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Chasing Rarities in St Lucia

This last weekend the family and I went on holiday to St Lucia. I had been seduced earlier in the week by the barrage of rarity reports coming through on all sorts of, and at times annoying rarity Whatsapp groups.

So the rarities that were coming in thick and fast were Rufous-bellied Heron, Sooty Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Eurasian Curlew. I had yet to see any of these species, and so one evening while drinking wine, I decided stuff this and I just booked a nice weekend away at Little Eden in St Lucia with dinner, bed and breakfast. I was not the only one who had been tempted by the specials, with some of my friends including EJ and Zach also booking weekends away in St Lucia at other venues.

Right then on Friday morning at 4:30am in the morning I left Amanzimtoti with the family, and headed straight to Western Shores with a stop at Wimpy half way for breakfast of course. Western shores is one of the newer reserves near St Lucia, and is the least known out of the reserves in the area which include Eastern Shores and Mkhuze.

Western Shores though is a hidden gem, and is actually one of my favourite reserves in KZN and SA as a whole. To think that the area was once under forestry and alien vegetation, but is now a stunning landscape and home to four of the big five is truly a conservation success story. I still have fond memories of seeing a leopard in a tree just a couple of kilometres from Dukuduku gate a few years earlier.

Giraffe - Western Shores, St Lucia
Giraffe - Western Shores, St Lucia

After we drove into the reserve, I was pleased that the roads were in an excellent condition, and being early on a Friday morning it seemed like we had the whole park to ourselves. Soon we spotted a Bateleur gliding in the wind, my first Bateleur sighting in Western Shores, after having seen them in Mkhuze and Jozini previously in KZN. Then after that we spotted another raptor that would fly low to the ground and then drop into the long grass. At first I thought it could be a Cuckoo Hawk after some distant photos I managed to get, but I doubted myself and eventually started to think it might be a female Montague’s Harrier. Anyway either would have been a lifer for me, but I should have trusted my instincts, as after sending the pics to some experts, the verdict was that it was an immature African Cuckoo Hawk. And the raptors didn’t stop there as later I got a magnificent Martial Eagle.

Western Shores (and Eastern) is also the best place in SA in the Spring and Summer to see Collared Pratincoles. They were numerous on the dirt roads, and you could drive your car quite close to them and take really good photos. But I have seen a hundred good photos of them before, so when I was close to one I set my camera for a high speed action photo, and asked my wife to get out the car, so the Pratincole would take off. It sort of worked, but I wish I had set my shutter speed even higher, as the rate at which they can take off is a sight to behold.

Martial Eagle, Isimangaliso Wetlands Park
Martial Eagle
Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole

I then headed to Charters Creek at the northern part of the park, that overlooks a large section of lake St Lucia. There was not much to be seen there, as the water levels were very high, but along the way we did see an inordinate amount of Yellow-bellied Greenbuls.

At about midday, I ran into my friend EJ and his girlfriend Barbara. They too had seen a fair amount of raptors, namely Bateleur and both Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, and annoyingly they had also sighted a Black-bellied Bustard, which I seem to always miss out on. The animal sightings we had were Buffalo, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Red and Grey Duiker, Impala, Nyala, and Waterbuck. Suprisingly I didn't see any Rhino before the picnic site like I usually do, and sadly no Elephants or Leopard.

I then headed out of the park and to Little Eden in St Lucia for an early-ish check in.