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Seaforth Country Lodge – Spectacular Farm Birding and Gateway to Sani Pass

This past weekend I spent birding at Seaforth Country Lodge, which is situated at the base of the infamous Sani Pass. I arrived on Friday evening, and had a quick walk around the trout dam which produced some common water birds including Reed Cormorant, Little Grebe and Yellow-billed Ducks. Along the side of the dam, and in the forest behind it a number of Cape Robin Chats could be heard and seen. I explored a bit more behind the dam, to find a large green field with short grasses and shrubbery that fronted a large section of the Mkomazana River. The area looked very promising for birding, but as it was getting a bit late I headed back to the lodge.

Seaforth has both catered and self-catering accommodation options, but even though we had opted for self-catering, the wonderful thing was that the staff there will prepare and cook your food for you. We soon sat down to a delicious meal of boerewors, mash and spinach.

I awoke early on Saturday morning, as I had arranged with my friend Ronnie, who luck would have it was also staying in the area for the night, and who had a 4x4 vehicle, to do a morning day trip up Sani Pass. After a misty start the weather cleared up, and it turned into a breath-taking morning. Ronnie had never been up Sani Pass, so he was listing all the potential lifers he could possibly get. First on the list was the elusive and reclusive Barrat’s Warbler. We stopped in a couple of places and I identified its signature call. We looked for the bird, but no luck on visuals. The next stop I again heard the call, and informed Ronnie, that we needed to lure it out with some call-back. A quick play on the phone and the warbler responded and revealed its hiding place, and we quick to snap some decent photos. First lifer in the bag for Ronnie. A bit farther up the pass, we had good views of Wailing Cisticolas, as well as hearing some Cape Longclaws. We soon got to the steeper section of the pass, and seeing that it is difficult to stop, we had to search for the iconic Drakensberg Rockjumper, while our heads were bobbing up and down in the car. Unfortunately no sighting on the way up. We then got to the Lesotho Border post, and the landscape changed to a vast plateau of short grasslands and rocky outcrops. I was on the lookout for Mountain Pipit, but didn’t manage to find any. Ronnie however was bagging more lifers, in the form of numerous sightings of pairs of Sickle-winged Chats, as well as Cape Buntings. I then noticed a pair of birds that I thought were probably Cape Sparrows, but something seemed off, so I instructed Ronnie to reverse and check them out. My instincts were correct, as they turned out to be Grey Tits, which was a lifer for me. Unfortunately they flew off before Ronnie saw them, and before I could take photos. We soon had some stunning close up encounters with the fascinating Ground Woodpeckers, as well as a Sentinel Rock Thrush, which we both got pretty good photos of. We also saw various small groups of Drakensberg Siskins, which was also a lifer for Ronnie. After a quick stop for coffee and stunning scenery at the highest pub in Africa, it was back down the pass again. This time we stopped a couple of times on the steep rocky sections of the pass, and I did my best to find the Rockjumpers, but alas it was not our day for them. We did have aone more very exciting sighting, when farther down the pass Ronnie spotted a bird flying high above. Initially we though perhaps a Vulture, but it turned out to be what is now a pretty endangered bird, that being a Black Stork, which was a KZN lifer for me. That concluded a wonderful morning up the Sani Pas, and thanks so much to Ronnie for the awesome adventure.

Back to Seaforth, and after a quick lunch, I went to explore another wetland on the property which is near the entrance in the middle of a gentle grassy valley surrounded by reeds. The dam produced more common water fowl species, as well as numerous pairs of noisy Levaillant’s Cisticolas in the reed beds, as well as a beautiful African Yellow Warbler. There were also numerous and regal looking Long-tailed Widowbirds in breeding plumage, as well as some scruffy looking ones who were in transitional plumage. The highlight of the trip to the dam though, was spotting a group of Cape Vultures that were circling above. That night we were treated to a braai, and as the sun went down, the call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar permeated the landscape.

The next morning I ventured outside from my room, and just a couple of metres away was one of the farms more vocal residents, that being the beautiful and quirky Bokmakierie. I then ventured towards the area alongside the Mkomazana River. Along the riparian edges were plenty of African Paradise Flycatchers, as well as Olive Thrushes and Cape Robin Chats. On the way to the river I also had a cool sighting of a Grey Rhebok. Seaforth is blessed in that it’s not just great for birding but there are also these wonderful wildlife sightings to be had.

Back to the river, and I quickly picked up Malachite Kingfisher, as well as lots of Brown-throated Martins. The highlight of my time by the river though was spotting some Cape Vultures roosting on the mountains in the background. However what was even more exciting was when the sun came out from behind the clouds, and the vultures on the mountains one by one took flight and passed directly overhead and started flying with the thermals and scanning for food.

After another delicious lunch prepared by the Seaforth staff I didn’t venture too far from the lodge as the day had turned into a scorcher, and I mainly birded in the short vicinity. I managed to first hear, and then see a beautiful male Olive Woodpecker, as well as hear the “Vic-tor, Vic-tor” sound of the Greater Honeyguide in the distance.

All in all I recorded 58 species on Seaforth Farm in my short stay and absolutely loved the venue and hospitality. Oh I forgot they even have a guy that’s makes a fire in your room’s fireplace every night, now that’s service. If you are in need of a relaxing birding getaway and would also like to trek up the Sani Pass, then Seaforth Country Lodge is your ideal base. To find our more, visit Africa's premier directory for accommodation and guides that target the niche needs of the birding community. That’s our directory of course, so go check it out.


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