Western Cape

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

23 to 26 August 2016

On the spur of the moment Sally and I decided to spend a few days in Cape Town as our Avios points covered most of the cost.

Like the last time when we went to see the Snowy Egret, we found a hotel in the centre of town – the Inn on the Square. The hotel was comfortable and the room and facilities were good.

Traffic is more than hectic at peak times. So staying in the town centre meant we were travelling in the opposite direction to the hectic traffic at peak times.

Our purpose was to find the Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin in Zeekoevlei and to go to Postberg in the West Coast National Park to see the flowers.

After checking in at the hotel we took a drive in our cheapo rental car to Zeekoevlei to scout the area. It was chilly and windy when we got there at 16h00. Having not been there it was unclear where the bird had been seen. We looked where we thought it might be – based on Trevor’s photos. No luck. Were we looking in the right area or were the conditions unfavourable? A phone call was in order. And we learnt in which general area to look. A large grassy field some 200 by 50 metres – stretching from the car park to the start of a copse of trees.

As it started to get dark we decided that was enough for the day and to come back early the next day.

As we were driving out we had several unexpected sightings – Cape Francolins right out in the middle of the road. The other sighting was more curious as there was this huge spread of tail feathers stretching up some 2 metres in length and it seemed to be courting local Helmeted Guineafowl. It was a Peacock with the longest tail we have ever seen.

The next morning we headed back to try and find the Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin. Now day 40 so what were our chances? We met some staff there and they told us that it had gone. Were we too late? We were the only people there. Rats.

After about half an hour traipsing around in the field getting soaked by the dewy grass we started to wonder. The day was perfect – sunny and windless. Surely it was there and would pop out to cheer up from the dewy night and to find some food.

Another person arrived – Barry. Just arrived back from Singapore the previous day and he had seen it the previous afternoon. Now we were hopeful.

Then Barry calls out “There it is”. We get a glimpse as it flies off into the dense scrub. Patience was the order of the day and it paid off. The Robin came back and displayed on the path 10 metres from us – unfortunately just popping round the corner as we got a decent view of it. However we did get a nice long viewing of it and its behaviour. The striking feature being its vertical cocking of its tail.

The Robin then came and went in the treed area and along the path enabling us to get reasonable good sightings of it.  After about an hour of observing and trying to take photos we decided to leave.

We headed for Rondevlei NR. We did not expect to see much but we had several pleasant surprises.

Two of our first surprises occurred before we entered the Park. I had gone back to collect the tripod and scope while Sally waited for me. On my return she was talking to someone. As I got closer I realised it was a good friend from Durban whom we had not seen in ages – Adam Kahn.

Then the second surprise was a large raptor flying over our heads. At first we thought it might be a Yellow-billed Kite but then as it got closer we realised it was something else – a juvenile BBJ (Big Brown Job). It was only later when we had a good look at the photos that we realised it was a juvenile African Harrier-Hawk.

Most of the birds we saw at Rondevlei were resident species but several Greenshank had returned. Rondevlei has six bird hides overlooking the vlei with a couple of tall lookouts. It was at the second bird hide that we visited that we had our next surprise. Not a bird but a large nocturnal porcupine.

Porcupine

Porcupine

The rest of the day was spent with Sally’s brother in Somerset West.

On Thursday we headed for the West Coast National Park to see the flowers in Postberg. It was about an hour and a half’s drive with little traffic but thick fog in patches.

Our first stop was Geelbek. We went to one of the hides but it was still quite misty and blowing. We saw more species along the walk to the hide than from the hide itself – mostly because it was still high tide. Numerous Greater Flamingos about. On the way we saw Avocets, Cape Teals, Yellow-billed Ducks, Egyptian Geese, Black-winged Stilts, Blacksmith Lapwings and a harrier – either African Marsh or a juv. Black??.

Then we headed for Postberg. Fortunately we arrived early. On departure it was one long stream of cars coming in – it would have been impossible driving around without getting badly frustrated.

The flowers were fantastic – oranges, yellows, golds, whites, lavender blues and the odd red. So hard to capture on film. It was so colourful and extensive.

The landscape had some interesting rock formations as well.

Postberg Rock Formation

Postberg Rock Formation

Postberg Rock Formation

Nature has a hand of its own making.

The animals too surprised me – Zebra with unusual striped markings on their rumps and differently on their bellies, Blesbok, Wildebeest, Oryx, Springbok and Eland.

There were numerous birds as you might expect but the common species were predominantly Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Bulbuls, Karoo Prinias, Cape Robin-Chats and Yellow Canaries.

On the way out we had a couple of sightings of Black Harriers – unfortunately some distance away.

Then it was the long drive back to the hotel and an early night in preparation for our very early morning flight back to Durban.

Well worth the Avios Points.

Paul and Sally Bartho

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Durban Botanical Gardens

Outing to Durban Botanical Gardens

17 August 2016

The weather started off rather gloomily but soon cleared up and the 12 birders were treated to some good birding.

On arrival we had a melanistic Black Sparrowhawk and then later we saw an “ordinary” one.

The lawns around the lake were swarming with masses of honking and hissing Egyptian geese and the Palm Swifts filled the air as usual.

The juvenile Palmnut Vulture that was reported the previous week was not around, but instead we saw an Egyptian Goose posing on top of a Raffia palm trying to fool us into believing that it was the Vulture!

3  Egyptian Goose trying to look like a Palmnut Vulture on a Raffia Palm

3 Egyptian Goose trying to look like a Palmnut Vulture on a Raffia Palm

A stunning Purple Heron, presumably in his breeding dress, had us all ooh-ing and aah-ing.

Purple Heron all dressed up to impress

Purple Heron all dressed up to impress

We were surprised to find a Common Moorhen nesting in one of the boats on the lake.

Most of the nests in the Casuarina tree contained Grey Herons and some chicks. Southern Black Flycatchers were very active everywhere and they were completely unperturbed by our presence.

We also observed Dusky and Paradise Flycatchers. Lots of  Kurrichane Thrushes were doing what they do best – tossing up the dry leaves. A pair of bright yellow Brimstone Canaries were struggling to eat some large berries – they appeared to be feeding each other.

Off to the Tea Garden for refreshments, and we had many opportunists trying to grab a tasty morsel – Spectacled and Village Weavers, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Kurrichane Thrushes, House Sparrows, Red-capped Robin-Chats (one even came and perched on a coffee-pot!) Then the monkeys arrived and entertained us, but before long they were causing havoc, harassing the staff and trying to get into the kitchen!

Some other species seen or heard – Amethyst Sunbird, Cape and Pied Wagtail, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Crested Barbet, Southern Red Bishop, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cattle Egret, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Black-headed Oriole, Black-backed Puffback, Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Striped Swallow, Streaky-headed Seed-eater.

On leaving, an African Spoonbill arrived at the lake and a Yellow-billed Kite and a Pink-backed Pelican flew overhead.

Altogether we recorded 52 species. However, someone who was not with our group told us that they had seen a Spotted Ground-thrush near the top path.

Sandi du Preez

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Vumbuka and Umbogavango

Vumbuka and Umbogavango

Saturday 6 August 2016

Report by Elena Russell

The moon was a sliver in the dawn sky and the click of the African Goshawk could be heard overhead and then seen.  We had a good turnout starting off with about 14 members and ending up with 18/19 (the guards had been told about late-comers).

In the beginning a lot of the birding was on call but as the morning warmed up things started to improve.  Red-fronted Tinkerbirds caused a bit of excitement, we then saw the Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds which didn’t quite have the same pulling power!

As we walked through the ‘man-made’ forested area of Vumbuka (it is amazing what AECI have done in reclaiming slime dams and dumps) we identified Southern Boubou, Green-backed Camaroptera, Terrestrial Brownbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Bar-throated Apalis, Chinspot and Cape Batis as well as lots of nice flycatchers: Black, Dusky, Ashy, African Paradise.  Our sunbird tally was not too shabby either: Collared, Grey, Olive and Amethyst.   A very confiding Red-capped Robin Chat (aka Natal Robin) gave us one of those special birding moments too.

Tambourine and Red-eyed Doves, Square-tailed and Fork-tailed Drongos in abundance, Yellow-fronted and Brimstone Canaries, Black-collared and dare I say it the ubiquitous White-eared Barbet.

As we came out towards the grassland area there were masses of Africa Palm Swifts and & Black Saw-wings and to a lesser extent Lesser Striped Swallows and Rock Martins.

African Palm-Swift

African Palm-Swift – PB

Here we had Grey and Black-headed Herons, Rattling Cisticola, Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins as well as Tawny-flanked Prinias.  We also had excellent views of a juvenile African Goshawk  as well as an adult flying overhead.

And nearby in the grassy field there were Blacksmith Lapwings and Fan-tailed Widowbirds. African Pied Wagtails were seen in the fenced dam.

We had our tea at Vumbuka and then went on to Umbogavango (maybe a little late for good birding) but a number of Black-headed Orioles greeted us in the car park and a pair of African Fish Eagle delighted us as we set off for our second walk.

We got very excited in trying to identify a raptor. There were two raptors perched at most five metres apart. One was an adult Black Sparrowhawk. The other caused some consternation amongst the group. It was obviously a juvenile – but what? African Harrier-Hawk was one opinion the other a Black Sparrowhawk. In the end the consensus was Black Sparrowhawk (juvenile).

At the last hide not much on the water, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe and Common Moorhen.

A slow walk back to the picnic site where Jenny and Jane were waiting. Did you see the Yellow-billed Kite? They asked. Of course none of us had. Here, an African Jacana entertained us while we had lunch and chatted (remember this is the Saturday Chat Show!!).

Our total bird count was 77 – not too shabby.

Thanks to John and Paul for the pics.

Cheers

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BLPN 2017 Calendar now available

2017 Calendar - BLPN

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Help Save African Penguins from extinction.

BirdLife South Africa and partners have been working towards establishing a new African Penguin colony on the mainland of South Africa. Establishing a colony will help conserve this endangered and iconic African species. Part of the project involves monitoring the sites that we’re interested in because we need to know what predators there are in the area. To do this, camera traps will set up around the sites to take photos of the potential penguin predators. These cameras will also be essential as the colony becomes established to monitor predator incursions and the presence and behaviour of penguins at the site.

BirdLife South Africa and Nature’s Valley Trust have launched a crowd funding campaign on Experiment, a platform for funding scientific research to raise funds for the predator monitoring study. The target is $5,400 to buy the cameras and other equipment (batteries, security boxes etc.). As of 3 August we are 30% of the way to the target and have 15 days to go, so we need your help! Please help us get the rest of the way by donating and spreading the word to friends and colleagues.

To learn more about this initiative please read the media release by BirdLife South Africa by clicking here.

You can learn more and donate at https://experiment.com/africanpenguin.

Contact Christina Hagen (christina.hagen@birdlife.org.za or 083 301 8765) for more details.

Christina Hagen

Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation

Please support our crowdfunding campaign: www.experiment.com/africanpenguin

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Mkuze

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th July 2016

Sally and I were invited by Jenny and Dave Rix to join them for their visit to Mkuze. They had booked into the Tented Camp but the only one available was a double. All the huts, cottages and Tented Camp sites were full most nights we were there. The Camp Site only had one occupant.

The park is exceptionally dry. Dave, who has been coming to Mkuze since the 70s, says he has never seen it so dry.

Most of the animals were in the southern reaches of the park in the Fig Forest area.

All the roads are being upgraded and some repaired so access to various parts of the park were not possible. Basically we were limited to the northern part of the park. We were unable to get to Nsumo Pan as well as the road leading down to the hunting camp and the Loop Road off it.

kuMasinga and kuMahlahla Hides were both open and had water. The new kwaMalibala hide remains closed.

The first afternoon we took a drive to kuMasinga hide. As we were on the Beacon Road we were unable to take the first dirt road to the hide – it was closed. So we continued south to the next turn off to the left – again the road ahead was closed. Eventually we got to the hide. A number of animals came for a drink as well as numerous Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves.

The next morning we went with Patrick to the Fig Forest. It was the first time in weeks that the Fig Forest was open so we were very fortunate. New swing bridges greeted us and another treat was the Lookout Tower in the Fig Forest – standing some 10 metres tall in the canopy of the surrounding trees. Apparently this has been there for 5 years.

Our initial goal was to find the Pel’s Fishing-Owl. It did not take long for Patrick to find it and although it was distant we had good views of it.

Otherwise birding in the forest was productive unlike the arid areas of the park although we did find a Burnt-necked Eremomela. Here are some of those we did manage to photograph.

Most of our birding revolved around the main camp as well as the two hides and the campsite.

At kuMahlahla it was not as busy as kuMasinga except for the Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves. However a Black Sparrowhawk did make an appearance at the far end of the dam. Several Tambourine Doves also came down to drink.

On an evening walk around the Main camp we found an African Goshawk perched atop of the Reception – much like a weather vane.

The campsite too was relatively quiet birdwise. The place was a large dust bowl.

As expected we had several unwanted visitors around the tented kitchen. During the day it was monkeys at breakfast and lunch. At night it was the Bushy-tailed Bushbabies. During the evening braai one took his chance and swiped half of a rump steak. We would have been quite cross but the steak was tough and flavourless.

Crested Guineafowl and tame Nyala visited at breakfast. One naughty adult Nyala male kept coming up behind us and giving a nudge – probably wanting water.

Crested Guineafowl

Crested Guineafowl

In total we identified 93 different species – not a bad count considering the arid nature of the park. Click here to see our bird list.

Paul and Sally Bartho

 

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Oribi Gorge Outing

Report by Elena Russell.

16th and 17th July 2016

Jenny Norman and I drove down early on Saturday morning to Oribi Gorge.  We met up with Sally, Paul and Mike White at the cane loading zone where we had arranged to meet Andy Ruffle to go on and view the vultures.

Although the morning was cold and a little overcast, the sun kept appearing and on those occasions we had 70 to 80 vultures soaring overhead and wheeling back to land on the cliff face.

Cape Vulture

Cape Vulture

 

There are nests with chicks and the whole experience is fantastic.

Outside the hide there are a number of carcasses in various stages of decomposition and the smell can be rather powerful!! It was mainly White-necked Ravens feasting on the carcasses.

Carcass at the vulture restaurant

Carcass at the vulture restaurant

The hide has been rebuilt after a fire destroyed the old one. It is very well made with brick and concrete roof. Inside is Andy’s abode. He even has cooking and bedding facilities.

There was a pair of Lanner Falcons, Rock Martins, Alpine Swifts etc flying around and by the hide we had Plain-backed and African Pipits.

Lanner Falcon

Lanner Falcon

Andy mentioned that on one occasion when visiting the hide a Black-rumped Buttonquail popped out of the head of a Zebra carcass presumably eating maggots inside the skull.

We then went on to Leopard Rock for coffee – the birding can be very good whilst sitting and drinking a good cup of coffee – and to name a few of the birds we saw there: Crowned Hornbill, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Pintailed Whydah (non-breeding plumage), Red-backed and Bronze Mannikin, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds.

If you want a viewing you need to book with Andy Ruffle as the site is on private property. Here are Andy’s contact details 072 893 3794 or andy_ruffle@yahoo.co.uk.

We then drove leisurely back to camp birding along the way: Grey Crowned Crane, Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaw, Grey Cuckooshrike and Jackal Buzzard. Red-backed Mannikin and African Firefinch became the trash birds of the weekend.

Back at camp Mike proceeded to cook us each a perfect mushroom omelette – how good can the weekend get?

Enjoying Mike's omelets - delicious

Enjoying Mike’s omelets – delicious

But then it started to rain on Saturday night (I am seriously considering offering my services as a ‘rain maker’) and it was still raining early on Sunday morning.

We went down to the picnic area just in case any crazy birders pitched up for the Sunday Outing and along came Sandi, Roz and Prem.  Along the road we had good views of Lemon and Tambourine Doves.

Tambourine Dove

Tambourine Dove

We then took a slow drive up to the bridge where we had heard Knysna Woodpecker a number of times on Saturday. As it was still raining and the birding was abysmal we headed back to camp for coffee.  On the way down we met up with Sally, Paul and Mike and it was decided to go on to Leopard Rock for breakfast.

Sally and Paul had to leave but the rest of us had a superb English Breakfast – we sat inside as there was a thick mist in the gorge but every now and again the mist would partially lift and strange and fantastic views of the gorge would appear.

Some views of Oribi Camp and the Gorge itself:

By 9h00 the rain stopped and we took a slow drive back to Oribi Gorge and on the way the flying ants were coming out and the birding took off!! Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Village, Cape and Yellow weavers, Croaking Cisticola and masses of Rock Martins all hawking from the edge of a cane field.

An obliging Knysna Turaco made an appearance near the bridge at the bottom of the Gorge.

Knysna Turaco

Knysna Turaco

We stopped a number of times and one spot near the farm dam was exceptionally good – Lesser Honeyguide, Dusky Flycatcher, Black-collared Barbet, Fork-tailed and Square-tailed Drongos, Little Bee-eaters and much much more.

There is a rather nice dam at the entrance to the camp and we saw a pair of African Black Ducks, Egyptian and Spurwing Geese, Common Moorhen, Yellow-billed Duck and Reed Cormorant.

A Chorister Robin was fossicking around by the swimming pool on our return to camp. We had a good bird party going through the camp with Grey and Black Cuckooshrikes, Cardinal Woodpecker, Black, Dusky and Paradise Flycatchers as well as the Drongos!

On Monday morning we took another drive through the gorge and had gorgeous views of the Olive Woodpecker! And added a few more birds to the list so our total bird count for the weekend was 120.

A new one for the Oribi list was African Hoopoe which we saw twice.

African Hoopoe with wild hair-do

African Hoopoe with wild hair-do

One bird which maybe we were not so pleased to see was the Common Starling!

Elena Russell

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July 2016 KZN Birds Magazine

The July 2016 KZN Birds Magazine can be read on this link: https://blpn.org/kzn-birds-magazine/

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Empisini Outing

Empisini Nature Reserve

Umkomaas (Sunday 26 June 2016)

Report by Dave Rimmer

A group of 14 birders gathered on the outskirts of this little reserve at 07h00. Birding was very slow to start with beginning with a pair of Mountain Wagtails at the stream crossing and a Black Sparrowhawk circling above us briefly.

Next up was a few White-eared Barbets basking in the rays of early morning sun.

We proceeded along the trail heading in a westerly direction and listened to the calls of Brown Scrub Robin, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Red-capped Robin-Chat, among others.

Scaly-throated Honeyguide - Decklan Jordaan

Scaly-throated Honeyguide – Decklan Jordaan

A brief glimpse was had by a few of a Lemon Dove and Knysna Turaco.

The oddest sighting for the day was a baby elephant – how uncanny can nature be sometimes!!

Great views though were had by all of a number of Ashy Flycatchers, Grey Waxbill, Collared Sunbird, Dark-backed Weaver and Black-headed Oriole.

Red-billed Firefinches made for a talking point.

Other species got captured on camera too.

For the first hour or two the species list consisted mostly of birds heard calling rather than seen. On seeing the beautiful male Black Cuckooshrike, Paul proclaimed that his birds seen tally for the day had now doubled!!!

The day ended for some with a braai. The final tally for the day was sixty-six (66) bird species either seen or heard (list attached – click here to view).

Until next time….

Dave Rimmer

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Which Binoculars

From Rex Aspeling.

Well worth a read:

I regularly get asked what would be a good reasonably priced pair of binoculars suitable for birding. I enclose the link to a review by Michael and Diane Porter at Birdwatching.com. Some of the makes reviewed are not available in South Africa but all can be purchased on line:

http://www.birdwatching.com/optics/2016_affordable_8x42/review.html

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Bird Photography – Part 1

Bird Photography – Part 1

By Robbie Aspeling

As an avid birder the chances are that at some point you’ve been captivated by a bird photograph in some sort of publication or on the WEB and have considered yourself being there taking the photo. The thought may have crossed your mind that “Bird photography is for specialists” or “you need such expensive equipment” or that you would never be able to do it. Well the good news is that with the development of cameras and camera technology that it is much easier and cheaper to take decent bird photographs today than ever before.

Pied Kingfisher and meal.

Your reason for taking photographs of birds might be for purely record shots so that after a morning out you are able to sit back in the comfort of your own home and either relive the sightings you saw or maybe to identify that lifer that you saw during the outing. So often we perceive the ID to be one type of bird but then on closer inspection in a photograph, we actually identify that it was a different bird. Some birders have set themselves the challenge that they cannot tick a bird unless they have a photograph of it. You might also want to venture into the world of bird photography purely to capture the beauty of the birds of our country. We have such a variety of birds in South Africa and even during our colder winter months when all the migratory birds have left for home, there are still many to see and photograph.

As a full time photographer that has a passion for bird photography, I am often asked for advice from aspiring bird photographers about equipment or the actual photography process. I will be putting pen to paper and offering advice where I can over the coming months. Please also feel free to drop me an email about what you would like to read about or if you have any questions. robpasp@gmail.com.

The question I am so often asked is what sort of camera should be used to photograph birds. The answer to this is all dependant on the level of photography that you wish to achieve and for what purpose the images will be used for. There are 3 main categories of cameras, namely Compacts, Bridge cameras and DSLR’s. They all have their pros and cons of which I will give a quick synopsis.

Compacts – These are what we always used to call “point and shoot” or “muk ‘n druk”. Very small, compact and generally only having a digital zoom function. The image quality is fine for everyday snaps but unless the bird is sitting within a meter or two of you shouting “shoot me, shoot me”, not very good for bird photography.

Bridge Cameras – A step up from the compacts with far better lenses and generally large zoom abilities and reasonably good image quality. They can be used in automatic and semi-automatic modes as well as in manual modes. They are light, easy to carry around and ideal for birders. Their lenses cannot be changed but the built in lenses offer enough versatility to be able to capture birds both close and at a little distance away from us.

DSLR’s – Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras. These are the cameras that are used for the best image quality. They have no built in lenses instead different lenses can be used on the camera depending on the application required. These are generally heavier and require a little skill to be used and with a nice zoom telephoto lens are in fact the choice of many birders. The guy that you see walking in the group with the camera and that long looking lens protruding from the front of the camera.

Once you have bitten the bullet and decided that bird photography is something that you want to do, your investment can immediately start kicking in. Investing in suitable equipment as well as investing your time to master the art of Avian Photography can be very challenging and very frustrating. Two images are never quite the same and nor are the circumstances of where or how you capture your image. The best advice ever is to get into a cycle of experimenting and learning: get stuck in and shoot any birds you can find but also read as much as you can (from the Web, books, etc.) and talk to people who seem to have ‘cracked it’. Be aware, though, that it’s a big subject and the people who have mastered it can be reluctant to share what they’ve had to learn the hard way.

Diderick Cuckoo

Diderick Cuckoo

Next month I will talk about all the ins and outs of Bridge Cameras and their place in bird photography.

Robbie Aspeling.

 

 

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Pigeon Valley Outing

Pigeon Valley 22 JUNE 2016

Report by Sandi du Preez

It was overcast and gloomy which was not conducive to good birding, and at first many of the birds were just silhouettes.

Unfortunately, Crispin was in Mkhuze so he could not join us and we could not go into the reservoir area.  However next to the reservoir we encountered a fantastic bird party which featured Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Square-tailed and Fork-tailed Drongos, White-eared and Black-collared Barbets, Cardinal Woodpecker, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Southern black Tits, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Olive and Collared Sunbirds, Black-backed Puffback, Black-bellied Starlings and Cape White-eyes.

A Purple-crested Turaco sitting on top of a Chaetacme Aristata was battling to feed on the rather large fruits. How we cheered as it swallowed each one!

PURPLE-CRESTED TURACO FEASTING ON CHAETACME ARISTATA FRUIT

Purple-crested Turaco feasting on the Chaetacme Aristata fruit

We walked through the grassland area which is along the pathway up from the gate. Here the Bronze Mannikins industriously carried nesting material up into an Umdoni tree.

Then we noticed a bird party in an Acacia Robusta next to the fence – Amethyst, White-bellied, Olive and Grey Sunbirds, Black-bellied Starlings, White-eared Barbets, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Spectacled and Thick-billed Weavers, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds and Cape White-eyes.

Later on we saw a Purple-banded Sunbird. So we had all six  sunbirds possible in Pigeon Valley at this time of the year.

Along the centre track we got several Spotted Ground-thrushes and a Lesser Honeyguide at the map.

THIS IS HOW TO WATCH THE SPOTTED GROUND THRUSH!

This is how to watch the Spotted Ground-Thrush!

We were also serenaded by the Dark-backed Weavers with their beautiful song.

Other birds seen and/or heard were Black Sparrowhawk, African Crowned Eagle, superb views of male and female Southern Boubous, Red-capped Robin-chats, Terrestrial Brownbuls, Dusky and African Paradise Flycatchers, Kurrichane Thrush,  amongst others.

At teatime we were entertained by three hyperactive Tawny-flanked Prinias – mom, dad and junior showing it’s yellowish wash.

Red duikers were everywhere we walked and we were lucky to get a good view of a solitary blue duiker.

ONE OF THE MANY RED

One of the many Red Duikers

The total count was 58 species.

Photos by Sandi and Cati  –  sorry but the bad light made photography difficult.

Sandi du Preez

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Pigeon Valley Outing

Report by Elena Russell

We had a very good turnout for Saturday’s outing to Pigeon Valley – always with the expectation of sightings of the Spotted Ground Thrush and we were not disappointed.

We had also heard about the exposed beehive due to a dead tree having fallen down and the hive was partly exposed in the stump of the tree. The honeyguides, Lesser and Scaly-throated, were seen going in and out in their quest for bee larvae. (Quite near the entrance by the notice board).

A lot was done on call but then we would have a bird party to cheer us up. The Black Sparrowhawk was first heard and then seen as well as African Goshawk & Lanner Falcon.

At tea time our count was 52 and then a juvenile African Goshawk was spotted in a nearby tree, which had us all out of our seats.

Thanks to Crispin Hemson who joined us and led one of groups.   He also had keys for the security gate and after tea we were able to gain access to the grassland/reservoir area.

The birding was quite good here, Fiscal Flycatchers, White-eared Barbets, Purple-banded Sunbird. Crispin was hoping we might flush a Common Quail but rather to our surprise we flushed a Burchell’s Coucal from the long grass.

Walking back to the main entrance and birding alongside the fence there were a number of birds but what got us all very excited was a partially leucistic Yellow-fronted Canary.

A few of us returned to Pigeon Valley to check out the beehive again – whilst waiting around there was a sudden loud commotion in the trees alongside the path and there was the juvenile African Goshawk again – not at all perturbed at the fuss he was causing.

It is always the smallest birds who seem to be most vociferous in their attack, Cape White-eyes, Collared Sunbirds, African Paradise-Flycatchers etc whilst the Sombre Greenbuls, Terrestrial Brownbuls and Dark-capped Bulbuls make an awful lot of noise from a safe distance!!

There are a couple of very interesting photos (John’s and Peter’s) of a flower mantis – at least I think that is what it is called – taken in the reservoir area.

By the end of the morning our count must have been in the region of 60++ – not too shabby for a winter’s birding in the middle of Durban.

Thanks to John Bremner, Dave Rimmer, Peter Farrington, Sally Bartho and PB for the photos.

Cheers

Elena

Vervet Monkey enjoying a motherly groom. Dave Rimmer

Vervet Monkey enjoying a motherly groom. Dave Rimmer

 

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Montana Birding

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

13 April to 18 May 2016

Sally and I were invited to my nephew’s wedding in the USA. We took the opportunity to go to the wedding as well as to spend time with my sister, Tania and her husband, Doug in Montana. Of course we managed quite a lot of exciting birding while there – most everything we saw was a “lifer”.

View of Tania and Doug's home with the Mission Mountains behind.

View of Tania and Doug’s home with the Mission Mountains behind.

Our timing was such that we arrived in time to see the last of the winter migrants leave. And just as we were leaving the summer migrants were starting to arrive.

My wish list included a visit to Yellowstone NP and Sally had hopes of visiting Glacier NP as well as seeing a bear (from a distance) as well as a Bald Eagle.

After a day and a half travelling from Durban, we arrived at my sister’s home in Ronan – about an hours drive north from Missoula Airport. Several days were spent there recovering from the long journey before we set off by car for the wedding.

The first morning we awoke to find it was gently snowing – like a northern picturesque Christmas scene. And just outside was an American Robin to complete the picture.

Most every day we went out it was cold cold cold. Then as the day progressed it slowly warmed up to maybe only one sweater!

The wedding was in Eugene, Oregon – just over one thousand kms of driving over two days. We had not gone far before we had some excitement. An unexpected pleasure of seeing our first bear – a brown Black Bear – spotted by Doug.

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Our hotel in Eugene for three nights was right on the Williamette River with a large park with wetland areas beside it.

With what little time we had on our hands we managed to spend several hours birding along the river and into the wetland areas – where we saw some colourful and unexpected birds.

After a lovely wedding, it was back to Ronan – another 2 day drive.

Ronan is a small town in the independant area governed by the Salish and Kootenai First Nations peoples.

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Ronan, Montana- North West USA

Ronan, Montana- North West USA

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We spent the next four weeks based in Ronan with my sister. Their home is at the base of the Mission Mountains – an impressive range of tall peaks – covered in snow for much of the year.

Ronan is a short drive from the impressive Flathead Lake – the largest lake in the NW of USA.

Doug decided to take us hiking up into the Mission Mountains along a trail in the North Crow valley – a trek uphill about three kms long – each way. Usual safety precautions were taken – clothing for all weathers, water and of course bear spray (pepper spray).

So we get going and Sally and I fall behind every so often, catching up only when Doug and Tania stopped for us. On one of these separations we notice a fresh steaming pile of poo on the path.

Bear Scat

Bear Scat

By the size and volume it had to be a bear. Now was the bear crossing the path or following the others? Good question. Fortunately Tania was not too far ahead so we took her lead and followed her. Wild life roams freely throughout the area and is often seen around homesteads. Bears are a nuisance with garbage left for collection.

Ronan is very close to Flathead Lake which is a geological phenomenon. To read about the geology of Flathead Lake click here and read a short and simple explanation of the formation of the area.

Prior to leaving for America, we identified quite a number of potentially good birding sites – predominantly wetland areas. The habitats were generated by the end of the Ice Age when the glaciers retreated and are mainly wetland areas – great for winter migrants.

Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge and Pablo Reservoir are the two largest wetland areas closest to Ronan. Unfortunately because of their size the birds are often distant objects. However wherever you drive there are numerous smaller ponds in which we encountered many different waterbird species and within close range.

Some of the other places we visited were a bit further afield – mainly around the Flathead Lake: Safe Harbour Marsh, Kerr Dam, Bigfork, Swan Lake, Ducharme Lane and Polson’s Boettcher Park. And south of Ronan to the National Bison Range. Also to a reservoir close to Hot Springs called Lonepine. It seemed everywhere we went we picked up new species.

We also visited Glacier National Park – mainly to see the mountains and to do a little birding. However not knowing the birding spots cost us. We were limited to driving around Glacier Lake as the main pass will not be cleared of snow and debris until the end of June.

It was only towards the end of our stay that we met some birders – Raylene Wall and Jim Oates – who took us out.

Raylene with Paul

Raylene with Paul

And they took us to special places to find birds other than waterbirds. It was a magical experience and we were so fortunate to have met them. We were meant to have spent the first day doing a Long-billed Curlew count – however Raylene decided she was going to spend the day birding with us instead – and what a day from 07h30 to 20hoo!! (Does not get dark till around 21h00). Our second outing with Raylene was just as hectic and equally profitable – magic.

Of course it was not only the birds that were interesting – it was also the critters. Here are some photos;

My wish list came true we went to Yellowstone National Park for a weekend – far too little time to see it properly. However we made good use of the time and because we went with Tania and Doug were able to pack in a lot – their knowledge of the area was invaluable.

We stayed in the cheapest place in West Glacier that we could find – just at the entrance to the park itself. (R1000 per night for a room with bathroom – no cooking facilities).

Our first day was spent in the Old Faithful area – the upper Geyser Basin. A huge cauldron of some 32 geysers spread over a vast expanse with boardwalks all around. Off the boardwalk and you tread onto the morass at your own peril!

Geysers are unpredictable however most have a very approximate time when they are expected to blow. Doug and Tania led and over the 9 hours we were able to watch seven geysers blow – which apparently is really good for one day’s viewing and good timing on our part to be at the right place at the right time.

However it was not the only excitement we had walking around. Someone noticed a Grizzly bear on a distant slope. We managed to see it before it traipsed off. Then as we headed for what turned out to be our favourite Geyser – Artemesia – walking through the woods there grazing in the path ahead was the Grizzly bear about 50 metres away. Fortunately a ranger had joined the party and he told us that the Grizzly knew we were there and was contentedly feeding. So for half an hour we noisily (advised) watched until it disappeared. Meanwhile a Bison watched us closely. The ranger left and we nervously continued to Artemesia.

Tania, Doug and the Bison.

Tania, Doug and the Bison.

Artemesia was our favourite geyser because you could feel the ground rumble and thump as the explosive water shot out and unlike some of the others it lasted for a while.

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The following day we drove the route to Yellowstone Lake to the east of Old Faithful. Stopping numerous times to look at the views or to spot birds. As in most National Parks in the USA you are allowed to walk about at your own risk. We saw some spectacular scenery in this area.

In total we identified 143 species of birds – most were “lifers” and 2 were heard only. (Mountain Chickadee and Virginia Rail). Click here to view our list. Of those we managed to get photos of 132. The following were seen in Montana unless otherwise shown in their caption.

Wild fowl were aplenty but waders few and far between. They had obviously mostly gone by the time we arrived.

American Robins were everywhere and Red-winged Blackbirds haunted the reed beds along with their Yellow-headed cousins.

So many new species for us that it is hard to say which were our highlights. For me it was the Golden Eagle. For Sally it was the American Dipper – and watching him in action dipping in the fast flowing current.

We were thrilled with what we saw (Birds and critters) and also with how many birds we were able to photograph.

Some enjoyable American quirkiness to finish.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Sunset - last day

Sunset – last day

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Cumberland Outing

Report by Dave Rimmer

Sunday 22 May 2016

It was a not so bright and breezy start, in fact quite chilly for the small group of 15 birders who braved the cold winters morning to meet at 06h30. But by the time we had all assembled there was enough light to get us on our way 20 minutes later.

The walk started with a raptor frenzy initiated by a pair of African Goshawks flying overhead, followed thereafter by a pair of Lanner Falcons going in the opposite direction and soon after that by a Peregrine Falcon. Not to be out done, a couple of Jackal Buzzards were seen perched atop a pylon and a distant tree respectively.

The walk along the north side cliff edge yielded the sounds of Sombre Greenbul, Black-backed Puffback, Bar-throated Apalis whilst brief views were had of White-bellied Sunbird and Red-winged Starlings.

Moving away from the cliffs and up into the grasslands soon had us scrambling for bins to sift through a mixed bird party consisting of Croaking Cisticola, Broad-tailed Warbler, Tawny-flanked Prinia, and Cape Grassbird in the grasses whilst flitting among the trees were Southern Black Tit, Chinspot Batis, Cardinal Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Red-throated Wryneck, Brubru and Yellow-throated Petronia.

Circling back to the top of the ridge a covey of Red-winged Francolins was flushed giving good views of the red wings (being a key ID feature) as they flurried away from us in haste.

The Peregrine Falcon seen at the start of the walk was perched at the top of the pylon giving all great photo opportunities whilst it soaked up the warming rays from the sun.

Peregrine Falcon 1

We proceeded to walk down to the Umgeni River and saw Crested Barbet, Neddicky, African Firefinch, Streaky-headed Seedeater en route and a Little Sparrowhawk, African Pied Wagtail and a Hamerkop close to the river.

The dead trees were carefully scrutinised in search of Bearded Woodpecker seen on a previous visit to Cumberland in January 2014 – no luck this time.

The hut on the river bend was occupied so we headed to the rocks on the rivers edge for a rest before trekking back up to the top of the hill. The return leg saw the group starting to splinter with some wanting to get back to the cars for drinks, food and no doubt the loos. Others continued the search for birds and were rewarded with Golden-breasted Bunting, Southern Tchagra, Little Bee-eater, Striped Pipit, Green Wood-hoopoe and Brown-backed Honeybird.

Golden-breasted Bunting

Golden-breasted Bunting

Aside from the birds, there were plenty of butterflies, wasps and moths to be seen for which pictures are included – hopefully their identities where provided have been recorded correctly!?

Caterpillars

Caterpillars

The final tally for the day was seventy-seven (77) bird species included a few others I added after the braai with relatives. Click here to see the list. Unless of course the final group of die-hards saw anything after I had departed the total could well be more, including some that I’ve missed or omitted to record. Until next time….

Yours in birding,
Dave Rimmer

 

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