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A South African guest’s guide to birding in Manyoni

Brian Roberts recently got to add some real beauties to his ever-growing bird life-list during his second safari at Rhino Sands. We asked him six questions about his experience birding in Manyoni, tips and tricks for beginner birders and photographers, and of course what have been his favourite sightings while in Manyoni. Please give us a brief background about who you are. I am a born and bred KZN North Coaster. I attended Umhlali Primary School from 1973 to 1979, my wife is also a graduate of Umhlali Primary School but she finished MANY years after me! I work in the corporate property world and spent the 12 years prior to Covid commuting to Johannesburg for three days a week. If there is a positive to come out of the dreadful pandemic, it’s that it introduced the world to virtual meetings, and this has greatly reduced travelling for me and given me so much more time with my Luelle (my wife), Josh and Meg (kids). How did you get interested in birding? On the 23rd of March 2020 we were locked down as a country. I am a bit ADD so there is no way I could just sit around doing nothing. I decided then and there that we live in a fantastic eco-friendly estate, and I was going to make it my mission to see how many bird species I could see from our front veranda. I am colour blind and decided that it would make sense to take photographs of the birds that I saw so that I could identify them post the sighting without having to remember distinguishing features.
Arnot’s chat
Black cuckooshrike (female)
Croaking cisticola
I had always had a camera but had also always only shot on auto. I did a photography course in lockdown to help me take better photos of the birds I saw. Both my birding and photography hobbies are a direct result of being forced to sit on my veranda for those six months or so. Once we were allowed out, I just continued to add birds to my list but could now walk around the estate and as the rules were relaxed, I could continue adding to my list at wonderful places like Rhino Sands that catered for us locals in the midst of the pandemic. What do you think birding adds to the safari experience? Birding enhances your awareness of the surroundings. There are over 400 bird species in Manyoni; if you add the cheetah, the pangolin and a few of the other beautiful species to the famous Big 5, there are probably 15 to 20 animals that the average safari guest will be looking for. As fantastic as the rangers are, it is often completely out of their control as to whether you see the animals. Birds, on the other hand, are always there. Birding adds an entirely new dimension to the experience. There is ALWAYS something to see.
Collared sunbird
African broadbill
African goshawk
I liken birding to fishing, I am a keen fisherman explain to people fishing is the experience of being outdoors, catching a fish whilst fishing is a bonus. It’s the anticipation of the catch that is so thrilling and appealing. Birding to me is walking around my estate or driving around the reserve, you are constantly aware of your surroundings; be it grassland, sand forest, watering holes, whatever the environment, there is always the possibility of seeing a bird. Birding is what I love, seeing a bird is the bonus. What are the most remarkable birds (or simply your favourite) you’ve seen while staying with us? There are so many remarkable birds at Manyoni so I will make it easier for myself and limit my answer to the remarkable birds we have seen at the Rhino Camp site itself. We have seen pink-throated twinspots; a female narina trogan who came to watch us eat lunch; I watched a grey-headed bushshrike pluck a chameleon off a tree in front of our room; we have seen an orange-breasted bushshrike as well. One of my favourites was a very good sighting of a female black buckooshrike – the black cuckooshrike is one of the few species where (IMHO) the female is so much more attractive than the male. There is an abundance of birdlife around the lodge, it is difficult to make a ‘short’ list of the great birds.
Grey-headed bushshrike with chameleon
Narina trogan (female)
Pink-throated twinspot
What tips would you have for the beginning birder? Birding goes from “there is a bird”, to “there is a yellow bird”, to “there is a village weaver”, to “there is a juvenile male village weaver in non-breeding plumage”. Everyone starts at “there is a bird”. Persevere! Birding is all about practice. Do not be scared to ask silly questions, I am yet to meet a birder that knows everything. Birders crave new information and birders love to share knowledge. Try your hardest to ID a bird from the many books and many apps. It is the awareness of the distinguishing features that help you learn. If you’re always asking someone else for ID help you are not teaching yourself to pick up those small distinguishing features. Any gear or equipment recommendations for the first-time safari goer? Binoculars, a camera (it doesn’t have to be a fancy one), a bird book or app, and of course a place to record your bird list. They say that everyone likes to collect things, a bird list is a collection of birds you have seen. A life list (what birders call their list of birds) and a trip list add that little bit of competitiveness to the hobby, not necessarily to compete with others, simply to compete with yourself. I also find it increases the enthusiasm of the younger generation!
Bateleur eagle (juvenile)
Purple-banded sunbird
Cape glossy starling
Any photography tips for guests on safari? I am a birder first and a photographer second. There is nothing more satisfying than a great shot of a rare bird but the opportunities to get these shots are rare. I have tried to train myself to look first, take an ID shot second, and try and get that good shot third. I have missed out on ID shots many times because I am trying to get the focus, the shutter speed or the aperture setting just right. Once the bird has flown away (as birds do) you will never know what it was. Get the ID shot first, it may just be one species that you have never seen before. If you’re a keen birder looking for new opportunities to spot some of Southern Africa’s feathered beauties, our Rangers look forward to taking you out into Manyoni to do just that. Please contact us or enquire and book using our online form.


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The allure of KwaZulu-Natal: How to have a South African holiday in one province

When daydreaming about an all-encompassing South African holiday, there is one province that offers it all – KwaZulu-Natal. Don’t believe us? We promise we will have you convinced by the end of this post. KwaZulu-Natal is the epitome of a diverse and balanced vacation experience, blending the allure of pristine beaches with the thrill of wild bush adventures. Nestled along the gloriously warm Indian Ocean on South Africa’s south-eastern coastline, it offers a fusion of culture, natural beauty, captivating wildlife encounters, and an effortless combination of beach and bush experiences. The best of all worlds KwaZulu-Natal presents a remarkable contrast of landscapes, featuring both a sprawling coastline and expansive bushveld. This combination allows travelers to savour two different natural worlds within the a single holiday package. Picture yourself lazing on the golden sands found at beaches all along the north coast one day, and venturing into the heart of the Zululand wilderness the next, ready to witness Africa’s iconic Big Five on a game drive. A big drawcard is KwaZulu-Natal’s subtropical climate ensures that your beach and bush adventure can unfold throughout the year. With over 600 kilometers of coastline, KwaZulu-Natal boasts an array of breathtaking beaches catering to relaxation and adventure enthusiasts alike. Those north of Durban, like Thompson’s Bay near the popular beach town of Ballito, offer a laidback atmosphere for surfing, swimming and sunbathing while still close enough to the main city attractions. This oasis of serenity complements the exhilarating bush experiences that lie just three hours away. The heart of Zululand is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Here you will find wild beauty in Big 5 game reserves like Manyoni, that offer exclusive access to some of Africa’s most iconic animal and bird life. Imagine embarking on a guided safari, tracking lions and elephants against the backdrop of lush bushveld and the Drakensburg mountain range. At 23,000 hectares reserve, Manyoni Private Game Reserve is one of the largest privately-owned reserves in Kwazulu-Natal and is committed to protecting environmental biodiversity and endangered species like cheetah and rhino (black and white). A culmination of cultures and culinary delights The cultural fusion in KwaZulu-Natal offers an enriching and truly South African experience. Immerse yourself in Zulu heritage while visiting rural communities, learning about local traditions and sampling hearty home-made cuisine. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy freshly caught seafood while overlooking the shimmering Indian Ocean. And of course, indulge in the vibrant Indian influences found in delectable curries that speak to centuries of history. The province’s rich history and diverse cultural tapestry enhance the depth of your combined beach and bush journey. Ultimately, KwaZulu-Natal stands as a testament to the remarkable beauty of uniting several worlds, crafting an extraordinary South African holiday with the highlight of a beach and safari combination, each place being just a few hours drive away. Have we convinced you of the magic of KwaZulu-Natal? We have a fantastic Beach and Safari combination package special with Sala Beach House. Please contact our Reservations Team for more information.

Safari Chic: Unveiling the Art of Stylish Adventure with The Safari Gals

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The Power of Local Community Support for Manyoni

Game reserves, like Manyoni, are not just patches of wilderness dedicated to wildlife conservation; they are vital ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity preservation and environmental education of those that come from far to visit them and those that are right at their doorstep. While the efforts of dedicated conservationists and organizations play a significant role, the importance of community involvement in game reserves cannot be overstated. Recognising this, Manyoni led by the Zululand Conservation Trust engages with and supports neighbouring communities through various initiatives. This ensures the best outcomes for all – people, wildlife and the environment. Zululand Conservation Trust The mission of the Zululand Conservation Trust is a commitment to the conservation of endangered species whilst maintaining and supporting partnerships with neighbouring communities. The Trust recognises the fundamental need to involve, empower, educate and support local communities, in order to achieve effective and lasting conservation. Like much of rural South Africa, Zululand has high rates of poverty and unemployment, which are further exacerbated by low levels of basic education. The ZCT aims to bridge the major education, skill and poverty gap between these outlying communities and the rest of the province through a series of projects aimed at poverty relief, holistic education and learner support, basic household necessities resourcing, and food security. Below we have highlighted a few of the many community upliftment projects the ZCT supports. Projects for positive impact Creche support: ZCT currently provides ongoing support to three crèches, two of which the Trust built, in neighbouring communities. Each crèche receives support in the form of monthly food supplies, donations and general maintenance of the facilities. These facilities provide a safe space for local children to play, learn and enjoy a warm, nutritious daily meal. Food security: The Mandlakazi Food Security Project is a donor-funded project that provides schools with a 10m x 15m food garden. Hardy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, peppers are planted in each garden. This is to improve diets and provide the necessary nutrients needed by young growing children. Matric learner support: ZCT assists the principal of Mandlakazi High School with the running costs of her annual Matric Camp, which provides Grade 12 learners a safe and quiet space to study together, receive extra lessons, and enjoy three meals a day. Looking ahead At the same time, ZCT endeavours to grow within local people the same understanding and love for conservation that their team has. Long-term, ZCT hopes to have their communities more likely to support initiatives aimed at safeguarding wilderness areas, becoming the guardians of their natural heritage, ensuring that the reserves remain safe havens for wildlife. And, for the tourism associated with these reserves to create direct job and small business opportunities and greater economic growth for the region. Each guest’s nightly conservation levy goes directly to supporting the Zululand Conservation Trust, including its many community projects.

The pangolins of Manyoni: A conservation success story

We can say with certainty that seeing one of the pangolins of Manyoni Private Game Reserve will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. In just three years, the adult Temminck’s ground pangolins of Manyoni now total 14 and, to the absolute joy and pride of all, four pango-pups were born on the reserve last year. It is a huge triumph for pangolin conservation in Zululand, where the species has been locally extinct for almost 70 years. Accounting for about 20% of the entire illegal wildlife trade, pangolins are now the most trafficked mammals in the world. They are highly sought after for their meat and scales, which are made of keratin – the same material as your finger and toe nails. Rehabilitating and rewilding the pangolins of Manyoni The team at Manyoni work closely with the Zululand Conservation Trust, African Pangolin Working Group and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital to establish a viable population of pangolins in the reserve. With the help of the South African Police Service (SAPS), the pangolins are confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade, arriving at the veterinary hospital in poor health due to the stress, dehydration and malnutrition suffered while with poachers. Once they have made a full recovery under the intensive care and nursing by the dedicated vet team, the pangolins begin a ‘soft-release program’ in Manyoni and other designated reserves. Each day, their dedicated ‘pangolin shepherd’ takes them out into a part of the reserve most suitable for them to explore and encounter ant and termite mounds. If necessary, their shepherd will show them how to break into the mounds, where they will then use their long (up to 70cm), sticky tongues to slurp up the juicy ants. During this first phase, the pangolins are monitored intensively to ensure they acclimatize, are able to find suitable food and gain enough weight before they are released fully. The soft release also provides an important and unique opportunity for research as little is known about these intriguing creatures. It takes two months on average for pangolins to be ready for the ‘hard release’ when they will go into the reserve equipped with a tracking device to allow the team to monitor and protect them. The pangolin walking experience This ground-breaking conservation program is resulting in a thriving – and growing – population of pangolins in Manyoni. It is providing a second chance for previously poached pangolins and contributing to the survival of the species. The pangolin program is financed solely from donor funding through the Zululand Conservation Trust. The tags, telemetry equipment, veterinary costs, vehicles and fuel, and salaries for the pangolin monitoring team are all vital but extremely costly. You can help give rescued Temminck’s ground pangolins another chance at a happy life by booking a pangolin walking experience. This is an amazing opportunity to see a pangolin first-hand as you walk with a pangolin and its shepherd during a monitoring session. Please note that this activity costs R1000 and is subject to availability. If you would like to add the pangolin walking experience to your stay with us, we suggest booking it in advance to make sure you don’t miss out. Enquire further with our Reservations Team when booking your Rhino Sands safari or book directly with the Zululand Conservation Trust here.

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