No the weekend of 20 - 22 November my brothers, a few friends and I headed to Ndumo Game Reserve in Northern Zululand for my first ever 100% birding weekend. We had put together a target list of about 30 birds we were hoping to see an enlisted the services of a Bird Life SA recommended guide for the area, Themba Mthembu.
Nick and I flew from JHB to DBN where my brothers (Mike and Steve) along with two of their friends Matt and another Steve collected us and the 4 - 5 hour drive to Ndumo began. It's smooth and easy drive up until Friday afternoon Jozini where the little town was in full party mode at 2pm when we had a very slow drive through it. Hint #1, Get to Jozini before lunch time on a Friday.
We arrived at the entrance gate to the sounds of the Gorgeous Bushshrike and Eastern Nicator and immediately got searching, these were two of our target species, but without success. We were able to find the Bushshrike on Saturday, a lifer for me, but despite hearing the Nicator numerous and running around the forests looking for it, we never saw got to see it.
After setting up camp (great camping area with 14 sites) we set out for an late afternoon drive to the Nyamiti pan past the Vulture Restaurant where we were greeted by a Palm-Nut Vulture (lifer for myself and a couple others). The Nyamiti water level was low but we were able to walk closer than the hide and got some great water birds including a Collared Pratincole. The evening drive back was full of Nightjars.
Hint #2, make sure you have drinks and snack to stay out much longer than expected.
We were meant to meet our bird guide ,Themba, at the park gate at 5:30 am but unfortunately we seemed to gave got our plans muddled and he was waiting for us at Tembe Elephant Park so we decided to go it alone on Saturday and try organize a guided walk for Sunday morning instead. Despite not having a guide, we had an awesome morning of birding and most of us picked up at least a couple of lifers including Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Narina Trogon, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Greater Honeyguide, Pied Avocet and Gorgeous Bushshrike (not all lifers for everyone).
We spent much of the midday heat in the swimming pool chatting to a couple of other people about their morning.
Saturday afternoon and evening was again spent at Nyamiti pan with our spotting scopes, biltong and GnT's. The highlights of this evening included a few new waders, a Wahlberg's Eagle catching a fish very close to us and celebrating Steve's 300th bird (either the Pied Avocet or a Caspian Tern) from earlier in the day.
On Sunday morning we went on a guided walk with local guide, Bongani. We started on the Pongolo river with the Pel's Fishing Owl being the target for this morning. As we got started we saw a Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher which had been a boggy bird of mine for more than a year and was a lifer for 5 / 6 of us. After some hard graff we (Bongani) finally found the Pel's as we all got a good view before it flew to another tree.
After the river walk, Bongani to us to the Sand Forest to try find a few of the other birds we had been targeting and again, were were not to be disappointed. Bongani helped us to find the Rudd's Apalis, Woodward's Batis, African Broadbill (twice), Purple-banded Sunbird and the Neergaard's Sunbird. Hint #3, do a guided walk with Bongani.
Ndumo Game Reserve is an amazing place to go birding but make sure birding is everyone's reason for going and there is very little game to be seen. I'm planning of doing another trip to Ndumo next year with my family but we'll spend a few extra nights at Ndumo and go into Tembe Elephant Park on a guided drive with the Ndumo guides which seems to be a service offered.
On a last note, Themba Mthembu refunded our payment within minutes of us not meeting up and has offered to take us on a tour of iSimangaliso next time we in the area.
Enjoy for Birding, Andrew Wiggett