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Zululand Spectacular Part 3: Manyoni Private Game Reserve

Night Drive

We pick up the action, as we are about to go on a night drive in the exclusive Manyoni Private Game Reserve. At 8:30pm we meet Ivor van Rooyen from Luleka Safaris at the East Gate of the Reserve. Filled with high expectations we headed into the darkness.

After a short while we drove to a grassland section, where I think we were looking for Marsh Owls. We didn’t find them, however we were lucky enough to flush some Common Buttonquails a couple of times. This was only my second sighting of them, after getting them as my 500th bird on my lifelist a few months earlier. I did manage to get some photos of one of them, that we located standing in the grass, but the picture came out a bit blurry.

The conditions were cold and windy, and it seems that we were not the only ones feeling the chill, as we located a small group of European Bee-eaters roosting huddled up together.

European Bee-eaters | Roger Hogg

A couple of Fiery-necked Nightjars were seen next, with one stubborn individual not wanting to leave the road, so Ivor had to leave the vehicle and give it some extra incentive. We then stopped at a specific location, where Ivor said there was a fairly responsive African Scops Owl. We played the call, and it immediately responded. Now Dave has seen all of the Southern African Owls, except the Scops Owl, so Ivor made a big effort in trying to manoeuvre the vehicle closer to where the call was coming from. In the end the Owl and its army of trees and thickets prevailed, and would remain undiscovered.

We then hit a bit of a dead patch on the drive, as not many birds were seen for quite a long time. We did however also enjoy the animals in the reserve with sightings of Buffalo, and a very special sighting of a Serval.

Serval | Tyron Dall

As we were finishing up for the night, we located a Tawny Eagle roosting in a tree, which is a decent bird to get in KZN. The drive finished well after 11pm, and we would be waking up at 4:30am the next morning, so we could start our day drive in the reserve at 5am.

I woke up in the night, and thinking I had overslept I went to find my phone to see the time. However my room was pitch dark, and my phone was charging on a shelf in the middle of the room. I think it took me 10 minutes and almost injuring myself to eventually locate my phone, only to find it was 1:30am.

Day of the Broadbills

The morning proved again to be overcast and cool, however we made good early progress and racked up a large amount of birds including Desert and Croaking Cisticola, Yellow-billed Stork, Common Scimitarbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Brown-backed Honeybird and Bearded Scrub Robin to name a few.

One of the most common sounds of the day was the “Come Back Quick” sound of the Gorgeous Bushshrike. We tried calling it out of its domain, but it rarely ventures out, although some of us did manage to get some record shots of it.

Gorgeous Bushshrike | Roger Hogg

The one thing that we all noticed about Manyoni, was the absolute beauty of the environment, and the diversity of habitats within the reserve. This is truly one of the best birding destinations, I have been to. We stopped for coffee and rusks in a breathtakingly beautiful dry river bed in a valley with heavily forested slopes. We enjoyed the moment and relaxed and also saw some wonderful birds whilst having coffee, including a dark morph Jacobin Cuckoo.

The Crew | Roger Hogg

Afterwards we drove a short distance into one of the forested slopes, as this apparently was the place to find the shy African Broadbill. We then got out the vehicle and walked a few metres, and then the African Broadbill flew and landed on a branch in the open a few metres from us and we all took amazing photos of it. If only! No of course that is definitely not what happened. What happened is, we played the call of the Broadbill at various points in the forest where apparently it had recently been seen, but we got nothing, not even a distant call-back. Our consolation though was some good sightings of Pink-throated Twinspots, which were lifers for some of the crew.

Pink-throated Twinspot | Tyron Dall

The day rolled on, and at one point it started to rain lightly, but fortunately it didn’t last. We eventually got to the river valley below Leopard Mountain Lodge, and Ivor again played the call of the African Broadbill. At this point I thought that this was getting a bit ridiculous, and wondered why he hadn’t given up yet. Then in the distance a single “Brrrrrp”. This was the first time in my life I had even heard the call of the Broadbill, but finding it would be another story I thought. Ivor however rapidly closed in on its location, and stopped the vehicle close to the forest where it was calling from. We got out the vehicle, and walked into the forest.

Luckily we found it fairly easily, and what a sighting it was. There was not only one Broadbill, but a male and female pair. The male would do its quaint display flight and call and puff itself. They were not bothered by our presence and we all took care not to get too close to them. We all took photos, and although the conditions were a bit dark, in terms of Broadbill photo opportunities I was told that this was as good as it gets. And now you know why I titled this section of the article as “Day of the Broadbills”

African Broadbill Call and Display Flight | Roger Hogg

African Broadbilll | Tyron Dall

But that’s not all, as the infomercials usually say. A half hour or so later, and it was the turn of the Broadbilled Rollers to make an appearance. We located one on a wire, and although the light was shocking we all tried to take some photos. We then drove a bit farther and got really close to one. Ivor however didn’t seem like he was going to stop for us, as I think he thought the light was so bad that the photo opportunity wouldn’t have been so good. We had to shout for him to stop, and a good thing we did, as with a bit of Lightroom trickery I was able to get a pretty decent photo.

Broadbilled Rollerl | Tyron Dall

Later on in the day, we got to another location where an African Scops Owl responded to our call-back. Then one of the crew shouted that they had seen it on a fallen tree in the distance. I looked but could see nothing. Then another member also proclaimed to see it. It was so frustrating, how could they see it, while I could not. Dave's heart must have been beating a bit faster than normal, as his full house of owls beckoned. Ivor could also not see the owl, and with enough distant binocular scanning, he decided to drive the vehicle into the bush to find it. He drove about 50m into the bush right to where the owl was. The owl however ended up as being some lichen attached to the fallen tree.

We eventually ended our drive at about 2:30pm, well over the allotted time. A big thank you to Ivor, who went out of his way to make our day so enjoyable. I think he also enjoyed his time though, as I can see he is an exceptionally keen birder and the current leader of the Birdlasser Zululand 150km Challenge. Thanks also to Dave and the rest of the crew for such an amazing weekend. I can’t wait for the next one.


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