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December 3, 2014

iSimangaliso – nature’s aviary

iSimangaliso Wetland Park world heritage site is arguably one of the most diverse natural areas on the planet, with eight inter-linking ecosystems encompassing mountains, savannah, grasslands, wetlands, lakes, coral reefs, rocky shores and dune forests – creating habitats for 526 recorded bird species.
“That’s way more than most countries including Germany, Japan and New Zealand, and practically double that of the entire United Kingdom (266),” chirps Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso CEO. “Of these, at least 420 species occur just in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso which is internationally acclaimed as a first class birding hot spot.”

iSimangaliso hosts hundreds of bird species, including a spectacular array of water fowl.
Last weekend, the 30th annual Birding Big Day (BBD 2014) took place on Saturday 29th November 2014, with twitching teams all over the country getting into the spirit and trying to reach or better the record number of birds to be seen in one 24-hour period, in their chosen range. Entrants had to select a maximum radius of 50km from their central point within which to spot their avian subjects. With iSimangaliso providing such fertile bird territory, it was a natural fit for the Park’s two official team entries.
With the centre point at the N2 Hluhluwe offramp, team ‘iSimangaliso’s Ntshivovos’ made great use of most of the world heritage sites’ eight interlinking eco-systems.

In 2012, the team led by renowned local birder Duncan Pritchard made it to 297 species in the 24-hour birding marathon, attaining third place nationally, only 12 birds behind the winning count of 309. This year’s teams found the going slightly tougher but still picked up excellent counts of 262 and 273 respectively – of the 488 possible species to be found within the 50km radius chosen by them. Results are submitted to the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) so that an accurate count of South Africa’s species can be maintained. Team ‘iSimangaliso’s Ntshivovos’ (the Zulu name for the red-faced mouse bird) included estuarine ecologist Nicolette Forbes and biologist Professor Ticky Forbes, and freelance nature guide Themba Mthembu who runs his own bird guiding company dedicated birding trips in the park.

Themba Mthembu and Professor Ticky Forbes of team ‘iSimangaliso Ntshivovos’ getting stuck into some fruitful bird-spotting in the Ozabeni area of the Park.
Team ‘iSimangaliso’s Ntshivovos’ (A Malkoha is a family of birds, of which the Green Malkoha is a Zululand / East Coast special) was made up of Dominic Rollinson, Patrick Rollinson, Andre Bernon and Ben Baxter – boasting an impressive combination of decades of birding and ornithological knowledge with South African lists of over 800 species (that’s almost all of them).
iSimangaliso Marketing and Brand manager Lindy Duffield, who handled most of the logistics for the teams, said “Not only is it a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of the Park and generate even more interest in the world heritage site as a birding destination, it is an opportunity to expose our community guides to new areas of the park and encourage their involvement in such a competition and of course, we always hope to add to our species list. What was exceptionally evident was that above all this is a fun day when professional and novice birders dotted all over the park at key birding sites, all seem to be in their element and for me my senses were heightened and I too have become a new convert to the amazing world of birding!”
Dominic Rollinson, issuing regular social media updates on their progress, includes highlights from his trip as “the dawn chorus at kuMasinga Hide, which was as impressive as usual, and generally excellent birding, but our best sighting at uMkhuze was an aardvark! (Never mind the ‘Big 5’, wild dog and cheetah that one could encounter there – aardvark are incredibly rare and elusive in this part of the world and the sighting has caused huge excitement for Park visitors.)
“Unusual avian highlights included Lesser spotted eagle, African black oystercatcher, Grey-headed kingfisher and Red-headed weaver which are all rare in the area. We encountered many of the East Coast ‘Specials’ for which iSimangaliso is well known such as Swamp nightjar, Lemon-breasted canary, Green malkoha, Woodward’s batis, Pink-throated and Green twinspots and Southern banded Snake-Eagle.
Nicolette Forbes also listed the dawn chorus as “something every birder should experience at least once”. Her comments waxed lyrical about the musicality of being in the bush from being “serenaded by a Red-chested cuckoo in plain view, and the evocative calls of spotted hyena” to “ending with a Swamp nightjar symphony in the Eastern Shores”. One of her favourite bird sightings was a European honey buzzard. She added that “Themba Mthembu’s experience with the park and his knowledge of bird calls made it possible to achieve our total for the day”.
More on the iSimangaliso team members
Nicolette and Professor Ticky Forbes own the company ‘Marine and Estuarine Research’. Nicolette is the appointed consultant in charge of iSimangaliso’s Lake St Lucia GEF project. Both have birded extensively in numerous international destinations for decades and have very good knowledge of the Park.
Themba Mthembu owns ‘Themba’s Zululand Birding’ and is a very well known freelance bird guide & expert offering a professional service to national and international guests visiting the iSimangaliso area. He received training as a nature guide and developing entrepreneur in iSimangaliso. Themba also facilitates nature conservation training for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
Dominic Rollinson is studying Ornithology at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at UCT. He is doing his PhD on seabird bycatch in the tuna longline fishery off southern Africa, where thousands of seabirds, especially albatrosses, are hooked and killed each year.
Patrick Rollinson is studying as an engineer at UCT. He has been interested in birding since he was a young boy and holds the record of being the youngest birder to reach 800 species in southern Africa, which he achieved when he was 16 years old.
Andre Bernon is a ranger at Mavela Lodge in the Zululand Rhino Reserve, with a special interest in birding. His incredible eye-sight has picked up many rare species over the years.
Ben Baxter is a manager at RBM in Richards Bay. He recently returned from Madagascar and has many years of birding experience both in southern Africa and further afield. He is an active member of Birdlife Zululand based in Richard’s Bay, and leads many of the birding outings for the club.
Support teams consisted of Paul Rollinson and Rusty Lupton, both keen birders and members of BirdLife Zululand, as well as iSimangaliso’s Information Officer Thandi Shabalala and Marketing and Brand Manager Lindy Duffield, whose knowledge of the Park and the road networks was of great advantage.
“Even if you are not in the competitive league of birding, iSimangaliso is rewarding to anybody interested in our feathered friends. A team of ladies from the social Mtubatuba Bird Club decided to do a shorter version of BBD 2014 during Saturday’s daylight hours only and racked up a substantial 104 species in the Lake St Lucia Estuary, Western Shores and Eastern Shores. Club chairperson and iSimangaliso Office Manager, Ingelore Taylor, was particularly thrilled with their sighting of a Martial eagle. It’s phenomenal how diverse the area is – we are living in a natural aviary!” says Lindy

One of the completely rebuilt bird hides at uMkhuze’s iNsumo Pan.
uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso
• Incorporating the Lebombo mountains, bushveld and iNsumo Pan system, bounded by the uMkhuze River
• The only known nesting site of Great white pelicans in Southern Africa
• Specials include: Eastern nicator, Narina trogon, both twinspots, African broadbill, African barred owlet, Yellow-billed stork, egrets, ducks, geese, flamingos, herons
• New bird hides at iNsumo Pan as well as kuMasinga Hide; Fig Forest Aerial Boardwalk; Muzi Pan (canoe trips)

The uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk on the Western Shores looks over the Lake St Lucia narrows.
Western Shores section of iSimangaliso
• Drier and higher than Eastern Shores
• Specials include: Narina trogon, Rosy-throated long claw, Chestnut banded plovers
• eMgadankawu Hide, Kwelamadoda Pan, Kwelezintombi Pan, uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk

The Mfazana Hide on the Eastern Shores overlooks a lovely pan, favoured by jacanas, ducks and egrets.
Eastern Shores of iSimangaliso
• High rainfall area – dune seepage, fresh water pans, swamp forest, grasslands etc
• Specials include: Wood owl, Eagle owl, Martial eagle, Livingstone’s turaco, Green pigeon, Dwarf bittern, Southern banded snake eagle, Saddle-billed stork, Woolly-necked stork
• Amazibu Hide, Mfazana Hide, Lake Bhangazi Outlook, Mission Rocks and Cape Vidal
Lake St Lucia and Estuary mouth, beaches and Maphelane sections of iSimangaliso

A boat cruise on Lake St Lucia Estuary brings visitors up close and personal to numerous water birds.
• Estuarine system – salt and fresh mix
• Specials and common: Pelicans, terns, fish eagles, flamingos, herons
• Estuary Boardwalk and self-guided Igwalagwala Trail are very rewarding, and the estuary boat cruise is a definite must
In order to book a guided birding walk in iSimangaliso with Themba Mthembu, contact him on 071 4133243.
For more information on the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube, or visit our website at Media enquiries should be directed to Media Officer Siyabonga Mhlongo at or on 084 382 0884.
Newsflash No.: 2014.12.03

Category: Blog

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