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Umdoni Park & The Unwritten Rules of Birding

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Luca looking for that next lifer - Photo by Gabby Sykora

There are these unwritten laws of nature that govern birding. When you try to test and go against them, the unwritten laws always get the better of you.

An example of one of these rules is if a group is out birding and sees a special species, everyone in the group that has seen the species will see it, and the one person who still needs to see it will miss it.

Another one of these rules is the camera rule. If you have your camera with you, birds seem to hide behind irritating branches and leaves ensuring that you never get a good view of them. If you don't have your camera, birds will sit in the open and show off their vibrant colours - almost taunting and mocking you for not bringing your camera. As a disclaimer, Richard Flack somehow has a way of overcoming this rule...he is like a bird whisperer and gets birds to sit in perfect positions for photos.

We arrived at Umdoni Park in Pennington excited about what the morning would offer. This stunning conservation area, positioned amongst a golf course, is one of the best birding locations on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast (possibly even in KwaZulu Natal). The park is named after the Umdoni trees that are found throughout the estate. The park has a wide range of trails that wind through the well-kept conservation area, as well as a fantastic Conservation Centre with clean toilets and a seating area. The birding is good with species such as Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon, Brown-scrub Robin, Crowned Eagle, Scaley-throated Honeyguide, Kynsna Turaco, and White-starred Robin in winter.

A photo showing the stunning habitat at Umdoni - Photo by Gabby Sykora

This was Luca Tomlinson and Gabby Sykora's first visit to the stunning venue, and Blessing Majoka and I were keen to get them lots of lifers. As with many KwaZulu Natal mornings lately, it was overcast and wet. When we were getting ready to start the walk, we looked down the path near the conservation and the light was bad.

We decided to test the unwritten laws and decided to leave our cameras in the car.

As we started the walk, the birding was slow to start, but there was still enough bird activity to keep us happy. The Red-capped Robin Chats joyfully called from deep in the indigenous thickets around us. Olive Sunbirds were calling and showing themselves at the tops of the trees.

A sighting of a Lemon Dove allowed Luca and Gabby to get their first lifer of the day - which also happened to be Luca's 500th species for South Africa. As we were looking for the Lemon Dove, we saw two birds moving on the forest floor. These two birds were a pair of Brown-scrub Robin. You hear these birds almost continuously as you walk through the park, but it was good to get a good sighting of them.

We continued to walk and went to an area that I have often seen Grey Waxbill in. As we stood there, we could hear Narina Trogon calling only a few meters away. We looked very hard and we could not locate where the bird was.

The trails are well signed with these informative information boards - Photo by Gabby Sykora

A flash of movement...Gabby said she thought that the Trogon just flew across into another tree.

We continued to look and then suddenly the law that we had tried to defy 'bit' us very hard. The light had improved a great deal and instead of being dark and gloomy, the overcast conditions now provided the ideal shade to take some good photos. The male Trogon that was hidden in the thickets now flew into the open. It landed on top of a tree which would have provided a perfect photographic opportunity. The bird didn't fly, instead, it proudly preened itself in front of us. Its feathers started to open up and show all its stunning colours.

It probably sat right in front of us for about 2 minutes. Two minutes of agonizing regret, yet two minutes of pure joy in the presence of one of our region's most beautiful birds. I included a photo that I took at another venue in this article just to show you how amazing this species is.

Narina Trogon photographed at Empisini Nature Reserve - Photo by Adam Cruickshank

Once we had wiped our tears of shame, we continued the walk. The highlight of the rest of the time we spent there was a decent view of Green Malkoha at a spot that they always seem to show at.

We didn't manage any other good photographic opportunities, but Luca did get some record shots of Knysna Turaco as they moved through the trees.

If you're seeking a diverse birding paradise on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast, look no further than Umdoni Park in Pennington. It's well-maintained and is safe to walk around. They have a good restaurant with stunning sea views that is great for seabird watching in winter. They also have some accommodation options. For more information, please visit their website or email

Before leaving the website, be sure to check out the Accommodation Directory for venues catering specifically to birders. We also encourage you to visit our Online Shop for gear and books at competitive prices.

For more information on Birding on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast, please email

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