St. Lucia is a tourist destination but not overdone with touristy junk. The town is situated between the Indian Ocean and a significant river/estuary. This is a comfortable spot with a nice diversity of habitats; I would be willing to stay and explore the area for a week or more, even swim in the ocean. Of course the main attraction: the birding here is great, and lots of mammals too.
We arrived about 9:30 am and stopped at a welcome center sort of place where I thought we would be able to pick up brochures for the area. Nope. We find that maps and informational material is rarely provided at public places – you have to rely on the B&Bs to provide information, maps, etc.. The center had large yard art style displays and a boat dock area where you can catch a boat to take a river trip to see the hippos and crocodiles. We decided “why not” on the boat ride so off we went since the boat was scheduled to depart at 10:00 am, we got there in time to make the first sailing.
The river is home to hippos and crocodiles and there were plenty of hippos and crocodiles to view on the boat trip – including being greeted by about ten hippos hanging out (a technical term) just as we were leaving the dock. According to the naturalist on the boat, hippos are very aggressive – consider that dangerous – and kill more people than any other large mammal. Luckily we were not interested in going for a swim. Hippos spend the daylight hours in the water to keep cool. At night they venture onto land to graze, including walking around the town of St. Lucia in search of the grassy areas like the park next to were we stayed. We didn’t see any wandering hippos at night, but we only dared to walk two blocks from our B&B (St. Lucia Guest House) to the main drag to catch a bite to eat. Oh, another factoid, hippos can run up to 45 miles per hour. A lot faster than I can run, that is for sure.
We didn’t see many birds on the boat trip, which was a little disappointing. The “Where to Find Birds in Southern Africa” book said to take a boat ride to see the waterbirds. What we did see – bird wise – included two different Kingfishers. The Giant Kingfisher (that is one big kingfisher) and the Pied Kingfisher. Oh how we love kingfishers. Just as we were about to dock the naturalist did spot an African Fish Eagle. Looks a little like our Bald Eagle with a white head and white tail. This bird, however, has brown in its wings (otherwise black) and white on its back. Sorry, no photo.
After the boat ride we went and checked into our B&B. Our room was very comfortable. The bathroom is larger than my bathroom at home. And breakfast would feed a farm hand – no one ever goes hungry in South Africa for breakfast. Plenty of food.
We had the afternoon to walk around the town (it’s a small town) and check out the estuary and a forested trail. Lots of cool birds including grey waxbills.
The next day we went back to the estuary – this time I brought along my spotting scope. Hard to see those shorebirds without it. Well I guess I can see them, just not identify them.
From there we drove to an area where we could hike among the mammals (well certain ones anyway). Before we arrived we got our first taste of big wildlife – Zebras and Warthogs. The hike led us through the African veld of grasslands and savanna areas.
After our hike we entered the iSimangaliso Wetlands Parks to check out some big mammals and birds. What a great place too. We saw more Zebras and Warthogs, along with Rhinoceros (including a mother and baby), Wildebeest, Baboon, Impalas, and Waterbucks. As for birds, we got to see the Saddle-billed Stork. This is one big stork and a really weird-looking, but amazing bird.
From our room we woke every morning to the calls of Trumpeter Hornbills – counted 10 in the tree outside our room. Also, the African Green Pigeon added its voice to the morning wake-up.
The next day we tried birding a short trail in town in search of the Purple-crested and Livingstone Turaco. We didn’t see any, but we did find several Crested Guineafowl and the Woodward’s Batis (thanks to Jack’s eagle eyes). We then went again to the estuary, but the tide was in so fewer birds besides the ever present Gray-headed Gulls and Swift Terns.
Our next stop is the Mkuze Game Reserve. Until then… IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD IN SOUTH AFRICA.