December Holiday Trip

Our December holiday had us once again visiting the Eastern Cape, and this time an area that i had longed to visit for a long time, the Wild Coast.  I wish we had more time to explore more of the Wild Coast, but as road conditions require many hours of travel we were limited to Dwesa Game Reserve and surrounds.

From Dwesa we moved down to Tsitsikamma National Park and the Storms River Camp, but with a huge family and friends Christmas gathering, there was little time to explore.

The trip ended at the usual haunt of Bornmansdrift farm in the South Eastern Freestate.

The trip added two new lifers to my tally, Mangrove Kingfisher and Cape Siskin, ending 2016 with 7 new bird lifers

 

Mapungubwe Birding Weekend – Nov 2016

At the end of November 2016 we made a trip up to Mapungubwe National Park to do the annual Birding Big Day in the park. Our accommodation was in the Honorary Rangers special camp in the middle of the bush with no fences.

 

2016 had seen one of the worst drought years in memory in South Africa, and Mapungubwe was no less hard hit. Grass for grazing was nonexistent, and we could see that the animals were suffering. But then during our stay the heavens opened up and the drought was broken. Overnight we had more than 70mm of rain, and it was amazing to see the Limpopo river turn from a dry bed of sand into a flooded river.

 

Birding was still excellent, and a managed two lifers in the park – Three Banded Courser, and a very special bird that i had been looking for some time, Pels Fishing Owl.

 

Trip to Southern Kruger – Jul 2016

We set off on our annual holiday to Kruger National Park again this July.This year we decided to brave the busy south again, and once again, I realise that I like the area but not the crowds.

Staying our first few days in Berg-en-Dal the current drought just hit home again. The veld is bare of grass, but it almost seems asif the trees were staying green longer this year. Almost as if they new that they needed to provide food. Around the camp and up to Afsaal game was quite scarce in abundance, although we did see a good variety.

Up at Skukuza Golf Course there was a lifer waiting for me, and upon entry to the clubhouse I spotted the Lesser Jacana down on the lily pads on the dam. Almost too easy.

The next days at Pretoruiskop were quite good, with and excellent sighting of a Sable Antelope Bull. Camp birding was great as well with the biggest surprises being a Bat Hawk hunting every morning and night, and finding a family of Green Twinspot at the pool. Both these have never been recorded in the area on the Bird Atlas (SABAP2)

 

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.

 

 

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

Chobe Day trip

I had a quick day trip out to Chobe on the 19th of June. The trip consisted of a morning game drive and a afternoon boat cruise.

This probably was one of my most awesome birding days to date, with a number of long sought after birds finally seen. Probably the highlight was African Skimmer, which has been an iconic species from my childhood days, that i had always wanted to see for the first time in its prefered habitat, and resisted chasing after the recent vagrant ones in South Africa

Here are the first of the 8 new species that a managed to find on this day:

Longtoed Lapwing 

Red-billed Francolin

Swamp Boubou

Slaty Egret

Rufous-bellied Heron

Osprey

African Skimmer

Northern Grey-headed Sparrow

Little Crake at Clovelly

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go and see the Little Crake at Clovelly in the Western Cape. This was one of those twitches that i would not have wanted to miss as the chances of this bird appearing in SA again is very remote. Reports from this morning has indicated that is has left the little pond on which it has been seen for the past week and a half.

Photo page for this stunning bird has been added: Little Crake

Agatha

In April I spent a few days south of Tzaneen at the Coach House in Agatha. This was mainly a little break for us without the little one, but I managed to get a bit of birding done.

Fortunately the staff at the hotel could direct me to the well know site for the Bat Hawk, just down the road from the hotel. This particular site has been a breeding site for Bat Hawk since at least 1967, and a platform was placed in one of the trees to secure the nest. Although this is a almost guaranteed site for them, it is still very difficult to actually spot them as the site consists of 20 huge eucalyptus trees. I found it on the Saturday after a half hour search, but could not locate it again on the Sunday, which is a pity as the light would have been so much better.

Bat Hawk

Another lifer I got in the forest below the hotel was White-starred Robin, a bird that I had wanted to see for some time. My sighting was extremely brief and I am very happy that I had the flash on the camera as without it I would have never managed to get this shot.

White-starred Robin

The last photo was taken with the flash of a Chorister Robin-chat, a photo lifer for me, and I am very pleased with the result.

Chorister Robin-chat

Port Elizabeth Lifers

A week or so ago I left on a spur of the moment trip to PE to go hunt down Wilsons and Red-necked Phalaropes that was seen on a salt works out side of PE.

The weather let us down, and with rain and very little visibility at the pans we had no chance of finding these birds. The pans are quite extensive and views across them are sometimes up to a kilometer. Thus finding these birds in good light is already a challenge.

The two days were not wasted for me as I managed to pick a a few lifers in the area. The first started with Damara Tern at Cape Recife. I also picked up two other species that I have long looked for there. These were Grey Plover and Sanderling. They were so abundant on this trip that they soon became trash birds.

Grey Plover
Sanderling

A tip off provided me with my next lifer – Chestnut Banded Plover. We got the location for a breeding pair and their chick. We managed to locate the chick first and then found the adults. If this is the case with this species, what is their survival rate?

Chestnut Banded Plover

Our last visit was to the Sunday’s River mouth where I managed to connect with Terek Sandpiper.

Terek Sandpiper

I might have missed the two rarities but at least I did not return home empty handed.