I didn’t really know what to expect when we set off on Sunday morning for a trip into the Nyathi section of the park. Nyathi is on the northern side of the tar road to Paterson and runs into the Zuurberg Mountains. I’d assumed at first that there would be more thicket and it would be too similar to the Game Area thicket and not contain too many additional interesting species. Also travelling in a 6 vehicle 4×4 convoy did not sound like ideal birding. Our vehicle comprised of the husband (Daan) and daughter (Gretchen) of one of the Addo Honorary Rangers (Judy – who remained behind to look after her grandchild) and at the last minute we were joined by Yvonne who was from the St Francis Bird Club, a free-lance journalist for the regional knock and drop newspaper and who was a delight as the morning moved on, with her enthusiasm and knowledge.
The early part of the drive once we had entered the gate was parallel to the main road and adjacent reclaimed farmland. Grey-backed Cisticola was an early addition, as was a Secretarybird striding through the grassland. But we soon traversed the flat land and started heading into the hills and forests, which was a wonderful surprise in its contrast to the Addo Game Area. We’d been primed in advance that there were nesting Booted Eagles and Lanner Falcons at a particular cliff site. On our way to this point we could hear a cacophony of dawn sound coming from the forested hillside. We had a long day, and the lead driver (who knows the area well) ploughed on purposefully choosing to stop as we made site of the cliffs. A dark phase Booted Eagle flew against the cliff soon after we stopped the vehicles and rested in a euphorbia tree. We’d seen a pale form bird in the game area the day before. Unfortunately we never located their nesting site on the cliff face, but did locate another nest with a bird in it in the top of another euphorbia. The bird remained crouched and curled up the entire time and we could not reach agreement on its true identity. It looked like a cross between a Hadeda Ibis and an Egyptian Goose, but having had features that appeared to rule out either of these species. More identifiable was a Gymnogene that moved its way up the cliff face, posing on an outcrop for several minutes with its feathers all fluffed up, before eventually disappearing over the crest of the rise. We had to press on, so the “Hoose’s” true identity remained unconfirmed, but as we moved along we picked up Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Knysna Turaco and a threesome of Crowned Hornbill over the next stretch.
We now started to climb steeply up the slopes. At a grassy outcrop our leader stopped and we were given our breakfast packs (which were first class I might add) and some of the troops walked to a nearby pool in a deep gulley. We could hear several calls in the valley below such as Klaas’s Cuckoo, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and most surprisingly Grey-headed Bush-shrike.
When the walkers returned we moved on to a plateau next to a dam which produced Little Grebe, Yellow-billed Duck and where some Pearl-breasted Swallows were gathering mud from the water’s edge. Our arrival also disturbed a small group of zebra and buffalo the latter hardly what one would expect to see in such an elevated location.
After the break we continued through some enchanting forest scenery and little titbits like Black Sawwing, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Terrestrial Brownbul and Cape Batis were picked up and the convoy stopped a few times to take in look-out vistas or search for Red Minnows in a mountain stream. We passed a couple of rhino middens and the strong smell was a clear indication that they’d recently been in the vicinity. There were signs of elephant too and one particular bull in the area is notorious for being particularly aggressive. The convoy leader and a couple of the other seasoned Honorary Rangers expressed a hope that we wouldn’t encounter him on one of the narrow descents through the forest where back pedalling would be impossible.
The trail continued to rise and the views became more and more spectacular and we eventually entered a Protea Zone on the mountain top and made our way along towards the Zuurberg Inn. Just before we left park land we had a quality sighting of a Cape Grassbird and Yellow Bishop. At the Inn itself where we stopped for refreshments there were a clutch of Crowned Hornbills feeding at a bird feeder, a very active Cape Weaver colony in the parking area, a profusion of Greater Double Collared Sunbirds in the gardens and a glut of Lesser Striped Swallow nests under the eaves on the passage to the toilets many of which are starting to be put to use again now that it’s Spring. It was a fitting way to end of a thoroughly entertaining and scenically stimulating morning.
Then it was back on a 20 minute gravel road to Addo Main Camp where those who hadn’t left already said their goodbyes. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Addo Honorary Rangers for their tremendous efforts both collectively and the great toil put in by many individuals to organise this event which I can only hope, like its Kruger and Marakele equivalents becomes an annual event.