July 14 – 18, 2023

By Mark Liptrot  082-778 8728 marklipt1 @ gmail.com
with additional photos by Cecily Salmon (CS)

Purple-crested Turaco

BirdlifeKZN had organised a weekend away in conjunction with several KwaZulu Natal bird clubs in and around Ezemvelo’s Mkhuze Game Reserve – part of the World Heritage Site of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The highlight was to be a morning spent at the Zimanga Private Game Reserve homestead gardens with its spectacular collection of aloes. Zimanga, about 8km north of Mkhuze, is spread over nearly 70 square kilometres of pristine Zululand bushveld, fever tree forests and rolling hills. It flanks the Mkhuze River and is home to a wide range of animals and birds, including the “Big 5”. Mkhuze, too, did not disappoint. Our stay concluded with a couple of nights at the Nyalazi campsite which abutted the Hluhluwe-iMmfolozi Game Reserve but was cut short by a raging bush fire. Now read on…

The +800km round trip to Zimanga/Mkhuze

uMkhuze (previously Mkuze) Game Reserve is one our favourite Ezemvelo reserves as it allows you plenty of places to get out, stretch your legs and do a spot of nature watching. A bonus is that the main camp, Mantuma, is completely unfenced and all the Big 5 have been found strolling into the camp at one time or another – especially after dark (when human strolling is discouraged ●  ). We entered the reserve through the western eMshopi gate:

The eMshopi campsite is but a short hop away from the gate and is complete with generous camping areas with water in the ablutions but as yet, no working power points. It is worth the visit for birdwatching alone. Further down the road east is kuMalibala Dam, a popular picnic site which, after good winter rains, was full of water and interesting denizens:

Malachite Kingfisher

Cape Terrapin Pelomedusa galeata

Chinspot Batis

Belligerent trunkless pachyderm

From here we made our way to our twin-bed chalet at Mantuma camp, complete with outside braai area:

We turned in early in the evening, in order to make our way out and get the 8km up the N2 to Zimanga Private Game Reserve by 07h30 on the Saturday. This was a special event as the Reserve is not open to the general public, and caters mainly for high-end tourism, particularly wildlife photographers. On the way we saw a Gabar Goshawk, fluffed up against the chilly dawn (at first, we thought it was a Dark Chanting Goshawk, which had been seen in the area recently):

Gabar Goshawk

Then on to Zimanga. What a show of spectacular succulents! These were visited by most species of sunbirds found in the area…

White-bellied Sunbird

Other birds too were in the mix:

Spotted Flycatcher with breakfast

Golden-breasted Bunting

We returned to Mkhuze late morning for some more birding:

White-crowned Helmetshrike
Red-billed Oxpecker

There was even time to look for butterflies, of which I spotted a disappointing 19 species, some of which were:

Guineafowl Hamanumida daedalus
Variable Diadem Hypolimnas anthedon wahlbergi
Small Ant-heap White Dixeia pigea
Sulphur Orange Tip female Colotis auxo auxo
Brown Playboy Deudorix antalus
Dusky Russet Aloeides taikosama
Scarlet Tip Colotis annae annae
Bush Scarlet Axiocerses amanga amanga

Evening was time for a communal braai where we clustered under the fig trees, whilst the thick-tailed bushbabies clustered above! Nicky Forbes valiantly and in poor light summarised the birds seen to date for the trip – which for some people started on the Thursday 13 July. At that stage the total for the group was +120 species. Sunday morning was a leisurely affair with a bit of a lie-in before we set off for a picnic at the glorious iNsumo Pan. A diversion was made to check out the kuMasinga hide, nestled amid the sand forest belt

Our approach along the boardwalk was monitored by a Fork-tailed Drongo, one of the many birds we saw at the hide:

Fork-tailed Drongo
Brown-crowned Tchagra
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Yellow Weaver

Then some female Nyalas came tiptoeing down to drink:

On leaving kuMasinga, we chanced upon some Dwarf Mongooses and a Burchell’s Coucal, showing its barred rump:

Dwarf Mongoose
Burchell’s Coucal

We decided to have a cooked brunch at iNsumo Pan, and en route crossed the Nsumo River which had an almost Monetesque quality:

We were able to alight at the well-built hides (“observation platforms”, according to the map). Like the other water bodies, iNsumo Pan was full:

Master Chefs in action…(CS)

The day wouldn’t have been complete without a few (very few) butterflies:

Squinting Bush Brown Bicyclus anynana anynana
White-barred Telchinia Telchinia encedon encedon
Common Zebra Blue Leptotes sp.
Tiny Grass Blue Zizula hylax
African Caper White Belenois creona severina
African Wood White Leptosia alcesta inalcesta

Monday morning saw us pack up and head easterly to the Ophansi Gate and then head south to the town of Hluhluwe, through the Memorial Gate into Hluhluwe Game Reserve to dally awhile at Siwasamikhosikazi picnic site. Wonder no more at the meaning of this isiZulu word – “we are still celebrating”. This is a must-visit site overlooking the Hluhluwe River, with cliffs harbouring a breeding colony of the Southern Bald Ibis in the krantz opposite (unfortunately not in attendance). A pleasant enough spot, but watch out for the ever-present Vervet Monkeys, who can make off with both attended and unattended food in a flash!

Then on to Nyalazi Campsite

Found just 3kms from iMfolozi’s Nyalazi gate, the campsite was founded by Nunu Jobe, a poacher who became a leading conservationist and trails ranger – nicknamed the “Rhino Whisperer”. There are 8 sites in the camp, each with their own braai area, electrical connection and view of the park. Ablution facilities are excellent, and ice and firewood are available from camp management. NB: no Wi-Fi!

Our plan was to stay for 3 nights – but this was cut short by two events – me becoming struck down with masculus influenzus (man ‘flu●  ), and a very scary bushfire from communal land adjacent to the park and campsite. The whole camp needed to prepare for a swift departure in case we were overwhelmed by the conflagration – the wind had picked up and it was touch and go. However, after some back-burning and a change in wind direction, the fire burnt itself out and relief, not flames, spread throughout the camp.

With all this excitement plus the ‘flu factor, we decided to head back home to contemplate what was an exciting few days in Africa! Thanks to Nicky Forbes and KZN Bird Clubs for organising the special visit to Zimanga.