Mist swirling around the tops of mountains always has a mystical and peaceful feeling for me and on this trip it seemed particularly apt as I drove ever upwards along twisting roads in the Magoebaskloof to Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge - which translated means “tranquil spirit”. Passing ancient trees and bubbling forest streams, I wound the windows of my car wide open so I could breath in the fresh mountain air and paused briefly on my journey to watch a troop of Samango Monkeys leap around in the crowns of large tress, the youngsters pulling and tugging one another in joyful abandon as adults watched sternly from strategic points, ever on the look out for African Crowned Eagles.
Reaching the old farmhouse up on one of the mountain crests, I was warmly met by David Letsoalo who enthusiastically showed me around and enticed me with lists of exciting birds that the area was likely to produce for me. After being shown to my log cabin that was cleverly tucked into the indigenous forest and flinging my bags down, I was eagerly joining David on a quick tour of the forest. David is without doubt one of the most knowledgeable birding guides that I have met and his warm charm soon had us getting along like long lost friends.
1 of 8. Birdwatching around Woodbush Forest.
Afternoon light cast dappled shadows on the undergrowth and the falling mist had left a fresh glow on everything, accentuating the colors and smells as we walked silently along the trail. Our first sighting was a bushbuck ewe that fed on fallen fruit thrown down by Vervet Monkeys and on seeing us she quietly melted into the dark shadows and thick vegetation down by the fast flowing stream. Above us, a birding party moved through the upper branches and we were lucky to see Blue-Mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Bar-Throated Apalis, Cape White-Eye, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Bush-Shrike, Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird and Yellow-Throated Woodland-Warbler in just this one grouping. Light rain drew us back to cover and after discussing plans for the next day, I lazily lounged on the deck of my cabin, looking out directly into the forest canopy and listened as African Wood Owls, tree frogs and numerous insects started calling and heralding the days end.
2 of 8. Chorister Robin-Chat.
Rising extremely early the next morning, I walked in darkness to our meeting point and stared up into brilliant starry skies with the splash of the milky-way seemly close and bright enough that I could reach out to touch it. Red-Capped Robin-Chat and Olive Thrush soon started up with song and were then joined by White-Browed and White-Throated Robin-Chats in an orchestral dawn chorus. As David and I drove out towards Woodbush Indigenous Forest we were fortunate enough to view a Side-Striped Jackal as it patrolled along the roads edge and Grey-Headed Parrots flew overhead in small flocks, screeching all the while and making it easy for us to track their movements.
3 of 8. Braken Fern Leaves.
Woodbush Forest is the largest remaining tract of indigenous montane forest in the country and I knew that it held several potential “lifers” for me, so that when we stopped the vehicle, I was quickly wandering up the roadway with my binoculars and with David in tow, shaking his head at my haste. He had to call me back to show me a pair of squabbling Square-Tailed Drongos that were in the trees right next to where the vehicle was parked. The drongo’s were part of the first of several birding parties of the morning and we soon ticked Cape Batis, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-Streaked Greenbul and Olive Bush-Shrike. A pair of Black-Fronted Bush Shrikes then joined the party and I was thrilled to see these stunning forest birds that were new to me. Knysna and Purple-Crested Turaco’s were plentiful, flashing their bright colours as they flew between the tree tops and above them African Goshawks flew high with stiff wings and constant calling. As we wandered along, a Barratt’s Warbler sat briefly on top of a wavy grass stem before once again disappearing into the scrub. Finding our next birding party we were able to add more Black-Fronted Bush-Shrikes, a pair of Narina Trogon, Olive Woodpecker and Forest Canaries to our list.
4 of 8. Sombre Greenbul.
David then suggested we drive to Debengeni Falls where a pair of seldom recorded Grey Wagtails had been resident for the past month. As we drove we dropped in height from 1500 meters to 800 meters and then down to 600 meters above sea-level, all the while passing through differing habitats and adding Forest Buzzard, Jackal Buzzard, Black Collared Barbets, Brown-Hooded Kingfisher, European Bee-Eaters, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Bronze Manikins and then my next “lifer”, a small flock of Red-Backed Manikins. Arriving at the picturesque falls, Mountain Wagtails were the first to show themselves as they caught small aquatic insects in the fast flowing water. They then lead us to the elusive Grey Wagtails and I spent the next hour and a half crawling on my belly trying to photograph these special birds.
5 of 8. Debengeni Falls.
With the mention of Bat Hawks, David had me up and heading back to the car once again. I had last seen these strange birds at Crooks Corner, where South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe all met and as part of a research team we had watched over several nights as a pair of Bat Hawks nimbly snatched and swallowed bats whilst on the wing. A short drive that took us through the town of Tzaneen and past more flocks of Red-Backed Manikins soon had us amongst a stand of tall eucalyptus trees and David was quick to find the pair of Bat Hawks as they sat motionless against the main trunk of the tree. David also showed me the nest that they had used over a number of seasons and where researches had fitted a web-cam so that they could study these little known birds of prey.
6 of 8. Grey Wagtail.
By the time that we had returned to Kurisa Moya, afternoon rain had changed our plans of heading up to the crown of the mountain where Proteas and grasslands attracted the likes of Gurneys Sugarbird, Buff-Streaked Chat and Malachite Sunbird. We also had to give a miss to the lowland grasslands where bushveld specials such as Kalahari Scrub-Robin, African Quail Finch, Temminick’s Courser, Short-Clawed Larks and Black-Faced Waxbills were virtual guarantee sightings. Instead, I wandered around the gardens of the farmstead and spent a productive hour finding Dusky Indigobird, Swee Waxbill and African Firefinch feeding on the edge of the forest. A row of large trees formed a perfect conduit for the forest birds and Chorister Robin-Chat, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Batis, Dusky Flycatcher, Knysna Turaco and Olive Bush-Shrike moved regularly backwards and forwards. Under the eaves of the farmhouse, Lesser-Striped Swallows had their mud-pellet nests and some of these had been taken over by White-Rumped Swifts that flew at high speed below the veranda roof to reach their ravenous chicks.
7 of 8. African Firefinch male.
With dusk fast approaching, I once again wandered the forest trails that David and I had walked the previous evening and a male White-Starred Robin that was signing and a pair of bushbuck had me at peace and reflecting that this location was indeed special, living up to its name of Kurisa Moya and furthermore was run by an amazing group of people who were trying to make a positive difference to the environment. If ever I needed a break from the fast and maddening pace of modern living this is the spot that I would return to cleanse my soul!
8 of 8. Female Cape Batis.
Season and weather: Due to its locations in the mountains, Kurisa Moya can always expect cool weather and mist. Rainfall is usually restricted to the summer months and climate is generally mild throughout the year in comparison to the very hot low lying areas. Winters can be cold with frost
Habitats: Habitats are varied due to the large altitudinal differences and include montane protea veld and grassveld, indigenous montane forest, lowland bushveld and numerous wetlands and streams
Specials: Bat Hawk, Barratt’s warbler, Black-Fronted Bush-Shrike, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Grey Wagtail, Red-Backed Mannikin
Accommodation & Activities: Accommodation at Kurisa Moya includes the large comfortable farmhouse built in 1937, Forest Lodge cabins and Thora Boloka cottage. Hiking, birdwatching and trout fishing in the dams are just some of the activities to be enjoyed at Kurisa Moya. Body and soul therapy is also available to complete the tranquil break.
Reservations: Guided Birding David Letsoalo
Cell: 082 200 4596 or 076 302 9383
KURISA MOYA NATURE LODGE
015 276 1131 or 082 200 4596