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SA Birding spot: Zibulo

Peter Connan

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@Game Warden, I am not sure if this is the best spot for this. I previously created a similar thread for Marievale in the Trip Reports/Africa/South Africa section, but recently the birding sub-forum has "come into it's own" somewhat, however, if you feel it should be somewhere else, please feel free to uproot it.


For a number of years I have been hearing about (and seeing photos from) a place called Zibulo, but getting information has been a bit tough.

However, Will Goodlet has done a great write-up and a Youtube video on it. The wriet-up can be found here: https://willgoodlet.com/posts/water-level


As a result I have been meaning to go, but it always seemed a little bit far. However, my friends @xelas and his wive Zvezda recently asked me to take them to Marievale again, but instead I persuaded them to go to Zibulo instead, and man am I glad I did.


Zibulo's claim to fame is that it has the only eye-level bird hides I am aware of in South Africa which are reasonably priced. In fact, the pricing is as reasonable as it is possible to get, being entirely free!


The hides were built and are maintained by the Anglo American mining corporation, at their Zibulo colliery, which is situated roughly between Delmas and Ogies in Mpumalanga. From my home, it is actually only very slightly further than Marievale, however the roads there are mostly single-lane roads used heavily by coal trucks. The result is that they are pretty badly pot-holed, and because coal trucks are quite slow, there are mad daredevils overtaking in stupid places. Also, several of the worst sections head directly into the rising sun. Therefore, if you want to go there, make very sure that you leave early, so that you can get there before sun-rise. I am actually seriously considering going in the afternoon and camping on site next time...


Now, the important stuff: what will you see?

The facility consists of six hides, placed on two ponds. There are two small (two or maybe three seater) water-level hides placed next to each other on one pond, and two raised hides placed on the other side of the same pond. These two water-level hides face roughly North, and thus can be used all day, but some birds will be against the sun. The raised hides are more directional, one morning and one afternoon, but I did not use them.


The other water-level hide is placed pretty much inside a pond, with views in all directions, but the best directions are in line with early-morning light. This is quite a large hide, probably having room for about 10 people, but only 3-5 will be able to point in one direction. It is fitted with sliding windows, but the windows are not suitable for shooting through. If you come here in winter, you better dress warmly!

In common with most hides in South Africa, there are bench seats and a ledge suitable for some type of window rest. I used a small sand-bag but a ground-pod-with-gimbal setup should work too.


The sixth hide is intended for Grass Owls, and is on the other side of the colliery. I have not tried this hide yet, but it is definitely a priority!


So, with respect to the eye-level hides specifically, Being placed on ponds the birds you will see are many or most of the typical pond birds you could also find at Marievale or Rietvlei. In terms of number of species, Marievale will probably be more productive, but in terms of unique photo opportunities, Zibulo is a great place to visit.


It does brag a couple of specials, but we were not lucky enough to see them. One is the already-mentioned Grass Owl, the other the stunning Greater Painted Snipe...


Some photos:



Blacksmith Lapwing



Little Egret



Common Sandpiper



Red-knobbed Coot








African Darter



Diderick's Cuckoo (note this was not in the hide, but shot behind the hide)



Glossy Ibis



Egyptian Goose





Hadeda Ibis


Edited by Peter Connan
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@xelas did ask why I wanted to go to eye-level hides when I was just shooting birds in flight, but even they seem to look better from a low level, as you have a better chance of getting something other than blue sky behind them...



Cape Longclaw (note this was shot on the access road while leaving)



Pin-tailed Whydah



Pied Kingfisher



Reed Cormorant





Sacred Ibis



African Spoonbill



Yellow-billed Stork







Cape Wagtail



Yellow-crowned Bishop, Female or youngster



Southern MAsked Weaver, Female



White-faced Duck



Yellow-billed Duck





Yellow-billed Egret

Edited by Peter Connan
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Definitely @Tdgraves!

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Just looking at nearby accommodation - doesn’t seem to be much....

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@Tdgraves I'm afraid there's not much closer than Trichard/Secunda, which is about half an hour away. On the other hand, from there it's down-sun.


On the other hand, it's only an hour and ten minutes drive from OR Tambo Airport.

Edited by Peter Connan
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@Peter Connan beautiful photos as usual, I particularly like the Pin-tailed Whydah. Maybe next time?

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Thank you very much @Treepol

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Although I was only an observer, visiting Zibulo was a perfect way to end our SA birding trip. As said before, South African hides are the best for photographers, IMO. And when an accomplished photographer as @Peter Connan has the almost perfect weather, such fantastic photos emerge! Well done, Peter, and thank you so much to show us this gem.


Pond #1 has 3 hides; the one we have used is hidden in the bank on the left side of this photo. Second photos is view from inside the hide. On this particular day pond #1 did not have that many visitors as we have hoped for.








As explained, hide at pond #2 is bigger and also more comfortable, plus the pond itself was busier.








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Thanks for adding your great location shots @xelas! I somehow always forget to take those.

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Looks like a great place, and you got phantastic shots @Peter Connan. Outstanding Diderick´s Cuckoo, and that Egret must be the most classy BIP(Bird in Poop) photo I have ever seen. :-)

Edited by michael-ibk
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Thank you very much @michael-ibk

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  • 6 months later...

Completely different price bracket @Peter Connan,  but Zimanga does have some hides that allow water level shots.


Common Sandpiper


Edited by Soukous
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@Soukous, if you have been to Zimanga without me, I am going to be SERIOUSLY bummed!


I am aware of Zimanga, as well as a couple of others, one near Hoedspruit in the "Greater Kruger" (Indlovu) , one in Mashatu and the new Onkolo hide at Ongumu in Northern Namibia.


Zimanga is a dream destination, but way out of my budget. The photos Wim van den Heever and Brendon Cremer have been able to get there of various animals against the milky way really intrigue me.

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15 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

@Soukous, if you have been to Zimanga without me, I am going to be SERIOUSLY bummed!


I think I'm safe @Peter Connan 

I did pop in to Zimanga last year for a quick look when I was in KZN, simply because we offer it to our clients, but I have not stayed there.

I would love to, as they have the most comprehensive setup of properly designed hides I have seen anywhere, but the rates are outside my budget. 

I keep hoping I might get a group together and be able to get in at a reduced rate, but it hasn't happened.


To be honest, I am far more excited about visiting some of the places you go to on a regular basis like Marievale, Reitvlei etc. I'd be happy with any of those.

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Yes, the setup at Zimanga looks incredible, and not only the hides either, but I do find it hard to justify the costs. Indlovu is similarly priced too. I have no idea about the others, except for Zibulo, which is the best possible price. Absolutely free!


So here's a couple more photos from them.










As for Marievale, I would gladly take you next time you pass through. Going there tomorrow with Herman (Kit's OH).

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Superb batch of photos @Peter Connan!    You are getting TOO good.


Thanks @xelas for the wider photos showing the hides and wetlands.

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15 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

As for Marievale, I would gladly take you next time you pass through. Going there tomorrow with Herman (Kit's OH).


I'll hold you to that

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