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

Life lists

Ok, so maybe I am a slightly bigger lister than I think I am:

Southern African Life List: 556

Photographic Life List: 423

Gauteng: 302

North West: 240

Limpopo: 359

Mpumalanga: 374

KZN: 328

Freestate: 233

Eastern Cape: 149

Western Cape: 155

Northern Cape: 147

Lesotho: 59

Kruger National Park: 307

Sabap 2: 488

Randburg Garden: 76