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KwaZulu-Natal February 2019: sea, mountains, and birds in between


xelas

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michael-ibk

Great landscape shots from the mountains, Beautiful!

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ROYAL NATAL NP

 

 

We woke up into a crisp and rather cold morning, a startling difference to what we have had in previous mornings. After a filling breakfast (and some birding around the chalet) we have started our journey towards Royal Natal NP.

 

But driving down (or up) the gravel approach road was a slow affair. Not caused by the state of the road; there were always birds to be observed, perching around it, or flying over. Specially attractive and very numerous were the Long-tailed Widowbirds.

 

Pied Wagtail in wet grass

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Southern Fiscal enjoying the warm sun

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Long-tailed Widowbird in flight

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Once down in the valley, a good tarmac road goes towards Royal Natal NP.

 

613607869_KZN349.JPG.08d3d095c77d7afb5c080f52fbecbc38.JPG

 

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On the electrical wires along the road there was an unusually high number of Amur Falcons; probably hundreds of them were watching the land below in hope of a morning snack.

 

Amur Falcon female and male

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It was OK to pull out of the road, as the traffic was light and there was always enough place. At one point we have spotted a couple of big birds. What a surprise!

 

Grey Crowned Crane

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Clusters of local villages are seen on the slopes of the hills. Very local architecture. Since the whole valley looks very fertile many people lives here. Their ancestors have found a really scenic location that is hard to leave from. 

 

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But our attention was firmly on the spectacular mountains looming above them. This was our target for that day.

 

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Royal Natal National Park has some of the best mountain scenery in Africa. The main feature is the world famous Amphitheater, a rock wall that is approximately five km in length, and approximately 500m high. On top of the amphitheater is the Mont-aux-Sources peak where the Orange river begins its long journey to the Atlantic ocean and Tugela river cascades down the face of the amphitheater, in the second highest waterfall in the world, on its way to the Indian ocean. 

 

Despite of its name (National Park), this park is not run by Sanparks, it is part of the Ezemvelo-KZN Wildlife.  Once we have passed by the entry gate, and a rather large (but also rather empty) visitor’s center, we have to find the car park near the Mahai campsite where there is the trailhead for Cascades trail.

 

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Hiking is by far the most popular activity at Royal Natal National Park.  As hiking long distances is not our thing, we have decided to do one of the easier hikes, the Cascades. The boardwalk follows the Mahai River, and is wheelchair-friendly, for the first part of it anyway. We and our ageing knees should have no problems walking on it.

 

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A lovely sunny day, fresh air, great views … almost like we were in our Julian Alps! Only the birdlife was more colourful. The boardwalk really helped us (and other visitors) to gain the altitude at minimum effort. Mahai River cascades along the path, and at strategic distances helpful benches are positioned.

 

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Once the boardwalk ended, Zvezda decided to wait and I have pushed another 15 minutes to the next, larger cascades. 

 

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A beautiful hike it was. A short one by any hiker standards, only 90 minutes. However, the weather in the mountains changes quickly, so for longer hikes a proper equipment is needed. Also important is to leave the hike data in the mountain register which is located at the car park.

 

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The whole experience is best summarized by this beautiful bird that awaited us on return.

 

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

1896553817_KZN367.JPG.4210883654bf33da5444fb5b975be0b1.JPG

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45 minutes later, and the weather situation was changed completely! Lucky us to be in the car already. 

 

1670844346_KZN368.JPG.e0db05f12ecd3d27321adad877dc6c5b.JPG

 

Only wise thing to do was to drive home, and have lunch in a company of this guy.

 

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Weather changes quickly, and soon the sun was shining again.  All below birds were photographed along the property road.

 

Cape Longclaw

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Common Waxbill

839952010_KZN372.JPG.e7324161882011ce3e4dd2ccb4a1cb18.JPG 

 

Malachite Kingfisher

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Long-tailed Widowbird impression

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As our entry tickets were valid for the whole day, we have returned to RN. This time only to the artificial lake closer to the visitor’s center, just in case the rain comes back.

 

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It was a nice stroll around the pond, more to kill the time than to write home about it. A few photos and back home, the braai was waiting for us.

 

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Goliath Heron

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Baboon

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African Hoopoe

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Edited by xelas
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Treepol

@xelas I'm really enjoying this report - great photos of the widowbird and scenery in Royal NP.

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Just my kind of place to capture the landscape ! Just wondering is this all part of the Drakensberg range ?  

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1 hour ago, Chakra said:

Just my kind of place to capture the landscape ! Just wondering is this all part of the Drakensberg range ?  

 

Yes, this is all northern part of Drakensberg. 

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BIRD ON A WIRE

 

 

On the second day we have woke up into a grey and drizzling morning. Not even our horsey friend likes it. Birding around the chalet was what we did, waiting for the weather to improve

 

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Juvenile Cape Rock Thrush

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Greater Stripped Swallow in flight

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Wet Southern Masked Weaver

1784621774_KZN385.JPG.af3f8ba5fa254324cd7b3273bfa8b722.JPG 

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And the weather did improved, so we drove down towards Royal Natal once more. Not to have any hiking, for such the weather was just too unpredictable. Instead of, we have explored some of the side roads in the area. They were all paved ones, with no traffic at all. And there were fences, and fences are where the birds likes to sit on and watch the life goes on. And we have in return watched them, and photographed them.

 

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Rufous-naped Lark

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Pin-tailed Whydah

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Juvenile Greater Striped Swallow

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African Stonechat, female ad male

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White-throated Swallow

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Red-collared Widowbird

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Sabota Lark

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Common Waxbill

882157785_KZN395.JPG.a1964d46cee3a2e325439655362ee0d3.JPG

 

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Not all birds hanged on the wires. A few of them actually preferred bushes or grasses.

 

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Yellow-fronted Canary

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Cape Starling giving “the look”

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Southern Red Bishop

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Looking back towards the mountains of Royal Natal, hidden in thick clouds; it was lunch time and we have headed back to our chalet. 

 

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After the lunch Zvezda decided to have her well deserved break with a book, and I was excused to go out and to report how the view is from that hill behind the property. It was a nice walk, passing by a herd of horses, having a dog to accompany me, and to make sure I will not be lost. Not many birds but a few interesting insects, such as the colourful one below.

 

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Once back I did some birding at the wooded area behind the chalets.  And yes, soon after the lunch the sun was out again, and in the afternoon the light was really good. 

 

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Crested Barbet

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Green Wood-Hoopoe

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Mocking Cliff Chat

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Red-winged Starling

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Amethyst Sunbird

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The beautiful Sunbird was the farewell gift to us, as our trip was coming to an end. Well, we still have to reach Johannesburg, where a pleasant surprise was waiting for us.

Edited by xelas
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Alexander33

Beautiful photos.  Having only visited KZN during the dry season (September), I’ve enjoyed comparing that with your experience in the green lushness of January/February. 
 

I’m very envious of the long-tailed widow bird in flight shots in post #102 — just fantastic!

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xelas

Was it much drier in September, @Alexander33

 

Long-tailed Widowbirds flying low over the grass were a regular sight. Spent many clicks on them, because it was difficult to catch the initial AF. This is where a D500 would be of tremendous help.

However, good old D7200 still performs well ... when in experienced hands of Zvezda :wub:.

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Alexander33

Quite a bit drier, @xelas . Lots of brown grass like you’d see in the rest of Southern Africa at that time of year. 

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xelas

BACK TO JOHANNESBURG

 

 

We woke up into a grey morning, and after the breakfast we were ready to drive another relatively long drive. And the hare was also anxious to move on.

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And Red-winged Francolin came out of the grass to say "Farewell!"

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The first 50 kilometers of the road R74 must be a great scenic drive … in good weather. The road passes by Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve. If only there will be light …

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There is a side road to Sterkfontein Nature Reserve and Resort. The entry is gated, yet we were lucky to have some nice wildlife sightings there.

 

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Bontebok

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Black Wildebeest

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Burchell's Zebra

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A few extra stops for a few extra nice birds.

 

Juvenile Black-shouldered Kite

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Amur Falcon taking off

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Yellow-billed Kite gliding above

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Once at Harrismith, the rest of the drive was uneventful, and we have reached our accommodation in Kempton Park in early afternoon.

 

1431049546_RoyalNatal-JNB.JPG.b6dabf343425db39ac7836e5c57cd61b.JPG

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xelas

Woodpecker Inn Guesthouse - https://woodpeckersinn.co.za - was our place to stay for 2 last night on this visit to South Africa. It is located in Kempton Park, and as such, close to both the airport and to Peter Connan . We have stayed there once before, and in the meantime they have even upgraded the facilities and the room. 

 

Our room was #5, on the first floor, comfortable bed, excellent bathroom, and a balcony.

 

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Speaking of the balcony, there was a fruiting tree in the yard, and that one has attracted many birds; some of them we have had problems to get a decent photo before, and here they were, almost at touching distance! Balcony birding is a proper favorite.

 

African Hoopoe

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Crested Barbet

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Dark-capped Bulbul

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Karoo Thrush

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Laughing Dove

397606452_KZN431.JPG.0ad202c2dccddef31c1fec2048a5c2d4.JPG

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Peter Connan

Really stunning photos Alex and Zvezda!

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michael-ibk

Love the Drakensberg photos, I think I would really enjoy that place! Beautiful green backgrounds in your bird shots.

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xelas
8 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

Really stunning photos Alex and Zvezda!

Thank you, Peter!

 

22 minutes ago, michael-ibk said:

Love the Drakensberg photos, I think I would really enjoy that place! Beautiful green backgrounds in your bird shots.

I am absolutely sure you would love it. Only do it when it is green (in our winter). 

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xelas

The title of this section could easily also be “BACK AT PETER” as visiting Peter Connan and his family is a “must do” activity. That morning Peter and me has an important job to do. About midday Zvezda and me went to a short afternoon visit of Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens.  In South Africa, every botanical garden we have visited was a memorable experience, both for the plants and for the birds.

 

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Walter Sisulu is a large garden with many trails. It is full of interesting plants and insects.

 

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At the far end from the entry gate is a waterfall, and by that waterfall is where Verreaux’s (Black) Eagles are nesting. No one was visible, we might be of better luck next time. Still we have had a pleasant

afternoon, and the rain only came at the end of our visit. Birding was not as prolific as when we have had Peter as our guide, yet there were still some new birds.

 

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Brown-headed Kingfisher

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Cape Robin-Chat

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Red-chested Cuckoo

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Tawny-flanked Prinia

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Thick-billed Weaver

828153783_KZN446.JPG.5101ada6c8db34644236d3bdc2d50f5c.JPG

 

 

 

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