Category Archives: Kwazulu Natal Province

Our experiences in the reserves of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

Our 2022 in pictures

Join us for a look back at the wonderfully wild South African destinations we visited during 2022. May 2023 be a blessed year for you and your family, memorable for all the best reasons.

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A rainy day spent on the Western Shores of Lake Saint Lucia

The Western Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was opened to visitors a lot more recently than most other parts of the Park, and in many ways it is still being rehabilitated to its natural state – in fact there are still several exotic eucalyptus plantations in this area that still need to be harvested.

Just about 2km outside of St. Lucia town, on the main road to Mtubatuba, visitors will find the Dukuduku Gate providing quick and easy access to this interesting area. Unfortunately during our visit early in November Charter’s Creek was off limits due to flooding, but there’s other very rewarding areas where visitors can stretch their legs at: uBhejane Picnic Spot, kuMgandankawu Hide and uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk. The road network, while still rather limited, provides access to various interesting habitats and the birds and animals that find refuge there.

If you are interested in visiting St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, remember that De WetsWild can assist you with reservations in the Eden Park and Sugarloaf Campsites in town or at wonderful Cape Vidal set on the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Shores section of the Park.

Southern Banded Snake Eagle

Circaetus fasciolatus

The Southern Banded Snake Eagle inhabits coastal forests and their edges where they feed primarily on reptiles, including venomous snakes, and amphibians. They will also venture into commercial timber plantations that replaced their native forest habitat over much of their local range.

Monogamous and territorial, pairs of Southern Banded Snake Eagles construct their stick-platform nests in the canopies of tall indigenous or plantation trees and usually use these for several consecutive breeding seasons. The female lays a single egg in spring and takes most of the responsibility for its incubation over a 7 week period and for caring for the chick at the nest for its first few weeks after hatching, while the male does most of the hunting to provide food for the female and chick. Fully grown they measure about 58cm long, boast a wingspan of around 1.25m and weigh approximately 1kg.

With a very low density population, estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 spreading over a distribution stretching along Africa’s Indian Ocean coast from southern Somalia to the northern corner of Kwazulu-Natal Province in South Africa, the IUCN considers the Southern Banded Snake Eagle to be near-threatened. Most of their very small local population, probably numbering well below 100 individuals and considered vulnerable, is found in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

 

Tailor Ants

Oecophylla longinoda

Tailor Ants, or Weaver Ants, naturally inhabit humid forests, which limits their South African distribution to the northern coast of Kwazulu-Natal (where their unique nests are a common sight in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park). Beyond our borders they’re distributed throughout Africa’s equatorial regions.

A single colony of Tailor Ants usually have several nests within their territory, which they fiercely defend by injecting formic acid when biting assailants, be they other ants, birds or animals and even humans. These nests are constructed using silk produced by the larval ants to bind together living leaves. In one nest the queen, which produces about a hundred eggs per day, lives, while the other nests are used by the workers (which measure up to 11mm in length) to care for the young ants or – fascinatingly! – farm with scale insects. The ants subsist on the honeydew these scale insects secrete as well as on other insects they hunt in the trees or on the ground.

Green Malkoha

Ceuthmochares australis

Another very rarely seen bird with a limited distribution in South Africa – only found here along the coast of Kwazulu-Natal – and one that I saw for the first time on my recent trip to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park with my younger brother, is the Green Malkoha (also known as the Green Coucal or Whistling Yellowbill).

The Green Malkoha is a bird of coastal forest habitats and a member of the cuckoo-family. It feeds on a wide range of small vertebrates (with a special fondness for tree-living frogs) and insects, and also a limited selection of fruits. They are usually seen singly or in pairs, preferring to creep through the thick vegetation like a rodent rather than flying.

Green Malkohas form monogamous pairs in the spring breeding season, building rather flimsy platform nests in dense thicket on which clutches of 2-4 eggs are laid – rather unusual in the cuckoo-family, where most species are brood parasites. Aside from the fact that both parents take care of the young after they’ve hatched little else is known of this species’ breeding habits. Fully grown, Green Malkohas weigh about 70g and measure 33cm in length.

The IUCN considers the Green Malkoha to be of Least Concern. Beyond its limited South African occurrence it can be found along the Indian Ocean seaboard and adjacent interior as far north as southern Somalia, with an isolated population on the Ethiopian Highlands.

Subantarctic Fur Seal at Cape Vidal

Arctocephalus tropicalis

The Subantarctic Fur Seal is a sea living mammal that usually occurs in the chilly waters of the southern Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Finding one on the much more tropical beach at Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on South Africa’s north-eastern coast, thousands of kilometers from where it belongs, was therefore a very unexpected surprise! Why and how exactly some seals roam so widely outside their usual range still is not really understood, but vagrants of this species has been recorded in South Africa before and even as far north as the Tanzanian coast. When we first noticed this individual it was lying far up the beach, trying its best to stay out of a strong wind, but I later noticed it enjoying the swell at the incoming tide. While to my opinion our visitor looked in good, energetic health I did alert the Park authorities as soon as I had connectivity again just in case they wanted to have a look themselves, as these long distance swimmers are often very tired and underfed by the time they reach our shore and are then looked after at a specialised rehabilitation centre until they can be shipped back to their natural homes.

Subantarctic Fur Seals live and breed around and on tiny islands just north of the Antarctic Polar Front at roughly 60°S latitude, including the South African territory of the Prince Edward islands. Fully grown males, at 1.8m long and 160kg in weight, is much larger than the females, which weigh only about 50kg. They feed mainly on fish and squid. Pups are born in the southern summer (most of them in December). It is estimated that they can live to 25 years of age in the wild.

With a population estimated at around 200,000 adults and considered to be stable, the IUCN lists the Subantarctic Fur Seal as being of least concern. This is a wonderful improvement as they were extensively hunted for their pelts in the 1800’s.

 

Spring on Lake Saint Lucia’s Eastern Shores

While visiting the town of St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park at the end of October and into early November, my brother and I set aside three days for visiting Cape Vidal and the Eastern Shores section of the Park – an area that absolutely overflows with natural beauty!

A very easy-driving tar road leads directly from the Bhangazi Gate on the outskirts of town to Cape Vidal and offers wonderful opportunities for close encounters with a wide variety of wildlife.

Don’t miss the turnoffs for the Pan Loop and then the Vlei Loop shortly after entering!

The short cul-de-sac leading to the iZindondo Pan always has something interesting on offer

Cape Vidal’s lovely setting in the dune forest is always enchanting…

and I am yet to be convinced that there is a beach more beautiful in all of South Africa!

Finding a Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal on the beach at Cape Vidal was an enormous surprise – more about that in the next installment of DeWetsWild!

Male Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal on the shore at Cape Vidal after a heavy storm

The Grassland Loop is an excellent alternative to a large stretch of the main road when heading south again towards Saint Lucia town

Don’t think that taking the short Forest Loop leading to the hides at kuMfazana Pan is going to be a quick detour – the butterflies alone will keep you entertained for a long time!

I sincerely hope this quick overview gives you a sense of all that the Eastern Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park has to offer! If you are interested in visiting St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, remember that De WetsWild can assist you with reservations in the Eden Park and Sugarloaf Campsites in town or at wonderful Cape Vidal set on the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Shores section of the Park.

Map of the eastern shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (from https://isimangaliso.com/)

St. Lucia’s Game Park Trails

Just a little to the north of the town of St. Lucia, right at the Crocodile Centre and the Bhangazi Gate into the Eastern Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is a small game reserve where visitors are allowed to walk and cycle unguided and at own risk – hippos and leopards count among the game park’s inhabitants after all. Hikers have a choice of trails, several kilometers in extent, that lead through and along most of the important habitats that are found in the greater Park – swamps and marshes, grasslands, woodland and forests. I packed in a couple of hikes through St. Lucia’s Game Park while visiting the town at the end of October and into early November and, as you can tell from these pictures, I was not disappointed!

If you are interested in visiting St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, remember that De WetsWild can assist you with reservations in the Eden Park and Sugarloaf Campsites in town or at wonderful Cape Vidal set on the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Shores section of the Park.

St. Lucia’s Igwalagwala Trail

One of the things that make the holiday town of St. Lucia in South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal Province so popular is the fact that it is entirely surrounded by the wild iSimangaliso Wetland Park and thus inhabited by an amazing variety of wildlife – even more dangerous kinds like hippos and leopards. On the southern edge of the town is a large pocket of indigenous swamp forest through which the Igwalagwala Trail (actually a network of trails) winds its way. Walking through the forest, marveling at the trees and the bushes and the blooms and the berries and the birds and the bucks and the bugs and the butterflies as you go, will really be one of the highlights of your visit to this special corner of our country.

As you can imagine the forest abounds with various kinds of creatures – some easy to see and others expert at hiding. The calls of birds fill the air as you walk – Igwalagwala is the isiZulu name for the turacos, of which two kinds (the purple-crested and Livingstone’s) can be seen and heard here.

While you are welcome to walk the Igwalagwala Trail by yourself and unguided (during daylight!) – and that certainly is a wonderful experience – if you really want the forest to “open up” for you then you absolutely must take a hike through Igwalagwala with expert birding guide Ian Ferreira of St. Lucia Birding Tours.

If it wasn’t for Ian’s expert knowledge of their habits and haunts and his skill at imitating their calls I would never have been able to photograph the rarely seen Buff-spotted Flufftail, about which I will tell you more in the next installment of DeWetsWild.

If you are interested in visiting St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, remember that De WetsWild can assist you with reservations in the Eden Park and Sugarloaf Campsites in town or at wonderful Cape Vidal set on the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Shores section of the Park. We’ll also gladly help you arrange a walk with expert St. Lucia-based birding guide Ian Ferreira, and as soon as we start offering guided tours to the area you can be sure we’ll include an excursion with Ian in the itinerary.

Another breakaway to iSimangaliso

If you thought I was a little quiet over the past week-and-a-bit, you’d be right, as I disappeared into the wonderful iSimangaliso Wetland Park again, this time along with my younger brother. We were based in the holiday town of St. Lucia from where we made excursions into the surrounding sections of the park, and had a wonderful time, collecting lots of pictures to share with you in the weeks to come – this is just a little teaser.