Monday, 4 February 2013

Nibela Peninsula, Mpempe Pan and Themba Mthembu

Rosy-throated Longclaw
Saturday 2nd Feb heralded in another early start for us. Respecting the local king's edict that birders either get permission or be accompanied by a guide before venturing onto the floodplains of the Nibela Peninsula, we were joined by Birdlife Guide Themba Mthembu. Themba's uncle happens to be the king which didn't hurt either..

As far as guides go Themba ranks first. Having grown up on the fringes of the Nibela floodplain his knowledge is second to few. It wasn't long before we'd logged good views of Lesser Jacana, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Bar-tailed Godwit, Slaty Egret, Caspian Tern, Great White & Pink-backed Pelican, Pink-throated Twinspot and others.

The biggest surprise was an Eurasian Bittern we flushed whilst wading / stumbling through meter-deep water just as Livingstone might have done before inadvertently bumping into Stanley in a phragmites-induced bumble. Sometimes it's just dumb luck rather than anything else. Even so, whilst we'd seen E. Bittern in the sub-region before, the memory of this particular bird is the abiding one.

Lesser Jacana (Mpempe Pan bird)
By 9am. the humidity and the Elephant-coast's infamous furnace-like heat had us drawing deeply from the water-bottles at a rate almost as fast as we were perspiring. Sunburn't & parched and not visually too dissimilar from a bowl of good quality sun-dried tomatoes, we called time on Themba's seemingly endless forays into the knee-deep black-mud morass.

Great White Pelican
Caspian Tern
Up above 200+ Great White Pelicans soared in synchronised grace. Caspian Terns stylishly danced the gangnam. Legions of egret, heron & stork marched the floodplain in search of tasty morsels. There is much to be said for this place...

Pectoral Sandpiper
Yellow Wagtail spp M.f.lutea - uncommon as far as Y. Wagtails go in the sub-region

Mpempe Pan was our second stop of the day. Finding the pan after Themba's 'shortcut' was akin to finding a parsimonious politician at the eat-all-you-can-possibly-stuff-in-your-pant's pocket buffet; a pleasant surprise! We were somewhere in the middle of the pan before we knew we were on the pan which sounds almost as ridiculous as we felt. Compounding the absurd we stopped to ask some locals, tending cattle on the pan, for directions..

We racked up the species for our 800 Challenge. Some of the more memorable finds included Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Western Yellow Wagtail, Common Ringed Plover, Caspian Plover and Lesser Spotted Eagle. African Marsh Harrier, Senegal Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and Rufous-winged Cisticola were a credible supporting cast. The recently reported P.G. Plover was conspicuously absent, sadly.

Themba had earned his crust and then some. I cannot stress the competence of this Birdlife-trained guide whose gentle nature and dedication to his trade, even in the noon-day sun, spoke volumes for his character.

It is a great pity that more is not forthcoming, commercially, for these professionals of the trade.

We let Themba off early near Nibela en route our base at Dumazulu for some well-deserved R&R... which in itself was an absurdity given the sand forest 'out-back' behind the lodge. Here we spent the hottest hours of the afternoon in pursuit of Grey Sunbird, African Broadbill, Purple-banded & Neergaard's Sunbird. We dipped on both the Neergaard's and the Broadbill.

By 5pm we'd left the sand forests of False Bay for St Lucia in hope of finding the resident Sooty Tern. Getting to the tern roost near the Umfolozi River mouth proved impossible and since we didn't have a scope, our efforts were in vain. Even so, we spent an idyllic few hours enjoying the sunset in the company of Little, Caspian, Swift, Common and Lesser Crested Tern. Both sp. of pelican were present in numbers. Also present in fair numbers were Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper and Pied Avocet.

Late evening - St Lucia / Umfolozi River mouth
Swift Tern - coming into roost

Acrobatics to sign off another hard day out to sea
Little Tern - present in numbers and a favourite
We closed off the weekend with a relaxed early morning session at St Lucia's Gwalagwala. A fitting end to an eventful, fruitful and thoroughly exhausting weekend's birding. Total for the year to date 443. 
White-eared Barbet - returned 15 times with morsels for the chick in the 20 minutes we watched them.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks Mark for recognising my unmolested efforts to share withr you guys these glorified reptiles. I really appreciate't! Thank you.Themba