Mlilwane Nature Reserve- Swaziland: Summertime
Mlilwane Nature Reserve-Swaziland: a summer visit.
Back in Swaziland to teach at the African Christian College for the last term of 2014 has given us the opportunity to explore this small African Kingdom. One of our favourite places in the Mlilwane Nature Reserve positioned halfway between the two largest towns in Swaziland, Mbabane and Manzini. As we are located at the African Christian College campus only about 20 minutes away from Mlilwane it is a great place to escape for an afternoon or morning. Our South African National Parks “Wild Card” provides free entrance to most of the reserves in Swaziland, including this one.It has a pleasant swimming pool to cool down on a hot day. It also has some great mountains and a big dam that gives it a variety of habitats. On a mornings birding it is possible to easily list 40 different bird species including some rarities.
Although it does not have any of the “Big Five” animals of Africa it is a delightful place to enjoy a picnic and walk along the river to view the birds, crocodiles, hippos and variety of plains animals including Zebra, Impala, Kudu, Water buck, Red-hartebeest, Inyala and Wildebeest. It is also great for the large population of Bee-eaters that seem to thrive there, and the large Heronry. A beautiful swimming pool adds to the attraction. Horses or bicycles can be hired and guides escort visitors on rides amongst the animals, a unique and special African experience.
Next to the restaurant a fire burns in a circular enclosure where overnight visitors enjoy a peaceful evening drink as the sun goes down. This fire never goes out, and new logs are simply added on a daily basis. According to the staff it has been burning for 60 years. On some evenings traditional dancing is provided for groups of overseas visitors Accommodation varies from luxury cottages, to traditional Bee-hive huts, a Back-packers hostel, or a basic camp-ground.
During a walk through the camp to have a look at the attractive Bee-hive huts and to add a few more birds to our growing list we enjoyed photographing the colorful “Bloukopkoggelmander” or Blue- headed lizard. One of the reserve staff mentioned to us that a very rare Narina Trogan had been seen in the camp earlier, but we failed to find it. That would have been a “lifer” for Audrey.
After a quick drive through the northern section of the reserve we arrived at the main camp for our mandatory cup of coffee, enjoyed while viewing the dam that the restaurant deck overlooks. We were amazed to see two great bird sightings on our way. A pair of beautiful and graceful Blue-cranes were the first to catch our attention as the grazed in the field nearby. Then to our delight we also saw a trio of Ground-hornbill right next to the road. To see both these birds at the same time rates as a birders dream sighting, and we felt really blessed.
At the dam, while we drank our coffee, we were entertained by the large number of Black-headed Heron that were roosting in the heronry across the dam. Sacred Ibis arrived and departed while Common Moorhen and Black Crake fed on the mud banks. Blacksmith Lapwing and Egyptian Geese joined in the party, announcing their presence with their noisy and distinctive calls. While the resident African Fish Eagle must have been hunting else where the inquisitive Pied Wagtail came to see if it could collect some scraps. Across the dam a huge crocodile basked in the sun. His brown colour made him look like a part of the bank but careful viewing through our binoculars confirmed that he was in fact a Nile crocodile of considerable size.
A picnic, late breakfast/early lunch, overlooking the swimming pool and a walk along the river to the large dam brought the visit to an end. While we managed to list 34 different species of bird we also managed to see at least eight different kinds of antelope. A large crocodile (locally referred to as a Flat Dog) on a small island in the main dam obligingly showed us his teeth. The huge barbell/catfish in the smaller dam entertained us as we fed them with scraps of sandwiches.
Several buildings provide interesting information on wild life, the history of the reserve and other nature related educational subjects, making it a valuable place for local schools to visit.
Again our visit to this small but excellent nature reserve proved to be entertaining and interesting and we left vowing to return soon. As we left the reserve we stopped for a photograph next to the huge ant heap next to the road.