What makes for a good birding destination? Well, desirable birds are obviously a prime ingredient and that’s achievable throughout most of South Africa. But, as a tour guide, when I set up birding safaris for international birders, there’s a lot more to take into account. Birding venues suitable for international birders have many more boxes to be ticked than those that might meet the requirements of more ‘casual’ local birders, who may well be happy with a roof-top tent in a camp site. When a group touches down on African soil to kick off a trip (and hopefully that will start happening again soon), you need to know that you’ve got all the dietary intricacies covered, decent, budget-appropriate accommodation lined up, plenty of activities suitable for different levels of physical ability to keep them occupied, and a range of birds on hand that will satisfy all birders, from the beginner to the keen lister. For me, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and St Lucia in northeastern KwaZulu-Natal meet all those needs.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999. This was ‘in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global value’. The take-away of all this is perhaps the name – ‘isimangaliso’ means a ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder’ in isiZulu, so the park is a ‘place of wonder’. And it’s a miracle as well, considering that much of the land area now incorporated into the park was once covered in commercial tree plantations. These days, rows of rotting stumps sticking out of the reestablished coastal grasslands are the only immediately visible remnants of those terrible ‘green deserts’. The park includes a huge marine protected area, making a total of more than 1.3 million hectares, and thus it constitutes South Africa’s second largest protected area after the Kruger National Park.
The little holiday town of St Lucia is the ideal base from which to explore the region. It’s got a wide range of accommodation types and restaurants, as well as beaches and shops to keep the nonbirding folks happy. So, with all those boxes ticked, let’s have a look at the important stuff– the birding.
My visits to St Lucia are usually based on a two-night stay as part of a multi-week regional tour, so there’s a lot to cram in. We generally arrive at about lunchtime to settle in. When you’ve been sitting in a car for a morning it’s great to stretch your legs, so we see out the afternoon with a stroll in iGwala-Gwala Forest. The lush coastal forest is undoubtedly more alive with birds in the early morning, but we try to get a head start on the specials nonetheless.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
THE BIRDS AND THE BEAST
Addo’s bird/mammal associations
IT'S A CALLING
Warwick Tarboton is a true naturalist and respected as one of the country’s foremost natural history authors and bird photographers. There is little doubt that he has influenced many people to take their interest in birds in particular to the next level.
Redefining Plett Rage
The call I received from my friend Alastair at 06h00 on a Friday at the start of our year-end holiday was inevitable during the advancing second wave of Covid-19 cases, but it was one I had hoped to avoid. His entire family had just tested positive for the virus and we had just given his son, Alec, a lift from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay to join us for a few days of holiday. Alec qualified uncomfortably as a close contact, having spent eight hours in the car with us and then slept in the same dorm room as all my kids for two nights.
SIGHTINGS IN THE SUBREGION: Mid-January to mid-March 2021
After a midsummer that was so busy with rarities, one might have thought that things would calm down somewhat, but the later part of the season continued to deliver a dazzling list of mouthwatering records. Twitchers were kept fully entertained and on their toes!
Observing Striped Crakes
Juvenile African Cuckoo diet
Deciphering South Africa’s first Crested Honey Buzzard
Natural fish traps in the Okavango
a Wahlberg's summer
Wahlberg’s Eagles have always been close to my heart and when the opportunity arose to photograph a breeding pair at the nest, I grabbed it with both hands. It all started when Marius, my future son-in-law, told me early in 2019 about an eagle’s nest in a thorn tree near the Sand River on the farm where he lives in Limpopo. He sent me a photograph of the two eagles at the nest and I immediately recognised them as a pair of Wahlberg’s. To add to my excitement, one of them was a pale morph.