snag was the number of stairs - as the place is on a very steep slope. Very conveniently situated for Sir Lowry's Pass and the other sites in the area.
Boulders Beach Lodge, nr Simon's Town Highlight of this hotel was the Penguins nesting not more than 5m from my rather small room (others are apparently even smaller). The restaurant wasn't very good for dinner and breakfast was considerably poorer than everywhere else I had stayed (ridiculous fixed menu). I think this place was caching in too much on its situation. It was of course very convenient for the Penguin colony and the pelagic that never was out of Simon's Town. Unlike all the other places, I wouldn't particularly recommend this one.

© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 

 

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