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KZN winter birding and mammals- July 2023


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really enjoying the report  @TonyQ- we often think about Kwa Zulu- along with all the other places!

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@offshorebirder@John M.@Towlersonsafarithank you for your kind comments

A little bit more to wrap up Mkhuze


The waterhole attracted a lot of birds


Red-billed Oxpecker


Crested Barbet


and Common Waxbill group bathing

The carpark areas near the hides were also good places to look for birds


Black-backed Puffback


Chinspot Batis


And the beautiful Purple-crested Turaco


Edited by TonyQ
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Striped Kingfisher


Rattling Cisticola


White-backed Vulture – a pleasure to see a vulture relatively close


Sabota Lark


Green Woodhoopoe - with kill!


Baboon - a family moved through the undergrowth


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We really enjoyed our visits to Mkhuze Game Reserve. We are inexperienced at self-driving in game reserves but this was relatively straightforward. The tracks were in good condition. The hides we great.


We spent quite a while in the KuMasinga Hide. We noticed Fork-tailed Drongos indulging in behaviour we hadn’t seen from them before. So I finish this section with a sequence of Drongos!


Heading into the water




And bursting out



Very wet indeed






Flying back to perch and flapping dry

We spent quite a while watching this behaviour from a number of Drongos. It took a while to work out what they were doing and what routine they were following. It was good fun trying to get photos of them - finding out what worked and what didn't (there were a lot that didn't!).  Zooming back from 400mm helped - these were taken at 200-250 and then cropped. Shutter speed about 3200, prefocus on an area I thought they might splash down and then firing away. I was pleased to get some that worked!


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Better late than never ;) love your report Tony and have been thinking  about a visit in the near future!

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Dave Williams

Enjoying re-living the KZN bit and getting some ideas for my next trip! Thanks Tony.

I'll be interested in your report on Ghost Mountain, I originally booked with Claire in mind before deciding to cancel and book in to Buffalo Hill Lodge on the Manyoni reserve. Both were similar prices from what I recall but Buffalo Hill had a room with a waterhole view so that won. Paid dividends too !

If I were to return to this part of South Africa Umkuze would definitely be on the itinerary. It seems to be totally overlooked by so many. Would I stay in the park again? Absolutely! The accommodation is adequate but not luxurious but it's very inexpensive. The shop in Mantuma camp is probably the worst I have visited in any reserve and trying to get a guided drive is hit and miss it seems. We were lucky as there was someone on duty while we were there. No, the advantage of being in the reserve first thing probably overrides all these negatives, especially the bird hide in Mantuma Camp where the best activity is first thing in the morning. Driving from Mkuze to get to the reserve isn't the best!

Going back to the hides, KuMasinga was my favourite by far too. It's outstanding! Spotlessly clean and even has very clean toilet facilities too. All this and not even in a camp. Then there is the wildlife visiting the waterhole, quite amazing when we were there. At one stage I counted over 50 mammals of several different species all there at the same time to say nothing of the birds visiting. We found driving around the reserve, spotting wildlife was difficult but have patience, sit in the hide and they will come to you. It's a photographers dream. You don't mention numbers of people in the hide Tony but @xelasdid in his report. Like us it was often found to be empty. I guess it depends on the time of day and season too. A group on a tour from Ghost Mountain appeared on several days but didn't stay long. If nothing is at the hide they move on and that is a mistake!

Anyway, sorry to hijack your report Tony but I am am very passionate about Kumasinga, after all, £50 a night to stay in decent accommodation AND get this hide thrown in for free is an absolute snip. This shot was taken at 100mm on my full frame camera to give an idea of how close everything is. 


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@TonyQthanks for taking me on KZN memory trip! Next time I will include Sani Pass ... and I might try to drive it also! Loads of excellent photos, both landscapes and wildlife. Birds are amazing in South Africa.

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@TonyQjust catching up on this report, a very interesting look at an area I don't know. I had to laugh about you needing to watch videos about driving an automatic though! 

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I have been avoiding trip reports for a while now due to them making me envious.

You have certainly managed that here again Tony! Such wonderful sightings and photos. I really liked the bathing Drongos. I have seen similar behaviour from Bee-eaters but didn't get nearly such good photos.


With regards to the ease of driving when comparing autos and manuals, the law here agrees with your expectation. If you passed your driver's license in an automatic car, you are not allowed to drive a manual on the road. But if you qualified on a manual, you are allowed to drive an automatic.

Another quirk of the system has to do with towing trailers. If you qualify in a normal car, you are only allowed to tow a tiny trailer. But if you qualify on a small truck (above 3.5Tons), you are allowed to tow larger trailers. This is why many of the driving schools operate small trucks. Oh, and this also allows you to miss out on needing to do parallel parking, which so many people find difficult. Weird that passing an easier test allows you to legally do more...


With regard to the toll roads (at least on the N-routes), I think they all now take credit cards, although some do not take debit cards. One should not need to have cash on hand for them.

Edited by Peter Connan
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Fantastic bird shots @TonyQ, the pair of barbets is a great shot.

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thank you @BRACQUENE we are not all as efficient as you :D

Thank you @Dave WilliamsI agree about Kumasinga, and the lodgings in the park looked very good - and amazing value from a UK perspective

@xelasthank you. I think you could drive it with a 4x4 but it is beyond our abilities!

Thank you @Zubbie15

Thank you @Peter Connanstrange about the driving licences! I was pleased with the Drongos. With the Toll roads we read that they take SA credit cards but not foreign ones. (I don't remember where I read that and I don't know if that is true as we didn't use cash or credit card)

@Hadsthank you


Ghost Mountain Inn (and a trip to see a Pangolin)


As I mentioned above, we stayed at Ghost Mountain Inn for four nights. We were really pleased with our stay. Food was very good. Breakfast officially started at 6.30, but you could start before that for an early start to the day. A good selection and fresh Chilli Cheese Omelettes! Our room was very nice, ground floor with a little terrace overlooking the garden.


There is a large lake with beautiful views towards the Ghost Mountain



There is a reed bed at the edge of the lake, with a boardwalk leading through the reeds to the water. There is a sign warning about crocodiles!.


A Waxbill picks at seeds on the reeds


Many birds took advantage of the water


Swifts and Swallows flew overhead





And aach evening, flocks of Egrets came in to roost


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The grounds were beautiful, full of birds


A Lizzard Buzzard just outside the hotel (all the rest are in the grounds)


African Paradise Flycatcher showing off a magnificent tail


Collared Sunbird


An African Goshawk flies over


Green-winged PytilliaGMIbatis.jpg.01cdb7beff8d778d4d8a2594ed120d53.jpg

A Chinspot Batis


Purple Heron


African Jacana walking across lillies to catch food

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We saw a couuple of primates in the grounds




Vervet with baby

And a few extra birds


Purple-banded Sunbird


Spectacled Weaver


White-fronted Bee-eater


Yellow-breasted Apalis

As I mentioned, the grounds were lovely and it was a real pleasure to be able to walk where you want looking for whatever you found. We really enjoyed it



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Pangolin Conservation Project


We arranged a visit through the hotel to visit a Pangolin Conservation Project (I believe that visits can be arranged through some of the Lodges on Manyoni)







Quoting from their Website

"Temminck's Ground Pangolin (Smutsia teminckii) are currently one of the most trafficked mammals globally, and the species is now classified as Vulnerable to extinction, with global population trends declining.


“With hardened scales made of keratin to protect their soft bodies, and the ability to roll up into a tight ball when danger is near, the pangolin is an incredibly prehistoric-looking creature. Much like the rhino horn, the pangolin scales are highly sought after in the illegal wildlife trade. With staggering statistics completely wiping out the species, Pangolins have been dubbed the worlds most trafficked animal. It is for this reason that the Zululand Conservation Trust has dedicated a large number of our conservation funds towards the protection, rehabilitation and monitoring of these incredible animals.


Manyoni Private Game Reserve is working closely with the African Pangolin Working Group and Johannesburg Wildlife Vet to rehome Temmincks ground pangolin that has been rescued from the wildlife trade. Pangolins possess no vocal cords and their only defence is to roll into a ball and lay still – this makes them easy for poachers to capture and conceal them. Whilst in the hands of poachers these pangolins deteriorate due to stress, dehydration and lack of food. But there are people fighting against this trade and each animal confiscated is given a second chance at life. When survivors arrive at the Johannesburg Wildlife vet they receive intensive care and are nursed back to health by a dedicated team and once they are strong enough the pangolins are taken to a suitable reserve (Manyoni being one of the sites) where the “soft release” process begins.


The rehabilitation of the Temmincks Pangolin is an intensive program as the animals require around the clock monitoring to ensure they acclimatise, finding suitable food and gaining weight. We at ZCT have been involved in the hands-on monitoring and soft release process, and have funded the equipment needed to ensure reliable monitoring. The Temmincks Pangolin has not roamed Zululand for nearly 70 years and so this is a historic moment for us and an incredible project of proactive conservation of an extremely endangered species.


We are so proud of the success we have been having with this project, especially given the persecution under which pangolins currently are. To date, we have successfully released 15 pangolins into the protected area, and all of these individuals have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Moreover, our greatest success within the project is that a viable breeding population of pangolins has been established – and we have had five wild pangolin pups born”



We were driven to Manyoni Reserve by a driver/guide from GMI and met up with the Conservation officer who was working with the Pangolin. Another person was supposed to join us, but pulled out so we had the activity to ourselves. We asked our driver/guide if he wanted to join us – the project were happy with this – and he we very happy to join us. We were also joined by an armed guard as there are dangerous animals on the reserve.


The Conservationist drove us to the area he expected the Pangolin to be. It is tracked by satellite (shows it is above the ground) and then when closer to it by a VHF (I think) tracker.

We got down from the jeep and followed as we moved closer to the Pangolin We heard lots of really interesting information about the project and about Pangolins.


First view as it shuffled through the grass


Showing the tracking devices - attached through the Keratin scales



The Pangolin recognised our Conservationist – I think by smell (eyesight is poor) and headed towards him




This Pangolin they had named Stevie (I am not generally in favour of naming Wild Animals, but after taking in a dehydrated youngster and seeing it every day, walking with it and helping it establish independence I think they are entitled to give it a name!) Stevie was 2 years and 5 months old when we visited and was released at 18 months. When we were there he weighed 14.1 kg.


Close-up of the scales

If he walked towards us we were to back away from him and give him some space.





Showing the powerful claws




Looking for and eating ants


It was a wonderful experience seeing the work being done and being able to see the Pangolin out and about in daylight. We really enjoyed learning about the work being done and really enjoyed the commitment and enthusiasm. (They didn’t have any very young Pangolins in when we were there, but visits when they are around gives the opportunity to see them being “walked”)


We had about an hour with the Stevie. It was a really moving experience. It is so sad that a combination of greed and ignorance threatens these wonderful animals. We have also made a donation to the project (through the link above). The whole experience was much better than we expected and we left with a real respect for the work being done, and anger that it is neccessary!

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Wow! a pangolin!- what a wonderful project @TonyQ

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@TonyQWhat wonderful photographs!  I particularly liked the drongos and the sunbirds, showing all their fabulous colors.

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Seeing a pangolin is a wonderful experience! Your last batch of birds photos is another excellent example of what SA is offering to a dedicated birder and photographer. I can only hope that in 1 month time, we will have luck to find some similar birds and conditions while driving along the Garden Route.

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What an amazing experience and a great honour to see such an incredible creature up close.

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Ooh what a lovely experience, especially in the daytime and much more personal experience than we had in Okonjima! I will have to look into that place as I wasn't aware of any pangolin watching opportunities in South Africa... 

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Some really good quality photos @TonyQ - you are getting better and better.

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@Towlersonsafariwe thought it was also!

@Ginnythank you

@xelas  thank you I am sure you will see great birds on the Garden Routh. We went at a similar time to you and really enjoyed the birding

@Zim GirlIt was a great experience

thank you @kittykat23uk

@offshorebirderthank you



The experience with the Pangolin and Conservationist was much better than we expected. We were surprised how much “personality” Stevie had – especially when interacting with the conservationist. (I have not named the conservationist or shown any photos of him and have been careful with the photos I have posted of Stevie after consultation with the project.)


We enjoyed our stay at Ghost Mountain Inn. Our next stop would be in Mtunzini.


Hluhluwe Game Reserve


This is about an hour from GMI to the gate.


African Black-headed Oriole at the entrance to the park



Once in the park, we stayed mainly on the main track. We really used this as a more interesting drive south rather than driving all the way on the N2, so we didn’t really explore it properly. But we did see some interesting creatures.


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Martial Eagle


Zebra Crossing


A Cape Vulture flies past


A Sunbird takes advantage of flowers


A distant group of elephants (first of the trip!)


Fan-tailed Widowbird






Zebra_H1.jpg.7e7fe3e16cf98f307cf522d4643ce936.jpgMore Zebra





African Stonechat


And a much closer solo elephant


It seemed very relaxed

So a more enjoyable trip South than going on the N road!


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Next Stop, Mtunzini where we would be staying in a B&B called One on Hely  for 2 nights.



View from our balcony to go with our cup of tea


Trumpeter Hornbills roosting (from balcony)


Mtunzini is a nice little town about a one hour drive from Durban Airport (King Shaka). There are some decent restaurants and we had some good Fish and Chips!.


We had booked a bird guide for a day a Mtunzini. He was a bit delayed in arriving as a road was closed due to protestors complaining about a lack of water.


The day was OK, but we hadn’t communicated well enough what we wanted. We spent a bit more time than we wanted looking for Forest birds (it reinforced that I am not keen on forest birding!). But we did see some good birds, especially in wetland areas




Red-throated Wryneck


Grey Crowned Crane – good to see our third species of crane


Palm-nut Vulture


Little Sparrowhawk


Striated Heron


Mangrove Kingfisher - our guide knew where to look!


So the following morning, after a good breakfast…

We drove off towards King Shaka Airport.

We stopped on the way to get the car washed (it needed it). It was probably the most thorough car wash we had ever had! We filled up with fuel and returned the car to Eurpocar. We had been happy with the car and with the company.

We then travelled with FlySafair to Johannesburg and on to London with BA.

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General Observations on the trip

Food and wine were good (and good value from a UK perspective). Supermarkets were well stocked for self-catering. Accommodation was also good and well-priced (all internet booked).


Car Hire (booked through Zest from the UK) was straightforward, the car was good, petrol was cheap. We liked having an automatic car. We were pleased we got an SUV type car for using in the Reserves.


Roads were generally good though some of the lesser roads were prone to pot-holes. We decided we would not drive at night (except in St Lucia)– a combination of people and animals walking at the side of the road (or into it) and a very variable approach to using headlights we thought would be unsafe.


Load Shedding turned out not to be a major problem (for us!) but all of the places we stayed had backup plans. Take a good torch (flashlight) and download the app that tells you when the power cuts will be.


Initially we had a flight booked with South African Airways from Johannesburg to Durban but they cancelled it and tried to book us on a much later flight. We contacted them and said this was no use and asked for a refund. We are still waiting and taking it up through our credit card. I would not book a SAA flight again as their admin service has been appalling.


The two flights we actually used (with AirLink and FlySafair) were fine.


We really enjoyed the trip with a mixture of birds, mammals and landscapes. Probably the biggest highlights were the Sani Pass trip and the visit to the Pangolin.

But we enjoyed all of it and the style of holiday suited us well.

Thank you for following and offering encouragement.


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Enjoyed this report very much Tony.  You saw some very nice wildlife, lovely scenery and being able to see a pangolin so close, an obvious highlight.  Lots of very welcome info which I am sure we will make use of at some point, so thank you!

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