Clocolan December 2015

A few images from the days spent over Christmas and New Year on the farm close to Clocolan in the Freestate. The drought has the area in its grip as well with grazing almost non existent, and water being scarce.

I spend a few hours at a spot where water seeped out of a rock down a little waterfall, where the birds of all species came down to drink.

 

 

 

Stutterheim & Hogsback

Our December holiday this year took us to two towns that we had long wanted to explore. First stop over was at Stutterheim, staying at the delightful Shire Eco Lodge with its bent wood houses. The lodge borders on the Kologha Forest with ready access to the trails and some distance a nice dam for cooling off.  I had the misfortune to be bitten by a Rhombic Night Adder in the forest, but apart from a painful leg of a day or two, and a helluva headache came of quite lightly.

Form here we headed for a few days at Hogsback, enjoining some walks there, the large labyrinth, and  just chillling. I managed to add to lifers here, Red-necked Spurfowl and Barratt’s Warbler.

 

 

Coach House Weekend

We recently spent a weekend at the Coach House close to Tzaneen enjoying the stunning views over the Wolkberg.

During the trip we stopped over at Cheerio gardens with the Azaleas and Cherries in bloom, one  of the sights I have always wanted to see.

Top 10 Lifers of 2013

2013 was quite a good year with 21 new birds added to my life list. A trip out to Chobe added the most lifers in a day since November 2008.  I am well pleased with the birds found this year, as I did less birding then previous years and visited fewer habitat types than other years.

These are the top 10:

1. There were quite a few opportunities to get this bird in SA over the past two years. But it has been one of those, that since I started paging through bird books as a little boy, I always paused knew I wanted see it someday. So with it being an iconic bird to me, I wanted my first sighting of it to be where they naturally occur, with being present there, being as much part of the experience as seeing the bird. I can say that the experience was all that I had hoped it to be.

African Skimmer on the Chobe River

 

2. The best lifers are those that you have absolutely no idea that you are going to see, and then a bird pops out of nowhere, and leaves you on a high for days. I have been birding the eastern Freestate a few times a year now for over 12 years, and although I still add new species to my list of the area, finding lifers have pretty much become a very remote possibility. Then at 5:30 AM on a December morning, you notice something that is just not another Lapwing! To add to the thrill there are two and a little chick as well. The coursers remains one of my favourite group of birds.

Double-banded Courser, Clocolan

 

3. I did a Kruger BBW this year through an invitation from my good friend Dirk Human, and joined by two other  great friends Danie van den Bergh and Martin Benadie. While I was out with my group of birders, Dirk found the warbler out on the S100, and as he knew I wanted to see one, informed me when we were both back in camp. I really appreciated that in the midday heat, he was willing to drive me out to the spot and patiently wait for me to not only see the bird but get a shot of this skulker. Thanks Dirk!!

Olive-tree Warbler, S100, Kruger National Park

 

4. To me Osprey’s were one of those birds that everyone seemed to see except me. I would have lots of birders casually mention seeing one at this or that place, but when I rock up there, its to empty skies. Again a day out on the Chobe river provided me with my lifer. I noticed a African Fish-eagle in hot pursuit of a smaller, but similar coloured raptor. At the distance they were away, I thought it could be an immature Fish-eagle. The view through the bino’s revealed that it was in fact direct competition, and a lifer for me.

Osprey and African Fish-eagle, Chobe River

 

5. How many times did I drive the S60 in Kruger? How many sets of coordinates did I get from so many kind helpers? Just the day before my bother had seen one on the same road, and I missed it being out ahead. On the second last day of our annual family Kruger trip I was the only one keen for a drive out in the late afternoon. A quick drive out on the H13 and in a stand of tall Mopane trees I hear the call I know so well by now. Finally seen, but I cannot enjoy the sighting as I am 10k from the gate, with 9 minutes to get there. I just made it.

Arnot’s Chat, Punda Maria, Kruger National Park

6. Missing the Arnot’s chat seen by my boet (who only told me much later), I had my own back when I arrived at Klopperfontein dam, with him already parked there. He says to me: “There is just a coucal here” I take a look at the coucal and notice no barring on the tail. That is not just a coucal, that is a Senegal Coucal! Incidentally a lifer for him as well.

Senegal Coucal, Klopperfontein Dam, Kruger National Park

 

7.  On our way back from BBW in Satara we got a recce on Short-tailed pipits close to Bambi, well within striking distance on our way home. Little did we know that this is on SA’s worst road with open mine excavations rather than potholes. This is a frustrating bird to find. First one flew up, over a gully and disappeared. Next one flew up, over us, and then settled a few meters away in a rocky patch. We surround the patch and closed the circle around the bird…Nothing,  it was gone. Finally after about an hours search, we had another bird fly up (possibly the same one) and managed a good view and a few identifying photos.

Short-tailed Pipit, Bambi

8. This was one of those tricky ones in pinning down where it was seen. Crossing the border at Kazangulu between Botswana and Zambia, I had this bird fly over. Kazangula is the only 4 nation quadripoint in the world. Yes, a new word to me as well, this is where the borders of four countries join. Although the countries still claim this as a quadripoint, the view is that is is no longer one, after the agreement in 2007 between Botswana and Zambia to build a bridge to replace the ferry. In order for the bridge to be built a 150m border is needed between the two countries thus separating Namibia and Zimbabwe now by 150m. Regardless of this, the Heron flew out of  Zimbabwe through the Botswana / Zambia 150m space into Namibia…where does one tick it then?

 

Rufous-bellied Heron, Kazangula

 

9.  This was yet another of those frustrating ones, which everyone was seeing except me. I remember standing the the Robin Hills collared flycatcher twitch, with some birders seeing one fly overhead…I was standing under the tree and missed it.  I finally found one during a Sunday braai at home as it came cruising over the garden.  Unfortunately the camera was to far a way for a photo. But as it happens, once you have seen a bird, they start popping up everywhere, and a month later I snapped this obliging one in Ballito.

European Honey-buzzard, Ballito

10.  Another top ten lifer from Chobe, although it was difficult to choose from all those great birds. This one I had thought was a lost lifer. During a game drive I was sure that I had seen some, but the vehicle passed by to quickly. Being on a vehicle filled with non-birders, there was no way in going back for birds with elephants ahead in the road. At a leg stretch point, I asked our guide if he frequently found the francolins, and he said he would stop if he found some. Very obligingly he found one at some impala, allowing me a nice view, without disruption to the other guests.

Red-billed Francolin, Chobe

Top 10 Photos of 2013

Each year I try to single out my top 10 favourite photos that I captured during the year. These are based on a very subjective set of self criteria and although I would like to hope there is some technical ability behind some of the shots, they are mainly chosen for reasons such as uniqueness, catching a moment, being a special sighting to me, or just being pleasing to the eye. Setting them in order from 1 to 10 is very difficult although the order below is a fair indication.

1.

Elephant Crossing the Falls

Experiencing the Vic Falls was a lifetime experience, but seeing this elephant crossing the river about 30m from the fall, and the river flowing at a fairly high level put the size of the fall into a bigger perspective. The elephant used his trunk to first test each placing of the front feet, thus although quite calm and collected was still careful of false footing.

2.

Black Tipped Acrea

The clarity of the subject against the background at early morning light just makes this an appealing photo for me.

 

3.

Nottingham Road Park

The look between the two subjects is what intrigues me in this photo… what was the interaction here? Coupled with the slanting rays of the sun to give it a slight dreamlike appearance.

 

4.

Serval

Yes, its a shoddy pic of a Serval. The finding of this Serval is what makes this one of my 2013 Top 10’s as this was the first recording of this species at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens, right in the heart of urban Gauteng.

5.

Large Brown Longhorn

Taken with quite an old Canon A700 “mik-en-Druk”, using a flashlight as side lighting, provided a fantastic light effect to give detail but great shadows as well. The double reflection on both sides of the window adds a little bit of interest.

6.

King of the Hill

I built a “home brew” camera trap using some firmware changes on my Canon A700. This is quite a tricky cam to setup, and the idea was to get the family of Ground Squirrels posing at their hole. To my delight this one decided to check out the cam and then stood and took in the view, giving me a great shot of the world from their view.

7.

Red-chested Cuckoo

 

A notoriously difficult cuckoo to see, never mind photograph. All my previous photos had been shots from far away or through dense foliage. At WSBG there is a little spot where a pair was very focused on the resident Cape Robin-chats, and sat quite open, and seem not to care much for passersby.

8.

Helmeted Guineafowl Run

 

An early morning visit to Northcliff Eco-park found these Guineafowl moving down the mountain. The early sunlight on the beautiful granite, with the expectation of the fowls leaping into the blue yonder makes this one of my favourites.

 

9.

Isolated Thunder Storms

This truly was an isolated thunderstorm with very small patches of rain falling with the late afternoon creating rainbow streaks. I was lucky as the rays highlighted the sandstone crown on the koppie.

10.

Green-backed Heron

 

Early morning on the Nwanetsi in Kruger found this Green-backed Heron perched against the rising sun. A bit of fill in flash brought out the detail.