Click here to read the Dolphin Coast Bird Club Newsletter Feb 2015…
Click here to read the report of the SANParks Honorary Rangers weekend in January.
Report by Norman Freeman.
Sunday morning 06h30 saw 16 intrepid birders gather at the entrance to the Umgeni Valley NR in spite of the very overcast weather with an occasional light shower and general mist.
The intention was to park above Cascades Falls and to bird the grasslands above with possible sightings over the top of the canopy and across the krantze’s bordering the Nkongongo Stream, a tributary of the Umgeni River. Our plan was then to bird down through ravine forest to Shelter Falls and Bush Camp. Partially due to the wet conditions and steep gradient the last leg of this route was considered too ambitious and the group turned back.
In spite of this though 50 birds were recorded here before we took our leave of this area and headed to Amber Valley. Amongst the sightings were Diderick Cuckoo, Jackal Buzzard, Zitting Cisticola, Common House-Martin, Natal Spurfowl, Brimstone Canary, Cape Crow, Rufous-naped Lark and Lazy Cisticola.
The weather, although still overcast, lifted slightly and we headed along the game trail within the Ambers. This area is more open grassland parallel to streams and wetland, dropping down to Mimosa and Acacia thickets.
On arrival, all were greeted at the parking by a herd of Impala, Blesbok with calves a little way off, Warthog and Zebra. A male Grey Duiker broke cover, ran a while and turned to view us intruders.
The birding along this short trail added further to our list. Amongst the most exciting birds seen and heard were Neddicky, a melanistic Black Sparrowhawk, Cape Grassbird, Cape Canary, Steppe Buzzard, Dark-Capped Yellow Warbler, Willow Warbler, African Firefinch, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Long-crested Eagle and African Harrier-Hawk.
Time for tea found us under the trees alongside Falcon Dam while YBK’s posed for Dave Rimmer in a near-by Mimosa. Photography had been difficult due to the weather conditions.
Good fellowship was had with all the general chitter-chatter and leg-pulling. At this point the group split with a number heading for the Karkloof Conservancy area and hide.
The majority opted to bird the Amber lakes which turned out very productive. Good sightings included Sacred Ibis, another Black Sparrowhawk but with the white chest markings, Reed and White-Breasted Cormorant, Little Rush Warbler, African Darter, Cape Weaver, Familiar Chat, Purple Heron, Cape and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Lanner Falcon, Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Rail and Malachite Kingfisher.
All in all 16 birders listed 81 birds for the mornings outing and a good time had been had by all. It was lunch time and each went their separate ways, most to amber further within the beautiful Natal Midlands.
During the last number of years BirdLife South Africa in partnership with WWF-SA, have been assisting the Free State Provincial Government to formally proclaim certain farms in the Memel area as a Protected Environment. These farms are extremely important for bird conservation as they host habitats such as grasslands and wetlands, which are used by species such as the globally Vulnerable Wattled (Bugeranus carunculatus) and Blue (Anthropoides paradiseus) cranes and the Endangered Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum). The area is also important for other threatened bird species such as Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus), Blue Korhaan (Eupodotis caerulescens), Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami), Yellow-breasted Pipit (Anthus chloris) and Rudd’s Lark (Heteromirafra ruddi). By proclaiming these properties a protected area, it provides protection from unsuitable land use practices for this area, such as mining. Management plans will be developed to improve the habitats in the area, for example through the removal of alien plants and improved burning practices.
On Friday 16 January 2015 the intention to declare this Protected Environment was published in the Free State Provincial Gazette Notice No. 91 (see attached document) and members of the public are now invited to comment on this proposal. BirdLife South Africa would like to obtain as many letters of support as possible. To indicate your support for this initiative please consider adding your name and email address to an online letter created by BirdLife South Africa: http://www.123contactform.com/form-1282836/Sneeuwberg-Letter-Of-Support.
BirdLife South Africa will print the letters and, under a cover letter from BirdLife South Africa, submit them to the MEC. For more information about this initiative please contact Ernst Retief at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please distribute this request to your bird club members and friends.
Regional Conservation Manager: Gauteng, North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Free State
Lewis House, 239 Barkston Drive, Blairgowrie 2194, Gauteng
P.O. Box 515, Randburg 2125, Gauteng, South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 789 1122 / 0860 BIRDER
Fax: +27 (0)11 789 5188
Cell: +27 (0) 72 223 2160
Scientists have turned to outer space to explain the mysterious disappearing act of one of Africa’s most famous birds.
Satellite trackers attached to 18 Bearded Vultures have confirmed conservationists’ worst fears: humans are largely to blame for the rapid demise of the species.
Once widespread throughout much of Southern Africa, the Bearded Vulture is now critically endangered in the sub-continent, with a nearly 50 percent reduction in nesting sites since the 1960s.
And the main reasons for their decline are collisions with power lines and poisoning, two major vulture hazards that killed half of the birds in the satellite tracking survey.
Once widespread across South Africa, the Bearded Vulture population is now restricted to the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho and South Africa. But even in these isolated mountains the population continues to decline due to human encroachment on nesting sites and feeding territory.
These are some of the key findings contained in two new research projects published this month. The studies paint the most detailed picture to date of the challenges facing the Bearded Vulture, also known as the ‘bone breaker’ due to its habit of dropping bones from a height to feed off the marrow inside.
The first paper, published in the international ornithological journal The Condor  by scientists from EKZN Wildlife and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute  at the University of Cape Town, found that human-related factors were the common denominator in differences between abandoned and occupied Bearded Vulture territories. Lead author on the study Dr Sonja Krueger  said: “We explored where the biggest difference lay between abandoned and occupied territories and found that human related factors such as human settlement density and powerlines were consistently different between these sites”.
Power line density and human settlement density were more than twice as high within abandoned vulture territories compared to occupied territories, the study found.
Results also suggested that food abundance may influence the bird’s overall distribution, and that supplementary vulture feeding schemes may be beneficial.
By contrast climate change was not found to be a major contributing factor in nest abandonment.
“Though not definitive, the results strongly suggest that we humans are our own worst enemies when it comes to conserving one of Africa’s iconic birds,” Krueger said.
The study recommended a new approach to vulture conservation management: “Based on the identified threats and mechanisms of abandonment, we recommend that conservation management focus on actions that will limit increased human densities and associated developments and influence the attitudes of people living within the territories of (vulture) breeding pairs,” the study concluded. “We recommend that mitigation of existing power lines, stricter scrutiny of development proposals, and proactive engagement with developers to influence the placement of structures is essential within the home range of a territorial pair.”
The study’s findings are backed up by a second paper published in open access journal PLOS ONE , which relied on data from satellite trackers attached to 18 Bearded Vultures. The trackers not only showed the exact location of the tagged birds every hour, they also provided critical information on movement patterns and mortality. Tagging enabled dead birds to be quickly recovered and their cause of death determined.
The study confirmed that, in addition to power lines, poisoning was considered the main threat to vultures across Africa and was contributing to the so-called “African Vulture Crisis”– a large decline of many vulture species across the continent.
The tracking data also provided new information about the birds’ ranging behaviour. It revealed that non-breeding birds traveled significantly further than breeding birds and were therefore more vulnerable to human impact. Some young non-breeding birds patroled an area the size of Denmark. The average adult bird had a home range of about 286 square kilometres, but the range was much smaller for breeding adults at just 95 square kilometres.
The tracking study, conducted between 2007 and 2014, required some innovative fieldwork. Researchers used meat lures to capture the birds at vulture feeding sites. Each captured bird was then fitted with a 70g solar-powered tracker designed to relay detailed information every hour between 5am and 8pm – including GPS coordinates and flight speed.
Tracking results also prompted the study authors to suggest several possible strategies to combat the threats posed by human infrastructure such as wind farms and power lines. These include: “ i) the mitigation of existing and proposed energy structures to reduce collision risks; ii) the establishment and improved management of supplementary feeding sites to reduce the risk of exposure to human persecution and poisoning incidents; and iii) focussed outreach programmes aimed at reducing poisoning incidents,” the study said.
Dr Arjun Amar  from UCT said detailed knowledge about Bearded Vulture home ranges could be hugely beneficial to vulture conservation: “We knew the species was likely to have large home ranges, but our results show just how far these birds travel – and therefore how exposed they are. The more they travel, the more they risk colliding with power lines or falling prey to poisoning.” He continued “what these two new studies suggest is that the impact of human activity on the survival of the Bearded Vulture is even more serious than we suspected. Plans for multiple wind farms in and around the highland regions of Lesotho will likely place even more pressure on this vulnerable species and may be the final death nail in this species coffin”.
Click here to read the BirdLife Plettenberg Bay newsletter.
During the night we had a very long and heavy downpour – which did not bode well for the Saturday outing. It was overcast and there was a slight drizzle in the morning – only 7 brave/keen birders joined me at iPhiti. It was very wet underfoot and the mozzies were biting but it wasn’t raining and we had an enjoyable walk. Not as wet underfoot as we expected.
Our bird count was in the region of +43 – the bird of the day had to be the Olive Thrush.
Naturally we had to have a mystery bird – was it a raptor? Some said it was a dove!! It turned out to be a Jackal Buzzard (to be fair it was a long way off and partially hidden in a tall Norfolk pine).
There were a few Golden Weavers nests at the dam but no birds were seen.
The Red-hot pokers are starting to flower in the vlei and should be worth a visit on a sunny day for sunbirds.
The pics are courtesy of Paul Bartho (under some very difficult lighting conditions he says!).
A Report by Paul Bartho
Over the past month a pair of Little Grebes have been nesting at Le Domaine, Hillcrest. After numerous attempts in trying to establish a nest they eventually found their perfect spot – a floating nest loosely attached to an overhanging reed.
They sat on this floating nest for about 3 weeks and we tried hard to see if they were on eggs.
Then viola, three tiny Little Grebes emerged.
At this point the nest broke loose and floated away. A fourth egg was seen in it and thought abandoned
but surprisingly after a full day unattended it too hatched.
At first it was hard to see the young as they hid under one parent or the other’s wings. Now they are no longer little Little Grebes as they get bigger and more visible every day.
We had a surprise in one of the photos that Frank Kihn took. He took a shot of one of the Little Little Grebes taking its first swim. When he got home he was hugely surprised with what he saw – see for yourself.
That was several days ago and still all four are seen regularly attempting to stay under cover of the wings!.
Photos courtesy of Frank Kihn and Paul Bartho.
THE outing began at the Gramarye smallholding at 07h00 on a very hot day. The garden provided a good start with a number of birds and then about a dozen of us walked down to the river.
There was plenty of birding activity starting with a Red-throated Wryneck.
In the tall grass there were Fan-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds flitting around, Levaillant’s Cisticolas and Common and Orange-breasted Waxbills. Along the stream there were Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, African Reed and Little Rush Warblers. Hadeda and Sacred Ibis, Burchell’s Coucal, Cattle Egret, Red-eyed and Cape Turtle-Dove, African Stonechat, Cape Grassbird, all contributed to make up the numbers.
Heard, but not seen, were African Rail and Red-chested Flufftail. The highlight for Hennie and Decklan Jordaan was catching a glimpse of a large bird disappearing in the trees, pursuing it across the river and finding a Barn Owl which Decklan photographed.
And another surprise – photographed by Decklan.
On the way back we saw one of the Grey Crowned Cranes currently nesting in a pan in the wetland feeding in a home paddock next to the garden.
Driving to the forest cottages on Boston View farm we saw several Amur Falcons, a pair of Lanner Falcons, a Rock Kestrel and a Steppe Buzzard.
At Boston View we parked at Bottom Cottage . From there we did a forest walk.
The forest walk provided a change of habitat and we had to focus on hearing birds as much as trying to see them. Bar-throated Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Sombre Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Cape Batis were amongst the birds marked as present, while another highlight was Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher.
Then it was lunch on the verandah of the cottage overlooking a dam, where an inexhaustible Decklan checked out the frogs as well.
And then it was time to leave Bottom Cottage.
On my SABAP2 atlas list I notched up over 60 species which included a pair of African Fish-Eagles circling Gramarye after we had returned home.
Pomene, Mozambique 10 to 19 January 2015
Paul and Sally Bartho
* Please note that at the end of this report there is a full bird list for each area we visited.
** Click here to see a map of our route.
*** Click here to download our bird list for each area we visited.
My sister, Natasha asked us if we would come with her family (husband Dick and 2 no longer teenage children, Luke and Madi) to Pomene in Mozambique – almost 1200 kms from home. For them a beach holiday and for us another opportunity to try and find the Green Tinkerbird.
To get to Pomene we drove up the N2, into Swaziland at Golela and headed for Siteki and the border crossing into Mozambique at Goba. Before entering Mozambique we overnighted at Mabuda Farm 30 kms short of the border. The overnight stop enabled us to get up very early (03h00) to cross the 24 hour border and get through Maputo before the traffic became hectic. Definitely the way to go.
There was no-one else at the border so we were through within 15 minutes – too early for them to deal with entry fees and other expected payments. Maputo was a breeze – although my sister was stopped for a bribe but talked her way out of it. A good thing they did not check their tail lights as they were not working – fuse had blown.
From there it was Xai Xai then Inhambane, on to Maxixe and at 14h10. getting to Massinga. The last leg of the journey was off road for 56 kms. The first 30 kms on baked mud and the rest on thick sand. Definitely need a 4×4 to get through.
Sally and I led the way as Dick and Tasha were towing a boat on a trailer. Tyres down to 1.4 bar and high range engaged, we set off. At the start of the sand there is a gated entrance to Pomene “reserve”. Payment please! 400 meticash (R140) per person plus the same per vehicle and double for the boat – yikes not expecting that. Anyway we are through. Most of the sand tracks are comfortable until you reach the mangroves.
The track narrows to one lane and is quite rutted and bumpy – low range engaged in parts. After the mangroves you pass through Pomene “City” – basically a couple of rum and trinket “shops”.
At last we arrive at 16h15 and choose the private 6 sleeper hut at the end.
Fortunately for Sally and I there was ample bird life. Much of the birding for waders is tidal dependant. At low tide, mud flats appear in the lagoon and extend from our mansion all the way back to the mangroves at Pomene “City” – almost 6 kms. It does mean walking through mangroves at times – shoes are important. Here we found most of the usuals:
Several waders stood out – Greater Flamingos, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers and 22 Crab Plovers (the latter appeared at the same place every day when the tide was low – we had also seen them here on previous visits).
On the sea side, the Terns roost when they are not out fishing. There were roosts extending down the sea side from our Mansion all the way to Pomeme “City”. Each roost appeared to have a majority of one species – Lesser Crested and/or Common Terns predominantly – with Little and Swift Terns among them. One roost at the end near Pomene “City” must have consisted of thousands of Common Terns.
There is also a variety of other birds to be seen in the surrounding areas – along the road into Pomene and up to the airport. The Purple-banded Sunbird has had us confused in the past and we saw it again in the same eclipse plumage.
However the most exciting of those seen was a pair of Sooty Falcons. We have seen them most times that we have been to Pomene.
Some of the other species seen and photographed include:
The Lilac-breasted Rollers were interesting in that there were about six or more of them together in one area. Usually we associate them as appearing on their own.
In all we identified 59 species while at Pomene. In the past we have recorded closer to 100 species – however we did take bird trips across the bay and were more adventurous in the mangroves. Our bird list can be seen at the start of this report.
Since we were so close to Unguana and the Green Tinkerbird – as the crow flies- we decided to make another effort at trying to find the bird. By chance Graham Snow (our guide on our previous trip in July) also happened to be in the area. We organised before we left to meet him and search together. The problem was confirming the arrangements when we got there – my roaming did not work and the hotel phones had run out of air time!
Sally and I left at 04h00 to drive back to the main road where we were to meet Graham. We got there just on 06h00 and reflated our tyres. Then we decided to drive down to Morrungulo (12 kms) to collect Graham as he was not yet at the meeting point. We got all the way to his accommodation to learn that he had left some time ago. Back we went – getting there a bit late but no Graham. It turned out that he also arrived there early and drove down our road to a wetland area where we had to pass – unfortunately he did not notice us beside the main road reflating our tyres!
Having missed each other we decided that as we had driven all this way that we would continue anyway. We managed to find the correct turn-off and drove down the dirt road until we found the place we had tried previously.
We found the path into the bush and spent quite some time looking and listening. The bush was very quiet and we hardly saw any birds but we kept on – recording only 21 species in the time we were there.
At one point we almost gave up but decided to persevere a little further. Then virtually at the end of the path I played the call to see if there was any point in continuing. It is quite a strident call on the Roberts program. Seconds later we had a reply – much softer. After chasing around trying to pinpoint the changing location of the call we eventually saw it fly overhead. Once located we kept our beady eyes on where it went and eventually it returned and landed quite close – giving us enough time to enjoy the sighting before moving on. No time for a photo. Then it re-appeared with a mate – again for too short a time to get a snap. After that they moved on. We had our Lifer.
And then the day came to leave Pomene. My sister and family decided to drive straight home so they left at 03h00 (eventually getting home near midnight). Sally and I decided to go to Inhambane for some more wader and shore birding. Getting there late morning.
Having not booked any accommodation we decided to see what was available right at the end beyond Barra Lodge and across the causeway. Areia Branca was our only choice and it was empty. So for R390 we stayed the night in a six sleeper self-catering chalet. When the tide came in the road dissapeared!
We had just missed a huge storm that they had had that morning blowing over one of the power lines in front of the camp. The wind was still blowing strong. Sparks were flying. Amazingly a power company crew arrived and had it all fixed in less than a couple of hours.
The mangroves were relatively quiet compared to Pomene, however we did see a Crab Plover and a Greater Flamingo at some distance. We also found a Tern roost sea side – mainly Lesser Crested Terns. Perhaps if we had stayed longer and the wind was quieter we might have had better birding. Altogether we only identified 36 different bird species.
Our next destination was the flood plain after Xai Xai – staying at Honey Pot – a useful overnight stop in surprisingly well wooded grounds beside the main road. Honey Pot is located at the town of “3 de Feveriero” 16 kms south of Xai Xai right next to a large cell phone tower.
On the way we stop in the town of Zandamela -about 84 kms north of Xai Xai. Here we search in vain all the dead trees for the elusive African Hobby which is resident there. We later learned from Graham that he saw it there the day before at mid morning – much the same time as we passed through. Grrrrr……
We check in at Honey Pot and get given a large air-conditioned self-catering chalet for R400 for the night. Very noisy cool air. The plan was to have a look around the grounds and then later on go to the floodplain.
As we started our walk around the grounds we heard a call of a raptor close-by. There were two – adult and juvenile together – Lizard Buzzards.
In all we only recorded 11 species in the short time birding. Other birds photographed in the grounds:
The Red-backed Mannikin was seen at its nest. As it entered its nest so it pulled a part of the nest material over the entrance hiding it completely.
Later in the afternoon we headed for the floodplain – a 15 km drive. Exit Honey Pot, drive to 3 de Feveriero turn right to get there. Unfortunately being a Sunday there were many people there enjoying the waters – kids playing around. The road disintegrated when we reached the floodplain with an interesting bridge which I did manage to cross – on foot.
A few photos of some of the 41 bird species that we identified:
The next day we headed back to South Africa. Leaving early we planned to use the new Maputo by-pass. At Marracuene, north of Maputo, the road changed into a double lane highway (as yet incomplete but the traffic was fast flowing). It was here that we were meant to find the start of the by-pass. In the end we entered Maputo at peak hour on a Monday morning. The main road has 2 lanes on each side – however they were using three lanes to enter Maputo and one to exit. A bit of organised madness. One and a half hours later we were through and on our way to the Swaziland border where we entered Mozambique.
We eventually got through Swaziland at mid-day. By now we were hungry so Sally suggested we pop into Pongola Reserve and picnic there. Great idea. We love this reserve. It is right at the northern end of Lake Jozini and has a wide variety of habitats. There is only camping available there – no power but an ablution block per site. There is also a hunting Lodge which can be rented out in the off season.
We decide to take a quick look around the side of the lake before heading on. However it was over two hours later that we left.
There were waterbirds all along the shore and many other interesting species. The first was a viewing of a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying high overhead. This was followed by numerous Amur Falcons; Lesser Grey Shrike; Red-backed Shrikes; European Roller (in washed out plumage); Yellow-billed, Marabou and White Storks; Grey, Purple and Goliath Herons; Pink-backed Pelican. We never got into the central thornbush area of the reserve but we saw 55 different bird species in the 2 hours there. (See bird list at start of report).
From Pongola we headed for St. Lucia to see family and then headed home the next day.
Hope you all enjoy the read.
Paul & Sally Bartho
A Report Back by Anders Peltomaa.
Extract from an email from Anders to Niall Perrins.
Thanks for sharing your photos, David (Allan). You got some great flight shots.
Thanks to all for making it a terrific day. It was my first pelagic trip out of South Africa and I saw many lifers.
I did a little write-up of the day for my friends back home in New York. Many of them were out on a pelagic trip out of Freeport, NY. It’s a long haul out to the good waters in New York state. The Hudson Canyon is around 90-110 nautical miles from the shore and it takes about 5 hours of good motoring to reach it. They didn’t see anything unexpected, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Iceland Gulls and good numbers of alcids: Common Murre, Dovekie and Razorbills. Nothing I feel bad about having missed or getting rubbed in. Our trip was much better, and my best birding buddy commented: “I hate you!” Guess what will be on his Xmas card this year?
On Saturday, 10 January 2015, I went on a pelagic trip out of Durban, South Africa. My alarm rang at 4:10am. It was around 20 degrees warm outside and the forecast was for a mostly sunny day. So I dressed in T-shirt, shorts and sandals thinking that I’d be ok like that. Turned out that the sandals really were unnecessary. You gotta love the Austral summer, back home in New York it was around -20 degrees.
We sailed out from Wilson’s Wharf shortly before 6am on a very nice fishing boat named “isiHuhwa” (which is the Zulu name for Crowned Eagle) with Captain John at the helm and reached the shelf drop off after an hour and a half. The first batch of chum was taken out of the coolers and dumped in the sea and it was interesting to see, because the method of chumming was new to me. Later in the day David Allan told me that this was Hadoram Shirihai’s method (since I read a bit about seabirding, I thought this is going to bring in some good birds).
But, things were a bit slow after the first batch of chum went into the water. Maybe it wasn’t windy enough to spread the yummy smell to the tubenoses? So, I thought that if I stop scanning the sky and horizon and go to the loo something good could fly in, because that had worked in the past. For instance on the August, 2014 pelagic in New York. Yes, I was taking a leak when the Fea’s Petrel flew in. You’re welcome! (and I did get out in a hurry to get one of the bird.)
Low and behold! Within minutes a Sabine’s Gull flew in to our developing chum slick. This was a lifer for many on board and the first Sabine’s Gull on a Durban pelagic for even the veterans. Hearts, feelings and cameras started heating up. Next in to our slick flew a Long-tailed Jaeger, which was another “first” for many birders.
The Grand Prize Bird was still to come, though.
A bird kinda-looking like a Gannet flew in, over the boat and away never to return, but eyes got on it and cameras captured images. Was it? The leaders checked their cameras’ LCD displays and it was. A RED-FOOTED BOOBY!
It was another lifer many birders, including me. What a day on the sea!
To finish the day I spotted a large raptor over the Durban Bayhead ridge, as we were getting back to the dock. With help from more knowledgeable birders it was identified as a Crowned Eagle! The name of our boat!
Click here to view a link to an album of some photos I took.
Click here to view photos taken by Niall Perrins which should be publicly viewable on his Facebook Page.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and seabirds!
New Year’s outing to Umbogavango
Although we started early it was still very hot and humid and by 09:00 the birds were seeking shade as well as the birders!!
There were 25 of us and our bird count was 83 plus – not too shabby for such a hot day. Maybe nothing spectacular although we did hunt high and low for the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Fulvous Duck to no avail.
Various nests were found, Fork tailed Drongo high up in a Eucalyptus and in the same tree the White-eared Barbets were nesting and feeding chicks. Of course the weavers were busy; Village, Thick-billed, Yellow, Spectacled and Dark-backed.
Penny has taken some super pics of a Yellow Weaver starting out on his nest – let’s hope they meets with approval. Sunbirds were conspicuous by their absence – the one group heard was an Olive Sunbird and that was it.
Raptors: Long crested and African Fish Eagle – lots of YBK’s and a Common Buzzard. A number of Egyptian Geese with chicks and a lone Spur-wing perched in a dead tree.
Otherwise the water birds were mainly Little Grebe, Yellow-billed Duck and Common Moorhen. Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers were mainly heard but we did manage to see a few as well.
We also found the most beautiful tree(?) frog – bright yellow (Sandi tells me that if the eyes are horizontal it is a painted reed frog but if the eyes are vertical then it is a tree frog).
Another unusual sighting was that of a pair of Red-billed Quelea.
Umbogavango is a lovely place, easy walking with various hides and masses of yellow and white arums in amongst the reeds. Waking back over the weir to the picnic site we surprised a Mountain Wagtail to end off a good morning’s birding. Here are some of the other photos taken:
Thanks to Sally for leading a group and thanks to all the photographers Rex, Mike, Paul & Penny and anybody else I might have left out for the superb pics!
Cheers & a Happy New Year
Early December for 2 weeks.
In the first two weeks of December I joined a group of Birders with Bustard Birding Tours on a trip to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Penny de Vries and Dave Rimmer were also part of the group led by Niall Perrins. This trip was a wonderful adventure for me and taught me what real birding was all about. Dave Bishop who was also part of the group kept reminding us that this was “intense birding”, I couldn’t agree with him more, but loved every minute of it.
There were 8 of us in the group, besides those mentioned above we had Richard Everett and his faithful landrover and Karen and Rolfe Weisler from Johannesburg. As a group we recorded 337 birds seen, a total of 349 if we include those we heard. My personal count was 216 with a spectacular list of 44 lifers. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop …………
My adventure started on Saturday when we left Johannesburg and headed for Norma Jeans on the edge of Kyle Dam. Needless to say we had massive issues at Beit Bridge which was chaotic. Queues of hundreds of people trying to get through in the blazing sun, and greedy touts making promises to short circuit the system delayed us by over four hours. Eventually at nightfall we arrived at our destination, tired, hungry and very thirsty for an ice cold Zambezi beer (or two!).
The next day started early (after a few days into my trip I questioned if birders ever sleep – 3.30 am is late for them!) and we birded around Kyle Dam. It was here I found my first lifer of the trip – a beautiful Miomba Double-Collared Sunbird singing his heart out at the top of a tree with Kyle Dam in the background. Birding around the dam was wonderful and I was able to record a further seven lifers.
After reluctantly leaving Kyle Dam we headed for Seldomseen near Mutare in the Eastern Highlands. It is magnificent birding here with all the forest birds, but oh so difficult. Due to thick mist in the morning we decided to head to Cecil Kop Nature Reserve which offers magnificent views of Mutare. Here we found the Tree Pipit which was exciting and another lifer on my list. On the way back to Seldomseen we did a detour via the Golf Course in Mutare where we saw Whyte’s Barbet eyeing us from his little hole above us. The easiest bit of birding I have ever done.
Seldomseen offers magnificent birds but most certainly made us work hard to find them. The forests are thick, dark and offers these blighters lots of hiding places. It was then I was rudely reminded that this is the reason why I avoid forests if at all possible, far prefer to find such obliging birds like Whyte’s Barbet!! Saying that, we found some specials one of them being Swynnerton’s Robin.
Our next destination was Beira where we visited Rio Savanne and Rio Maria areas. It was very dry as the rains had not yet arrived so we missed out on a number of species we were targeting. After enjoying watching a pair of Copper Sunbirds in the company of some Little Bee-eaters Rich Everett declared this to be a “mighty fine day”.
Beira offered us a little bit of nightlife – the only bit we had the entire holiday unless you count Dave Rimmer chasing owls, bush babies and bugs in the middle of the night. On the way to dinner the one evening Niall and myself raced Dave and Rich in our tuk-tuks. Rich and Dave won the race, but at a price. We splashed a puddle of water drenching our opponents and filling Rich’s mouth with Beira Road flavoured mud! This was soon washed down with 2M beer so there were no hard feelings from either side.
Mphingwe Camp near the little town of Caia was our next stop. It was here that I was warned about the Coutadas – hot, humid, full of mosquitoes and horse flies, added to that when you ‘go in’ (to quote Niall), you fight with tree vines getting you all knotted up like the forest wants you there forever, merciless thorn trees and pits of ants that bite as if you are standing in a bush of nettles. I learned very quickly, if you want to see the East Coast Akalat, White Chested Alethe and the African Pitta this is what you are subjected to. Our efforts were rewarded with fine sightings of both the Akalat and Alethe, but sadly not the Pitta –not even a single ‘pleeup”. I think this was the Coutadas telling me I have to come back despite my moans.
It was here that Niall found a pair of Barred Long-Tailed Cuckoos which was a lifer for him. They really gave us the run-around but eventually displayed themselves briefly (so briefly I missed out) and not good enough for a photo.
We also had the priveldge of visiting Grown Farm near the town of Senna in the Chemba District where we met a friendly lady called Sharon. She allowed us to scour her farm which is on the Zambezi River for Bohm’s Bee-eater and yes we found it! Was truly thrilling.
Our final destination was none other than Gorongoza – a place I always dreamed of and has been on my bucket list forever. The park is closed for the wet season but our intention was to go up the mountain to find the Green Headed Oriole.
Another early morning saw us bumping up a long rocky road to Mount Gorongoza. Along the way everyone once again fell out their cars, this time to the call of the Marsh Tchagra. By now I was so sleep deprived I just could not join them as I was still battling to open my eyes and as a result dipped on this one.
Gerbre van Zyl led the pack, a very pleasant easy walk up to the fringes of the forest on the mountain. Not too far in we heard the Oriole and a few of us decided to plonk ourselves on the comfy rocks and wait for the birds to come to us rather than battle deeper into the forest. This paid off, not only did a pair of Orioles visit, we also had the pleasure of the company of the Pallid Honeyguide, Delegorgue’s Pigeon, African Harrier Hawk being harassed by a group of Drongos and the beautiful Red-Capped Robin Chat among many others.
Our trip was not without incident. We had Niall accusing us of walking through the bush “like a bunch of rhinos”, causing much mirth. Rich kept us entertained with first of all getting stuck in the mud while were trying to flush out the Great Snipe, and then getting lost in Mphingwe. We had Penny doing a flamingo dance while everyone was chasing the Speckle-Throated Woodpecker – cannot remember why she chose to imitate a flamingo when we were in the middle of the Coutadas, imitating a Pitta would have been more appropriate! We lost a number plate and had to be very innovative dodging the Zim police, Niall took out a pole and lost a running board in the process and Rich’s faithful Old Lady broke her fan belt.
Too soon it was time to face the journey home and be subjected to the dreaded border crossing at Beit Bridge. After travelling a total of 5800 km I can only say that this was a wonderful worthwhile experience and thank Niall Perrins and my fellow travellers for one of the most exciting trips I have ever done.
Yesterday a few of us decided to do a bit of birding at the SAPPI Mill and hide near Stanger. We – Roy Cowgill, Steve Davis, my wife Sally and I – made a leisurely start arriving at 09h00.
Atlassing began as we arrived in the pentad. After a slow drive off the main road to the office we ventured to the hide. We also obtained access to the picnic area to bird and have lunch and eventually departed at 15h00.
In all we observed 94 different bird species. Click here if you wish to look at our bird list. There were also sightings of butterflies, dragonflies, weevils, frogs and most exciting for me anyway an obliging Grey Mongoose – a species I had not seen before. You may have noticed from the list that we had no sightings of Fork-tailed Drongos nor Southern Black Flycatchers.
Some of the bird excitement we enjoyed included the sighting of a Marsh Warbler, several Namaqua Doves, a Booted Eagle, a female Southern Pochard and a Cape Shoveler. Here are some of the photos taken:
The Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide Conservation Project would like to offer the unique opportunity for individuals and corporates to sponsor a satellite transmitter for an ongoing research programme for our Cape Vulture breeding colony.
A representative from each sponsor will have the opportunity to watch their ‘adopted’ vulture being fitted with it’s transmitter and then released during the tagging process in February 2015.
The vulture will then be allocated a name chosen by the sponsor. The sponsor will also receive a digital photo taken with ‘their’ vulture and regular email updates on the progress of ‘their’ bird.
Each transmitter costs R25,000.00. There is no limit on the number of transmitters per sponsor.
The research is being carried out by Prof Dr. Dana Berens from Marburg University in Germany.
More details of the research can be found at:
To apply for your very special sponsorship, please email Andy Ruffle at the following email address:
bookings.vulturehide (at) yahoo.co.za
Closing date for applications is 18th January 2015.
The Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide is a conservation project of BirdLife Trogons Bird Club (NPO-040-174) in association with the landowner.
Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide Website: http://vulturehide.blogspot.com/
Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/oribivulturehide/
BirdLife Trogons Bird Club Website: http://birdlifetrogons.blogspot.com/
Please disseminate this communication as widely as possible.
Kind regards and many thanks.
Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide
Cell: 072 893 3794
WhatsApp: 081 510 8333
Paul and Sally Bartho
The purpose of this final chapter in our saga through Zululand and the Kruger is:
- to show a detailed Bird List of birds we saw in each place we visited – as an Excel spreadsheet. Highlighting the birds we considered special.
- to display the possibly contentious and mystery birds we encountered and photographed – feedback always welcome.
- to identify our worst sighting on the trip.
- to comment on a few observations we made.
- to post a summary of photos of birds and animals we saw on our trip.
Click here to see our bird list for each area we visited.
Next are some photos of birds which require ID. Have a go if you are interested and make your comments in the assigned place beneath each photo.
Then we have birds which are contentious. Again have a go if you are interested and make your comments in the assigned place beneath each photo.
Definitely the worst sighting of our trip occurred as we reached the turn-off from the main road to Pafuri Picnic site. Right on the corner we saw three Common Mynahs.
Highlights and Observations:
- We never saw nor heard a Woodlands Kingfisher between 22 October and 19 November – the whole time we were in the Kruger. Our first sighting was in Ndumo.
- We did not see an European Roller until Eastern Shores, Isimangoliso on 24 November and it was the only one we saw.
- Red-backed Shrike had only just started appearing in the Kruger when we reached Pafuri on 5 November. Only a few more were seen on our way south.
- Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were seen as far south as Balule – mainly on Buffalo. There was a time not long ago when you needed to be in the Punda Maria region to be lucky to see one.
- Eurasian Golden Orioles were seen in pairs on four occasions -Tsendze; Shingwedzi; Skukuza and Ndumo.
- By far the best camp we stayed at was Tsendze. The staff are exceptional, the habitat varied and interesting, the campsite full of Owls in the many tall trees. Balule and Malelane are two other campsites that we will visit again.
- On the S114 heading N/S to Skukuza a Cocqui Francolin was heard – try as we may we were unable to see it – Sally’s current bogie bird. However this led us to an excellent sighting of a Stierling’s Wren-Warbler nearby.
- Being at the right place at the right time – that is how we were lucky enough to see the African Finfoot as we crossed the Sabie Bridge on the way to Skukuza.
- Our Owl sightings started in Mkuze with a great view of a juvenivle Pel’s Fishing-Owl followed by Verreaux’s at Crocodile Bridge; Spotted Eagle Owl in Ndumo; Scops, Barred and Pearl-spotted in a number of places.
- In Mkuze there was a Crowned Plover on its nest right beside the road – it had 2 eggs. Two days later there was nothing to be seen.
- An amazing hairstyle of an African Paradise-Flycatcher and an Afro-styled Brown Snake-Eagle in Punda Maria.
- Exceptionally dark colourations of Laughing and African Mourning Doves in Tshokwane Picnic site and in the Satara camp.
- On the S100, N’wanetsi River Road, we came across what at first we believed to be a pair of Red-necked Spurfowls – we were excited. However we later found out that they were hybrids. This poses further questions: Why a pair of hybrids together? Brothers, sisters, brother and sister or a mating pair? Mating pair – more questions!
- We had four different sightings of Greater Painted-Snipes. A sole male at the Sweni hide, Satara; a pair of males on the Tsendze loop; another pair of males on the walk below the Mopani restaurant; and two males and a female together on the S93 just north of Olifants.
- The Green Sandpiper at the Sweni bridge on the main road south of Satara was observed by us on a number of occasions.
- Two Red-chested Cuckoos were seen together in the Pafuri Picnic site – a male paying attention to a juvenile. Shouldn’t be offspring so it is assumed that the juvenile was a female coming of age and being swooned by an adult male.
- Also near the Pafuri Picnic site we observed 2 squabbling Eagles – on settling in the same tree we noted that they were both African Hawk-Eagles – an adult and a rufous juvenile.
- We had the challenge of identifying a Harrier seen in the distance at the Thongonyeni waterhole on the Tropic of Capricorn loop just north of Mopani. Luckily not a female but a juvenile – a Pallid Harrier.
- In St. Lucia we found a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits along the mud flats at the mouth of the Lake St. Lucia estuary. There were also 13 African Black Oystercatchers on the beach. Many other waders and Terns were also seen.
- In Ndumo there was a female Little Bittern dashing between the reeds right in front of the Nyamithi Hide. At the Vulture restaurant on separate occasions we noticed an adult and then a juvenile Palm-nut Vulture.
- Interesting animal sightings include:
- a one tusker Elephant with a very long tusk
- a Civet in broad daylight unconcernedly foraging right next to us. It had a sore back right leg and was limping. This was the only lifer that either of us had on our trip. As we watched we did not notice an elephant approaching directly towards us from the other side until it was just metres away. Mega hasty retreat was called for – adrenalin does wonders to focus you.
- a male Leopard coming for a drink at Lake Panic Hide, Skukuza.
- Dwarf Mongooses around our campsite at Malelane.
- Hippos resting in peace at Sweni Hide
- Numerous very large herds of Buffalo. One herd was over a kilometre long and it appeared to be over 20 animals across most of the way – must have been thousands of animals.
- A rather interesting Waterbuck – rather suave and foppish!
Some of the other animals photographed:
- There is one photo which does not appear real – it looks as if a tree has uprooted itself and is coming straight for us.
- However the “piece-de-la-resistance” is definitely the two magical mystical photos of the Pennant-winged Nightjars we saw while at Punda Maria.
And finally an album of some of the other bird photos follows: