Shongweni Outing.

Report by Elena Russell

3rd November 2018

Small turnout, 13, whether this was due to the uncertainty about Shongweni or the weather, which had been pretty awful during the week!!

Access would appear to be no problem, security may still be a bit dicey as parts of the fences are down and the cattle and goats do tend to wander about.

The campers, fishermen and canoeists are all back so hopefully we are not about to lose one of the hottest birding spots in KZN.

There is an entrance fee, presently at R30 p/p and on enquiry about Big Birding Day and very early morning access, I suggested 05:00, Greg asked that we send him an SMS and he will arrange for the gate to be open but that a guide/guard (from the local community) should accompany each vehicle.  (Greg’s cell 083 290 4141).

Now to the birding!!

Maybe our count was a little low at 88 but the quality was excellent (bird list attached – click here).

We started off by the old Msinsi office and walked around the houses: plenty of Chinspot Batis, Cardinal Woodpeckers, Tawny-flanked Prinias, Cape White-eyes, Rattling Cisticolas and Violet-backed Starlings and much more.

Walking back to the road we found a Black Cuckoo, calling from the top of a tree, which I thought must be Bird of the Day.

Back at the office I suggested a short walk down the back to the playing field and jokingly remarked that I had once seen Bald Ibis there. Well guess what, there they were, a pair of Bald Ibis – 5 stars and Bird of the Day!!

Next stop the view site and the rock face hoping for the Striped Pipit but no such luck. The Trumpeter Hornbills are back at their nest site on the rock face.

White-breasted Cormorants, Egyptian Geese and Speckled Pigeons on the dam wall, then down to the bottom of the dam wall.

We dipped on the Mountain Wagtail although Mike Jackson did try to persuade us that his excellent photo of a juvenile African Pied Wagtail could/might be the Mountain Wagtail but we sorrowfully had to dissuade him of this fact!!!

Long-crested Eagle, Yellow-billed Kites, a pair of Lanner Falcons and the African Fish Eagle were heard calling.

Yellow-billed Kite – Mick Jackson

Long-crested Eagle and African Fish-Eagle – Mick Jackson

We went down to the camp site for our tea. Not much on the water as there appeared to be some sort of canoe regatta taking place but a nice spot and the Saturday Chat Show was in full session.

Thanks to Sandi for the bird list and David Swanepoel and Mike Jackson for the brilliant photos.

Cheers

Elena

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Mabola Protected Environment near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga.

Yesterday, the North Gauteng High Court set aside the 2016 decisions of former Mineral Resources Minister Zwane and the late Environmental Affairs Minister Molewa to permit a new coal mine to be developed in the Mabola Protected Environment near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga.

The case was brought by the coalition of eight civil society organisations challenging a range of authorisations that have permitted an underground coal mine in a strategic water source area and a protected area.

The Mabola Protected Environment was declared under the Protected Areas Act in 2014 by the Mpumalanga provincial government as part of the declaration of more than 70 000 hectares of protected area in the Mpumalanga grasslands. This followed years of extensive research and planning by a number of government agencies, including the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency.

In 2016, without public consultation and without notice to the coalition, the two Ministers gave their permission for a large, 15-year coal mine to be built inside the Mabola Protected Environment.

The Court set aside the permission and referred the decision back to the two Ministers for reconsideration on the basis that the Ministers did not take their decisions in an open and transparent manner or in a manner that promoted public participation, and that the decisions were therefore procedurally unfair.

The court criticised the Ministers for relying on the processes followed by other decision-makers instead of exercising their discretion under the Protected Areas Act independently, referring particularly to their failure to apply a cautionary approach when dealing with “sensitive, vulnerable, highly dynamic or stressed ecosystems” as “an impermissible abdication of decision-making authority”.

The court also held that: “A failure to take South Africa’s international responsibilities relation to the environment into account and a failure to take into account that the use and exploitation of non-renewable natural resources must take place in a responsible and equitable manner would not satisfy the ‘higher level of scrutiny’ necessary when considering whether mining activities should be permitted in a protected environment or not. Such failures would constitute a failure by the state of its duties as trustees of vulnerable environment, particularly where it has been stated that ‘most people would agree, when thinking of the tomorrows of unborn people that is it a present moral duty to avoid causing harm to the environment'” (at 11).

 

 

The permission for this mine given by Molewa and Zwane was the first in South Africa for a new mine to be permitted in a protected environment. Earthlife Africa, the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA), the Endangered Wildlife Trust, BirdLife South Africa, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD), the Bench Marks Foundation and groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, challenged the late Environmental Affairs’ Minister’s and the former Minerals Minister’s decisions to allow this mine to go ahead.

The court ordered that on reconsideration of the application for permission to mine in the Mabola Protected Environment, the Ministers are directed to:
•    comply with sections 3 and 4 of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA);
•    take into account the interests of local communities and the environmental principles refer to in section 2 of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) “with a strict measure of scrutiny”;
•    defer their decisions on reconsideration until after the Environmental Management Programme and Water Use Licence appeals have been determined;
•    not grant permission in terms of section 48(1)(b) of NEMPAA unless a management plan for the Mabola Protected Environment has been approved by the MEC in terms of section 39(2) of the Protected Areas Act and the management plan’s zoning of the area in which the intended mining is to take place permits such mining.

The High Court expressed its criticism of “a disturbing feature in the conduct of the Ministers” and endorsed the submission made by counsel for the coalition that “ethical environmental governance and behaviour is enhanced simply by exposing it to the glare of public scrunity”. What resulted was “an unjustifiable and unreasonable departure from the PAJA presripts and lead to procedurally unfair administrative action.” The High Court ordered the Ministers and MEC to pay the coalition’s legal costs on an attorney and client (punitive) scale.

“South Africa has long recognised that the grasslands of Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State are incredibly important to South Africa’s natural heritage. The grasslands are important water sources, and home to a range of production sectors that underpin economic development. In the case of Mabola, the Protected Environment falls inside a strategic water source area which feeds some of South Africa’s biggest rivers,” says Yolan Friedmann, Chief Executive Officer of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. “Moreover, protected areas not only help protect our biodiversity – particularly our incredible wildlife – and important natural ecosystems, but are also a key part of South Africa’s reputation as a global tourist destination.”

Mashile Phalane, spokesperson for the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA) says: “This judgement is a victory for environmental justice. We want to see protected areas actually protected against mining by our government as custodians of the environment on behalf of all South Africans. This custodianship is violated if decisions that have such important consequences are taken behind closed doors. MEJCON-SA is deeply invested in issues of accountability. This judgement reinforces the fundamental importance of fair and transparent decision making.”

Catherine Horsfield, attorney and mining programme head at the Centre for Environmental Rights, welcomed the judgement. “It confirms to government and to all developers proposing heavily polluting projects in environmentally sensitive areas in South Africa that exceptional circumstances must be shown to exist to justify that proposed development. South Africa is a water-stressed country, and the Mabola Protected Environment, where the coal mine would be located, has particular hydrological significance for the country as a whole.

“The judgement also confirms the foundational principles of our law that went awry when the Ministers made their decisions to permit mining here. These are that no decision of this magnitude can be made unless a fair, proper and transparent decision making process has been followed.”

Download a copy of the judgement.
Read more about the campaign.

 

 

For comment, please contact:
Water source areas expert
University of Cape Town
Amanda Mkhonza, Lecturer, Institute of Marine & Environmental Law,
Mobile: 81 445 0023

Spokespeople for the coalition of eight civil society organisations
Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD)
Sharon Pollard, Executive Director
Mobile: 082 944 4775
Email: sharon@award.org.za

Bench Marks Foundation
John Capel, Executive Director
Mobile: 082 870 8861
Email: jcapel@eject.co.za

BirdLife South Africa
Mark Anderson, Chief Executive Officer
Tel: 011 789 1122
Email: ceo@birdlife.org.za

Earthlife Africa
Makoma Lekalakala, director
Mobile: 082 682 9177
Email: makoma@earthlife.org.za

Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)
Yolan Friedmann, Chief Executive Officer
Mobile:  082 990 3534
Email: yolanf@ewt.org.za

Federation for a Sustainable Development
Mariette Liefferink, CEO
Mobile: 073 231 4893
Email: mariette@pea.org.za

GroundWork
Bobby Peek, Director
Mobile: 082 464 1383
Email: bobby@groundwork.org.za

Thomas Nguni, Community Activist
Mobile: 072 449 5655
Email: thomas@groundwork.org.za

Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaign Manager
Mobile: 073 774 3362
Email: robs@groundwork.org.za

Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA)
Mashile Phalane, Secretary
Mobile: 072 336 7853
Email: mejcon.sa@gmail.com

Thelma Nkosi
Mobile: 071 519 0133
Email: thandekile2006@yahoo.com

Attorneys for the coalition of eight civil society organisations
Centre for Environmental Rights
Catherine Horsfield, Programme Head: Mining
Mobile: 082 898 8795
Email: chorsfield@cer.org.za

Melissa Fourie, Executive Director
Mobile: 072 306 8888
Email: mfourie@cer.org.za

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Bearded Vulture growing up

Dear All

I hope you will agree that the attached two images are worth an additional email from me this week. These are the latest images of “Kentucky” from our nest camera- growing fast and getting ready to fledge in about a months time.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Save Lake St. Lucia

Janet Cuthbertson to Save our Lake St. Lucia

Isimangaliso Action Group have have submitted comments re the Proposed mining (photo below showing proposed drill sites) of the dunes in the protected area South of Mapelane: – Comments on the Draft Basic Assessment Report for the Application For Environmental Authorisation Of Prospecting Proposed By Eyamakhosi Resources (Pty) Ltd (KZN 30/ 5/1/1/2/10732pr)

……. Attention: Thami Mabaso and Senzi Thabisile Mabaso

Dear Ms Mabaso

The iSimangaliso Action Group is a group of citizens concerned with the prospecting proposed by the Eyamakhosi Resources. The original members of this group were involved in the Campaign for St Lucia which successfully stopped the mineral sands mining of the eastern shores of Lake St Lucia in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The group first heard of this application in July 2018 while planning an event to commemorate this victory. Our concerns are set out below:

1. Public Consultation Process We are concerned with the public consultation process with regards to this application, as it is on the southern boundary of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The park is an internationally recognised area by UNESCO as a world Heritage site and it is also protected in terms of The World Heritage Convention Act (Act 49 of 1999) under South African law. Despite this, the application was only advertised in the iLanga newspaper 24 to 27th May and in the Zululand Observer on the 27th August 2018. In light of the above we have the following concerns:

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1.1The notices should have been placed in a national newspaper and sent to wide range of national interest groups such as the Wildlife Society of South Africa, Earthlife Africa, Wildlands Trust in addition to government regulatory bodies etc as is the norm with an EIA process of national importance

1.2 When an EIA process is undertaken such as this; the application and the correspondence is logged, acknowledged and a matrix attached to the documentation of who registered as Interested and Affected Party, who requested documents and who attended public meetings etc. In the BAR report only the meeting with the traditional authority is recorded.

1.3When concerned members of the public became aware of the process in July 2018, they sent e-mails, telephoned the consultants and they were promised documentation, this was only finally circulated on 5th of October 2018 via dropbox with note in the dropbox message stating that there was 30 days to comment on the report. There was no covering letter stating the closing date for comments as is expected in a public consultation process of this importance.

2. Conservation and Bio diversity The application area is identified in the Systematic Conservation Assessment (SCA) for the Province as a Critical Biodiversity Area (CBA 1). Based on irreplaceability analyses, CBA 1 areas are irreplaceable, as the planning units represent the only localities to achieve the Provinces Conservation targets. Such sites have to be afforded maximum protection if we are to ensure that the Province’s conservation goals and targets are achieved.
The area is home to between 130 and 150 bird species a number of which are near threatened or critically endangered, near endemic and range restricted e.g. Southern Banded Snake-eagle. These would be impacted by the nature of the proposed activities to the extent that the activity would eliminate some of the species from the area such as a localized population of Columba delegorguei (Eastern bronze-naped pigeon or Delegorgue’s pigeon). This species is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and is threatened by fragmentation of forests and clearing of forests.

In addition the site falls within a Critically Endangered, National Threatened Terrestrial Ecosystem in terms of the Schedule gazetted under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004), as KwaMbonambi Dune Forest (KZN 8). This ecosystem extends from Richards Bay in the south up to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park boundary. Less than 1% of the ecosystem is protected in the Nhlabane Nature Reserve and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park combined. The area consists of six vegetation types: KwaZulu-Natal Coastal Forest, KwaZulu-Natal Dune Forest, Mangrove Forest, Maputaland Wooded Grassland, Maputuland Coastal Belt and Swamp Forest. Any prospecting or mining of this vegetation type, given its rarity and poor representation in protected areas, must therefore be considered unsustainable, and hence any impact assessment would logically arrive at this conclusion.

We are further concerned that the lead consultant for the Ecological Assessment Report Mr Le Roux has now distanced himself from his Ecological Assessment Report, on the grounds that it was prepared on inaccurate information and he is no longer confident his conclusions about the nature and significance of the impacts are correct. He has also recommended that among other things, that a specialist wetland study is undertaken. Specialist reports on coastal dynamics and morphology, wetlands, estuaries, plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates are also necessary as is a report on the likelihood and impacts of radiation contamination from the prospective operations.

3. Geomorphology and drilling sites The BAR is incorrect in the statements that the terrain under consideration is “flat” as the proposed prospecting area has the second largest vegetated sand dunes in the world. The dunes under consideration (Majakaja at 182m and one further south at 188m) are South Africa’s two largest dunes and the proposed prospect area is certainly not “flat”. Based on the geomorphology of the dunes, they are also known to be prone to slumping. Coastal dune slumping has been recognised as a major issue in the prospecting and mining operations to the south. This has occurred in areas much flatter than the area under consideration in this BAR and resulted in the frontal dunes failing as a result of the mining occurring behind them. The BAR is also inconsistent in saying that not more than 3.4ha of indigenous forest will have to be cleared to facilitate access to the 200 drilling sites located inter alia in wetlands. It is in fact more likely that the drilling and establishment of a road network to allow for the prospecting will extend across some 5.81 square kilometres of Critically Endangered Threatened and Protected Terrestrial Eco-systems and will thus result in the direct destruction of some 11.4ha or more of vegetation. It is possible that even more access roads will be needed as the prospecting that took place south of the proposed prospecting area by Richards Bay Minerals left tracks that were visible for years after the process took place. (see annexures)

4. Shareholders Members of the group did request that the shareholders in Eyamakhosi Resources (Pty) Ltd be listed. They have not been listed other than the CEO. We would like all the shareholders and their interest in the project to be clearly listed.

5. Legal Framework The area in question is a protected area in that it listed as the Sokhulu State Forest consisting of 500 hectares and was gazetted as such in 2011 in Government Gazette Notice 34462 No. 44 of 22

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July 2011. In terms of this notice the area is transferred from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to the Department of Environment and Water Affairs and to our knowledge the responsibility for the management remains with the Department of Environment. This was done to enable the incorporation of this area by the Department of Environment Affairs into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. In the BAR report, no application has been made to Minister of Environment Affairs for application to carry out prospecting activities or reference to the fact that the area is a State Forest and is thus protected.

In addition we found the following omissions under the legal framework which are required to be addressed; 5.1Item 3(e) of Appendix 1 of the EIA Regulations, 2014 requires that the BAR must include: “a description of the policy and legislative context within which the development is proposed including(i) an identification of all legislation, policies, plans, guidelines, spatial tools, municipal development planning frameworks, and instruments that are applicable to this activity and have been considered in the preparation of the report; and (ii)how the proposed activity complies with and responds to the legislation and policy context, plans, guidelines, tools frameworks, and instruments;

5.2 Section 3.3 of the BAR has omitted a number of key acts, guidelines and development planning frameworks and does not address compliance with these acts, guidelines, and planning frameworks. Some of these are: a. The World Heritage Convention Act 49 of 1999, its regulations and the Integrated Management Plan specific to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site which abuts the proposed prospecting area; b. The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 and associated regulations; c. The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 and its subordinate legislation; d. The National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act 24 of 2008; e. The National Forests Act 84 of 1998 and associated regulations which protect the indigenous forests over which the proposed prospecting area lies as well as specific species of trees; and the proclamation which assigns these forests to the National Department of Environmental Affairs; f. The National Water Act 36 of 1998 in relation to the wetlands and underlying aquifers on site;

4g. The Financial Provisioning Regulations, 2015 (as amended) which regulate the determination and making of financial provision for the costs associated with the undertaking of management, rehabilitation and remediation of environmental impacts from prospecting; h. Guidelines published in terms of Section 24J of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 which are required to be applied to the EIA process; i. Provincial conservation legislation; j. The relevant district and local municipal planning frameworks, including the Integrated Development Plans and Spatial Development Frameworks; k. The Department of Mineral Resources (“DMR”) Mining and Biodiversity Guidelines; l. The relevant municipal by-laws.

6. World Heritage Site The BAR fails to recognise that the application area borders the Maphelane section of the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site (WHS) and is located wholly within the established Buffer Zone to the World Heritage Site. World Heritage status is the highest form of protection that can be afforded to an area by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as sites are recognised as containing priceless and irreplaceable possessions, not only of the republic, but of humankind as a whole; and the loss, through deterioration, disappearance or damage through inappropriate development, constitutes an impoverishment of the heritage of all peoples of the world and, in particular, the people of South Africa. South Africa has through an Act of Parliament enacted The World Heritage Convention Act (Act 49 of 1999) which brings into South African law the World Heritage Convention (adopted by the Member of States of UNESCO in 1972) and Operational Guidelines, which requires that buffer zones be established around all World Heritage Sites (Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, Section II. F, Protection and management: Buffer zones: Paragraph Numbers 103 – 107). One of the requirements associated with the declaration of the Park as a World Heritage Site was that, a “Buffer Zone” be established. Section 28(2) (a) of the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 makes provision for the establishment of such a Zone. We believe that this is a fatal flaw and that the application should be withdrawn on this basis.

Conclusion Based on the information provided, we are of the opinion that this application is being undertaken by a small company with no proven track record in mining, that in terms of current legislation it has ignored the legal framework in making an application for an area that is protected to the test waters. It must be pointed out that recent attempts to

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Flout legislation by mining companies and government have been taken to the highest courts in the land by civil society and communities. It with this in mind that we request that Eyamakhosi Resources (Pty) Ltd withdraws the application or that DMR declines the request.

We look forward to your reply and please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards

Bryan Ashe Co-ordinator iSimangaliso Action Group

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If you find a Bird out of its nest:

 

If you find a Bird out of its nest please follow the procedure in the diagram below.


Remember that we do have a page on the website to help with a number of questions related to birds. Yo view these tips then click on this link: https://blpn.org/bird-questions/

 

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Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached (click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa and Mollie and our Cape Vultures; Bennie and N207, for the past week.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Nambiti – Elephant Rock

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

30 October 2018.

After the wedding in Kamberg, Sally treated her two sons from Australia to a two night stay at Elephant Rock in Nambiti.

We had a family cottage – two en-suite bedrooms overlooking a dam.

We arrived at lunchtime in blistering sunshine and enjoyed a pleasant meal with a fair share of tipples.

Then, when it was time for the afternoon drive at 16h00 the weather went overcast and was decidedly cooler on the way back.

Birding was not the name of the game. We shared the vehicle with six others from Germany. Most of the interest was focussed on the Big Five and other animals. Birds were not a priority – much as we expected- but the drives did stop for birds we thought others might be interested in. Despite that we identified 93 different bird species. Click here to see our list.

The following day the weather was much cooler with a bit of drizzle on both morning and afternoon drives. On the last morning no-one was interested in the morning drive because of the rain and cold.

Service was excellent. Breakfasts were superb and lunches filling but we found the dinner on the second day not up to the super standard of the first day. The management understood our feelings and I am sure this will not be repeated in the future.

Our birds photographed:

White-bellied Korhaan

It was not all about birds. We did have a number of interesting animal sightings. As expected we saw four of the Big Five – only the Leopard was missing. The Rhino was a White Rhino so you could say we only saw three!

There were two new male lions introduced from the Eastern Cape which we found fairly quickly having as you would expect a nap.

We also unexpectedly bumped into another pride of four lions – a male and three females.

Lioness

Not to be outdone were the Giraffe, Kudu, Hippo and Warthogs among many other species not photographed.

Then we were entertained by Buffalo and Cheetah.

We came across a herd of about 50 Buffalo with many boisterous calves. It was fun watching their antics chasing each other trying to assert dominance.

Then there were the two Cheetah juveniles with their mother. The young must have been enjoying the cool weather as they romped around chasing each other.

It would be interesting to return with a compliment of ten birders taking over the whole camp and focusing on birding. I know the guides would relish this for a change.

Cheers

Paul and Sally

Nambiti night sky

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Highmoor and Glengarry

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

28 October 2018

Sally and I went to a small holding near Glengarry. Sally’s son and fiancee Michelle Lutener’s property.

We went to witness their marriage on their property. Family from all over the world came to celebrate with them. Magic. Great sunny day and wonderful venue.

We spent 4 days up there. On the day after the wedding, Sally and I drove up to Highmoor NR doing a quick two hours of birding including a short walk to the first dam at the top.

Birding was quiet despite our early start. in total we identified 31 different species of birds. Click here to view the list.

Here are some photos of the birds we did manage to see.

Mountain Reedbuck were seen near the Highmoor Dam – quite far away but nonetheless very skittish. Their call attracted them to us.

Mountain Reedbuck

The highlight in the animal world appeared one night on the way back to the small holding – a Porcupine.

Porcupine

Cheers

Paul and Sally Bartho

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Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached (click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa and Mollie and our Cape Vultures; Bennie and N207, for the past week.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached (Click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa and Mollie and our Cape Vultures; Bennie and N207, for the past week. N207 is moving further and further south.

Please also see some new photos of the growing chick in the nest with camera.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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BirdLife KZN Midlands newsletter

Dear members

Attached (Click here) is the latest great edition of the BLKZNM newsletter.  Congratulations to Rosemary, the editor, and to all the contributors of articles and/or photos.

Best wishes

Sally

BLKZNM secretary

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Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached (click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa and Mollie and our Cape Vultures; Bennie and N207, for the past week. N207 is moving further and further south.

Please also see some new photos of the growing chick in the nest with camera.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Alverstone Wildlife Park Outing

Report by Terry Walls

Saturday 6 October 2018

Alverstone Wildlife Park is a 100 hectare nature reserve near Hillcrest, Durban, South Africa. The reserve was created in 1997 by a group of neighbouring landowners.

The park has a diverse ecosystem, which includes grasslands, a forest, and wetlands. A number of mammals can be found in the reserve, including duiker, bushbuck, bushpig, civet, genet, mongoose and rock hyrax. Herds of blesbok, blue wildebeest, impala and zebra have been introduced to the reserve.

The weather was extremely kind to us as a small group of birders set off on the pathway along the crest of the hillside through the bush clumps.

The first call to greet us was the unfamiliar (to some of us) call of a Cape Robin-Chat which was confirmed, when it showed up beautifully on the path. Also calling  in the same area out in the open in the grassland to the right of the path was a male Stonechat and the unmistakable chi chi chirrrrr call of Rattling Cisticola.

African Stonechat – Mike Stead

Further along the path a small group of Neddicky were active.

As we passed a group of large trees the Egyptian Geese were highly vocal, we were not sure if it was our presence, or that of a Beautiful Jackal Buzzard which glided past us, that was upsetting the Geese.

Egyptian Goose – John Bremner

Here are a some other birds that made our day.

And some mysteries.

The next highlight as we approached the small dam were the herds of Impala, Blesbok, Wilderbeest, and Zebra. The dam produced a Grey Heron, excellent views of Lesser Stripped Swallow, Common Fiscal and Yellow-billed Kite.  A group of Turacos which include both Knysna and Purple-crested were calling loudly.

As we made our way down the pathway to the dam at the bottom of the hill, Oriole and Black collared Barbet were seen.

Black-collared Barbet – John Bremner

The bottom dam produced the Golden Weaver we were looking out for, Southern Black Tit, a Black Saw-wing – not flying, but perched in a tree. Beautiful views of Sombre Greenbul and African Paradise Flycatcher too.

Weaver – John Bremner

The walk back to the picnic area was far from quiet, with African Emerald and Red-Chested Cuckoos calling, along with Orange-breasted Bushshrike.

We were also fortunate to get an Olive Bushshrike out in the open. In the grassland once more we had beautiful views of Yellow-throated Longclaw.

Yellow-throated Longclaw – Mike Stead

To finish the day an African Hoopoe paid a visit to the Boma to bid farewell to the group.

A total of sixty three birds were identified (click here to view the list).

Jackal Buzzard was unanimously voted as the “bird of the day”.

Terry Walls

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Lesser Frigatebird – St Lucia

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

11 to 13 October 2018

On the spur of the moment, Sally and I decided to dart over to St Lucia to try our luck at seeing the immature Lesser Frigatebird.

The day started off very pleasantly, however by the time we reached St Lucia – four and a half hours later – it was overcast and windy. The forecast was for foul weather to come.

Nevertheless we persisted in trying our luck that afternoon. Up and down the beach next to the lagoon wherever we saw Terns. At one point I sank knee deep into the quicksand- looked just like hard sand by the water’s edge. Had to lie flat down to extricate myself. Lovely black mud everywhere below thigh level. Fortunately both camera and binos got off lightly. Then to the beach to wash off in the sea. Nothing quite like walking with shoes and sox full of sand.

Legs and foots full of mud – poor shoes

Managed to do it a second time trying to cross a small stream to get onto a sandbank in the lagoon. Not so serious that time.

There were many waterbirds about, hundreds of waders – Three-banded Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers mainly. Nine Black Oystercatchers, Pink-backed Pelicans, Greater and Lesser Flamingos in abundance, African Spoonbills etc.

On checking the Swift Terns we noticed a couple of Little Terns. They are really very very little. The photo below shows how small one is compared to the Curlew Sandpiper in front of it.

Little Tern with Curlew Sandpiper in foreground

After some time we reached the end of the lagoon with no joy. Then the bird appeared at a distance over the lagoon bombing the Swift Terns, and Flamingos putting them all to flight. Many photos were taken at a distance in dim overcast conditions. Most were consequently of poor quality.

Greater Flamingos take to the air due to Lesser Frigatebird (top right)

Then as we sat watching at the end of the lagoon where the Terns had just settled about 150 metres away, along came the Frigatebird to disturb them. However it was not the Terns which it was after but a very large Pink-backed Pelican. Coming, it appeared straight in line with us and the photos I got show the comparative wing sizes of the two birds. A fortunate mini series of shots.

A very hot shower was welcome when we got back, not only to get rid of the mud and  blown sand but also to warm us up.

The next morning we were up early hopeful of a brighter day in which to see the Lesser Frigatebird – not to be. Windy and overcast it remained. After a couple of hours we gave up and went to Western Shores for the rest of the morning.

Birding there was very quiet and like all the animals pretty scarce. However we did manage a few nice sightings of which the Martial Eagle was the pick of the day.

Martial Eagle

Red-breasted Swallows were seen mainly on the roads in the rain.

Red-breasted Swallow

And then we came across an unusual sighting. It looked like a spiders had wrapped a web all round a bunch of leaves. On closer inspection there were many red ants running about on the bundle. Later we learned that these are Weaver Ants and that these bundles are commonly seen in KZN coastal forests. The webbing is in fact glue.

Here is an excerpt from Joseph Banks’ Journal  found in Wikipedia “The ants…one green as a leaf, and living upon trees, where it built a nest, in size between that of a man’s head and his fist, by bending the leaves together, and gluing them with whitish paperish substances which held them firmly together. In doing this their management was most curious: they bend down four leaves broader than a man’s hand, and place them in such a direction as they choose. This requires a much larger force than these animals seem capable of; many thousands indeed are employed in the joint work. I have seen as many as could stand by one another, holding down such a leaf, each drawing down with all his might, while others within were employed to fasten the glue. How they had bent it down I had not the opportunity of seeing, but it was held down by main strength, I easily proved by disturbing a part of them, on which the leaf bursting from the rest, returned to its natural situation, and I had an opportunity of trying with my finger the strength of these little animals must have used to get it down.”

In the afternoon we did return to look for the Lesser Frigatebird. It was present but we were unable to get any better sightings of the bird as it kept its distance and the sky was grey again.

Lesser Frigatebird

Saturday morning was not only windy and overcast but it was also squalling. Instead of going to the beach we went into Eastern Shores. Surprisingly none of the dirt roads were closed. We were happy having a 4×4 to drive on them. In places the mud was very slippery and we watched one 4×4 almost slide off the road and down the bank.

Elephants had been out the night before along one of the dirt roads and in one place had downed a large tree across the road with no chance to go round. A long careful reverse was required to find a suitable place to make a U-turn.

Despite all the adverse weather we did manage to identify 107 bird species (click here to see the list) during the time in St Lucia as well as seeing several Rhino and a large herd of Buffalo. Most of the antelope species were hunkered down and not very noticeable.

Cheers

Paul and Sally Bartho

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Overly gorgeous days in the African bush

October 8, 2018

Adam Cruickshank

So after a long time, I thought after an amazing weekend of birding that it would be a good time start blogging again. With the rising price of petrol in South Africa, birding closer to home has become more attractive than the far trips that I used to do to find birds. What has been exciting over the past few months, is that I have been forced to look at the bird life that I have right on my doorstep, and I have been amazed at what I have found. Two weeks ago I decided to atlas my local pentad of the course of a week during lunch breaks and after work, and I managed in less than favourable weather to record 100 species of birds.

On Friday morning Tyron Dall and myself decided to do some local birding, we headed a few kilometers down the road to a birding spot just inland from Umkumaas. It is a location that is really difficult to explain where it is, I managed to find it last year while atlasing in the area. Based on the amount of people that have atlased it over the years, it does not seem like a very well-known spot, which excites me as there will be many birds that are yet to be recorded in the area.

I was nervous as we headed to the location and really hoped that I would still remember where to go, but once we worked out where we were, we took a turn down a road that I didn’t get to explore last time that I came. As the dusty road snaked down towards the river, the early morning silence nature sounds were welcoming before the sand trucks started to drive down to the river for their sand pickups. The early morning sun started to peak over the tops of the mountains as the valley came alive with the sounds of hundreds of birds. We started to see the skies being filled with the birds that we see almost on the daily basis, the skies overhead filled with the Red-winged Starlings, showing off flashes of red under their wings as they flew rushing to get to their destination. The Hadeda Ibises bellowed their African alarm clock sounds over the still sleepy community. Small flocks of Yellow-fronted Canaries flew through the skies flitting from tree top to tree top. A small Green-backed Camaroptera was calling from deep within the bushes alongside the road, teasing us as if to say: ‘spot me if you can’.

Then we found a bird that would be the highlight of the day for us. What prepared us for the sighting was the fact that over the last few weeks we have been endeavoring to learn 30 bird calls a week, and if I be honest there are moments when I get very frustrated because it seems like nothing is sinking in. The Warblers that are pretty drab little birds that already provide identification challenges, for many of these LBJ critters their calls just sound not very distinctive and are hard to learn. Well I guess we didn’t do as badly as we thought, because as we drove along the road we heard a call that had stuck, and it wasn’t any bird, it was a special bird. I have only seen the bird once and even though it was the same day that I saw the famous Malagasy Pond Heron, the bird was still the ‘star of the day’. We started to try to follow the call and locate it in the thick shrubbery, each time we thought we had located it, it would move somewhere else in the tree. After batches of patience mixed with bigger batches of frustration we saw it – a bird whose call almost as beautiful as its plumage – the Gorgeous Bushshrike. No matter how many times you see this bird, it still takes your breath away. This is a bird that the Creator must have taken a little longer to create, an olive green back, a crimson throat and a broad black bar cutting a course between the throat and the powdery yellow belly. Everything about this bird is something to behold, no matter how long you look, it’s details are a visual feast that capture your gaze.  Reluctantly we had to tear ourselves away to try and find some other birds for the day, but our day was made! We had some other great sightings in the pentad including Swee Waxbill, Cape Glossy Starlings, Yellow Weavers and so on.

The next pentad was filled with many of the same birds that we had just seen, but while stopped deep in the valley taking in the sights and sounds of nature at its best, we both heard and saw the Olive Bushshrike and Grey Headed Bushshirke. The Grey Headed Bushshrike called from the tops the trees, just hiding itself from view, and after much persistence he decided to give us a view of it at the top of one of the trees. We also had two African Pygmy Kingfisher sitting no more than two meters on a branch next to the car, with rich colours that no painter could ever hope to give full justice to. On the way home we stopped at a local water treatment plant and were able to see a pair of Southern Pochard. Over the course of the morning we saw 84 species of birds.

The next morning Tyron Dall, Chris Flannery and myself headed inland stocked with caffeine and food supplies, we didn’t know what to expect but I could not see how it could possibly be better than the previous day. Dave Rimmer had kindly helped us work out all the best places to visit during the day and the best times to visit them, so with this information in hand did expect a great days birding.

We started at Cedara Agriculture College just outside of Howick. While driving to the dam we had some great close up views of Cape Grassbird, Red-throated Wryneck and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler. The dawn chorus was filled with the calls of Levaillant’s Cisticola calling from the side of the road, at first they just look like drab LBJ’s, but once you start to look closer the rich colours on the bird really start to burst through the lens of the binoculars. We were treated to a Red-necked Spurfowl proudly calling alongside the dam, trying to not attract attention by hiding in the grass but at the same time giving its whereabouts with its loud calling.

We headed from Cedara to Doreen Clark Nature Reserve and the highlight of the time was seeing a pair of Bush Blackcaps showing themselves a few meters from us in the trees, giving us great views of its pink bill and black cap. The bird almost has a Fiscal Shrike look to it, with a drabber underbelly and pink bill. We tried for the mythical Buff-spotted Flufftail which stayed hidden deep inside the forest and for the Knysna Warbler which also decided that we were not worth it’s precious time.

After a quick caffeine fix and some rusks we headed to Midmar Dam, which was a first for me, so I had no idea what to expect. The Black-winged Lapwing were all over the grassy patch when we first came in, making their monkey like lapwing call, demanding that we pay attention to them as they stood alongside the road. The dam was full of the usual suspects – White-faced Whistling Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Egyptian Geese and many birds that most KZN birders would tick on any day when they are around any patch of water. The African Fish Eagle called from high in the skies letting us know in case we had missed it that we were in Africa. We kept on driving eagerly looking for the next ‘tick’ for our bird list focussing our tired eyes on every movement that we saw.

We came round a corner after what seemed like many kilometers of driving and a solo Secretary Bird was right next to the road getting some early morning breakfast on the ground. The last time I saw one of these it was a long way off so it was really exciting to see it showing itself off proudly right alongside the road. Tyron decided that this was a bird that had to be photographed, he slowly got out the car, and as soon as the Secretary Bird saw him it started its hasty walk back into the short grass that was around the road continually checking over its shoulder to make sure it was winning the race. He stayed in hot pursuit trying to get that award winning ‘National Geographic’ photo, all of a sudden a brown rapture ducked into the grass. We all thought it was probably something common but we were curious to see what it was. So Chris got sent on an all-important mission, to go into the grassland to flush it, while we waited with our cameras ready to get the photo. He walked as we directed him – left, right, straight, left again – and all of a sudden the bird showed itself, as we took photos it was apparent what we were seeing – an owl! My hands we actually shaking and my heart was beating against my rib cage – I actually think I did what every birder should never do – I screamed out ‘OWL! OWL!’ We were blown away and decided that we need to see this bird again, as we would probably not see it very soon again. So we sent Chris back into the grass where the owl landed and ‘Chris the Amazing Flusher’ managed to flushed the owl again, this time two owls flew out of the grass showing themselves off. This was getting better and better. We decided to walk one more time through the short grass out of curiosity fascinated with what we had just seen, we walked in a line three across and as we walked ten owls flew out of the grass and were flying all around us. This was nature just showing off now and we were very impressed! This was by far the best experience that I have had since I had started birding. The Marsh Owls are beautiful, drab coloured brown birds, which carry and air of mystery about the, graced us with a few minutes of pleasure that I will not forget very soon. We managed to compose ourselves (well almost), after much frantic messaging and phoning people, we managed to still see Blue and Grey Crowned Crane in the farm lands around the dam.

We stopped off at Darville Water Treatment works on the way home but didn’t see anything worth mentioning, probably due to the combination of a ‘hang over’ from seeing 10 owls and some really tired eyes. We managed to end the day seeing 105 species of birds!

This was a very special day that we will find hard to top, but I guess that’s what makes birding so amazing, just when you think it can’t get better, you will discover something that makes the day before pale in comparison.

Until next time I hope you see some amazing birds. Please feel free to comment and share this post.

Blessings, Adam

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Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached (click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa and Mollie and our Cape Vultures; Bennie and N207, for the past week.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached (click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa and Mollie and our Cape Vultures; Bennie and N207, for the past week.

For your interest, I have also attached photos of Jermia’s, Springbok’s and Pharoah’s nests from a survey undertaken yesterday. Springbok’s transmitter stopped working some time ago but we hope that it is still her occupying the territory and nest!

The pictures from our nest camera show the adult preparing food and feeding the chick.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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New Germany Nature Reserve Outing

Report by Sandi du Preez

Wednesday 19 September

The weather wasn’t great but 12 birders attended the outing and for once there were more males than females! The reserve is looking absolutely stunning at the moment as a portion of the grassland was burnt earlier this year, resulting in a fantastic display of Spring wild flowers. In fact, the flowers outshone the birds by far!

A Southern Ground Hornbill (nick-named Chester) was spotted in the reserve the day before but he obviously didn’t get the WhatsApp ordering him to wait for us.

Walking down the steep “steps” at the start, a Southern Boubou flew across and and we were treated to excellent views.

Southern Boubou – Dave Rimmer

The pathway through the grassy area towards the forest area yielded the usual birds such as Neddicky, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black-headed Oriole, African Hoopoe, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Violet-backed Starling, Black-bellied Starling, African Palm Swift, Olive Thrush, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Spectacled Weaver, Purple-crested Turaco. Surprisingly, the only sunbird seen was an Amethyst Sunbird.

For a full species list of the birds recorded, click here. Unfortunately, many of the 65 species  were recorded on call only.

While we were having our picnic, a Yellow-bellied Greenbul was complaining about his “belly-ache!

There was not much opportunity for bird photos so all the flower photos will just have to be tolerated instead! Thanks to Dave Rimmer for his photos.

I had a special treat on the way out. A Black-backed Puffback flew in front of my car with it’s “puff” up and landed on a branch for a superb view.

Sandi du Preez

 

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