St. Lucia trip report

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7 years 6 months ago #22897 by Dave Shedman
Dave Shedman created the topic: St. Lucia trip report
This is quite a long report so rather than intersperse it with photos I've decided to place all the photos at the end. That way, if you don't want to read a long, boring report but would rather look at the pretty pictures you can just scroll down! <!-- s:lol: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_lol.gif" alt=":lol:" title="Laughing" /><!-- s:lol: -->

iSimangaliso, the place of wonders.

Having arrived too late in the evening to do any birding, mainly thanks to the never ending roadworks on the N17 / N2, the dawning of our first full day in St. Lucia was filled with excitement at the prospect of all the new species we were going to see. So you can imagine how disappointing it was when the first bird we saw and heard was a Dark Capped Bulbul. We had driven 644km to get here and our first bird was “just a Bulbul”! However, the disappointment was short lived when shortly afterwards my attention was drawn to a noisy group of birds in the trees behind our holiday flat. Closer inspection revealed they were White Eared Barbets, our first lifer of the trip. By the end of the trip we were saying “just a White Eared Barbet” because we were seeing so many of them. That sighting was quickly followed by a Trumpeter Hornbill, a couple of Black Bellied Starlings and a group of about ten or so African Green Pigeons, all lifers for us. Four lifers before breakfast without walking more than a few steps from our front door was indeed a good start to the trip and probably set the pattern for the rest of our time there.

We had decided to spend our first day just exploring the immediate area around the village of St. Lucia and although our walk down to the town for breakfast produced nothing more exciting than a couple of male Thick Billed Weavers and more Black Bellied Starlings, things picked up when we took a drive to some of the local beaches in the afternoon. Our landlady suggested the Main Beach rather than Jabula Beach but she’s obviously not a birder! At the main beach we saw a couple of Southern Black Flycatchers and a few sparrows and that was it. However, as we drove past the parking area at Jabula Beach our attention was grabbed by numerous bee eaters swooping from the trees to hawk prey. We pulled in and got our cameras and bins into action and soon discovered they were Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters, our fifth lifer of the day. They offered us many good photo opportunities, though later in the trip we would get an even better sequence of photos of one of them. A small puddle was being used for drinking by a variety of small birds including Pin Tailed Whydah, Three Banded Plover, Cape Wagtail, African Pied Wagtail and what turned out to be our sixth lifer of day one, a Brimstone Canary. Later on, in town, I heard a Livingstone’s Lourie call from a tree right above my head and though I didn’t see it, a few minutes later a lourie with red underwings flew from a nearby tree into a position where I couldn’t see enough detail. I was sure it had to be Livingstone’s as we never even heard a Purple Crested Lourie during the whole trip, never mind seeing one. However, I wasn’t prepared to tick it yet as the bird I saw flew from a completely different location to where I heard the call.

For Tuesday morning we had booked a trip on one of the Hippo & Croc boat tours. The weather was cool, overcast and very windy so we were glad not to be out walking in the woods where birding would probably be difficult. Whilst waiting to board the boat we picked up Goliath Heron and some distant, all-white birds that were probably Little Egret (we did see these later) but too far away to be sure. First treat of the trip was when the skipper pulled the boat in alongside an African Fish Eagle sitting on an exposed branch. We had seen them before but never this close up and I got some reasonably good photos considering the poor lighting conditions. Then our first lifer of the day appeared as the skipper pointed out an African Marsh Harrier flying past the boat, shortly followed by lifer number two, a Caspian Tern. A lot of the “usual suspects” were seen including Egyptian and Spur Winged Goose, Grey Heron, White Faced Duck, Squacco Heron and Grey Headed Gull. The skipper then pulled us in alongside a female Giant Kingfisher sitting on a mangrove branch, lifer number three of the day. We got very close to this bird and I got some nice photos, again despite poor light. Hippos and Crocodiles were, of course, everywhere and we even saw the estuary’s most famous resident, a hippo named Vincent because his left ear is missing. That was one of the many non-birding treats of our trip. We also saw a male Bushbuck in amongst the mangrove trees just past where the kingfisher had been seen.
The return leg of the boat trip produced yet another lifer in the form of a Curlew Sandpiper flying slightly ahead of the boat. I didn’t manage to photograph it but we got good views with the bins. Afterwards, we drove down to the Ski Boat Club which is open to the public and has a viewing deck where you can watch hippos, crocs and birds in the estuary. Whilst photographing hippos I inadvertently snapped our next lifer which showed up when I looked at the photos on the laptop, a Water Dikkop on the shore of a small island. On the way there we had encountered a sight you rarely see in Gauteng – groups of workers filling in potholes! This meant we had to park and walk the final 600m to the club as the road was closed. After lunch, as we walked back to the car, we were surrounded by bird activity, despite the noise of the construction workers, and hardly knew where to look first. This was where we finally pinned down the ID of a bird who had been taunting us with its call ever since we arrived, a Yellow Rumped Tinkerbird. We heard these everywhere we went but were tearing out our hair trying to figure out what it was as we could never see them. The sun had come out by now so birding in the trees at the roadside was a bit easier. Fork Tailed Drongos were abundant here. I then found a little clearing that was brimming with bird activity so I walked in and stood still. At first there were just the usual White Eared Barbets and a solitary Black Collared Barbet but before long an Olive Sunbird came and sat about a metre way from me, offering me just the briefest photo opportunity before it flew off – another lifer. Back on the road I glimpsed what I thought may have been a Red Fronted Tinkerbird but it was flitting about and I couldn’t see it clearly. As I stood and waited to see if it would come back out into the open, a male Collared Sunbird came and landed directly in front of me, close enough for a good clear photo of our last lifer of the day. Two days into our trip and already fourteen lifers. Actually, although we didn’t know at the time, it was fifteen because a bird that was later ID’d on the forum turned out to be a Yellow Weaver.

What Wednesday lacked in quantity it made up for with quality. Only 15 species but 11 of them were lifers. We had taken a walk on the IGwalagwala trail on the previous afternoon but it was so late in the day we saw no birds, just a solitary Red Duiker making an appearance on behalf of wildlife. The sun was going down and we knew the hippos sometimes used the trail to come into town at night (there was plenty evidence they had been there!) so we cut our walk short. Wednesday morning we decided to do the trail early before driving up to Cape Vidal. Forest or woodland birding is very frustrating when they keep to the higher branches and we soon learnt patience is a prerequisite to success. We heard a thin, plaintive call coming from some vegetation at ground level and saw the leaves moving, so we stood and waited. The call would sometimes be so close we felt we could touch the bird but we had to wait more than ten minutes before it came out into the open. It was worth the wait though as we added Green Backed Cameroptera to our list of lifers for the trip. The rest of the birds we saw had to be ID’d later from photos and included Grey Sunbird and Yellow Bellied Greenbul, two more lifers. We met a couple coming the other way and they said they had just seen a Narina Trogon on a side-trail so we went straight to where they said, but no amount of tree-scanning and patient waiting could persuade it to appear again. So close and yet so far! We decided to continue on this path and it eventually led us to a road that led back into town. As we neared McKenzie street, Mariana spotted a small group of Crested Guineafowl, lifer number four for the day. As we walked over to photograph them another lifer appeared, this time a very colourful Chorister Robin Chat. We also photographed a black and white bird, hoping it might be a batis of some sort but closer inspection revealed it was a Puffback so not a lifer.

Returning to the flat, we picked up our packed lunch and set off for Cape Vidal. The first gravel loop you come to is the Pan Loop. When you reach the pan you’re instructed to stay in your car because there are hippos and crocodiles in the water. We were so busy photographing the small group of Woolly Necked Stork, our latest lifer, that it was only when we got the photos onto the computer screen that we saw the huge, grinning Nile Crocodile on the mud bank just in front of the storks. When they say stay in your car, they mean it! The next loop is called the Vlei Loop, though I think you’d win a prize for spotting any water. Our first lifer here was an unexpected one. A medium sized russet brown bid was flying in front of the car. Binocular inspection revealed it had some metallic green patches on its back. Eventually we were able to roll the car slowly forward until we were right alongside it, giving me some of my clearest and best bird photos of the trip. We noticed it had spots on the undertail, a white breast with spotted markings down each side and the aforementioned metallic green spots on the back. Checking with Roberts Multimedia when we got back to the flat revealed it was a juvenile Klaas’s Cuckoo, not a bird we had expected to see. As we rounded a bend later on we saw a kingfisher fly up from the roadside into a tree on the right. We pulled over and waited for it to reappear and it never did so we never found out what it was. However, as we waited we picked up both Dusky Flycatcher and Red Backed Mannikin, two more lifers.

The next gravel road we took led us to Catalina Bay where we observed a lone Saddle Billed Stork preening itself in the grassland below us. I had only seen this bird once before but it was over twenty years ago when I was over here on holiday from the UK and not into birding, so this was a lifer for us and a pretty special one considering it’s now an endangered species.

After lunch at Mission Rocks, observed by some very inquisitive Vervet Monkeys, we continued up the road to Cape Vidal, stopping to photograph the African Pipits that ran alongside the road and to do some scenery shots. We also observed a Fish Eagle flying overhead. Cape Vidal itself, though beautiful, provided only one bird species, a small group of Grey Headed Gulls. Though not a lifer, it did give me the opportunity to get some great photos of this bird both on the ground and in flight. As is often the case with birds, they saved the best until last. Just south of Cape Vidal we saw a bird sitting on a telephone pole. As we got closer it was unmistakably a raptor so I pulled over and thankfully it obligingly posed on top of the pole for me, before flying to a nearby tree as I tried to move behind it to get shots of its back markings for identification. We didn’t realize at the time what a special sighting this was, other than getting so close to a raptor in the wild, and it was only when I submitted my photos to the ID forum that it was confirmed as a Southern Banded Snake Eagle. I didn’t realize how special it was until I discovered that some of you guys with huge lifelists don’t have this one yet! Other birds that put in an appearance that day were Black Headed Heron, African Jacana, Wattled Plover and about a million Stonechats.

Thursday started badly, having decided to do the Iphiva Trail. We got to the Iphiva campsite to find it deserted, padlocked and chained, either closed down for the winter or permanently (I suspect the latter). So we set out on the trail, having consulted the crudely painted map on a signboard by the start. It quickly became confusing as there were many footpaths criss-crossing with nothing in the way of signs. We eventually found a post with an arrow pointing in the direction of a rest bench. We followed it through the trees but no bench was found and when we got out of the trees the trail just petered out and we found ourselves in the middle of a patch of grassland with no discernible path or trail. We also found ourselves staring at a group of about six buffalo a couple of hundred metres ahead of us! We decided a slow and dignified retreat was in order and eventually found our way back to the deserted campsite and decided to give it up as a total loss. Consulting the map again, we found the point where the trail ends on the other side of the road and it looked pretty overgrown. During our time on the ‘trail’ we had seen nothing more than a Red Eyed Dove, a Bulbul and something that might have been a raptor.

We headed over to the Crocodile Centre and started one of the trails that begins there. This trail was well enough marked but sadly devoid of much birdlife. Our total for about an hour or so walking the trail was a Paradise Flycatcher, a couple of Fork Tailed Drongos and the inevitable Bulbul. So we decided to drive back up to Cape Vidal and do the two loops we hadn’t managed the previous day, which proved to be a wise choice. At the Croc Centre car park we saw and photographed a group of Red Billed Hornbills. Not a lifer but we had never seen them this close or photographed them. Things were looking up. Then we got home and I posted the trip report and Gordon pointed out they were actually Crowned Hornbills, giving us yet another lifer and requiring minor editing of this report. We somehow managed to miss the entrance to the Dune Loop (probably too busy looking at birds) so we ended up doing the Grassland Loop and here the lifers began!

In the trees as you enter the loop we found lifer number one for the day, a very obliging Red Capped Robin Chat that allowed me some fairly good photos. On a short narrow section we stopped to look at some LBJ’s in a field when Mariana saw a large dark coloured bird flying into a tree across the field on the opposite side of the road. It was well hidden in a gnarled old tree but she could see it well enough through her bins to determine it was a Long Crested Eagle, though we couldn’t get a good photo of it. Lifer number two for the day. And it didn’t stop there. Just around the next bend we caught our first ever glimpse of a Little Bee Eater. I managed to get some photos but it was quite a distance away so they’re identifiable but not great. The rest of the loop produced only one other bird of note, our fourth lifer of the day, a Cloud Cisticola perching on a stem of grass that was swaying wildly in the wind. Heading back to St. Lucia for lunch, I hit the brakes and pulled over without warning, though luckily no-one was behind us (could have done with one of Mossie’s bumper stickers!). There, perched on a telephone pole, was a Brown Snake Eagle, yet another lifer. He wasn’t as obliging as the previous day’s Southern Banded Snake Eagle but did allow me three good photos before he flew off.

After lunch, being our last day we decided to have one more walk round the IGwalagwala Trail. It was probably too late in the day for good birding but we did have a couple of successes. We eventually got a good enough sighting of Livingstone’s Lourie, which we always heard calling on the trail but never near to where we were. This one was in a high branch and though not well lit, we could see that the crest was pointed and not rounded, ruling out Purple Crested. The red underwings as it flew off after a few seconds would also have been enough for a tick but it very kindly called from the tree it landed in, though we couldn’t see it. Not a great sighting but enough for the tick. In a shady clearing we got good close views of an African Dusky Flycatcher hawking from what was evidently its favourite perch, so that was another lifer for us (at this point we hadn’t yet ID’d the flycatchers seen the previous day). Other than that, it was fairly quiet on the trail so we sat down for a breather, just to see who might drop by. Being our last birding outing, I jokingly said “Come on, give us just one more lifer to finish with”. Well, the gods of birding must have been listening because shortly after I said it we saw a bird fly up into a shady tree about 10m ahead of us. I saw a flash of orange on the outer wings as it flew up and we immediately saw it was a dove of some description. Being too dark and too far away to photograph, we both looked through our bins and confirmed the ID (it called too, which helped!) as Tambourine Dove, our last lifer of the trip. Back at the flat we saw a Green Woodhoopoe sharing a branch with yet another White Eared Barbet and that (the Woodhoopoe) was the last bird to enter our species list for the trip, though not a lifer.

So, we had spent four days in St. Lucia and about 3½ of those actually birding and amassed a total of 68 species, 35 of which were lifers. Normally one might regard 68 as a poor species count for 4 days but when half of them are lifers you certainly don’t complain. There were disappointments such as missing the Narina Trogon and Purple Crested Lourie and seeing not a single pelican or flamingo, but these were more than made up for by things like the Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Saddle Billed Stork. Ultimately, time was against us and four days really just wasn’t enough to do this area justice. The IGwalagwala trail alone needs to be walked several times to get the best out of it. Still, it’s a good excuse to go back!

The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park was renamed in 2007 to iSimangaliso, which is Zulu for “place of wonders” or “place of miracles”. No miracles perhaps, but many wondrous bird sightings and definitely a place we’ll return to again and again.

Full species list, lifers in red.

Dark Capped Bulbul
Trumpeter Hornbill
White Eared Barbet
African Green Pigeon

Hadeda
Black Bellied Starling
House Sparrow
African Pied Wagtail
Southern Black Flycatcher
Blue Cheeked Bee Eater
Cape Wagtail
Three Banded Plover
Pin Tailed Whydah
Thick Billed Weaver
Goliath Heron
African Marsh Harrier
African Fish Eagle
Caspian Tern
Little Egret
Grey Headed Gull
Squacco Heron
African Pipit
Egyptian Goose
Spur Winged Goose
Grey Heron
White Faced Duck
Giant Kingfisher
Curlew Sandpiper

Blacksmith Plover
Fork Tailed Drongo
African Sacred Ibis
Collared Sunbird
Olive Sunbird

Black Collared Barbet
Yellow Rumped Tinkerbird
Water Dikkop
Crested Guineafowl
Chorister Robin Chat
Green Backed Cameroptera
Woolly Necked Stork

African Jacana
African Wattled Plover
Stonechat
Red Backed Mannikin
Black Headed Heron
Saddle Billed Stork
African Paradise Flycatcher
Crowned Hornbill
Long Crested Eagle
Little Bee Eater
Red Capped Robin Chat
Brown Snake Eagle
Tambourine Dove
African Dusky Flycatcher

Green (Red Billed) Woodhoopoe
Livingstone’s Lourie
Burchell’s Coucal
Red Eyed Dove
Brown Hooded Kingfisher
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Common Fiscal
Cloud Cisticola
Brimstone Canary
Southern Banded Snake Eagle
Senegal Lapwing
Yellow Weaver
Yellow Bellied Greenbul
Grey Sunbird


African Fish Eagle



African Pied Wagtail



Black Bellied Starling



Brown Snake Eagle



Collared Sunbird



Eastern Olive Sunbird



Giant Kingfisher



Grey Headed Gull







Klaas's Cuckoo (juvenile)



Red Capped Robin Chat



Saddle Billed Stork



Southern Banded Snake Eagle





Southern Black Flycatcher



Crowned Hornbill



Trumpeter Hornbill



White Eared Barbet



Yellow Rumped Tinkerbird

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  • JGB
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7 years 6 months ago #22920 by JGB
JGB replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report
Sounds as if it was a very succesful trip.

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7 years 6 months ago #22925 by gordon
gordon replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report
Hi Dave,

Very successful trip and lovely photo's!

Thanks for sharing these!!!

Just a note, your Red-billed Hornbill is a Crowned Hornbill.

Cheers,
Gordon

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7 years 6 months ago #22943 by wernher
wernher replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report
Great trip report, thanks, and congratulations on all those lifers!

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7 years 6 months ago #22952 by Dave Shedman
Dave Shedman replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report

Gordon wrote:
Just a note, your Red-billed Hornbill is a Crowned Hornbill.

Cheers,
Gordon


<!-- s:oops: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_redface.gif" alt=":oops:" title="Embarassed" /><!-- s:oops: --> <!-- s:oops: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_redface.gif" alt=":oops:" title="Embarassed" /><!-- s:oops: --> <!-- s:oops: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_redface.gif" alt=":oops:" title="Embarassed" /><!-- s:oops: --> <!-- s:oops: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_redface.gif" alt=":oops:" title="Embarassed" /><!-- s:oops: --> <!-- s:oops: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_redface.gif" alt=":oops:" title="Embarassed" /><!-- s:oops: --> <!-- s:oops: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_redface.gif" alt=":oops:" title="Embarassed" /><!-- s:oops: -->

OK, this is one time I don't mind being embarrased! We just assumed they were Red Billed Hornbill because they were hornbills and they had red bills, never bothered to look them up. So that means 35 lifers out of 68 species, in other words 51.47% of the species we saw were lifers. I don't think we'll have as successful a trip as this in a long time, if ever again! Guess I'd best go and amend the report and species list. Thanks Gordon.

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7 years 6 months ago #22954 by Duncan
Duncan replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report
<!-- s:banghead: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/banghead.gif" alt=":banghead:" title="Frustration" /><!-- s:banghead: --> Ah my nemisis tambourine dove heard them many a time but never seen one. That makes it 3 on your list that i am still looking for.

Sounds like you had a wonderful time and I enjoyed reading your report.

Duncan

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7 years 6 months ago #22965 by Dave Shedman
Dave Shedman replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report

Duncan wrote: :banghead: Ah my nemisis tambourine dove heard them many a time but never seen one. That makes it 3 on your list that i am still looking for.

Sounds like you had a wonderful time and I enjoyed reading your report.

Duncan


So it's the Southern Banded Snake Eagle and the Tambourine Dove - what's number 3?

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7 years 6 months ago #23007 by Duncan
Duncan replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report
The Senegal Lapwing. Looked for it in Mkuze in January but had no luck. I always find it rather strange that there are three very common Lapwings (at least in Gauteng there are) and yet the other Southern African species are all scarce or rare.

Duncan

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7 years 6 months ago #23035 by Dave Shedman
Dave Shedman replied the topic: Re: St. Lucia trip report
All three were pure luck, Duncan. If Mariana hadn't spotted the Long Crested Eagle we probably wouldn't have stayed as long in that spot as we did and more than likely would have driven past the Senegal Lapwings without noticing them. I couldn't see the eagle too well from the driver's side so I scanned the fields further ahead and saw those two in the distance. I didn't know what they were so I tried to get a pic just to help with ID later. Same thing with the Tambourine Dove. We were on our way back to the flat to start packing for the trip home and decided just to sit and wait for a few minutes to see if any birds would appear. It was just the briefest glimpse, it probably only sat in the tree for about 30 seconds or maybe a minute, then disappeared back into the gloom. If I hadn't noticed the orangey colour on its wings (the books describe it as cinnamon) as it flew up from the ground we might not have seen it at all. Right place, right time once again.

If it's any consolation, you have 244 birds on your list that we don't have on ours!

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