Midlands Meander

Ahhhh, just a few more days of my South Africa adventures to recollect! We left St. Lucia bright and early (actually, not bright at all, but very, very early) and made our way to the Dlinza Forest, a subtropical indigenous forest near the town of Eshowe and one of The Great Five Natural Forests in KwaZulu Natal. We walked a lovely trail through the forest, and made our way up to a 150 m long walkway built above the forest. A 20 m high tower allowed for dramatic views of the forest canopy and surrounding countryside. This forest is renowned for its biodiversity, hosting over 90 species of birds and 85 species of butterflies and some incredible trees.

I was a bit lazy with regards to taking photos, but I did manage to capture a few of my favorite moments. One of our target birds of the forest was the Spotted Ground Thrush. In fact, Trevor earned a bottle of wine for spotting this elusive bird (and luckily, he was willing to share!). The Spotted Ground Thrush is associated with subtropical forests where it spends much of its time scratching through the leaf litter on the forest floor in search of small invertebrates. It prefers forests with nearly complete canopy cover and deep leaf litter. These rare birds are skulking and shy and will freeze motionless when disturbed, making them quite difficult to spot as they are quite well-camouflaged! The Spotted Ground Thrush is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and deforestation is considered the largest contributor to this species decline.

Another elusive species we were quite excited to observe was the Blue Duiker. This tiny antelope is the smallest duiker and stands 13-16″ tail at the shoulder, with short, spiky horns that are a mere 2″ long. Blue Duikers are cautious and secretive and are typically confined to the fringes of forests, where they feed on fallen fruits, foliage, flowers, and pieces of bark.

We left Eshowe and made our way to the Hilton Bush Lodge for a lovely meal and a much-needed rest. We woke up to explore the “midlands” region in proximity to our new base, the Karmichael Farm in Heimvele. It was a cold and rainy morning, and the birds were quiet. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the beautiful Benvie Gardens in Karkloof. It took time for activity to begin, but out patience paid off! We spotted a pair of Knysna Turaco’s perched in the woods. Although these birds are inconspicuous among the treetops, they are absolutely unmistakeable once spotted. They have a white-tipped green crest and a strikingly patterned face – a beautiful line of white eyeliner beneath their eye, which contrasts sharply with their green plumage. In flight, their dramatically crimson feathers are revealed.

Speaking of fancy birds, our Benvie visit was followed by a cruise through some beautiful countryside, where we spotted our first Grey Crowned Cranes from a distance. These 3.3′ cranes have a 6.5′ wingspan and a fancy-feathered crown. Their black and white faces contrast with a red gular pouch that can be inflated. Fun fact: they are the national birds of Uganda and, unlike all but one other crane species, they can roost in trees due to a their prehensile hind toe which allows them to grasp branches.

We ended the day at the Impendle Nature Preserve, which lies in the foothills of the Drakenberg. We were unable to find out target bird, the Blue Swallow – a threatened species that occurs in the mist-belt grasslands of the midlands. We did, however, see a variety of birds including Common Quail, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Grassbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Pale-crowned Cisticola, a beautiful Black Harrier, and this lovely Malachite Sunbird sipping nectar from Natal Watsonia. And, finally, a Southern Reedbuck made an appearance!

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