Last weekend I went with my family, and my friend Blessing to Mount Park Guest Farm in the upper Dargle region of the KZN Midlands. We left early on Friday Morning and along the way we made stops to twitch Holub’s Golden Weaver at Iphithi Reserve in Kloof, and we also had a good drive around Thurlow Nature Reserve at Midmar Dam where we saw a decent sized flock of Blue Cranes.
We arrived at Mount Park at 1pm and were given a friendly welcome by Sally and Ian. They directed us to our accommodation, as well as letting us know about the complimentary tea and treats that was served in the afternoon. We stayed in the Gypsy Cabin, which consisted of an old caravan which was surrounded by a wooden cabin. It also had its own braai area, and then across a small bridge there was another private fire pit area which was secluded and surrounded by a beautiful forest.
Myself and Blessing then decided to go on one of the walking trails. We decided to do the Leopard’s Leap loop, but before starting the trail proper we were already encountering some beautiful birds in the park like gardens and children’s playground. Some of these birds included Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin Chats, and some Alpine Swifts flying overhead.
We then started on the trail and we soon found a Chorister Robin Chat. The first part of the trail took us in the valley which consisted largely of a grassland and mixed woodland habitat. We heard the call of a Red-throated Wryneck calling from a dead tree, as well as a Croaking Cisticola in the tall grasses.
Then the highlight of the weekend presented itself when after climbing a bit up a steep hill, I noticed a very distant raptor flying along the upper cliffs. I managed to get some photos, and after zooming in we confirmed it to be an endangered Bearded Vulture. To see a Bearded Vulture is one thing, but to see one this far from the Drakensberg/Lesotho Border area is another. When I got back home I checked the distribution of them on the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) and it turns out that our sighting equals the record of only one other sighting as far east in South Africa as this.
Me and Blessing then headed back but not before going through a small forest section that gave us nice views of a group of Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers. That night we had a good braai and I tried to convert Blessing into drinking some stunning red wine. He wasn’t convinced though so both those glasses below were mine.
The next day we woke up early and at 6am we headed out to tackle the Inhlosane Mountain. The mountain is of course the main attraction at Mount Park in my mind, and what truly makes this place special. The summit is 1970m above sea level and it is the highest mountain in the KZN Midlands, and apparently at a higher altitude than Johannesburg.
The first half of the climb consists of a walk through the pristine and at times steep indigenous mist belt forests. The call of the Knysna Turaco bellowed through the forest, but did not make a visual appearance. Other birds to be found in the forest were Terrestrial Brownbul, Green-backed Camaroptera and Cape Batis. We then stumbled upon a Robin like bird almost at the end of the forest, however it soon flew away deep into the thickets. Blessing was convinced it was a Chorister Robin Chat, but I thought it was a White Starred Robin. Now Blessing needed the White-starred Robin as a lifer, so decided to (anti bird call mafia look away now) play the call to lure it out. After a while I had given up when Blessing then heard it calling back in the distance. Another play of the call and it came to investigate. At one stage it came so close that it actually landed right above me as I was sitting on the ground. Me and Blessing were a bit stunned and also due to the fact that it was so close, we actually couldn’t get our cameras to focus on it to take a photo.
We then exited the forest and were above the tree line on the mountain. I thought the summit would not be far from here, but boy was I wrong. The climb was a lot longer, steeper and technical then I had thought it would be, but it was also more breath-taking. We were soon so high that we were above the highest birds, which turned out to be some White-necked Ravens. Eventually we made it to the summit, and the views were stunning with the Drakensberg in the distance.
On the way down from the summit, we came across quite a few Buff-streaked Chats, as well as a Cape Rock Thrush, and Rock Martins. At some point Blessing noticed a Bokmakierie and decided to get closer to it and take photos. I was pretty tired so I decided to carry on with the descent, while he was doing this. During my descent I managed to find a Drakensberg Prinia as well as some Cape Canaries. Blessing however had more luck on his descent and found a single Ground Woodpecker.
That afternoon we relaxed by the cottage and in the gardens, and enjoyed another evening braai. The next morning we decided to do the Duiker’s Ridge Trail. This trail takes you through deep forest along the lower slopes of the mountain. We encountered some stunning forest specials including a few Blue-mantled Crested-flycatchers doing their fanning tail display, as well as eventually seeing the Knysna Turacos. Altogether for the weekend I recorded 63 species of birds at Mount Park, and had the most enjoyable time doing it.
Accommodation Rating: 8/10 There are various accommodation options, ranging from camping to cottages. I think the Gypsy Cabin was perfect for us. The service is excellent and there is also a restaurant on site serving delicious home cooked meals. The afternoon tea and treats is an excellent touch.
Birding Rating 8.5/10 The indigenous forests are stunning and the mist belt specials can be found relatively easily. The grasslands and the upper cliffs provide additional habitats, and one must always be on the lookout for raptors.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 Mount Park has reached the summit of success. An absolute stunning location, the x factor of the Inhlosane Mountain, and beautiful accommodation and facilities with a high level of service. Day visitors are also welcome. Do yourself a favour and visit this piece of paradise.