Our stop at Bonamanzi in which we spent some fantastic time at Bonamanzi in one of the tree houses. The reserve was still quite dry, although the birding was spectacular. We had a classic sighting of Eastern Nicator grooming an Nyala ewe in oxpecker-fashion, which was cracker to see, but our highlight was a pair of courting Southern-banded Snake Eagles, calling and engaging in ritualised courtship behaviour and we were lucky enough to see them actually copulating and this all take place at the famous viewing deck at the Bonamanzi main lodge area overlooking the fever-tree fringed waterhole. We spend two days walking all the birding trails in which we had excellent sightings of all the five specials of the region, except for Woodwards Batis. African Broadbill was still displaying and calling in the Sand Forest patches not far from the main reception and lodge area, as well as one of the longest standing call sites done near Tree-House 13 and 14 . Bearded Scrub-robin was confiding and most engaging in its quest amongst the dry leaf-litter for food. The other usual suspects were also in abundance, with Pink-throated Twinspots calling persistently and the odd small dainty flock of Grey Waxbills feeding on grass in the dappled open patches in the Sandforest. The acacia-savanna-ilala palm mix that runs down to the reed-fringed edge of the Hluhluwe river was also alive with birds and we also had a sighting of Black Coucal, African Rail, Golden Weaver, Marico Sunbird, which is always a pleasure. Southern-brown throated Weaver was still in evidence as well as White-backed Night Herons, which we have not seen in quite sometime along this stretch of the river. Lemon-breasted Canary and some of the other Grey-rumped Swallows were also in evidence along the edge of the river and the mudflats. In all after spending a few days in the reserve, we obtained a early winter total of 180 species, which Zululand the Elephant Coast can produce in abundance.
Back to the facilities and some of the exciting changes that have taken place. We were lucky enough to meet and discuss potential concerns regarding bird-watching interests and those of long-standing visitors and guests to the reserve with Richard Grantham the new owner (from Empangeni and South African). He outlined his exciting programme of maintenance and upgrading of accomodation and related services. This includes a new conference venue which he has built next to the reception area to avoid impacting the vegetation plus the camping sites which are in top notch condition. So without trying to overtly advertise the reserve, I will say that for many of you who do stay or visit Bonamanzi there are some really pleasant changes. The free entrance to the reserve for day-visitors is going to be maintained as Richard does believe that birders are the core market that they need to cater too. His sense of conservation ethic is really strong and he is not going to detract from the reserve with any major hotel-type or high density developments. The bird hides are all in good condition, although some of the waterholes are quite low on water, but we still had excellent sightings of reedbuck, general game and Pygmy Geese. The trails to and fro to the hides were in excellent condition and we had some of our best birding whilst walking. From the guides perspective, there are new guides on board and they are going to undertake to ensure that the guides focus on bird-related skills and continue to show guests the specials of the reserve and region. They have purchased and updated their fleet of game drive vehicles, shifting from the old landrovers to newer toyota landcruisers with canvas roof covers, similar to the landrovers. The full range of historical services such as game-drives, boat-cruises as well as day-trips into Hluhluwe-Umfolosi are still on offer. Marlene the General Manager is also an excellent contact for any queries regarding accomodation and the experiences that they offer.
So in short Bonamanzi offers great value to the day-trip visitor, the budget conscious camper and short stay bird-watcher utilising the self-catering chalets and other facilities. I would certainly recommend doing a river-cruise, in combination with a few walks as well as self-drive through the reserve plus a morning or afternoon game drive to the off-limits areas. The other great aspect that Bonamanzi continues to offer is acting as a central point for other daily excursions to places like Muzi Pans, the Nibela Peninsula, Mpempe Pans, Hluhluwe-Umfolosi and so on.
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