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Birding Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary-Swaziland- August 2013
"Don't disturb the animals" the sign says- good advice
Listing birds for SABAP2
Winter is not the ideal time to find and list a large number of birds in Southern Africa because many of our summer visitors have left for warmer climates. Fortunately many birds overwinter and especially in the more temperate areas like the Swaziland Lowveldt. Being involved in the Southern African Bird Atlasing Program (SABAP2), it has become important to draw up a bird list in any area we visit. This information is then sent to the program co-coordinators in Cape Town where it becomes part of the data base for bird distribution and movement in this part of the world.
It was on a cool winter morning that we were privileged to have some time to visit the small but beautiful Wildlife Sanctuary situated between Mbabane and Manzini, along the Ezulwini Tourist Route in the landlocked country of Swaziland which borders on South Africa and Mozambique. This is the oldest Game Reserve in Swaziland and was started in 1960. Only 4,560 hectares in size, it is conveniently situated close to the largest urban areas in Swaziland and so enjoys visits from a large number of tourists who come to Swaziland. It also provides educational opportunities for the many schools in this area.
Because it does not have any of the dangerous big five, it is ideal for those who like to cycle, hike or ride horses amongst the game that is present. This includes herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala and Nyala. Hippos and Crocodiles are present in the rivers and dams and hikers need to keep a wary lookout and not get too near the water’s edge. Warthog always amuse as they run along with their tails in the air looking like an aerial. The Sanctuary has stables where horses can be hired and also provides for bicycles to be rented and guides to accompany hikers and riders.
Our visit, however, was focused on the birdlife and specifically to list as many species as we could find in the couple of hours we had at our disposal. As we approached the Reserve we started by listing Cattle Egrets that gathered in large flocks around the cattle in the rural areas nearby. This area also fell within the “pentach” a 5x5 minutes area on the Southern African map. (about 2x2 kilometers square)
At the entry gate we showed our Wild Card which gives us entry into any of the South African and Swaziland National Parks. Here, flitting amongst the Aloes that bloom in winter, we identified and listed Amethyst Sunbird and Cape Starling. The drive from the gate to the camp saw us add the colorful White-fronted Bee-eaters to our list. This is a real treat for someone coming from the Eastern Cape where we live and where they are a rarity. These beautiful birds sit in trees next to the road and then “hawk” for insects. They dive from their perches, providing great opportunities for enthusiastic photographers. Mlilwane is Bee-eater heaven and these birds occur in large numbers.
National Parks and Game Reserves camps are always great places for birding and Mlilwane is no exception. A walk through the gardens provided three more Sunbird species feeding in the Aloes or the Coral Trees. There were also the normal Doves, Bulbuls and Drongos to be seen. Several different species of Weaver were added to our list and from the trees the plaintive and distinctive call of the Black-collared Barbet drew our attention to these members of the larger Woodpecker family. These birds call in a duet that eventually seems to merge into one call.
The Hippo Haunt Restaurant deck overlooks a dam that provides food for the fish eaters like the Black-headed and Grey Heron, Cormorants and Darters. The reed beds and mud banks produced Water Thick-knee, Common Moorhen and Pied Wagtail. We were lucky enough to have a Pied Wagtail, with a tasty morsel in his mouth, sit on a tree branch right in front of us as we enjoyed our lunch. In the water a Darter dived into the depths and came up with a large fish that, to our surprise, he managed to swallow.
At this stage our list was approaching 30, not a bad total for this time of the year. Later, while we were on a walk along the river that flows through the reserve, we added a few more species including an African Black Crake. We saw a couple of Hippo sunning themselves on the bank of a large dam about one kilometer from the camp as well as a huge Nile crocodile (Flatdog or Tingwenya as he is called locally) lying in the grass next to the same dam. It seemed to be keeping an eye open for anything that would venture too close and so we photographed it from some distance and moved on.
The cry of the African Fish Eagle promised a view of this beautiful bird but to our disappointment we saw none of the raptors of which Mlilwane boasts. These include the large Black Eagle, who with the Martial and Crowned Eagle competes for the title of the largest Southern African Eagle.
Our list, as we sadly left the sanctuary, came to 33 which was not a bad effort for the few hours in winter. We plan to return, however, to see if we can add a few more birds to the list before submitting it to Cape Town.
Returned on Tuesday: Completed our list but only added 5 more birds including two of the Ibis Family; the Sacred Ibis and Glossy Ibis. Did see two Hippos sunning themselves in the mild winter weather on a small island in the dam. Still no Raptors!