I awoke in the pre-dawn of July 11, anxious to see some birds. Outside my cabin at the Eshowe B&B (run by birders Hugh and Loueen Chittenden) the birds were already active in the cool morning air. Hadeda ibis flew over, maniacally calling out their names. Bulbuls and barbets chittered and chattered as they flew from tree to tree.
We headed off before breakfast to the Dlinza Forest, where our targets were shy woodland species such as the groundscraper thrush, and spotted ground thrush--two species that resemble our North American thrushes, but feature bolder markings.
On the way to Dlinza, we passed through the town of Eshowe, and right along the road, our lead guide, Christian Boix, shouted "Stop! Hornbills flying over the road!" I had just finished saying that on my 2002 trip to SA I had not seen a single hornbill. In the next 15 minutes we were treated to excellent looks at two species, trumpeter hornbill and southern yellow-billed hornbill.
Throughout the trip, Kevin and I would swap advice (I learned a lot of digiscoping tricks from him), gear, sunscreen, batteries, stories, and rounds of lager. He was a good traveling companion. Oh and he's a pretty smart ornithologist, too--knows his taxonomy like I know all the members of the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. But back to the trip...
We spent about three hours birding around Dlinza, getting all the goodies we'd hoped for and then some. It was a healthy introduction to a chunk of SA's common birds.
At this point I should probably state that there's no way I can do justice to all the birds we saw on the trip--something like 250 species. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can't even adequately cover the avian highlights. There was so much to see and absorb, and we went at it at such a pace, that, well, it's a bit of a blur.
Now I feel better.
After brekky, and a short time to get cleaned up back at the B&B, it was time to get on the road. We piled into our 15-person bus (called a "combi" in South Africa), tossing our luggage into a chest-freezer-sized trailer, and Petros, our Zulu driver (large rental vehicles in Africa often have a driver assigned to the trip--a good thing considering Christian's tendency to crane his neck constantly after birds).
Our end-of-the-day destination was to be Bonamanzi Game Park, but we had a bunch of stops between here and there.
More on that in my next post....